Note: This is a sequel to Bluestripe, a Name Remembered. Please read it first before reading this. Thank you.
Fan Fic Questions have started up again.
This story is dedicated to all of my friends on the wiki and to my grandfather, who passed away in July of 2012. This may sound silly, but one of the people this story is dedicated to is my dog Jack, who passed away on March 17, 2011. This is also dedicated to the late Brian Jacques, who made all of this possible.
The young hares of Salamandastron chased one another through the dining hall. The Badger Lord, Roan, sat in his chair at the end of the hall. The hare babes surrounded the Badger Lord. One young hare sat in Roan's lap while the other babes circled around the badger's chair. Roan looked down at his inquisitive audience."What are you little rascals up to?"
The hare babes answered back in an uproar."We wanna hear a story!" "Please, Milord, we'll be good little chaps!"
Roan smiled."Which story would you like to hear today?"
The young hares did not hesitate to give their answer."We want you to tell us about Lord Bluestripe, he's our absolute favorite, wot!"
Roan gave the congregation of hare babes a confused look."But all of you already know that story! Tell you what, I'll tell you another story about my father."
The young listeners raised their ears and exchanged excited looks with one another. They leaned forward curiously.
Roan commenced telling his story."Now this story took place many seasons ago, when I was a little older than you are now..."
Book One: A Remedy for a Berserker
It was a calm day all along the Western Coast. A gentle breeze blew through the extinct volcano of Salamandastron, where two creatures sat in conversation. One of the creatures was Lady Athena, wife of the Badger Lord of Salamandastron. The second creature was Lieutenant Kaylen, sister of Captain Jaren who had just recently been promoted.
Kaylen spoke to the badgerwife without facing her."It's a lovely day isn't it, Milady?"
The Badger Lady had her son, Roan, who was about five seasons old, resting in her lap. She patted the young one on the head and replied."It is indeed, my friend. You know that it is not required for you to address me by my title. I prefer being called my given name instead."
The hare Lieutenant put one paw on her sabre and saluted with her free paw. "Yes, Mila-I mean, Athena!"
Their conversation was interrupted when several creatures came through the main door. Most of the creatures were hares, most notably General Buckayoo and Captain Jaren, who were helping Lord Bluestripe the Wild to his throne. There were fresh bruises and cuts from a battle he had just returned from and his eyes were slightly red. The Badger Lord gritted his teeth and howled in pain.
Athena placed her son in her chair as she stood up and ran over to her husband. Captain Jaren issued orders to the other hares."Get Lord Bluestripe's weapons back to the bally forge chamber! Who knows what His Lordship may do under the influence of Bloodwrath with weapons at paw! Get a flippin' move on, chaps!"
The hares removed the Badger Lord's ball and chain, war hammer, and broadsword. The hares carried out their orders quickly in orderly fashion.
Athena put a paw on her husband's shoulder and talked to him."Bluestripe, remember who you are, control yourself! You are the Badger Lord of Salamandastron!"
Bluestripe looked up at his wife, gritting his teeth."I'm trying to control myself, but my Bloodwrath problem is getting worse by the day!"
Athena looked worriedly at her hare cohorts."If this problem gets any worse, Bluestripe might be unable to live among us, or it may kill him. We have to do something!"
Lieutenant Kaylen frowned."Anybeast have any bright ideas?"
General Buckayoo, a Highland hare, spoke up."Ah'm nae sure o' this, but Ah'll tell ye. Once, when Ah was still young an' livin' in the Highlands, Ah became lost an' stumbled across a grave o' some braw beastie. Ah couldnae make out much o' the writin', fer it was verra old. Ah could only make oot the words,"Bloodwrath."
Bluestripe clapped a paw to his forehead."Of course! It must have some historical significance of Bloodwrath!"
The hare Lieutenant got the right idea."So you're saying that Bluestripe should go to that place where you found that grave so he could learn more about the Bloodwrath and find a cure for it!"
The Highland General nodded."Exactly, mah bonny lassie."
Athena looked nervously from the hares to her husband."I'm not so sure about this. What if he loses control of himself during the journey?"
Captain Jaren held his lance at the ready."Don't worry, ma'arm, we'll go with him to ensure that old Blue doesn't end up in a pickle, wot!"
General Buckayoo cuffed the hare captain's ear."Ye will address 'im as Lord Bluestripe."
Bluestripe grinned at the idea."I like the sound of your plan. Let me alert a few of the hares and we can leave the mountain by dawn."
Athena looked at her husband agitatedly."I'm more concerned for the welfare of the other creatures you'll be with. If you fall into Bloodwrath, you could end up killing somebeast or yourself."
Bluestripe avoided the gaze his wife gave him."I'll do all I can to stop this so I can live with other creatures safely."
Captain Jaren twirled his lance."So it's decided! We'll leave at dawn tomorrow! I'll make sure we have enough tucker to last us the journey!"
Bluestripe groaned."If you really mean that you'll pack that much food, we'll never get there. You can eat more than the whole regiment!"
The hares and badgers laughed heartily. Lieutenant Kaylen turned to the Badger Lord."I'll gather provisions for the journey."
General Buckayoo shouted back to Bluestripe."Ah'll gather our most braw an' experienced lads an' lassies!"
Bluestripe turned to his Captain, but the hare was already running towards the mountain entrance. Bluestripe shouted to him."Jaren, where are you going?"
The young hare Captain did not look back."Sorry, sah, I have very important business to attend to, wot!"
Bluestripe turned to his wife."I think I know what you should do to keep me under control. Take my throne and put it in the forge chamber after removing all the weapons. Then, I will probably need some food or drink. After that, you must shackle my paws and footpaws to the throne and lock the forge chamber door. That way nobeast will be in danger if the Bloodwrath takes me. It will keep me from harm's way as well."
Athena did as she was told, while assisted by hare-maids. The forge chamber door was locked and bolted, with the young Badger Lord within. Bluestripe had just finished a hot meal of leak and celery soup with a loaf of bread with mead to drink. The Badger Lord's head slumped down as he fell asleep, but was soon awakened by one of his inner demons.
Visions flashed through his mind's eye. Bluestripe recalled when his mother, Renah, was slain by a weasel named Scring. The memory of his faher who had reunited with him after so many seasons by the weasel were too much to bear. But, to Bluestripe's horror, Hellgates itself seemed to open before his very eyes. A familiar figure stepped out. It spoke in a chilling voice."Heh heh heh heh! My, my, it's been quite a while, hasn't it, stripedog?"
The voice sent shivers down Bluestripe's spine, despite being just a memory. It was Bluestripe's old nemesis, the wildcat, Panthera Longclaws. The wildcat that had enslaved and mocked Bluestripe for many seasons leaned his head back and laughed."You're like the small, frightened badger cub you were during our first encounter!"
Bluestripe quivered with rage. Unknowingly, in reality, his rage was about to unleash itself like it had when Bluestripe escaped from his prison cell many seasons ago. Bluestripe, who was still trapped in the world of dreams, strained againt the bonds that held him to his throne. He roared in anger as foam flecked his mouth, and gazed out of red eyes, which saw nothing but the desire to kill.
Bluestripe's son, Roan, woke up very thirsty. The badger babe tip-toed out of his room and down the stairs towards the kitchens. Roan stopped by the forge chamber door at the sound of his father under the control of Bloodwrath."Papa?" Roan sat down by the forge chamber door sobbing to himself at what was becoming of his father. He ran to the kitchen to get a glass of water, still crying.
Bluestripe was awakened by his wife, Athena, who already had breakfast waiting for him. The large badger was released from his bonds to enjoy a breakfast of porridge, scones, and toast. Bluestripe quickly consumed the porridge, and had started eating the scones. It did not take long for the Badger Lord to finish off the scones. Honey drizzled off of the toast as Bluestripe bit into. To top it off, he drank a cup of mint tea, wiping his mouth on a napkin.
Bluestripe arrived in the dining hall, where most of his hare army was bidding their Lord farewell. A few hares brought Bluestripe his equipment for his journey. Three hares brought the badger his weapons. The large Badger Lord took his broadsword and placed it in its sheath, and slipped the sword around his shoulder. The second hare gave him his hammer which he used while in the forge chamber. The third hare, a big strong beast, held the badger's ball and chain. Bluestripe hauled the heavy weapon over his shoulder and turned back to the two hares named Isel and Aggie, who had both fought alongside Bluestripe before he ruled Salamandastron. "I'm appointing you to the rank of Captain while I'm away, Isel. Aggie, you'll be his lieutenant. Take good care of this mountain and its inhabitants."
Isel saluted the Badger Lord. "Ah will do my best tae do so, M'lord!" Bluestripe patted him on the back. Aggie saluted also. "Ah'll give it my all, Sir!"
