As a newcomer to the Redwall-based survivor contest scene, the prospect of actually reading old contests can be a little daunting. As of 2012, there have been 23 such contests since the first ROC: Survivor began in mid-2001.

For those of you that have no idea what a survivor contest is, I shall elucidate. A contest is held online, in which a certain number of authors are chosen to write a story. The authors apply to this by writing a short (typically 600 or so words) scene that introduces the reader to the character they intend to write about. The contest co-ordinator usually writes one or more prologues that introduce the setting and the premise of the story. In this case, the setting is that of Brian Jacques’ Redwall series of books, though often expanded upon from canon.

The authors then come up with their own plots, interactions and character development and write in a series of time frames called weeks. At the end of each week, readers of the contest sometimes post reviews of what they think of the characters, to encourage them and to help them improve. The readers, reviewers and contestants also vote at the end of the week who is their least favourite character. Whoever is voted off typically leaves the story by killing their character, though this is more of a convention than a set rule in most cases. Once only three contestants remain, the votes sort them into first, second and third places and the characters may conclude the story.

Each contest can be as long as a novel, and with so many to choose from, it’s hard to know where to start. Read them all chronologically? By order of series? The most recent?

Fortunately, with the exception of the Midnight Mossflower series, most of the contests are not related with the others in their series. You might miss a few references here and there, but there’s no harm if you don’t want to read 23 books, some of which you might not like at all.

So, to make things easier on people who want to look back at the old tales of adventure and fantasy, I have read a lot of contests for you and picked out my list of favourites. Unfortunately, I am unable (and unwilling) to read every single contest at this time. However, I have done my best to make this list a comprehensive overview of the series. I have ordered this list from my most preferred to my least preferred.

Be warned, though. It is impossible to give an unbiased list of what is really the best of the best. We all think differently, so bear in mind these are my favourites which I recommend to you and are in no way an official representation of the opinions of any majority.

Finally, I would like to say to the authors that this list is not intended as a personal slight to anyone. This is what I think of the contests as a whole and as a relative newcomer. If you enjoyed writing in any of these contests, all the more power to you. I am bound to have some bias, I wrote in Redwall: Lockdown and in Midnight Mossflower 2. This list is to give a general guide to newer readers and those of you who want to look back at the older stories.

I have mentioned some contests here I do not recommend to read. That does not mean to say you should not if they sound like your cup of tea. I am just advising against delving into them as a first time reader.

Note: Word counts are approximate, as different counts have different exact totals. Additionally, some contests are still technically running at this time.

Top 5 Recommendations:

1. Questors Bold III (QBIII) (2003-04) (235, 352 words) — Watching the characters develop and improve through the course of this story is delightful. This is a story of mystery, revenge and destiny. At first the style is a little antiquated – it reads a bit more like a role-play than later contests, where scenes are sometimes repeated as each contestant tells their version. Questors Bold III has some wonderful adventuring, memorable cast and a heartfelt ending that makes it a great story. It is my all time favourite contest.

You can read Questors Bold III here.

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2. Redwall: Lockdown (R:L) (2011) (142, 664 words) — One of the most unified casts I think I’ve read thus far, this actually feels like a real community living in Redwall. A strange conspiracy, a sinister Abbot and a wealth of colourful characters, both contestants and extras. This contest has plenty of enjoyable scenes, emotional moments and some very satisfying action. It has its flaws; there are more than a few plot holes and strange moments. However, I feel that it is nonetheless an enjoyable adventure.

You can read Redwall: Lockdown here.

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3. Midnight Mossflower (MM1) (2008-09) (261, 019 words) — Midnight Mossflower goes out into a very different premise, with the contestants trapped in a castle and forced into a terrible experiment by their host, Professor Falliss. The characters are memorable and enjoyable to read, much of the dialogue is quite snappy, and the air of suspense is very well written. There are some slight issues with time jumping back each post, but sometimes it’s necessary with the different plots going on. On the whole, it is a solid, satisfying story.

As the Midnight Mossflower boards are no longer available, you can read the story here.

