Like Ghosts [plot thread; open to vermin characters ONLY]
The day had progressed marginally well. By mid-afternoon there were enough vittles to go around. The mingling of rats, stoats, weasels and ferrets were a motley bunch as they plucked the feathers from wood doves and pigeons they'd caught over the course of the last hour or so.
Kaerune and Leera had decided they needed time to relax. The small army had been on a mission of recon for the past three weeks, scoping out the lay of the land and deciding on their course of action.
They'd picked a nice desolate place to camp alongside the River Moss nearby what had looked to be a quarry. Neither of the foxes had been particularly interested in the place, who knew what sort of creatures resided there now. And neither brother nor sister wanted to chance encountering a serpent of some sort, something likely to happen should they tread too near.
So they decided to camp on the opposite side of the great river. There was plenty of fish to catch and the woodlands were full of fowl to partake of. Some of their gang even managed to forage some berries and select fruits, all in all, it was a pleasant place to be.
A gentle breeze rustled the branches overhead as somewhere a robin trilled his song to the heavens. Kaerun's ear flicked at a fly that tried to land there while Zeera picked at a dove carcass which was almost devoid of all its meat. She sat twirling one of its rib bones idly in careful claws as her pale eyes scanned over she and her brother's troops.
There were three score of them all accounted for, not much really, but every one of their warriors were tried and true. Kaerune and Zeera didn't not tolerate laziness, treachery, greed or failure. If a beast could not carry his weight, they were soon gotten rid of, one way or another.
Their efficient way of living often frightened some of their charges, their peculiar behavior and quietness unsettling to a few of their soldiers.
One such soldier approached the pair, their cloaks tucked about them, leaving only their feral heads to be properly seen.
The gray rat approached and offered a swift salute, his discomfort visible on his plain features.
"Er…er, Master Kaerune, Master Zeera..." The vixen never did enjoy being differentiated by her gender, all of her soldiers knew full well she was "Master" and not "Mistress". A few beasts had paid with their lives for such a mistake.
"Speak your piece." Kaerune's calm voice stated gently. Both siblings had sing-song voices which were both soothing and unnerving at the same time.
The very words themselves seemed to cause the rat to tremble, "Er...Masters, there's question as t'what we'll be addressin' on the morrow. Do ye want scouts sent afore or nightfall?"
It was a legitimate question. The twins had been sending scouts out regularly to scan the area for possible recruits, enemies, supplies or information. But the two foxes' plans were changing slowly.
It was Zeera who replied, "Tell our beasts that they may rest tonight, regular guard duty remaining the only constant."
"Sleep, eat and rest yourselves well." Kaerune continued.
"Tomorrow we will decide a course of action-"
The twins seemed to speak intermittently, as though finishing the other's sentences. It was eerie, cryptic, and made the rat more than just uncomfortable. He nodded halfheartedly and offered another salute, his legs visibly shaking as he attempted to remain calm under the spectral gaze of the two odd foxes.
"Er...aye Masters... I will inform th'crew." He saluted again haphazardly and quickly scurried away to spread the word.
The brother and sister turned to one another and shared a knowing blink between themselves before eventually turning away. They seemed to share a lifetime of information betwixt themselves in such a short amount of time as they turned back to watch their small army settle in as evening approached.
They sat there, just watching, their ethereal eyes watching the motions of their soldiers.
Not far away that same rat settled down among a few of his mates, a ferret and a stoat. The stoat nudged him gently as he chewed a pigeon bone.
"So, wot're they like, mucker? The seemed t'be calm and decent to ya'." The stoat said quietly in a hushed voice.
The rat trembled as he sat down next to the fire the three were sharing, a wood dove roasting in a crude spit. "I tell yer mates...they ain't right."
"Woddya' mean?" The ferret asked as he turned to roasting dove slowly.
The rat shook his grizzled head, "I can't say really, jus'...the way they talk and hardly move, and those eyes..."
"Yeah?" The stoat inquired curiously.
A chill seemed to have assault the rat as he gazed into the fire and replied with two simple words.
Dester had recently acquired four scores of vermin.It was mostly made up of foxes,rats,and stoats.They were traveling west to find a shore,when they stumbled upon the quarry and a few vermin wanted to check it out."Oi!Mizta Dester!"A young fox said."Yes?"Dester replied."Can we gos and poke round in the kurry?"Dester thought for a second."Yes.Yes you can.You twelve go with him.We'll be setting up camp near the river."Dester said."Sir,yes Sir!"The thirteen headed off to the quarry."Mister Dester,there's another hoard across tee river.Whaut should we dew?"Hahn,a ferret,and Dester's second in command."I'll greet them."He walked to the bank of the river and shouted."Who might you be!?!"
