Author Topic: Short Story - "Separate Ways"  (Read 201 times)

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Biologist

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Short Story - "Separate Ways"
« on: September 05, 2017, 02:56:38 PM »
Hello! I've finally come close to finishing this story as a follow-up to my previous Bandit Clan-related tale. I meant to finish this a lot sooner, but life and writer's block had other plans. The story is now complete. I do plan to write another one, but it will mostly likely not be finished for some time. As always, I hope anyone reading this enjoys it!

Separate Ways

Part One


     Archibald winced as the cart rumbled over another bump in the road. For once, his pounding headache had nothing to do with sobriety or a recent lack thereof – the King’s Guards had taken his hip flask. Not that it would have mattered much anyway. A life on the run had not presented much opportunity to purchase spirits.

     Then there was the little problem of his paws being bound behind his back, and a blindfold tied around his eyes. The brown rabbit sighed. On the one paw, some gin would have dulled his headache and relieved the pain in his back from the constant jolting of the cart over muddy roads. On the other paw, a clear head meant he was more likely to be able to take advantage of any chance at escape.

     Although he couldn’t see his fellow prisoners, he knew they were there from the grunts they’d been making as the cart lurched forward, pulled by a sturdy ox in the employ of the Guard. At least, Violet and Scarlet were certainly there; the otter and the vixen both let out a yelp after a particularly nasty jolt. Sir Horace had fallen silent a while ago; Archibald could only hope that didn’t mean the badger had passed out from his injuries, or worse. He considered trying to ask his comrades how they were faring, but thought better of it. The Guard captain had made it clear the prisoners would be punished if they were heard talking, and say what you would about the King’s Guard, those dogs had sharp hearing.

     Archibald reflected on how they’d gotten into this latest mess. The plan had started out well enough: he’d been assigned to write propaganda for the Bandit Clan’s revolution, which Violet and other couriers then distributed throughout settlements within both Armello itself and the lands of the four major Clans. Horace, much to the badger knight’s displeasure, had been assigned to protect Archibald, acting as his bodyguard and ensuring the rabbit did not reveal any sensitive information to the wrong creatures. Scarlet might claim she needed Archibald and Violet’s help, but she didn’t trust them entirely.

     As for the vixen, she had been using her time to rally further support by deposing Slantfang, the leader of her old bandit tribe, and working to unite the bandits and outlaws of Armello under a single banner. She had then arranged for a meeting of her most influential followers, and for some reason that escaped Archibald, she’d requested his and Violet’s presence. Perhaps their hard work on behalf of the revolution had convinced Scarlet of their trustworthiness, or maybe she had planned some final test for them before fully welcoming them into her inner circle. Whatever the case, the King’s Guard had somehow learned of the meeting and set a trap. Scarlet, Horace, Archibald, and Violet were among those captured; a few rebels had fought to the death, and the rest had fled. Horace had taken a nasty wound on his right leg before yielding; it was one of the few places not protected by his armor. Now, stripped of any armor, weapons, and personal possessions, the four creatures were being bundled along like so much baggage to their inevitable fate.
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     The sun was beginning to dip below the horizon, and still the Guards maintained their furious pace. Scarlet knew there was only one likely destination: the King’s palace, more specifically his dungeons. The Guards could have simply killed the Bandit leaders on sight, but presumably the King wanted a public execution to make an example of them. She sighed, wondering who in her organization had betrayed her. She had been so careful.

     The vixen’s thoughts went first toward the newest members of her inner circle, but Archibald and Violet seemingly had nothing to gain from such a betrayal, and they appeared to be in the same dire circumstances as the rest of the group. Besides, the Bandit King was usually a good judge of character in her followers, and she had a gut feeling their story of having fled the King’s Guard for the Wolf Clan lands was the truth. Next she thought of Horace. He had obvious ties to the King’s Guard, but a betrayal by the stoic, honor-bound badger was almost unthinkable. Besides, he’d fought as hard as anyone against the Guards. No, Scarlet felt sure someone or something else had betrayed her, but how? She shook her head. Such questions would be pointless if she didn’t find a way to escape.

