Trails of Blood
Bodies littered the dirt roads.
Thick with smoke and burning ash, the blackened remains of woodland homes smouldered through the screen, in the final dying light of day. Where once, not hours before, festive banners for the harvest had waved brightly in the summer's breeze, their charred tatters flapped instead, eerie and quiet on the air.
In the center of the pitiful carnage knelt the only living beast - a tattooed, wild-looking figure that swayed drunkenly on his knees. Its paws were stained in the still-brilliant blood of the innocent, soaked to the elbows, left a messy trail across its face and chest; its body seemed to jerk to the throb of some silent, steady drum-beat, and from its mouth muttered alien chants, a savage language lost to time and warfare.
He raised his bloodied arms to the sky - to the fading day, the encroaching night -
- And the fires of sacrifice burned out.
KayLee was on a fair distance away, traveling along the twisting and winding paths. She looked up at the sky, it was then that she noticed the dark smoke against the blue sky. She followed the line of smoke until the trees hid it from view. By the amount of the smoke, she could tell it was a fairly big fire, where ever it was coming from. She had hoped that it wasn't the beginning of an out of control forest fire.
As she drew closer and closer to the source of the fire, she became more and more cautious. She peered through some brush and noticed it wasn't was a forest fire, but that of several homes. She gasped as she inched closer, looking at the carnage, then something caught here eyes. Someone was still alive. "Hey! Are you ok!" She called to them, as she slowly approached. "What happened here?"
( ooc - this topic was locked because RedPriest was gone, but since he has decided to return (yay!), 'Trails of Blood' is now unlocked and ready to be posted in again )
The beast jolted at her sudden arrival, as though shocked out of his trance, and took one look at her - then bolted towards the woods from the dead village, stained and tattered clothes flapping behind him.
A rat, by the looks of it, though slightly small for one - a thinner tail streaming behind and lower, stockier build than a stoat or fox - tearing for the trees without a backward glance at the newcomer. A satchel at his hip chimed and clinked with what might have been coins as he went.
"Hey! Wait!" KayLee shouted as she started after him. "Please stop. I didn't mean to frighten you. Are you ok?" She asked as she ran after him. Although running after him, she continued to stay a safe distance away if she ever caught up and got close enough. She had no idea if he was one of the victims or the one, or least one of those who caused the destruction.
The squirrel-maid was quite fast, her body was quite nimble and in shape due to the fact she was a dancer and an acrobatic. The metal coins on her tambourine and on her dancing skirt jingled in her pack as she ran after the rat.
Lithe as a deer, he tore through the brush, aware of the clinking of his pursuer growing closer with every footfall. A Woodlander, speaking common - a language not unknown to him - but, in his sudden state of raw panic, it sounded strange and intimidating.
Nearly a mile from the site thundered the River Moss at a crossing, growing nearer and nearer as they ran, and she gained. The red-pawed rogue vaulted over an ash log, and, unexpectedly, caught the dangerous, if familiar scent, of the owner the moment before it appeared. Not an instant after his paws had touched the looser dirt on the other side did a much larger beast spring, seemingly from nowhere, to land behind the well-meaning squirrelmaid, and held his rusting blade not an inch from her soft throat.
If the other rat had been uncommonly diminutive, this one was anything but: broad-chested and amber-furred, he held himself with an unusual quiet and poise for a vermin, still as the trees: a full-blooded warrior's composition that did not waver, hardly drew breath. Vivid green eyes burned like a cold fire behind its savage tattoos - bold, black, vertical stripes, from brow to jaw, and forehead to chin.
The runner skidded to an abrupt halt, and stared at the both of them with wide, nervous brown eyes, behind similar bold markings - eyes perhaps a little too wide, too compassionate, for a rat, after all. The tense silence that followed was only interrupted by the quiet drip of still-wet blood, pattering on the dead leaves.
