Hero, Chapter 19 - Blood and Fire

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20 of Hero https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=O0YxeTjFn70


The storm persisted for the rest of the excruciatingly long afternoon. The rain lightened up to a drizzle, but the dense fog never left. Eventually Reya took notice of the limp in Mephit's step and called for everyone to rest. They set up under a small canopy on the Lenwick side of the river.

Everyone was uncannily quiet. Reya tried to spark a conversation a few times in a desperate attempt to break the overbearing gloom that hung over them like the fog. However, no one was in a mood to talk. When she tried to say something to Mephit, she could see the response in his pained blue eyes. Jack was dead and didn't even get a vigil. Nothing that she could say would change that. Surprisingly, it was Aris who broke the silence. Yet, his voice was a far cry from the timidly optimistic yapping that she expected.

"Who... who the hell are you?"

Mephit jumped slightly. Mydya looked at Aris with a brief flicker of shock.

"What are you talking about?" Reya asked after a painfully long silence. Aris's gaze pierced through the shimmering twilight rain with an intensity that she hadn't seen from him before.

"T-torren," the beagle stuttered. The beagle quivered just as bad as when he had introduced himself to her. However, this time it wasn't just anxiety. Fear and suspicion lined the bold undertone to his voice. "I have the right to pronounce you guilty under the eyes of the holy king. I have the authority to - to enact the punishment that I see fit." Aris's shivering stopped. He looked the spotted necked otter dead in the eyes and repeated, "Who the hell are you?"

Reya jolted to her feet. Her muzzle opened, but no words came out. She looked back and forth between Torren and Aris.

Silence pierced the air. She shivered as adrenaline pumped through her body. Torren hadn't lit anything on fire since she broke her paw. Reya couldn't understand how Aris had found out.

"What in the name of Elogal the badger are you talking about? Torren's been nothing but helpful since you brought us on this damned quest to testify for something we know nothing about! What the fuck do you want?" Her voice rose to a shout. With every word she thought about the hole that she was digging for the two of them. Could Aris tell that she was lying, that she knew about Torren's powers?

"He fights like a Naja."

"What the hell's a Naja?" Reya demanded.

'I am no Naja,' Torren signed almost simultaneously. Reya translated for him.

"Then explain to me where he learned to fight like them," Aris growled.

Torren's eyes apologized to Reya. Her heart skipped a beat and a lump blocked her throat. Just as much as she had wanted to learn more about the spotted otter's past, she wanted Torren to choose to confide in her. The opportunity was being torn away from her and the otter girl had just realized how much it meant to her.

'I did once live in Naja, but I was exiled and can never return.' Torren had chosen his words very carefully; Reya could tell from his jerky, offbeat paw movements. He was concentrating more on the wording than the flow of his sentence.

"Or you could be a spy," Aris countered.

'Why would a spy be living with Reya in Haarshollow?"

"And what business do you have in Haarshollow? Why would you have traveled this far?"

'Nowhere is far enough from Naja,' Torren signed. Reya could see the pain clearly through the big otter's eyes. He had never been good at masking his emotions. She stepped in front of him.

"Is that enough?"

"He was telling the truth," Siv muttered, slinking in front of Aris. He whispered something and the beagle's ears fell flat.

"Yeah." The venom had completely vanished from Aris's voice. He almost sounded defeated. "I'm sorry Reya, but a careless ranger is a dead one."

"Don't apologize to me, apologize to Torren."

"Not after what he just said. I believe him, but I can't trust a Naja."

"He just said that he's not one!" Reya huffed, "What's a Naja, anyway?"

"They were a group of dissidents who tried to corrupt the kingdom to their perverted ideals using murder and intrigue. Eventually they took control of the western leaders and provoked a recession. That was all a hundred years ago, but we still find Naja spies and assassins in the capitol. There hasn't been a major battle in years, but the war to quell the rebellion never officially ended. 'Naja' is now the name of their territory." Aris looked past Reya to Torren. "You've had military training, right?" Torren nodded. "Why did you leave?"

'A personal issue.'

"What was it?" Aris demanded.

Torren's eyes glistened. 'I can't talk about it. You have to believe me, it was nothing political, nothing about the military. I don't give a shit about the politics! I just wanted to get away!'

Reya glared at Aris like he had just murdered a cub. She translated for Torren in a monotone, stripping his words of the emotion in his quivering paws.

"Fine."