     Suddenly, the Guard captain barked out an order, and the black-haired ox pulling their cart came to a halt. Scarlet sighed again, this time with relief. Any delay in their journey meant a reprieve, especially if their captors mean to set camp, although she wouldn’t be surprised if the Guards forced the prisoners to dig latrine pits with their bare paws. She heard the other two prisoner carts, one in front and one behind, rumble to a stop as well. There was a pause, during which more orders were issued. Then came a few minutes of stillness, and then, shockingly, a cry of pain. The strangled yelp came from somewhere to right of the cart Scarlet sat in, and it was followed by the sound of a heavily armored body falling to the ground. For an instant there was a stunned silence, then the Guards leapt into action, clattering this way and that in their armor, in some cases tripping over their halberds in their rush to defend against the unexpected onslaught. Scarlet, being blindfolded, could see none of this unfolding; she could only hear the screams as one guard and then another fell before what she could only assume was a pitched ambush by a well-armed force.

     In truth, what had attacked the guards was less an armed force and more a force of nature. An otter wearing a fur cloak and scaled armor moved among the dogs, his paws a blur as his fishing spear pierced the joints of the Guards’ heavy armor and his knife found gaps in their defenses. Dodging and writhing, at one point seeming almost to wind himself around an attacking Guard’s halberd without touching the blade, the otter flowed across the battleground like oil spreading over water. After half a dozen of their number went down the remaining four guards near the central cart regrouped on the other side of the vehicle, along with the terrified hauler. Under the captain’s orders, the guards at the other carts maintained their posts to prevent the prisoners in those carts from escaping.

     The Fisher of Souls paused, seeing that he had lost his advantage of surprise and now faced overwhelming numbers. In a moment the dogs would rally their courage and rush him all at once. His gaze swept impassively across the prisoners in the nearest cart, then froze. A flicker of recognition flashed in his flat, empty eyes. He moved quickly toward the cart.
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     Violet cried out in alarm as she felt herself being lifted out of the cart and carried away. Her first impulse was to struggle, but she quickly realized what was happening. I’m being carried away. A rescue? Some of Scarlet’s followers, probably. Wyld, please let this be a rescue and not some crazed band of marauders. But who other than the Bandit Clan would risk attacking a King’s Guard caravan?

     Violet waited in silence as the shouts of her former captors fell further and further behind. At last, the only sound was that of heavy breathing from her rescuer, who all but threw her down. “Hold still,” came a gruff voice, raw as though long unused. “Let me free you.” A few moments later, the ropes binding Violet’s paws and feet came loose and fell away, and she was able to reach up and remove her blindfold.

     She sat up and looked around, expecting to see the other occupants of her wagon standing around her, smiling and celebrating their escape. Instead, she saw only a single figure: a male otter, wearing scaled armor and a fur cloak, with eyes that lacked any spark of life or joy. He held a bloodied fishing spear in one paw, and a knife hung at his belt. “Where… where are the others?” Violet hesitated, shrinking from the strange otter’s baleful gaze. “Where are my friends? Where are your allies?”

     The otter shook his head. “I am alone. We are not safe here. Follow me.”

     Violet thought of arguing, but realized there was no point. Her strange benefactor was already moving away, and she saw no point in returning to the Guards. For a moment, she wondered if this was how Archibald had felt when she’d led the rabbit away from the ruins of her holt. Once the pair had reached a safer distance, the male otter spoke again. “Stop here. We’ll talk.”

     “Wait,” Violet protested. “We need to help my friends. I realize you couldn’t carry them all out, but there must be something we can do.”
     The stranger shook his head. “No one deserves my help.” His tone indicated that he felt this should put an end to the discussion, but Violet persisted.

     “How can you say that?” Violet’s voice rose in spite of her fear and disorientation. “You helped me. Those creatures are my friends, and I can’t just stand here and let them be marched off to the gallows by the King’s Guard!”

     “I helped you because I want answers. I want to know how you’re back from the dead. Cousin.” Violet’s rescuer chuckled mirthlessly at her look of shock.

     Violet felt her jaw drop, and she could barely find her voice. “Sylas? Y-you survived?”

     Another humorless chuckle. “I walked away. Whether the Sylas you knew survived is another matter. Do you want to hear what happened?” He watched as Violet hesitated, then nodded.

     “I was one of the first ones the dogs captured,” Sylas began. “They were all set to skewer me and be done with it, when one of them got a better idea.” Sylas paused, his empty eyes staring out into the distance. “They found some rope and tied me to a tree near the holt’s main hall. A Guard stood by and made sure I didn’t turn my head or close my eyes. They made me watch as they rounded up everyone. Then the killing started. Some died quicker and cleaner than others. In the end, the dogs threw the entire holt, dead and dying and the few still living alike, into the central hall. They barred the doors, blocked the windows, and set a fire. I saw and heard the whole thing. Then they left, and left me tied there, waiting to starve. I passed out twice. The second time, I didn’t expect to wake up.” Sylas paused again, as if even he were hesitant to relive the rest of his tale.

