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!


Deployment

By: Ander (Epilogue)


Bechtel grunted as he knelt to move the remainder of the collected berries into his basket. His bones protested his hurried pace, but the nighttime breeze, however pleasant, rose unrelenting in its threat to ferry his bounty down the hill.

The berry fields lay long vacant around him, the other Redwallers having retreated to the shelter and comfort of stone walls and warm fires. They urged him to wait until the morning when the winds were less irritable, but no summer puffing could stop him from bringing smiles to each of those young faces. There was one Dibbun in particular, an enthusiastic young fellow named Rory, which the bat reckoned would be the most excited upon his return. The little mouse had begged to come, but it was far too late for him to be out.

Fruit now stored carefully in the basket, he stood up, stretched, and slung the handle round his claw.

The song of chirping crickets lingered, despite the whistling wind. Bechtel listened a moment, then turned and started on his way back to Redwall.

"Hello?" he called, though the wind quickly swept the echoes away before they returned to him. He heard the grass rustle under the approaching pawsteps, but no call rose to greet him.

Caution prickled along his spine, until he remembered a similar incident not a month ago. With a chuckle, he walked forward. "Rory, is that you again? Calla will have a fit if she-"

Bechtel froze mid-stride, the trickle of words piercing through the wind long enough for him to see. Two beasts hunkered low in a nearby patch of grass, wearing rough, patched-over clothing. Confusion fell to alarm as he saw their wicked fangs and sharpened daggers clutched in waiting paws-vermin, a rat and a ferret.

They perked up upon being noticed, the ferret looking ready to bolt, the rat gripping his weapon tighter.

Calling upon prior run-ins with vermin families throughout the Moss, Bechtel steadied his nerves and pushed aside the fear favoured by his fellow Brothers and Sisters. Spreading his wings peacefully to his sides, he said, "Don't be afraid. You simply caught me by surprise. I'm Brother Bechtel of Redwall-can I help either of you?"

The rat and ferret glanced at each other.

"From Redwall, he says," the rat snickered.

The ferret wrung his paws together. "A-Aye, but we was jus' checkin' old Redwall out, wasn't we, Dacey?"

The rat allowed a grin to spread across his face. "Yes. We... were."

Bechtel only had time to drop the basket of berries as the younger, leaner creature charged forward and seized him by the wings. He felt himself fall, smelled the salt and grime of the rat's fur, heard the snarl of a beast hungry for blood. And suddenly, he felt the heat of a foreign sun, heard the crowds roar for death, and knew only one thing: survive.

In a single motion, he twisted sharply against his attacker's momentum and slammed the rat down beneath him. Seizing the creature's surprise, he stabbed a claw for the throat. Foolish, leaving it so exposed. Inexperience and youth would grant him a quick death, then it would be onto the next day of-

The rat jerked to the side, screaming out as the talon sliced across his eye, sending flecks of blood spurting up. Bechtel gasped, and at once, he found himself back in the windswept hillside of Mossflower. He stared at the blood dripping from his claw, and at the squirming creature beneath him.

"Get him, Rotsnout!" howled the rat.

Something collided against his side, sending him tumbling in the grass. He did not resist as he felt steel press against his neck.

"Don't move. Yer comin' with us, Redwaller."

~.~.~.~

They passed through a campsite, complete with tents, open fires, and multitudes of snoring vermin soldiers, armed to the teeth but in this moment at rest. The bat jerked his head to the left, the smell of burning meat hitting his nose.

An army like this could only want one thing, being this close to Redwall, and Bechtel didn't like it.

The vermin he had on both his wings, however, did not lend him more time to cling to the thought. They tightened their holds and frogmarched him straight through the center of the camp and off into the dark. Upturned dirt and pinecones whisked by under his footpaws.

Pulling to a halt in a gloomy, soundless area of forest, the rat let go of Bechtel.

"Wait here, Rotsnout," Dacey commanded, shuffling away from them with his right paw still clutching his bloodied eye. Bechtel jumped at the rat's sudden loud, abrasive knocking, and sent out a click to analyze the ornately carved wooden carriage which loomed over them like a monster.

Dacey's knocking was followed by scuffling, and then the door creaked open and out stepped a feeble old rat with a rounded nose and generally inoffensive features. He stood taller than Dacey, and imminently honed in on the young rat, fluttering about the wounded rodent in a fretful manner.

"Why'd yew got yer paw like that, Dacey?" he agonized. "Sommat wrong wit' yer eye? Can I see? What 'appened?"

