(Note: bah…'nother bridge sort of chapter, I'm trying desperately t get to the more interesting parts that I can't seem to concentrate on what's in front of me. Most likely this'll be rewritten sometime, especially the action-y part, but hopefully it's not too horrid.)

-So Another Drop May Fall-

-Chapter Six-

Avel . . .

Avel . . .time wake up now . . .

One more I awoke to the same whispers, the voice in the back of my head calling to me in its horribly knowing tone. Opening an eye I found myself staring at the back of a bench, my body stuck in the middle of a clump of old, deteriorating furniture, the wood groaning at even the slightest movement. Glancing up slightly I winced as a bright blue tinted light burned into my retina, the sun shining on a new day, tainted by the broken stained glass windows. Slowly as the fantasy of the subconscious faded from my mind I began to wonder where the hell I was exactly, I didn't remember my room ever being this bad.

"Avel, come on . . ." A feminine voice whispered as I became aware of another presence beside me, a paw shaking me softly as the creature tried to rouse me. "Quickly, Avel . . ." The voice was merely a choked whisper; wracked with desperation, fear permeated the creature's tone as it shook harder.

Meryl?

What is it now?

I wondered to myself silently before turning slightly to get a better look at the creature, expecting to find the ferret's face there, that ever-present smile on her face. Instead I found myself staring at my nightmare.

Arrikajen!

Immediately I rolled away from the feline's grasp, scrambling to my feet before the back of the bench I had been lying on gave way and I fell over unceremoniously. I found myself on the ground, staring up into the feline's almond shaped eyes, a paw on my dagger, now half-drawn before finally reality settled back in and I realized what this was.

"Ari?" I wondered aloud as I stared up almost in a daze, my brain slowly starting to sort fact from fiction, bringing up the recent past, translating the pictures into something tangible and recognizable.

"Shhh! Be quiet." She shushed me curtly, pulling me quickly around the back of the pile of furniture as I stumbled back into consciousness. "We're not alone." She stated simply, her fear going undisguised, plainly obvious in both her mannerism and the look in her eyes.

"What's goin' on?" I asked her, mimicking her whisper as I glanced towards the door, unsheathing my dagger fully. "Who's out there?"

"I don't know . . .but they surely don't seem to be friendly. I think they are the ones from the Shalin that you spoke of." Ari whispered frightfully, her paws twisting her cloak nervously as she stared towards the door.

"How far away?" I asked, making a few careful movements towards my pack, preferring to have my sword close to me rather then just a dagger.

"Not far, they were in the middle of the field outside we I saw them a few minutes ago." Ari answered, clutching her cloak around her body as though a cold wind had just blown in. Despite the warm sun I felt it as well, a cold chill coursing down my spine, the same one I always had before any given battle, it was a precursor of what was to come.

"Stay 'ere and try to keep yerself hidden, I'll try ta lead 'em off a bit." I ordered her as I strapped the sword onto my belt before concealing it with my overcoat, moving quickly towards the door as Ari slipped beneath one of the benches, hiding her form completely. I snuck up to the window, peering through the dusty glass at the field outside to find them there, now three of them in the distance. The weasel and the stoat from before walked there along with another, smaller creature, its features obscured by what looked to be some sort of mask.

Okay . . .now how is this going to work . . .

I glanced back to where the feline was waiting, I knew that we couldn't run, from where they were they'd spot it and Ari wasn't that fast in spite of her species. She seemed rather soft for being a messenger, not hard enough for life in hostile territory, a seeming innocence still clinging to her soul. She seemed to be barely out of childhood, she shouldn't have been sent out here and the reasoning's behind such an act was far beyond me. I stared at the group as they strode closer and closer, taking a winding path through the gravestones until finally I could make out the new figure that was with them.

Meryl?

Damn bastards . . .

Now I could see her there, they had bound her wrists and gagged her, leading her through the graves by a length of rope. She seemed almost defeated as they led her along, her head drooping, limbs weak with defeat as she stared at the ground before her. On the wind I heard them talking to one another, both of them smug and secure in what they believed to be their lucky day.

"Yer sure that they went this way?" The weasel wondered aloud, staring around the field with a look that plainly said that he wished to be elsewhere.

"Yeah, I'm sure so stop complainin' afore you lose yer cut." The stoat threatened, pulling on Meryl's rope before addressing her. "Yer lil' friend went this way didn't he yeh little whore." The stoat asked as he sneered at her. "Dun feel like talkin', eh? Don' worry yer pretty lil head, you're my personal prize after all."

Damn bastard . . .