     “A wandering merchant found me. She’d come from downriver to visit the holt. Brought fishing spears and knives to trade. She cut me down. Probably thought it was a kindness.” Sylas laughed softly. The sound sent a chill down Violet’s spine. “There was nothing left in me but hunger and rage. Killing her didn’t end my rage. So I picked up a spear, used what was left of her hide for a cloak, and set off to kill as many King’s Guards as I could. I haven’t stopped since.”

     Violet shuddered, uncertain of what to say. Sylas was right: the adolescent she’d known was long gone. Her cousin had become a remorseless killer, and convincing him to help might be the only chance Archibald and the Bandit Clan leaders had left. “If you help me,” she said at last, “I’ll help you in return. I can tell you why the Guards came to our holt, and how I survived. More importantly, if you rescue my friends, I can give you a chance to take revenge not just on the King’s Guards, but on the King himself.”

     Sylas locked his gaze on Violet, causing the smaller otter to take an uncertain step back. “Then you will have my help, Violet.” Violet nodded, wondering if she’d made the right choice. Her life, and her friends’ lives, were now in the paws of the Fisher of Souls.
« Last Edit: September 06, 2017, 02:06:18 PM by Biologist »
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Biologist

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Re: Short Story - "Separate Ways"
« Reply #1 on: September 05, 2017, 02:56:56 PM »
Part Two

     Several days had passed since the attack on the carts. Archibald stared dejectedly at the wall, trying to shut out the constant reek of unwashed creatures and unwashed dungeon cells. After the mysterious assault on their caravan, the Guards had taken drastic action. The captain decided that transporting so many prisoners was slowing them down. He had the prisoners from the other two carts summarily executed, and Archibald’s cart was surrounded by the remaining guards. The three oxen, now with only one cart between them, hauled in shifts, and the Guards paused only for brief rests. In this way, the leaders of the Bandit Clan were brought to the King’s Palace, and its dungeons, in short order. Archibald had no idea what had become of Violet; the rabbit had heard her being taken from the cart, but had been powerless to help her or even lift his blindfold to see what was happening.

     He was dimly aware of a conversation between Scarlet and Horace behind him. The badger, as it turned out, had not been unconscious, merely waiting out the long ride in stoic silence. Normally Archibald would have wondered why three creatures accused of being Bandit Clan conspirators would be thrown in the same cell, but his short walk through the dungeon had answered that question: most of the cells were already full. Evidently, the King did not expect the trio to live long enough to cause much trouble anyway. Word among the Guards was that their execution was scheduled for a fortnight hence, to give royal heralds time to announce the Bandit Clan’s impending demise far and wide.

     “We have to find a way out of here,” Scarlet was saying to Horace. “It can be done; I’ve escaped the King’s hospitality before. Unfortunately, I don’t think the same trick will work twice. I’d imagine the Guard responsible for my escape was made into a rather impressive lesson for the others.”

     Horace stayed silent. He padded over to the cell bars which, although somewhat rusty, did not give way even for his impressive strength. Then he turned and walked back to where the vixen stood. “Do you have a length of silk?”

     Scarlet laughed. “A length of silk? Yes, I have one – along with all the other finery I didn’t bring. You’re going to need a plan that requires linen if you expect me to start donating clothing.” The vixen turned to Archibald. “How about it, rabbit? You have any silk?”

     Snapped out of his reverie, Archibald shook his head. “I lost my last scrap of silk a while ago.”

     Horace shrugged. In the gloom of the cell, the badger’s bulk made an intimidating silhouette even without his armor. “No matter. We’ll think of something.”

     Scarlet scratched her muzzle absently. “Maybe I could lure the warden over to the bars, and then you could reach through and snap his neck. Then we grab the key and escape,” the vixen suggested.

     Horace gazed down at Scarlet. “Cold-blooded murder would not be my first choice. We must also consider that the warden may not carry the key with him unless he intends to open the cell, or that he will bring other Guards with him to prevent such a tactic.”

     Archibald sat back against the slick, cold stone wall of the cell and closed his eyes as the argument over how best to escape continued. Deep down, he felt that nothing productive would come of this. The prisoners would, in the end, simply have to accept their fate. Once again he had been reminded, in no uncertain terms, that the future would not willingly change.