"Please. I only want to–" KayLee started to yell at the fleeting rat as she got closer and closer to it, though something jumped out from the side, landing behind her. It had caught her off guard. She turned her head to glance over to see another rat, then went to look at the rat whom she was chasing only to see the shining steel of a blade.
"Ok..ok..ahh, not what I expected." She looked up at the rat standing on the other side of the ash log, it was the first time that she could actually see his face and the markings on his face. She turned her head up to see the bigger rat behind her, noticing the markings again. "If you could lower your weapon. I just wanted to make sure your friend was alight." She said trying to back up from the blade as much as she could without making any sudden movements. "I'm KayLee..ahh..umm..What's you're name?" She asked trying to make simple friendly conversation.
Juniper wriggled through the entwining foliage of Mossflower Wood's broad canopy. His tail twirled as he balanced on a precarious pearch in the top of an alder. Since mid-afternoon he had been heading toward a pillar of smoke, rising from the inner forest. Now, as the sun's last ray's began to fade in the enfolding arms of nightfall, he looked down on a seen which would ever be imprinted in his memory.
A rat, or at least it seemed to be a rat, knelt in the center of a destroyed village. Bodies of the slain creatures lay scattered about the clearing while the huts which had been their homes smoldered with a dull fire. And blood seemed to be everywhere. The rat suddenly lifted its head and then darted off as a pretty squirrelmaid exited the fringe of forest and called out to him.
The squirrelmaid seemed to be trying to help the fleeing creature but Juniper was afraid that her attempt would lead to her own demise. Juniper decided he must follow and attempt to help her if she got into trouble. He lost sight of the racing creatures many times but he continued following and when he arrived on the seen, a rat had a sword to the squirrel's throat.
He pulled his bow from his back and notched an arrow to his bow then sat to wait and see what would happen though keeping his arrow at the ready.
Ooc: Hope this will do.
The two rats exchanged a glance. The smaller one's thin chest heaved, and, unable to speak yet, he only shook his head.
The other warrior, after a pause, seemed to consider this, and listened to her words. Whether he understood them or not, was not readily apparent. Regardless, he lifted his sword, preparing for a quick chop to her neck.
The other one lurched forward to stop him. "Sagu!" He rasped, pads held open. "Sagu, Jak! Zem ni la weh cha'gri!"
The sword lowered. "Mo kaylu?"
He shook his head vigorously.
The warrior grunted, but sheathed his sword. Instead, he pulled a bone-handled knife from his belt; in one paw, he held the scruff of her neck, and the other flashed across her face -
- And a tuft of fur floated to the ground. There was no blood, no wound. He released her roughly, snatching up the cut fur, and looked her dead in the eyes. "Leave, woodlander. Do not follow."
With that said, he strode across to the smaller rat, grabbed his arm, and dragged him off into the woods, leaving the unharmed squirrel-maid alone in the clearing.
KayLee glanced back and forth at the two rats, not moving all that much. Then again who would in a situation like this? Much like the smaller rat she had been running after, she was breathing heavily as she caught her breath from sprinting after him from the now burnt down village. Her heart was pounding in her chest, a mix of expending her energy from running, and fear and nervousness from what was now happening. Neither of them acknowledged her or her words in any way.
She gasped as the bigger rat raised the blade from her next, readying for a strike. She gave a quick scream and a whimper as she backed up into the bigger rat, closing her eyes tight, squirming. She opened one of her eyes as the smaller one spoke out.
The squirrel-maid wasn't sure what was said, but she sighed as the sword lowered and was sheathed. "..Thank yo–" She began though stopped when the bigger rat grabbed her by the scruff. "..Wha--What are you doing?" She asked as he cut off some fur from her. If she wasn't confused already, she surly was now.
She stumbled forward as he released her, glancing at him as he grabbed the fur then his smaller counterpart, leaving with a warning not to follow.
