This story was originally going to be a prologue to the Redwall Survivor Contest- Mossflower Odyssey IV: Beasts in the Crater. It has since been revised to be a standalone.
A Falling Hourglass is a collaboration between six authors; each with their own designated character. Some of the characters will live. Some of them may die. After eight rounds, the story will come to an end. As always, be sure to let us know what you think and leave a review!
By: Drugaen Vikkars
A black rain fell from the sky.
Vikkars shook his head slowly. He was lying on his side in the dirt.
Too quickly, and the pain made his vision white. It was... as if he were living a dream that wouldn't escape him... seeing dead faces on living beasts, and now black water falling from the sky.
And yet, he watched as his open paws collected small, wet puddles of darkness that continued to fall from a black sky. Vikkars looked to his left; a whimpering pine marten was dying, an arrow stabbed deep in his lung. Death finally quieted the beast. Vikkars rasped a chuckle.
A white blob of pain clouded his right eye, and he couldn't-
He tried to rise to his booted footpaws, but his strength gave out and he collapsed back against the boulder, a trembling bloodied visage of a soldier king. He was Drugaen Vikkars, the final King of Illmarsh.
"Faek praise us," a familiar voice said. Two blurry shadows -one larger than the other- moved at his peripheral, and he felt paws around his torso. Lieutenant Goran hoisted him upright, careful of the blood dripping from Vikkars' left shoulder. The ferret winced and bit the inside of his cheek as he steadied himself with his chipped sword.
"Your dreams were fitful since we left the rear guard station," Goran said, righting the iron crown on Vikkars' head.
"How long?" Vikkars asked, closing his eyes.
Drums in the deep… or was that thunder?
"Four hours or so," Goran said.
Vikkars blinked several times and inhaled slowly. "Four hours... and our retreat from the battlefield?"
"Aye," Goran said. "Still in enemy territory." He nodded curtly to his king. "We move on?"
Vikkars stared him down silently. He knew if Goran looked too deeply into his eyes, he could find fever, hatred, fear and fury, plus anything else he would imagine to burden his king and keep him bedridden, and out of reach of his sword.
Black rain... from the- the soot... the fires. Our corpses. The ash and soot… that's why the rain is black...
The ferret's eyes grew wide suddenly, and he straightened his posture as best as he could.
"Five hours from the field," he muttered. His throat felt like a furnace full of burning coals, and he gave a terrible cough. Once he was composed Vikkars wiped at his own mouth with a bloody armored glove, then raised his gaze to the ebony skies. "And still the fires chase us."
"They be burnin' for weeks, likely," the weasel opposite of Goran said, leaning on the pole that once bore the standard of House Drugaen.
Goran hissed at the weasel through his teeth, but Vikkars spoke first.
"Aye, they'll burn... for days and nights... and those fires are the bodies of your brothers. And your sisters. Your wife, your children, your home. It all burns." He narrowed his eyes at the weasel. "Do you care so little for those who sacrificed their all for you? Your pitiful life?"
The weasel only shrugged. "An' for yours, sire."
Vikkars responded first again. A flick of his wrist buried one of his knives deep into the skull of the insolent weasel, the body of which fell backwards into an arctic willow bush. The king stumbled forward after the throw, but Goran's paws steadied him before he could fall.
"My life?" Vikkars growled. He slapped Goran's paws away and brought himself to the ground, tugging his weapon free. He wiped the blade clean on the deceased's tunic and sheathed it at his side, heaving an exhausted sigh. "It's no wonder we lost back there, Goran."
The lieutenant lowered his head and echoed the sigh. "It's not his fault, sire," he spoke quietly.
"Speak up!" Vikkars barked.
Goran looked the ferret in the eye again. "We all fought for you, sire. He too fought, just as your vanguard fought, tooth and claw, gougin' and slashin' and bitin' until we drowned in their blood, and still they came. We didn't think about our losses; we didn't stop to think about being outnumbered. We saw you on the field, and we knew what had to be done. We did it for you, sire."
"For me?" Vikkars gave a heartless chuckle. "It means nothing if you lose."
"It means something if they believed in what they died for," Goran replied.
Deep thunder rumbled overhead.
"Damn him, anyways."
