Official SA: Absolution
Waycaster last edited by Waycaster
The End of the Beginning.
The thought rang through Ansurr's mind, a battle full of destruction, that no creature would ever forget. The downfall of an inaccurate perception of the world and its beasts. Ansurr had many a sleepness night in his relatively long life (for a vermin, anyways), but this was different. Something, somebeast was reaching for him for one reason or another.* "Warlord, beware... for what is to come."*
But this could simply be attributed to something else - anything else, really. The marten has had his fill of superstitions when he was a mere child, when his parents used every trick in the book to make him behave. "If you go wandering at night, some spirit would break free of Vulpuz's control and drag you with him!" Ansurr suppressed a laugh. He missed those times.
The warlord's ears rose. The swishing of his guards' tails. The pitter-patter of water droplets on the ground. It was raining, and he guessed the sky was still turning red. It was time to awake, and continue their march towards Redwall and destiny. Not necessarily victory - that would be decided later on. But hopefully victory.
The tides of change were coming. No one would know for sure what to expect, but it wasn't going to be good for the Redwallers. One thing was for certain; The lives of these creatures are going to change. With another vermin on the march, it could only mean something big was coming towards Redwall. Something bigger than the desire for plunder or bloodshed.
Aynur sighed to herself as she crossed the bivouac area towards the large tent claimed by Ansurr. She pulled her cloak around her a little tighter to try and shield herself from the rain. She considered the situation far from ideal; it was still a horde and not a properly drilled army. The camp was too disorganized for her tastes. Beggars can’t be choosers, she chided herself.
Stopping under an awning to Ansurr’s tent, the vixen returned the glower given her by the weasel guard. She brushed the standing water from her cloak, not wanting to track it inside. Noel shouldn’t be much longer, she thought to herself. Then, we’ll report, and find out how much more of this rain we’re to endure.
Etain Weiss last edited by Etain Weiss
Noel made a quick gait through the storm, eager to be out of the pouring rain. Though it soothed the burning sensation of his face, it also soaked his ears and dripped in his eyes, and he absolutely detested the feeling. He shook off the remaining droplets of water from his cloak and stomped off the mud on his paws, stepping under the dry tent flap right outside Ansurr's tent. He spotted Aynur and waved her over. "Blasted rain," he muttered.
He looked at the two guards stationed outside the tent, sullen looks on their faces. One was a familiar face, a captain of one of the platoons that Noel interacted with regularly, went by the name of Leon. He caught the old fox's eye and nodded grimly, saluting. "He's waiting inside, sir." Noel sighed and nodded in return, placing a paw on the weasel's shoulder.
"Go take the morning off," he ordered. "You were the night watch, right?" Leon nodded. "Get going."
The weasel eagerly bowed and trotted off through the rain, presumably to sleep in his tent before he moved out. Leon's squad was one of the designated scouting troops, and had been going on daily treks down the riverbank to see ahead. It was well-assumed that he'd be going out again: he'd owe Noel a favor later. The fox turned to go into the tent, but noticed the other guard grimacing at the older creature. "Yes?" Noel tilted his head questioningly.
"Er . . . n-nothing." The ferret shifted uncomfortably under Noel's gaze. He was young, inexperienced. Most likely one of the new recruits from the surrounding woodlands. Noel relaxed his face.
"Nothing, eh?" He grinned, a rather unnerving sight that split the mass of scar tissue on the left of his head. "Fair enough." He turned away for a moment, then spun back around with the same smile and brought his claws through the soldier's arm, drawing blood in seconds.
The ferret stared in horror for a split second, then let out a muffled wail as he clapped a paw to his mouth. "Stand up straight, and never stare again, please," Noel commanded, still smiling, and rotated his shoulder slightly, wincing at the pop it let out. Still hadn't shaken out the sleep, then.
He shrugged, turned, bent down, and entered Ansurr's tent.
"My lord," he murmured, bowing to the warlord slowly.
The marten looked down on the white fox. He always had a habit of waking up early, and today seemed to be no exception. Ansurr was still tired, but he knew he will not be in an hour or two.