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4. Redwall: Revolutions (R:R) (2010-?) (238, 731 words) — A fun, quirky cast pretty much from the start, an adventurous story and some really nice twists and turns. A murder mystery, chases and some very dynamic character interaction. This contest includes some of my favourite contest characters, some brilliant and witty moments and a few rather touching scenes. Redwall: Revolutions is a personal favourite and I highly recommend it. Its biggest flaw is that as of yet, there is no written ending. Ask the Top 3 for details.

You can read Redwall: Revolutions here.

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5. The Emperor’s Decree II (TEDII) (2010) (271, 669 words) — The world of the Vulpine Imperium can take some time to get accustomed to, but The Emperor’s Decree II is well worth getting to grips with it. An eccentric mix of characters all set against the backdrop of war and the disastrous effects of new technology. It has some bloody moments, but it is nonetheless a strong contest and well worth a look.

You can read The Emperor’s Decree II here.

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Some Excellent Reading:

6. Questors Bold V (QBV) (2009) (239, 614 words) — An unusual contest all round with the indeterminate rankings and lack of a strict ‘survivor’ element. This is the story of the first war against Redwall Abbey, with unexpected results from such a Jacquesian premise. Recommended to read for the outstanding characterisation and dynamics. The characters of this contest are some of the most memorable and they are written with a depth that makes this an excellent read.

You can read Questors Bold V here.

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7. Redwall Online Community: Survivor 3 (ROC:S3) (2004) (121, 549 words) — This contest has a very simple premise at the outset. A group of escaped slaves is being pursued by monstrous cannibalistic reptiles through the swamp. It’s purely an adventure tale with some fun characters and neat moments. Its age is sometimes noticeable, with perspective shifts changing within a few paragraphs, but otherwise it manages to keep up a decent narrative.

Unfortunately, the original website where the story was posted is no longer working. Therefore, I have uploaded the story here.

Thanks to Sycamore for providing the file!

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8. Questors Bold II (QBII) (2003-04) (155, 181 words) — Questors Bold II is, like ROC:S3, a very direct premise and plot. A group of ten characters are captured by the empire of Auria, and most of the story focuses on the enslavement aspect of it. There’s very little deviation from that main plot idea, which works for me.

Even though I would only consider about half the cast to be truly memorable, even the early finishers can have a moment or two to shine. This story is very focused on the way the characters behave in captivity, so it leads to a lot of interesting, emotional moments. It’s reasonably paced and later posts don’t seem to suffer so much from overlapping each other. It’s definitely a recommended read.

You can read Questors Bold II here.

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9. Redwall Online Community: Survivor 2 (ROC:S2) (2002) (158, 794 words) — Like its successor, and indeed other early contests such as QBII, this contest is a simple survivor premise. After an avalanche in the mountains, the ten survivors of two treasure-hunting groups are forced to work together to survive and acquire the riches. The story’s pace is quite gentle to start with, which slowly builds the tension. Posts sometimes overlap, or switch perspectives to omniscience, but there’s not too much whiplash.

As is somewhat a trend in earlier contests, the characters with less time in the spotlight die rather bluntly. However they are not easily forgotten by the survivors, which is a nice touch. The characters being forced to stay close to each other does give the contest a very tight-knit group feel, which is quite well executed. Occasionally there are brief departures from the very direct narrative of events into painting a mental picture of the scene, which is very rewarding. Whilst the plot has little deviation from the expectation, ROC: S2 is a solid, if a little rough read.

You can read Redwall Online Community: Survivor 2 here.

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10. RedVenture 3 (RV3) (2006) (174, 736 words) — The premise of RedVenture 3 is not very clear cut. At its most basic, level, it is the story of ten characters journeying to the Northlands, each for their own reasons. Each are dragged into a conflict between the vermin war lady Zylia Hellebore, and other woodlander factions.

The plot is often split between groups of characters that seem to get shuffled every week or two. Most of the characters are focused on their own goals. This turns the main plot into more of a background event. The characters themselves grow and develop quite interestingly over time. All round, this contest is an alright read, if you’re more into the characters than the plot.

You can read RedVenture 3 here.

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11. Questors Bold IV (QBIV) (2004-05) (225, 616 words) — After an underground collapse during a public execution, ten survivors must travel together to escape an subterranean labyrinth. On the way they face danger on all sides and discover a secret weapon that could decide the war between the woodlander colony of Mikau and the vermin kingdom of Kereval.

