I wrote this over 5 years ago and never got around to posting it.

The Scenic Route
Stealth Cat 2011

An odd object rested on the table.

Stealth looked at the object, then to the rest of the room. Four brick
walls contained a small dimly lit room with the table at its centre and
nothing more. A bare room for a bare building, situated in a location he’d
been lucky to find.

He took the metal cylinder and moved it about, pondering its contents. It
didn’t feel heavy, nor did anything move about within.

“It is to be delivered to Sir Brightleaf of the Bow and Axe, Metamor Keep.”

“I know where Misha is...” He said bluntly. “Where is Nestorius? Why hasn’t
he handed me this in person?”

“I do not presume on his lordship’s intentions... now make haste.” She
ordered and left.

The feline’s eyes narrowed. He muttered something under his breath and
looked at the parcel clutched in his hand.

Leaving the structure almost seemed as awkward as entering it, compounded
by frustration. Stealth followed a narrow, winding hallway that forked
several times before finding his way back out to sunlight, and then out of
a compound back to the street.

“Pompous lion.” He muttered. Stealth trudged down the streets of Hareford,
tail lashing about.

At least the streets were clean, a luxury that only cities with Suleiman
history ever seemed to be afforded. Then again Hareford or Outpost if one
prefers, had never been a city but just that, an outpost. As such all roads
were vertical and horizontal so navigation didn’t prove a problem, so long
as markings and the names of streets were observed; it all looked a bit
repetitive to travellers and newcomers.

Stone buildings towered high above narrow streets and alleys so the amount
of natural light was minimal. Only the main thoroughfare really opened up
but for the most part the city enclosed itself like an artificial forest.
Though daunting, the structures and their density were impressive given
that just several years ago it had almost all been reduced to rubble.


The farmland outside the curtain walls was in stark contrast to the
settlement within. It meant that sunshine greeted the feline as he began
his run home. In the distance he could see woodlands where the amount of
light would once again diminish and in there, somewhere to the south west,
lay another settlement of tall buildings of sorts.

It felt good to run on all fours, well, it actually hurt his paws running
on the paved road, but it felt good to depart that stuffy domain. The road
immediately north, west and south of Hareford were newly paved and beyond
that the cobblestones gave way to dust and dirt. The tree line also
narrowed gradually the further south he headed. It would eventually become
quite dense but then give way again to pastures and crops further to the
south. Stealth slowed to a trot and spent some more time pondering why the
lion didn’t give him the parcel in person.

He also wondered on the contents of it. Perhaps a letter, or documents or a
map. Could it be a list of ingredients and a recipe for a spell or a page
from an old diary or a drawing or some sort of small, unique objects?
Something old or new? Something rare or valuable?

Stealth mostly kept his gaze to the path ahead but occasionally his eyes
strayed to the woods. At one point he could see what looked like a fox
frolicking though it quickly darted into the undergrowth.

Few journeyed this far north, however Metamor’s northern settlements still
needed what they could not grow and coming out of another winter there’d be
no exception. Three fully stocked and guarded carriages made the precarious
trip north. Lake Barnhardt and Mycransburg would be far enough for many, of
course even entering the valley at all would be too much for many!


A casual gape became a slow trot, then a walk before he stopped and blinked
unbelieving and frustrated.

A tree? A tree! Resting on its side, severing the main north-south road. It
wasn’t a big tree, that is, it wasn’t as big as those around Glen Avery,
although that would be quite a monstrous tree, it was still large enough to
need a detour.

It looked to be a small redwood and on its side towered almost to the
height of a horse. The ground showed a visible impact where it had landed
and the feline knew it had been felled just that morning. There had been a
storm the night prior, could it have been enough to cause this? It looked
like a young tree with no disease so it couldn’t have been natural, could

The cheetah sniffed about and peered into the tree line. He could make out
the termination of the trunk and it looked to have snapped and crumbled on
the far side, the closest side had the markings of deliberate damage.

Stealth half expected a plaid beaver to emerge and clear a path but alas he
was only wasting time gawking at the lumber. He paced back and forth a bit
before finding a half decent portion of bark he could vault up. Not that
cheetahs climb, but the tree didn’t know that. When he’d finally scampered
up the feline looked at the ground south and directly below, hesitantly he
jumped down.

Several seconds into his renewed flight it ended just as quickly. Like the
crack of lightning, something hit him from the right side. His balance
failed him and he tumbled down a ditch. The feline came to a halt when he
landed heavily on the dirt, his foreleg hitting a fallen branch. Out of the
spinning, aching, nausea he managed to shift and haphazardly squirmed
through the shrubbery. He still did not know what happened but training and
instinct told him to hide or escape, anything than just waiting there to
find out who did what.

As he tried to move, Stealth felt around his shoulder and found a wooden
shaft lodged there. He attempted to pull it free but it was firmly stuck in
the plating, thankfully it had not pierced his flesh. Just then two more
arrows hit the ground around him, a third hitting his leg and penetrating
his armour between the plates.