"I got a Redwaller for His Majesty to question, that's what!" Dacey snarled. Having said just that, he shoved past the elder and stomped right back down the ladder, passing Bechtel and Rotsnout and making frenzied flaps with his free paw. They watched him go.

"Idiot!" Dacey's parting cry silenced the crickets' song.

The old rat nervously beckoned to them, and Rotsnout gulped, then hauled Bechtel up the stairs.

The vermin have a leader.

The bat stiffened. He caught his breath. It seemed as though his Abbey's past had come full circle to exist in the waking world. Rotsnout shoved him through the door, and he fell on his knees, only to have the blade pressed once again to his neck. The old rat shut the door and scampered inside after him, remaining in the corner to make sure that the handful of functional locks that decorated the door were all tightly sealed.

The cabin was musty and cluttered and stunk of cobwebs and stale wine. His focus was skewed, but Bechtel saw a desk and a large chair against one wall, among weapons and treasure and tiny, empty, antique-looking glass vials and various other objects. For holding so many valuables, there was little actual effort in making the place look nice. A rough, detailed woven rug broke up the wood floor, and on it, the bat could see, was dried blood.

Bechtel attempted to remain calm.

He'd lived his life. Yes, it was long and good, and whatever horrible fate lie in wait for him in these quarters of the leader of the vermin horde was nothing compared to what he had endured as a youngster. His friends would remember him fondly. He was ready...

The cringing old rat, finished with the last lock, tiptoed past the bat and ferret, knocked clumsily into a pile of books, and disappeared behind a silken curtain.

Bechtel pricked his ears. The paw Rotsnout had on his shoulder became clammy.

The bat could still hear the rat, but the rat only.

"S-Sir?" came the muffled question. "Dacey an' Rotsnout brought back a Redwaller." Some low murmuring, and then- "Y-Yeah, Yer Kingness, a Redwaller."

The rat was jostled right back out by the other creature, who walked slowly, then stopped, and stooped to select a sword from the assortment.

Bechtel, his heart pounding against his ribs, tried to read the animal that would inevitably bring his doom. He probably some sort of stoat or weasel or ferret, and by the way he walked, weighed and frazzled with age, but the bat, certain of his nearing end, could no longer focus.

"Let me see the Redwaller Dimmy so dully described, Rotsnout," the king rasped, straightening up.

"Says 'e's from Redwall." Rotsnout took a shuddering breath. "He's a bat."

The room descended into silence for a moment, broken only by each creature's shallow breathing. Then, at last-as if having grappled with something-the king marched up to the kneeling Redwall Elder.

Bechtel sent out another forlorn click; it was a weasel, older than him by almost a decade. His sides heaved.

The king's frizzled tail lashed back and forth. He spoke aggressively to Rotsnout. "Did the prisoner tell you his name?"

"Yessir." The ferret bobbed his head. "He's Brother Becktell o' Redwall Abbey."

The weasel's eyes bulged in their sockets, a snakelike hiss rising from his throat. His thin fur spiked up and bristled. Gracelessly, he ran to the back of the room and brought out a lit candelabra, the light of which caught Bechtel and his ferret captor off guard.

"Get out!" the king roared.

Rotsnout let loose a horrified gasp. "B-But..."

"Leave him, and get out!"

The ferret leapt up and scrambled for the exit. Then the king turned on Dimmy, but the old rat was quick in chasing after Rotsnout. The door slammed shut after them, leaving only Bechtel... and the king, in the lit room.

One more click, and Bechtel saw the hideous scars that cut and ruined the weasel's face. In horrifying silence, Bechtel recognized the beast.

~.~.~.~

Ander couldn't bring himself to look at Bechtel, and yet he did.

The weasel, frizzled, and, in places, gaunt- with streaks of gray fur and an ostentatious yellow and red tunic which ruffled at the wrists, thrown over top by a matching, though brighter, cape, which was meticulously embroidered with gems and lined with the warm brown pelt of a slain otter... felt as if he had driven his own dagger into his stomach the moment he allowed his eyes to gobble up the bat's appearance.

Bechtel had mellowed with age. The tufted fur around his neck was gray and beardlike, hanging over a pleasant green habit which was cut specially for his wings. Redwall had its marks all over him, and the bat returned his stare with surprise of his own.

The paw in which Ander grasped the candelabra began to shake. His metallic crown, which was dull and displayed faded bloodstains, slithered forward on his head. He couldn't keep his anger from boiling up.

"Your shock astounds me," whispered the king, grinding his words out. "This... should have been exactly what you expected."

