In this land, matches are your best friend….

  • The chilling, unsympathetic wind howled through the trees of the Northlands, a unmerciful and divine monster birthed from the loins of nature itself that scoured through the darkness of the night, looking for victims who were dying from exposure so it could wrap it's cold grip around them and encase them in a hypothetical coffin so it can drain and devour completely what warmth, what life was left in their bodies. It had this night managed to put a few beasts both good and wicked to permanent slumber, Their bodies frozen into quick rigamortis, twisted or curled up statues, but there was one soul who stubbornly managed to avoid the inevitable….. for now....

    "I hate this place…." Was the thought that crossed the feline's mind as he sat there as close as he possibly could without being burned by the campfire he had commandeered from a couple of beasts he had encountered. A rat and a weasel, the cat approached them due to the lure of the warm fire they had started and the possibility of recruiting some shipmates to help him gather much needed resources and hopefully sail away from this nightmare, however the cat 'may' have been sarcastic and rude towards them when they gave a 'hint' of an attitude toward him and may have demanded the weasel to trade clothing with him because he didn't like the idea of taking clothes from the rodent who quote on quote "smelled like a dead, beached seal" and the end result being that he had to kill both of them, but how it came down at this point really now didn't matter anymore because he knew that he didn't get the last laugh in that confrontation, although he didn't get injured in the fight, the battle was bloody and because of this. The thick and warm clothing the beasts had been wearing was now soiled by they're own blood. They were now pretty much useless to him….

    The cat was lost, he had attempted to go south through the Northlands instead of along the beach to avoid the vicious fox that had slaughtered his crew mates a few days ago, but now he wishes he had taken his chances going down the coast instead, he was trying to make it to the warmer climate of Mossflower so he could gain the much needed supplies for the ship and even more needed beasts to sail it. However, things were just not going as planned at all. Now he may just freeze to death instead.

    The cat was a mess despite being uninjured, he was shaking as if very muscle in his body was a squirming mass of adders, his nose wasn't dripping, it was nearly gushing, his paws were almost dead numb and his ears felt like they could be snapped off like an icicle and despite being near enough to be burned by the fire, the cold wind still rubbed against him through his silk clothing, like the cold coils of death itself was wrapping itself around him. As if was trying to rub itself deeper into his body so it could freeze him from the inside too. Maybe it was....

    Ryker tried to get a good idea of what direction he had been going, he had been going East for a while, but now rather embarrassingly. He felt he got turned around from the fight with the weasel and rat, now he didn't know what direction he was even facing. The fact it was night made it even more impossible to find his bearings and sense of direction. If he wasn't so cold and it was day, he could risk climbing up one of the land's many tree and looking out to see if he was going the right away or not.

    The cat could kick himself, he brought as much food and drink as he could pack onto himself, but failed to think of getting a map and a few tinderboxes to start fires with, stupid! Stupid! Stupid!

    No point of beating himself over it now however....

    The corsair cat sat his tankard full of snow onto the pan that had been next to the fire when he showed up and was waiting for it to melted into hot water to drink down. It wouldn't be heated tea, but anything to warm him up would do him a lot of good now. There was nothing to place the pan over the campfire and he was basically holding the pan over the fire with his tankard sat on it, something his numb arm didn't particularly take kindly too at all....

    To help get his mind off being cold, he started to go through the all too common process and giving himself questions and complaints and than answering them.

    _"Why would any beast want to live here?"
    "Because they have this weird abnormality in they're brains that makes them enjoy almost freezing to death…. That or they're idiots."

    "Why did the captain allow a beserker warrior from a land where the beasts EAT each other on his ship?"
    "Because he thought having such a warrior would make raiding the coasts easier and more rewarding, also because he was an idiot."

    "Why did you think you could get through the Northlands to Mossflower within a single day? You didn't even know WHERE on the coast the ship was beached at!"
    "Because I'm an idiot."

    "Why did the vixen want to go to Salamandastron all by herself with absolutely no chance of defeating the Long Patrol and a Badger Lord by herself?"
    "Because maids are weird and psychopathic creatures that males such as myself will never fully understand well…" _

  • Dark silhouettes moved through the trees. They were large, yet agile and fast, moving through the snow smoothly and silently. They had thick, smoky fur suited to the cold, their long grey tails swishing against the snowy cover, their eyes gleaming. The stars were out tonight, a crescent moon gave its pale, cold light to the rugged, rocky terrain of the Northlands. They were feral cats, clad in thick, silver-grey furs. Marlfox fur, a rare and valuable material, it matched the colours of its wearers. The feral cats climbed hills and even trees, covering a wide circle around their encampment. They were scouts, keen and fit young cats who could probe and test the landscape, finding paths through the treacherous mountain ranges and mysterious forests. They were the eyes of the horde, its light through the darkness around them.

    The campfire drew them like grey, ghostly moths. There was the harsh scent of blood on the wind, and it was unusual to see a lone beast out on a night like this. They watched from the shadows for a while. The blood came from a couple of dead vermin of no consequence. The scouts were allowed to act without explicit orders; capturing prospective slaves, interrogating strange cats, and even recruit any willing paws that could hold a sword. This certainly fit the beast they were watching, his clothes did not match the climate at all, yet he'd slayed two vermin with that great broadsword of his. He looked suspiciously like a corsair, and they were not too far from the coast. A signal was given, and they silently moved closer, materialising all around him. Each carried a bow and a quiver of arrows, and short swords on their belts. Yet they did not draw them. After all, it was just a lone corsair slowly going numb in the cold.

    "Snow's a poor diet," the leader commented, eyeing the corsair's tankard, "You'll catch your death out here, once that fire goes out. It creeps up on you, the cold, doesn't it?"

    There were a few murmurings of agreement. The leader knelt to the other cat's eye level. He seemed friendly enough, but he wasn't smiling. It's hard to have an expressive face when it's that cold. "You know, we can always use another cat back at camp. If you join up with Hellebore's horde, we've got furs, and bonfires, and plenty of food."

    "Join Nettlecrest's regiment, though!" One of the scouts piped up, tapping the snake-like nettle symbol etched on his sword's scabbard. "We're fearsome archers. Know how to draw a bow, mate?"

    The leader snarled as the other scouts tried to chip in support for the different clan names and floral symbols they marched under. "Enough! He'll be going to Hellebore, as per our standing orders… unless he wants to freeze out here by himself, that is. What do you say, mate?"

    Paws clasped behind her back, Claudia strolled down the length of the camp's wall, her bright yellow eyes seeming to examine the soul of every beast she passed. The vermin didn't dare look into those eyes, instead busying themselves with firewood, food and keeping watch. Her wildcat officers and feral cat knights would nod a head in a symbolic gesture of a bow. The more senior wildcats liked to give a full, florid bow every now and then, remembering their manners from when they had lived in proper castles. Yet court life was a long way behind them, and a new life lay ahead.
    The camp was the work of Boreas Willowvane, Claudia's friend and fellow general. The slaves under his control pulled along wagons of wooden stakes, planks, bags of nails and hammers every day. In the evening they would unpack it all and set up the same camp design, knowing it off by heart. It was a sturdy, reliable method of keeping safe from unexpected raids, but it was no palace. Most of the vermin army slept in their furs around the bonfires, pressed back-to-back to share heat. The four wildcat generals had the privacy of a wooden keep set in the centre of the camp, with the marquees and tents of the wildcats and feral cats concentrated around it, banners snapping in the wind. It was like a walled village of brightly coloured tents that moved every day.
    Claudia inspected her fortifications every evening. She trusted Boreas to do his job, but the wildcat could not help herself from personally supervising to make absolutely sure. She liked being in control of things, and even the way the tents of her fellow cats were laid out showed her influence. The tents closest to her wooden keep were flying banners of all colours, yet each had a white, five-petaled flower somewhere in the design. Some were Hellebore family members that had supported her instead of her father, others were feral cats sworn to an oath of allegiance to her. She kept her most trusted beasts closer, and the wildcats of other clans further away. They were all allies, of course, but Claudia's total trust was hard-earned.
    Claudia was not too troubled by the cold tonight. Her cloak helped keep out the wind, and her brushed fur was thick, coloured with mottled greys and whites. She blended well enough with the snow to be a scout herself, though she had more important matters to attend to. With her inspection of the camp complete, she swept her way past the tents to the keep, where she would take her evening meal. She hoped the scouts would return soon. Claudia was eager to find a good, smooth path southwards, out of the Northlands and into territories where her father could not reach her. From there, she could prepare, and gather followers and support. Her brow was knotted into a frown as she headed inside iinto warmth and candlelight.

  • Ryker didn't miss a beat. He smiled at the fellow feline and looked him in the eyes as he did his best so speak without his sentences being a repeated mess caused by the cold. "Aye, bad diet is obviously the least of my problems, I was t'traveling to Mossflower woods, when it turned dark and I got a little lost and met these charming creatures to ask them directions"

    The cat turned his head and with a smug smile on his muzzle, spoke to the two dead creatures, the mocking ring to the tone unmistakable. "S'say hello to the good horde beasts mateys." The Weasel and Rat said nothing, as dead beasts tell no tales, especially when their jaws are locked in place by rigamortis.

    The pause was brief before Ryker spoke on their behalf. "They're deep sleepers, take no offense from them." The feline placed the pan down next to the fire and was about to reply to the cat's offer to join them at their camp when one of the scouts spoke, the corsair cat smiled at what he said and despite the leader's attempt to keep everybeast quiet, he could not help but to reply. "Nettlecrest's regiment…. Hmmmm... Well, I did ussa b'bow a few times when I was lookout, but despite what the idea of having higher ground would lead ya to believe, it was often windy in the c'crow's nest and therefore arrows typically didn't hit where ya wanted them because the projectery would be thrown off. So no unfortunately, I didn't ussa b'bow too often." His ear twitched and his expression became normal again. "Anyway, I'd love to join ya, as they say. Birds of a feather s'stick together right?..... Even though we are all cats...."

