"There is no Light without the Dark.
Through Passion, I gain Focus.
Through Knowledge, I gain Power.
Through Serenity, I gain Strength.
Through Victory, I gain Harmony.
There is only the Force."~Grey Jedi Code.
Dominic sighed in dismay and for a moment looked crestfallen at Skarlath's unhelpful and overall discouraging words.
"One riddle leads to another riddle; solve one, there's always a second. But, nobody said it would be easy, and if it was, I'd not be sitting here, now, would I? Anyway…" He thoughtfully twirled his pen between his fingers, taking great care not to splatter ink on his parchment and notes.
"All right, we're about done, aren't we?"
'Now take you the thorn,
And go forward, not back.
Hidden in a rose,
The field shall not lack.'
"We've already identified the bee and the tree, so...
'''Tis two yet is one,
Is this thing you seek,
And then it is done,
To embolden the meek.'"
Dominic stared cluelessly at Skarlath again, carefully suppressing his obvious skepticism with clear stoicism. That being said, the bird was a ghost, and could see right through him.
"The Thorn is the Sword of Martin, and the Rose must refer to the Abbey in which the legendary blade is kept. The Field, also the Abbey, shall not be in need of a defense, a Champion, for Fernleaf has embraced his calling. We are all saved by the grace of Fernleaf, and by those who support and fight with him!"
Dominic dropped his pen in the inkwell and crossed his arms over each other, raising one palm to cup his chin in it, a habit of his when thinking.
"'Two yet is one'...That makes little sense. It is the thing Fernleaf, or perhaps all of us seek, 'to embolden the meek'. How should I interpret this?"
"Well, he seems to like it," Divan observed bluntly from the side while the ferret perused the educational tome. "But he isn't speed-reading, is he?"
"Nobeast can speed read that fast," Jared dared to note, scratching his head. "He's just browsing it."
"Don't tell me he's going to…!" Edoran inhaled frightfully and his eyes grew wide as Fernleaf reached the end of the book.
"He is!" Dane gaped open-mouthed and his face turning white.
"Fernleaf!" Jared reached out after him as he went towards the training dummy. "That's not a good idea right now! Don't do it, brother-!"
A wave of Chi energy exploded, and straw rained down upon the warriors. Jared and Divan crouched on the ground and folded their paws defensively over their heads while the rush of Chi knocked them onto their tails. Edoran, Dane, and Tokal simply looked on blankly at the hailing twigs, totally nonchalant as they fell through, around, over and under them.
"Oh, come on!" Jared got up from his crouch and shook himself violently to rid his fur of its grass-like perpetrators. "We spent two-and-a-half months putting those together! That work for nothing! They're made for hitting with a sword, not with supernatural magic!"
"ONLY TO BE USED IN DIRE NEED!" Divan picked up the book that had flown out of Fernleaf's grip during the burst and subsequent launch backwards, pointing to the cautionary statement purposefully bolded for more than just emphasis. "We may have to set a restriction on that thing. If you use it on a living enemy, like a vermin, well…you won't like the result."
"How will we put this back together?" Jared stared mournfully at the bare wooden post where the dunmy once proudly stood.
"So quick, are you, dear son, to forget about us ghosts?" Dane placed a comforting kiss on his child's face. "There is more to us than simply intangilbiity and immortality. Watch, my boy." Dane pointed his paws toward what remained of the training dummy and tutted his ten fingers articulately. Jared looked on as the pieces, shreds, and scraps reformed themselves magically from a messy circle omnidirectional meters wide into their previous form. There the new dummy reappeared, good as new, reborn and remade.
Dane winked smugly at his speechless second son, kissed him one last time and roughed his hair.
"There! All set to be blown up again!"
"Well, Fernleaf," Jared shrugged at the ferret regretfully. "I hope you've learned your lesson. I say you should just focus on the sword for now and worry about learning about natural magic later. Do you understand? None of us can afford another accident here like that one."
Dominic slapped a relieved mild paw to his forehead. "Thank Martin Jared Sandeye is not our enemy! Praise be to him and to the son of the East!" He put ink into his pen and wrote down Skarlath's explanations, but narrowed his eyes somewhat dubiously at the kestrel.
"Does it make it any clearer? Somewhat, I'd say. Your mysteriousness baffles me, or are all spirits from the Dark Forest like this? You and Sunflash must've had quite the riot together in life, and it seems no less enjoyable in the hereafter. Nonetheless, I will go along with you on this quest, as I promised, and as you promised to do with me."
He finished writing and mulled over his thoughts.
