The party had traveled on lower paw for over seven days, the relatively short journey to the nearby Raestall made longer by off-road travels and lack of necessity. The group was in no hurry; Raestall herself, however, would wait for them no longer.
Happiness was found in the lonely wilderness over the next few days. Off the beaten track, the traveling Savages (Portia and Fayre, sister felinekin, and Velius, a harekin and former monk) progressed slowly, hampered by rough terrain and undergrowth. Their moods, however, were light and exuberant, not angered but gladdened by the obstacles of the wilds. On their own for the first time, the two felinekin had never before been inside a forest, and neither had the silent monk traveled so far from home.
Before any of them knew it, Hazel lunged onto Velius, knocking the wind from him, throttling him with her claws. The vicious foxkin had her paws clamped down around the monk's neck, strangling the life from him. It took both Fayre and Portia's combined strength to pry the mad foxkin off.
The dawn had broke over the land once more, marking the beginning of her second day of freedom. Fayre greeted the sun with eyes open, same as the night prior, after awaking from a sound slumber. Their trek through unpaved wilderness alone was an exercise on her legs so used to comfort and convenience. But to also help burden the body of a young foxkin was nearly more than her frame could bear. At the day's end, she had fallen into slumber as soon as she had put head to dirt.
Everman stepped into a world that was not his own, a world which hell had consumed. He stood, looking about with the wide-eyed curiosity of a newborn, thrust for the first time into a strange and frightful new world. He stood slack jawed, his arms hanging limp at his sides. At the sight, he was left without thought, without speech, without even a breath until the ache of his lungs reminded his brain of that essential function.
The soldier’s barracks was contained within the massive castle. Past a single short corridor, built near the king’s chambers for his own protection, the barracks was a series of lengthy rooms linked together. Together they held enough cots and shelving for every soldier in the employ of the city. Massive hearths, now standing cold and empty, kept warm the entire barracks during the cold season. A hundred torches, set at intervals along the walls, lit the living area and the arching wooden ceiling above. Rugs and pelts of the local wildlife adorned the walls and flooring, providing much-needed shielding against the seeping cold of the stone floor.
Velius worked in a frenzy, dumping out all his possessions from his pack as the nearby crowd, drunk with blood lust, screamed for slaughter. The lunatic chanting of 'Death to the Savages' pounded rhythmically through his head like the beating of a dull, rusty nail. Forcing himself to concentrate as best he could, he prepped his mind with instructions for the task ahead, taking inventory of all he had brought. Never did he think he would have to be using these ingredients so soon, or in this manner.
For Hazel, the unfortunate foxkin caught in bondage at the city's center, the dawn brought despair. Her head and fore paws were locked in a stockade, captured between two heavy wooden planks and a thick iron padlock. She was being held in the cobblestone marketplace at the heart of town, where the townsfolk had only just begun to trickle in with the rising sun. They conducted their business, heedless of her suffering, gathering their needed wares, affording the Savage as wide a berth as possible. They either looked down at her with cold disdain, or purposefully avoided her gaze.
Freedom was an odd notion, slow to realize and identify. The idea penetrated them like a morning fog, slow and gradual but thick and obscuring at its peak before being burnt away by the morning sun. For Fayre and Portia, it was both a blessing they didn't realize and a curse they didn't believe.
The dawn broke over the land gradually. The youngest felinekin watched as the reach of the sun extended inch by slow inch over the meadow, creeping ever closer both across the long wind-blown grasses and down the reaching boughs of the trees above.
With the convenience of having one of my stories finished in its entirety, and the free time to churn out a second, ten pages at a time over the course of only a few days, I can't help but feel that I've been oversaturating the market of Oort-Cloud with my own name. This isn't what I had intended.