    The corsair finally stood up and picked his sword up, the foreign looking weapon didn't have a scabbard, not like there was likely one that could fit it, so the cat simply held it by a few of it's nine rings. The other rings metallically clattered thanks to his shaking. "Might wanna s'send some beasts to the coasts though, the s'ship I was on had recently raided the Northern Islands a week back and we got some things of value from there, at least to s'sea b'beasts like myself, but your kind may find s'something you will like."

    As Ryker picked up his sword and said this, he finally got a good opportunity to see his visitors in detail, how that despite being felines like himself. Were vastly different from himself and a few other types of cats he had encountered. They looked more like the White Cats we used to constantly harass and annoy when he was a young child living in a far away land. He wondered whether they're appearance was an adaption to the cold, harsh environment of this world or if that how they just happened to look when they came here....

    His conscience also informed him of a dreadful reminder about the beasts....

    "These cats are wearing fur, so guess what YOU are going to be wearing….."

    The idea of wearing furs just like the vixen give him a slightly sick feeling in the pit of his stomach….

  • "You can tell the War Lady that herself," the scout leader replied. "You'll have to swear your allegiance to her, she likes tradition. We'd better get back to make our report. Let's move out!"

    The group of feral cats moved swiftly back northwards, using the constellations and their own tracks as their guide. They travelled in a single, loose column over boulders and amongst the trees, the orange-furred beast standing out amongst the grey. The campfire was left forgotten, and soon petered out in the moist air and cold. The bodies of the vermin began to freeze, their eyes staring blankly up at the stars.

    As the band of cats headed into a clearing, they could see the reassuring yellow firelight of the camp on the hill ahead. The camp was always situated on a height if possible, to slow any enemy charge at the walls. As they approached, they could see the guards at the gate, eyeing the returning scouts with some interest. Hellebore insisted on feline guards, beasts with proven loyalty who would not be prone to sleeping or mucking around on duty. The crime of sleeping on guard duty carried the penalty of summary execution in any wildcat army, and Hellebore's was no different.

    The scouts and their corsair guest filed through the gates and headed eagerly for the nearest bonfire, sniffing for the food being cooked. The camp was mostly quiet, the fires were crackling, and there was the low murmur of conversation. The leader was brought up short by a large wildcat stepping in their way. He was tall, and wore his plate armour, marking him out as the senior wildcat on watch. It was polished and etched with floral patterns, and a heavy, dark blue cloak was thrown over his shoulders. He tapped the pommel of the sword on his belt, looking at the group with distaste.  "You're late."

    "Ah, Captain Darnel. We were just getting some fresh air, away from your stench," the feral cat leader replied. The two felines eyeballed each other for a few seconds, before the wildcat cracked up.

    "Was that your best one, Firas?" He laughed, and thumped a friendly paw on the feral cat's shoulder.

    "It's late, what do you want?" The smoke-furred feline grinned, and gestured to the orange cat behind him. "Found this one alone. Shipwrecked, has a cleaver and seems to be decent with it, judging from the bodies we found."

    "It's dinner time up at Club Hellebore," the wildcat jerked his head in the direction of the wooden keep that loomed behind him, surrounded by colourful tents. The makeshift nature of the keep meant it had no windows, they couldn't carry glass panes with them, and leaving holes in the walls would expose the occupants to the Northlands chill. As such, the squat tower was a dark, imposing sight. "Might want to wait until they finish dessert."

    The scout leader shrugged. "Ah, she got snarly with me last time I waited. She says we have to report as soon as we arrive, no matter what she's doing. Talked to me like I was a kitten. Anyway, this one says he knows where some corsair treasure is. That'll cheer her up."

    "Trust me, it's not just you," the wildcat nodded, and waved the scouts past. "Go on. Take him up."

    The scout leader, or Firas as his name was revealed to be, lead the corsair past the gaudy tents of the felines and to the guard at the door to the keep, or 'Club Hellebore' as Darnel had called it. After a brief exchange, they were allowed in. Inside, they found themselves in a small entrance hall, with fur cloaks hung up on the wall. Faintly, they could hear music coming from the next room. The sound of stringed instruments, playing a soft adagio. Claudia's personal slaves were also her entertainers, and she liked music over dinner. It stifled conversation, and prevented anybeast, particularly Lord Jubal Rosethorn, from talking with their mouth full. Firas stopped, and turned to the corsair.

    "My advice? Agree with her. Call her 'My Lady'. And get to mentioning the treasure sharpish. If she thinks you're useful, she'll like you." Firas turned and opened the door, bowing low as he stepped in. There was a nicely crafted table with a tablecloth woven with floral patterns. Claudia Hellebore herself sat at the head of the table picking at her fire-roasted bird meat delicately with a knife and fork. The other three wildcat commanders were sat with her and eating voraciously, none so much as Jubal, who was the biggest wildcat amongst them. In the corner, four vermin slaves played on quietly, ignoring the intrusion.

    "My Lady, I bring my report," Firas said.

    Claudia looked up, looking at the feral cat with a faint smile. "Ah, finally. I'm glad some beast has been doing their job. You found a safe path, then."

    It seemed Claudia was not so much asking for the report, as telling Firas what she expected to hear. The scout nodded eagerly. "Yes, My Lady. Exactly as you predicted, there is a clear route we can pass into Mossflower Country."

    "We move at dawn, advise the captains of the route. That's all," Claudia said. She sounded like she was suggesting a picnic, rather than ordering the movements of an army. It was as if she had been expecting this news hours ago, and had merely been waiting for Firas as a formality. Her eyes dropped from looking at the scout back to her dinner. The feral cat cleared his throat. She looked back up, and for the first time, noticed the corsair. Her eyes drifted over his outlandish dress, then back to Firas. "Yes?"

    "We found this feral cat alone in the woods ahead, My Lady. He is willing to swear his allegiance to you, and we can attest that he has some skill with the blade. You often speak of gathering every cat we can find to support our cause…"

    Claudia waved him silent with a casual paw movement. Her attention was now on the corsair. She rose, and the other generals took to their footpaws with her. Her voice was not unkind, but it was clear she took herself very seriously. "Step closer, into the light. I am Lady Claudia Hellebore, rightful heir to my clan's domains and subjects. All the beasts you see around you are my loyal followers. Who are you?"

  • Not since his childhood had Ryker seen so many of his kind in one place, despite the comfort he should be feeling from this. He actually felt somewhat alienated by this, he had been so used to never seeing his own kind on the seas (due to the stereotype fear of water most cats have) that he had always expected to be the only cat to ever exist in this part of the world, but here they all were. In what to him was pretty close to being the ass end of this part of the world. (Prize if taken by The Land of Ice and Snow)

    While the feral cat, who's name now known to the corsair as 'Firas' and the wildcat 'Darnel' mingled, Ryker enjoyed the slightly warmer temperature of the camp thanks to the fires that crackled thoughout the place, not since lack of resources had forced him out of the ship and into the Northlands had he felt this warm…. or..... well.... slightly less cold at least....

    The corsair cat remembered however that he was apparently about to meet a beast of great importance, this "War Lady" as she was titled. It was quite a interesting title, he wondered if she might be a white cat. They go for titles like that more often than not. If so, he would have to be careful and be on quick footing, he was a troublemaker when he lived with the white cats and they did not often appreciate how much of an annoyance he could be when he was a child. For all he knew, she could be somebeast he had caused trouble too before and still carries a grudge against him, he may end up having a very bad day if that is the case....

    As Ryker followed Firas to the keep, he wiped his nose on a sleeve, it was not gushing anymore, but it was still a little runny.... He hoped he wouldn't get a cold on this day. His limbs also finally regained some life in them and although his ears and feet were still a bit numb, his paws were in much better shape, he could now actually feel the steel rings of his sword on his fingers. The thought brought him some relief, he had heard of beasts losing they're fingers and toes to the cold.... Oh Hellgates, why would anyone want to actually live here?

    As he and Firas entered the keep, the sea cat enjoyed the rush of music that came to great him, it was no sea shanty, but it was a nice tune. However, Firas' voice suddenly cut through the music and caught his attention. When he heard what he had to say, the cat had to put all his effort into avoiding the temptation to roll his eyes. The thought running though his mind priceless. "Of course, all leaders and nobles at like that, want to be they're best friend? Just take a needle and thread and sew your mouth to the beast's ass and there you go, instant recognition and promotion."

    When they entered the room, Ryker was greeted by the sight of several wildcat, but what really caught his attention first was the vermin band who were playing that very sweet music. Again, it was no good ol' sea shanty, but it could easily do shanties very very well if given the chance and motivation. He was tempted to ask one of the wildcats if they could play a shanty, but thought better of it. The highest of authority figures never have the same sense of fun as beasts like himself.

    Suddenly he winced, or at least he thought he did, when a voice suddenly struck him like a thrown assassin's knife of the sharpest steel. He had been listening to most of the conversation, but he did miss the part where Firas mentioned him. The War Lady's voice shook him back into alertness and he did as she demanded, he took the steps needed to make himself fully visible to her eyes, although he had been known to have a fearsome stare himself by his crewmates, it was nothing compared to a proper wildcat in the slightest. He could have sworn they were cutting through him like a flawlessly made pair of surgical bone shears, seeing exactly what he really was made out of, seeing if he was perfect soldier material or just some idiot who constantly makes stupid so-called "smart" comments in his own head about everything and everybeast and thinking he is slick stuff…

    There was only the briefest of pauses, but to him it felt like he stood there like a paralyzed dolt for an hour, his conscience was literally screaming at him at this point.