The feline opened his mouth, but no scream came out. As afraid and as
pained as he felt he forced himself to remain silent and grit his teeth; to
reveal himself would be the last thing he needed. Stealth could not remove
the arrows from the armour, had no time to tend to his wound and couldn’t
even cry out in pain! In anguish he freed himself of the enchanted plate
armour and abandoned it. The arrow hadn’t embedded itself in his leg,
though it still cut deep and was bleeding quite a bit.

Clasping his wounded leg Stealth left all but his bag and slid away on his
back, further down the ditch, melting into the foliage. He moved as quickly
as he silently could, trying not to disturb the foliage on the way down.

Though his heart raced, Stealth tried to relax his breathing and allowed
himself to sink into the mud at the bottom. It had rained the night before
so there was plenty of mud, which he hoped would help conceal him and mute
his movement. He could hear footsteps and made an effort to lay flat and
stem the bleeding on his leg. It was not deep but it was deep enough for an
infection to take hold, he did not let the mud get near it.

The cheetah did not stay put but slid on his back, pulling himself away
from whoever attacked him. He stopped after a short distance and as gently
as he could, Stealth reached into his pack and pulled free some cotton and
dressing. With great pain he stuffed the cotton onto the wound. His eyes
filled with tears as he pressed the wound but quickly tied the bindings
around it. Later he’d do a better job of it but for now it wouldn’t bleed
too much.

As Stealth tended his wound his ears and eyes never ceased to scan his
surrounds. The footsteps seemed to have ended where he’d left his armour.
That was far too close for his liking, however it was far too close for him
to make any real distance without being heard. Still, he’d be dead if he
stayed there. As silently and as quickly as he could manage, the cheetah
continued to slide on his back, down the creek bed.

Bit by bit he gradually crawled out, into the undergrowth until it
concealed him completely. Every movement was made with deliberate care.
Every notch of ground he avoided anything that would make noise or shake
the foliage. Even his tail remained still and hugged his legs. Stealth
crawled between the trees, altering his slow, slow, course several times
before stopping and waiting in a much darker part of the wood.

Here his circumstances felt less precarious then anywhere thus far on his
short journey through the underbrush. A large tree root flanked him and
countless shoots of undergrowth consumed him. He waited and listened. As
the adrenaline wore off he soon remembered just how cold the wood was. On
top of that his fur had been soaked with mud and he wore no clothing, even
his armour had been shed. Stealth had a clean pair of clothes in his pack
but he’d not dare move at all until nightfall.


As the minutes trickled away into hours the wood darkened and colour was
lost to greys. Now the cheetah could properly tend to his wound. He tried
to clean it and dress it as best he could, through grit teeth and in
complete silence and darkness no less.

Stealth did not rise from the ground, he donned his clothes first, hoping
to ward off the chill, then snuck across the terrain, ever vigilant. He
contemplated shifting but decided the wood was too thick and restrictive
for a creature meant for the open plains. He found greater use in having
hands for the time being.

The feline so wanted to make haste and find the main road but remained
patient and silent. To his chagrin the wound to his leg made for difficulty
in just walking. He came across a small creek and walked along it, hoping
to cover his tracks. His feet were numb when he stepped out onto dry ground
but feeling gradually returned to them as he zigzagged through the trees.

Despite the darkness he could see the ground ahead didn’t look right.
Stealth crouched low and ran his hand along the soil and it felt disturbed.
He threw a stone several feet in front of him and watched the ground
alarmingly erode away revealing a large pit. The feline silently cursed and
looked for a way around the trap, reminding himself that there were other
forces out in the field besides that archer that wanted him dead.

Stealth hid in the shadow of a tree and peered to the south and cringed. He
cast his gaze over a grassy field, there were no more trees for many paces.
The green field might as well have been an ocean. It wasn’t the first break
in the tree line and it wouldn’t be the last but the distance to the next
wood daunted him. But daunted or no he needed to press on. The feline
crouched down and lay flat where he began the long and delicate task of
crawling through the long grass.

Halfway through his trek he came across a road, the road to Mycransburg,
there would be no more long grass for several crucial feet. Fortunately it
was the dead of night and he quickly made it across the dirt and back into
the grass on the other side. Many more minutes passed before he reached the
next wood but when he reached it he felt great relief in being able to
stand again and continue on walking rather than crawling.

As much as he wanted to, Stealth would not risk entering a town. He
couldn’t help but envision himself being picked off in plain sight at the
gate to Tarrelton. The cheetah shivered and hoped the archer would only
give up long before he reached Euper.


As the hour passed he could faintly make out footsteps to the north. The
archer followed close behind! While he constantly scanned the woods behind
him, at one point he could see a figure! It sent a shiver down his spine
but he resisted the urge for clumsy haste. Stealth wanted to run for the
nearest road and call out for help but he knew the futility and danger in
revealing himself. He continued altering his course south, taking silent
steps. Concentrate as he might on avoiding detection his mind raced with
thoughts; thoughts of his injuries, of his proximity to home, his proximity
to his assailant and thoughts of his impending demise...

Why didn’t the archer slay him before he’d leaped the fallen tree? Had he
caught the archer off guard or was it nothing more than a sick game? The
thought of being hunted for game made the feline shiver anew.