Reya bumped Torren's shoulder and turned away. The spotted otter followed her as she walked towards a bush only barely in sight of Aris and Siv. The skunks watched them pass with apologetic glances.

"You two! Don't take another step!" a voice thundered from the forest in front of them. Blood drained from the little otter's face. What now? It had been a full day since Aris's confrontation of Torren, but the animosity still hung in the air between all of the animals. Mydya and Mephit tried several times to break the tension, but they had very limited success.

The otter girl froze. Torren stopped next to her. A second command echoed from behind her. She looked over her shoulder. Both the rangers and the skunks were staring in the direction of the second voice.

"What are you doing out here?" the terrier demanded as it stepped from the bushes. A chainmail coat covered the fur from his ears down to his tail. The claws that he wore were much lighter than those that Aris used. Curved needlelike blades were nestled into the dog's own natural claws. A contraption of wire and leather straps kept them taut and almost natural looking in an odd metallic way.

Reya looked back at Aris and Siv for help. They were the rangers, after all. However, the two of them seemed occupied with two other armed animals.

"We're being escorted by the rangers back there to testify at a trial in Fenbury."

"What trial?"

"A mole named Talip. He was sent by boat." Reya surprised herself with how official she sounded.

"I trust that your friends will offer the same story."

"They will."

"Walk back to them now."

Reya complied. The terrier followed close behind her, his eyes constantly scanning back and forth.

"Wheston, what did these two tell you?" asked a wolf in chainmail much like Terrier's.

"They say that they're being escorted to testify at a trial. They also claim that these two are rangers."

"The stories match, and these two seem to be true rangers. They carry the insignia and know the tenets."

"What of the skunks?"

"Refugees from Lenwick."

"Um, excuse me," Mephit meekly interjected, "Who are you people?"

The terrier trotted up to the young skunk with a grin on his face. "Why, my young lad, we're members of the king's royal army! Scouting division, thirds corps!"

"What are you doing this far from Wolfshome? I didn't think that any military divisions were active in the north."

"We are here to quell the riots in Lenwick," answered the third soldier, a calico cat with beady eyes. Aris thought for a moment, and then his eyes widened. He looked at the cat in shock. "How many troops do you have?"

"We brought all of our garrisons from Fenbury and the surrounding region as well as all of the mobile divisions in Wolfshome. We have some twelve thousand troops!" Wheston answered proudly.

"You need to flee! This was a trap. I don't know how they coordinated it, but you're about to be overrun," Aris gasped.

"What in Bleyen's name are you talking about?"

"You need to take me to the general. There's an army behind The Spire that's about to flank you."

"Behind The Spire? That's nonsense! No one's been able to parlay with the barbarians for centuries!"

"You're wasting time!" Siv hissed. "Take us to the general right now. This is critical and you don't have the authority to interfere." Siv's threat was very thinly veiled. The scouts glanced at each other and nodded.

"Come with us."

Everyone followed the terrier without argument. Reya and Torren stayed in front, up next to the lively dog. Mydya and Mephit followed in the middle and the two rangers took up the rear. Reya still felt uneasy about Aris. She didn't understand what had gotten into the beagle. It was as if he had changed into a completely different dog overnight.

"Pardon me if you don't like me asking miss, but where'd you end up with all of them bandages?"

"It was a forest fire," Reya chirped, "about two months ago now. They're still pretty sore and ugly looking, but they're getting better every day! It's all about the aloe vera. If you apply a little mixture of that, some snapdragon, and crushed marigold flower it really speeds up the healing. You know, I helped out with this little kitten once. She got a bit too curious about charcoal after a big bonfire we had every summer in Haarshollow and got this nasty burn on her paw, just like mine! Anyway, this stuff really does the trick - and all these herbs are local too!"

A bump and a wink from Torren cut her off. Heat rose to her face. The otter girl's stomach fluttered and a bashful smile curled the edges of her muzzle. She tried to look away from the spotted otter's sly grin, but she couldn't help darting her eyes back to him.

Wheston laughed. "You know your herbs, gal. I knew aloe did the trick, but damn if aloe ain't what we were told to use for everything. Cuts? Aloe. Sores? Aloe. Bug bites? Bet your fuzzy tail I'll be using aloe."

Reya beamed at the compliment. "Well, it's good for tons of stuff! You can actually use it for dry skin under your fur, frostbite, inflammations, certain rashes, sunburns, teeth cleaning -" Reya rattled off all of the uses that she could think of until the terrier cut her off.

"I get the idea! Where'd you learn all this anyway?"

