Live and Let Die

by Chris Hoekstra

"Now this shows the arrival route for the shipments from Edys Mills," said the black jackal to his secretary as she took notes. "These," he said, gesturing to a handful of pins set along the route, "indicate all the Lutin attacks within the last ten months. They seem to be getting to know the trade routes very well. I want to speak with Phil about possible changes and rotation of the units. That should--"

But he was interrupted by a rather loud knock a the door. George looked away from his map to greet his new arrival. Much to his surprise it was Rickkter, the newest member of Metamor Keep. "What can I do for you?" he asked the dark furred raccoon.

"Actually it's rather simple," said Rickkter as he reached up to seacth behind his ears. "I've grown rather bored sitting around the Keep. I'm an outdoors person. I want to get out, see more of the terrain around the Keep. Essentially I want patrol duty. I'm in the mood to get out there, test my skills, see how this new body stacks up."

Rolling his eyes, the black jackal walked away from his secretary and over to the warrior. "You sure you want to risk it? You've only been here a few weeks, and, as I've heard it told, you've just gotten over a rather serious illness. Want to go out into the field so soon?"

Rickkter shifted his scratching to under his chin. "Yes, I do. I've been a warrior for the last twenty-five years. While I do like scholarly pursuits, I want to get back in the game. Plus I want to see how you do it around here. I figure that I'll be spending a great deal of my time out on patrol, anyhow."

"Well I think that I can work you in one of the patrols tomorrow. Team eight is an experienced one, and Jione a competent commander. And what's with all the scratching?"

"Sorry," apologied Rickkter as he halted his scratchings. "It just itches. Like when you grow a beard after years of going clean shaven. Something to get use to."

"Might be fleas."

"Already checked that. I'm clean."

"If you say so," conceeded George in a gruff tone. "I'll tell Jione to expect you. Meet them in the armoury tomorrow at around seven o'clock in the morning. They're scheduled for a simple patrol. Nothing too difficult for your first time out."

"Thanks for your help." Standing up, he bade the jackal farewell. George gave the departing raccoon a blunt, cursory dismissal as Rickkter headed out the door.

"We're all here Jione, what are you waiting for?" asked Bender to his commander.

"Actually we're not all here. George told me we're getting a new addition today. Someone named Rickkter. Suppose to be the new boy in town."

"Great. Amateurs. Can't live with em, can't kill em."

"I seem to remember a certain young warrior who I took out on patrol a few years back, that was quite the amateur..."

"All right, fine Jione. I'll lay off him. For now."

It was several minutes before the new member of the team arrived. He walked in with almost cat like grace, and was armed to the teeth. He was dressed all in black with gold trimmings, as was his custom. He was armed with his katana and wakinzashi, along with two additonal large knives at his waist. He had the throwing knives strapped to his chest, and a large machete strapped to the outside of his right shin, the handle within easy reach. His forearms were encased in the bracers he had recently got off Jon. "Okay, so who's in charge here?"

"I am," informed Jione as she walked over the new arrival. "You're Rickkter?" The coon nodded to her. "You're rather well armed for a simple patrol, don't you think?"

"For me this is light. Shall we get going? You can brief me on the way."

"Hey, Rick. You're looking good." commented Kwanzaa as she fell into step with the dark warrior. "I don't think I've ever seen a raccoon with as dark a fur as that."

"Yeah, Coe made a similar comment already. I like it though. Fits me."

"And if I do say so, the tail is quite attractive. Nice and bushy. Looks good on you."

Rickkter cracked a half smile at the shrew. "Thanks. It's taking a bit of getting use to. But you already know all about that. It hurts like hell the fist time you catch it in a door." He reached behind himself to rub the small of his back. "I'm still feeling that!" Kwanzaa reacted, breaking into laughter. The small talk continued until they reached a small clearing just inside the tree line.

"Okay, I know you're all experienced on patrols, but toady we have a new arrival, so we're doing this by the books. We'll be in pairs for this trip, as usual. Since I'm the odd one out, I'll be taking point." She noticed that while the rest of the team was paying attention to what she was saying, Rickkter seemed to be off in a world of his own. He was looking around the clearing, not really focusing on what she was saying. "Bender and Moorly, since you're the archers you'll be taking up the rear. Rickkter and Kwanzaa, you're behind me. Everyone keep alert here. You all know that those Lutins may be dumb as dirt, but they can still surprise you. God damn it, Rickkter! Are you even paying attention? What did I just say?"

