Veedle was in trouble and he knew it. The Ferret found himself staring at the cold amber eyes of his captor, the massive otter with fur blacker than the night surrounding them.
"Please on me oath, I was just havin' some-" he choked as the otter's grip tightened around his neck.
"I'm not interested in your oath. I saw what you were doing. Lie to me again and I'll take your other ear", he snarled.
Veedle began sobbing as the stranger drew an obsidian sword. "O- okay", he gasped.
"Good, now hurry up".
"I wus walkin' when I saw the squirrel, e was old, and had some valubles", he began. "I decided to have some fun see?"
The otter sheathed his sword, looking disgusted. "You're pathetic", he spat. Without warning he gave a stunning blow to the ferret's jaw.
Tossing away the unconscious Veedle, Rova stalked away to where Cassius waited.
Moria woke in a bad mood. The wolverine had just received a report that the dog riders had been slain by an unknown force. He left his tent seething, ignoring the hordebeasts jumping out of his way. Soon he found the unfortunate creature he was looking for.
Moria kicked his lieutenant, Flogg the rat, sending him flying.
"Get up you pathetic failure of a commander. How you got promoted I'll never know!" he snarled, punctuating each word with a kick.
Flogg whimpered as the beating continued, when it was over he found his voice with gasp. "Lord, I didn't"- the wind was blown out of him with a vicious kick.
Moria stood over him, sneering. "Oh really? The dog riders have been destroyed, and the freedom brigade is beginning to mobilize!"
Leaning down he lifted Flogg by his throat. "Find out who did this, I want a report on them and their names, unless." He turned the unfortunate rat around so he could see the pole marking the camp of the Beasts.
Flogg gulped, he knew too well, as did any knowledgeable beast that Moria was always eager to set an example, which even by a vermin's standards were exceptionally cruel.
His thoughts were cut short as Moria swung him around to face him. He trembled as he stared into the wolverine's red eyes.
"I- I understand my lord." he gasped.
Moria set him down quite gently. "Good."
As he walked away he half turned. "Flogg, once you have their location and I have read the report, send the Darkspawn after them."
Flogg stopped just short of gasping in horror. "Are you s-sure about that?"
Moria smiled. "Aren't I always?"
The Darkspawn was a monstrosity. Very few of the beasts knew what it was, and those unlucky enough to see it were no longer with them.
Flogg stood at the entrance of the cave that served as it's lair. Trembling with terror he slowly headed towards the back of the cave, armed with a sword in one paw and a torch in the other.
"Why did I have to be the one to do this?" he asked himself wildly.
Suddenly he stopped as he heard a soft scraping noise, and then, to his horror a deep sibilant voice filled with cunning and malice.
"I smell fear" it said.
Flogg nearly fainted as he saw a massive golden eye glaring at him. The eye was similar to a snake's, but showed far greater intelligence.
"M- my lord Moria wishes for you to- to slay some upstarts of the freedom brigade." he stuttered.
The light from the eye vanished as the Darkspawn blinked lazily. "And why would Moria be so concerned about some simple brigade team?"
"I'm not sure." Flogg answered honestly. "But it's what he wants."
The Darkspawn was silent for a moment before continuing. "Alright then, but tell your master this. He will raid a village and send the weaker inhabitants here, so I may take care of them, understand?"
Flogg nodded wordlessly and ran as fast as he could towards the light of the forest.
The Darkspawn watched him in amusement before slowly rising to his feet. Very slowly he headed towards the outside world for the first time in many seasons.
What a creature he was! Velakor, the terror of the skies. The dragon stretched before taking in his surroundings.
Velakor was massive, near the size of four fully grown badger lords. His scales were the color of slate rock, and they shone brightly in the moonlight.
"It has been a long time since I have seen the forest." he said to himself. "And even longer since I have been in battle."
But no more. Velakor had returned. His talons left a small gouge in the soil as he launched himself into they sky.
Stretching his wings Velakor uttered a piercing roar and sprayed the clouds with a burst of crimson flame.
