Rickkter left Kayla with only a slight lightening of his mood and some understanding of the skunk's motivations. That did nothing whatsoever to mollify the intense anger he had at the very thought of the furry menace. What he needed was an outlet, somewhere to vent the frustrated anger boiling in his breast, and was lucky in that he had a purpose that would suit that end. He steered his course for the training grounds where he had an appointment with Kwaanza to show her some of his eastern sword techniques. The morning had a dry chill to it, heralding the winter weather to come in a few short weeks, but the raccoon, for possibly the first time in his many years, found that cool bite to be more refreshing than irritating. The thick coat his transformation had granted him was better than any jacket, allowing him to wear a light shirt in a concession more toward modesty than anything else. He wore a light pair of black leggings as well, which laced up loose at the shanks of his paws rather than the more formal lace cuffs he normally wore.
The cuffs fit just as well, with no encumbrance due to their design, and looked a great deal neater than the lightly bloused leggings he was wearing to his sparring match with the shrew, but they did not allow the freedom of movement his activities would require. Flexing his hand around the hilt of the katana at his hip, he walked down a ramp from the Keep, heading toward the practice fields in the northernmost bailey. He still had that annoying stink about his fur, a lingering annoyance from the fiasco with the skunk the previous evening, but it was a subtle tickle in his nose due to the thick unguent he had purchased from Pascal to get rid of the greater portion of the skunk's, Murikeer as Copernicus had named him, reek.
Kayla might have talked the raccoon out of throttling the bastard, but he was still contemplating a good thrashing. And well the skunk deserved it! He had paid no heed to where he was aiming that powerful weapon the curse had granted him; or cursed him with. That he was terrified of humans did little to engender him in the raccoon's sympathies. He should have avoided the encounter with that disgusting little sack of human dung Aniris. Rick had not been around for the sacking of whatever place the kid was blubbering about, but he knew Loriod's name well enough. The fat lord had been instrumental in damn near sending the entire Keep to the nine hells in one very large handbasket.
The porcine AR had put his fat little face into a fine kettle of dead fish in facing the skunk down, and would smell like it for weeks to come, for there were few mages willing or able to magic away that powerful an odor. Pascal was the only one who had developed a concoction to do the job, and Rick had already informed the porcupine that someone would probably come in the name of the fat little man to purchase some. To her credit, the porcupine had merely grinned and promised that the human would get something for his garrets, but not what he was wishing for.
Delightful, that porcupine's twisted sense of humor. Rick could not help but offer up a brief, sinister grin at the idea of what her dangerous alchemic concoctions might do.
So intent on the mental images of what he intended to do to the skunk that he did not immediately notice the slender, yellow clad figure walking up the causeway toward him. But then, neither did that figure until he lifted his eyes from the small book he held in one hand. A warm smile suddenly brightened the ferret's angular face as Rick rolled his eyes and prepared to suffer the garrulous young mustelid's inept repartee of sidelong insults.
"Ahh, hello there, Rickkter." The ferret churred amiably, that smile never reaching the flint hard coldness of his dark eyes. He stopped a few paces away, not moving to block the stern looking raccoon's path. "My my, you are smelling quite the flower this morning."
Rick nearly snapped, half drawing his katana before catching himself. Slapping it home, he turned an icy glare on the young sondeckis. "Look, Garrigan, I do not have time for your petty jibes, nor do I wish to stand here and rub that pointy little nose of yours in the folly of your master's instruction." His tail fluffed behind him, held stiff and horizontal. "I am going to lay some steel back and forth in the practice field, and unless you would like to put in as my pells today I suggest you walk on." He finished his statement with an angry growl, his glare piercing the ferret where he stood.
The ferret's grey eyebrows climbed his brow like startled caterpillars as his grin twitched into a lopsided sneer, long whiskers angling forward in brief mirth before laying back along the tapered length of his muzzle. Waving his small book toward the distant tourney field in mock salute, the yellow robed ferret turned and resumed his wanderings, a short snort of laughter escaping his nose.
