Kan woke to the earsplitting squawks of seagulls, mixed with Sakhyo's furious yelling.
"Gerroutofit, ya filthy birds!" she howled. "Go an' peck at yon coyote, or th' fox, an' leave our Toka be!"
Curious, he scrambled upright, feeling with relief that at least some strength had returned to his limbs. Sakhyo was racing about the dunetop, swinging her pike at the scavenging birds wheeling above the corpses. When he reached her side, she remarked, "We'd best bury poor Tokala, mate; those carrion birds won't let 'er alone."
It was almost noon by the time the task was finished. The two friends had carried the vixen's body away from the battleground, to a part of the tideline untouched by blood and death. A circle of smooth colored pebbles ringed the grave, dug deeply into the wet sand of the shore. When all was finished, they stood there for a moment in complete silence, remembering the brave vixen who had given everything for them.
They returned to the dune one last time, to retrieve their weapons and think on the best course of action. In the end, Sakhyo decided that it would be best to return to the mountain, war or no war, so that the hares could help them. Both creatures sorely needed food, drink, and treatment for their injuries, as the two small bags of rations and canteens they had between them were not nearly enough, and medical supplies were non-existent.
As they headed across the huge sandhill, Kan paused to look at Arif's body. The seagulls and gannets had been busy; in a few places there was nothing left but ivory bone, glinting in the sunlight. Flies buzzed or crawled everywhere, covering the corpse in thick patches of moving black bodies and iridescent wings. The face, although now missing one of the eyes, was still frozen in its last bewildered snarl, filled with fright and anger.
Sakhyo turned pale beneath her fur as she got a good look at the carcass for the first time; seeing the twisted head above the mangled throat and the butchered torso, flesh and hide slashed away to expose the bloody viscera. It was a decidedly gruesome sight.
"Er, K.K...kan," she stuttered. "Yer didn't do that, d...did yer, mate?"
The young stoat was feeling a bit nauseous as well as he replied, "No, it was Razorclaw what killed 'im. S'pose it was 'cause Arif ruined 'is chance to kill 'is brother..."
Sakhyo moaned. "Oh, Rin... d'ye know where 'e's at, mate?"
Kan slowly shook his head, feeling terrible for causing his friend so much pain. "No... when we returned to the battle an' led Razorclaw away it was off in the other direction. Those birds will 'ave got 'im by now, I'm sorry, Sakhyo."
The mink stared at the ground, tears welling in her dark eyes, before she raised her head to gaze off towards the distant mountain, snarling in a savage tone he had never heard before. "Then let's get back ter the battle, an' make that horde sorry they ever tangled wid the Shadowtide!"
The hordebeasts, however, had already received their share of punishment. Barely any of them had even noticed their leader's disappearance, and were too busy fighting for their lives to care. The battle had ended the day after it began, in one of the shortest but most brutal wars in Salamandastron's history. Now what remained of the horde had been driven away by the Long Patrol, and a third of the hares had been dispatched to make sure the army headed south without any problems.
Dead and dying soldiers lay everywhere, those still alive cursing Ferayor Razorclaw and his schemes with their last few breaths. The hares were dealing with the bodies, rolling the hordebeast corpses into the ocean or scornfully leaving them for the seagulls to deal with. Their fallen comrades were taken inside the mountain to be given proper burials in one of the vaults that lay deep underground.
And the most important event of all had taken place the previous night, while Kan, Sakhyo, and Tokala fought the warlord. The horde had nearly overwhelmed the mountain, and hope was rapidly fading when salvation arrived from the east, in the form of one mighty creature...
The first thing the two friends noticed was that the sounds of the battle had stopped altogether, the afternoon air broken only by the cries of seagulls and the ever-present rush of the ocean. Sakhyo and Kan exchanged quizzical glances as they arrived at the top of a hill, and nearly fainted in surprise as they saw the silent battlefield before them. The mink whooped in delight, grabbing Kan in a bone-crushing hug until the stoat gasped for air. "We did it!" she roared. "Hah, no stupid horde can break this mountain! C'mon, let's go!"
As they reached the mountain's front gates, walking in a wide circle to avoid the carnage, their hopes of a hero's welcome were quickly extinguished. The doors opened, and twelve hares marched out to surround them in a cage of lances and cold, hard eyes. "Wot's goin' on 'ere?" Sakhyo snapped. "It's us, the Shadowtide, wot's left of part of yer own army! Ixora, tell 'em!"
The tall general lowered her gaze in shame, though not her lancepoint. "Sorry, mink, it's th' Lord's orders."
Kan and Sakhyo looked at each other, barely having time to comprehend the statement before the Lord himself arrived, hares scattering in every direction to leave a clear path and bowing as they did.
Neither of them had ever seen a badger before, though from the stories Kan had always assumed them to be gigantic, certainly much larger than this one. He was clearly powerful despite his lean form, muscles rippling beneath his short pelt as he strode towards them. His voice was a deep, icy growl, faintly crimson eyes narrowing threateningly as he spoke.
"Why do vermin come to my mountain?" he snapped, baring sharp white teeth.
Kan would rather have faced six coyotes at once than plead his case to this dangerous stripedog, but he managed to speak nonetheless, in a faltering, hesitating voice that came out much more shrill than he would have liked. "Er, er, yer honor, we ain't vermin, we were part of yer army, called th...the Shadowtide.. Me an' Sakhyo, we killed the warlord..." He trailed off, aware of how pitiful and false he sounded.