" Okay, I know you're all experienced on patrols, but toady we have a new arrival, so we're doing this by the books. We'll be in pairs for this trip, as usual. Since I'm the odd one out, I'll be taking point. Bender and Moorly, since you're the archers you'll be taking up the rear. Rickkter and Kwanzaa, you're behind me. Everyone keep alert here. you all know that those Lutins may be dumb as dirt, but they can still surprise you.'" Rickkter turned to the commander with a grin. " God damn it, Rickkter! Are you even paying attention? What did I just say?' Did I get it all, ma'am?"

"You... you are an arrogant little shit, aren't you?" fumed Jione over the muffled laughter of the others.

"And you shouldn't have assumed I wasn't paying attention. I've been playing this game my whole life. As my first master said, never assume' anything. Because when you do, you make an ass' of u' and me'! Just because it looks like I wasn't paying attention, means nothing. As I proved, I head every word. Now shall we get going?"

Jione stepped toe to toe with the shorter raccoon. While Rickkter retained much of his original build, he was still shorter and slimmer then the amazon commander. "I should pound you into the ground for such remarks. I have never seen a display of such blatant and arrogant contempt for authority in my life! If you weren't new here, I'm sure I would. In fact if you keep this attitude up for the rest of the trip, I'm not sure I won't. You are to observe the chain of command, and you are to accord me the respect I deserve." Her voice lowered to a barely audible hiss. "Is that clear, soldier?"

"Crystal ma'am," responded Rickkter, not a trace of fear or any other emotion in his voice.

"Then fall out!" growed the commander as she turned one last dirty look at the darkly clothed raccoon.

"That was very stupid Rickkter," commented Kwanzaa in a low tone as she fell into line. "Jione is a competent commander, and a very nice person if you get to know her. This is not the way to do it."

Rickkter shugged a little. "I've been chewed out far worse. And by higher ranks, for far less then that little act. Plus, she showed me what I wanted to know. She showed me that she takes no shit, and is not afraid about dispensing appropriate discipline. She also gives leeway where needed, and knows inexperience is tempered with leniency. All good things for a commander to have."

"You got all that from her yelling at you?"

"Yes, I did. If you want to see someone's true face, you get them angry. That's when the true person comes out. I liked what I saw in her."

The shrew grinned playfully. "And if I got you angry, what would I see?"

Turning, Rickkter gave the shrew an unexpectedly hard and cold look. "Something that would give you nightmares for the rest of your life. I don't think you would like what you found there."

That ended the conversation for the rest of the trip. Aside from quick introductions from Bender and Moorly, the wolf and equine archers, no words passed amongst the little party as it maked its way through the woods. For the most part patrol is quite boring. Time is spent trying to concentrate on the terrain, the sounds of the surrounding woods, in case anything is trying to pull a fast one on you. At least she wasn't on point, Kwanzaa mused. Point was always the worst. You're constantly on the lookout for traps, tracks, and any other of the myriad of danger signs. When she had spare time she often looked at her dark travelling companion. While she was beginning to feel the strain, Rickkter, apparently, was not. His head was almost in constant motion, going from side to side seeing all of the trail and surrounding woods. His ears moved in a counter motion, to compensate for where his eyes couldn't see, and the whiskers on his face were also actively twitching at the abundance of smells in the forest. His eyes remained unfocused, but seemed to be taking it all in, in a calm and analytical fashion. The fact that his hands were never swinging far from his sword hilt added to the presumption of calm professionalism.

"So what do you think of your new body?" inquired Kwanzaa when the group had stopped for a quick meal. For Kwanzaa this was a very necessary activity. She needed to eat almost her body weight in food each day just to keep active.

"It's not bad. I like the heightened smell. Can't really appreciate it until you're actually in the outdoors. The directable ears are also a blessing. Never knew how sensitive they really were. And they compensate for my eyes nicely. No real complaints so far."

"That's good. After this we hit the true northland. The magic there has twisted the plants and some of the animals. Very dangerous. And there is an unusual lack of sound. Very unnerving. I hope you can handle it."

"Shouldn't be too bad. I doubt it would be worse then the Kanaric Swamp. That place is a cesspool of all that is evil and decadent in this world."