Bluestripe grinned. "Well be sure of that!" He walked towards the exit, escorted by about a score or two of hares.
General Buckayoo yelled out orders. "Forward march, laddies!"
Bluestripe looked around at the assebly of hares. He whispered into Captain Jaren's long ear. "This group is a bit small, don't you think?"
The hare captain grinned up at the badger. "Don't strain yourself over the matter! I've got this whole flippin' situation under control, wot!"
After a short march, the company arrived at the River Moss. The sound of paddling was heard by everybeast. The sound grew louder and louder until several logboats were in plain sight. Jaren called out to a creature in the first logboat. "Haha! Oh corks, those shrew chaps are already here!"
A shrew in his middle seasons wearing a short kilt and headband with a rapier in his broad-buckled belt hopped down from the first boat. "If it isn't ol' Blue! Well, I suppose I've got to call ye Lord Bluestripe now, eh, bucko?"
Bluestripe shook the shrew's paw firmly. "Sorex, you old dog! How've you been, mate?"
Log-a-log Sorex, for that was who it was, had a tight grip for a shrew. "Apart from growin' old, and roamin' on the river, not much."
Jaren spoke to Sorex. "Log-a-thing, I'm glad you could come to help a chap out, wot! I really am grateful!"
Sorex squinted his eyes at the young hare captain."It ain't Log-a-thing, it's Log-a-log! Get it straight! Tis nothin'! I'm only 'elpin' out an old friend. Now what is it ya need from me an' my Guosim?"
Buckayoo explained."Well, ye see, ol' Bluestripe 'as been havin' wee bit o' trouble with the Bloodwrath an' ah ken tell ye where tae go from there. It's Northwards from here."
Sorex's dark eyes bulged at the notion."That is a long way away...but then again, I've got nothin' else to do, and I just ravish at the thought of exploring the Northlands! Ya see, I've never been there before. Guosim, who's with me?!"
There were roars of approval from the contingent of shrews. Sorex grinned and shouted above the shrews' acclamation. "Alright, then! Let's get goin', mates!"
Everybeast scrambled into the logboats and began to row. Jaren felt the wind blowing his long ears behind him. "I say, this is rather exciting, eh? A river trip with some old shrew chaps! I wouldn't have it any other way!"
Buckayoo had to hold on to his hat as the boat sped down the river. "Aye, Ah agree with ye!"
Jaren gazed at the water as they sped along their way. His face began turning a sickish color. He darted into the cabin with his paw over his mouth.
Buckayoo shook his head. Bluestripe just smiled at the antics of his captain. A voice called out to him. "Oi, Badger!"
The Lord of Salamandastron turned and was met by a familiar face. It was the shrewwife, Lilla, who had aided in Bluestripe's escape from Panthera Longclaws and fought with him in the battle against the wildcat.
Bluestripe grinned. "Lilla, how's life been treating you?"
Lilla gazed at her sabre and responded. "Oh, I'm doin' fine. I'm married and enjoyin' havin' a mate. By the way, do you recognize this ol' beauty?"
She held out the sabre to Bluestripe. "It belonged to a female rat some seasons back, but I claimed it as a prize after I fought her."
Bluestripe stroked his chin. "Yes.... where is your husband?"
The cabin door was swung open and Jaren came out with a shrew wearing an apron. Jaren explained to his friends. "Pardon me, I was just chatting with the jolly ol' cook. Delightful chap, Boggle is, wot!"
The badger was incredulous. He ran over to the shrew and shook paws with him. "Boggle, is that really you?! Why you old scoundrel!"
Boggle chuckled. "It really is me, mate! I'm doin' fine.... except I've grown a lil' fatter since ya saw me last."
Buckayoo stood alone while the shrews were having a conversation with Bluestripe. He spotted Jaren sneaking back into the cabin. He followed the young hare into the cabin. He soon returned with Jaren in tow with a plate of scones.
Jaren protested loudly. "I say, ol' Buck, lemme go, you bounder!"
Bluestripe strode over to the two hare officers. "What seems to be the problem here?"
Buckayoo scowled. "Yon feedbag decided tae grab a wee bite tae eat."
Jaren flared up. "I say there, resent that! I was merely getting a few scones for the lot of us. Is it illegal for a chap to grab some tucker?"
Boggle smiled. "Oh go ahead. Those scones weren't for any special occasion. Dig in!"
The shrews, hares, and the badger all had a scone. Boggle left and returned with some assistants holding trays of snacks, including shrew bread and shrew beer. Creatures merrily drank and ate in harmony.
The travelling creatures had become lost. The logboats had taken a right turn after they had come across a fork in the river. They entered into a grove of moss-covered trees that hung over the river.
They had been going down this part of the river for some time when the path ahead was blocked by logs. Sorex groaned. "Great! We're lost!"
Boggle grinned sheepishly, consoling the shrew chieftain. "It shouldn't be too hard to get outta here, chief! Don't worry!"
Sorex grabbed the shrew cook by his apronstrings. "Don't worry? Don't worry?! We've been goin' down this path nearly all day! It'll take forever to get outta 'ere an' back on the right path!"
Sorex's best mate, Aran, put a paw on his infuriated chieftain's shoulder. "Calm down, chief. We don't have a time limit to arrive at our destination. We can take our time."
Sorex sighed. "I guess you're right, Aran. Alright shrews, let's pull out! I wanna get outta here before the sun sets!"
The logboats were nearing a bend that would take them back to their previous route when, from a cave along the bank, came a booming voice. "Ahoy! Ye need any 'elp, shipmate?"
Heads turned towards the direction of the voice. Tide Riverdog gave a wide grin and laughed. "I suppose ye've found the Riverdog holt, Sorex!"
The friendly Riverdog otter cupped both paws around his mouth and shouted emphatically. "Riverdogs, assemble!"
From out of the holt cave appeared around a score of Riverdog otters, who saluted the travelers. A tall female otter stuck her head out from the grotto. "Wot's goin' on out there, Tide? Oh! We got company!"
The female otter ventured out from the shelter to welcome the wandering creatures. She was tall and slender, wearing a necklace of shells with an eelskin belt. She wore a leather sleeveless shirt and a brown skirt. The otter waved at Bluestripe. "Ahoy, Bluestripe! It's me, Hawthorn Streambattle!"
Bluestripe grinned and ambled out of the logboat and waded through the shallow water towards the river bank. He embraced his old friend in a great badger hug. "Hawthorn Streambattle, you ol' rogue! How've ye been?"
Hawthorn hugged the Badger Lord back. "I'm better than I deserve! I'm just visitin' my ol' messmate, Tide."
The rest of the logboats beached on the bank and the creatures climbed out. Sorex strode over to Tide and shook the otter's paw in a grip that was as strong as the otter's. Tide adddressed his mate politely. "You can stay an' have supper with us if'n ya want to. But we'll have to eat out 'ere on the bank. The cave ain't big enough to fit all o' us inside."
The shrew chieftain thanked the otter earnestly. "Thank you, mate. Ye don't know how much this means to me."
Tide Riverdog shrugged. "It t'was nothin'! Now get inside!" The shrews and the hares were ushered inside by the otters while supper was being prepared.
Boggle was one of the creatures in charge of the meal preperations. The shrew cook barked out orders to his shrew assistants. Boggle strode to a pot of soup and took a sip of it from the ladle. The shrew smacked his lips and thought what else could be included into the broth. "Hmm. Needs more pepper. Adding onions wouldn't hurt, either."
Boggle's eyes were clouded in darkness and a voice called out to him mischievously. "Guess who?"
The creature took its paws from over Boggle's eyes. Boggle kept cooking without lookinng at the creature. "Hello, Lilla dear." Boggle kissed his wife on the cheek.
The head cook for the otters, an old otterwife by the name of Mimblia, chuckled to herself. "Ain't they sweet together? Oh well, might as well finishin' up supper."
Boggle was brought back to reality by his duties as cook. "Oh! Do forgive me, Mimblia! I was distracted by me wife! I should've been payin' more attention to cookin'!"
Mimblia made nothing of the situation. "Don't worry yore 'ead about it! You're young an' are easily lovestruck."
This statement made the young shrew cook blush. He suddenly became interested at looking at his footpaws.
Mimblia sniffed the air and looked at Boggle."I think yore soup is ready, mate!"
Boggle quickly pulled the cauldron off of the small oven fire with assistance from a brawny young otter. Mimblia and Boggle's assistants set out utensils for everybeast in preperation for the meal. Mimblia hit her ladle against a cauldron. "Supper's ready! Come an' get it!"
