Hey, less than three months! Not too bad.
Due to some productive daydreaming, I'm glad to say I think I finally have this story "figured out", meaning I know how it ends and the steps to get there. Now it's just a matter of writing the blasted thing. If I were to venture a guess, I'd say it'll be something like 30,000 words long. (Currently stands at just over 7,000, including part 4) Which would be awesome because it would be my longest story yet.
Yay, novella! We'll see how it goes.
----Part 4"Soft and quick through the forest nigh,
soon we will feast, and the lelran, die."
The elder's toeclaws dug into his back as the turgan chittered his little ditty, cackling in hushed rasps. Gavin chewed on the wooden bit shoved in his mouth as the elder tugged the reins once more. "Ye walk too loud for a reyan... quietly now, quietly now..." He felt the jab of the old turgan's stick-cane in his side like a spur. Confined to his quadruped stance and ridden like a horse... how humiliating.
Dozens of turgan surrounded him, all armed with miniature weapons. Little wooden swords and spear-points, armor made of thatch and leaves. Together they stalked through the night, tiptoeing through the thick forest underbrush. He was scared out of his mind.
He could feel the elder's claws around his lifestone, like a vice around his heart. It was so close, yet so unreachable as the cursed old ferret-thing rode upon his back. "Just a bit farther, reyan," the elder's whisper was loud in his triangular ear, "then I'll have my wish... then I'll have my wish. He he he..." The laugh was punctuated by a pat on his furry neck.
Gavin could not possibly imagine what horrible battle he was headed into, or what terrifying creatures the lelran were. His breath came in short, shivering rasps as he padded though the soft dirt and leaves. It wasn't supposed to be like this at all!
How long had they traveled? A half hour? Two? The elder bid the party stop and leapt off the slave-reyan's back, climbing up a rock and licking his finger to test the direction of the wind. Gavin could only sit on his haunches and wistfully watch the faint glow of his lifestone clutched in the creature's other paw. He so badly wanted to run away, or maybe tackle the elder and hope he dropped the stone... But no... he shuddered, remembering how the icy grip felt around his heart. Instead he shifted his weight and forced his tail from between his legs.
A crack of dried leaves alerted him from behind, and his right ear turned completely around to catch the sound. It was an odd sensation, as if a rope had pulled his ear and demanded attention. He glanced over his shoulder, shifting his eyes and realizing none of the turgan had heard the sound so obvious to him. But the elder saw his movement, and he watched his wizened muzzle curl into a snarl.
"Mara! What are you doing here?" the elder asked in hushed tones. He leapt off the rock with a showy flip of his thatch cape. "The coming battle is no place for females!" He tapped his twig-cane on the dirt as he strode past Gavin.
Mara peered from the bush, ears folded as she hugged a leaf. "Father... I just wanted--"
"But nothing! You will return now!" he screamed in a whisper as he stamped his foot.
Gavin locked eyes with the pleading turgan-girl. Why did she come all this way? Of all these strange ferret-things, she was the only one that was nice to him. She was the only one that gave him water... As she turned to leave, he felt another tug at his heart. One different from the separation with his lifestone.
"Wait..." he whispered, finding himself at loss for words when the elder turned a raised brow towards him. He blinked as he removed the bit from his mouth, then sputtered the first idea that came to mind. "The lelran... they'll get her if she goes back alone."
The elder stroked the underside of his muzzle with a frown, leaning heavily upon his twig-cane.
"He's right," a whisper ventured from behind him.
The elder cocked an ear then shook his head. "Very well... stay close. And make no noise!" He climbed Gavin's back once more, his daughter scrambling up the furry hide as well. "Now, we ride."
The drumbeats did nothing but intensify the anxiety in his heart.Th-thump, th-thump, th-thump.
He heard them even before they approached the hill, and as they ascended the slippery incline, he felt their vibrations in his footpaws like the tremors of a volcano pronounce doom. "Quickly, now. Quickly, now," the elder whispered in his ear. All the turgan skittered around him, fangs glittering in the moonlight as they grinned anxious grins. Predatory grins. Good gods… what horrors lay on the other side of the ridge?
Mara hugged his lower back more tightly. She was scared too.