"A suggestion m'lord? ...The captains of our enemies will come looking for you, once they cannot count you among the corpses." Goran wiped wet soot from his eyes, and offered his left glove to Vikkars. "We move on?"
The bloodied king accepted the helping paw up to his footpaws, careful of his tender left shoulder. "We move on," Vikkars confirmed hoarsely.
Goran gestured toward the end of the woven path between pale white rocks and sickly wintry plant life. "We still have soldiers left, sire... some of your vanguard survived the fight, and we're stumbling across others in small pockets."
"Put your arm to good use, Goran," Vikkars said. "I'm not myself yet."
Goran leaned towards the ferret, and Vikkars slung his right arm over the lieutenant's shoulder, and listened for a moment as his follower told him of the slaughter at Farrahwall's fields. But he could not keep his mind from clouding up and wanderin as they made their way through the seemingly eternal twilight brought upon by the dark precipitation showering the countryside. The scenery did not seem to change much as they climbed and fell across unfamiliar terrain, their pace all but crawling.
Five hours from battle, where thousands of soldiers were slaughtered screaming for the dying glory of House Drugaen. Where do we go from here? Only the sea lies to the west, and we have no friends in the east-
Vikkars felt fury flow through him as his head exploded in sudden, nauseating pain. Somebeast was shaking him-
"You need to drink this, sire!"
Lukewarm liquid hit his lips and started down his throat. His stomach heaved, and he gave back the liquid, plus some. Goran turned his head at the sudden expulsion, but stayed close to Vikkars, the outstretched bowl ready with more medicinal liquid to offer.
"Fever seized you," explained Goran, easing the bowl back after Vikkars took his fill. "We had to camp for the night. At least, I think it was night. The skies betray the true hour."
The ferret king shivered and growled at Goran. He didn't see the titanic rock nearby; skeletal trees draped the horizon for as far as he could see. Ahead of them, numerous Drugaen soldiers were crouched around a smouldering fire. "Wh-where?"
"We put the rising sun to left and headed south and east," the stoat follower finished the contents of the bowl himself. "Nothing northwards but icy mountains and terrible gremlins hidden in the snow, remember?"
Vikkars shut his eyes in frustration, cursing his uncontrollable tremors. "I-i-islands, or in-inlets?"
Goran shook his head. "We passed the rock, but the foul marshes are haunting us. Scouts say we'll be among them for at least seven days."
All around them the first signs of winter were falling from the sky. Flakes landed on the lieutenant, who pulled a white pelt coat tighter around his armor.
The mountain weasel leaned closer to Vikkars, eyes betraying his fear. "We're pursued, sire... I don't know how they tracked us, but your vanguard are quite keen, and we'll keep you safe."
"Pursued?" Vikkars strained his aching muscles and fought for focus. "How many?"
"Two-score, at least. Mostly lightly armed soldiers- pikes and spears, most like. Clustered half a day's march behind." Once more Goran righted the crown on Vikkars' head and grinned. "But like I said, your vanguard is here, and I'll make sure nobeast ever- Faek... on your guards, lads!"
Goran dropped his support of Vikkars, and the ferret struck the ground head-first, hard and unforgiving. His snout burst a hot spray of blood, and he coughed dust from his mouth. His arms felt dead and limp, and nothing worked below his waist. He tried rising with his forearms...
"Protect your lord!" Shouted Goran from somewhere nearby, drawing his axe. "Protect the king!"
Vikkars heard the clamor of scuffling and shifting weight. All around him the sounds of warfare were sounding off again. Grunts of exertion gave way to cries of triumph. Suddenly he heard footpaws approaching. Before he was able to crawl away, the blunt end of a spear struck him in the back.
"Ooo, we got a king here, lads?" a foreign voice said in cruel humor.
A portly shrew hoisted Vikkars to eye level, slapped his paws in iron cuffs before sneering at him.
The shrew sharply turned to his followers and added, "Round 'em up, boys -all the ones we've caught- we can take them back to the fort with us."
"My soldiers are going to come back for me," hissed Vikkars to his aggressor. "They'll come back for me, and they'll tear all of you apart."
Vikkars spat blood in the shrew's eyes and grinned before howling in agony. Another soldier socked him across the face with the butt of their spear, and the ferret collapsed in a heap.
"This one is quite the fighter! Lord Cain is gonna love him," somebeast said, before everything went dark.