"How many times have I told you not to use titles?" The warlord asked, exaggerated exasperation clear on his tongue. "I possess no title which I have not gained via my own merit. Besides, you do not come to me at this hour often. What beckons you here?"
Aynur watched Noel step into the tent, momently paused by the act of unnecessary, sheer brutality she had just witnessed. Shaking her head, she quietly stepped into the tent and made a mental note to chide him later for it. Unlike her prostrated rival, she neither stooped nor bowed to the rousing marten. Instead, she folded her paws before her, giving her an almost matronly look.
“Good morning, Ansurr,” she responded, speaking up quickly to head off any more vulpine embarrassment. “A report from the trackers informs me that the surviving shrews of...” She hesitated for a brief moment. The name spilled awkwardly off of her tongue. “GUOSIM… Have managed to use the terrain and weather to conceal their trail.” Her eyes darted towards Noel, and she paused again, expecting some sort of outburst from the pale fox.
This post is deleted!
Noel shrugged. "As you wish, Ansurr. Your wish is my command . . . usually." He chuckled and winked at Aynur, placing his paws on her shoulders in something of a friendly manner. "As this one said, a few of the trackers managed to uncover a little, but not much. The Guosim made it out of our scouts' travelling range -- I'm sending another troop out in a few hours, of course, to see if anything else can be found," he added, with Leon squarely in mind.
He started pacing back and forth slightly, sighing. "This horrendous rain, not to mention the tremendous heat we've just gotten past, is discouraging your troops, sir, if I may say so. There have been reports from a number of my captains that words of desertion have been said in hushed tones around the campfires at night." He paused, then seemed to amend his statement. "Only a few, mind you, but a few can grow into many. I've seen it before," he growled. "Mutiny, insubordination . . . call it what you will."
His eyes narrowed at a nearby table, on which was a map of some of the nearby countryside. "How much longer do you believe until we reach this abbey of yours, Ansurr?" he asked, slowly and carefully.
Scartail was not having a good morning.
He'd only recently returned from an excursion overnight to find those damned shrews, and was rewarded with nothing but a sigh from Captain Yallug and a growl from Noel after making his report. It wasn't his fault that his trackers hadn't been able to find any signs! They were incompetent -- not a single one of them, he firmly believed, would be able to find his tail if it was sliced off and shoved up his nose.
He wearily ducked into his tent and collapsed in his cot, beside the now-asleep Captain Leon, who happened to be his tentmate. "Long night?" he asked, which was met with a sleepy grunt and a dirty pillow thrown in his direction. Scartail shrugged and laid down on the slightly damp mattress that provided the only solace from the endless marching, scouting, and waiting that had been his life for almost three months now.
He'd only just closed his eyes when a stifled whimpering reached his ears. He opened one eye and looked at the tent flap -- it was opened, and a young ferret (Scartail thought his name to be Redeye) stumbled in, clutching his arm, which had a heavy cut across it. "Leon," Scartail muttered. "It's the new kid."
Leon rolled over and gave a withering stare to the newcomer. "Don't get blood on the carpet." The weasel captain sat up and rubbed his neckfur. "Go to the healers' tent -- the green one, thataway," he added, gesturing with a paw.
Redeye staggered out, whining still, and made his way away. Scartail gave a questioning look to his companion, which was met with a shrug. "Noel?" Leon nodded. Scartail chuckled. "Serves the little snot right." He paused. "Have you heard what he's been saying about Yallug and the others at dinners?"
"Right. The whole rebellion thing?" Leon shook his head, and stated plainly, "He'll give it up or get killed by somebeast."
Ansurr sighed. Rain alone was not great for morale, but the lingering heat did not help matters as well. Most importantly, the shrews were able to escape their grasp like sand in a clenched fist. Maybe the could they even slip through the gaps of doors. No. They would have to be somehow smaller than they are for that.
"Insubordination..." The marten rubbed his muzzle. "They think that they have good reason for it, and that's the hard part. This must be remedied as soon as possible. Any suggestions for what should be done?"