Rick growled and briefly contemplated plunging his dagger between the ferret's shoulder blades, but managed to refrain from such a reckless task. To do so would bring the wrath of his master, the rat Charles Matthias, down upon him, as well as the justice of Metamor Keep. He had already faced their tribunal, as both defendant and prosecutor, and had no particular wish to enjoy that onerous duty again. He rubbed the hilt of his dagger and shook his head, turning to resume his own stalk down the causeway. Not, he mused, that he had much to fear from the rat. He could blast the furry little annoyance with any number of spells without ever engaging him in direct confrontation, and knew he could probably win out in hand to hand as well.
He found Kwaanza near the large double doors of the old barracks she had converted into a training house chatting amiably with a mink he did not find familiar. A few students were within the training house itself, the clatter of their pot-metal swords filling the air with the unmistakable clash of morons playing at blades. The harsh bark of an instructor often punctuated the silence between practice bouts, and more often than not during them as some student or another was sharply corrected for some error.
Both the shrew and the nameless female mink standing in the shade of the building held swords in their hands and were breathing as if they had just completed a sparring match. The dusty earth of the small practice circle just within the larger arena showed signs of recent activity. The dark swaths of cool earth where paws had scraped as the combatants sparred were slowly fading as the midmorning sun warmed the earth.
Rick held up one hand by way of greetings to the shrew as she approached, and the shrew smiled. She raised her sword, placing the flat of her blade before her nose in a short salute, and the mink surprised the raccoon by doing the same. The two blades dropped as one while they waited for the raccoon to enter the shade of the building and join them.
"Morning to you, Rick." The shrew smiled, her whiskers twitching as she suppressed a giggle. Rick raised one eyebrow at her apparent good spirits, considering how much she had put away the previous night. She had a stench about her as well, just as subtle as Rick's, but then she had not been the direct target of the skunk's spray.
"Morning is about all it is." The raccoon muttered heavily as he stopped before the open door. He glanced briefly inside, more by the instinctive caution borne of years expecting enemies to leap out at him from every shadow than any actual curiosity about who might be training within. A stoutly built bear was bellowing down at a mouse concerning some aspect of their training while the remaining fourteen members of the class stood around quietly, watching. None looked in the raccoon's direction, their attention focused solely on the bellowing instruction of their teacher. "Who's the dame?" he pointed a finger at the mink.
The mink let out a short laugh, arching one eyebrow. She had a nice look about her, Rick mused, but it was more amazonian than he particularly cared for. She had the same severe lines and taut muscle of any hardened fighter, regardless of the fact that she was quite obviously female. Her breasts were not overlarge as such things went, pared down in size probably more because of her muscle tone than her species. Her hips were pleasantly wide, but without the smooth curves that the raccoon appreciated in his own female companion. She was also a great deal more animal than Kayla was, with the shorter legs of a true mink, long shanked digitigrade paws, short but powerful arms, and a long torso that made her as tall as Rick himself. She was dressed in a set of what appeared to be custom crafted leather practice armour which covered her from just above the swell of her breasts to her knees. Around each pawshank was another bit of leather, but sported a downward curved 'talon' much like a fighting cock that almost touched the ground behind her. She had similar braces on her forearms, with six inch long spikes curving forward from each elbow. Shorter, straight spikes jutted from the back of her elbows as well, making her a formidable looking foe, but not along lines he had not seen before.
"Dame?" the shrew blustered, breaking out into a laugh, "Oh dear, I never thought I would hear her called that." She elbowed the mink in the side and smiled at the coon, then rolled her eyes up, her face taking on a beatific grimace, "'Ohhh, lover!' or 'yes baby, yes!', but never 'dame'!" She crowed at her own affected mannerisms. The mink's muzzle pulled into a particularly toothy grin as her dark eyes glittered at the raccoon. Not with any particular hunger that he might have expected, considering Kwaanza' s intimations that she was the type who enjoyed frolicking with her share of men. "Rick, this is Llyn." the shrew offered, still laughing to herself.
Rick extended one hand, looking at the shrew curiously. He knew the instructor had a rather ribald, twisted sense of humor, but he had never seen her rip into anyone so harshly before. Especially never to their face, unless they had been making a fool of themselves and deserved it. "Llyn, this is Rickkter the raccoon. Mage extrordinaire and not too shabby a swordsman as it stands."
The mink, Llyn, clasped the raccoon's hand in a firm greeting and pumped it a couple of times. "Well met." She churred, her voice smooth despite the hard lines of her body. "You are the one that gave the patrol and scouts conniptions three months or so ago?"
