12: Warrior Spirit
Lily squared her shoulders. Freshly made a Warrior of the Village, the youngest ever, and with the Champion in a faraway land, she had been given a difficult quest indeed, and was determined to see it through. If she were to fail, if she were to return empty-handed, the all-powerful Tiger Queen, Mrrowl, would be unable to cast her spell, and the village would suffer untold woes.
Mrrowl, tall, beautiful, noble, wise, and most ginger in all the Greene Shires, blessed her with a kiss on the brow; she bowed deep, then took up her mighty sword, Karrdring, and took her leave of the village, tail and head held high, face set firm, purpose in her stride. This was to be her greatest moment, her finest hour, her rise to the rank of Hero.
(Cin watched with a fond smile as the young pink vixen, a cardboard tube in hand, an adorably fierce expression on their face, pushed the bedroom door open and strode through. "Good luck on your quest, O Great Warrior. And try not to break anything.")
Before Lily stretched the treacherous pass of Llhan'din, leading to the dangerous descent of Speeralh Steppes. A most fearsome guardian, a monster so foul it was known to all as the Dread Beast of Aaiiee, stood between the Warrior and the Steppes, ready and waiting to snare her in its terrible grasp, and devour her whole.
Forwards she strode, Karrdring held ready, one determined step after another along the pass, until the Steppes loomed before her. A figure blocked the way, sandy of fur, huge pools of eyes, long, long, ears and an endless smile. It looked so harmless, so friendly, so welcoming, but as soon as the Warrior was close enough, it lunged.
Lily dodged, swinging Karrdring towards its flank, a driving blow, but the Beast twisted away from it then swiped at her again. She ducked and rolled and jabbed, but the blow glanced off the sheer rock wall of the pass. The Beast's great claws nicked her ear as she flung herself to one side, then as it closed in, she drove Karrdring straight into its awful heart. It roared, and shook, and fell. Triumphant, the Warrior moved on, down the Speerahl Steppes.
(Hazel, sprawled across the landing at the top of the stairs, glowered playfully at the young vixen as they descended, bent cardboard tube held high. "Next time, I'm the Champion, and Ian's the monster.")
Lily, spirits buoyed, reached the end of the Steppes, and gazed across the vast plains of Lithin Raowm. Far, far ahead rose the great plateau of Sewfahr Ridge, and atop it, impossibly tall, impossibly strong, rested the single greatest warrior in all the lands, a swordsperson beyond all compare, Sabego Mondoba.
Across the plains the Warrior struck, forging a tireless path, until she stood, at last, in the shadow of the ridge. Mondoba rose, barring the way, their ears seeming to touch the sky, and drew their sword. Biting back her fear, Lily lifted Karrdring, and the fight was joined. It was fast and it was fierce, with flashes of Bonetty, Cape Foxo and Kibbolt, and a switch of hands from both combatants, and at one point it seemed as if Mondoba was too strong, as if the Warrior's quest was done, but she found one last surge of strength and slashed Karrdring across their leg.
Sabego Mondoba unbalanced, and toppled, and fell across the ridge, and found a sword pointed at their throat; they conceded defeat to the superior fighter, pleading only to be left in peace. Lily withdrew with a respectful nod to her fallen foe, and left them behind, her goal in sight and her heart soaring.
(Sabine, spread-eagled on her back across the couch, a battered and bent cardboard tube in one hand, eyes sparkling, watched the young vixen approach the bookcase, brandishing an even more battered and bent cardboard tube dramatically and grinning manically. "I'll have to practice more; you're getting too good!")
The Warrior had reached the Great Library. She scoured the towering shelves, and soon, she found her prize, the Legendary Tome, a book so powerful that in the hands of the Tiger Queen it could bring peace and joy to all. Bearing it proudly, Lily crossed the plains again, climbed the Steppes, traversed the pass, and finally, glowing with triumph, entered her Village. Her home.
The Tiger Queen showered her with praise, lauded her to the ends of the earth, declared her a Hero indeed. Then they drew her close, held her against their incomparably ginger fur, and began to read from the Tome, their voice a melodic spell. The Hero smiled beatifically, lost in the golden glow of success.
("The mole had been working hard all the morning," Cinna read, one hand holding the book, the other stroking Lily's belly as the fox rested against her, "spring-cleaning his little home...")