Aynur let a slight frown play over her face as Noel put his paws on her shoulders. She could still smell the blood on his claws. The frown grew as the white fox brought up matters of unrest within the horde. Bold move, she thought, but this is the game we play, isn’t it? The vixen forced her expression back to neutral, back to more properly playing the game.
“There is too little time to drill these beasts into a proper army,” she answered matter-of-factly. The abbey could not be too much further off, and the beasts therein had a stalwart reputation. “I would advise continuing to reward loyalty and competence, while saving punishment for only actions against our goals.” She looked towards the pacing arctic fox. “Brutality has its place,” she said, tone shifting for a moment almost to chastisement, “but letting the beasts talk will allow us to keep a finger on the pulse of the horde.”
Etain Weiss last edited by Etain Weiss
Leon lunged forward and gripped the scout's shoulder by the collar, desperation on his face. "Where is he?"
Scartail was on his footpaws as well. "In the gallery tent! We tied him to one of the other soldiers to make sure he didn't run off, but he said --" the rat scout blurted, but took a moment to massage his neck as the captain released him and he and Scartail dashed out towards the large canvas tent in the center of camp.
Smoke already rose from a hole in the top, signs of the cooks beginning their morning duties, and more billowed out through the tent flaps as Leon burst in. "Run to Captain Yallug's tent, fast as you like," he ordered the stoat tailing him. Scartail saluted and spun about, running in the other direction. Leon then turned to look about.
Over beside one of the cooking fires sat a fox, one of the scouts from the secondary troop that had followed behind Scartail's, and chained to him by a short length was a single shrew, cowering in the corner of the tent and guarded on either side by infantry from Captain Kyte's division (they each wore his absurdly complicated patch proudly on their shoulders). Leon nodded to them, and each grunted, leaving in mere seconds to get their rations for the day. The captain knelt beside the shrew.
"I was told you had information," he growled, turning the shrew's head up by the chin.
The terrified Guosim nodded, but looked back down. "I'll only talk to the commander," he muttered defiantly. "And I want a reward."
Noel frowned slightly at Aynur's thinly veiled scolding. Impertinent creature, she was. He didn't let his disdain show, however, and walked around to stand in front of Ansurr. "While General Aynur's words are true, Ansurr," he began. "I would argue that more of a balance between reward and punishment be instated. Say we do as she suggests -- our soldiers may grow complacent. Many small acts of disobedience can be far more damaging than a few great ones, can break down morale over time." He looked out the tent flap. "However, if we were to find the creatures at the center of this little seed of rebellion, and perhaps . . . make an example of them, but follow the punishment with a reward to a creature or two that have done exceptionally well recently, not only would it quell any thought of mutiny, but would also prove Lady Aynur's point."
He smiled at Aynur, stressing the title to see if she'd react. Inside, he was seething that he'd had to concede any point to her, but --
The old fox was interrupted by the figure of Captain Yallug standing in the tent's entrance, his spear holding up one flap as he saluted with the other paw. "Generals! Commander!" he intoned. The tall sable clenched his teeth at the sight of Noel staring him down, but bowed anyway and saluted once more. "I have a report." He looked at Noel, his higher-up, for approval. He, as well as two other captains, were placed directly under the old fox, with three captains under each of them, and a number of other lower officers under each of them.
Noel nodded slowly.
"We've caught a member of the remaining Guosim, and he claims to have information on not only the shrews we lost, but also the Abbey you seek."
"Guosim?" Ansurr could not say that he was familiar with the acronym. He knew 'S' stood for shrews, but all else was a blur.
"This could be our way further into Mossflower. Let us go receive our guest, shall we?" Ansurr asked as he left the tent, unarmed and unarmoured. The shrew would tell him what he wants to know whether if the woodlander is intimidated or not. The terror is best left to his associates, who happen to be more experienced in such matters.