Rick pumped the mink's hand a few times before breaking the handclasp and nodded, smiling thinly, his mood beginning to warm despite himself. At least she did not say anything about the lingering aroma about him. He knew that Kwaanza had probably told her all about it by now, having been there. "I toyed with them for a few days, yes. Wanted to see what they were all about."
"I was one of them, the first team sent out to track you down." Llyn explained as she lowered her arm and leaned back against the open door of the training barn. "You did a pretty good at that little disappearing trick of yours, but I knew you were doing it with magic."
Rick smiled, swishing his tail amiably, "How did you come to that conclusion?"
"Boot print, boot print, nothing." The mink said, pantomiming with one foot what she had been following, "You teleported or somesuch. Masked your scent as well."
The raccoon sketched a slight bow at her perception, "That I did."
"Could you evade us so smoothly without that magic of yours?" the mink asked, her voice holding the sliver edge of challenge.
"Most likely, but I would not care to waste the effort finding out." He said, trying to head off the challenge he knew she was going to drop at his paws. Be damned if he was going to let her try to force him into a corner.
"Why not? We cannot learn if we do not test our limits."
"Oh, ahh, Rick." Kwaanza coughed, nudging the mink again, "Llyn was my second."
One of Rick's eyebrows crept up slightly, "Second what?"
"She was my understudy, before she went on that three month vacation of hers up north."
Both of the raccoon's eyebrows went up, "You're a Long then?" he pitched that out of one side of his muzzle, away from the keen ears of any that might be in the building and able to actually hear over the hammering din of pot-metal swords on shields. The mink nodded. "I did not realize that some patrols were quite that long."
"It was not intentional, but it served its purpose." The mink offered as she patted the side of her leg with her sword. A fresh, clean, well polished blade it was, Rick noticed. The edge had no nicks in it, and the smooth blade gleamed as if it had just been brought from the forge polisher. The raccoon nodded his head slightly at her comment, then grinned at the movement of her sword, as if she were itching to continue whatever sparring she had been doing with the shrew.
"So, you were her second, hmm?" he asked, turning and taking a few short steps toward the smaller sparring ring. Half of it was still in the cool shadows of the morning sun, the rest painfully bright to the eyes where the sun shone from the pale brown dust. "That would make you passing fair with a blade then, as I never knew she had a student directly of her own."
"I was not her sole student." The mink assured him as she, too, moved toward the ring. Kwaanza followed shortly behind them, her dark eyed gaze going from one to another. "I just learned faster than the rest."
Kwaanza laughed at that and nodded as she steered over to a large maple tree growing near the side of the building. Its massive limbs spread cool shade over half of the larger arena and supported a wide assortment of suspended practice gear. The maple's leaves were already beginning to go burgundy with the season and it would soon be looking quite a bit less magnificent as those leaves fell. "Yeah, she went from cavalry pincussion to slicer and dicer in particularly short order. Five months rather than the two years most of the other young yokels I get in here." She sat down on a bench in the shade, laying her blade across her lap as the mink and raccoon took up positions within the sparring circle. They stood on the line that bisected the ring in shade and light, making their starting advantages equal.
"Got to the point where she had to find me other instructors." Llyn nodded as she raised her shortsword in salute. Rickkter drew his own sword in one smooth motion, holding it up before him in a salute as well. The mink did not even blink at the odd design of his blade, which was far different from the double edged blade she held in her hand. She knew oriental weapons then, which gave her a slight advantage over most opponents. "Nice blade, a bit long for my tastes." She nodded as she lowered her sword, point elevated toward the center of the circle. "But then, you've got long arms, and that advantage."
Rick extended his own blade and touched the flat of the sharply angled tip against the flat of her more rounded, tapered tip. "I point for the home team then." He smiled, stepping back into a ready stance. "You know the style?" he turned his blade slightly.
She stepped back into a ready stance of her own, brought the sword back into a vertical salute position, and nodded, "I've a close friend here who fights with similar, but a hand shorter."