The story is reasonably paced and the characters quite diverse. Even the first few to die make a memorable impression. The dynamics between characters can be quite engaging. The plot is fairly simple, but well executed. There are some oddities in the narrative, but otherwise Questor’s Bold IV is a decent read. Unfortunately, it does not have an ending, leaving the fate of the character undetermined.

You can read Questors Bold IV here.

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12. RedVenture 2 (RV2) (2005-06) (209, 625 words) — This contest’s premise admittedly comes off as a bit contrived. Invitations are sent to three towns in Mossflower, challenging any beast to go on a treasure hunt that has been set up by Lord Arbenger. The resulting mix of characters is divided into three groups and each given an initial clue on how to proceed. They work amongst other groups and deal with the dangers that lie ahead in finding more clues that lead to the treasure.

This contest has some enjoyable moments, with a few interesting puzzles interspersed with action. The pacing is good and keeps every group moving to their goals. Whilst some cast members were not so likable, a few do stand out as memorable. One thing that did constantly nag at me was how accepting the characters were of the mysterious challenge, without questioning the motives behind it. The contest’s ending is not quite as resolving as I might like, but overall it’s alright.

You can read RedVenture 2 here.

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13. Midnight Mossflower 2 (MM2) (2010-11) (140, 558 words) — Midnight Mossflower 2 picks up where the first left off, with the threat of a horde against Redwall Abbey and the menace of Professor Falliss’ creation as a harsh winter descends on Mossflower. I find this something of a bleaker story than the first. The characters are memorable and the pacing good. It has its flaws; the villains of the story can be a little undeveloped, and some of the writing styles and decisions did not appeal to me. However, there are those fun moments that make this worth a look.

You can read Midnight Mossflower 2 here.

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Difficulty – Hard:

14. RedVenture 4 (RV4) (2008-09) (102, 669 words) — RedVenture 4 feels a lot like a standard sort of Redwall fan fiction. The simple premise is a ship of vermin and woodlander slaves are shipwrecked on an expedition. Some of the characters are likable and the plot’s pacing moves at a decent clip. However, the contest has a few weak points. The premise and the plot really don’t seem to try anything new. It feels as if it’s just rehashing ideas out of the books, particularly Jacques’ interest in exotic sea life.

Also, some of the writing can be a little mangled with POV confusion and sometimes the action is unclear, which is quite distracting. Many of the authors seemed fond of beginning with rather generic quotes tangentially related to their situation, which comes across as unnecessary. Overall, RedVenture 4 is alright to read.

You can read RedVenture 4 here.

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15. RedVenture 5 (RV5) (2009-10) (192, 547 words) — RedVenture 5 one is a little sluggish for me to fully recommend. The plot is a bit slow and generic and the characters seem to meander about too much for me. The more memorable ones come off as unrelatable and unhinged. However, fond commendations of it from other readers suggest this one might depend on the reader’s own preference.

You can read RedVenture 5 here.

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16. Redwall Online Community: Survivor 1 (ROC:S1) (2001) (100, 123 words) — This contest’s premise is rather an obvious choice, being the first Redwall-based survivor contest ever. Following the sinking of the ship Starsong, ex-prisoners, passengers and crew alike are stranded in the wilderness. Things get nasty quick, with storms, savages and conspiracies.

The contest has a few problems when reading. The first thing to notice is each post has a date and time stamp that can be a bit distracting, though this is obviously not the fault of the contestants. Problems begin very early with switching from past to present tense, oddly phrased and unnatural dialogue, and basic formatting problems with conversations taking place all in one line of text. The perspective of the narration switches about frequently and can be a little frustrating. I would not recommend it to read, the only thing that it is notable for is being the first of these contests.

You can read Redwall Online Community: Survivor 1 here.

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17. The Emperor’s Decree (TED1) (2007) (192, 160 words) — I would not recommend reading this unless you are really into the Vulpine Imperium. It features a lot of body horror, clichés and insufferable characters. The Emperor’s Decree has a coherent plot which does move along, but is greatly hampered by characters whose deaths are actually something of a relief.