Aynur Safavi stiffened at the title of ‘General’. She was not a fighter, even if her duties may have overlapped some with the position. She even dared to move about the camp with only a knife, relying on status and her network of informants to keep threats in check. Supply, statecraft, and spying were her areas of focus. Her stance softened a bit when Noel admitted that she was right, even if he was still mostly wrong in his ideas. The application needed to be consistent and logical, not to the whims that he seemed to carry himself. The interruption with news, however, was welcome and also curious to her. Why, she wondered, do his scouts always seem to bring the bad new to me?
The vixen opened her mouth to explain the acronym, but Ansurr’s determination to meet this captive took precedence. She stopped at the flap, turning slightly back towards Noel. “Well,” she said, a faint smirk playing across her expression, “it seems like your scouts aren’t so worthless after all.” Without another word, Aynur slipped through the tent flap after Ansurr.
Stepping quickly to catch up with the mustelid, Aynur tried to keep a position slightly behind and to his right. “Warlord,” she spoke up, wanting to make sure he was still able to hear, “when the time permits, I also have information about the fighting hares known as the ‘Long Patrol’ - or more accurately, an absence of spotting...”
Noel smirked and kept up with Ansurr, slightly behind and to his left to mirror Aynur's walk. Captain Yallug made a quick, clean-cut pace down between the tents of the camp, stopping at the large gallery tent and brushing aside one of the flaps.
Cooks scattered as the commanders entered, dashing every which way, trying to continue supplying food to the soldiers clamouring for their breakfast while also staying out of the way of Ansurr and his attendants. Noel looked about and spotted Leon in the corner with the Guosim member. He quick-marched over to the captain. "Report," he commanded.
Leon stood up from where he'd been unlocking the fox soldier from the shrew. He saluted. "General." He lowered his paw and nodded to the shrew. "This one's a traitor -- claims that he'll only speak to the commander, but has information about the Abbey, as well as the remaining Guosim. However, he wants a reward," he added ruefully.
Noel nodded and motioned for Leon to move. The weasel nodded and took a place behind Ansurr and Aynur, his paw on his sword.
The old fox bent over and gently lifted the shrew's face. "Now, I was told you wanted to speak to a commander?" The shrew was silent with terror. "Will a general do?"
The traitor nodded slowly. He gulped hard.
"What's your name?"
"R-Ruffio, lord," the shrew stammered. He felt a cold sweat break out on his brow.
"Well, Mister Ruffio, would you like to tell me what you know?" Noel smiled sweetly, which actually came off as more of a menacing grimace through his scars. "You'll be rewarded handsomely."
Ruffio nodded rapidly.
While Noel was busy with the traitor, Ansurr turned to the vixen. "The Long Patrol has not been spotted, yes, but that does not mean they have not spotted us. We should be cautious."
The marten quickly frowned. "And the Redwallers as well. Shrews may fight us in the open, but Abbeybeasts won't. Not until they know they've won before we even met."
Aynur kept an ear turned towards the fox and the shrew. It paid to be aware of important matters being discussed around you, even if you were not directly involved in the conversation. “I will, of course, Warlord, remind the horde that any information regarding the hares or abbey-beasts is to be brought forward,” she said, keeping her tone with a hint a deference. “However, I do find it unusual that neither our scouts nor our forage parties have yet disappeared or met more than token resistance. Quite frankly, I expected more than just the shrews already.” She inhaled, debating for a second whether or not to continue, finally exhaling.
“It’s still unverified rumor, but the current tale goes that there hasn’t been a badger lord for a number of seasons.”
Ruffio swallowed hard once more and stood up, bowing to Noel. "I have information on my tribe of Guosim, as well as the Abbey itself. In return, I'd like --" He paused, wiping sweat from his brow quietly, then continued. "I'd like a place in your army," he managed.
Noel looked to Ansurr, then back at the shrew. "I'm sure something can be arranged," he chuckled. "The information, please." He knelt before the shrew and looked him dead in the eyes, all humour gone from his face.
The traitor let out a long, slow breath. "At the moment, the shrews are on their way to the waterlily meadows on the River Moss, about two days south of here." He looked about nervously. Noel motioned for him to continue. He did. "In a week's time, they're planning to meet with the Northern Guosim tribes and travel to the Abbey itself for the Blooming Rose Feast -- one of the Abbey's celebration. That's the time at which the Abbey will be most filled with warriors: the coastal otter tribes and the Gonflin tribe will also do the same. About a week after, I'd expect that . . ."