    "Well great work slick! Yeah, nothing convinces a Horde Leader that your perfect for the job of soldier than visibly wincing and almost hitting the roof the moment she even gives voice of your presence. Oh, i'm sure she will just sign you up, give you your armor and send you out to battle effective immediately. I mean-….... Wait What are you DOING!? Why are you just STANDING there!? You SERIOUSLY are not frozen are you!? Ryker! Say something! Say something you stupid idiot! You're name, who you are, that you used to be a pirate…..... ANYTHING!"

    He finally cleared his throat and spoke his piece, the piece that can change his life for the better….. or the worse....

    " My name is Ryker.... No My Lady, it isn't a nickname given to me by my shipmates or anything. It's the name my parents gave me at birth, I was a corsair who served as a lookout for a crew that....." It stuck him! He had almost forgot! "would raid most of the coasts recently, well above Salamandastron, we had raided some things of value from some of the islands but we eventually found a particularly interesting and recent treasure trove in the form of a wreaked ship, it was filled with objects made from gold and jewels and also had some weapons and armor too, though all of those were spears and all the armor was the same, it fit well on most of my crewmates and me, but rats felt the most comfortable in it. Judging by the bodies we found that the crabs hadn't chewed up yet, I think it came from that place called 'Riftgard.' "

    The cat snorted, it wasn't anything expressive. He was trying to clear his still runny nose.

    "We had been planning on going out into the sea to the Western Islands to enjoy our finds, but..... something happened and the ship got beached on the coast of this place, I was the only one besides one other creature, she's long gone though. The ship isn't that badly damaged actually, if you could push her out, she could still be seaworthy if you want it too..."

    There goes his plan of ever getting out back to sea again, the reason he had mentioned it to begin with was because he didn't really actually believe Firas and his group would have left him alone if he refused, he also knew things could go wrong and he may need something to bargain for his life with, however. His conscience quickly pointed out his obvious flaw in that plan....

    "Hey genius, your not supposed to tell your potential captors WHERE your bargaining chip is, you Idiot!"

  • Claudia's eyes gleamed with recognition as she heard Riftgard's name mentioned. The stranger had grasped the attention of the wildcats with talk of treasures. Revealing the location of a pile of loot certainly made the War Lady a lot less frosty. She gave another one of her faint smiles. Lady Jessandra, the wildcat in the green hunter's tunic beside her, looked from Ryker back to Claudia.

    "My Lady, if his story is true…" She began.

    "I see no reason to doubt it," Claudia said. "I want every valuable stripped from that ship and brought with us. Bring wagons for transport, and destroy any other beasts attempting to claim it. Do these things, Ryker, and I shall accept your loyalty."

    "Ah, but what of the ship itself, My Lady?" Asked the fourth wildcat at the table. It was Boreas Willowvane, the studious engineer. "If we could repair it, crew it, a commerce raider on our side might be an asset."

    Claudia pondered this suggestion for a moment, giving Jubal a chance to speak, his voice the deepest of the group. "What if they desert us, Boreas? All we'll achieve is re-commissioning a corsair ship!"

    "Oh really, Jubal," Claudia said dismissively. The big wildcat's ears folded back a little, even though Claudia's voice was calm. "We shall send trustworthy wildcats. My cousin, Laverna, will make a suitable captain. Boreas, I need a division of your engineers to move out at dawn."

    Claudia came around the table and strode to the door, beckoning along Boreas and Ryker with a flick of her paw. The vermin musicians stopped playing as she left, Firas trailing behind her. Once outside, Claudia marched purposefully towards one of the tents flying a Hellebore banner, where a few cats were gathered. Boreas hurried off to organise a detachment of his slaves, and Firas disappeared from view in the crowds of cats and vermin, evidently eager to rejoin his scout patrol.

    Laverna bore a passing similarity to Claudia, though she was not half as intimidating. She smiled when she caught sight of Claudia, and rose from her stool. She had been sharpening her sword and conversing with a couple of feral cats, who bowed and gracefully stepped back to let the War Lady have a private word with her. Claudia's cousin seemed around Claudia's age, but she was far more animated, nodding her head eagerly, swishing the snow with her tail and smiling. Having the situation explained to her, Laverna looked at Ryker and gave a nod.

    "And this must be our guide! I'm Captain Laverna, I'll be leading us out at dawn. You look half-frozen, come by the fire. Perrin!" A young weasel hurried out of Laverna's tent and stood to attention. Laverna gestured to him, "This is Perrin, ask him if you need any clothes, armour, weapons, or food."

    As the horde began to settle down to rest, another grey-furred scout patrol arrived, this one from the West. Seeing Claudia by Laverna's tent, the scout leader approached her, and spoke with her in urgent, hushed tones. Claudia nodded and he left, his patrol off to get food and warmth. She beckoned to the two cats beside her, and relayed the news. "Our scouts have reported a clan of small woodlanders, shrews by their scent and tracks. They have made camp a league or so west of our position, the same route you shall be taking. Ryker, no doubt you'll need some warming-up exercise tomorrow morning. Drench your sword in their blood by the time the sun is up, and no cat here will hesitate to fight by your side."

    "Ah, a test for our new recruit, Claudia?" Laverna asked. Claudia smiled, and this time her smile seemed quite genuinely pleased. It seemed Laverna was one of the few beasts that actually called the War Lady by her first name.

    "Something like that. I am not fond of shrews, either. For now, I suggest you both get some rest," Claudia said. Laverna gave a respectful nod, and Claudia left, headed back to the dark keep. The fires around camp were not longer being built up, just left to turn to embers, with the huddled forms of the vermin sleeping around them. The guards stayed on their vigilant watch.

    Laverna smiled at Ryker, and sat on her stool again. "Perrin can fetch you some furs. I'm afraid sharing tents is frowned upon, but you can probably keep warm by the fire. I'll wake you at dawn."

    (OOC: Hope this makes sense, I'm short on time. Feel free to time-skip us ahead to dawn if you like!)

  • Ryker felt relief when his story catches the wildcat War Lady's fancy. "You always knew how to charm them, you witty sea cat you." the thought crossed his mind and he simply stood by and let the wildcats chatter amongst themselves. Eventually though, he had to follow her out the door to the outside world and sadly, away from the very well playing music band. Only when they were just approaching where Laverna was at that he noticed Filas was no longer with them, which strangely earned him a pondering thought from his conscience….

    "Wonder if your gonna see him again… Possibly not.... Shame." If that was going to be the case, he will confess that he will actually kinda miss the cat, even though he only met the cat for a grand total of a few hours….

    When he saw the wildcat Laverna and noticed how she responded to seeing her cousin and couldn't resist a small smile. "She's like an excited fox who just found something shiny…." he thought, a little out of place or a supposedly vicious and fearsome horde, who wearing the skins of they're enemies and are lead by mighty and scary wildcats. He had to confess, he found the behavior rather cute. His ear twitched in response to her acknowledgement of him and her introduction to herself and the weasel Perrin. His response was a lot less nervous and more cooler than it was towards Claudia as he stepped nearer to the flames. "Aye, the fire's warming indeed, nice to make your acquaintance captain…."

    However, he didn't stay near the fire for too long until Claudia beckoned him over to her side, when she told him of the scout's report, the cat showed a hint minor confusion. A question asked in his own head that he only had one answer for....

    _"Weird, I never heard of shrews being up this far North before, much less near the sea. I thought they stuck to rivers deep in Mossflower? Why would they be here?"

    "Because the vixen told the location of the ship to them, that's why they are here…. Why else would they be there?"_

    He pushed it aside though to gave the wild cats a confident response. "No problem, me and my shipmates ussa stick hooks into live shrews and go fishing for shark with 'em. They make magnificent bait. You'll meet no better slayer of shrews."

    When it was all adjourned and over with. He allowed the weasel to bring him some furs to sleep under and than eventually fell into deep slumber….

    Until a sudden internal shifting inside him gave reminder of something he had forgotten. "Blistering barnacles! I forgot to tell that weasel to get me something to eat!"

    Ryker had gotten back from answering the call of nature, he had woken up fairly early compared to everyone else. He fell into deep slumber, but eventually and suddenly suffered a nightmare about what happened that eventually got him stranded on the coast of the Northlands. Fortunately he didn't wake up screaming like a psychopath and only awoke with a wince that was a response to the imaginary vixen digging the blade of her battle axe into his abdomen….

    Some food would likely make him feel better. Especially when it was the first sudden pain he felt when he woke up, maybe that was the cause of his bad dream actually..... Wonder what they had to eat around here.... Well.... One way to find out....

    The sea cat seeked out the weasel Perrin and gently tapped him on the shoulder as if he was a busy bartender at a tavern. "Hey matey, what is there to eat around here?"

  • The sky was growing lighter in the east, creeping from black and starry to dark blues and the flickering hint of reddish-orange. The night had passed peacefully, the guards had changed watches, and camp was still, save the banners caught every so often by a gust of chilled Northlands breeze. Blue-grey smoke curled from the iron braziers that lit the gate and kept the guards warm, and the smell of wood smoke mingled with the fresh air. As it grew lighter, voices rose, and stirred the slumbering horde. No fires were lit, orders were for the camp to be dissassembled by the time the sun was up. The morning meal would be hardtack and water chilled to near-frozen during the night, which would keep the horde going until the midday meal. The beasts wearing the pale green willow of Lord Boreas moved the fastest, knowing that their job was the most strenuous. Taking down an entire encampment in a precious couple of hours was no easy feat. Other, lesser hordes might have taken all morning to even get on the march; the wildcats and their armies knew from training and experience how important the hours of daylight were.