Rickkter was caught in the act of giving a slight nod in recognition of her statement when she was, quite literally, all over him. He barely had a chance to snap his blade to the right to parry her off handed slash as she lunged forward, extending herself far out of balance. He did not notice how precariously she had overextended though, for he was busy trying to get his blade across to ward off a blinding half circle that brought her shorter blade around to his left almost too fast for him to follow.
Bringing her body forward, she pressed the attack, her blade a veritable blur as it tested his defenses on all sides. The gleaming, polished steel moved like lightening, forcing the raccoon back step after step. Sparks flared in the bright midmorning sun as the swords shrieked and rang against one another. The mink pressing the attack, the raccoon working feverishly to keep it at bay. He let out a hissing gasp as he felt three of his whiskers suddenly shorten by an inch, placing both hands on the hilt of his blade to move it more swiftly.
Her attack was swift, alarmingly so. He had never, in all of his days, seen anyone move with such speed. But her pattern was not particularly imaginative or alien to him. He was soon able to understand the simple order of her attacks, and began to react to the blinding movement of her blade before she had fairly finished one attack. After some minutes he was able to stop his ignominious retreat, then began to press the assault the other way as he brought together the various techniques of his past.
She battled back swiftly enough, suddenly changing from a simple, beginner's hack and slash to a more sophisticated parry and lead, halting his advance as he tried to re-familiarize himself with her moves and respond. Gritting his teeth, he stepped in with a primary down circle pattern of parries, trying to bring her sword out so that he could close and render most of her speed ineffective. That, he quickly realized, was a poor plan, for he barely managed to twist away from the flashing slash of one forearm scythe.
She was good, he had no arguments there. Her speed was preternatural, almost magic. He had never before seen anyone move with that blinding speed, even with enchantments similar to his own. Had he been a foe easily mesmerized by the flashing, serpentine dance of her sword she would have bested him almost before the fight had begun. He did manage to push her back, using his defensive parries as prepatory maneuvers for each jab or slash he returned on her, but was parried at each turn. Either by the blinding weave of that shorter blade, or one of the blades mounted on her bracers.
Then, suddenly, he found himself without a weapon at all. Somehow she had gotten his blade between the curve of one arm-scythe and the bracer and, with a sudden twist, pulled the hilt from his hands. His start was momentary though as he identified the arc her jerk had imparted on his blade, and darted the other way. The mink hissed, startled as well by the fact that she had inadvertently disarmed her foe, and paused momentarily, then turned, sword raised and point turned down, and stabbed viciously at the raccoon as he tumbled past her legs on her off side.
Kwaanza let out a startled rasp as the gleaming steel sword plunged several inches into the dry soil, a small tuft of fur fluttering away. Rickkter rolled past, stood, and captured the hilt of his sword with fluid grace as it tumbled through the air, and lunged at her, a savage snarl twisting his muzzle.
The mink had tried to kill him! The force behind that stab had been enough to plunge it a hand's span into the earth because she had missed. Had that sword hit the raccoon, he would have been spitted like a hog for the summer roast. He dropped all pretense of sparring and went at her with cold, calculated anger, his sword held firmly in both hands.
As she came out of the crouch her attack had placed her in, the mink turned, a blank expression crossing her face as she raised her blade to parry the raccoon's savage downward stroke, bracing the end of her sword against one of her arm blades. Metal shrieked sharply as the raccoon's katana stuck the shordsword and glanced away and the mink dodged.
"Rick!" a distant voice cried, barely penetrating the intense focus he had brought to bear on his foe.
The speed was gone, rushing out of her limbs like water from a pierced canteen. She managed to parry the raccoon's assault, but she was unable to turn the attack again, fighting merely to keep herself from being sliced in half by the longer blade in the angered raccoon's hands. One of the mink's arm scythes shattered in a whining shriek of tortured metal, the shards gleaming as they scattered across the dusty earth.
"Rick! Stop!" Kwaanza's voice cut through the din of clashing swords, "Back down!" she barked, and Rick found himself facing another parrying blade. He sidestepped smoothly, placing that new opponent across from him as his sword darted in a swift downward circle and upward, hammering Llyn's sword high and away, leaving her wide open to his thrust. Only the shrew's blocking downward slash, catching the end of his sword, turned his attack aside. "Rick, back down damnitall!" she bellowed, her voice surprisingly loud for her diminutive stature. He glowered at the shrew, flicking his blade back up into a ready position as he turned his focus back to the mink. Her back was to him at that point, the tip of her sword dragging in the earth as she staggered away.