"Down this far south it's still pretty normal. But the farther north you go, the stranger it gets. You even have to watch some of the plants. Carnivorous bastards!"

"Lovely. Foliage that can kill you. I'll have to get one for next to the door of my quarters. Keep unwanted guests away." His light hearted manner got Kwanzaa laughing again.

Lunch was over with quickly, and they resumed their march. As promised the terrain got more hostile as they progress. After about half an hour the trail has thinned to the point where single file is mandatory. Jione still had lead, Rickkter following, then Kwanzaa, Moorly, and last Bender. The father they went, the more alert Rickkter became. His ears moved more, and his eyes seemed to focus on select objects. In addition his hands stayed closer to his weapons. The group eventually came to a slightly deforested section of the trail, right along a turn in the road. Perfect place for and ambush,' thought Kwanzaa.

"You know, Jione, I've seen a lot of trackers in my time, and you are one of the better ones." Rickkter had stopped at the side of the trail and was admiring the view as he lightly tossed one of his small metal throwing knives. "But I still have one advantage over you." With that last statement, he spun around and whipped the knife into the nearby tree line. The group turned at the inhuman shreak that emanated from the trees. "Finally," commented Rickkter in a cold professional voice as he drew his katana. "I was wondering when they would show up." He charged into the trees without so much as another word.

The rest of the team drew their weapons and followed the warrior in. Upon breaking through the other side, they saw that Rickkter was already engaged with their enemy. On the other side of the trees there was a group of about sixteen Lutins. Rickkter was singlehandedly fending off the first six. Or routing, would be more appropriate. Lutins were poor adversaries at best, and it was only their numbers that made them a threat. This didn't seem to matter a great deal to Rickkter. His blade was swift, elegant death, amongst the hacking Lutin knives and short swords. Each committal of the sword finds its mark and a Lutin went down, or a piece was removed. None of the poorly made bronze blades, nor the low quality swords seemed to find a mark on the warrior. He finished the first group in a few seconds, and commenced taking on the second, when one of the ones in the back slung a rock at the warrior. Bringing his sword up with almost unnatural speed, Rickkter blocked the offending projectile, the steal reverberating across the clearing. Snarling at the offending Lutin, Rickkter raised his left hand. There was a blossoming of pale blue light before a bolt of it shot across the battleground, hitting the slinger square in the chest, slamming the small body up against a tree several metres behind him.

Lutins, being the rather dimwitted creatures that they are, don't react well to surprises or the unknown. The remaining party tried to make a run for it, only to be cut down by the rest of the Keepers as they finally reached the battle scene. Bender and Moorly put arrows into the furthest ones, while Kwanzaa, Jione, and Rickkter carved up the rest. Rickkter caught the last one on another throwing knife as it tried to make good its getaway. Sitting there panting, the Keepers surveyed the scene of the battle. Rickkter was standing near the middle of it, tongue hanging out as he caught his breath, his sword and hands dripping with gore. As he surveyed the carnage, a smile slowly spread on his face. He raised his sword in a sort of triumphant salute.

"You never said you were a mage," said Jione, to the raccoon warrior.

"You never asked," panted Rick. "And if I do say so, this body is proving most adequate. Almost as good as the old." Taking out a rag, he began to clean his sword as he headed into the bush, "I'm going to find my knives. Make sure there are no survivors around here. Bender, Moorly, you two want your arrows back?"

"That is the damnedest thing I've seen," commented Bender as he came to stand beside Kwanzaa. "The only other one I saw able to take out a horde like that was Jon, and that was with that amulet of his. And did you see him block that stone? Those reflexes are phenomenal."

"I fought him before, in the gym. He was nothing like this. The precision of this was simply vicious."

"Kind of makes you wonder what other tricks he knows." Kwanzaa only grunted in acknowledgement. The rest of the team made a quick survey of the battle scene, going around to the few scattered Lutins that lived through the assault, and putting them out of their suffering. It was a few minutes before Rickkter returned.

"Alright, I found my things, but only five of the arrows. Those were the ones that you put into the bodies, the rest are long gone. If we're done here, let's continue."

"Yeah, you're right. We made our bones for this patrol, lets get back." The rest of the team followed Jiones lead and started to head back the way they came.

"Whoa, whoa, whoa! Hold on a minute there," called Rickkter. "What are we going back for? This is only a warm up."