"There!" the elder pointed from his perch atop the reyan's shoulder blades. The miniature army made for two rocks wedged upwards at the hill's crest, dark tree bows hanging overhead. From beyond Gavin could make out the glint of light. Torches? Campfires? Light and drums… Were he standing on two legs, surely his shaky knees would have given out. But on all fours, he managed to tote the elder and Mara behind one rock, the rest of the armored turgan piling behind the other.
The elder scampered down and then climbed the rock, a chittering laugh escaping his throat as he peered over the edge. "Come, reyan! Come and look, and I shall give you my wish!"
Gaven gulped, then hesitantly peered around the rock, shifting to a bipedal stance so he could grip the cold boulder with his hands. A fire burned below, tiny forms circling… The lelran! He squinted as his night-adjusted eyes focused on the illuminated forms. Small, white, and fluffy. They danced around the flame, long ears flopping about. They were… they were…
They were bunnies?
His stomach growled. Gods, he was hungry...
"The lelran are _evil_," the elder whispered, "but now their retribution has come." He turned his gaze and locked eyes with Gavin. "Reyan," he said, clamping the lifestone in his paws, "I wish the lelran shaman dead."
Gavin gulped. "H-how--?"
The elder tapped Gavin's nose with his twig-cane. "He wears the forest's leaves and carries a staff." He drew a circle in the air with his own. "With a flame atop." His eyes narrowed and his whisper roughened. "Go quickly, for I have ye life in my hands."
Gavin bit his tongue, his mouth drying. His gaze wondered across the other turgans' faces, each muzzle set in a hard frown. Mara retreated to the bushes, head held low and eyes falling when he saw her. He expected he would have to hunt and kill animals when he became a reyan. But they weren't supposed to have minds. They were like little people! God gods, he just wanted to escape... Could he really kill someone?Stop it!
he demanded of himself, clenching his eyes shut. He couldn't run away. He had to take responsibility for his mistakes. All he had to do was kill a rabbit. Just
a rabbit. And then he'd be free.
He felt the grip around his heart.
He opened his eyes to meet the impatient gaze of the elder turgan. Gavin nodded, swallowing the lump in his throat. Shifting back to four legs, he silently slipped in-between the rocks and made his way down the hill in the darkness.
What was he doing
was he going to do this? He had never killed anything
before... He shook his head, realizing how silly his worries were. He was a fox, and they were rabbits. He'd just find the shaman and bite him. How hard could it be? The thought of warm blood in his mouth sickened him though... but then his stomach rumbled and he licked his chops. It took a great a mount of effort to push the image out of his mind after that.
Halfway down the hill the trees opened up and dispersed, leaving only bushes and tall grasses to hide behind. The beat of the drums and high pitched whoops of the creatures were loud enough so that his rustling would not be easily noticed, at least. As he looked upon what appeared to be some sort of tribal dance below, he realized his biggest problem would be finding and catching the shaman before he could escape. Luckily they were distracted. Feeling the thrill of the hunt flow through his veins, he began prowling, keeping his body close to the ground. Stealth was on his side.
Something pricked his shoulder and fell to the ground. A bee sting? Mouthing "ow", he sat on his tail, rubbing the sore spot with his hand. Some... tiny arrow?
Two white blurs tackled him from behind, throwing him to the ground. More stabbing pains in his back. "Ahh!" he yelped, twisting around and grabbing one of the rabbits off. Without hesitation he threw the creature some fifteen feet away, who tumbled in the grass a few times before rolling to its feet and darting towards the light of the campfire.
Gavin rolled over, smashing the second one, then twisted around and snatched the creature off the ground. His claws caught on what appeared to be chain mail made of straw. The rabbit dropped its tiny wooden sword, eyes wide in fear as Gavin drew back his lips, ready to tear out its throat.
Wide, intelligent eyes.
Gavin blinked, then dropped this little beast. The rabbit was gone in a flash, off to join its comrades by the fire. "Reyan!"
He stood on two legs, clenching his teeth, tail wrapping around his leg as panic welled in his chest. The entire camp was up in arms-- tiny swords and tiny bows. Every fiber of his body willed him to run. He nearly turned back the way he came. But the icy grip on his heart tightened. No... that would lead them to the turgan... The elder knew, and he was not
He fell to all fours and began to run parallel to the camp. Flee or attack? What to do? What to do?
Another rabbit leapt from behind a bush, long spear in hand. He swerved around the creature before it could thrust the weapon into his neck. Just how many were hidden? They all knew, all of them... He had to find the shaman before it was too late. Turning sharply, he burst out of the underbrush and charged straight for the campfire.