Noel cut him off. "Most of these creatures will have left the Abbey, leaving it more or less defenseless," he mused. He looked at Leo, then Ansurr. "This could be your opening, sir."
Ansurr's tail twitched. No Long Patrol. No Salamandastron. Nobeast to guard the Western Shores. He could change course and head North, claiming the mountain for his own, and thus proving to the world that 'vermin' could stand just as well as woodlanders - with less bloodshed, no less.
But the troops would not like it. Only a small portion of beasts are not here for the loot that their grubby paws would seize and take hold within the the Abbey's walls. Besides, Badgerlord or no Badgerlord, Salamandastron was a harder prize to take.
The marten turned to the vixen. "Our target remains the same. We keep our sights on Redwall." He paused, then spoke again, louder and clearer this time. "If there is any sighting of a hare in uniform, notify me immediately."
Aynur nodded in complete agreement with Ansurr’s decision, but she disagreed with Noel’s assessment of the situation. “I would advise, Warlord,” she started, giving the captive shrew a glance, “that we must make our attack BEFORE” -she stressed the word specifically- “any of the other warrior tribes make it to the abbey. That the GUOSIM will be late will give them cause to probe in our direction. A horde of this size is not difficult to notice. I would also remind those present of the abbey’s history of breaking countless hordes to fall upon it when allowed any preparation...” As she left the conclusion hanging, Aynur let her eyes move to Noel in a measured method, wanting to see how he’d take her countering his plan again.
Without missing a beat, Noel countered the other fox's argument. "First of all, my dear Aynur," he chuckled, fixing her with a patronizing stare, "If the Abbey doesn't have an inkling of our presence by now, it must be filled with blind, deaf, and mute churchmice. We're not exactly . . . the stealthiest group." He shrugged apologetically to Ansurr as he said this. "You're leading an army, sir. There won't be any way to hide ourselves from the woodland creatures about Mossflower, especially the warriors. From what Captain Leon has reported, as well as Captain Kyte's intelligence crew, there's already been a few signs of the 'Nort' otter tribes starting to move to the Abbey ahead of us." He shrugged. "No matter what, there'll be no avoiding detection."
He stood up and ruffled Ruffio's headfur, smiling gently. "Thanks to this one, however, we've gotten a little ahead of the Abbey's allies. There's also the fact that any creatures we've seen anywhere near our horde have been immediately killed. Whether or not our enemies know that we exist is irrelevant: they don't have any numbers, no idea of where exactly we are or how large our force is."
Noel bent down slightly behind Ruffio and held up his paw. Leon tossed him a key, and he unlocked the cuffs holding Ruffio's paws together. The shrew gratefully bowed and rubbed his wrists. "Stay close beside me," Noel ordered, and the Guosim traitor nodded once more, avoiding the disfigured fox's gaze.
The fox stood once more and bowed to Ansurr. "I hope you won't mind if I take charge of the little thing," he laughed, and swept past Aynur without another word, purposely bumping her shoulder slightly and jerking his head at Leon, who immediately fell in step behind Ruffio, putting the shrew between him and the commander. In a moment, they'd left the gallery tent and were walking towards Noel's personal quarters.
Leon tilted his head. "What do you want with the shrew, General?" he asked as they walked past all the creatures lining up for their morning rations.
Noel shrugged. "He's interesting," he said simply, and Leon knew the question wasn't going to get any more of a satisfactory answer.
"I would have to agree with Noel, Aynur," said the warlord as he turned to the vixen advisor. "We will be observed on our journey. We will leave tracks that would cost us valuable time to remove." Ansurr shook his head. "That will not do. Besides, we would arrive in the abbey just in time to be backstabbed by bands of woodlanders rushing to a feast. I would rather pick off the tribes one by one before they could even warn the abbey, but the troops cry out for loot rather than blood."
The marten sighed. "We have little choice but to go for the Abbey, but we must be careful."