"Warm up?" inquired Jione with a look of incredulity on her face. "You call sixteen Lutins a warm up'? I don't know what you did before, but this is how we do it. We go out until we've killed a group of Lutins, or until our patrol time is up, then we head back."

"Yes, I call this a warm up'. And there are a few reasons why we shouldn't head back just yet. Reason one: Perhaps you remember a few weeks back when an entire encampment of between fourty to fifty of the little beggars was wiped out. I did that singlehandedly. Reason two: There are six dead carcasses of some type of animal back there. This was a hunting party, returning from the kill. And those six bodies could easily feed thirty to fourty of them. That means that there is a camp around here. From what I'm told, these Lutins bread like parasites. We need to wipe them out while they are still newly established. Or at the very least, find the camp so that the Keep can send a group to deal with it at a later date."

"He's right Jione," admitted Moorly. "If there are more, we need to know about it before they can get organized."

"Fine Rickkter, you win. We're going on."

"That was in impressive performance Rickkter. I've never seen one to match it," Kwanzaa commented as she fell in step with her companion. "You'll do fine around here," she assured him, giving Rick a pat on his left arm. When she removed her hand, it came away bloody. "What the..."

"What... oh, damn." Looking over his right bicep where she patted him, Rickkter found a gash caused by a stray Lutin knife. He stopped to inspect the wound. "Great maker! I could have sworn none of them even got close to me."

"You all right?" asked Bender.

Rickkter waved off the wolf's question. "Yeah, I'm fine. Give me a minute here." Rickkter spread the fur in order to get a good look at the slash. While it was a minor flesh wound, it was bleeding freely and would have to be repaired. "Damn it all..." Rickkter mumbled as his tongue darted out quickly to clean the wound. He head snapped up, tongue still sticking out of the very front of his muzzle, with a look of disgusted confusion playing accross his features. Almost as if he was trying to figure out why he just did that. "Okay, that was not good. Spell must have changed a bit more then the appearance." He gave his lips a quick smacking. "Hmm... furry."

"Yeah, the spells do that to a person." Kwanzaa confirmed.

"You coming or not, Rickkter?" Jione hollered.

"Yeah, yeah..." replied the warrior as he covered the wound with his hand. Kwanzaa saw that the next time he removes it the skin had completely healed over. "That feels better,"said Rickkter, giving the fur over the affected area a light brushing.

"How?" asked Kwanzaa.

"One of my magical skills is as a healer. I'm not the best at it, not by far. I can do simple things that I supplement with battlefield surgical knowledge. It has served me very well. You should have seen the scaring that I had before being changed. Quite impressive."

"You might still want to be careful, though. Some of the Lutins use poision on their weapons."

Rickkter gave her an startled look. "And you just thought to tell me of this now?"

"I assumed you knew."

"Great. How will we know for sure whether it was or not?"

"Simple," said Bender from behind them. "If you drop dead in the next few minutes, we'll know."

"Oh, there's a comforting thought."

The team continued to march onward. The terrain was now very rocky, and beginning to slope upwards. According to Jione they were beginning to enter the foothills around the mountains surrounding the Sea of Souls. The forest became more oppressive, if such a thing was even possible. The sun seemed to be almost wholly shut out by the canopy of tree branches overhead. It was this lack of light that almost permitted one of the local plants to make a meal of Bender. He was yanked out of the way at the last moment by Rickkter, who quickly flamed the offending flora to ash. That the plant was "cute", was Ricks only comment on the whole incident.

At about mid-afternoon that the party ran into their first indication of recent activity. It was what looked like a massive dumping grounds for the bones of dead animals. According to Rickkter they were of the same variety as the kind he had seen the Lutins hunting.

"We must be close now. Some of these bones are scarcely a day old. Look, Jione. You've been on point all day. You must be tired and fatigued by now. Let me take over."

"I've been doing this for years, Rickkter. I can handle it."

"No you can't. You're exhausted. You'll miss something, make a mistake. I've been out on patrols for a long time, I know when someone has reached their limit. And you passed your's long ago. I just arrived at Metamor and I would like to see it again, thank you very much."

"You're being arrogant again," growled the Commander. "Remember what I said would happen if you did that?"

"I'm not questioning your skills, only asking that I be permitted to do my part."

"Your part, eh? You think you can take point? Fine then. Prove it to me."