Several of the hares had already been prowling near where the dinner line was going to be before Mimblia announced dinner. The hares had to be reprimanded by Jaren and Buckayoo for pushing their comrades in line. The vast array of food would satisfy anybeast. The otters bestowed food such as shrimp and hotroot soup and plugs 'n' dip. The shrew cooks had prepared several different cheeses, scones, some soup for those who deemed the hotroot soup too spicy, and mushroom pasties with cherry pie for dessert.
When everybeast had gotten their plate, they spread out. Some of the shrew and otterwives sat huddled together, engaged in exchanging gossip with one another. Most of the males sat around a fire, sipping shrew beer provided by the Guosim, cracking jokes and giving accounts of past adventures.
Lord Bluestripe sat around a fire with some friends. Buckayoo sat looking into the fire silently. Jaren sat roasting a small fish over a fire on a spit. Log-a-log Sorex sat discussing their journey northwards with Tide. Tide gave his shrew friend a stern look. "I'm gonna go ahead an' warn ye, matey. Yore journey ahead is gonna be dangerous. I hear that river rats are makin' their presence known to everybeast who passes where they lie."
Sorex was grateful to be given a warning beforehand. "Thank ye, mate. I would be in dire straits if'n I didn't know that when we pass by their land."
Boggle leaned on his cauldron with a bowl of soup in his paw. He shook his ladle at the shrew chieftain. "Don't you worry, chief! We're not gonna let ourselves get killed by some scummy river rats! We got a Badger Lord to protect us!" He winked at Bluestripe and proceeded to put the bowl of soup to his lips, draining it all in one gulp.
Sorex scoffed at his chef. "You disgust me. You've eaten like a hungry hare since you were young!"
Jaren looked up indignantly at the shrew chief. "I say! Steady on, old bean! You don't got to be goin' around spouting such nonsense!" He took a large bite of his grilled fish.
Buckayoo shook his head and the bell on his hat tinkled as he grumbled sarcastically. "Yer one tae talk, ain't ye, laddie?"
Jaren wrinkled up his nose at the Highland general's remark and continued eating in silence.
Bluestripe held his brow in one paw as he ate a slice of cherry pie. "Oh my head!"
The hare captain looked up from his plate at the Badger Lord. "Are you alright, sah?"
Bluestripe shook his head feebly. "I've got a splitting headache."
Buckayoo took concern for his friend. "Ah'm thinkin' ye need tae go on tae bed."
Bluestripe trudged to one of the logboats and entered one of the cabins. He crawled into his bed and fell asleep quickly. Bluestripe had arrived in the world of dreams. In the dream, he heard evil laughter and the form of Panthera Longclaws. The wildcat seemed to be made from smoke. The wind blew and the phantasm was carried away. The cold winds ceased briefly and another image appeared. It was a hooded creature wearing a long cloak. The creature was shorter than Bluestripe, but still tall and lean. It had its back turned towards Bluestripe so his face could not be seen. It quickly spun around and swung the scythe at the badger. Bluestripe woke with a scream.
The young Badger Lord felt beads of sweat run down his forehead as he woke. He panted. Bluestripe rose from his bed and departed from the small cabin on the logboat. The badger jumped down from the logboat and walked further down the bank.
Bluestripe wiped sweat from his brow with a hefty paw. "What could these dreams mean?!" He turned his back to the water and paced back and forth, trying to decipher his cryptic dreams.
A figure in the water with its eyes above the water spotted the badger with its back turned to him. "Sssstupid sssstripehound won't know what hit him! By the time he realizesss what's happened, he'll be sssslain!"
The blue-striped badger looked towards the woodlands which had once been his home. He sighed. Was all of this worth it? He drew his sword and held it in the palms of both paws. He looked at his sword. "Maybe if I gave up the life of a warrior, Bloodwrath wouldn't be such a nuisance. No, something would somehow go awry."
There was a splash of water. Bluestripe turned with sword in paw. "It'sss too late, sssstripedog! Death is already upon y-" The attacker was cut off, in both terms of speaking and literally. His sentance was suddenly cut off. So was his head. The head writhed around for a few moments, then went still.
Bluestripe recoiled in shock. The badger inspected his blade as blood dripped from it. He then examined the slain creature. The water snake's head was smooth with sable colored scales. Its slitted eyes, once alive and vivacious, were now clouded over in death.
The same could not be said about the serpent's killer. His eyes were reverting to their usual brown after being held in the clutches of Bloodwrath. Bluestripe dipped his blade in the shallows of the river. He looked to the east and saw the sun rise. Birds began to chirp and other creatures awoke from their rest.
Lilla left a cabin and saw Bluestripe with his sword in the water. "Blue, what are ye doin', mate?"
Bluestripe twirled his blade and sheathed it. "Nothin', just needed to go outside for some fresh air."
Creatures started making cooking fires as more beasts slouched out of their cabins drowsily. Some shrews and a few otters began cooking a breakfast of porridge. Everybeast ate the porridge the way he or she liked it best. Some creatures put blueberries in theirs while others poured honey or syrup on their porridge.
After everybeast finished breakfast, the shrewwives and shrew babes climbed into the logboats while the males, including Bluestripe, the hares and the otters, pushed the logboats into the river. By that time, the males ambled into the logboats and the otters swam behind each logboat, giving it a push. After the current carried the logboats away, the Riverdog otters and Hawthorn Streambattle waved farewell to the travelers.
The Guosim had been journeying for several hours. Most of the creatures who were not oarbeasts were relaxing. Buckayoo's hat had slid over his eyes while he dozed with both paws behind his head. Bluestripe's captain, Jaren, leaned on his lance like a cane. Jaren spoke to the Badger Lord without facing him. "It's a beautiful day, eh, sah?"
Bluestripe did likewise and spoke to his hare companion without turning to him. "Indeed it is, my friend. I don't know why, but I can't help but feel like this is nought but a delusion. It just seems too good to be truly happening."
Lilla stepped from a cabin and looked around before she spoke. "Aye, it's like I perceive it, but I can't accept that it's actually happening!"
Jaren glanced over at the shrewwife. "Don't fret your head over it, ma'arm. I know what you mean." He strode over to his commander and whispered into his ear. "Remember what ol' Tide told us back at the holt about those river rat chaps ambushing travelers passing through their territory? Don't look, but I think they're watching us now."
Jaren was still leaning on his lance, but this time he had both paws on the handle. Bluestripe tried not to look suspicious as he reached for a weapon. Jaren called out to the badger. "Don't do it, sah-"
Projectiles shot from both sides of the riverbank. Log-a-log Sorex shouted orders to his Guosim shrews while Captain Jaren rallied the hares. River rats leapt from the tall grass on either side of the bank onto the logboat closest to him. The river rats chattered and screeched, which everybeast could only assume was their battlecry.
One foolish river rat wandered over towards the "sleeping" hare general. It raised a dagger over its head and brought it down on the highland hare. Both of the hare's legs shot out and caught his attacker in the midriff, knocking the wind from him. The rodent stumbled back with its arms wrapped around its stomach. Bukayoo sent the river rat over the side of the logboat with a powerful kick.
Unfortunately for Boggle, his logboat was the last out of all of them. He and his kitchen assistants were still in the cabin, cleaning pots and pans. They were startled when they heard several loud creatures out on the logboat. Boggle put a finger to his lips to indicate silence. He picked up a frying pan and stood near the door. Some of the others hid while about three shrews picked up kitchen knives, pots, and other kitchen utensils. The rats barged in.
Boggle inspected the five rats that had entered the cabin. Two of the rats wielded crude clubs, a pair of them wielded daggers, while the last one, who appeared to be the leader, was armed with a spear. One of the rats with a dagger sniffed as he passed Boggle. Boggle stood up behind him and hit him over the head with a frying pan. The rat unconscious. The remainding four turned and screeched as they saw the shrew chef standing over their fallen comrade. One shrew popped out from his hiding place and put the pot over the eyes of one rat so he was blinded. The rat flailed wildly and cut the chest of the shrew who had attacked him with his dagger. The shrew put a paw over the bleeding area and leaned on the counter for support.
A rat with a club saw the shrew and charged at him. Another shrew flung a pot of boiling water on the would-be attacker. The rat shrieked and fled from the cabin. A splash was heard. The rat tugged on the pot that had been covering his head and it came off. The rat was knocked out from a heavy blow from a pot. The remainding rat with a club rushed a shrew and knocked him out with a swing from his club. The rat gave a gurgle as a kitchen knife stuck out of his throat. The shrew who had thrown it looked pleased. The battle was not over yet, though. The final rat turned his spear on its side and charged at Boggle. Boggle snapped the the poorly-made spear in half with a heavy blow from his frying pan. The rat looked around and, seeing as his weapon had been broken, fled the cabin.