Of course then there was the question; who attacked him but more
importantly why? When he thought he’d gained enough distance, Stealth
stopped and reached into his bag, there besides a medical kit, snack and
dagger was the cylinder. The top and bottom were sealed with wax, on the
wax a symbol of a mortar and pestle. Stealth contemplated opening and
destroying whatever it was, perhaps he would if circumstances were once
again dire. But is this what his assailant sought? He had nothing else of

Stealth replaced the parcel and continued south. He found himself near the
main road at some points but avoided it. It was just before dawn that the
Keep’s spires were in view, they were still some distance away in the south
west but he continued onward through the woods south.

As he passed through yet another clearing between woods, the tired cheetah
found it more difficult to get back up. He had to fight the fatigue and
press on.

The further the cheetah got the more he felt faint, dizzy and nauseous and
worried if he’d even be able to continue onward. He’d been travelling all
night, several cuts and bruises sustained from the crash and of course a
bloodied leg bound in makeshift field dressing. Despite this he did not
stop to rest, lest risk losing ground, or even accidentally falling asleep.

He’d almost missed it in his fatigue, a sight that troubled him greatly. In
the undergrowth Stealth could make out shiny objects. He crouched down and
peered at them. They were caltrops; spikes set down to be trodden on. Had
they been there many moons they would show signs of weathering and even
sink into the soil. These were freshly placed... could it be his assailant
no longer followed him but rather lay in wait?

Stealth looked ahead and up at the trees. He continued on, ever watchful
for anything else amiss. He could not return home soon enough!


It wasn’t until the Standing Stone was in view that he took a break and ate
that snack in his pack, some cheese from Nestorius’ manor. He’d stashed it
when he mistakenly travelled to the manor before being chided and sent to
the actual, obscure, destination. He’d found no archer waiting for him in
the remaining wood and now only one last field lay between him and the
Euper gates. Besides the stone and what travellers were about interrupting
the stretch of grass he could see no archers, though he had been followed
through the long cold night. But this morning all he could see were
carriages moving goods about. Nothing more. Yet he still felt unsure.
Though it didn’t matter as he had no more woods or darkness for cover.

Stealth finished his cheese and tried to clean up his wounded leg. He made
sure to secure the contents of his pack once more, which of course included
the parcel from the lion, and strapped the bag tight to his back, hoping
upon hope that his problems ended the night before. He waited among the
trees until he felt ready.

It wasn’t long before he attempted to bolt for Euper but with a leg injury
he couldn’t manage it and almost fell forward. Stealth caught himself on a
tree branch. He swayed about for a bit in a dizzy spell before
contemplating some sort of disguise or hitchhiking with a carriage.

Stealth cursed his foolishness; he hadn’t made it this far just to jump
into full view and risk his life. As exhausted and sore as the cheetah
felt, he found the strength to press on and began the long crawl through
the long grass one last time.


He finally reached the gates of Euper and could stand up, on open ground.
Exhausted and woozy he staggered through into the town. It felt good to no
longer need to hide, on the other hand he received many stares as he
fumbled through the streets but he paid them no heed. Stealth sighed when
he left Euper behind, arriving at the road up to the lower ward.

The uphill journey seemed to go on forever but he eventually made it up and
cleared the gatehouse. The cheetah pressed onward into the lower ward, his
only thought to arrive at the chief Long scout’s office with all due haste.

>From the gatehouse he looked ahead at the main road, his view broken by
townsfolk and a well in the main square, beyond that he could see the next
gatehouse far, far in the distance. Stealth started off and walked near any
posts of railings he could see, lest he needed something to break a
possible fall.

In a bout of nausea the cheetah crouched down near a wagon in a side
street. A moment more and an arrow sent splinters from the wagon flying,
another embedded in the wall above his head. Stealth’s heart skipped a beat
and he quickly ducked down a tight alley. He’d not made it home free and
would not be safe, not until he delivered that damn parcel... The feline
continued down several alternating alleyways, each narrower then the last.
Eventually he squeezed through one more space between two buildings and
arrived at the next gatehouse before the grounds of the Keep.

He’d never been so happy to see the great doors to Metamor Keep, more so
when he passed through the portal to find the Keep had been kind to him and
provided a much needed direct and short path to Long House. He mustered
what strength he had left to continue on for the final stretch.

He fumbled down the hall, clutching his side. The guards stared but did not
speak, ushering him through. The path through the killing ground and then
the main hall with that large, green carpet seemed to stretch on
indefinitely. He burst open the office door, interrupting and ignoring the
discussion, his goal finally reached he staggered over to the desk and
slammed the package down onto it with a load thump that sent everything on
it dancing.

“Someone... did not want you to get this.” he said in a hoarse whisper.
Then Stealth turned to leave. The feline moved away from the desk,
staggering a few steps.

They watched him for a moment until Finbar grabbed him by the arms and
Stealth gradually slumped down until the ferret bore all his weight and had
to ease him onto the floor. “I killed him.” Finbar exclaimed.

“Medic!” The fox cried out.

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