"With immense pleasure, ma'am." Rickkter took the lead, leaving Jione to pair up with Kwanzaa. The party's progress slowed somewhat, as Rickkter was far more cautious the closer they got to the encampment. Coming up to a turn in the barley preceptable trail, Rick brought them up short. "Sentry. Around this corner. Fifteen feet up, left side of the trail, facing our direction." he whispered.

"And how do you know this?" asked Jione.

"Same way I knew about the first group. I have an activated enscrollment that permits me to sense and see the flows of primal energy around me. I can feel that he's up there waiting. Bender, can you take him down at this range without his making a sound?"

"I think I can make the shot." The archer gave Rickkter a dirty look. "Assuming he's there."

"Oh, he's there. That I can assure you of."

"Whatever..." whispered the wolf morph as he silently padded his way into the foliage. The team heard the sound of an arrow cutting the still air a few moments later. Rickkter lead them down the trail to find Bender waiting for them, standing over the body of the Lutin sentry. "Okay, so you were right. This time. But I still don't like it. I don't like the use of magic, I don't understand."

"Magic is simply a tool, a honing of intent. Like all power, it simply exists. It is the user that defines it's nature. What do you think I'm using it for?" Flashing the wolf a quick sarcastic smile, Rickkter resumed his position on point. After a few more minutes on the trail, he decided to lead them up a sharp incline. Dropping to his stomach, he commenced crawling to the top for a quick look around. The rest of them did likewise.

"This is bad." remarkd Jione.

"This is very bad." concured Moorly, the equine archer.

"Great maker! Have you ever seen so many of them in one place?" asked Rickkter.

"Never! There has to be a few hundred of them down there. This is the largest gathering of Lutins we've ever seen outside of the Battle of the Gates. What I'm wondering, is why we haven't found them before this? It's not like this isn't a well known patrol route."

"Simple Jione," declared Rickkter. He darted his head up for a quick look at the encampment. "This place is a very well concealed, sheltered valley. The Lutins keep the trails into it very well hidden. If we had continued on our pervious course, if we hadn't run into that hunting party on pure luck, we would have walked right by this place. I think that's what happened in all the other cases. We need to get back. The Keep has to know of this place," stated Rickker, as he started backing down the hill again

"Can't we do anything about it?" asked Kwanzaa. "You took out a large encampment when you came here. And now you have four other warriors as backup."

"I took out fourty or fifty of them. At night. Over that hill are a couple hundred Lutins. And it's broad daylight right now. They will see us coming down those slopes long before we even come close to the bottom. They would swarm us under, and we'd have no chance to warn the Keep."

"Sounds about right," concurre Jion. "Let's get back to Metamor. Phil with have a heart attack when he finds that such a massive Lutin force was hiding so close to us, one that we've missed it so many times. Come on, we're out of here."

The whole team pulled out, double timing it back, weapons drawn and at the ready. Rickkter lead them down the myriad of small trails and around the various obstacles they encountered. Several times during the flight Rickkter unexpectedly pulled them down different trails with a seeming randomness to his actions. When the other members of the team questioned him, he simply waved them off. They were in a forested ravine, on a stretch of loose gravel, when Rickkter came to a skidding halt. "Ah, damn it. We're in deep shit now" he cursed has he frantically looked up and down the narrow trail.

"What is it?" demanded Jione as she pushed past Kwanzaa.

"Lutins," Rickkter growled. "They've been trialing us for the last while. I've been trying to loose them, but they're persistent little adversaries and this is their territory. There are about thirty of them coming for us. Twelve in front, the rest behind. They've got us boxed in."

"Terrific. Now what?" demanded Bender.

"We fight. And we win."

"And if we don't?"

"Then either way, we die," said Rickkter. He raised his sword. "I intend to fight."

"What's the plan of attack, Jione?" asked Kwanzaa.

"I want one archer facing each way," said Jione. "Take targets of opportunity. As many as you can shoot. I hope you're packing the unlimited arrows, because it sounds like you'll be needing them. Me, Kwanzaa, and Rickkter will fend them off when they come."

Shaking his head, Rickkter voiced a different opinion. "No, bad plan. They'll cut us apart. If you want to do this right, have the archers take the twelve in front, with you providing support. Me and Kwanzaa can handle the others."

"That's crazy Rickkter! You'll be defenceless without archers to help pick them off. And two against such a massive force is sheer suicide."