It is a story about an expedition to a mysterious new continent and uncovering the conspiracy that brought the characters there. It is saved from being last by the odd funny or introspective moment shining through every once in a while.

You can read The Emperor’s Decree here.

~

18. Operation: Sandstorm (O:S) (2004-05) (287, 569 words) –This contest reads less like a story and more of a gigantic role-playing game. Whilst some characters are fun to read, others have very little time to shine, as there are 16 of them. Some characters can be quite unbearable at times, though not quite as cliché heavy as TED. There is very little planning or structure, save for perhaps the higher ranked contestants.

The story follows a group of ex-slaves and vermin as they struggle through an inhospitable land for the promise of treasure. Whilst I do not recommend reading Operation: Sandstorm, it is quite wonderful seeing how some of its authors have improved and developed into great writers in years since.

You can download the three parts of Operation Sandstorm here:

Team One
Team Two
Merged

Note: The cast of O:S was split into two teams of eight who were more or less separate until the third part of the story, the merge.

~

19. RedVenture 1 (RV1) (2002-03) (39, 721 words) — RedVenture 1 is incomplete and chaotic. Plotlines and meetings are flung about haphazardly. Some of the writers show promise; a few characters have quite decent moments. However, canon is deftly defenestrated by odd species, unexplained nobles and very Earth-like terminology.

In terms of writing, there are several out-of-character comments left in the posts, which adds to the feeling that this is very much like a forum role playing game. There is very little in the way of telling where or when anything is happening in relation to anything else and all the characters start more or less separated. Finally, the contest stopped running after Week 3, leaving the rest of the story a mystery.

You can read RedVenture 1 here.

~

“But…standing there, against the flames that would take the night to die, it was almost romantic. Black cut-outs–two standing, one leaning, and another flopped in the snow–against the bright flames of an angry fire. It looked almost like a sunset. And, just then–the sky opened up, snow filtering down upon the survivors.” — Mittsu, ROC:S2

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“Take this,” said Case.

“No.” Noel pushed the sword back out of his paws. Only when it was safely away from him and cradled awkwardly in Case’s arms did Noel sense the years in the blade. He warmed the dust from the handle between his claws. “Where’d you get that?”

Weapons rained down from the upper windows of the Tremontaine Inn, catching the moonlight and glittering gold and silver on their way to earth. They landed in thuds and clanks on the dusty street outside, where shadows broke free from the crowd to snatch them up close. Of the rebellious element of Redwall City, heroes and lunatics alike, there couldn’t have been more than a hundred beasts assembled outside. Noel was pleasantly surprised.

“Flint came across an armory as he put the finishing touches on our cellar tunnel. I call it ours – it was only our discovery.” Case’s gaze followed the fluttering path of an airborne mace and chain. “They really should be more careful with those.”

“Tim Churchmouse’s reliquary.” Noel glanced at Tam, but in the midst of inspecting their army she had stooped to collect one of the ancient weapons on the floor. “You found it?”

“Surely you of all beasts don’t think us clever enough to have excavated so long a tunnel in such a short time?” Case chuckled away at his self-deprecation. “It was a forgotten room, at the end of a collapsed tunnel that led from somewhere in the cellars. Only Flint’s expertise detected that there had been a construction there at all. Within we found these weapons, many of which -” He laughed again. “You may think it mad, but to me they fit the description of many an ancient weapon of Martin’s chosen warriors, once thought lost in time. In actual fact, we found this in amongst it all.”

Case opened his outstretched paw to reveal a chilling, familiar trinket: the glittering cloakpin symbol of the Society.

“It seems our friends must have lost track of the room in relatively modern times,” Case murmured. “We couldn’t let these treasures fall back into Carter’s paws.”

“And you didn’t think of makin’ this public?” Noel threw out his arms. “Beasts’ll follow a fable anywhere, we could’ve had the whole city behind us!”

“If you could tell me who would have believed they were real,” said Case, closing his paw back over the cloakpin, “maybe I would have considered it.”

His knowing smile soon found itself a reflection on Noel’s muzzle. Even when the truth was clear for all to see, as stark as death at the paws of a tyrant, beasts would rather see a gracious protector and an invisible enemy.