Meanwhile on the other logboats, the battle was nearing an end. Aran would cleverly trip rats so they would fall over the side of the logboat into the water. Sorex darted swiftly around the logboat, slashing at his foes, while receiving a few injuries himself. On Bluestripe's logboat, Bluestripe had gone into Bloodwrath. He swung his sledgehhamer at anyone who was within reach of his weapon. The hares kept their distance from their leader. Jaren would knock rats back with his lance so they would meet their fate at the hands of Bluestripe the Wild.
All the river rats who were not unconscious or dead had fled the logboats. Jaren gave a sigh of relief as he saw one river rat trying to crawl away unnoticed. The hare captain grabbed the river rat by the tail and pulled him back. The rat squeaked and attempted to squirm from the hare's grasp. Jaren reported to the Badger Lord, who was calming down. "Sah, this lil' blighter was trying to sneak away when I caught him. What shall we do with him, sah?"
Bluestripe looked the rat up and down. "Hmmm...What's your name, rat?"
The river rat squirmed and snarled. "Me name's Wetwrath Stoneskull!"
Jaren whispered to the badger. "Certainly plays the part of a savage, doesn't he?"
Bluestripe called to his general. "Buckayoo, what do you think we should do with this rat?"
Buckayoo inspected the rat with his one good eye and responded. "Ah say we ought tae keep 'im as a hostage so we ken pass safely next time."
The Badger Lord approved of his plan. "Surely they wouldn't attack if they saw us with a hostage."
Jaren looked around. "I say, does anybeast have some rope we can use to tie this blighter up with?"
In a short amount of time, the captive river rat was bound with rope provided by Lilla. Bluestripe sat down with his back against the cabin. He shut his eyes and entered the world of dreams. In the dream, Bluestripe was walking. He could ear the wind howling in his ears and the snow flying all around him. Bluestripe kept his head downward when he felt the presence of another. He looked up and saw a figure standing in front of a grave. It was carried off by the frigid winds as Bluestripe returned to reality.
The Badger Lord woke and listened to the conversation his friends were having. They were discussing how far away their location was and if they were heading due North.
Jaren was heard talking to the others. "So where the deuce is this flippin' grave anyway?"
Buckayoo's Highland accent was audible to the listening badger. "Ah ken remember et bein' in the Northlands."
Log-a-log Sorex chimed in. "How far do ye think we are from our destination?"
Buckayoo answered back. "Ah d'nae know."
Bluestripe glanced up and saw that the cabin was being inhabited by another. That other creature was Wetwrath Stoneskull. The rat sat writhing on the cabin floor, struggling with his bonds. He ceased as he felt the large badger's gaze wavering over him. The captive turned his head upward and scrutinized his captor. He grinned maliciously and blew a raspberry at the badger.
Bluestripe rose from his previous sitting position and snarled. He strode forward with both paws extended in front of him, reaching for the rat.
It was at that moment when Boggle returned from wiping out a frying pan. "I'm back from cleanin' that nasty ol' fryin' pa-" The shrew chef saw the badger advancing towards the river rat. Boggle raised the frying pan over his head and brought it down on the badger's skull. There was a perceptible thud as the huge Badger Lord toppled over.
When Bluestripe regained consciousness, he could tell it was nighttime. He sat up and looked around, but did not see anybeast. He got up and walked the cabin door, he was bathed in moonlight as he stepped out from the cabin.
There was nobeast in sight and the logboats were banked on the riverside for the night while everybeast slept. Bluestripe felt the need to take a late night stroll to relieve his mind of his troubles.
The badger was about to start walking when he heard somebeast snickering. Bluestripe raised his head and saw Wetwrath Stoneskull on the shore about twenty-five feet away prancing and snickering madly. The river rat had gnawed through his bonds and was in the process of escaping, but was rejoicing in his deliverance from his captors. Bluestripe gritted his teeth at the sight of the rat and pursued him.
The runty river rat spotted the large badger and took to his heels and ran. Wetwrath's bracelets and necklace jangled as he fled from the Badger Lord. The rat's agility helped him outrun the badger for a while until he began panting heavily from exhaustion. Wetwrath attempted to leap from a boulder to another one head of him, but he tripped.
Bluestripe grabbed the rat by the tail and pulled the screaming rat backwards. The badger lifted him over his head with one paw and dealt him a heavy blow that knocked the river rat out. The Badger Lord tossed the rat over his shoulder and continued going down the path, unsure where it lead to.
He continued walking for what seemed like hours until he saw firelight ahead. Bluestripe put one paw on his swordhilt and advanced. Bluestripe saw a rat wearing armor sitting on a stump next to the fire cooking his meal in a helmet. The Badger Lord and the rat locked eyes and said simultaneously, "You!"
The rat pointed at the badger and began speaking in a cockney accent. "I rememba yew! I 'ad to be on guard duty when yew escaped from yore cell a few seasons ago!"
Bluestripe spoke in a calm tone. "Then you must be a former soldier of Panthera Longclaws's horde. Tell me your name, rat."
The rat watched the liquid that was cooking over the fire in his helmet as he replied. "Me name's Winey."
Bluestripe deposited Wetwrath on the ground next to him as he sat down across the fire from Winey. There was an awkward silence as the two sat and watched the helmet of soup cook. Winey finally broke the tension. "So is Panthera Longclaws dead?"
Bluestripe thought on the question and remembered the image of Panthera being blown away in his dream. "So he is."
Bluestripe gave a cavernous yawn. "Excuse me, mate. I'm just very tired. Do you mind if I spend the night here?"
Winey shook his head. "Nah, yew can sleep 'ere fer tonight."
Bluestripe yawned and slept on his back. The last thing the badger saw before falling asleep was the beautiful starry sky.
The badger woke from a night of dreamless sleep and rubbed his eyes as he sat up. Bluestripe could hear the nearby waterfall. He was greeted by Winey. "'ello, mate. 'Ow was yore night?"
Bluestripe was relieved to have had rested without the dreams which had haunted him for so long. "It was fine, thanks."
Bluestripe felt like something was amiss. He looked around and turned to Winey. "Winey, do you know where Wetwrath is?"
Winey pointed over his shoulder with his thumb. "He's back 'ere. Don't yew fret bout 'im."
The Badger Lord averted his gaze to where Winey pointed. Wetwrath had a rope around his skinny neck that was attached to a stake in the ground. Just a few feet away under a tree sat two ferrets armed with spears slouched with their backs to the trunk.
Wetwrath glanced over at the ferrets and snarled as he fought with the noose around his neck. The younger ferret picked up a fallen peach and threw it at the captive river rat. "Ahhh, shuddup, yew!"
The rat picked the peach up and devoured it greedily. The older ferret turned to his companion and muttered to him. "Greedy lil' idjit, ain't he?"
The younger of the two nodded in agreement. "Aye."
Bluestripe leaned towards his rat friend and whispered into his ear. "Uh, Winey, who are these two?"
Winey answered his large badger companion. "Them? they ain't nothin' to worry about. The older one with the beard is Odje an' the younger one is 'is son, Ojash."
The father and son watched the struggling river rat uninterestedly until the sound of crunching dead leaves under footpaws was heard. The ferrets looked up and saw two more vermin, a stoat with a scruffy goatee and a small black rat. Odje and Ojash got up and sat under an apple tree while the two newcomers sat where the ferrets previously were.
Ojash hit the tree with his spearbutt, knocking an apple loose. Ojash caught the apple as it fell and took a bite of it. Odje called over to the stoat who sat under the peach tree watching Wetwrath. "Oi, Imit! Are the others comin' back 'ere soon?"
The stoat called Imit shrugged. "I dunno. They were takin' too long so me an' Jeiwa decided to 'ead back to camp."
Jeiwa, the black rat, sat up and looked into the distance. "I see-a them! 'ere they come!"
The sound of dead leaves under footpaws returned to the ears of everybeast. Six vermin strolled into camp. One, a weasel wielding an axe, dropped a pile of wood near the fire. A larged belly weasel carried a net full of small fish. He tied the net to a branch. A third weasel, who was a middle-aged creature, sat under the apple tree with the two ferrets and gave an exhausted sigh. Another rat, a small, brown rat about the same age as Jeiwa, joined his friend under the peach tree. The last two vermin strolled into camp. One was a stern looking fox with a longbow carrying two slain wood pigeons. The other, who was obviously the leader, was a stoat, burly and lean, with red, blue and yellow tattoos all over his body carried a bag, which he deposited on the ground. He swifly drew a dagger and slit the bag open, revealing wood pigeon eggs.
The stoat grinned, exposing his long fangs, and spoke to the vermin. "Good work, mates! With all the food we gathered today an' the fruit, we can 'ave a proper meal!"