"What kind of monsters would attempt to steal Martin's Sword? It has happened before, everyone at the Abbey knows that. But whom, what, and why? Just what motives, if any, would they have to attempt thievery of such a relic? I cannot imagine it. But I'll do my part to protect the Sword. I know Fernleaf will appreciate it.
The Commander of Blood…could that be? A vermin chieftain, I dare not speak his name aloud lest he appear here before me in this Gatehouse. It's impossible to see what plans he has for Redwall....or worse yet, for Jared Sandeye."
Dominic lay back in his chair, scratching his puzzled brow. He looked to the bird helplessly, hoping for some words of comfort, some measure of elaboration, some emotional aid of whatever sort. Then again, what could a bird give?
Outside, Jared was also scratching his head cluelessy. "Well, what do we do now? Fernleaf has only dented the surface of Shii-Cho training. While there is still much he could learn, if you're that needy to carry on and study the other six Forms, then I suppose I can hurry to my bedroom and get you that book, if you like, Fernleaf."
"I believe that would be best, Jared." Tikal advised. "What say you, Anithralith?"
Not waiting for even a breath of an answer, Jared bolted back inside the Abbey, weaving and slipping past Abbeydwellers going the other way to his dormitory. He dug into the drawer of his end table and removed a bronze-brown hardcover book with paper pages, fancily but well-technically titled, Ways of the Eastern Blades: Personal Explorations and Philosophies of the Seven Forms of Sword Combat, by Jarvis Richings.
Faster than an arrow, Jared practically sped himself out of his bedroom, through the halls, and out to the Lawn again, where he showed the tome to the warrior ferret.
"I'd not call it required reading, but it's highly education regardless. Every Island has a copy of this book, and even the most seasoned of warriors across the East still read it. This is all yours if you plan to read it; it's just that I'll need it back after you're finished."
Samwise hurried frantically around and around an endless field of corn, walls flanking him on both sides for miles and miles across. The summer had yielded and blessed the field of Farmer Maggot with a plentiful mass of crops. One admittedly had to stop every now and then and admire the diligence of the Shire's most determined mouse. There was truly no garden and farm greater than that of Maggot, and Sam as a passionate gardener found himself deeply humbled by it all. But that didn't stop him from spinning on his own mouse heels in desperation, calling out a name over and over again.
"Mr. Frodo? Frodo?! Frodo!!"
The brown mouse materialized down the road, and Sam heaved a sigh of relief. "Mr. Frodo! I thought I'd lost you."
"What are you talking about?" The young Duggins asked in concern.
"It's just something Gandalf said," Sam fearfully confessed as he walked closer into Frodo's eyeline, his walking stick thumping in the thick farm dirt. "'Don't you lose him, Samwise Gimgee.' And…and I don't mean to."
Frodo snorted and laughed innocently. "Sam, we're still in the Shire. What could possibly happen?"
From the walls of corn came running - or falling, rather - two mice, landing on Frodo and Sam and knocking them to the ground. Sam groaned under the weight and shot his eyes open to see whom had run into them.
Of course: Meriadoc Brundyback and Peregrin Rook, bloody dimwits.
"Frodo!" He heard Pippin say in surprise. "Merry! It's Frodo Duggins!"
The weight of Merry lifted from Sam's chest as the former got to his feet. "Hello, Frodo!"
Sam was faster than both of them. He grabbed Pippin forcibly by the waist and hurled him off of Frodo. "Get off him! Come on, Mr. Frodo!"
Frodo stared wide-eyed and horrified at the vegetable litter before him. "What's the meaning of this?!"
But he and Sam were cut off by their fellow mice forcing heaps of carrots, cabbages, and potatoes into their unwilling arms.
"Hold these, and these!" Merry begged.
Sam realized the truth before he held it. "You've been into Farmer Maggot's crop!"
Any reasonable debate was cut off by the sound of a dog barking, and the foursome watched in terror as a long tall scythe appeared over the corn, accompanied by a furious and gruff voice.
"Hoi! You get back here! Wait till I get this through you! Stay out of my field! You'll know the devil when I get to you!"
They were already running before he'd finished his last sentence. Sam dropped the vegetables and sprinted after them, as fast as his legs would carry him.
"Don't know why he's so upset!" Merry cried out in front of him. "It was only a couple of carrots!"
"And some cabbages!" Pippin reminded from the head of the straight line, clearly not helpful in the current situation. "And those few bags of potatoes that we lifted last week! And then the mushrooms the week before!"
"Yes, Pippin, but my point is…he's clearly overreacting! Run!"