I cursed silently to myself, half-wishing that I had simply let them have the feline instead of having this happen. Gripping my sword tightly in my paw I fought the urge to run out screaming at the pair, swinging wildly. I knew that I wasn't exactly in practice anymore, it had been years since I had truly fought any creature, all I had were a few sporadic practice sessions I had done purely for the purpose of fighting off boredom on some long rainy day. I knew I had two choices; I could either act and hoped that they would simply pass, hoping for some chance to free Meryl later or I could fight them openly where I'd probably lose if only due to the numbers.

"Don't worry, mate. We'll find 'em quick enough an' be done with this job. Y'know boss wouldn't be 'appy if we came back empty pawed, especially with 'rewards'." The weasel advised, motioning to the bound ferret as I simply watched on, still trying desperately to come up with some sort of plan as they reached the bottom of the stairs.

"Y'know what? Shut up, boss ain't that powerful." The stoat glared as they paused on the bottom steps, the weasel muttering something utterly incoherent as I pulled away from the window, moving towards the other side of the door where the window was boarded up, stumbling over a small piece of wood in the process. Leaning down I picked up the piece of wood, eying one of the many stained-glass windows that lined the hall as an idea finally started to form.

"Stop complainin' already an' go check it out!" The stoat commanded, the weasel letting out a loud sigh.

"You're comin' too, you've heard the stories 'bout this place!" The weasel demanded in return, the stoat pausing a bit, probably considering his captive. "Jus' tie her to one of the rails, they look sturdy enough."

"Fine, fine ye little baby. Needed mother ta walk ye ta school too didn't ya?" The stoat muttered and within a few moments they were at the door, the sounds of metal scrapping metal echoing inside the hall as I hefted the piece of wood, aiming carefully. Both of them came in together, the door creaking loudly as they moved in at the exact moment I threw the piece of wood at the window on the opposite side of me.

"What the--" The stoat began, both of them glancing up at the window, their weapons ready, a pair of short swords, but the he didn't have the chance to finish as I grabbed him from behind, holding my sword out with one paw as I held a dagger in the other.

"The hell? Let 'im go!" The weasel demanded, obviously surprised as he stumbled on his words, glaring at me with cold eyes, sword held at the ready.

"What are ye doin' here? This is my territory." I replied in a cool voice, returning the weasel's glare as I pressed my blade into the stoat's neck, pressing up against what I hoped was his jugular, a steady pulse vibrating the blade ever so slightly. The weasel seemed to visibly relax at my words, a small hope in his eyes that he could screw me over and free his friend without any bargaining, probably believing me to be some sort of drifter, a creature without a cause.

"Don't worry, mate, we're jus' 'ere to collect on a bounty. Lookin' fer an Arrikajen." The weasel stated, taking a small step forward, his sword more relaxed. "So why don' you jus' let my friend go an' it'll all be good."

"I dun take kindly ta creatures invadin' mah territory." I stated coldly, putting on what I hoped to be a more rustic sort of accent.

"We're jus' passin' through, no harm done, mate." Another step forwards. "Jus' let 'im go, no harm done."

"An' how would I know that? Ain't goin' ta be takin' nuttin' off'a m'land are ye?" Yet another step taken, the weasel seeming to be emboldened as the stoat could only gurgle against my dagger, the weasel shaking his head 'no' reassuringly. "How 'bout a deal then? His life fer yer pretty lil' swords, eh?"

"And leave us undefended?" The weasel stopped short, just within range.

"Aye, no harm done after all, but y'know what?"

"What?"

"I think I will let 'im go." With that I quickly shoved the stoat into his friend, slitting his throat as he passed the dagger on the way, both of them falling in a heap. Moving quickly I plunged my sword through the stoat's back into the weasel's chest, a loud thunk sounded reverberating through the hall as the tip met the wood floor. With a shudder they both fell into unconsciousness, a mix of blood and bile flowing out of the weasel's mouth as his limbs fell limp on the floor, a crimson halo forming around their bodies as empty eyes stared up at me. I just stood there for a moment, one paw still clutching my sword as it stuck through their bodies, I stared at the blood as it ebbed and flowed from their dying shells, souls already long gone.

"Avel?" A soft voice called out, shaking me out of my trance, body shaking slightly I pulled the sword from the floor, a bit of blood dripping off the tip. "Are you all right?" The voice asked softly I simply stared at the mess before me, watching as the blood ran over the glinting steel of the blade.

Define all right . . .

A person might have thought it silly that a soldier would be shocked by death, but many would be surprised if they didn't feel anything, I supposed I'd fall under the latter category. Glancing up I found the feline peering at me from her hiding spot, a foolish thing to do in actuality, but probably her nature as an 'innocent'.