“Hsst! Case!” A shadowy face peered down at them from the upper room. The craggy outline against the light suggested Maggie, the badger whose homely inn had become a war room. “Is that the weasel with you?”

“Yes. Yes, I’ll…send him up.” Case’s body turned back toward Noel, but his nose kept going until it was pointed toward the ground. “There’s somebeast in that room I meant to show you, before Clacher – Fates, lad, Clacher! What happened? Why haven’t you said?”

“He’s dead,” Noel mumbled. “But – the beast in that room. Is he -”

“Dead,” said Case.

* * *

“What was that?” Tam waited for Noel to approach, eyeing Case as he hobbled into the depths of the assembly. “Not another batch of post?”

Noel’s stare was pinned on the dirk in her paws, but it took in none of the ornate styling, the ancient crafting, none of its beauty or its violence. He seemed, as he had done all that first winter that Tam had known him, to be searching the pits and bruises of his own soul.

“They’ve got me brother,” he said. “He was in the street, shot. Sounds like Rigg and Foweller were there. The bailiff was gonna take him away, but Case…he knew I’d come for him.”

“Oh, Mr. Noel.” Tam started and her head tilted back up straight. “But maybe it was Rigg that -”

Noel shook his head and waved the faint hope away.

“Doesn’t matter now. I dunno if it’s on me to forgive what Fowel’s done, but I have, even before…anyway, it don’t matter. When this finishes, I’ll take him home.”

Tam laid a paw on Noel’s ever-shifting shoulder.

“That’s right,” she said. “No matter what anybeast says, he belongs with all our friends – Mr. Andrew, and Bludd, and Ms. Saskia.”

“Tam, I meant – Norford.”

There was a spike in Tam’s start, an extra tremor of alarm as she released his shoulder from her grip. If looking at her was painful for Noel before, it was unbearable now.

A shadow swooped down on them and stifled anything more they might have to say. Fyfe came crawling out of the darkness, a keen blend of kindness and frenzy on his brow.

“Mr. Lingham,” he said. “I believe we have prepared everybeast as well as we are able, able. Are you ready to move?”

Noel gave one last decisive glance at Tam, and in the pursuit of the truth their eyes could still meet.

“Yeah. As good a time as any.”

* * *

“You sure you going in there empty-pawed?” said Tam.

Noel lolled his head at her and laughed. It was a good sound to hear, even if it drew a few nervous glares from their compatriots in the woods. The air was crisp and icy and the moon was lost in the tangled branches of the trees, but the night felt refreshing, like a pint of October ale after a long hot afternoon on the campball pitch.

One rough brown paw snicked down into the undergrowth and, when Noel caught up to Tam a moment later, he was carrying a fallen bough of rotting oak. It was Tam’s turn to laugh as Noel busied himself snapping the twigs off his new club.

“You’re going to face down Brother Isidore with that thing?”

“Oh, aye. Don’t be surprised when he takes off running for his mum.” He nodded at the blade in Tam’s paw. “What’s that you’ve got?”

“Some Long Patrol dirk.” She shrugged. “Case laughed when he saw me with it, said it belonged to another beast named Tam. How’s about that?”

“We call that fate, my dear.” Case had appeared behind them, grin wrinkling his face into a dim shroud of shadows in the moonless woods.

Noel grunted.

“But Mr. Lingham here thinks he controls his own destiny,” said Case. “Yet you believe in Martin, as well as Redwall.”

After a pause, Noel replied, “Yeah.”

“Yet those stories are built on prophecy and fate. To trust in both freedom and fate must take a great deal of balancing skill. I’m envious to learn.”

“It all makes more sense to me without it.” His downcast head sprang up. “What’s that?”

Tam’s paw could be seen tightening around the handle of her dirk.

“What’s what?”

“How long ago did Fyfe fly ahead?” Noel demanded. “Is he back?”

“Not yet,” said Case. “He’s only been gone quarter of an hour, if that. Why?”

Noel lunged forward.

“I smell smoke.”

* * *

Overground, the gates of Redwall appeared much sooner than did the yellow candlelight at the end of the rebel tunnel, but it was the scene that confronted them that made time stand still. The gates were framed in bright blazoning light, overshadowed by billowing columns of smoke.