It was nearing nightfall when two sentries approached Kaerun and Zeera. The strange foxes had remained sitting where they'd always been, conversing in a mixing of hushed tones and knowing glances, a language all its own to the mystical twins.
It was a ferret sniper. and a rat scout who approached them. Kaerune and Zeera knew them both well. Jura and Duskfur they were. Efficient killers and hunters both.
"Masters," the ferret stated gently as he offered a calm bow. "Vermin sighted across the river, near the quarry."
"Well armed, about a score o' them." The rat continued with the report calmly. "We couldn't pick out a leader, but there were foxes among them."
Zeera's eyes seemed to glimmer for a moment, then returned to their ethereal gray coloring.
"Very good." Kaerune said as, lithely, he reached for a flask of blackberry wine and poured both soldiers a cup full. His graceful paws handed them the devices, but neither creature moved to drink. Kaerune eyed them curiously, blinked and then, gesturing towards them said, "Please, drink. You have dine well and earned as much."
Quietly the pair obeyed, but not without their eyes being fully focused upon the fox twins as they did so.
Zeera spoke as they drank, "When you have finished, inform the others danger might be nearby."
"Post sentries to keep a sharp eye out and watch the river." Kaerune added.
"We don't want anything to come of the situation so-"
"-Make certain your archers are ready and waiting should anything happen."
The peculiarity of the twins seemed to daunt the two seasoned warriors little. They finished their wine, handed back the wooden cups with a respectful bow and headed back towards the horde to do as instructed.
Kaerune and Zeera merely watched.
It was dusk when the nightingale song reached the ears of Jura and Duskfur. They both turned to their masters who stood now, quietly draped in their cloaks, watching the river. A creature approached, that was what the birdsong had been about. A scout nearest the river had sighted them.
Another tweet followed, informing those on the other bank that the approaching creature was alone.
Kaerune and Zeera stood with Jura and Duskfur at their sides, a dozen archers waiting behind a sloping bank should anything go wrong. The hoary foxes eyed the newcomer as he spoke, looking upon him as though with an air of boredom. They turned to one another, seemed to hold some silent conversation with their eyes, and then turned back to Dester.
"It is customary to introduce oneself before asking the name of another." Kaerune stated gently, his voice calm, soothing and eerily so.
His sister continued, "One might think it rude to demand in such a situation." Her voice was just as calm, and slightly more intimidating. Her features fierce and her eyes more feral.
Dester shrugged at Zeera's demand."I be Dester Griplar,more commonly known as Dester the Collector.We are traveling west to the shores.What business are you doing here?"He took out his cleaver out and sat on a rock,then he took out a smooth stone and began sharpening it."I never seen fox fraternal twins before.Usually there identical.I bet you two share a brain."Hahn walked beside him and started fishing.
Jura and Duskfur remained silent as the exchange took place, their eyes never leaving the rat on the opposite bank lest he try something foolish. Jura's keen eyes eventually settled on Hahn who he watched very carefully.
Kaerune and Zeera both watched Dester with intensity. Each motion was noted by their keen eyes as he sat on the rock and began honing the edge of a cleaver blade. They blinked almost simultaneously as they considered his remark.
"Twins share a unique bond." Kaerune answered with an gentle voice which belied his cruel nature. He sounded wise and almost…distracted as his eyes locked onto the motions of the cleaver blade. He watched it as though entranced, falling silent as his sister continued for him.
"We share many things." Zeera stated solidly, her voice calm yet carrying with it a more frightening tone. Something one almost had to listen closely for. She blinked, unperturbed, as she continued, "Though I believe our business here is our own." She paused as her eyes glanced over at the fishing ferret. They returned to settle on Dester as though they'd never even left, her head never moving to follow the direction of her wandering eyes, making her seem almost as though carved of stone. "You have foxes among you. How many, and of what breed?"
Dester was intrigued on how the twins talked.Calm and cold.He liked it."About twenty and I don't know what breeds they are,I really never had a reason to care.Little more than half of them are in the quarry,heavens know why.They probably think something valuable's in there."He lifted his cleaver to see if it was sharp enough."It's also rude to not tell why your here when another has told his reason."
"He is right, sister." Kaerune noted gently as his eyes remained vividly set upon the cleaver blade. He seemed as though in a trance, seeing something other than what was clearly there.