    Meanwhile, the specailly chosen detachments sent to secure the shipwreck were assembling  near the gate. A few engineers and wagons had been set aside for repair and transport of any valuable treasure found. There was a battalion of vermin under the banners of the five-petaled flower of the Hellebores, busy strapping on light packs and presenting weapons and armour for inspection. Beside them lounged a small group of familiar smoke-furred scouts, under Captain Firas. The expedition would not be marching blind, after all. The generals emerged from the tower, overseeing the efforts of their feline kin. Tents were taken down and packed on wagons. Another contingent of scouts was already jogging through the main gate, a quick survey to make sure no unexpected enemy hordes had turned up overnight. Unlikely, but not impossible in these warlike times.

    Perrin was organising his mistress' possessions when Ryker found him. Laverna had gone to attend to the vermin now under her command, leaving the packing up to those whose job it was. Perrin bowed his head at Ryker when the cat found him. The young weasel did not look into Ryker's eyes, instead his gaze hovered around the cat's muzzle.

    "Mornin', sir. There's always hardtack, but it can get quite dry. I can get smoked fish if you like, they know I'm Laverna's aide," Perrin grinned, as if this was a great distinction. It seemed no regular footsoldier could get at the smoked fish, but the personal slaves of the cats could fetch better food for their masters. Perhaps more interestingly, personal slaves thought themselves above the regular vermin. Whether or not Claudia silently encouraged this behaviour it was hard to say. However, she didn't seem to have any interest in stamping it out, either. The War Lady herself was here and there, her watchful eye judging every beast's performance. She did not speak much, wildcats like her sometimes liked to preserve an air of mystique and not give away their thoughts.

    Perrin scampered off for a while to fetch Ryker's meal. The squat wooden tower that Claudia and her friends had slept in was slowly being disassembled into a wagonload of planks and carefully tied down furniture. Muster rolls were being called, and the sky was growing ever brighter, from dark, portentious red to a friendlier orange. The weasel returned presently with a pewter plate of smoked pike and a flagon of some strong drink Perrin could only name as 'Throatraker', which certainly lived up to its name.

    "There's always water if this ain't to your taste, sir. It's also good for preservin' meat, which we do on occasion. And lubricatin' wagon wheels. Er, don't tell the Captain that," Perrin said, his eyes darting guiltily in Laverna's direction. The expedition wasn't quite ready to move out yet, but would be by the time their guide finished his breakfast. Perrin watched Laverna and Firas inspecting their respective beasts. "I hear we're goin' to see some action soon. Good luck on the hunt, sir."

    (OOC: I'll be away for around 4 days on holiday. See you soon! ;D)

  • The cat smiled as the weasel ran off to get him something to chow on, he was a good weasel. He'd have to remember to bring back some of the really good booze from the Captain's cabin of the ship so the two could celebrate him getting sworn into the horde together. Yeah….. He'd have a good matey to hang around with.

    He looked around and admired how efficiently the horde packed itself up, he had never seen anything like it since his childhood. He had spied similar activity that the White Cats did from the roof of houses he climbed when he was still back in they're homeland.... Well, the homeland they made for themselves by marching in and violently beating and chasing off it's original inhabitants, but still... Right by conquest as they always say....

    Eventually, Perrin the weasel returned to him with exactly what he said he would bring and a bit more in the form of a drink also, but Ryker hardly needed to take more than a couple of sniffs to know he was bringing, typically. He was used to the smell of cooked sea fish, his favorites being sharks and barracuda, but he had heard that pike was also a good tasting fish.... for a fresh water fish of course. He also heard that like sharks, they were fearsome hunters and killers however. Maybe one day, he could take a few throwing spears and a sturdy boat and put that claim to the test....

    He put down his broadsword and took the pewter plate and the flagon from the weasel, but found what the weasel says curious and it caused him to raise an eyebrow. Drinks being used to preserve meat wasn't an uncommon thing, but also to lubricate wheels was an entirely different deal. He had never heard of a drink being used for that. "Oh don't be such a worrywort, bottoms up sea cat! You drank worse. You drank your own urine a few days ago!" His conscience taunted him, a taunt and challenge he wasn't willing to back down from. The cat took a gulp from the flagon and immediately and visibly winced and tensed up, his muscles feeling like they locked up against they're own will in response to the powerful tasting drink, it took a big effort to swallow it down and when he finally did. He immediately had a short and temporary coughing fit and put down the plate so he could rub his throat. Eventually though, all was well…. and he took another drink from the flagon. This time the results were a little better now that he was prepared for it. It wasn't Shark's Teeth or Seaweed Grog, but this would do.

    "This drinks pretty good, it's not grog, but it's good. Thank you Perrin, your a real mate if I ever meet one." A reminder from his conscience suddenly prodded him. "Hey, might wanna ask him for something to cover yourself up with and give you some thicker skin if you get what I mean….. Unless you wanna go out there and almost freeze to death again or get cut up by the shrews because you were too frozen to fight back effectively" What was it with him and constantly forgetting things?

    "One more thing matey, ya know anything nice and warm to fit in? I also wouldn't mind wearing something solid for defense since i'm apparently never going back to sea again. Don't worry about trying to make me have thicker skin than a steel plated battering ram, just find something for me that can take a hit and won't weigh me down. I prefer to not be barely able to move." And with that, he sat down and started eating the pike, quickly enjoying the taste of it, especially since it didn't immediately lock him up and cause him to go into a coughing fit… Not that he didn't enjoy the drink too. It didn't taste too bad, it just packed a wallop... Even compared to Scorpion Sting....

  • "At once, sir! There's always a few spare furs," Perrin replied, bounding off again. The weasel had little trouble finding spare ermine and white fox furs, the Khans of the Land of Ice and Snow had no problem motivating their smaller subjects to charge the wildcat armies. It would be harder to find a wolverine pelt for Ryker though, typically the felines liked to slay their wolverine personally. Marlfox was another rarity, and Perrin doubted that Firas or any other scouting beast would let him borrow furs meant for a scout of their breed and skill. There were always some spare furs to go around though, the Northlands was a land that walked paw-in-paw with death.

    Perrin slung the white fur cloak over his shoulder and hurried to find some armour. Unlike the furs, this task would be a bit more difficult. There were no spare feral cat-sized breastplates just lying around, that sort of quality was made specifically for the wearer. Luckily, Ryker seemed alright with anything light and protective. They were only fighting shrews after all, not wolverines with bows the size of saplings and arrows as thick as spears. There was an assortment of spare armour for beasts more Perrin's size. Eventually, the blacksmith, irritated at having to pull out armour he'd been packing onto a wagon, managed to find a set of scale armour intended for a fox wearer, which would probably fit Ryker. Loaded down with armour and furs, the weasel tottered back to the corsair.

    "If you'll allow me, sir," Perrin said, holding up the scale armour and squinting from it to the cat with a judging eye. It looked like it would fit, with a little adjustment to the straps. He dressed the cat in the armour, something most personal slaves were used to. He then showed Ryker the fur cloak with a pleased satisfaction that the garment would fit just fine. Suddenly, he snapped to attention.

    "Not a bad night's work, eh, Ryker?" Firas had wandered over, having finished his inspection. "From freezing your tail in the forest to an audience with the War Lady. The horde'll be talking about you soon enough, especially when they see you in battle."

    The smoke-furred cat glanced over his shoulder. Laverna was watching them expectantly. "Ah, we'd better get on the move. We can only go so fast in the forest, even with a small group. Will you be running ahead with us scouts, or sticking with Laverna?"

    Firas spoke friendly enough, but there was the slight hint of mischeviousness in his eyes, as if he was challenging Ryker. In the light of the sunrise, it was easier to see that Firas was probably not much different in age or build to Ryker himself. Positions of leadership amongst younger cats was not uncommon, what with many older warriors meeting their end during the bloody battles in the snow. Even the generals weren't that old, compared to the near-ancient ages achieved by Long Patrol commanders or badgers. The harshness of the land did not leave much room for a lengthy retirement. Its young were fierce fighters and courageous leaders, and the candle that burns twice as bright…

  • By the time the weasel finally returned, Ryker had already eaten the pike completely. He had noticed the swift activity of the horde when he first sent the weasel out and now he realized that things were about to go on the move and he wouldn't really have the time to completely enjoy his meal, he'll just have to savor the last bite. However, he didn't drink much of the Throatraker so he could drink a little of it on the way to battle if thirst happened to assault him on the trip….

    Now, the cat was quickly wondering if he will even have time to put on the cloths the weasel got him in time for the march, He somewhat cursed them for wanting to pack up and march so fast NOW when by now there is a pretty good chance the shrews had already found and took the ship out to sea anyway, if they had any sense. They would have risked taking them on last night instead of waiting until now. If they're scouts managed to find him in the darkness and go back to camp trouble free, than why didn't they just try to get the shrews right than and there after he mentioned the ship when they had the chance?

    However, the weasel was fairly quick in helping him put on the armor and had just finished the process of adjusting it and than, as if the mention of 'scouts' suddenly summoned him towards his position, he suddenly heard the all too familiar voice of the scout leader, what was his name..... Oh! Firas! Ryker turned his head towards the source of his voice. Yeap! That's him without a shadow of a doubt!

    "I hope so, I especially hope it will be the maids talkin' about me, I haven't had a good time in a couple of weeks. Kinda miss the trips my captain used to take to the Western Islands, the taverns there were to die for..... Sometimes literally...." No lies there, bar fights could get nasty.

    It was only when Firas looked over his own shoulder that he suddenly noticed his new Captain looking at them both. " I didn't get any orders from the Captain to follow you guys so i'm assumin' i'm supposed to stick with her, sorry. Maybe she might give me orders to stick with you all, but we'll just have to wait and see." During this entire time, the armor fit almost so well that the cat had hardly noticed he was still wearing it, the weasel was a life saver!

    He had just than remembered to give his thanks to the weasel."Oh, anyway. Thanks a millions' worth Perrin, i'll make sure to bring you back something nice from the ship. I'll see ya later when I can!" He quickly took the cloak from the weasel and put it on as he ran for the main group where his new captain was, as much as he still disliked the idea of wearing someone else's...... skin all over his own, he couldn't complain about the warmth and shelter it gave him from the cold and wind.