'Best healer in the northwest!' Torren signed, using alternating forepaws as he walked.

"Oh, shush," she chided, blushing under the creamy white fur around her muzzle.

"What'd he say?"

"Best healer in the northwest," she muttered, half hoping that the dog wouldn't hear him.

"It's true!" Mephit piped in from behind her. Reya's felt like she could die of embarrassment.

"You know that it's not, there's so much that I don't know! I mean, Torren had a really nasty bit of infection in his tongue when he showed up and I couldn't take it! I had to get my brother to clean it and apply the salve!"

'What was in the salve?' Torren asked. Reya repeated the question for the terrier's benefit

"Well, it was obviously a garlic base because we were dealing with an infection. There was also a mixture of houseleek to soothe the skin, goldenrod for the bleeding, and snapdragon to keep down any fever or inflammation. It was pretty standard really."

"Otter, I think your mate there just proved his point!"

Reya blanched and almost tripped over her own paws. "He's not my mate!"

"My mistake." Wheston twitched his ears in obvious amusement. Reya tried to avoid looking at Torren. A confused smile had fought its way onto her muzzle. She very quickly worked to change the subject.

Mydya and Mephit talked among themselves, sometimes joining into the conversation with Wheston and the otters. The rangers drifted behind the group, their voices never rising above a mutter. The other scouts seemed far less sociable than the terrier, and moved in flanking positions.

Reya looked up in awe as they passed through a small clearing in the forest. The huge mountain range ran alongside the animals, less than an hours march north. The range dropped down to a low pass less than half a day's march in front of them. A massive jagged pillar jutted into the sky from the center of the pass, half again the size of the mountains next to it.

"That's incredible," Reya gasped.

"She's a sight, ain't she?" The terrier said.

Reya nodded. She kept going in silence, staring at the canopy and trying to catch more glimpses of the natural wonder.

The animals walked for a quarter of a day before they encountered the army's perimeter guards. Shining metal adorned the soldiers, held upright on their hind paws by spears and poleaxes. They stood at alert, bracing their weapons for a few moments before Wheston verified his rank and purpose. The guards nodded and let them through.

Tents covered the ground like ants around an anthill. Animals with varying amounts of arms and armor carted supplies to wagons, cooked food, and helped other soldiers to put on or remove their complicated suits.

Reya felt more and more conspicuous as she walked through the dense tents and bustling soldiers. It was as if in a single day she had been thrust into an entirely different world. Sure, there had been town guards and sellswords around both her hometown and Lenwick, but none of them were adorned with the metallic sheen of full plate armor.

Reya couldn't take her eyes off of the knights. They stood out from the soldiers and workers like bass in a school of minnow. Their armor was adorned with ribbons and painted sigils. An air of nobility and strength seemed to radiate from the elite soldiers. Battle-flags and banners of high bloodlines and sects flew over their heads.

There were certainly far more people in the massive encampment than in her own small hometown. Thousands of animals of every breed and lineage she could imagine pushed past her, rushing to get somewhere or other. The little otter was so distracted that she didn't even notice their destination until it loomed over her.

The general's tent was massive. Blue and gold stripes, the color of the king, lined the fabric from bottom to pointed top. Banners streamed down the front in honor of bloodlines she didn't know and organizations she didn't recognize. Two guards in polished silver armor and long deadly metallic claws stood in front of the tent flap.

"We have two rangers here to speak with General Crice."

"Present your authorization." The scouts stepped forward, displaying their badges. Aris and Siv followed with their engraved broaches.

"Who are these animals who accompany you?"

"They are traveling companions and witnesses to the events that we intent to relay to the general," Aris answered with an air of authority.

"You may enter."

Reya followed the the rangers and scouts, now both in the front of the group, into the large circular tent.

Several animals huddled around a worn parchment map spread out across the floor. A mouse and a vole scampered over the surface, moving wooden figurines half their sizes as they chittered to each other. A wolf and a rabbit commented loomed over the two rodents, each offering occasional input.

"Hello, General Crice?"

"Yes?" The vole dropped a figurine at her feet and looked up. She scampered over to the scouts.

"These rangers requested an audience. They have some... rather disturbing theories," the feline scout remarked.

"Yes yes, go on with it," the vole said, waving her small paw impatiently, "and none of that respectful scat these idiots are always throwing around! Get to the point."