     The rabbit’s eyes opened again as his ears detected the faint sound of paws walking across the damp stone floor of the dungeon. Archibald stared in shock as a familiar figure materialized out of the gloom to stand before the cell bars. The wizened, sickly-looking rat surveyed the cell’s occupants, then spoke in a dry, brittle voice that made Archibald’s skin crawl with fear and recognition.

     “So, you have returned.” Sargon nodded to Archibald. “I rarely have cause to question my sight, but I could hardly believe you survived for so long.” Sargon paused, seemingly lost in thought for a moment. Then he smiled. “Ah, of course. The druids sent you. A last, feeble effort to thwart me. No matter.” Sargon turned, motioning to the warden and another guard to fetch the key to the cell. “Your friends will continue to enjoy the dungeon’s hospitality, rabbit, but you deserve my personal attention.” A quick snap of the rat’s digits summoned a pair of guards, one of whom dragged Archibald from the cell while the other stood watch, slamming the door shut as the rabbit was pulled through. Archibald was marched along the passage, following the sorcerous rat’s footsteps as they receded into the dark halls of the dungeons.

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     Violet idly tossed her knife from paw to paw. Sitting beneath the shade of a broad oak tree was a welcome respite after the morning’s training session. In a few minutes, Sylas would insist on moving on to another camp site, as he always did. For days, the two otters had skirted the edges of the territory that held the grounds of the King’s Palace, constantly moving in order to avoid detection by the King’s Guards. In that relatively short time, Violet had become a proficient knife wielder under her mad cousin’s tutelage. She was nowhere near as skilled as the Fisher of Souls, but she could likely hold her own against most creatures. Most unarmored creatures, anyway. She preferred not to think about how much use a knife was likely to be against the steel-clad hounds of the King’s Guard.

     A faint rustling sound snapped Violet out of her reverie. She turned her head in time to see a squirrel, who had somehow remained undetected until now, climbing down the trunk of the tree and reaching for Violet’s pack. Before she knew what she was doing, Violet stepped away from the tree, spun, and hurled the knife in one smooth motion. The blade sank into the oak tree’s bark less than a paw’s width from the squirrel’s head. The squirrel dropped to the ground and made to flee, only to encounter Sylas lying in wait beneath a nearby shrub. The mad otter pinned the would-be thief to the ground, keeping his spear point poised just above the hapless squirrel’s body.

     Violet walked over to the tree and retrieved her knife, shuddering at her apparent willingness to kill without clear provocation. Yes, this mysterious intruder had intended to steal her food, but Violet preferred to avoid needless killing. Was her cousin’s madness contagious in some way?

     Meanwhile, Sylas was interrogating the squirrel, who proved to be a young female. “Please, sir,” she was pleading, clearly terrified, “I only wanted something. I haven’t eaten in days, and your friend has such a large pack, I thought you wouldn’t miss a little food. M-my name’s Twiss, what’re you called?”

     Sylas growled, pressing his spear point closer to the squirrel’s throat. “One more lie like that, and I’ll gut you, Twiss. You’re not starving. I know what starving looks like, what it feels like. You’re a thief, plain and simple, and you have one chance to convince me not to end your worthless life right here and now.”

     “All right,” Twiss said, “I admit, I’m a thief, and I’m not starving. I just wanted the challenge of stealing something from some creature besides those Guards, who might as well be deaf and blind. As for why you shouldn’t kill me… you want into the Palace, right? That’s why you’ve been wandering around near it for days. I can help you get inside; I can break into anything.”

     Sylas nodded, but did not move his spear. “All right, squirrel. You might not be completely useless after all. Keep talking.” The squirrel kept talking. Violet watched, and listened. If what Twiss was saying was true, there might be a real chance to rescue her friends.
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     Scarlet padded down the hall, her paws bound and a hood covering her head, pushing her ears down uncomfortably against her skull. Despite her best efforts, she had been unable to conjure a means of escape, and now the hour had come. Soon, she and Horace would die by whatever cruel means the Mad King decreed. She could only hope the revolution would not die with them. Though her sense of hearing and smell were somewhat subdued by the heavy cloth of the hood, she sensed the change in the air and the warmth of sunlight on her fur. Above all she heard the baying and shouting of the crowds, muffled to a dull roar. So, a public execution then. Perhaps the King would make the mistake of allowing her time for a final speech.