Suddenly they reached a cliff top, where Pippin stopped dead in his tracks, only to be bumped into by Merry, Frodo, and then Sam. Before they could decide what to do, they were already tumbling down the hill, landing one on top of another in a humiliating heap.
"Oh, that was close!" Pippin noted, relieved as he looked at an obvious pile of horse manure that he would've landed in had he fallen a meter closer.
"I think I've broken something!" Merry groaned, and he pulled out from behind his back a broken carrot, which he pitifully whined over.
"Trust a Brundyback and a Rook!" Sam grumbled in irritation as he sat up.
"What?" Merry tried to reason blamelessly. "That was just a detour! A shortcut!"
"Shortcut to what?" Sam growled at his friend.
Pippin pointed at something sitting on the ground, and the quartet's faces immediately brightened.
Dominic slumped back in his seat, his mind in a dazed whirl. He couldn't help but smile and laugh at himself, at the sheer yet believable ridiculousness of it all.
"And to think, that just yesterday, I was standing up on a tall ladder, trimming the branches of a tree that had grown over the ramparts of the Abbey wall on the western side. The day before that, I was writing reports on the progress of the war. Pardon me, Skarlath, but I'm still trying to get my head around this. Greybeast, that's me!" The grey-furred Dominic slapped a palm to his forehead. "How extraordinary! How amazing!"
He wrenched himself back from his marveling before he got carried away, and sat up straight, picking up his pen again. But his brow furrowed slightly at the kestrel.
"That still doesn't answer everything. There are more verses with more answers yet to be uncovered. Like these…" He indicated them with the point of his quill. "'Beware of the troupe, So greedy, so wise, May take what is yours, To the one so despised.' 'But the deed is so fated, And shall do unseen good, Cause doom to the recipient, The commander of blood.'"
"The commander of blood, the Troupe,' does that refer to...er, whatever his name is. And the one so despised, is that...Jared Sandeye? I shudder at the possibilities of what terrible outcomes might occur if and when the new enemy arrives in Mossflower. But what say you, Skarlath?"
Tinarandel moved at an impressive speed for his species, practically half-sliding half-walking to fill the new orders. A small scoop of vanilla and a cup of almonds for good measure, asked for by the coyote. He stuffed the rainbow-colored spoon into the cream and placed it up on the counter. The sound of the silver bell had barely finished resonating before Tinarandel was starting on the special requested by the Tasmanian Devil.
"The special is fantastic, sir, I agree." Tinarandel gave the Devil both his treat and a sunny smile, and rang the bell a second time. "Anything I can get you to drink? Water, soda, juice, iced tea?"
His listing of the available beverages was cut abruptly short by the notice popping up on the screen concerning the attack on Senator Crest, seen in his peripheral vision, though the spoken report proper was easily drowned out by that blasted Pharrell Williams blaring over the jukebox. The squirrel dashed over to the colorful and makeshift music player and turned down the volume. He hated the darned song anyway.
"Sorry, girls, but we've gotta hear this," he sincerely apologized to the human young ladies sitting down to eat. "Gosh, does anybeast know if he's going to be okay? If the gunman is still at large, on the run, won't the violence only escalate?"
He shook his head, pulling himself out of his depressing train of thought before it went too far. "No, no, I can't think about that now." In the blink of an eye, he was behind the counter again after slightly turning the music back up. He waited patiently and with a tiny growing grudge for Pharrell to finish, before returning to it and cycling through the main music selection, eventually settling on one of his classic favorites, Glen Campbell's "Southern Nights".
"Southern Nights! Have you ever felt a southern night? Free as the breeze, Not to mention the trees, Whistling tunes that you know and love so?~!…"
The squirrel sang softly to it, not wanting anyone to hear him, but in time he came to raise his voice, singing in a moderate time and hitting every note with accuracy while taking care to manage his breath. After all, he'd studied it in college, and he never forgot what he learned. Though the song was an octave higher than he liked, he did his best to keep up in his best imitation of Campbell. He wanted to entertain his guests, as well as keep his spirits up, to lighten the mood and keep the atmosphere positive. And he was darn sure that the human girls could hear him. He'd do whatever it took to keep everyone happy.
"Southern Nights! Feels so good even when closed your eyes! I apologize to anyone who can truly say, That he has found a better way~..."