"Um, General Crice," Aris said. Reya noted the stutter had returned to his voice. "We are in grave danger. There - there is an army beyond the spire and I believe that they will try to strike as soon as possible. We had planned to travel through the old ranger path and that brought us to see over the peak. I have seen the massive army on the other side. I don't know the numbers, but I don't believe that this force can defeat it in combat. Furthermore, two weeks after spotting these troops, we were attacked by a pack of wolves. I don't believe that this was a coincidence. They were not armed, but doubt that they thought that they needed weapons to fight us - we do not look like a military force."

"Wolves," the rodent general repeated. "Bleyen's fucking mane, are you sure it was wolves? When was this? Are you absolutely sure that there was a connection?"

"Yes, they were wolves. We killed most of them, but we lost one of our own."

"My deepest condolences," Crice muttered. "Fuck! Fucking scat! Bleyen's scat filled fucking furry ass!" She turned to the wolf. "Alces, you know I trust you. You know I fucking trust you, sir. You're a great warrior, an excellent tactician, and a wonderful friend. But I need you to do something for me."

"What do you need, ma'am?" the wolf asked, his eyes wide.

"Take weapons and armor from any soldier conscripted in Fenbury. I trust the knights. We may lose some, but they have sworn an oath and any who do not live by it are already fucked in the eyes of our ancestors. How do we do this? We can't lock the bastards up. There's not nearly enough room. A mass execution on the grounds of a rumor would be obscene and we would kill more innocents than I wish to weigh on my conscience. Arctos protect us." She turned to her advisors. "One of you lazy assholes has got to have something! Advise me you useless fucks!"

"You should separate them all to the North," Mydya muttered. The vole whipped back around, startled.

"You, skunk girl, speak up! Some of us have tiny ears!" Mydya looked stunned that she had even been noticed.

"I - I think that they should be set in a separate camp. If they go bad, then we will have to fight them off anyway, right?" the skunk girl grew bolder as she talked. Crice was listening intently, her ear twitching in concentration. "They're gonna be a lot easier to deal with if they aren't inside the army. And north seems like the right direction, too. If Fenbury is really turning traitor, then they might have some army coming and we don't want them to join with the soldiers. Instead, if they're on the side with the cats, we might get some of the cats to fight Fenbury soldiers. At least we'll have some confusion, right?"

"Damn, girl. You've got a good mind for this. If I'm still alive when this is over, there'll be a job waiting for you." Mydya's muzzle dropped open, her eyes wide.

"Really?"

"Yes really. Now shut up! We need to focus! Alces, you spread the order to the Lenwick generals. They trust you and respect you. If they try to fight now, then so be it. It's better than when we've got an army bearing down on us." The vole's eyes glimmered. "All right, boys. We expected to calm down some farmers, and intimidate some towns into paying taxes. But fuck if Sirrhi the lucky lemur didn't give us the real scat to deal with. This is your chance to have legends told about you!"

The wolf grinned and bowed to the vole. The rabbit and mouse followed suit. They rushed out of the tent, purpose in their pawsteps.

Crice looked up at the tent roof, tapping her hind paw on the ground. "You should probably leave; the battlefield is no place for children and the injured. We can have an escort for you in the morning. They'll take you directly to Bine's Creek and then down through the meadowlands."

"Thank you," Reya said with a bow, "but I think that I would be more useful here." Torren and the skunks looked at her, startled. "I'm a healer and I have an extensive knowledge of this region's herbs."

The vole looked down with a smile. "Very well. We will still escort you to Bine's creek, but once the battle has finished I am sure that our victorious survivors will appreciate your aid."

Torren's paw brushed over Reya's. She looked over at the spotted otter's ear to ear grin. "Oh shush," she whispered to him.

"Hey Aris?" Mephit asked.

"What is it?"

"Why do they think that all the Fenbury soldiers are traitors?"

"There are not supposed to be any wolves north of the mountain. I was an idiot for not realizing this sooner, honestly. When the treaty was struck all wolves moved south of the barbarian territories to avoid conflicts."

"Oh," Mephit muttered.

"Hey, don't be hard on yourself," Aris said gently, "you're still young and you never had an education. And hey, it seems obvious, but even I didn't see it coming. I thought that the wolves who attacked us followed us from the Lenwick riots. Its kind of dumb of me now that I really think about it, but I just didn't think for a moment that any members of the kingdom could possibly have sided with the barbarians."

"But why'd they do that? I don't get it. There's gotta be a lot of people who don't want to turn traitor, it can't be everyone, right?"