Smiling grimly, he brought his blade up horizontal at shoulder level, and prepared to cleave the murderous mink's head clean from her shoulders.
"HOLD!" again that deep throated bellow and his sword rattled in his hand, knocked out of line by a quick swat of the shrew's own nicked blade. She was not pressing any attack, the raccoon knew, merely keeping his blade busy, so she was no threat. Rick turned a brief glare at her as she stepped in front of him, her dark little eyes as hard as obsidian, then turned his glare toward the mink.
She was hardly a threat either, her shoulders slumped as she staggered from the sparring circle with her back to him. She was only keeping her sword now because her hand refused to let it go as she gasped for breath, staggering over to and slumping against the fence around the larger arena. Bowing her head down upon the sweat lathered leather of her bracer she numbly managed to sheath her blade.
Rickkter fumed, pacing back and forth on the far side of the circle like a rooster waiting for his next fight, his fur bristled up under his shirt as his tail stood out behind him, ramrod straight, every fur standing on end. One small swath was substantially shorter than the others, owing to the mink's sudden, unexpected death blow.
"That's it!" He growled, waving the tip of his katana toward the mink beyond the outer edge of the circle's far limits, "I want to know what the hell is going on around this accursed place!" he turned his glare on the shrew, who merely gave him a shocked stare as she rushed over to examine the mink. "Why is every damned soul I see trying to serve me up like a gods-be-damned holiday feast???!" he bellowed to no one in particular. He found that his rant was falling on deaf ears. Llyn was obviously beyond hearing him, her knees shaking as she leaned heavily against the fence and panted for breath, Kwaanza's arm around her shoulders as she tried to help her friend up.
First had been that weathermonger from Marzac with his lightning staff and sudden murderous intent in another sparring match eerily similar to the one he had just entered. He had meant it to be a good natured challenge from one mage to another, but that lemur had suddenly changed the rules of the game, and damned near fried him. Then there had been Misha, kicking him about in that so-called sparring match to see just how effective the scout master was at fighting as a fox-taur. Now this mink, whose name he had heard a sum total of twice, tried to spit him to the ground like some moth on a specimen table.
He waved his arms once, railing at the ground, the sky, the maple tree. Everyone and everything around him, but to no avail. No answers came to him save the clash of practice weapons in the training barn and the cold itch of dust in his throat. He slapped his blade home in its scabbard and stormed off the field. That skunk; he really, really wanted to throttle that skunk now. All he had to do was find the bastard.
"Llyn?" Kwaanza asked, her voice pitched low and concerned as she ducked her head under the mink's arm and tried to look up at her face. "Llyn girl, are you okay?" she slipped an arm around the mink's shoulders as Rick bellowed epithets behind them, but the mink was not moving. Her legs were so weak they shook each time she tried to move them, her entire body shivering.
"I. I don't know, Kwan." The mink rasped, leaning heavily against the only support she had available, the rough wooden slats of the fence. "I don 't know what happened. I was fighting him and." she shook her head, wincing and jerking her arm away as the point of one scythe pricked her ear. "He was so slow!"
Kwaanza shook her head negatively, "No way, Llyn, you were like the wind out there." She helped her friend turn and sit down on the cool grass growing along the fence, "I never could have even touched you." Llyn could only nod jerkily as she rested her head back against one of the fence post.
"I don't know what I did. I just. turned and stabbed at him." She mimed the motion with one weak arm, dropping it before she had completed the gesture because of the sudden, aching weakness that had claimed her entire body. "Eli I'm glad I missed."
"Not by much!" the shrew murmured, "He's gonna be short a bit of fur from that for a long time."
"It's okay, hon." The shrew reassured her as she watched the raccoon storming away, his black clad form disappearing into a small clutch of carefully manicured trees. "Just be more careful next time."
Llyn closed her eyes and leaned back, panting heavily as she nodded, "I will, Kwanzi, I will. I must have tripped or something." She knew that was a lie even as she formulated the words. She had meant to kill him, she had wanted to kill him; so fiercely she had almost fallen over from the force of her attack. And she had not one tiny little idea as to why.