     The vixen was led through the courtyard, feeling dirt and then wood beneath her feet. She nearly stumbled as her foot hit a wooden step. A gibbet, most likely. In an odd way, she was almost disappointed. Hanging seemed so prosaic; she had almost expected some exotic means of execution, although she was grateful not to be burned at the stake. Once she reached the top of the scaffold, the executioner removed the hood from her head. She blinked as bright sunlight streamed into her eyes, long since accustomed to the darkness of the dungeons. There was a clear space about ten paces wide all around the gibbet, maintained by a ring of Guards standing a few paces apart from each other, facing outwards. Beyond that was a sea of onlookers: bored nobles, court functionaries, and, at the back, the commoners who had been permitted onto the palace grounds to witness the execution and spread news of the event. The courtyard itself was large but not massive, its circumference further reduced by a number of vendor stalls and areas roped off for acrobats or martial contests. Apparently there was to be a celebration afterwards.

     Across from the gibbet, at the far side of the courtyard, stood another scaffold, built to hold a throne atop a platform draped in the royal colors. The King himself was present, sitting atop the throne; his face was concealed in shadows cast by the purple canopy over his dais, but his eyes shone visibly in the shade. Scarlet felt the fur on her neck stand up as she saw the two figures flanking the monarch. To the King’s right, the hunched, wizened figure of Sargon. And to the King’s left, unmistakably, stood Archibald. The brown rabbit leaned upon a walking stick that appeared to be embossed with gold, and was dressed in finery befitting a senior member of the court. He gave no indication that he recognized Scarlet or felt sympathy for her plight; his face remained cold and expressionless.

      Already, the King’s herald was reading the charges against the Bandit leaders in a sonorous voice. Looking to her right, Scarlet saw the executioner, a grim-faced old veteran, drape a noose around Horace’s neck. She drew in a breath, readying herself to give a final shout of defiance. Then chaos erupted in the courtyard below.
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Biologist

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Re: Short Story - "Separate Ways"
« Reply #2 on: September 05, 2017, 02:57:11 PM »
Part Three

   As the moon shone overhead, Sylas stared across the moat, eying the narrow opening in the palace outer wall. “What’s this, the privy chute?” he growled.

     Twiss shook her head. “Of course not! What do you take me for? It’s the garbage chute for the kitchens! All right, so maybe it’s not a big improvement over a latrine chute, but it’ll get you inside. Find a place to hide until the time for the execution is near, then slip out into the courtyard. I’ll make my own way in – I can blend in with the crowd going to see the show.”

     Violet nodded. “Once we’re in the courtyard, we’ll create a distraction on the far side from where the prisoners are. Then you slip past the guards and free them, and we escape in the resulting confusion.”

     “Or, more likely, get run through before we get three steps toward the exit,” growled Sylas, “but I’ll take that risk if it means a shot at the King.”

     So it was that after wriggling up the garbage chute, hiding themselves in a corner of a pantry, and then quietly following the kitchen staff outside, the two otters found themselves in the courtyard, awaiting the arrival of the condemned. Sylas’s spear had presented something of a problem; it was too large to conceal, but the otter refused to leave it behind. In the end, he decided to hide it in plain sight, hanging a bucket from both ends and carrying across his back like a common laborer. Most creatures see what they expect to see, and none noticed that the “water carrier” was in fact carrying a deadly weapon rather than a simple pole.

     As Scarlet and Horace were led up to the gallows, the otters at last saw Twiss in the crowd, using her tail to discreetly signal that she was ready. Sylas and Violet made their way toward the royal dais as unobtrusively as possible, trying to look for all the world like just another pair of laborers on some nondescript errand. The majority of the guards in the courtyard were standing around the gibbet, keeping the crowd back and the prisoners from any hope of flight. When he judged himself close enough, Sylas dropped the buckets from the ends of his spear, charged forward, and, with a wordless scream, threw the fishing spear directly at the King.

     Sargon reacted with a speed born of foresight. A curtain of green energy shimmered into place in front of the King, halting the spear in midflight. A momentary hush fell over the courtyard, quickly replaced by shrieks of panic and shouts of rage as various onlookers realized what had happened. “Traitors!” the King roared. “Guards, seize them, and execute them immediately!”