The vermin clapped when they discovered that they would be eating a decent dinner that night. Winey leaned over to Bluestripe and pointed out each of the vermin. "See that oafish lookin' weasel? Wait, that don't narrow it down, does it? Yew see the 'eavy set weasel with the sword? That's Reic. The weasel o'er at the fire carryin' the axe is Muggrah. He tends to keep to 'imself. The stoat under the tree with the black rat is Imit. Serious bloke. He don't take any messin' around an' gets straight to the point. The two rats are Yeltir an' Jeiwa. Jeiwa is the black rat who talks funny. Yeltir is the brown rat who is a bit o' a prankster sometimes, but not as much as he used to be when I first met 'im. The weasel sittin' with the two ferrets is Samje, the cartographer. He's a good ol' fellow. The fox with the bow is Ammz. He's a serious chap an' the stoat's right-paw man. Finally, the burly stoat with the club an' dagger is Deathfang. He's unpredictable an' clever, but he also knows how to fight."
Hours passed and night started to creep upon the camp. Muggrah chopped wood and threw logs into the fire to satisfy its ravenous appetite to burn whatever it touches. Ojash sat with a blank expression upon his tattooed face as he roasted an apple that had been transfixed by his spearhead over the fire. Reic grilled a fish on a spit while the others watched.
Ammz sat at another fire, roasting his wood pigeon. Deathfang strolled over to where the rest of his followers sat, inspecting the fish. The stoat patted the fat weasel, Reic, on the back. “Good job, m’hardy. Yew just keep cookin’ that ‘un till it’s done.” He smiled and strolled over to the next vermin. Deathfang put an arm around the vermin sitting next to him, Yeltir. “How’re ya doin’, mate?”
Yeltir hesitated. The stoat chief had never been so friendly to him ever since he had met him. “Er, fine, Chief.”
Deathfang patted him on the back as he snatched an apple away unnoticed from the rat. “Well that’s always good t’hear!”
The stoat walked back over to the fire Ammz was at and took a bite from the apple he had taken. “’How’s it comin’ along?”
Ammz retorted without looking at the chieftain. “It’s almost ready.” He inspected the fish and pulled it from off of the spit.
All of the other vermin rushed over to the fish, but were confronted by their leader. The stoat kicked and pushed all of his followers, (besides Ammz) berating them loudly. “Who said yew lot got first serving? That’s right, nobeast did! I get firsts!”
The vermin grumbled as Deathfang started putting food on his plate. Winey tapped the stoat leader on the shoulder. Deathfang spun on the unfortunate rat. “Wot is it?!”
Winey pointed over at Bluestripe. “We ‘ave a guest, sir. Ain’t it polite to let guests go first?”
Deathfang snarled at the rat, but looked over at the huge badger without fear and stood aside. “Guests first, that’s ‘ow I always him!”
Bluestripe stepped in front of the stoat and served himself. He walked over to a fire and sat down. He took a bite of fish as Winey sat beside him. “Eat up. Yew gotta git enough food an’ sleep fer tomorrow when ya leave!”
Bluestripe drank from a goblet of water and responded. “That I do, friend. I’d best finish up and head on to bed.”
The badger finished his meal and walked to his tent. He shut his eyes and began to sleep. The Badger Lord was having another dream. In this one, Bluestripe was walking through deep snow in the middle of a blizzard and looked up to see the robed creature from before. The creature beckoned to the badger as the blizzard engulfed him.
Bluestripe woke and rose from his tent, stepping out to be basked in sunlight. The badger saw all of the vermin, with the exception of Ammz, who was attending to Deathfang, and Muggrah, who refused to have anything to do with a stripedog, collecting food and storing it in sacks. Imit, Yeltir, and Jeiwa pulled peaches from the peach tree and tossed them in the sack which Reic held open for them. Under the apple tree were Odje, Ojash, and Samje, collecting apples while Winey stood with the bag.
The Badger Lord looked around until he saw who he was searching for: Wetwrath Stoneskull. Muggrah was not too far away, leaning on his axe and watching the captive like a hawk. Wetwrath looked terrified under the gaze of the unfriendly weasel.
Bluestripe felt somebeast tapping on his shoulder. He turned to see Ammz. The fox, who was quite sophisticated for a vermin, spoke to the large badger as he offered him scones. “You’ll need to eat something before you leave. The others are preparing your rations as we speak.”
The young Badger Lord glanced over at Wetwrath. “What about Wetwrath?”
Ammz shook his head as he responded. “No need to fret o’er that one. Deathfang says that we will minister to him while you’re away.”
Bluestripe grinned. “Well I show my gratitude to you for that!”
Ammz shook his head once more. “No need to thank me. It is my master, Deathfang that you ought to be thanking.”
Bluestripe looked over at Deathfang. The badger turned and saw Winey and the other vermin, apart from Muggrah and Deathfang, gave Bluestripe his sack of rations, which he slung over his shoulder.
Wetwrath turned his gaze over to the Badger Lord and spat. “Flippin’ stripedog! I’ll get ye some day for this!”
Bluestripe clearly heard what the water rat said, but chose to ignore him. The badger strode over to the burly stoat leader and extended a paw. Deathfang inspected the huge paw momentarily and shook it. “May the winds of fortune always be at your back, Deathfang.”
Deathfang squinted and tightened his grip. “An’ the same goes to yew, stripedog.”
The young Badger Lord stopped shaking hands and turned towards the trail, continuing his journey unaccompanied by anybeast.
The terrain which Bluestripe was starting to travel through had become rocky with an uphill course. The badger could feel the wind against his fur. The gale grew louder in the Badger Lord’s ears as he went higher up the trail.
By nightfall, or that’s what it seemed like to Bluestripe, for he could no longer distinguish the night from day, he had entered a blizzard. He could barely see a few feet in front of him and his teeth were chattering from the cold.
Bluestripe could tell that he was in the mountains now, probably near the ocean judging by the sound of waves crashing against the cliff side.
The young Badger Lord gazed forward and saw something through the snow several feet in front of him. Bluestripe squinted and realized what he was looking at. It was a tombstone! It could very well be the exact same tombstone that Buckayoo had given account of! Bluestripe stumbled towards the tombstone, but he could barely stand due to the numbing cold. Bluestripe’s eyelids flickered. No! I can’t stop now, but it’s so cold! Bluestripe took one more step and collapsed in a heap.
The sleeping badger once more entered the realm of dreams. This time, he could clearly see the tombstone, which read “Bloodwrath”. Bluestripe blinked. When he looked back at the tombstone, there stood a hooded creature wearing a long robe carrying a scythe. The badger’s eyes were flecked with red as he growled at the robed beast. “Why do you keep appearing to me? Who are you?!”
The robed creature spoke in a deep, gruff voice. “It appears that you have it, too.”
Bluestripe looked bewildered at this statement. “What? What do I have, too?”
The hooded beast pulled back his hood. There stood a wolf with gray eyes looking down on the blue striped badger. “Your eyes reveal all I need to know. You go into terrible rages and become an unstoppable juggernaut in the midst of battle, do you not?”
The Badger Lord nodded. The wolf inquired the badger once more. “You also are searching for a way to be rid of it so you do not endanger the lives’ of your friends and loved ones, yes?” Bluestripe answered. “Yes, but how did you obtain this knowledge?”
The wolf turned his head towards the sea. He was silent for a minute as he listened keenly to the waves breaking as they struck the cliff side. “I was once as you were. Let me chronicle my tale to you.”
Book Two: The Wolf
The young wolf was returning to the den after a long day’s work of tilling the frozen earth. He was the most able-bodied wolf in his clan. The majority of the wolves were elderly. The few young ones there had been had broken off from the main clan to form their own group. Gralmag had been too young at the time, forcing him to remain with the older wolves. He had to work in the field just to provide for his clan, for they were too old and weak to perform the labor required for such a task. The wolf was also orphaned at a young age. Gralmag’s parents went hunting one day and after several days, the elders sent a few able-bodied beasts to search for them. When the wolves returned, they reported that the pair had been slain by an unknown group of creatures. Without any parents, Gralmag was raised by his grandparents and uncle.
Gralmag was around twenty-three seasons old. He was around average height for one of his kind, with gray eyes. He wore a dirty ermine skin that covered most of his neck and his muscular shoulders. A necklace of fangs was worn around the wolf’s neck. His pants, which were a ragged, dark green pair, were what he wore when he toiled in the frigid fields. Lastly, he wore a small, dark vest that exposed his broad chest.
Gralmag could see the cave just head, but did not see the fire which was usually surrounded by elders. He felt something was amiss, and quickened his pace. What he saw chilled and unnerved him.
The place had been ransacked. Pots and pans lay overturned with their contents on the cave floor. Campfires had ebbed down to naught but warm coals. But the worst of all was the wolves. All of the former occupants of the den lie on their sides. Gralmag rushed over to the bodies which he identified as his grandparents. He shook the cold bodies. The young wolf bit his lip until he drew blood. He inspected the others, who were all like his grandparents had been- cold and unresponsive.