KayLee blinked as she was left alone, or at least what she thought was alone. She tilting her head, perplexed by everything that had happened. Were they the ones that destroyed the village or were they in the wrong place at the wrong time, or did they try to protect the village and failed, or was it their own village and fled to safety? And then there's always the why? question for all of those scenarios.
She looked in the direction the rats were headed before turning back and began to also leave, heading back to the destroyed village. Perhaps there were survivors that needed help. The smoke began to die down, yet was still visible as the fires died, yet the village was still smouldering.
Perhaps she would track them down later after everything calmed down from the burning village. If it was them that destroyed the village, she had to make sure they weren't on a rampage and raided any more along the way. She relied on the hospitality of these villages while traveling and performing acts.
Why he had not fired, Juniper did not know. What he did know was that the rats had gone taking a small tuft of the squirrelmaid's fur with them.
He decided to descend and make sure they had not injured her. He scrambled down the tree and ran over to her. "Hello." he said, "I heard you say your name was KayLee. I am Juniper. Are you alright?"
Ooc: Sorry for the short post but I couldn't think of anything else to say. Also, even though Juniper is a squirrel, I would rather not have a love story on my hands if you don't mind.
( ooc - wasn't intending on a love story. Haha )
Kaylee nearly jumped out of her skin when she heard a voice. She hadn?t noticed him approach her, her mind still on the two rats. "Oh..Hi. Yes, my name is KayLee." She replied. If he had overheard her conversation with the two rats than he would have also seen it as well, and went un-noticed.
The squirrel-maid nodded. "Ya, I'm alright. Been through worse. Just wondering why they took some of my fur. And what they actually said to each other." She shook her head and smiled a little. "It's nice to meet you Juniper. I was just on my way back to the burned down village, to see if I could be of any help to some survivor if there is any. Poor creatures. Would you like to come with me?" She asked as she began to slowly walk again.
As Kaylee walked off, Juniper turned to follow.
"Would you like to come with me?"
"Aye, I'll come with ye," Juniper replied, "though only as far as the village. I'll help you search for survivors and help any if they need it but after we search I want to follow those rats and figure out what they are up to. By the amount of damage done to that village, I think there must have been more than one, or even two rats. I also want to know why they took a small tuft of your fur. It all seems very fishy."
Ooc: Wow Kiara you sure are smart. Taking off and trying to bring along a creature you never met before but who just scared you out of your skin. That's a great idea. jk
( ooc - well he was concerned for her and such, coming over to her aide and asking if she was ok. He seems like a nice guy )
"Very fishy, indeed." KayLee responded as they both traveled back to the village to see if they could help in any way. "I too would like to know what they are up to." She said, glancing back towards where the rats left, then back at Juniper.
Getting back to the village, she looked around for a moment. It was a ghost town now, or what was left of it, which was very little. "They either got really mad, or knew what they were doing before hand…" She said. Much of what was left had burnt out, however everything was black. Everything but the drying blood, turning from a bright red to a dark red. She walked until she stopped at the place she first saw the rat kneeling down. "He was kneeling here for a reason.." She could only guess. The rat was here by himself, there was no need to be there and kneel, he wasn't injured, able to run.
Juniper knelt beside Kaylee, trying to see what the rat had seen. Why had the rat knelt in that place and why had he, and others most likely, destroyed a village? Juniper examined all around him. First he looked a couple of yards out and then searched inward with his eyes. All he saw were bodies of creatures, mutilated bodies lying everywhere. He bowed his head. The enormous pain of the situation overwhelmed him. His eyes closed.
When he again opened his eyes a few moments later, he found himself staring straight at a small red dagger. The short curved blade curved in an arc away from him and the ruby encrusted hilt pointed directly toward him. "What is it?" he thought. "Why is this here?" Suddenly he knew it must be a clue to this whole puzzle.
The blood-stained rat stumbled and crashed through the woods, dragged by the warrior's almost merciless grip on his arm. Out of breath, he dug his heels in, in an attempt to halt the other. "Sagu, may! Please!"