     As she watched the unfolding spectacle, Scarlet flinched as a thud sounded to her left. The executioner was sprawled unconscious, having been struck on the back of the head with the pommel of a bronze dagger in the shape of an acorn. The dagger was wielded by a young squirrel, who nimbly scampered across the scaffolding to saw through the ropes binding the Bandit leaders’ paws. Meanwhile, a riot was beginning in the courtyard, as the dogs who had been surrounding the prisoners now charged across the square to come to the King’s defense, trampling nobles and commoners alike in their haste. A few commoners with more bravery than sense rallied to the otters’ side with whatever weapons they could find, but most fled from the Guards.

     Sylas was a whirlwind of violence. The Fisher of Souls was enraged at coming so near to revenge only to have it snatched away. He danced away from their halberd blades, pulling them off balance and stabbing his long knife into the weak spots of their armor; tripping them and sending them crashing into each other; grabbing a fallen halberd and using its point to skewer yet another attacker. Violet followed in his wake, finishing off the Guards left wounded and disoriented by his attacks. They brought down one after another, but the Guards’ numbers hardly seemed diminished as reinforcements rushed into the courtyard from a nearby barracks.

     The King surveyed the ongoing fight in the courtyard, then turned to Sargon. “It would seem your predictions were correct once again, my advisor. This public execution has drawn out the rest of my enemies, and now we have them firmly in our control.”

     Sargon smiled back at his liege. “Oh yes, Your Majesty. I assure you, everything that happens is completely within my control.” As he spoke, the green curtain of energy vanished. The fishing spear resumed its flight as though it had never stopped, burying itself in the King’s neck. The stricken monarch barely had time to realize what had happened as Sargon strode forward, muttering an incantation. The King’s breathing slowed until it was barely perceptible, and the flow of blood from his wound likewise diminished, as though time itself ran more slowly around the fallen monarch. “You see,” Sargon said, still smiling as he faced Archibald across the lion’s nearly motionless body, “Your efforts to stop my ascension merely paved the way for my victory. While the King recovers, I will guide Armello, and I fear his recovery shall be long indeed.”

     Sylas and Violet steeled themselves for a final stand. Their few allies had been cut down by the Guards, and Twiss, Scarlet, and Horace were nowhere in sight. At that moment, a shrill cry brought their attackers up short. “The King! Guards, come quickly, the King is wounded! He must be carried to safety! Quickly!” As one, the King’s Guards turned at the sound of the Royal Advisor’s command, leaving their pursuit of the traitors to aid their fallen King. Seizing the opportunity, Violet ran for the main gate, which had been left open in the confusion, with Sylas following close behind her.
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     Later, Violet stood in a forest clearing some distance from the Palace, still unable to fully comprehend what had happened. One moment she was facing certain death at the paws of the King’s Guard, and the next she was ignored, free to flee for the main gate and out into the countryside surrounding the palace. Twiss had led Scarlet and Horace to safety at a prearranged meeting site, and Sylas had, thankfully, followed his cousin rather than attempt to exact further vengeance upon the distracted guards.

     “So,” Scarlet was saying, “it would seem the King is dead, or at least badly wounded, and we have you,” she nodded at Sylas, “to thank for it. What this means for Armello, I’m not certain, but now is the time to gather our forces.”

     Violet nodded. “I’m glad we could rescue you and further your cause, but what of Archibald? I saw him with the King, in the company of that strange rat.”

     The vixen nodded. “Sargon dragged your friend away shortly after we were thrown in the dungeon. I don’t know what’s been done to him, but it seems he is in the sorcerer’s thrall. I cannot risk the fate of Armello for one creature, no matter how dear, but if there is a chance to save him, I owe him and you both that much.”

Scarlet then turned to Sylas. “What will you do, now that you’ve had your vengeance?”

     The Fisher of Souls laughed mirthlessly. “We don’t know the King is dead for sure. Besides, as long as there are still King’s Guards, my vengeance is not complete. I won’t rest until I know that every one of the Rot-blasted Bane-lovers who razed our holt is dead.” Violet sighed, Twiss winced, and Scarlet nodded. Horace said nothing, but Violet thought she saw a slight change in the badger’s stoic expression.

     “We could always use a beast with your skills,” Scarlet said. “And as much as I would prefer a bloodless revolution, the King’s Guards are not entirely leaderless. That sorcerer Sargon is still alive and well, and he seems to wield a great deal of influence. No doubt we can expect him to oppose us.”