From the beasts camp his roar was heard, and many of them looked towards the sky with fear. Except one.
From where he stood Moria smiled.
Rova sat on the grass, picking food out of his teeth with a small twig. They were exhausted, after finally leaving Salamandastron they had been traveling nonstop to return to the brigade.
"Ash mate, you should be the cook for our team." Cassius said, patting his swollen stomach.
Ash looked embarrassed. "I'm not that good."
"Nonsense. I haven't had vittles like those since we left the mountain1" Freet said, lightly punching Ash on the shoulder. "Let's put it to a vote then. Everyone who wants Ash to be the cook say I."
"I" Rova said.
"I" Freet said.
"I" Cassius said.
"I" Atrax said.
"I" Thorn said.
Ash looked around and grinned. "I can't argue with that." He stood up in a solemn way. "I accept!"
"Hurray!" they cheered.
They had become considerably more at ease after leaving Salamandastron. They had spent most of their time reading in the library, conversing with members of the Long Patrol, and training.
Before they had left Rosethorn had presented them all with gifts. For Freet an ancient rapier similar to what the Guosim used, and a pendant with ancient runes saying The code lasts as long as we live, but friendship can go to the next life.
Ash had been given a new bow and a soft leather jerkin made with the finest materials.
Cassius's mace had been reforged to suit him better. Now it was slimmer, more durable and lighter. Also he had been given to have an old russet headband that belonged to the legendary General Furlo, the hero of the vermin wars.
Atrax was presented with a bracelet that, according to Rosethorn, would identify him as a friend.
Thorn was given a new hammer that Slimblade had forged for him. It had a diamond set within the handle, and a spike on the head. Thorn had wept when he took it, before thanking his father and brother.
Rova had been given a black and red shirt with strange designs on it. And when he had thanked Rosethorn, the badger lord handed him a gauntlet for his left paw.
"Take it." Rosethorn urged, before strapping it on to Rova's arm.
"What is it?" Rova had asked. "No one knows, but I had a dream telling me to give it to you." He turned Rova's arm so he could see a golden insignia on it.
"This symbol means something. I'm trusting you'll find out what it means." he said.
Rova was bewildered, but he thanked him and put it on. The next day they left the mountain.
Now he sat with his back against a tree, staring at the strange designs. What did they mean?
"Rova?" a voice asked.
Startled he jumped a bit before seeing it was Freet. "Yes?" he asked.
Freet looked at him for a moment before telling him. "You should get some sleep, the others are already snoring."
Rova looked over the shrew and grinned as he saw his friends sprawled across the grass snoring loudly.
"You're right." he said.
Freet nodded and walked over to a foot of grass beneath a tree and curled up.
Rova leaned back and closed his eyes. And the world vanished.
What's that noise? Rova wondered, irritated.
Rova jumped to his footpaws. He quickly shook his friends, ignoring their anger at being woken so roughly.
Shaking a belligerent Cassius he pointed to the sky. "Look!" he snapped.
Out of the sky, emerging from great gusts of wind was a gigantic bird, or was it?
"What is that?" Cassius gasped, his mouth going dry with fear.
Thorn looked grim. "It's a dragon, I read about them in the library. But they're supposed to be extinct!"
Rova unsheathed his sword. "Well I guess this one decided to change that!" he shouted over the wind.
They all drew their weapons as the monster landed in front of them, talons gouging into the earth.
Rova shivered, the dragon was huge! With stone colored scales and huge wings, it would be a real challenge to defeat.
They started as it spoke. "Well, this seems promising. You creatures have the faint smell of dog on you." it growled.
Ash struggled not to tremble as he replied. "We killed some of those monsters, along with the savages who rode them." he said, proud that his voice was steady.
Fire flickered from the creature's nostrils. "Be proud then, I Velakor was sent to kill those who had slain the dog riders."
Cassius raised his mace dangerously before Rova shouted, "Wait!"