The larger rat halted, and then threw his arm away, eyes burning with ill-concealed disgust. "How fitting, for someone like you," he snapped in their tongue, "to speak like a Woodlander. A Son of Ilsen, indeed."
The smaller rodent put his paws on his knees and waited, trying to catch his breath. He closed his eyes at his brother's comment, but did not say anything further.
The warrior stared at him a moment, and then, as though he were just as worn out, went to stand beside him, and spoke in a much calmer tone. "We need to hurry across the river, before anybeast comes after us. The village was a setback."
The other frowned at his rather harsh choice of words, but only hung his head in exhaustion. A thin line of blood dripped from under his elbow, running the length of his arm, to patter quietly onto the leaves below. The warrior frowned. "That should have dried ages ago."
"Sorgunil," the younger brother replied, turning his paw over in the light. Sorcery.
Hazel was right. The sooner they got across the river, the better chance they'd have of seeing the next day. The small rat straightened up at last, and Hazel took his shoulder to steady him. The warrior opened his palm to show him the strands of fur he'd taken from the squirrelmaid.
She would have had no way of knowing, he thought, feeling the guilt nearly overwhelm him. No way, whatsoever, of the way things were now.
And, as they continued on, he silently hoped that she at least, would make it as far away from all of this as possible.
While Juniper was trying to decipher why the rat was kneeling in that particular spot and what he might have been looking at, KayLee had started to roam around, checking each body to make sure they were in fact dead. If they had a heartbeat or where breathing, even lightly, she'd know they were still alive. Yet she had no luck finding any one that could have survived.
"There's no way those two rats could have done all this by themselves. Even if they had tried, they would have been outnumbered by the villagers. So we're more than likely looking at a much bigger group." She thought out loud. She then pondered how big this group could be. It was a scary thought, especially if she took in the probability that not all members of the group took part. There was two left behind, could have been for a reason. And if by chance those two rats were the only two, then they were stronger than they looked, and perhaps had an anger issue or two. Whatever the case, neither was a good outcome if she and Juniper weren't careful.
"It doesn't look good at all for these villagers. Something deadly horrible took place. And I would assume had we came earlier than we did, we would have shared the same fate." She said as she approached Juniper again.
Juniper felt his paw close around the hilt of the dagger lifting it from the bed of dust in which it had previously been hidden from view. His paw moved slowly as if he was bearing a great weight and he could not will it to move faster. He suddenly felt fear such as he had not know before. There was something about this blade that instilled fear in him though he could not tell what.
His eyes and mind fixed on the blade, Juniper did not pay attention or understand what Kaylee was saying. He rose from his position and only came out of his reverie enough to open his grip to show her as she approached but did not know what there was to say. He only held it out to her in dumb silence.
KayLee tilted her head as Juniper opened his grip on the dagger, though he said nothing and just showed her. "That is a nice looking blade. I wonder if it belonged to the rats, or someone in the village?" She asked looking at the blade. There was something odd about it, something special. "If that rat was kneeling here, and dropped his dagger, he probably would have picked it up, unless I startled him and forgot it. If it belonged to a villager, I doubt he would leave it behind if this whole thing was about pillaging the place, unless I startled him and he ran off before he could get it." The squirrel-maid pondered out loud. "Well we are not finding any answers here, just more questions and mystery. And there isn't anyone I can find that is still alive. The poor things."
After several moments, Juniper was finally able to choke out a reply. "We must stop them." he croaked, fear clutching him, "They did some damage here but no telling what else they could manage. We must follow them, do whatever we can to stop them, or go find help and then begin tracking them." Juniper took in a deep breath to calm himself down, then continued, "Maybe we should warn the creatures of Redwall. They are not far off and maybe they can help us too. What do you think? Should we go to Redwall or try to track the rats on our own? I am almost sure this blade belonged to the rat and we must find out what they are up to no matter where we start. What do you say?"