Bechtel swallowed, then shook his head numbly. "N-No... you're dead." His ears drooped. "You died."

"Did I?!" Ander shrieked.

Bechtel fell back onto the wood planks.

"No!" snarled Ander, thrusting the candles in his face. "Instead of dying, I rose to be the most powerful warlord to ever walk this world!" Gagging giggles, sounding to the unacquainted ear more like sobs, hiccupped from his throat. "King Ander, Ruler of All!"

Bechtel, in his numbness, said nothing, and Ander's raspy breathing leeched on the following silence.

Finally, he tore his eyes off the bat, setting the candelabra on the desk and curling his paws around himself. His breathing slowed, and he ran his tongue over his teeth, his back to the bat. "...In all the time you spent as a paltry Redwaller, I claimed many a land. Your beautiful Abbey... will be my final hurrah, the shining memento of my achievement."

"What?" Bechtel scrambled to his paws. "Y-you can't!"

The fur on the back of Ander's neck prickled. "You sound like all the rest. 'Can' and 'can't,' preaching to me even as I prove them wrong."

He heard a growl issue behind him. "Redwall has stood against worse threats, and survived. You will be no different!"

Ander clenched his fist and turned back around to glare at the old bat. "Don't compare me to those common creatures. Fools and failures, all of them!" He stalked towards the bat. "They wanted Redwall for the glory, for the blood, but that's all. It was only ever a want. But I... I don't care for that. I need Redwall."

His grip tightened around the handle of his sword almost to the point of fatigue. "I need it more than you'll ever need anything."

After Ander said this, something flickered through Bechtel's face. The anger and shock dissipated into the bat's wrinkled features, replaced with something else; that same pitying look he wore that night, so many years ago, in the frozen wastelands of Marshank. And yet, this time, it lacked malice, or perhaps now Ander was not too blind to recognize its true form.

Bechtel folded in his wings and drew in a deep, steadying breath. "Ander..." he murmured, "it isn't too late, you know." He blinked sympathetically. "You don't need to do this. The Redwallers can still accept you."

Accept me? At first, the weasel said nothing. The glower which he forced to stay on his face twitched and spasmed, replaced by a longing frown. In what kind of world could they ever accept me? He had to shut his eyes.

"What is Redwall like?"

"...It's peaceful." Bechtel seemed taken aback by the question, but a small smile crept across his face. "Everyone... belongs, and you're never alone. You can feel it in the grass and smell it in the air. Redwall... Redwall is... a giant family, more or less. They're my family, and I am theirs."

Ander took in a shaky breath. "That sounds pleasant."

"No, it's more than that. It's... it's good. It's right."

"And their virtues?" The weasel cracked open one tired brown eye. "Are they kind, and are they decent?"

"They offered me everything I never deserved."

Ander lingered where he stood, both eyes open now and staring yearningly at Bechtel. His shoulders drooped.

"Ander," Bechtel continued softly, "You know how this ends. Not just for you, but for all those beasts out there. Choose life. Please, this time, choose life."

Ander made no motion save for the twitching of his eyes for a very long time. Then he abruptly grimaced, convulsed, and shuddered, the medals on his chest clinking like disharmonious chimes. "...You lie, Outrageous Wretch."

The hope in Bechtel's face withered to ash. He suddenly looked very old, very weak, and very piteous. "No," the bat gasped. "Please, Ander, I have no reason to lie to yo-"

Ander came at him with the sword and seized him by the habit collar, shaking him roughly. "Fiend! You lie! Everything you have ever said to me- a ruse, a scheme! It is no different now!"

He wrestled the struggling bat over to the door and hastily undid the locks, then released him on the platform of the cabin, trembling violently.

"Cunning trickster."

"Ander..."

"No!" The weasel again lunged forward, and Bechtel slipped and tumbled down the stairs, landing roughly in the dirt below. Ander watched through hooded eyes as the bat picked himself up.

"Out of the courtesy of my heart," he growled, raising a paw over his chest, "I shall give you time to prepare your... 'family'... for my arrival."

Bechtel stared at him for a lingering second.

Ander's lip curled. "I attack at dawn."

With one despairing shake of his head, the old bat turned and lifted off into the air. He never looked back. The rhythmic beats of his gnarled yet healed wings remained the only sound that broke through the night's silence.

Ander observed as Bechtel grew smaller and smaller in the starry sky, until he vanished completely. Then, with his head held high, the weasel turned his face to the moon.

[THE END]