There was a small groan from near the back of the cave. The wolf’s ears stood erect. He leapt over the lifeless bodies of his family members towards the sound of the groan. When Gralmag reached where he had heard the weak moan, he discovered that it was his uncle. The young wolf put one paw behind his uncle’s head to support him as he weakly attempted to lean forward. Gralmag saw that his uncle’s chest was bleeding, and knew he was dying. “Uncle, what happened?”
His uncle coughed, and responded to his nephew. “We….were attacked by corsairs while you were away….they slaughtered the clan and…the captain stole the family ring…”
Gralmag’s head was spinning as he took in all of the information. “What? They took the family ring? What did the captain look like?”
His uncle answered feebly. “He was a pine marten…was wearin’ an eyepatch over his right eye…carried two slim swords. They blades looked foreign. He spoke with a strange accent…Gralmag, I’m sorry this had to happen…Farewell…”
The wolf could see the life fading from his uncle. His uncle’s head lolled to the side as his eyes clouded over.
The wolf had left the den. He was fighting back tears. He was growling with rage as he thought of the corsair who had stolen the heirloom of his pack. He must find the ring! As the last wolf in his pack, he must, by all means, get it back. He had to! It would be shameful to die knowing that he had let the precious ring been stolen from him and never seen again by any wolf in the pack again.
Gralmag walked back into the cave to retrieve the only thing he had that could serve as a weapon, his scythe. He had only used it for labor, but starting at that moment, it would serve a different purpose. It would be used as a tool for meeting out revenge on the corsairs who had stolen the family heirloom. He would cause as much carnage as the vermin had caused for his clan! They would pay with their lives!
Gralmag put the scythe in a strap on his back and gathered the few possessions that were left. He gathered food and took his canteen and filled it up with water from the stream not too far away from the cave. The Land of Snow and Ice was cold. It was not as cold as other parts of the land, though. He lived in the southern parts of the frozen wasteland, which was much like Mossflower Woods. The only difference was that there were fewer plants and far fewer creatures where he lived. It was also much colder and mountainous where he lived. He looked back at the cave he had grown up in one last time and embarked on his quest of vengeance.
Gralmag leapt from rock to rock as he sprinted along the cliff side. His teeth were bared as thoughts raced through his mind at the same rate he was running. “Cowardly pine marten!”, thought the wolf.
The vengeful beast continued thinking. “How will I find this pine marten anyway? I haven’t any idea on what his name is and how much of a head start he has…But…pine martens are not native to these lands, so he’s undoubtedly foreign. That means that he is unaccustomed to the freezing temperatures here. So he must have travelled here in a ship. That gives me a clue where to look…”
Gralmag scoured the rolling waves for any sign of some type of ship. After several hours of doing this, Gralmag started to grow weary. He stood on a small hill that overlooked the land ahead of him, which dipped low for about three miles until it ended at a gorge. The area which preceded the gorge had more trees than Gralmag had ever seen, but that was not saying much.
The weary beast’s chest heaved as he trudged towards the trees. He grinned as he thought of all he had accomplished that day. He had discovered that his enemy was travelling by ship and that he should stick to the coastline, which was proving to be valuable information.
By the time he arrived where the small grove of trees was; the sun had already set. Gralmag was just about to stop where he was and sleep there for the night when he saw firelight. He followed the light emanated from the flames and the scent of smoke until he stood before the fire. He sat down and warmed his cold paws.
Gralmag sensed the presence of another creature. He turned his gaze up from the fire. Across from him sat a mouse. The mouse met his gaze and broke the silence. “Hello.”
The wolf sat silently as the mouse watched him. “My name’s Martin the Warrior.”
The mouse extended his paw to the wolf. Gralmag simply stared at the mouse for a few moments, and shook his paw reluctantly. “Me name’s Gralmag”, mumbled the wolf.
Martin gave a small grin. “I suppose I should say it’s nice to meet you. I’ve never had the honor of having the acquaintance of a wolf before.”
Gralmag’s eyes were focused on the dancing flames. “I can say I’ve never met a mouse before. What’re you doin’ in these parts?”
The mouse responded casually. “I’m lookin’ for adventure. You could call me a vagabond of sorts. What about you?”
The burly wolf answered impassively. “I’m after a scummy pine marten. He has somethin’ of mine an’ I’m takin’ it back from ‘im.”
Martin nodded his head. “Well, no worry, mate, I’m here to help you. Since it seems like we’re partners now, I have an adventure to go on.”
There seemed to be a silent agreement between the pair about what Martin had proposed. The mouse broke the silence. “Well…It’s getting late. We’d best turn in for the night. G’night, mate.”
Gralmag grumbled back a reply as he sat down and leaned back against tree facing away from the fire. Martin continued to stay by the fire. Both creatures present thoughts were identical. “I wonder how this is going to work out…”
The scent of smoke from dying embers was blown along by a faint breeze. The scent was especially strong in the nose of one beast. Siber Winterfang turned to his band of followers, who mostly consisted of ermine and arctic foxes. “I can smell the remains of somebeast’s fire. It smells as if it was made last evening. If we leave now, the likelihood of catching up to this creature is high. Let’s move out.”
Gralmag awoke as dawn was ending to see Martin sitting on a log eating a pawful of purple berries. Martin turned and saw that Gralmag was no longer resting and extended his open paw to the wolf. “Here. Take some berries. If we are to make good time today, then our meals must be quick to eat.”
Grumbling back a reply, the surly wolf took a few and chewed them up. He rose and adjusted the ermine fur that covered his broad shoulders. Martin slipped his haversack over his shoulders and the two were shortly on their way.
The sun was starting to rise as they made their way along the hills that overlooked the sea that sparkled as morning’s first rays of light were reflected off of the surface of the vast blue ocean. Martin halted abruptly and held a paw up to signal Gralmag to stop where he was. Martin started walking faster, beckoning to the wolf.
Gralmag caught up with his mouse companion, looking slightly confused. “What is it?”
Martin answered as he continued walking with a quick stride. “I hear somebeast…or somebeasts following us. We must try our best to lose them quickly or they will be upon us.”
The two continued walking at a fast pace, until their pursuers were certain that the two beasts had noticed their presence. They were unafraid to make themselves known. Creatures were heard moving through tall grass, bushes, and knocking stones loose as they raced after their quarry. The mouse and wolf ran until they were on the edge of a cliff. Martin and Gralmag got their first glimpse of who their hunters were.
A tall fox with a white coat of fur stepped out from the bushes with various ermine and other foxes behind him, in total numbering around two and a half score. The vermin were in a pincer movement, blocking Martin and Gralmag from escaping. Martin looked to Gralmag. “Looks like we’re in a tight spot, mate…”
The robust wolf growled and drew his scythe. “Not if I can help it!”
Gralmag swung his scythe at the approaching vermin, who backed up hastily to avoid meeting with fate. After seeing the fear in the eyes of the vermin who he had attacked, he grinned. “What’s the matter, are y’scared of a single wolf? I bet I can take all of you at once!”
The arctic fox stepped forward. “Enough. If it is a fight you are seeking, then I would gladly accept it. The only combatants will be you and I. My followers will not interfere as long as that mouse doesn’t.”
Gralmag readied himself as he crouched lower to the ground. “You are either very brave or very foolish to make such a bold choice. Let’s find out which category you fall under!”
The white fox held up a paw. “Before we start, I would like to set the consequences for both outcomes. If you win, then you and your friend may be on your way and never see us again. But if I win, you and that mouse will become our captives.”
The young wolf smiled confidently, but was inwardly dubious. “It’s a deal.”
The wolf’s opponent drew a large buster sword and held it with both paws as he crouched. “Very well, then. Let us begin.”
Gralmag launched himself at his adversary. He held the scythe near the head and swung and the fox’s head. The tall fox ducked and blocked by holding his buster sword diagonally. The fox pushed back, causing the wolf to stumble back a few paces. While his opponent had been stunned momentarily, the fox rushed at Gralmag, preparing to swing his heavy sword at him. As the fox was about to swing at Gralmag’s head, the wolf leaned back so the blade passed right over him. The fox took this opportunity to kick Gralmag’s legs from under him, causing him to land flat on his back.
The white fox stabbed down at Gralmag with his large sword, but Gralmag rolled out of the way. In the same movement, the wolf jabbed upward with the butt of his scythe, hitting the fox in the cheek. The fox grabbed the scythe pole. Gralmag used this chance to pull himself up. But as he did so, the fox brought the hilt of his buster sword down on the wolf’s head, knocking him out.