"I have my magic, and I've lived through worse ambushes. You have less then a minute to decide if you trust me enough to do what I tell you, before the Lutins get here. Listen to what I'm telling you..."

Jione gave the raccoon warrior a hard look for several seconds before barking out the order. "You heard him. Form up. Bender and Moorly with me. Good hunting people. And Rickkter. If we don't make it through this, I'm going to kill you myself."

"Final stand, Rick?" inquired the shrew after they had taken up their positions up the path.

"Not a lot of choice in the matter, now is there?" Planting his sword upright in the ground, Rickkter removed a handful of throwing knives from the strap on his chest. "And on the odd occasion that we don't make it through this, I want you to know that it was an honour serving with you, Kwanzaa."

As was their custom, the first wave of attackers came at them without warning. Rick caught four of them with the knives before they get too close. Hitting one with a quick blast of energy he grabbed his sword and scythed into them. From the fact that they were wielding good steel swords, Rickkter could tell that they weren't the average Lutins.

The fighting was brutal from the get go. Kwanzaa despatched them with a swift and furious elegance using her saber, Rickkter tearing them open with his katana. At one point he launched a massive spell of destruction at the Lutin horde that was giving Jione and here force such a hard time. He then turned quickly to catch a Lutin on the spines of his forearm bracers. The bracers had the ability to expand into a set of spiked, armoured gauntlets. Drawing his wakinzashi he returned to the slaughter of the ever dwindling horde. Using the wakinzashi to block the knives or to create openings, he slashed through the Lutins with the longer katana. The fighting is incredibly heated for several minutes before the last of Rickkter's group decided to try and escape. They weren't close to fast enough to escape the twisting cords of green light that Rick sends after them.

Bender was concentrating on dropping one of the last running Lutins when the unexpected occursed. Another one of the Lutins, an arrow still protruding from his shoulder, caught the Keeper off guard. Bender had become separated from the rest of his group in the attempt to kill the stragglers, and was on his own when the Lutin lunged for him. By pure reflex he tried to block the knife with his arm. He was hit with an icy pain as the Lutin's steel blade laid his arm open to the bone.

Staggering away from his attacker, Bender caught the backlash of the strike. The streak of intense pain across the right side of his face made his vision go white as he toppled backwards on the loose gravel. He heard Jione cry his name and then the Lutin was on him. He tried to fight off both the small figure and the stunning pain. His attacker slammed the hilt of the dagger into the side on his head in an attempt to knock Bender out.

It almost worked, but he's brought back to reality quickly enough by the searing pain in his side from where the Lutin had plunged his knife in between the protective covering of his leather armour. When the Lutin attempted to remove the lodged knife, Bender let out a combination of a high-pitched scream of pain and howl of fear. He looked up just as his attacker caught, full in the face, Jiones sword that she had thrown from up the trail.

"Oh, Bender! How bad is it?" implored the panicked amazon as she skidded to a halt.

The wolf morph coughed up a bit of blood. "Feels pretty bad. Little bastard came out of no where. Took me completely by surprise."

"Great maker," cursed Rickkter as him and Kwanzaa arrived at the scene. Bender had closed his eyes by this point, and was just lying there holding his hand over the knife wound. "Move over. I need to see if there's anything I can do." Looking over the bloodied body of the archer, Rickkter's expression was one of frantic nauseousness. Pulling one of the remaining knives from his belt, he asked Jione to give him Benders arrow quiver. While she did this, he cut off the right sleave of Benders jerkin. The wolf whimpered and moaned in pain as Rickkter took it off his arm. With that done he took the quiver from Jione and cut off the strap, making it into a tunicate for Bender's arm. "Tie this as tightly as you can, and hold it tightly there," Rickkter instructed Jione. "I want to stop the flow of blood past this point on his arm. Without it, he could bleed to death before we can help him." Wrapping part of the sleave around the gash on his arm, Rickkter moved to the other side of Bender to get a better look at the knife wound.

Seeing that the knife is still stuck in his side, Rickkter decided to check his face wound first. When Rickkter gently turned the archer's head to get a better look, Kwanzaa saw that there was a great deal of bleeding on the other side. As Rickkter gingerly lifted the flap of skin, she saw that it has been laid open to the bone. Bender gave a few whimpering shutters at this, so Rickkter discontinued his ministrations.