Azroel seized the lead through the grounds of the Inn into Mossflower Forest, taking a few seconds to turn over his shoulder and wave a final goodbye to the remaining vermin who'd gathered on the doorstep to see them off. Gajiron, Nivort, and Ravirak also bade farewell, in words and actions, to their formerly fellow Horde vermin, and the foxes, wildcat, squirrelmaid, rat, and hedgehog vanished into the shadows of the Wood. But, they could be trusted, and the Inn would still exist upon their untold return.
Azem took Arries' paw in his own, slowly wrapping his fingers around hers and following on the heels of his brother. None in the group could debate whom was blushing harder than the other. Azroel hid his chuckles behind his paws and gestured to Grundlink and Cockleburr.
"'By five trees that stand horizontal to form a wall, the first an oak, the second a maple, the third yew, the fourth ash, and the fifth evergreen. Before these the house stands, and by them is it guarded.' That's the directions Starly gave us in a letter to find our home. Don't worry about trying to figure it out yourselves; it's too stressful for a simple mind to decipher. Let us lead the way; we'll know it when we see it."
Grundlink snapped two claws in front of Cockleburr to get him moving. "Come on, hedgehog brother. Let's be there by teatime. Time t' leave th' Inn behin', forever."
As morning eased into noon, the sextet emerged from the forest into a square clearing, where smack dab in its center stood a humble cottage of wood, stone, and straw. Behind it proudly towered a wall of oak, maple, ash, yew, and evergreen trees all in a horizontal row.
"Home," Azem whispered aloud, his eyes tearing up. "Home sweet home."
Azroel wiped his brother's eyes and kissed him comfortingly on the forehead. "At long last. Starlight will be so overjoyed to see us again."
Grundlink adjusted his bag over his shoulder. "Will she accept us as guests?"
Azem unconsciously stroked Arries' paw with his thumb, but smiled benignly at the black-white rat. "Of course she will! She loves guests, and there'll be plenty of lemon-honey tea to go around! No more lollygagging, let's get on our doorstep!" He led Arries and her sister down a small flight of wooden stairs down to the doorstep, where he bade them wipe their feet on the welcome mat. Grundlink and Cockleburr came abreast of the foxes and did the same. Moving ahead, Azroel knocked thrice on the wooden door.
Creak! The door opened inwards, and there on the threshold a beautiful slender-bodied wide-eyed thin black vixen, just a head shorter than her twin fox brothers, half-hiding herself shyly behind the door.
Dominic listened intently to the new rhyme Skarlath recited to him for elaboration and translation. The squirrel Recorder quickly wrapped up his thoughts on the original riddle and Soliburr's song, taking great care to ensure that his writing was legible - to both mortal and spirit - then placed his quill pen in the inkwell and began pacing back and forth along the table.
"This may sound like a stupid question, but…Is it odd that I find this more intriguing than stressful?"
Skarlath, without a moment's hesitation, shook his head dismissively, an amused but reassuring smile on his beak. "When it comes to destiny, Brother Dominic, there is no such thing as a stupid question. Every question you ask is indicative of your intelligence and insight, and it shows you truly want to learn what is being taught here. Go right ahead. Perhaps this is your destiny as well, for you to play this vital part in history. I mean to say, that your work just might save Redwall Abbey and Mossflower Forest."
Dominic smiled gratefully at the kestrel and resumed his thoughtful pacing.
"Words can be a double-edged sword, Bound together by a twisted cord.'…Words can mean countless things, with limitless interpretations. When strung together into sentences, who knows the possibilities? No two writers and literary thinkers are the same, after all. Meanings can become lost either by time or by translations of the uneducated and unlearned, the 'twisted cord'." He paused and looked to the kestrel for elaboration. "Am I getting this right? Am I on the right track?"
Much to his annoyance, Skarlath's only reply was another click of his ghostly beak, neither approving nor denying. Dominic bit his lip impatiently but did not comment, lest he accidentally slip something shameful or regrettable. He began again.
"One who would rather stay behind, but can bring sight to the blind...This creature must be greatly reluctant to take part in the conflict, probably a peacebeast of some sort. But he harbors an ability to interpret things in ways no ordinary creature can...bringing sight to the blind."
He fell back into his chair, seized a clean roll of parchment, and wrote down all his thoughts on the first stanza. Skarlath looked it over and nodded encouragingly. Dominic stood and resumed his pacing.
"'Depth of thought...Who shall awaken the sleeper of time? A wise one to unravel the knot'...Who could do all that? A creature who can see the details beneath the surface -"
He stopped, turning in place and twisting his body to gape in astonishment at Skarlath.
"Me? I...am the Greybeast?"
OOC: I'm really really praying that I've done this right! Not my best or most thoughtful.