  • Firas hurried after Ryker, over to where Laverna waited at the head of the small column of vermin. The two did not exchange words, merely a nod from Laverna was the only signal he needed. The scouts jogged after their leader as the grey cats left in single file. The scouts would watch the way West, marking the path and scouting the land until they found the shrew camp. Meanwhile, Laverna and her command would quick-march behind. The wildcat looked over Ryker's new armour and nodded.

    "Good, I see Perrin has been looking after you. Stay at the front with me; we'll be charging first." Laverna turned to address the troops, unfurling a scroll, which had been sealed by Claudia. "Let it be known that an armed force of foreign allegiance has trespassed upon the ancient heritage of the wildcats, and made to secure wealth rightfully claimed by Lady Claudia Hellebore, heir of our noble house. Justice in the Northlands is administered by the sword and arrow. We leave none alive!"

    It was really quite remarkable how much she could sound like Claudia when she wanted. There was no cheering, but Laverna was not expecting any. It wasn't supposed to be an inspiring speech; in fact it was written and declared more like a matter of court legality. A brief explanation of why the battle was to take place, written in such a verbose manner as to impress the vermin. The wildcat turned and winked knowingly at Ryker, saying in a quieter voice, "That's for the official records though. More importantly, it's your initiation."

    The column marched out, though by this time there wasn't really much of camp to march out of. They headed down the gentle slope of the hill, shoulder to shoulder at first. At a word from Laverna, the formation loosened as it reached the trees, the easier to move around the trees and rockier terrain. The sun was growing paler and brighter in the east as it rose, affording some warmth wherever its rays penetrated the snowy canopy of the forest. The air was more still in amongst the thick tree trunks, the panting breath of the travelling beasts showed up misty around their muzzles.

    The scouts had left their tracks quite visible for Laverna to follow. She was full of energy this morning, near leaping from boulder to boulder, moving with fluid ease, her armour obviously well suited to her movements. The vermin kept their pace with her, a few of the broader foxes with war axes and hammers had some seniority within the group and kept them together, not allowing any beast to lag behind or get lost. The scouts had been this way before, and their tracks led them on a fast route. The slowest beasts were the engineers with their tools and equipment. Since they would not be fighting, they brought up the rear.

    After perhaps an hour's travel, the sounds of the shore reached their ears. Somewhere up ahead lay the coast, and hopefully the ship and her treasure. It was not too long before Laverna held up her paw, and the group came to a halt. Firas was coming back to them, moving swiftly and quietly through the forest. He came up to his fellow cats, catching his misted breath after the morning's run. "Found them over the next hillock. There's a couple on guard, the rest are having breakfast. We circled around and found some more shrew tracks; we think a couple of them have gone scouting ahead for the ship."

    "We could strike now, whilst they are busied with food," Laverna muttered. Like her cousin, it seemed she favoured shock tactics. Firas took a stick from the forest floor, and marked in the snow their position, the hillock, and the clearing that the shrews had camped in. Laverna pointed to the hillock. "If we march over the hillock, charging as we descend could be treacherous in the snow."

    "If we wait for them to start moving, we could conduct a sneak attack from the rear, Captain," Firas replied. "Let them spread out in the rocky terrain; they are clearly unused to this land."

    Laverna chuckled, "How like you to come up with such an idea, Firas."

    The grey feral cat bowed his head, a smile playing about his lips. The different plans certainly did show their different styles; the brash and blunt against the subtle and guileful. Whilst Laverna was the cat in charge, Firas' advice was not unheeded, and nor would be Ryker's. Laverna turned to her new feral cat companion and gestured to the rough plan drawn in the snow. "Since we'll be going into this together, you ought to tell me what plan you think best, Ryker. What say you?"

  • The sea cat smiled at the wildcat captain when she complimented the weasel Perrin. Indeed, Perrin was a great mate. Ryker kinda wished he and a weasel crewmate he knew switched places due to the fact he believed they would be the greatest and most loyal of partners, though….. Than again... He would also would have been a cleaved up corpse that he would have had to push overboard with a mop after that one faithful day when one of the 'crewmembers' snapped and killed everyone besides himself....

    He grinned even wider and flicked one of his ears when Laverna whispered to him after she gave her speech. "Hear that? It's your initiation, don't screw it up like you tend to do everything else genius." his conscience echoed to him inside the deep dark depths of his mind, however. The cat was too happy to lose his feces-eating grin. A warm body, a decent drink and a coming battle was putting him in a better mood now that they were on the move and basically going on a raid to kill some shrews, the loot? The ship and all it had in it. It was all becoming less alien to him now and more like the days when he was a corsair, the only defense now is that this time, he was doing it on foot instead of the sea. Only hope and worry he had now was that he hoped his land lubber legs were as good as his sea legs….

    As they marched, he thought to himself on how he was going to fit into this idea of being a horde soldier, he at this moment was basically going to be fighting his first land battle, nothing like the raids he and his crew mates used to do on barely armed coastal settlements, he had also fought many times in ship-to-ship combat, but that was in confined spaces where you and your mates had to be the best fighters to survive, here, there was many types of terrains (as if to better nail that into his conscience, his foot suddenly smacked against a rock and caused him to almost fell face first into a boulder he was going to climb and jump from, thank Gates for his leather boots as they took the entire string of the blow.... ) and open space for both them and the enemy to move on.  It was something completely alien to him. The more he thought about it now as they marched. The more the thoughts started to wear off at his once good mood...

    Eventually though, he heard the most beautiful sound he has ever heard in his entire life and now finally got to enjoy that sound possibly for the final time for a long time, the washing waves of the ocean running up into the beach sands, and than retreating back into it's own liquid mass. Most of the beasts in this horde likely thought nothing of it or even wrote it off as noise. Such creatures that to him, have obviously been missing out big time....

    Suddenly, he stopped his movement along with the rest of the horde when his captain raised her paw, catching sight of Firas and his scouts finally coming back to they're location. "This is it…" his mind told him. "This is the day whether you live and become a valued member of this army, or a dead beast…." If Ryker had any fur on his body that wasn't hardly a couple of inches long, it may would have been sticking straight up in anticipation.

    However, he would get a little bit of a shock from Firas and Laverna. When they threw each other they're own battle plans, they suddenly turned their attention to him and asked him what he thought a good idea was!….... War Lady didn't say anything about this being possible...... Ok..... Think, don't give a stupid plan, best yet. To make your plan seem better, point out a major fault in their plans too..... Uuuuuh......

    "Well..... I'll confess when I was braggin' about stickin' shrews on hooks to feed to the sharks, I wasn't being completely honest about that. From what I know from my chrewmates whenever they mentioned them, shrews almost never go near the sea shore, much less outside Mossflower, I also heard that they typically stick to the rivers deep inside Mossflower country. But! I also know they are guerrilla fighters and I know a thing or two about that! You two have some good plans, but the thing is. Guerrillas are usually supposed to be the ambushers, not the ambushed, I also bet they don't pack much in the form of armor and weapons. So they aren't goin' to be great in a stand up fight. Problem here with both of your plans is that they both give them an opening to run for it and if too many are able to retreat and find their scouts.... They could easily get to the ship, push it out to sea and be able to defend it with the high ground until they are safely out to sea and out of our reach. However, we can easily prevent this, if we split into two groups. we could easily ambush and chase the shrews into our second group and sandwich them inbetween us. They are left nowhere to escape and there are forced to straight up fight us in a desperate attempt to survive and escape. They'll fall to this lot though, they won't have a chance. " He tried saying the entire thing as non-chalantly as possible to hide his nervousness at the idea of trying to think of a battleplan on the fly...

  • "Can it be done, Firas?" Laverna asked.

    The scout leader rubbed his chin, and pondered. "I can get my scouts around to set up an ambush, but there's not many of us, and I wouldn't want the shrews to slip out of the noose."

    "Take the cats and foxes under my command, and tell them to keep it quiet. Let us not delay any further," Laverna commanded. She was keen to get moving again, they had a lot of work to do today, and this was just the start.