"You're right. I'm sure that there are a lot of innocents. But its not like there's no motive. Did you know that Lenwick has the most wolves of anywhere in the kingdom? There are more wolves there than in Wolfshome! I'm sure that even now, two hundred years after the treaty, there are those who wish to return to their ancestral lands."

"But why couldn't they just leave?"

"The penalty for breaking the treaty is death. Smaller tribes of wolves used to live alongside the great cat tribes of the north. However, during the Great Feline War, when the barbarian tribes last unified, the kingdom's spies infiltrated these smaller wolf tribes and villages of smaller animals. They were used to inform on troop movements and were a great factor in the King's success. However, near the end of the conflict, the leader of the Broken Claw, the strongest northern tribe at the time, issued harsher and harsher decrees regarding possible spies until he finally ordered a genocide of all non feline races to end the spy network once and for all. This caused an uproar, even among barbarians. In fact, the inner conflict at this last decree was what led to the treaty being signed. However, enough of the barbarians supported the measure that they forced the provision in the treaty that all sentient animals excepting the great cats were to be exiled from their lands.

"I think I understand," the skunk said with widened eyes.

Wheston led the group back through the busy encampment towards the eastern flank. A somber gloom had fallen over the troops. The sight was almost haunting under the the shadow of The Spire. Yet, there was a buzz of excitement among them. They had expected to simply control the riot in Lenwick. Instead, they had a true battle before them.

"We're sorry, but this's one of our only extras," Wheston said, nodding to a small tent. The otters laid down on the far end, the skunks in the middle, and the rangers next to the tent flap. They were interrupted as they were preparing to sleep.

"Aren't any of you hungry? Come sup with us!"

Reya immediately perked up. On the long journey from Lenwick food had come when food had come. Meals were skipped and everyone ate what they had been able to scavenge. The small clawed otter's stomach growled loudly. She was on her feet and following Wheston in an instant.

The food was delicious. The large simmering stew was surely not fit for nobility, but for a group of half-starved travelers it was ambrosia. Reya happily scarfed down her portion and a few bites of Torren's. After the meal, they returned to the tent and snuggled together. Reya felt safe for the first time in over a month.

Torren's beating heart calmed her. She pressed into his warm fur, shutting her eyes and trying to remove all of the thoughts from her mind. However, she couldn't shake a sense of excitement and anticipation. The general planned to send them south to Bine's Creek. The little otter didn't know if they would let her come along as they carried the news of the invasion to Wolfshome, but she already had her heart set on visiting the capital. And after that, she wanted to see Southbank, Aris's home which he had talked so fondly of.

And in each of her dreams of these incredible cities, Torren was right there with her. She could feel the heat of his body, the gentle warmth of his fishy breath. She dreamed that they were on the helm of a boat, staring down a wide beautiful river. She dreamed of a majestic field, filled with golden stalks of wheat. She dreamed of his muzzle, pushed against hers in a tender kiss.

She woke up to the blaring of horns. Wheston stuck his head through the tent flap.

"You folks need to leave," the Terrier called inside. "Those horns mean war. General Crice set me in charge of gettin' you to Bine's Creek, so you'd best come with."

Reya didn't reply. She was still in a daze. The sky was dark, but torch flames flickered into existence all around her. Animals rushed to fit their armor and weapons, moving with urgency and purpose into growing battle lines.

They rushed through the mobilizing soldiers. However, with all the bustling troops pushing past them and filing into position, even an expert like Wheston had trouble moving quickly. Once again, Reya was struck by the sheer size of the army as they wound their way towards the southern edge of the encampment.

And then the eastern flank was struck. Metal clanged and animals screamed with wretched cries.

"Hurry!" Wheston called. Aris rushed up to the terrier and whispered in hushed tones. He nodded. "According to your beagle friend there's a cliff that's got it some caves pretty straight south here." The otter girl had to focus to listen through the shouts and orders of the officers and soldiers around her.

Then everything went to hell. The combat lines seemed to crumple beside her. The screams and shouts grew louder and louder. The cacophonous clashing of metal against metal rang in her ears.

"Run!" Aris screamed back at them.

A huge panther, coated in dull, unpolished rings of chainmail, pounced onto a plate armored dog with a shrill cry. Metal crumpled under the cat's rippling muscles and battering paws. The dog screamed, futilely scraping the dirt in an attempt to pull itself away. The large black paw raked across its face, metallic claw extensions seeking, and then finding the helmet's eyeholes.