Rickkter placed one hand over the massive slash in Benders side as he removed the wolf's own, and pressed the rest of the rags into his bloodied paw. "Here. Hold this over your face. Put pressure on it, see if we can control the bleeding." When Bender was a bit slow responding, Rickkter gave his face a few gentle pats. "Hey, come on there. Don't you pass out on me. There's not a chance in hell I'm loosing anyone my first time out."

"That's an order, soldier," affirmed Jione. "You will remain conscious, is that understood?" Bender could only mumble something like an affirmative as he pressed the rags to his face. "How bad is all this, Rickkter?"

"Bad. We need to get him back to the Keep immediately. If we don't he could go into shock and die on us, before long."

"Why don't you get that knife out of him?" asked Moorly.

"Because it's wedged up into his ribs, and is just in the bottom of his lungs. If I take it out now I risk tearing an artery or something else, and having him bleed to death in a matter of minutes."

"Okay, so we need to get him some help fast. I'll carry him."

Rickkter shook his head at the commander. "No you won't. We move him and it could speed up the end. It's all I can do now to keep what's on his insides, inside. We have to get him back to the healers at Metamor unown."

"Then how do you plan to do this?" demanded the irate commander.

Rick gave her a hard look. "Teleportation spell."

"You sure you can do it? We're several hours out of Metamor. That's quite a stretch."

"That's what I'm worried about, too. It's near the limit of my power just for me alone. I don't know if I can do it with two others along for the ride. It's going to take damn near everything I have left."

"Two others?"

"I need someone to look after Bender while I work the spell." He looked up at the equine archer. "Moorly, get down here. You're the smallest one, so you'll be the easiest. Jione, do you think that you and Kwanzaa can make it back on your own?"

"Not like we have much of a choice. All right, do it. We'll see you back at the Keep in a few hours." Rickkter positioned Moorly to replace him, then stood over him and Bender. He stretched his arms out and started to form the spell. After a few seconds, two concentric red disks developed, one above the Keepers, the other on the ground, a curtain of distorted silver energy hanging between them. The trio vanished into a pinpoint of light shortly after.

Heaving a heavy sigh, Jione went to retrieve her sword. "Come on, Kwanzaa. Let's get back. Phil is going to need to know about this."

"Rickkter!" The raccoon morph turned at the sound of his name, seeing Jione coming up the hall. "I was just going to see Bender. How is he? Did he make it?"

"Yeah, he made it," responded the warrior in a tired voice. "The healers spent a while with him. I helped out with the little I could. The scaring was negligible, and he should be up and around in a little while. They say he needs several days of rest. He's sleeping it off now."

"That's good. I think I'll just look in on him." Jione started off down the hall.

"You do that. I'm going to eat something, then collapse into bed."

"I want to thank you for what you did out on the trail," said the commander, tuning back to Rickkter. "How did you know what to do?"

Rickkter let out a weary sigh. "I'm skilled as a backup army surgeon and medic."

"You know Rickkter, you didn't strike me as a healer. Why learn it?"

Rickkter turned and walked back to the amazon. "There were many reasons for my becoming a medic. Because I hated waiting to be healed after battles. Because I believe in balance. I was also in love with a healer many years ago. She showed me numerous things about healing and using my magic to repair instead of destroy. Another reason was that I was, during the majority of the time, one of the last people that could be counted on to be standing after a battle.

"Perhaps more importantly then all those, because I don't like to see people I fight along side killed." He reached into his shirt and pulled out a black and ruby talisman. "You see this? I've worn this for a few years now. It sums up my beliefs to a fault." He traced the raised gold lettering on the amulet with one claw. "The three parts read; I fear not battle, I fear not death. Live and let die'. For me there are only three kinds of people. The neutrals, my friends, and my enemies."

"You consider Bender a friend, then?"

"I consider any who will raise a sword and stand beside me, a friend. And I treat my friends very well. No friend has ever done me a kindness and no enemy a wrong, without being fully repaid in kind. I will do everything within my considerable power to keep my friends from dying. And that includes the extermination of my enemies. Now, if you'll excuse me I have to go rest. I intend to be on that team of Keepers when they go to destroy that Lutin encampment. Get some payback for Bender."

"You're a dangerous man, Rickkter," called Jione after the raccoon morph had gone up the hall a distance.

He turned his tired gaze back for a few seconds. "I think you're one of the few people here to truly appreciate that fact. Goodnight Jione. I look forward to our next patrol together."