"Yeah, everything's all right now." I called back to her before I sheathed my sword, wiping some of the blood off on the clothes of the stoat before I walked out of the building to find Meryl still tied there, leaning awkwardly on the railing as she struggled with the gag. At the sound of my footsteps she glanced up, a look of relief coming over her, eyes shining with excitement. "Here, jus' hold yerself still." I told her as I cut through her binds carefully with my dagger, still stained with the stoat's blood. As soon as I had cut through she tore off the gag and threw it away angrily.

"Bastards." She cursed quietly before sinking onto the steps, pounding a paw against the aging wood in frustration.

"What were you doing with them?" I asked in a soft, almost demanding voice, setting down beside her.

"Y'know what those bastards did? Came in ta the Phoenix and tore up the place while lookin' for our little guest. Tried to kill Beldin in the process . . . I tried to defend him best I could . . ." The words poured out in an angry stream before a sudden pause as she glanced up at me.

I had to go . . .

"But I ain't the strong one am I?" She asked, a few stray tears falling from her eyes. Meryl was far from a helpless maiden out of some old wives fairy tale, but the pair seemed to have shaken her. "Why weren't you there, Avel?" She asked, falling against me, looking almost like some frightened little child seeking comfort from their parent.

"Don't worry, Meryl. It's okay now . . ." I whispered to her, trying my best to comfort her, as she seemed to break down in my arms, truly playing the part of the frightened child. Brushing a paw through her arm fur I sat there for a moment, feeling a set of eyes on the back of my head I twisted around to find Ari there, figure concealed overly well for Meryl's presence. "Come on Meryl, it's okay." I whispered, staring up at the feline, her eyes almost seeming a little sad as she glanced between Meryl and the two corpses.

"I should go alone, shouldn't I?" She wondered aloud, probably not sure to whom the question was directed as she moved to the top step, leaning on the ancient wooden railing heavily, a tragic aura emanating from her body as her gaze drifted to the ground.

"No, it isn't safe with people like that around." I stated firmly, still comforting Meryl as the feline moved to sit on the bottom plank of the steps.

"Who are you?" Meryl suddenly cut in, raising her head from my shoulder where it had fallen, cheeks stained with tears as she glared up at this newcomer.

"Her name is Ari." I answered quickly in an attempt to cut off the feline, but she wouldn't let me, giving me a glare before speaking.

"I am the reason for all this." She spoke quietly, almost a look of disgust on her face as she took off her hood to reveal her species.

"An Arrikajen?" Meryl sputtered out with a shocked gasp.

"Yes."

"You left for one of them?" Meryl demanded from me, pulling away from my grasp with a look of confusion on her face as she glanced between Ari and I, stepping away from the steps. "That's why?"

"It's not like that. We're not at war anymore y'know?" I said softly with a slight sigh, she was a product of the times like most of us were; Ari was most likely the same as well. It was just that some are less willing to give up that comfort that the propaganda gave, the quiet little world of good and evil, black and white.

"But . . .she's Arrikajen . . .why are you protecting her?" Meryl asked in a quieter voice, calming down a bit as I saw her arguing with herself, the same argument I myself had.

"She's not a fighter, she's just a messenger and the Shalin would have taken her . . ." I paused for a moment; trying to think of something I could say that could settle it quickly. "Well, you know what they would have done. You want that on your conscience?"

"That's who those bastards were?" Meryl asked, glancing up the steps, having already guessed what had happened to her captors.

"Yes, they were." I answered coldly, fumbling absentmindedly with my dagger, blood still staining the steel blade. For a few minutes nothing was said, only the softly blowing breeze breaking the growing silence that hung thick in the air.

"So, what now?" Ari asked softly, trying pathetically to establish some sort of life in our group as Meryl's eyes bored into my soul, trying to find some other answer, something more sinister then the truth.

"I suppose we continue." Meryl answered for me, eyes darting to the feline, as she stood behind me, no doubt nervous of being placed in such a situation as this. It was obvious that Meryl had little trust for the feline; perhaps only a little bit more for me at the moment, her curiosity was probably the only thing keeping her there.

"I suppose we do. Coming as well?" I asked, already knowing what her answer was to be.

"Of course." She answered in a cold tone, glaring at the Arrikajen, eyes full of mistrust, paranoid fantasies already forming in her mind as they had in mine. I nodded slowly before rising from the step, beckoning for both of them to follow as I led the way towards the edge of the forest, hoping the rest of journey would much more smoothly.

Yeah, right . . .