Reya tore her gaze away. Her heart beat like a blacksmith's hammer. She dodged to the right as a spear impaled the ground next to her. However, as she ducked around a stumbling soldier she realized that her spotted friend wasn't at her side. "Torren!" She shrieked. A cold nose pressed firmly against her haunch. It had been only moments, since she saw him, but she couldn't help shiver in relief. He was there, right behind her. "Mephit? Mydya? Where are you guys?"

"We're over here!" Mephit squeaked. She ran around two soldiers, fighting on their hind legs with large bladed axes. A mouse darted for one, jamming a metal needle between the cracks in its armored platelegs. It howled and lost focus for the brief moment that it took for the other soldier to smash an axe blade into its neck. The inescapable crunch of armor and bone as the enemy toppled to the ground echoed for an eternity through Reya's quivering ears.She saw the skunks and darted towards them. "I'm here!" Mydya turned for a brief moment, locking determined, purposeful eyes with Reya.

"Weave to the right! They flanked from the east and we need to get away from the front lines!" Mydya continued. Reya nodded and followed the skunks as they ducked, dove and dodged through the sea of bodies and metal. Reya whispered a prayer of thanks to Arctos that none of her friends had been attacked in the heat of the battle.

The coppery smell of blood was overpowering. Animals fell all around her, friend and foe. Rodents clambered around underfoot, fighting amongst themselves and looking for cracks in armor to pierce with deadly sharp needles. A dog in front of Reya rolled on the ground, screaming and crying as it gripped its own severed tail. A bear picked up a weasel, screaming in terror and agony, and tore it in half with a sickening squelch.

Reya never erased the bloody images from her mind.

Suddenly, they were out of the army lines. She heard shouts and screams behind her. She could see both Wheston and the rangers again. The skunk siblings also made it out. Her head pounded. She ran after them as fast as she could. Her paws hurt again; the month old burns protested against her movement.

The sounds of combat grew quieter and quieter as they scurried down the rocky forested hill. The sudden calm seemed chilling and out of place.

"Is anyone injured?" Reya asked.

"Quiet!" Siv whispered harshly. "We're being followed."

Reya paled under her fur. She suddenly found an extra spring in her step, keeping pace with Mephit and Mydya as Aris and Siv dropped back to the rear.

The bobcat pounced from the shadows without a sound. Aris growled, swiping his metal claws at the beast. The cat yowled as blades raked across its flank. It turned to face its attacker. Siv stalked around its side, flanking the large muscular animal.

"Go!" Aris commanded. Reya didn't have time to argue. Even if she did, she had no chance to survive in the face of one of the large cats. She looked at Torren, his deep blue eyes gazing back at her, and bolted away from the rangers.

The gentle patter of Torren's pawpads was all she could hear from behind her. Yet, the bobcat's silent attack had terrified her. She didn't look back - she couldn't risk slowing down if another cat was following her.

The rockface loomed in front of her. She stayed close behind Wheston as he curved to the left and followed the stone wall for several minutes. He finally stopped, nodding at a crevice in the stone. "Go in. Quickly!" he whispered.

The otters and skunks followed his lead. The cave was bigger than it looked from the outside, but in the darkness of night Reya could barely make out the winding tunnel before her. Still, Wheston led them forward and the animals followed him into the pitch black. Turning back, she felt her stomach clench. Her paw found Torren's. In the entrance, a hundred tail lengths away, were four pairs of furious slitted green eyes. Mephit shrieked. Mydya murmured reassurance to her brother.

"Torren," Reya whispered, "you saw what they'll do to us right?"

Her heart pounded like an Etrysian drum. The cats stalked closer.

Wheston stepped forward, but Reya snapped at him. "Back!" she demanded. The terrier stepped back, unsure and afraid.

"They'll slowly tear me apart, Torren. Did you see the look on the weasel's face as the bear ripped it in half? That's what you'll see on my face. That's the pain I'll have to go through as they rip out my flesh."

Tears dripped from her eyes, matting the cream colored fur underneath. She backed into a wall. She felt the skunks huddled behind her.

"Be afraid for me, Torren. They'll hurt the skunk cubs. They'll eat us alive. Imagine what they'll do to me."

The cats were fifty tail lengths away.

"They'll abuse me and ruin me. They'll eat you alive. I'll never get the chance to say I love you!"

A flame burst into existence in front of them. It grew and grew, swirling around like a flurry of leaves in the wind. The cats yowled and screamed obscenities as their fur lit and their flesh burned. The inferno roared in front of the terrified otter girl.