Terrouge E-zine Archives
Breath of Heaven: Chapter Four
Rijahk, Breath of the Night, watched from the shore as the last of the fleet slid into the huge, concealed cavern. The docking bay was located on the eastern coast of the land on which the Abbey stood. It was one of the many well-kept secrets of the Night. The immense cave could hold half the fleet, but rarely had so many ships been held there. They were there now. Ten rats were constantly posted inside the cave, ready to kill any intruder who might learn their secret.
The main horde formed up in marching ranks within an hour and set off. The Brethen winged their way through an empty sky, wheeling as they searched out beasts of the area: goodbeasts for plunder, rats for recruiting, and all others as fair game for the hungry, bloodthirsty crows. Nightradiers stalked through the trees, blending perfectly into the scenery with their cloaks turned so that the black side was in. Rijahk himself marched at the head of the army. Leaders kept back in battle, to watch and to plan, but they marched alongside the others at other times, to prevent dissent and keep heart in the troops.
Two weeks later, his troops a third of the way from the place known as Mossflower, Rijahk paused as a Nightraider materialized beside him. He held up a paw and the army came to an immediate halt behind him. "What information do you have for me?" He did not add the title soldier, as the previous Breath of the Night would have. They were under his command, of course, but the Nightraiders had a very high opinion of themselves, and rightly earned. They would never disobey an order or kill a fellow creature of the Night, but they did not feel themselves constrained to go out of their way to help those who annoyed them. Rijahk owed his position to his diplomacy with the Nightraiders.
The tall black rat smiled a wicked grin as he stood to attention, and he seemed to take a twisted sort of glee from his message. "Breath of the Night, not a half hour's march from here, west and slightly north, there is a large settlement of goodbeasts. There appear to be around tenscore beasts in the village, and there are no fortifications or visible defenses of any sort. From what I could tell, they had few weapons of any sort, and although there did seem to be some rather large and burly beasts in the village, they didn't seem at all warlike. I'd say we may be able to capture the whole town without losing a beast."
The Breath of the Night nodded. "Good. If your information is correct, I will see that you are amply rewarded when we return victorious to the Isle of Night. Show me this place."
A short while later, Rijahk stood on top of a steep hill overlooking the village. The city was as the Nightraider had described it. A dusty settlement, sprawling across a few acres seemed to survive as a fishing community. Young otters, hedgehogs, and squirrels splashed in the shallows of the river, accompanied, here and there, by a watchful elder. The older beasts of the settlement were mainly out in boats, nets trailing behind them. Rijahk allowed himself a small smile as he gave orders in a quiet, yet steely, tone.
"Take threescore rats out and around to the thick grove of trees behind the shallow pool. You are to slay the older beasts and any young ones who attempt to resist. Do not kill over half of the children however, under any circumstances. Divide our remaining forces into two halves; one will sweep through the village, the other will wait on the docks for the arrival of the adults out in the boats. Take as many prisoners as possible. These beasts are useful as slaves and if less than six score beasts are taken prisoner, those responsible will regret it. Marrak, lead the group to the docks. Changefur, take the three score to capture the goodbeast's young, and Slittail, take the other group to the village." He himself remained on the peak as his generals bowed and left swiftly to commandeer the troops.
Not much later, Rijahk grinned as the first of the beasts in Changefur's regiment broke cover. He had done his work well. Changefur was an expert at keeping himself hidden, and with beasts as unwary as these, he'd been able to get all sixty rats in his command within twenty paces of the young beasts before he gave the order to break cover. The rats swarmed forward, taking the elders watching the children down with ruthless efficiency. Most didn't even know what hit them, as was apparent by the expression of total bewilderment decorating the frozen features of an aged otter, a spear thrown at his back from such close range that it emerged three feet out of his front. Changefur had apparently given the order to use the nets when possible, and to use their weapon hilts, flats, or shafts as case may be. Good sense, Rijahk thought, storing the information away for future use.v He turned his attention to the village, where Slittail's beasts were beginning their rout. His strategy was good enough (Dividing his forces into thirds and coming at the village from three directions, so that no one on any side would have enough time between knowing they were under attack, and having the army on top of them, to gather any weapons or ready themselves). The strongest resistance, was there any, would be at the center of the village, where there would also be the greatest concentration of the army of Night. Crude, perhaps, but effective. There was no need for complex strategy. However, the Breath of the Night noticed too many beasts looting and killing, rather than capturing slaves. Pity, he thought. Now I'll have to kill Slittail.
By the time the beasts out on the water reached the docks, the assault on the village was finished, and the young waterbeasts had been captured and taken to the docks. There really wasn't much for Marrak to do. Rijahk had, by this time, descended from the hill to explain matters to the shocked waterbeasts. He stepped forward and the ranks parted, showing the faces of bewildered prisoners gathered on the end of the docks. He sneered.
"You are now the property of the Night. You belong to me, until we return to the Night. You will obey the commands of any creature of the Night without surliness or question. These terms are not negotiable."
A burly otter stepped forward, snarling, pressing against the spears the guards held in front of him. "You'll never break me, rat! Kill me now, because I'll never work for you! I wouldn't lift a finger te help yeh if it meant my life!"
Rijahk gave the otter a small smirking smile as he waved a paw towards the guards. Understanding, a rat drew his sword and slew a small dibbun. The Breath of the Night leered at the shocked expression of horror painting the faces of all the captives. "As I was about to tell you, you will never be punished for your own misconduct. Slaves who take it into their heads to be difficult will find that they are slowly running out of friends. Now, you, get back in line!" The otter, completely cowed, stepped into line, head down, ready to obey the slightest command.
The wind swept across the horrifying scene, carrying the first taste of the horrifying poison of the Night. Cruel, insane laughter rose from hundreds of throats around the terrified captives.