Zeera never moved, but instead changed her course of conversation, her voice still level and soothing like her brother's. "My brother and I seek fortune within the Mossflower woodlands. These territories are not ancestral to us, so we seek to make them as much, through whatever means necessary."
"To make it our own." Kaerune added gently as his paw stole up to stroke at his chin, his thumb claw rubbing against his cheek as his eyes remained eerily focused upon the cleaver. He seemed to barely move at all, his paw suddenly appearing as though it were made of smoke.
"All our own." Zeera concluded as one paw gestured to the area behind them. Several warriors saw the signal and stepped forward, weapons bristling amongst them as vicious eyes looked towards the rat and his ferret companion. They seemed to materialize out of thin air from amongst the trees and shrubbery, so quiet and well-hidden were they.
Zeera turned to them slowly with her ethereal grace, then turned back to Dester calmly as though she had never moved at all. "There are three score of us, 60 warriors and my brother and I. But no foxes but ourselves."
"We don't trust them." Kaerune noted, his voice seeming as faraway as his gaze. As though he were somewhere else entirely. All this naught but a dream.
His sister mimicked his distance as her eyes settled upon Dester's own, they seemed fogged over, spectral gray and odd. Both of them seemed odd. "They don't trust us." She finished for her brother's statement as they both stood, seeming as though there and…yet, not at all.
Two ghosts in-between what was real and what wasn't, their eyes telling the story of their unspoken insanity.
Dester smiled at the jest of warriors that appeared out of thin air."I do hope your not threatening me.You know why I'm called The Collector?I just love to take apart my enemies and take there remains.They make lovely decor of my huts."He gave Kaerune a malevolent look."And I love to see how some one like you,would deal with finding your sister's scattered remains."He paused."but if your not threatening me,you nary a fear of harm falling before you.Hahahaha!"He gave one of his crazed laughs."Do right Dester.Do right!"Hahn laughed with him.
For the first time both siblings moved more than just slightly. Simultaneously they turned to face one another, sharing a few silent moments with their eyes, conversing as though in thought.
They turned back to Dester, their eyes and features emotionless, as they had been the entire conversation.
Their warriors remained at their back, calm and waiting, all it took was a subtle order.
It was Jura and Duskfur who seemed the most affected. Jura's dark eyes focused intently upon Hahn, Duskfur's own on Dester. Neither soldiers liked the rat and ferret, and they would've been happy enough to end their lives immediately.
But it would not be so.
"The Ghostkin do not make threats." Kaerune spoke gently, his voice wispy like a breeze through the trees. He seemed almost confused by the rat's comments.
"Nor idle threats." Zeera continued.
"You asked our business."
"Perhaps he is too simple-minded?" Kaerune tuned to his sister calmly, not so much as an inch of emotion on his placid features.
His sister turned to him in response, "Perhaps rats are not good thinkers?"
"I've not heard such a name, either."
They both turned back to gaze upon the rat, their tranquil expressions and ever calm voices seeming like a part of the woods itself, as did their very existence. Ethereal and awkward in the shadows that were intent on devouring the woodlands and both river banks as the sun set in the west. They simply stared, still as stone, they watched, blinking. As though weighing some option against the other or awaiting some form of proper response.
If there was such a thing.
Dester's smile widened."Oooo.You two are really pushing your luck."He stood up and opened up his trench coat,showing his array of knives and daggers,and placed the cleaver in it's holster."Ta ta."Dester simply said."Yeah.Tuh tuh."Hah echoed.
Kaerune and Zeera, known to their soldiers as simply the Ghostkin, were absolutely perplexed.
It wasn't uncommon, the demeanor of most creatures puzzled them. For they were two creatures with the mind of one, constantly knowing the other's feelings and thoughts through some unknown, familial force. Or so it seemed to their soldiers when they exchanged those knowing glances and finished each other's sentences. They were an awkward pair, and rightly feared for their brutality and efficiency.
But here was a situation where neither foxes truly knew what to do about a situation. the scraggly rat seemed intent to simply walk away, as though insulted.
Kaerune was confused, and he turned to his sister with furrowed brows. "Sister…why does he leave?"
"I do not not, brother. He seemed..."
Zeera took a long breath and shook her head slowly, a motion only her brother could detect so smooth and subtle were her movements. "I do not know, brother. I cannot know the mind of a solitary."
Kaerun turned away from his sister and watched the rat and ferret depart. No paw motion came, so his soldiers simply allowed it to happen. Once they were firmly out of earshot a weasel scout dropped from the trees next to his master. Kaerune spoke to him as though he'd been there all along.