     “You don’t deserve my help,” Sylas stated flatly. “I aided in your rescue because it got me close to the King, and because my cousin asked me to. If you’re offering me the chance to kill more of those hounds, then I’ll accept, but don’t forget that I care nothing for your ‘revolution’.”

     Not about to be forgotten, Twiss spoke up. “I’ll join you, if you’ll have me. I can break into anywhere, steal anything, spy on anyone. All I ask in return is some excitement, and the chance to prove myself the best thief in Armello.”

     Scarlet nodded again. “Very well. Welcome to the Bandit Clan’s fight to free Armello, both of you.”
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     Several days later, the two Bandit leaders and their newest recruits had reached the relative safety of an inn run by revolutionary sympathizers. Horace waited until the others had retired for the night. The badger had come to a decision. When he had joined Scarlet’s crusade to free Armello of tyranny, he had done so with the understanding that he would be given the opportunity to search for a cure to aid his old friend. Now the King was either dead or mortally wounded. Horace had failed utterly in his duties as a knight. To add insult to injury, Scarlet would hire the very creature responsible as one of her lieutenants. Horace had endured his employer’s flexible morals, her deceptions, and her willingness to sacrifice the lives of others to further her goals. He had remained loyal despite her increasingly dishonorable actions. But now that loyalty was strained to the breaking point. A knock on the door interrupted his thoughts.

     He opened the door to see Violet standing before him, a worried expression on the otter’s face. “Sir Horace? You seemed troubled earlier. I wondered if I could do anything to help.”

     “Lady Violet. I have come to find the Bandit King’s decisions to be…troubling. She has used you and your friend as pawns in her bid to overthrow the King. You and many others, including myself. She claims to fight for freedom from the King’s madness and tyranny, and perhaps she does, but I do not know what she would offer in his stead. Now she allies herself with your wayward cousin, a deranged murderer, if you will pardon such blunt speech. The Guards may no longer count me a friend, but they are not all honorless cowards, nor do they deserve to be butchered like monsters.”

     “So,” Violet replied, “You are leaving, then? I will go with you.” She paused to gather her thoughts. “I wish Scarlet success, but she’ll put her revolution before Archibald’s life if she has to. Sylas is broken, obsessed with revenge. I doubt I’ll get much further help from him. You, though – I trust you. Will you help me, Sir Knight?”

     Horace sighed. “Perhaps in doing so I may yet regain my honor. Very well, Lady Violet. We shall depart together. Do you have a plan in mind?”

     The otter nodded. “Yes. You see, we’ll need more than just the two of us to help Archibald. We’ll need to rally support. Scarlet has the right idea, but so far, I haven’t seen where her revolution has made Armello any better or its citizens any safer. You and I are going to change that, and when we have enough support, we’ll come for Sargon and rescue Archibald.”

     Horace nodded. “A bold idea, but where do you suggest we begin?”

     Violet smiled. “That’s where I need your help. As you yourself said, not all the King’s Guards lack honor. Some of them might be willing to follow an honored war hero instead of a mad King. With me to help convince them, we can turn the Guards back into what they’re meant to be: a force for order and justice in Armello.”

     Horace smiled slowly. Violet’s plan was ambitious, bordering on impossible, but if it worked… “Very well. I will help you to rally whatever aid I can.”
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     Archibald admired the view from the window in a high turret of the King’s palace. Strange, how peaceful it all seems from here. He knew that even now, forces were gathering that would rip the land of Armello apart. Sargon had shown him the way, had taught him to look beyond the Veil. His perspective had been so limited before. Saving the world, whether in the future or the past, was meaningless. He and Sargon together would, instead, perfect it. They would rule over the cycle of Wyld and Rot, bending reality to their will and enduring until the end of time, perhaps even beyond it. Soon, their rise to power would begin. In a distant corner of Archibald’s mind, the rabbit felt a faint flicker of regret. Had it not been for his friends, he would not have reached this point. They too, should share in this power. Perhaps, in time, he could teach them, as Sargon had taught him.
« Last Edit: September 15, 2017, 02:31:06 PM by Biologist »
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Wessolf27

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Re: Short Story - "Separate Ways"
« Reply #3 on: September 15, 2017, 12:58:01 PM »
Oh man, that was a great and foreboding ending. I fear for both Archibald and Violet right now. Man, Sargon was quite the mastermind here and everything about the action was brilliant and Sylas did kill the king, but not by his own hands (or is the king in a state of rotten undeath?)!

I eagerly await what else happens!
Re-probus: A Story of Ferals

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