The fox looked disdainfully at Gralmag’s unconscious form and nodded. Several ermine and foxes bound the wolf while a few tied Martin’s paws together. Martin sighed as he looked at his inert comrade. As Martin was escorted away by a few of the vermin, the mouse looked at the fox, who was watching a few strong ermine carrying Gralmag away. “Tell me, fox, what is your name?”
The fox looked at Martin with his cold blue eyes as he replied with a minute smile. “My name is Siber Winterfang.”
When Gralmag awoke, he realized he was chained around his wrists and ankles and finally hung up to the damp wall. Gralmag turned his head to the left and saw Martin had been chained up in the same manner he had.
The wolf was trying to collect his thoughts when he remembered what had happened before he lost consciousness. He had fought that arctic fox and had been defeated by him. He snarled and shook his chains. “Let me outta here! Do y’hear me, fox? I said let me outta here!”
Martin was aroused by his companion’s noise and blinked groggily. “Wha-Oh, it’s only you. After you were knocked out, that fox Siber and his gang brought us to their hideout in these caves and left us in here like this.”
Gralmag strained against his chains and gritted his teeth. “Well we can’t just sit here! We gotta do somethin’!”
Martin shook his head. “I would like to, but at the moment, I’m at a loss for any possible plans for escaping.”
The rattling of the chains continued as Gralmag persisted. A voice suddenly spoke as if from nowhere. “This is the part where I come in to help.”
The mouse and the wolf both raised their heads to see who the voice belonged to, and an elderly hare stepped out from around the corner.
Gralmag looked at the creature in surprise. “What the- How did you get in here?”
The hare scratched one of his long ears and replied. “Well, old scout, I was strolling by and I heard somebeast screaming flippin’ bloody murder. I came to investigate and I found you chaps.”
Martin spoke for his companion. “I think my friend here is asking how you got in here without any of the vermin noticing.”
The hare’s ears twitched and he raised an eyebrow. “Vermin, you say? I didn’t see any of the caddish vermin types around here.”
Martin looked at Gralmag. “That must mean that Siber has taken his gang to do some more plundering.”
Gralmag nodded at Martin and growled at the hare. “Can you just hurry up an’ get us down from here?!”
After grumbling something inaudible under his breath, the hare pulled a large double-headed battle axe from a strap on his back. He advanced to the pair and swung his axe in a wide arc. The chains that bound the footpaws of both creatures were broken.
The hare swung his battle axe twice more. The remnants of the chains that bound the captives’ wrists fell to the ground. Martin and Gralmag landed on the ground with a thud. The wolf growled as he rubbed his wrists to get circulation in them once more.
Martin strolled up to the hare and extended his paw to him. “Thank you. Had it not been for you, we would still have been hanging here.”
The hare shook his head, causing his long ears to flap as he did so. “No, it was your wolf chap here who caused the ruckus. Had he not done that, I wouldn’t have heard you two lads. Now, let us hurry. They’ll probably be back soon.”
The hare led the way while Martin and Gralmag followed close behind. When they stepped from the cave, the mouse and the wolf realized they were in a small valley. The hare bounded along a trail which led out of the snowy valley. When they were out of the valley, they looked around at the flat land before them. The hare looked back at the two. “Welcome to the highlands, wot!”
They continued a while as the sun began to rise in the east. Martin and Gralmag were growing tired, but the hare skipped ahead of them. They came to a sudden halt and the pair looked up to behold a giant castle. The hare grinned at them. “Welcome to my castle!”
The ship slowly floated on the flat waters as the moon sat high in the sky. It was a beautiful ship, with the words “Omen of Neptune” on its side. While it was outwardly beautiful, what it carried was far uglier. Villains from the tropics occupied the magnificent vessel, captained by the cruelest swashbuckler on the seven seas. The captain’s name was Zakrav. He had one eye and wore a captain’s coat. He wore a snakeskin belt around his worn pants.
A small serpent was coiled around his left arm. This was Xeris, Zakrav’s companion. She had met him in the tropics when the pair were young and joined him when he snuck aboard a ship.
That had been the start of the pine marten’s dangerous career. When he had been discovered by the crew as a stowaway, he was made cabin boy and later promoted to assistant chef. He would feed Xeris eggs when nobeast was looking. Over time, Zakrav grew more powerful and wiser. He befriended a creature from a foreign island. He was an old beast, and knew his fighting days were over, and bestowed his two katanas to Zakrav.
With that, Zakrav took the chance to slay the captain of the ship and establish himself as the new captain. He became a ruthless leader with his notoriety spreading like a wildfire across land and sea.
In the pub, vermin of all types were drinking and generally having a good time. Corsairs, thieves, vagabonds, and mercenaries sat together drinking ale, aged wine, beer, rum, gin, grog, whisky, spirits, and brandy. Apart from a few fights provoked from drunkenness, the atmosphere was overall jovial. That is- until the pine marten entered.
Everybeast in the tavern gazed at the pine marten corsair as he stood in the doorway from the drizzle that was going on outside. They all sat silently, some giving one another looks from the corner of their eye. None dared to move. That is- all save a drunken weasel, who awkwardly stumbled over to Zakrav. He laughed between hiccups as he attempted to speak. “Huh huh! Hic! Who’re yew? Heh heh! Wot are ya doin’ here, pine marten? Hic! Yew ain’t welcome at dis bar!”
The weasel feebly aimed to push the pine marten back. Zakrav grabbed him by the paw as the weasel reached for him and pulled the beast towards him. He drew his sword as the weasel was pulled towards Zakrav. The weasel looked down at the katana blade that had gone right through him. His paw went limp, causing the weasel to drop the bottle of grog that he had been holding.
Zakrav pulled back on the katana. Blood spurted from the carcass of the weasel as the blade was withdrawn from the body. The pine marten wiped his blade on the limp form of the beast he had just slain and sheathed it. He strolled by the by the body as though it was not there up and to the counter. He spoke to the bartender in a soft, yet chilling voice. “Dost thou carry any wine?”
The bartender, a grizzled old searat, nodded. “Y-yessir! I’ll fetch it right away!” He darted off to retrieve the finest aged wine he could offer to the notorious corsair.
The bartender soon returned with a bottle of wine, which he handed to the corsair captain. Zakrav thanked the searat and took the bottle in his right paw. He sat by the window and looked out at the gray clouds that loomed over the ocean. He pulled the cork from the bottle and took a swig.
The pine marten noticed the ash gray ring lined with black jet stones which he wore upon his middle finger. Xeris noticed her old friend studying the ring and hissed to him. “Isssss sssssomething assssstray, Zakrav?”
The captain shook his head. “Nay, thou shan’t burden thyself with my own burdens.”
Xeris’s coils shifted slightly. “Assss you wish.”
Zakrav inspected the ring after Xeris had settled down and fallen asleep. Zakrav began thinking to himself as he looked the ring over. Now where had that ring come from? Hmm…he hadn’t owned it for too long that was for sure. Ah, yes! It had been pillaged from that wolf clan! Ha, that had almost been too easy! They were all old creatures who died with little resistance. It had almost proved pointless had the ring not been found. Zakrav looked at the ring and squinted with his single eye. It had been easy, almost strangely so. The pine marten shook his head and dismissed the notion as he took another sip of wine while he looked out upon the storm from where sat in the bar.
As the three creatures were greeted by the sight of the castle, it began to rain. Martin and Gralmag ran speedily towards it before they became too wet while the hare bounded ahead of them. He opened a large oak door for them as they sought refuge from the downpour. The mouse and the wolf ran in as the hare closed the door and leaned against it wearily. He was worn out from the run, no longer in his younger seasons. If he had been younger, the hare would have been a very fit creature indeed. He gave a sigh of exhaustion. “Phew! I must say that I am bushed!”
The elderly hare looked over at the pair, who were still wet from their brief amount of time they had been caught in the storm. “Oh, I say! Where are my manners? I have completely forgotten to make my introduction to you good fellows!” He gave a low bow before his guests. “Salutations, it is a great privilege to have met your persons. My name is Lonebuck. I was born and raised in this castle. Now please, make yourselves at home.”
Martin smiled and nodded politely to their host. “Thank you, Lonebuck for offering us shelter during the storm. If you don’t mind me asking, do you live in this grand castle all by yourself? Do you have a mate or children who live here as well?”
Lonebuck nodded in reply. He sounded somewhat grim as he answered. “Do I live here alone? The answer is no. The offspring of my siblings and their young ones also reside here. I myself only come here when I absolutely must, preferring to travel the highlands as I please.”
Martin wrung his tail to rid it of the rain water. “Why did you sound so solemn when you spoke? Do you have a mate and children of your own?”
Lonebuck shook his head. “I do not have a family of my own. As for why I sounded so solemn is because I do not like returning here. Many seasons ago, in my younger seasons, I realized I did not approve of the ways of my clan. I had an argument with my father, the ruler of this castle, and left this place.”