"How many?" The fox asked gently.
"Close or a bit more n' a hunnerd, Masser." The weasel stated gruffly with a swift salute.
"All fighting beasts?" Zeera asked without turning her head.
"No, Masser. About half're fighters, th'rest r'fam'ly."
"An even match." Kaerune noted as he dismissed his waiting soldiers behind him, gathered his cloak and sought to sit comfortably at the base of an oak.
"No, brother." Zeera said gently as she excused the scout, along with Jura and Duskfur. Kaerune turned to her quietly but her eyes remained on the horizon where the rat and ferret had disappeared towards the quarry. "Nobeast is an even match for a Ghostkin warrior."
As Dester and Hahn returned to the camp they were surprised on what was brought to them."Deester!!Deester!!Gowld!!"The fox that ran up to him pulled out a small bag that had many nuggets in it."The kurry is full of et!"Hahn turned and smiled at Dester."Oi can't believe dis!"Hahn proclaimed."I can't either."Dester agreed.'Maybe I could use this to gain some trust.'Dester thought."Jultar!"A medium sized fox appeared with a long bow,then Dester grabbed the bag of gold."Come with me.Hahn,stay here."Dester and Jultar went back to the river bank."Hey foxes!Here's an offer!"Dester tied the bag to an arrow.Jultar pulled back on the bow and hit a tree near the siblings.
It hadn't been more than a few minutes. It couldn't have been. Not as the two foxes had settled down to an evening cup of mint tea.
The young stoat soldier who brought it poured carefully, nervousness in both his eyes and demeanor as he did all he could to assure he wouldn't spill. The Ghostkin only used the younger, inexperienced warriors for mundane tasks like this, as if to better assess their worth as warriors come their later seasons. The stoat couldn't have been much older than 16, naught but a babe, but Kaerune was sure someday he'd be a ruthless warrior.
He could see it in the child's eyes.
"Ashtail, was it?" Kaerune asked as he held his wooden cup to be refilled. The stoat nodded as he swallowed hard and gently poured more of the hot liquid. The fox withdrew his cup and blew steam away from his face as he analyzed the young stoat. "Sit with us, have some tea. I'm sure a young creature like yourself enjoys tea with honey?"
Ashtail, named so for his gray tail and pale cream-colored fur everywhere else, shook like a leaf before the two older foxes, absolutely intimidated.
Zeera turned to him slowly as there came no response and said, "Did you not hear my brother?" She asked gently.
The stoat shook his head, "I-I heard, Masters, but…"
"You would do me great honor by sitting with me, Ashtail. Please, sit." Kaerune gestured to the empty space next to him and the stoat slowly and nervously obliged. Kaerune plucked the beaker of tea from the young creature's paws with a grace so feral it was frightening. Ashtail hardly even realized he'd been relieved of the item until suddenly a cup was placed in his paws. He looked down at the object as though it were so foreign and frightening. Kaerune gently filled the child's mug and offered him the jar of honey which held a large piece of comb within it.
The rat scout from earlier, along with his ferret and stoat friends, watched the exchange from a cooking fire nearby amidst the rest of the horde.
"Pore lad." The rat remarked.
" 'Aving tea with a kiddo like that? Wot an odd pair." The stoat remarked as he sipped at a mug of warmed wine.
"No kiddin'. Who knows wot that pore critter's thinkin'. One slip up, those two'll prolly gut the kit." The ferret noted, not seeming unduly worried. "Those two're stranger every day."
"Don't let 'em catch yew sayin' 'at." The rat added, causing the trio to laugh cheerfully amongst themselves.
Ashtail looked as though he were ready to faint. Kaerune's soothing voice made him feel as though the fox could reach right down into his soul, his ghostly eyes already observing what was there.
But there came a shout that disturbed the quiet affair. Kaerune and Zeera both looked to the river's edge, eyes and figures calm as they remained sitting.
An arrow thudded into the trunk of the tree Kaerune was using to lean on. He didn't even move. Hearing the thud he simply gestured for Ashtail to pull the device out and hand it to him, something the completely frightened stoat kit did quickly. Zeera watched as her brother undid the leather ties and emptied glittering nuggets of gold into his paw.
Both foxes' eyes lit up at the sight, some sort of inherent need for beauty such as this aroused within them. They shared a knowing glance, then turned to Dester and his assistant nearby.
It just so happened to be a fox, and it almost caused Kaerune to sneer.
"Brother." Zeera whispered knowingly, and it managed to keep him calm as he addressed the pair across the river.