    The shrews ate well, talking and bickering amongst themselves. Their chieftain waited on his two runners to bring news, whilst his sons played and wrestled with each other. Young shrew maids carried food out to the sentries, who tucked in gratefully. Their attention was not on the snowy woodlands or the thick, ancient trunks about them. Instead their sleepy, half-lidded eyes were focused on their meal or fellow shrews, where the world seemed to be full of adventure, hot food and good company. How were they to know these treetrunks had lived through many hundreds of seasons of bloodshed? How could they guess that their troubles had in fact started last night when they had been detected? Just an hour ago they had been condemned to death by a beast whose face they would never see.
    Unknown to them, the grey ghosts were already moving swiftly around the camp in a wide circle. The feral cat scouts were positioned by Firas, their monochromatic furs making them hard to spot amongst black boulders and last night's snowfall that would soon turn to mush. Arrows were nocked to their bowstrings, glistening green and yellow eyes were wide open. These eyes had seen their own kind ambushed and slaughtered since their childhood. There was nothing grand or terrible to be seen here; just another day walking paw-in-paw with death. They were close enough to hear the muffled noises of the shrew camp. The rest of the cats and foxes hid amongst the trees, readying their weapons.
    Laverna gripped her sword tight, her tail flicking in anticipation as she crept towards the camp, the vermin behind mindful to be quiet. The wind was blowing in from the western seashore, the wrong way for the shrews to pick up their scent. Laverna could smell the food, and the smoke of the campfires though. Through the trees, she could see the sentry shrew, leaning against a thick treetrunk, ladling soup out of his bowl. She waved her arm, and the battalion came to a stop, the hordebeasts peering ahead to see what the Captain was up to.
    The shrew was licking the bottom of the bowl when he sensed the presence beside him. His height only came up to about Laverna's belt, so it must have been like noticing a giant had silently appeared. He drew his breath to yell, but the air in his lungs never left by his lips again. Laverna's blade sliced his head off and embedded a bloodstained cut in the tree's bark. The body slumped, the bowl rolling out of the dead shrew's paw, the head following it with a wet thud as it hit the soft snow. She raised her sword, the droplets of blood clinging to the blade for a moment, then falling to make pink spots in the white snow. The battalion advanced, breaking into a trot, then an all-out charge as they came into the view of the camp.
    There was no warning as the fur-clad soldiers charged into the camp. War cries are suitable for open, pitched battles, but an ambush is far more alarming if the attacker carries it out without a word. All the shrews knew was suddenly there were hulking ferrets, burly rats, and frenzied stoats rushing past tents and cooking fires, swiping at shrews with cruel-looking flanged maces and short swords. The mustelids were almost berserk, their bottled-up energy turning their blades into hissing flashes of silvery light before the killing blow. At the head of the charge was Laverna. Whichever beast was caught in her stare, she would hunt till it was dead. There was no escaping her. In a matter of seconds, there were screams as the camp's eyes were opened to the horror of the bloodshed. Shrews were already looking dumbfounded as their bled out of missing limbs, and bodies lay deathly still where they had been caught.
    Those shrews with their wits about them drew their rapiers and attempted a counterattack, rallying to the chieftain. The sharp scent of blood was on the air, which rang with the sound of metallic strikes and the occasional thud as a shrew's head or chest was pounded in by a mace. The rats were no easier to deal with than the mustelids, their round shields easily deflected the jabbing thrusts of the shrew rapiers. The shields bore the white five-petalled Hellebore flower, which grew steadily more bloodstained as Claudia's will was done. The shield could be used aggressively too, slammed into snouts or for breaking ribs.
    The chieftain, to his credit, did regroup his remaining clan, though there was no defensive formation the shrews could adopt at such close quarters. No shrew carried a shield, they were all guerilla shrews. They were far more accustomed to doing the ambushing, not the other way around. Not to mention it was hard to think tactically after such a shocking attack, precisely the effect that it was supposed to have. With a couple of fully grown wildcat warriors on the prowl, their will to fight was broken. The shrews dashed into the forest, calling out to each other and trying to stick in a loose group. Perhaps they could have lost the vermin in the forest, if it had not been for Ryker's foresight.
    Firas and his command did not have long to wait before the first targets arrived. The screams and yells had only been going a few minutes when the first shrews came into sight, wide-eyed and out of breath. Firas loosed his arrow and caught a robust-looking shrew warrior in the neck. The scout cats shot in their own time, lining up their shots calmly, coolly, without a noise save the hiss of the arrow's release. The fleeing chieftain had to watch out of the corner of his eye as one by one his sons and friends fell to the arrows pelting them. HIs vision was blurred and shaky, he could barely see where this new attack was coming from. As he headed for a gap between two dark trees, he saw a large fox waiting for him. He gritted his teeth and charged, tears clinging to his fur. He would try and wreak some vengeance on the vermin that had done this. However, his heroic moment was not to be. The fox's arms came up, revealing his two-handed battleaxe, and he swung before the chieftain could stop running. The heavy, freshly sharpened blade met his well-fed middle and kept going.
    The fighting petered out as the last warriors of the shrew clan fell. A few of the younger, inexperienced shrews had tried to surrender, but the wildcats were here to hunt them, not treat them as fellow warriors worthy of respect. Every last shrew was cut down, the bodies checked over by the vermin for any valuables. The camp did not have much to offer. Soup going cold, raggedy blankets and bedrolls, tents too small for any vermin to use comfortably. They had obviously been eager for the chance of getting at the ship and her treasure. In the end, the bodies were piled with the camp's detritus, kindling and fallen branches were brought forth, and the remains of the clan were burned in the usual Northlands tradition.
    The battalion reconvened in the clearing where the fire blazed. The engineers had caught up with their wagons. There were some injuries to attend to, mainly light stab wounds, which a few beasts were able to patch up. They did not have the full logistics supply of medical tents and healers that had gone with the main horde, so it was fortunate that they had been met with minimal resistance. Laverna ordered a rest for the hordebeasts to catch their breaths, tend to any wounds and retrieve their marching supplies they would carry to the ship. Their main interest was water-skins, as they needed plenty of water to keep going. It was during this time that the shrew runners hurried back into camp, rather foolishly not investigating from a distance first. They were captured, disarmed, and brought before Laverna, tearful and distraught from the sight of the cremation of their friends and families. As they could barely say a word without sobbing, the wildcat Captain decided to wait until they were out of sight of the campsite before she could interrogate them. For now, she sought out Ryker.

  • Ryker was sitting nearby on a flat topped rock with a vixen looking at a couple of cuts from a shrew's rapier that had lashed him twice in the head. Marks that came from a shrew he had approached to check and see if he was really dead before the other beasts attempted to throw him onto the pile of bodies they were making so they could burn them, but unfortunately for the cat. The shrew had been very much alive….

    "It takes a very special beast to receive battle wounds after the battle itself is done and over with." he thought to himself, he recounted the incident in his own head.

    Ryker had been walking from body to body, turning them over with a foot and putting paws against throats for a pulse check. The cat had killed seven shrews when it all went down, though three of those shrews were killed after the battle when the cat found that they were only wounded and unconscious, however. He caught one who was actually cleverly playing dead but he didn't get that kill. He had approached the supposed corpse from the front where the wounded shrew had been able to watch what he had been doing to the other bodies, apparently. He knew he was going to be exposed and die no matter what and decided to at least take one of the foebeasts with him, the very cat that would expose him….

    When Ryker approached what he assumed to be a dead body, the shrew suddenly leaped up and thrusted, Ryker would have been ran through and dropped right than and there had it not been for the scale armor he wore to battle. (Another I.O.U for the weasel) The sea cat was caught off guard and surprised by the sudden attack and attempted to leap back to create the room needed to swing his sword for the killing blow and be out of range of the shrew's rapier, but the shrew grabbed the sleeve of his silk shirt and got another two swings in, this time at the cat's face, one cutting down from the right brow and across the muzzle and another against the left side of the lower jaw, Ryker quickly repeated the action, but this time dealing the shrew a violent kick from one of his boots and finally got the room he needed. The lethal broadsword known for leaving few alive after one direct blow whipped back for the cleaving slash, but a mace from a ferret that had been faster than the other beasts in response to the scene caught the shrew first. The ferret than ran off to get a beast that knew a bit about injuries for him, while he was doing that. Ryker took the time waiting by taking the rapier that almost killed him and the frog it was kept in off the shrew. It's a bit short to be useful to him as a main weapon, however. It could be a useful backup weapon if he ever got disarmed. It was very light in his paw and he could easily whip it out for a lethal thrust if he ever needed to. It was basically a really long stiletto in his paws. The frog was too short to be wrapped around his waist however he easily found a work around by simply tying it to his wide buckled belt, now it hug by his side snugly and well hidden under his fox cloak for a time when he might need it.

    "Now I owe TWO beasts some booze." he thought, he attempted to grin, but winced from the sting he felt from the cut on his face and went back to a neutral expression.

    His other four kills had spanned the entire battle, he caught two when they ambushed them, one during the shrews' attempted counterattack and a final one when they attempted to flee.

    His first victim was a surprised shrew who still had his soup bowl in his paws, the second one only managed to get his rapier halfway out before the cat leaped at him and caught him with his curved broadsword. His third victim had been busy with a rat and the cat quickly killed him with a swing at the back of his neck and the last one he had managed to grab by the tail just long enough for him to catch him in the collar bone with his sword. The blade cutting through it and shattering several of his ribs and cutting through some major upper organs in the process. That shrew was dead beyond a doubt, he had a little trouble wrenching the sword out of his body.

    Surprisingly, despite his thoughts before the battle. It didn't seem to have any hard effect on him. He hardly felt any different from this battle than he had from any other fight during his corsair years he had. The only thought that worried him was what horror could have happened if his idea had suddenly turned into a huge flop and got almost everybeast on his side killed. How cheesed the War Lady would be at him and what she would have done to him had he been brought to her and pointed out as the main reason they're treasure hunted ended in a huge failure…... Is this what every hordebeast thinks like on a daily basis? Is this their constant nightmare or fear?

    Suddenly, his conscience crashed the trip up memory lane and worry wort street with an interesting observation. "You have a vixen checking you up and your wearing the skin of her race as a blisterin' coat!" it made his ear lower slightly, he didn't think of that and now that he was thinking about that, he suddenly felt a little shame at the awkward situation it must be making between him and her. At least by now the bleeding had stopped and she wouldn't be needed near him for long. That was something he was very thankful for….

    The sea cat suddenly caught his captain from a corner in his vision and waved at her with a shout. "How's that for a battle plan!? I knew they would try to make a ran for it, but we got them all! I don't think we lost a single beast on our side!"

  • "A good plan, Ryker!" Laverna agreed. She quickened her pace towards him as she saw what the vixen was doing. "You must have fought some real brutes to earn those cuts."

    Laverna cleaned off her blade and sheathed it. Her tail was flicking and swishing, and she was pacing up and down in excitement, feeling the effects of the adrenaline rush of combat. "I shall tell Claudia of your successes, Ryker. That is, after I elaborate on how it was my leadership and ferocity that carried the day!"

    Laverna laughed playfully, teasing the corsair a bit. He would get his dues, but Laverna had been the one in charge, so it was really her battle to have won. As the foxes and cats from the second ambush team rejoined the main force, they prepared to march out to the coast.