And there he was. Standing before the flame, wrapped in cloak of leaves, stoically leaning against a twig-cane. That had to be him. The wizened rabbit with its dangling ears tied back waved off a group of warriors that moved in between it and the reyan, then held its staff to the sky. "D'lo mai he kaaay~!" It screeched, causing Gavin to skid to a halt. The tip of its staff burned bright with flame.
He screamed as bright orange fire suddenly engulfed his paws. Some sort of magic! He watched in horror as the flame raced up his arms, covering his hide. Patting the fire madly, he danced in circles as pain laced his body.
Then it was gone. He blinked as he sat on his tail, looking over his undamaged hands in the campfire light. The fire stung him, but it felt more like he was doused with hot water than scorched with flame. Was the spell meant to be that weak? Two more rabbits rushed him, and he swiped one with his claws, blood flowing down his nails. That's when he realized they didn't stand a chance.
Gavin fell to all fours and drew back his lips, then leapt for the rabbit mage. The shaman pointed its staff and the fire stung him once more, but his bite held true and the rabbit screamed. Sweet blood dribbled into his mouth. Finally! His stomach rumbled anew and he mindlessly bit and tore at the fresh meat.
It took several swallows before he woke up. When he did, he fell back on his tail and stared at his blood-caked claws. What had he done?! All around the lelran skittered away, fleeing into the woods. Tiny bunnies, carried by their parents. Young and old, sick and healthy. Oh, gods...
"Kill them! Kill them all!" A familiar screeching voice sounded. The elder turgan burst from the bushes, his entourage of warriors leaping into the mass of panic. "The lelran are nothing without their magic!"
"No... no..." Gavin sat up to his knees, "he's dead! It's over!"
A lelran met a turgan's wooden blade with a sharp *chok*, and the taller lithe turgan twisted his sword around and stabbed his opponent's heart. Rabbits fell left and right as the elder cackled.
"My lifestone!" Gavin shouted over the din. He fell to four limbs and poised himself as if he were ready to pounce, towering over the elder turgan. "Your wish is granted! Give it back!" Mara peered from behind the elder's shoulder, but shrank back when at the sight Gavin and the blood dripping from his muzzle.
"Give it back?" the elder hissed, clutching the glowing blue stone. Gavin's knees and elbows buckled, but he remained standing. "Why should I? With ye as my slave, the entire forest will bow to us! No, I think I'll have a few more wishes. He he he he!"
Gavin snarled, fighting the force that pushed him down. One wish is all you get," the words came to him, and he spoke in a low growl, "Now you will return my lifestone, lest horrible
things happen to you."
"Hee!" The elder grinned and leaned forward, muzzle bent in a fanged grin. "Ye shan't speak to ye master that way! Now sit! S-sit...!" He blinked and stumbled before his eyes widened and he looked at the glowing orb in his paw. He shook it a few times, unable to release the stone, then screamed as cerulean flame leapt from Gavin's lifestone and traveled up his arm. "Eeeeee~!"
Gavin felt an odd power flow into him. The vice-grip around his heart melted as the ferret-thing before him burned in blue fire. Mara darted into the bushes as the elder's flesh burned off, flowing in chunks into the liquid orb. In moments nothing was left but a charred skeleton, and the euphoric rush over Gavin ended as soon as his stone fell to the soft dirt. How did he--?! Good gods, he just killed again!
But now he was free.
"Turgan wretches! Ye all shall die!
Lelran burst from the bushes-- many, many
more than before. Shrill war cries erupted from all directions. Gavin dove forward and scooped up the warm marble in his hands. It felt so wonderful to hold again. He was free! Popping it into his mouth, he fell to four legs and braced himself for a sprint. Breaking through the lelran would be no problem for him. He was free!
Halfway through his first bound he heard Mara scream.
He skidded to a halt, kicking up a cloud of dust. Why should he care about her? Leave them to their war! He turned his head to see her frantically beating back two sword-wielding lelran with a stick. A third and forth approached. Gavin sighed.
Ensuring his lifestone was securely tucked under his tongue, he charged the little beasts and batted them away with his claws. Mara looked up at him wide-eyed as more lelran came. He grabbed her with one hand and threw her onto his back, then charged the advancing creatures. All parted out of their way. In moments the two tore into the safety of the forest, the clattering battle raging behind.