Rova nodded at Cassius to lower his weapon then continued. "Who sent you then?" he asked, trying to distract the creature as Freet edged around Velakor, to a position where he could immobilize him with a quick stab.
Velakor snarled, showing his many teeth. "Stay where you are shrew." he warned. Freet froze on the spot. "Now," he continued. " As I was saying, I was sent by Moria, lord of the beasts."
Rova's insides churned. At last!, he thought. Now we can report who is leading them! If we survive. he thought gloomily.
He decided on a better tactic. "If you're so powerful, being a dragon, why take orders?"
Velakor turned his head slowly. "I only do his bidding because he offers a price. He gives great amounts of food."
Rova decided to use this to his advantage. "Wait! There will be a great battle soon against the beasts. No matter the outcome if we win or lose, you can feast on all the vermin you want."
The dragon licked his lips hungrily. Atrax jumped in. "That's a much better price than what Moria could offer you!" he said confidently.
The dragon nodded thoughtfully. "A good idea otter. I will spare your lives, but I fear we will meet again under less pleasant circumstances." With that he turned and flew off.
Thorn sighed in relief. "Thank goodness we didn't have to fight that!"
"Aye." they all agreed.
Still shaken they packed up their things and padded away quickly, one paw on the food they ate as they marched, and another on their sheathed weapons.
From a bush far away a ferret named Slinktail turned and sprinted back towards the beasts camp, he had seen it all.
"He did what!" Moria shouted.
Slinktail shivered in fear. "That's what I heard lord. Velakor has betrayed us."
Moria grabbed his pillow and began shredding it, causing tufts of fuzz and feathers to fall on the floor.
He stopped breathing hard. Grabbing Slinktail, he marched with him towards Slinktail's tent.
"Thanks for the report." Moria said nastily, and hurled Slinktail in with all his might.
Ignoring the stares and hastily muttered praises. The wolverine stalked out of his camp. The dragon was the least of his worries now. He would have to bring out his most dangerous force.
Reaching a twisted poplar tree, he forced himself inside the split open trunk. It was a dark cavern with only a chandelier for light.
The rest of the room was empty . . . or was it?
"Come out." he snapped. "I have a task for you."
The light dimmed and went out. Once it reactivated seven beasts stood before him. The reapers he called them, they wore frightening armor that revealed not even a scrap of fur to identify them by.
The Reapers stood before him. The only distinguishing characteristics that set them apart were their size and difference in armor. Some wore feathers and shoulder guards, others wore spikes.
The leader came forward. He was huge, but not nearly as large as Moria. He wore simple armor that decorated his entire body, painted and engraved with strange symbols.
His mask was the frightening part, where the eye holes were glowed a pair of blood-red eyes, and to top it off his mask had tusks.
"What do you require of us my lord?" he asked in a dry voice.
Moria withdrew a scroll where Slinktail had painted Snow team's faces. He handed to the creature.
"These beasts have slain the dog riders, and have even gotten that accursed darkspawn to betray us. They must be eliminated."
As one they drew their leaf-bladed swords. The leader's eyes glinted. "We will find them and they will die my lord."
Moria nodded. "See to it then."
In a flash, they were gone.
Moria shrugged. That was uncomfortable, he thought darkly.
Meanwhile Snow team had reached the brigade. Once Colonel Tenka and the rest of the council had been convinced Atrax was now a member, Rova related his tale.
The council muttered among themselves before Tenka stood. The old badger seemed frail and tired, but he spoke with authority.
"Moria eh? I suspected as much, but still . . . this dragon troubles me. Are you sure you managed to convince it?"
"We're sure sir." Thorn said.
"Very well. Snow team, you have performed commendably. Due to your actions I have decide to promote you all to corporal rank!"
Ash gasped. Rova could see his own shock reflected in his friends eyes.
After the ceremony they bathed and went to bed.
Rova sat on his bed staring at the ceiling. "I never would have guessed. Corporal!" he muttered before going to sleep.