Like any 'vermin' trying to lie its way out of trouble, he thought furiously. I'd have better chances of convincing a stone!
The badger, however, nodded. "Ah, yes, my hares have told me of this thing."
For one fleeting moment, Kan thought everything would be fine. Then the ruler continued.
"And a more foolish and treacherous idea I have never heard. Ravenfrost was an addled old fool, too weak to deal with the war that stole his senses away. I am Rakh Bloodsight, stoat, and I will not allow whining, crippled scum like you inside my mountain. "
The young stoat cringed as he saw Sakhyo growl, drawing herself up challengingly with all her fur fluffed out. Surely she knew that antagonizing this creature was suicide. "Well then, Rack Bloodysight, war must 'ave made yer senseless as well! Don't yer have the brains ter help injured, starvin' creatures? I wouldn't wanna stay 'ere if yer around!"
The badger snarled back, his eyes rapidly turning crimson with rage. "Silence, creature. Who are you to speak to me like this? You play with your life, wench, insulting me so, and being so foolish as to think I would be hospitable to savages like you. Now leave or die!"
His roar echoed and re-echoed, burning the ultimatum into Kan's brain.
Suddenly the young stoat could take it no longer. Giving Rakh Bloodsight a final, hate-filled stare, he whirled around and ran, shoving hares aside as he headed north along the sand.
Sakhyo spat on the ground, inches away from the badger's footpaws, and bounded off after her friend. Adventure and a new life awaited.
That is, if Kan doesn't run himself to death first! she thought, trying to keep up as he dashed away.
Rakh Bloodsight, Lord of Salamandastron, turned and headed back inside his mountain. Vermin were a curse upon the land, a plague that he had every intention to wipe out. Let those two run, with their wounds and their foolish excuses of secret armies. He would start with them.
Far across the ocean, on a small, rocky island, a searat brooded in the dim, smoky light of the tavern. He was huddled over the remains of his fifth drink, staring into the bottom of the tankard as though the answers to his problems were written there. His anger was dulled as the grog began to take effect on his system, though he was still able to reflect once more on the voyage that had ruined his life.
It was a stupid idea from the start, but his Captain had not been one for making silly decisions. The entire crew had assumed that she would lead them to more slaughter and treasure. Why not attack the badger mountain? They were Corsairs, the best killers on land or sea!
He had been one of the party to go ahead in the jollyboat, excited to get first chance at the action. That was when things started to go wrong. Captain Steelwave gave the order to surround some vagabond that Tashak and Sharktail had caught, and was about to finish it off when the longears charged. They fought, but his mates were killed or driven away, and their own Captain had deserted them. He had run blindly till he was driven to exhaustion, and had wandered the coastline in a daze for the next week or so.
One morning, he found an old rowboat that had been flung up against the rocks, with only a few holes in it. Repairing the vessel, he'd sailed off with no particular course in mind, hoping to join another crew if he could find one. He had a lot of experience, having been first mate under the feared Kasivar Steelwave. Then he'd found the island, and become a fixture in the tavern, seething and drinking his time away.
Now he was sick of doing nothing. The bartender brought him his next drink as usual, but he ignored it and leapt up from his seat, staring around the room at the others. They were like himself, too weary to enjoy themselves and too wrapped up in their own misfortune to care. "Hoi, mates," he yelled. Only a few looked in his directions, so he drew his cutlass and with his other paw, grabbed the drink and flung it at the stone wall. It broke spectacularly, shattering in an explosion of grog and fragments of dirty glass.
Now he was the center of attention, standing in the middle of the room with drawn sword and wild eyes. "All right, me buckoes," he barked. "Who's up for a voyage?"
Fired from their alcoholic stupors by thoughts of treasure and mayhem, the wave vermin leapt from their seats and cheered. The searat grinned to himself.
He was positive he'd seen a proper ship moored at that little cove outside, and he could already feel the deck under his footpaws and smell the salt air, on his way with a loyal crew to go wherever the wind and their moods took them. Life was definitely looking up.
A/N: Wow... I actually finished it! Whee! Ha ha ha! On to the sequel! What, you thought I was just going to leave our heroes banished and everyone else dead or forgottten? Oh, and don't expect a happy ending back at Salamandastron either...(ominous music) BWAHAHAHA!
Anyway, I want to thank all my loyal reviewers for their continued support: avelblue, storiewriter, Barkflow-of-Riverclan, ladyofthebookworms, and particuarly my good pal Kelaiah, who gave me the constructive criticism I needed to pull myself out of the metaphorical quicksand of my crappy first chapters.
(I mean, I had a Corsair calling his Captain "ma'am," and Kan's full name being "Darikan Arael," which meant "spirit of the desert sun" or something. Feel free to shudder and thank whatever religion you worship that it didn't turn out like that.)
And anyone else I may have forgotten to mention. When I see that people like my writing... it's like, one of the best feelings ever. I love you all! (female reviewers back away, male reviewers exchange interested looks) Oh come on, not like that.
Plus, for all you crazy people who might think Kan and Sakhyo are going to end up in a relationship, IT AIN'T GONNA HAPPEN.
Reason number one: I hate romance. Can't stand fluff, won't write it. (Except in Sue-parodies, where it's a requirement.)
Reason number two: They're TWO DIFFERENT SPECIES. Perhaps in the real world the ...situation... (if you get my drift ;D ) could occur, but it's highly unlikely any sort of stoat/mink hybrid creature would result. At least I think so. And what would you call their kid, anyway? A stink? Or a moat?
Anyway, hope you enjoyed it!