    The forests gave way to dunes, the sand covered here and there by clumps of small green bushes. The breeze was picking up as the travellers left the cover of the trees, and slogged through the soft sand. The engineers and their wagons strained to pull their loads through the sand without getting stuck. Firas and the scouts led the way, looking out of place on the beach in their grey furs. Though the sun was truly up and shining, it was still a lot colder than most days on the beach in Mossflower.
    Firas yelled as he climbed to the top of the next dune. Laverna raced up the slope and looked in the direction her scout was pointing. The two cats could see the ship that Ryker had told them about. It was a two-masted schooner, her spars tilting in the breeze, bereft of sails. Her rigging seemed to be intact however, the sheets and halyards criss-crossing from spars to masts. Her hull was black, except the white decorative woodwork on the prow and gunwales. Her anchors had not been dropped, she was listing to the port as she sat on the sandbank in the shallow waters.
    The fox leading the engineering team was quickly sent wading into the shallows to ascertain the ship's status. He did not hesitate to enter the water, being a strong swimmer, yet the cats could see him flatten his ears each time a cold wave buffeted against his chest. He half-waded, half-swum around to the side the ship was leaning to, as there were stairs on the side of the ship that would lead up to the weatherdeck. His claws dug into the wooden steps, the angle of the ship threatening to let him fall off into the water again. Laverna watched from a distance as he made it to the weatherdeck, and carefully began to make his way below.
    After a few tense minutes, the fox reappeared and began his climb back down. As he waded ashore, Laverna hurried to the shallows to meet him, not caring that her boots were getting wet. She had a lot to gain here, if the ship was basically seaworthy, that made her a ship's captain! The fox tugged his forelock and explained the situation to her.
    "The forehold is partially flooded, it's the planking that's buckled when they hit the sandbank, but the bulkheads are strong and well-made. Apart from the supplies, there were several unmarked crates I had a look through." The fox held out his paw and showed Laverna the pearl necklace he'd brought back. "Plenty like this, and even better."
    Laverna took the necklace and examined it, a smile playing about her lips. Her ship! She didn't even have a name for it yet, she'd just been so focused on getting here. Now they could sail it down to meet up with Claudia on the coast of Mossflower, and present the War Lady with the riches in the hold. The fox waved over his other engineers, and explained the situation. The first thing to do would be unloading the ship of its cargo, to lighten it enough to push it off the sandbank. Laverna gave orders for a temporary encampment to be made, and guards to be posted. She did not want any other beasts getting ideas about the treasure!
    Firas' cats fanned out across the beach and began a searching pattern through the dunes to make sure there were no nearby camps or settlements that might disturb the work. The engineer beasts formed a line from ship to shore to pass along the crates, which were then stacked up and guarded. Box after box went from one set of paws to another, but nobeast save Laverna was allowed to look inside. She idly toyed with the pearl necklace, her gaze fixed on her ship. When she next approached Ryker, she could barely take her eyes off it long enough to address him, as if it might disappear if she looked away. "Does my ship have a name, Ryker?"

  • The sea cat rolled his eyes with a grin on his muzzle when the wildcat said she would take the credit for all his planning "Yeah I know the deal here, your not the first Captain I followed…." eventually, the vixen was done and he gave her his gratitude. "Thanks. I'll make it up to ya if I see ya again...." He took a drink of Throatraker and than used the stinging liquid to wash his sword off. Eventually however, he had to march with the pack to the beach to find the ship....

    When Firas gave a shout from the top of a dune hill, Ryker was one of the first to make it to the top, he had been looking forward to seeing the ship he spent a good part of his life in for what felt like the longest time, to these other beasts. It was just a ship, but to him, It was the haven that saved and kept him safe and keep a "roof" (deck) over his head for many years and to see it again gave him a great feeling, a lighter than air feeling, all the weight was off his shoulders. The urgency to see it with his own eyes again lend his sudden and powerful energy and sprinting power.

    The good feeling was further improved when he watched in amusement as the fox tried to get to the ship and his reactions to being hit by the waves that smacked against him. "Landlubbers….." he thought. Eventually though, the fox made it onboard and suddenly, in his head, the thoughts raked though his mind about whether everything was still there or not, sure. They killed a shrew tribe, but what if a bunch of beasts from a coastal settlement or tribe just so happened to come across it and during all the fighting or even well before, organized a larger party to take everything from the ship? This would make all their efforts for nothing, it would also make his life forfeit also…..

    The fears were quickly put to rest though when the fox reappeared on deck and while he was in the process of climbing back down the ship, when Laverna came bolting towards the shore to meet him, Ryker quickly found the excuse to get ever closer to the ship and admire it even more by following her in her stride. When the fox showed her the pearl necklace, he knew everything was still there.

    He never got any orders to get on the ship or aid the engineers in their job and didn't try to get on the ship in fear of getting out of line and suffering the consequences for it. Instead, he merely sat on a lump of sand and watch, his right leg wouldn't stop shaking from impatience and excitement, both revolving around wanting to get on board the ship and enjoy the feeling of being on the wooden deck and rolling waves again. He especially was anxious to have the wind whipping through him and the feeling of security of being in the crow's nest. Maybe if he was lucky, he would find a position revolving around being on the ship at almost all times...

    Laverna snapped him out of his minor daydreaming with a query. He nodded in response. "Me and the crew called her "The Bloody Barracuda," but since it's your ship now, your free to rename her whatever you like. Just be warned though, it's believed to be a bad omen to rename a ship...." He finished the last part of his response with a small grin and a flick of his right ear. His response a shot back at her for the teasing done at him a while ago back.

  • "The Bloody Barracuda," Laverna repeated. Its alliteration was aggressive and explosive, it could be spit out as a curse or a threat. It was a harsh name, its imagery brought to mind a fearsome animal with bloodstained teeth, whose mere silhouette made the lesser creatures scatter and hide amongst the coral. Laverna smiled. "No, I shan't change it. It's perfect."

    The vermin milled about the hull of the schooner as her load was lightened. It was eventually ordered by the chief of the engineers, the same fox that had scouted out the vessel, that the ship's boats be lowered. There were two sturdy wooden longboats, designed for use in choppy waves and in the surf. They could carry ten rowbeasts, one beast to an oar, and a beast on the steering board. The fox watched carefully as the first boat was swung out on the two curved wooden davits that held the pulleys to lower the craft. This boat was lowered on the port side, the way the schooner was leaning into the sea. The fox had noticed they couldn't lower the boat from the other side, as the angle meant it would just smack against the hull.

    The boat having been lowered, the order was given for ten rowbeasts to board it, and a fox sergeant to handle the steering. With a bit of shouting and the fox tapping rhythmically with his footpaw on the boat's hull, they began to row in unison to clear the way for the next boat. The longboat was turned over on the deck by the engineers, as it was usually stored upside-down in the centre of the weatherdeck. Again, the boat was let out on the davits, and the beasts on the pulley ropes let it down. Both boats were still attached to the ship by sturdy ropes. Now came the second part of the chief engineer's manoeuvre.

    "Row! One, two, one, two! Come on lads, get 'er clear of the sandbank!" Shouting from the foxes in charge of the boats spurred the rowbeasts on as the two small vessels worked to drag the ship off the sandbank. As good fortune would have it, the tide was coming in, not going out. A hollow groan echoed through the ship's empty insides as the black hull began to shift. After a few minutes of this exertion, every roll of the swell lifted the schooner up, off the sandbank and another few inches to freedom. As the ship finally slid off the sandbank, there was a scraping, and then every beast on board gave a yell as the hull righted itself, the masts exaggerating the ship's rolling movement as they swayed side to side, the rigging creaking under the pressure. The Bloody Barracuda was free.

    The vermin cheered, and Laverna clapped, smiling in approval. However, their work was far from done. The schooner was towed backwards, out to a safe enough distance to drop anchor. Now came the third part of this operation; getting every box of supplies and treasure back on the ship, and loading up everybeast to sail it South. This task would have to be done by boat now, and for the next few hours there was little to do for the beasts on the shore but lift boxes and pull the oars. Every so often the rowbeasts were ordered to swap with the next group, to rest their arms. They didn't need anybeast freezing up on them, after all. The Bloody Barracuda sat by the shore, as she was loaded and crewed. In the midst of this, the engineers were working on the myriad of ropes to hoist the sails they'd found in storage, and patching up the damage in the forehold area. A few burly beasts were assigned to the bilge pumps for a while to drain the water that had flooded the room.

    Once the ship was loaded and her sails flapped in the breeze, it was time to pull up the longboats and store them. They came up one at a time again, so the chief engineer could supervise them without dividing his attention. The fox stood on the weatherdeck, whereas Laverna had taken to the quarterdeck at the rear of the ship, where she could see all the goings-on before her. Just overhead, the booms of the ship's two fore'n'aft sails swung, as if waiting impatiently for the sails to catch the wind. Ryker and Firas had been invited onto the quarterdeck too. Traditionally this was the realm of the ship's officers, where no ordinary sailor could venture without permission. However, as they were a slightly unconventional crew, Firas and Ryker might as well be the ship's officers. The fox chief engineer joined them as well at Laverna's order.

    "Sergeant, set our course southward and follow the coast. Lady Hellebore will no doubt signal us when we rejoin her position." Laverna commanded. The fox tugged his forelock and headed downstairs to bark his orders at the vermin in control of the tiller, the large horizontal lever that controlled the ship's rudder. The sheets connected to the booms were tightened, and the sails were no longer let loose. Slowly at first, the Bloody Barracuda turned her prow southwards, to Mossflower waters. She began to pick up speed as she caught the midday breeze, leaning slightly from side to side as she rolled gently with the calm swell of the sea. It was a gorgeous day for sailing, the speedy schooner leaving a trail of white foam as she scudded smoothly through the water.