“Fire,” Case breathed. “Redwall, my Redwall!”

The gates, or what was left of them, were thrust outward into the night, lest the heat and the flame creep into the depths of the stones and bring them tumbling down to earth. For the first time since he strode into Redwall in the depth of winter, seeking shelter from the storm and respite from his tormentor, Noel saw the gates of the Abbey as they were meant to stand: open.

“Now’s our chance!” Noel lifted his bough high above the heads of their scanty crew, then stormed the ditch as if he might land before Redwall in one leap. “Now!”

In the haze and heat and panic on the other side of the gates it must have seemed like thunder on the wind. From out of the night, their vision stung with smoke and the stabbing blaze of the flames, abbeybeasts Noel and Tam hardly recognized must have thought the nightmare murderers of winter were upon them at last. They dropped their buckets and scattered before the lightning struck.

“Through the gates!” Noel heard his voice crowing with lust and glory. “Through the gates, come on! Redwall’s ours!”

* * *

“Brother Aloysius,” Tam gasped. “He must’ve done it! But -” Her head swiveled over her shoulder as they passed through the smoldering hulk of boards and twisted, mangled rivets that had made Redwall a prison for so many months. Noel drew her close, shielding her from the wave breaking around them.

“What is it?” he said.

“Look – the archives.” The friendly little hut where Aloysius and Martin had lived side by side was crumbling under the tremendous weight of the flames. The fire looked to have bled away from it, spreading from there up to the gates. “Why would he have done that…?” said Tam.

A roar of anguish cut short their fearful thoughts. Finishing the race across the lawns, they found Case empty-pawed, weapons thrown to the floor, fists pummeling helplessly against the solid oaken doors of Great Hall.

“Blast it all, I had him. I had him, he was in my sight!”

Noel passed his claws over the sealed doors, then seized Case’s shoulder and brought them both hurtling backwards at once. A glass jar full of the infirmary’s viscous cure-all solution struck the earth where they had stood, and as Case sat recovering from the near-blow tiny Sister Delores could be seen leaning out of a high dormitory window.

“You murderer!” she shrieked. “Are you behind this? Look what you’ve done to our abbey!”

“Now, now, Sister. That’s hardly in the spirit of our order, is it?”

Case could only manage a squeal of rage as Carter appeared over the ledge. Noel struggled to put himself in the hedgehog’s place, imagined that Mum and the Old Weasel and Lucy and Tam were all snatched from him in one terrible instant. Even with the real losses they had sustained at his paws, he couldn’t fathom the depths of that void in Case’s heart.

“Brother Case,” said the Abbot. “Enough of this, please. You were sentenced with exile so that we might all put the past behind us and live in peace.” Carter’s smooth velvet tones tumbled down on them like a fog, drawing a haze over their own passions. But Noel could sense the darkness in his heart with the scorched edge in his next few words. “I see now that we have taken alarm at a mere pawful of beasts. This cannot end well for you. I pray, turn back now and you may leave Redwall as free beasts.”

Noel’s paw sealed itself over Case’s shoulder once more, warm and heartening this time. He lifted himself up from the ground.

“There’s more than enough of us to keep an eye on every door out of that building, and for as long as we need.”

“I was warned about you.” The dark anger threatened to consume Carter entirely. “There were many who told me not to welcome two ragged weasels into our home. They feared an outsider would be the one to bring destruction to our Abbey.” He lifted his voice, to the many faces now peering from the windows and to the countless abbeybeasts within. “Let it be known to all present that this beast – this creature to whom you entrusted your dibbuns – is a deceiver. He followed a beast named Cassius, a notorious vagabond and murderer in his own right, for many seasons in Mossflower. It is only fitting that he now allies himself with another old enemy of this place.”

“An old enemy?” Noel demanded. “Nobeast up there heard what Case did and thought, no, that can’t be right? Because you knew him, and he was your friend?” Noel offered his paw to Case, along with a faint smile. “Time we heard the truth.”

Case nodded and stood on his own. He brushed the dust and ash from his knees and stepped forward, and in the dawning light of a new day in his abbey – his home – the heartbreak of his scheming and rage fell away. Each and every face lining the windows beheld only a shattered beast, yearning for something that could never be.