"Dester, was it?" Kaerune asked, raising his voice only as much as he needed to to be heard from over the river. "I believe you've made quite a wonderful discovery, that or you possess more than we at first believed."
"It is a generous offer, what is it you require from us?" Zeera asked calmly. Ashtail still standing nearby. The poor stoat didn't know whether to leave or stay and figured remaining where he was was the better option.
Dester smiled confidently."What DO I want?How about a mutual alliance between us?I can tell you want power and more vermin to increase your army.I want power and more vermin to my army.If we combine forces,I believe we can accomplish that."He tilted his head and paced the bank."Ever heard of Redwall Abbey?"
Kaerune let the nuggets fall back into the leather pouch which he then handed to Ashtail without even looking towards the creature. Ashtail suddenly found himself with the bag in his paws, not knowing exactly how they'd gotten there. But he remained, as calmly as he could, awaiting orders.
"What you say makes sense." Kaerune stated calmly.
"Each of us in control of our own force, but working towards a similar goal." Zeera added.
Kaerune blinked when Dester mentioned the Abbey. Once more the twins shared a knowing glance to each other and then turned back to the rat. "Aye, we know of the Abbey." Kaerune responded. "My sister and I, our Ghostkin warriors, we have spent the entire season studying its walls."
"We know those which are strongest." Zeera added.
"And those which are weakest."
"To destroy it and make it our own would be a feat-"
"-A feat which we are not yet numerous enough to accomplish." Kaerune stated gently, knowingly. The Ghostkin had been biding their time, waiting for the right moment, accumulating strength and collecting willing warriors to their cause. But it was slow going since the Ghostkin demanded the best and would not tolerate failure, cowardice or greed. They'd killed more creatures than they'd collected over the seasons.
And it only further made those under them fearful of their ability and cruelty.
"Agreed,but you heed my warnings.Don't cheat me or you will pay dearly."He turned with Jultar and returned to camp."How'd et go Dester?"Hahn asked."You all may not like it,but we are now 'mutual' allies with the neighboring hoard.We'll be working together to take Redwall."There was a low unsure murmuring through the ranks."If we do this"He continued."we'll be the most feared and powerful army in Mossflower."Nods of approval waved through the crowd."and when I mean 'we'll' I mean us!There's only room for one power and I don't tend to share."Dester's followers cheered and yelled in delight of the plan."Tonight we shall celebrate!Bring out the wine and catch many birds!We'll feast like kings tonight!"There yells and cheers were loud enough to reach Kaerune and Zeera.
The twins' ears swiveled almost simultaneously to catch the sounds of the cheering as they went back to enjoying their tea. Ashtail was still uncomfortably nearby, holding the tea beaker and a jar of honey.
"They sound eager." Zeera noted as she sipped at her teacup.
Kaerune blew gently on his tea, steam billowing away slowly as moved to respond, "So it seems."
There was an eerie silence which was slowly driving the young stoat mad. But he was regaining his wits, albeit very slowly. Something kept chewing at the back of his mind, and his curiosity was eventually overcome. "Erm…Masters?" He inquired carefully. Their gentle eyes which turned in his direction told him he was permitted to continue. "Um...do you think it wise?" They remained silent. He suddenly found himself nervous again and swallowed hard. "I mean...can they be trusted?"
A subtle smile which barely even seemed physical passed between brother and sister as they turned to regard one another slowly. They turned back to the young stoat, glad even the young could grasp such a concept.
"Nobeast can be trusted, young Ashtail." Kaerune noted gently, his voice so soothing it seemed to almost melt away all of the kit's fears.
"You are wise to be uncertain, for vermin are despicable creatures by nature." Zeera continued.
"We aim to change that."
"We aim to make them more than what they are."
They paused and then Kaerune smiled gently, "But we will change that, Ashtail. We will give them a reason to live and fight and carry with them at least some semblance of honor."
"For what is the honor of the Ghostkin warrior, young Ashtail?" Zeera asked calmly.
The young stoat instantly launched into the very practiced response, his voice becoming level and confident, "To fight with bravery, to embrace the darkness and always heed the words of those whose veins run cold with the blood of ghosts."
Kaerune and Zeera looked to one another with a knowing, gratified smile. They turned back to Ashtail calmly, and Kaerune said, "Very good, Ashtail. You are truly a pride to the Ghostkin you willingly serve. And in return, know this, you will be rewarded."
Continued at: Accommodating Alliances
OOC: I didn't realize I had the power to do that. xD, Thought it was a mod's job. xDDD