    Laverna turned to her feline friends, and gave a somewhat nervous smile. "I know I'm not as clever as I pretend to be, with the business of sailing a ship. Ryker, I need your experience as a sailor to back up my decisions. You are the executive officer of the Bloody Barracuda now, your word shall be law when it comes to sailing and navigation. Firas, I think the keen eyes of your scouts would best be served as lookouts. I shall trust you to keep us safe from danger, and alert for enemies. Any vessel we encounter will be taken as a prize for the War Lady."

  • Ryker had a disapproving look on his face when she finished speaking to Firas. "Captain, a schooner isn't a bad ship don't get me wrong, ya'll find few ships faster than one, but the main reason some captains take ships like this is because they are not as successful as others or require a fast ship that doesn't need too many paws to work it. There are more vicious and successful captains ridin' the waves out there in galleons and carracks with a couple hundred seascum like me under their command easily. Hell's teeth, there are some captains with ships even larger than that and crews that can rival small armies! Lets just concentrate on getting down the coast and keep away from other ships until we get back together with the main pack alrighty?"

    Inside his own skull, that voice in the back of his head make itself known and gave him a troubling query. _"She's gonna get us all killed is she?"

    "…..... Maybe?"_

    _"So far so good…."_ He thought as he watched over the railing of the Bloody Barracuda's deck at the rolling waves below him and the beach farther away. Fortunately they haven't encountered a single corsair ship making any runs along the coast, mostly because there wasn't as many settlements as there were up North. There were lizard tribes, but they hardly were worth raiding. So that was good news, there would be no unnecessary battles for glory and possibility of being overwhelmed and killed. It was funny, he was the seasoned veteran here and his own captain, Laverna, was the big amateur who knew next to nothing about the rules of seafaring. She would have a lot to learn from him. He found a lot of amusement from that big fact….
    He took the time to take a quick glance behind him and check up on how everybeast was running the ship. He had been at it since they set sailed keeping everything functional and working to perfection. Now he understood the painful and crazy task being the one giving orders can be. He had seen his former and latter captains doing it and they both made it seem so easy, but to him. It was rather difficult, there were many faces to remember, many names to remember. He also had to keep them all busy with something and not idling at all. (He assumed) He wonder how they did it. Maybe it was because some beasts were naturals at being leaders and beasts like him had to work on it,  maybe you make a better leader when you don't care about the lives of those under your command than if you did care for they're lives....
    When he turned back to look into the sea again, he saw it. Next to the ship, a large fin cut through the surface like a knife of the sharpest steel cutting through pieces of worn leather. It had very erratic movement and as he followed it, he easily saw that it was more than capable keeping up with the Schooner. He hardly needed to see the body attached to it to get a good idea on what it is. _"Bodkin* Shark…."_ he thought. Easily one of the fastest sharks that swam the seas, they were highly aggressive and violent sharks. They earned their names due to the shapes of their ugly heads and the speed at which they can swim, sometimes so fast that there were rumors of them punching through boat hulls, killing themselves upon impact. He never believed that though, they were psychopathic examples of nature's creations, but they were not stupid creatures that would self terminate like that….
    He bumped his head against the railing with a light sigh, if this guy wouldn't take a hint that there was nothing to get rid of and swim away by the time they saw whatever signal they were supposed to be looking out for. They would be forced to try to get to shore on the long boats and hope the beast wouldn't try to knock them overboard. Though that wasn't likely to happen, the best way to get rid of a killer like this was to to hook it and reel it up out of the water and kill it, though the problem was Ryker had never thought to order any beasts throughout the entire trip to hook a few fish to use as bait in case such a situation happened to come about. Idiot!
    It was a common event, sharks of all kinds always followed corsair ships like this one. A corsair ship always ment that sooner or later, a free meal would fall from it's deck and into the water for them to feast upon. If there as a mutany, a ship-to-ship fight or just leftovers being thrown out well the more the merrier. Sometimes enough could be thrown overboard to attract the predators from far away and cause them to go into a mass feeding frenzy, he himself had seen it a couple of times....
    As if he jinxed himself again by hoping it would be gone by the time they found any hint of Claudia's presence, he heard one of Firas' boys yell out and point at the coast, when he raised his head to look. He saw a smoke signal on the beach. "Greeeeeat, just brilliant......" he muttered, well. I guess Laverna would have something to do involving fighting and getting them all killed after all. He might as well break the bad news to the rest of the crew though. He cleared his throat with some Throatraker before he called out. "Don't get excited and jump overboard! There's a shark under us, has likely been followin' us the entire time!"
    *Bodkin Shark is basically the Redwall name for Mako Sharks. You know? These guys ---> [Link](

  • The Bloody Barracuda made good progress south as the day drew on. The gentle tilt of the ship from side to side took some getting used to for a few beasts, particularly the scouts that had to climb to the crow's nest. The feral cats could climb the shrouds on either side of the two masts quite well, but the rolling movement of the ship was exaggerating by the height of the masts.

    It was late afternoon when the schooner came into view of a small inlet along the coast. By Laverna's reckoning, they were past wildcat territories and somewhere across the loosely-defined border between the Northlands and Mossflower. The ship's charts, like most maps, were not methodically accurate, but served to get the vague idea of what the coastline would look like. The previous captain had been at least semi-literate, and had scrawled in his spidery writing a few blunt, descriptive names for various maritime hazards. They had already passed 'DEADLY SHOALS' and Laverna assumed they had avoided the 'WEIRD SNAKE THING'.

    At the moment there was an air of worry amongst the vermin. Their new executive officer had just pointed out a disturbance in the otherwise smooth voyage; the presence of the shark. The beasts on board would peek over the gunwales every minute or so, anxiously looking down at the fearsome predator. Laverna noticed their eyes would occasionally wander to the longboats, as if dreading the moment she'd order them lowered. However, the chief engineer had different ideas.

    "Captain, may I suggest a practical solution to our problem?" The fox asked, as he clambered out of the hatch in the deck with his arms full. Laverna frowned and stepped towards him, trying to see what he'd found. The fox presented his 'practical solution' to the wildcat with a faint air of pride. "I found it in the armoury."

    Laverna's muzzle tugged into a cheeky smile. It was a long, wickedly barbed harpoon, the sharp blade glinting in the afternoon sun. "That'll do, Sergeant. That'll do."

    After a moment of debate, it was decided that Ryker would give a demonstration of his harpooning skills. The fox passed over the heavy weapon to the cat, and the crew crowded to watch the action. They scurried to the starboard as the shark made a pass at the schooner. Laverna watched the corsair wait for the right moment, when the shark was close enough, before hurling the harpoon in front of it, allowing the beast's own forward motion to intercept the barbed head. He struck a blancing blow and the sea was stained with the creature's blood, but it was not dead yet.

    The harpoon was reeled back in by its attached rope, and Laverna elected to try. After all, as Ryker had pointed out, she would have to learn if ever he wasn't around to do it. She leant over the gunwale, getting used to the harpoon's weight and balance. As the beast circled around the schooner again, she saw its fin coming into view. She licked her lips and narrowed her eyes, concentrating on her foe. It drew closer, and the wildcat tensed up, sensing this was the moment.

    Laverna hurled the harpoon and yelled triumphantly. The barbed blade had buried itself in the shark's flesh, and it was not coming out no matter how hard the beast thrashed. The rope was secured to the pulley on the crane, which was swung out over the starboard side. The crew, having enjoyed the spectacle of their captain and the corsair impaling a monster, worked enthusiastically to heave the heavy creature from the water. The shark itself was in obvious distress, frothing the water into pink foam as it thrashed and writhed, trying to escape. However, even such a mighty beast became exhausted, and it was lifted from the water, its mouth agape.

    This gave Laverna her first proper close-up look at the shark. It was quite a ferocious-looking beast, with black, emotionless eyes and a pointed head. Its back was blue, but its underside was white, and its vertical tail twitched and flapped as it was raised on the crane. Nobeast wanted to go near it, even with the shark out of its natural element. Instead, they let it flap about a bit, its body streaked with blood. It grew weaker, and eventually its protests died out. The crane was swung back, and the shark brought on board properly. It was stil lwet, and dripped on the deck, the crane creaking from its weight.

    "Hah! I could get used to hunting those, Ryker," Laverna said, grinning from ear to ear. It was a new kind of hunting to her, but it was just as thrilling. The wildcat was always one for an adventure. With the shark out of the way, the Bloody Barracuda was clear to send a boat to rendezvous with the main horde. A longboat were lowered, and rowbeasts selected, leaving most of the schooner's new crew on board. Laverna had already written her report on a scroll, and sealed it with some wax imprinted with her family crest. Firas was tasked with transporting this report. Claudia of course would understand why Laverna was not reporting to her personally; even the great War Lady would be hard-pressed to separate her cousin from her new command after just an afternoon's worth of sailing.

    Ryker would also be going along with Firas, as it was time for the corsair's exploits to be reported back and judged by Claudia. Firas was in a good mood, even if he had little enthusiasm for intruding in the inner realm of the War Lady. They had done very well for themselves, and even had an unexpected present for Claudia; the shark they'd captured would make a fine meal. The longboat bobbed on the surf and ground against the sand as it reached the beach. The vermin disembarked, pulling it up further. Firas felt quite shaky on land now, having only gotten his sea legs a few hours ago. Before him, he could see the wooden palisades of the camp fort, nestled amongst the trees.

    "Come on, Ryker. Better not keep her waiting," Firas said, though he was struggling to get up the beach in a straight line, staggering a bit as the world seemed to tilt gently from side to side. Thank the fates he hadn't been drinking, or he would be making a total fool of himself. The rowbeasts followed, also getting used to being back on solid earth once more. The shark's head and some choice portions of its flesh were being carried forward in a crate, the entire creature being a bit too large and heavy to transport. Laverna and her crew would also get a taste of the exotic meat, a fitting reward since it was the wildcat captain who had helped hunt it.

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