“My family – my Arabella, my lads Lucas and Michael, my Betony – they were murdered. That will always be true. But they were taken from me. By that beast there – Carter, the beast you call Abbot!”

Even from the ground, Carter’s face could be seen betraying a flinch. Perhaps he had expected, or hoped, for silence, for more of the stinging catcalls and jeers that echoed down from the heights. The overwhelming sound was one of gasps, of terrified whispers and doubt.

“For years he’s been plotting to destroy me,” said Case, drawing strength from his audience, “ever since he discovered I was next to be abbot. A wayward Long Patrol thug, the taking of Redwall was just another campaign for him. And he’s deceived you all as well. So many of the beasts you’ve lost this last winter, and since, their blood was spilled by his paws!”

“We’ve heard this before!” Sister Ambrosia shoved herself to the front of another window, glancing only briefly at the stubborn shape of her brother on the ground. “Your rumors and your tall tales have got round by now. What reason would the Abbot have to murder his own beasts? Brother Andrew and little Ripple – they were only taken from us once this vermin and his brother came to poison our home!”

“Watch how you use that word, ma’am,” Tam snapped.

“Indeed, Sister,” said Case. “Don’t think us foolish enough to believe your Abbot walks alone. We are aware of the tools he holds, the names of those who follow his every command, even to murder. We know who you are!”

The Society responded to the call-out with silence, cold as marble. Noel searched the ground, the obeisant ranks of his army ringing the building, standing awkward guard at every threshold. Up above, angry and anxious and empty faces stared down, waiting for doomsday to rise with the sun. Through one portal Noel caught a glimpse of the cool, penetrating eyes of a rat before they disappeared again into the red stone walls.

“You say you come here to rescue my own beasts from me,” said Carter at last. “I, who have done all I can to protect them against you – who drew first blood and then cast our beloved dead back at our gates like so much filth. You claim to save this place and everybeast in it, and yet you stand here and let this abbey burn!” A curious expression lit his features, something between resignation and delight. “I will be the one to save this place. I cradle Redwall in my paws. This foolishness will end now.”

* * *

Isidore was waiting for him inside.

“The muskets,” said Carter.

“No!” Emmerich Coffincreeper, still coughing up smoke from the firefight, threw himself at the Abbot’s footpaws. “Please – my Tam’s out there. I don’t know how, and when all this is over I’ll thrash her to the ends of the earth, but Father Abbot -”

Carter deigned to set a paw on his head.

“I am afraid the time for instructive punishment has ended. Our way of life now is threatened. Surely you would not side with one who shames your kind, who earns himself the name of vermin?”

Emmerich offered only a sob in return. Carter released him, sighing.

“We will do what we can to spare your kin,” he said, “but the most I can promise is to protect this abbey. Brother Isidore -”

* * *

Then suddenly, there was light. Light and no sound – and then a terrible roar, rumbling and fire.

“What was that?” Tam said it as they ran, arms thrown over their eyes to deflect the light and the heat searing outward from the far side of the main abbey building. Noel kept pace alongside her, oak branch still held aloft.

Not much more than what they found would have convinced them that doomsday was truly nigh. The rear of the abbey building was almost no more, a smoking hole of charred sandstone belching smoke and flame. The smell brought an image to Noel’s mind of a thousand of his old flintlocks all firing at once.

“What happened here?” Case shook Flint’s stunned prone form where he found it lying several yards away. “Blast you, brother, wake up!”

“Case, get back to the main doors!” Noel snapped. “Don’t let one eye off Carter, you hear me?”

“These were the store rooms. Who did this?” In Tam’s murmur Noel could hear what was beginning to dawn on her, and what had yet to touch him as the outsider: Redwall was burning. Now that its heart was aflame the horror of it became real. The abbey, a landmark of peace for generations – Martin’s home – stood at the brink of destruction.

“Forget what it was, Tam. This is it.” Noel summoned his strength and thrust his club into the yawning breach. “Redwall is ours!”

He unbuttoned his coat and threw the free edge over his muzzle. With a glance for Tam to steel them both against the onslaught, he narrowed his eyes and threw himself forward, dissolving into the flames.