Gralmag shook himself to free him of any water his coat had absorbed. “Meh, I’m tired. Let’s get on.”
Martin shot Gralmag a disapproving look as they both followed Lonebuck. Lonebuck peered cautiously from around the corner and down the corridor. He turned back to his two guests. “Let’s get you two lads a bite to eat. I know you must be hungry. As a matter of fact, I’m becoming a bit famished myself.”
Lonebuck led the pair into a dining hall of average size with a somewhat high ceiling. Lonebuck was about to go grab a few scones when a voice called out to him. “Och, weel ye look at this! ‘Tis our auld great uncle Brearainn! ‘ow are ye?”
Lonebuck saw a young male hare in his twenties walking up to Lonebuck with several other hares. All the males wore kilts and a belt carrying a dagger of sorts in a sheath worn on the belt. The females wore brown shirts with a skirt that bore a kilt pattern on it.
The young hare who had spoken brushed past Gralmag and Martin. He stood before Lonebuck and crossed his arms, giving a friendly grin. “Weel, et’s been a while since ye’ve been ‘ere. ‘ow ‘ave ye been?”
Lonebuck looked down at his footpaws, not responding. The hare looked down at his elder. “Et’s me- Cailean.”
Lonebuck continued to stare downward, but he answered. “I am completely aware of this. I try to speak to you and the others as little as I possibly can when I must come to this dreaded place. Oh, and drop the friendliness, I know it’s all a ruse.”
Cailean dropped his friendly air as soon as Lonebuck said this. “Look, auld ‘un, ah was tryin’ tae be nice tae ye, but ye’ve left me with no other choice but tae be like the others. Ye are a traitor an’ ye bring dishonor to our clan. Ye were tae be the king after our great-grandfather passed on, but since ye left, we ‘aven’t ‘ad a proper ‘un.”
Lonebuck scowled and met Cailean’s gaze angrily. “I don’t care what you flippin’ call me! I am not a traitor, but I merely realized the wrongness of what the clan was doing! I didn’t believe it was right, so I left and met some other hares who weren’t barbarians like you lot!”
Cailean sneered at his great uncle. “Ye were a coward for joinin’ those ‘ares an’ ye know et. As fer the clan’s actions bein’ wrong, we are doin’ naught but growin’ braw an’ proud! Ah would nae speak o’ barbarians around ye. Look at the creatures who ye ‘ave brought into our ‘ome- a mouse an’ a wolf savage!”
Martin gritted his teeth and clenched his fist at this. The young Highland hare noticed this and drew his sword. “Och, weel et looks like ah made yon mousie a wee bit angry. C’mon, mouse. Ah ken ‘andle ye.”
Lonebuck trembled with rage and started to draw his battle axe, but before he could do so, the muscular form of Gralmag was seen slamming into the Highlander’s side. Cailean was knocked a few feet away, where he fell to the floor, his sword had clattered a few feet away, which happened to be just out of reach. Gralmag stood over the hare, snarling. “Don’t you ever refer to me as a wolf savage! If ya do, then I’ll show you the true meaning of death. Do I make myself clear, rabbit?”
Cailean put a paw to his nose and looked back at his paw. There was blood on it from when Gralmag smashed into him and caused his nose to bleed. Cilean pulled himself up, grumbling darkly under his breath. The other hares shot hateful, but somewhat fearful glances at the wolf.
Martin pulled Gralmag away by the arm as Lonebuck quickly grabbed a few small things to eat. They hurried out of the hall as quickly as they could with the eyes of the Highland hares still burning into them hatefully.
Lonebuck took the pair to his former chambers in the west wing of the castle. Lonebuck hung his battle axe on the wall next to his bed as he passed out food. Martin and Lonebuck shared some cheese and scones while Gralmag ate two raw eggs and several scones. The elder hare wiped the corners of his mouth with a handkerchief, which he produced from a pocket in his jacket. “I apologize for that incident. Rather aggressive, those hares are. I have arranged where you two will sleep to protect both of you from any harm that may be brought upon you from my kin.”
The hare stood up and pushed a bookshelf aside, revealing an old wooden door. Gralmag and Martin looked at it and then turned to one another. Lonebuck opened the door for them. “This passage leads down to the cellars. It’s quite comfortable down there. I would go down there when I still lived here when I didn’t want to be disturbed. Good night, chaps.”
Martin and Gralmag descended down the flight of spiral stairs that led down to the cellar. They had come across a second wooden door of considerable age. Martin opened it and they both stepped through. There were several sacks filled with straw and two pillows. Gralmag turned his nose up at the sight. “What was he thinkin’ sendin’ us down here?”
Martin sat down on a pile of the straw-filled sacks and sat back. “He’s doing it for our own good. Now get some sleep.”
Gralmag looked at the makeshift bed and took a pillow. He flopped down on his pile of sacks and pulled his pillow close to him. “Yeah, but it still isn’t very comfortable.”
His mouse companion turned on his side and gave a yawn. “It’ll do for tonight. Goodnight, matey…”
Gralmag rolled over on his stomach and mumbled what sounded like “Good night”. The wolf’s eyelids began to flutter, and Gralmag soon fell asleep. The young wolf was walking in darkness, confused about where he was going. He cursed under his breath. “Where am I going?” Suddenly, the ring that had been valued by Gralmag’s clan floated before the wolf. He snatched at it, grinning triumphantly. “I gotcha!” The ring phased through Gralmag’s paws. Gralmag gritted his fangs in frustration. The ring began to grow to a large size. The wolf turned and fled, looking over his shoulder to see a void in the center of the ring. Gralmag was sucked through the dark void in the ring’s core.
The arctic fox clenched his paws and kicked a sack of stolen goods, knocking it over. “Curses! I’m a fool for not posting sentries to watch over my prisoners! Now they’ve escaped! I’ll hunt them down, mark my words! Nobeast has ever fled from Siber Winterfang and lived!” Siber Winterfang turned to his followers. “Listen, everybeast, we will hunt those two down and slay them! Prepare yourselves for a hunting trip!”
Gralmag woke to find Martin had risen before he had. The mouse noticed that his companion was no sleeping and looked over at him. “Did you sleep well? You were in a deep sleep, that’s for sure.”
The wolf grumbled in reply. “I suppose. Hey, where’s that ol’ hare gotten to?”
Martin shrugged as he stood up. “To be honest, I don’t know. It’s awfully early, though.”
As Gralmag stretched, his stomach growled. “Let’s go back to his room an’ see if he has any food. I’m gettin’ hungry.”
Martin and Gralmag ascended the spiral stairs that led to Lonebuck’s chambers. Martin stuck his head out the door as he stood on the last step to see if the hare was in his room. There was no sign of the hare. Martin called back to Gralmag. “I don’t see him in his room.”
Gralmag pushed the door open, almost causing Martin to lose his balance. “Let’s go look around for ‘im.”
The two creatures walked through the doorway and pushed the bookcase back in front of the door that led to the cellar before exiting Lonebuck’s room. Martin carefully opened the door and peered down the flight of steps top see if any of the hares were around. The pair crept down the stairs and headed down to the main hall (near the dining hall where they had been the previous night).
The two creatures froze when they saw Lonebuck with his back turned to them looking upon a magnificent claymore which hung upon the wall. The elderly hare reached for it and removed it from its case. He held it in both paws, looking at the weapon, its silver blade was so bright that it almost made it appear to be white. Lonebuck swung the blade and put it over his shoulder in a strap. His ears quivered and he turned his head to the side, his eye catching Gralmag and Martin. He beckoned them over to where he stood.
The wolf and the mouse quickly strode to their host. Lonebuck consulted with the pair in a hushed tone. “This claymore has been in my family for several generations. I thought that I should leave them a little goodbye present before leaving for the last time. We are leaving now. I already have the rations prepared and your canteens have been refilled. They are at the door. Now, we must go before the others awaken and discover we are gone.”
Martin nodded. “So you’re coming with us. Right, let’s be off.”
The party of three snuck to the door. They each carried their equal amount of supplies. Martin slowly opened the door just enough so they would have just enough room to slip out of the doorway. When they had all exited, Gralmag shut the large door behind them. They made their way across the highlands through the blanket of darkness that shrouded the northlands as the wind gently blew past the three travelers.
They were not the only creatures who were traveling across the highlands at dusk. Siber Winterfang looked up and saw the shape of a castle in the distance. An ermine called Javir pointed at the fortress that stood in the horizon. “Sir, I see a castle of sorts not too far away! If we keep up at the rate we’re goin’ at, we could make it there at about noon time!”
Siber adjusted his scarf and replied to his follower. “No, we must keep going if we are to catch up this those escaped prisoners. You can do whatever you want with the wolf, I already defeated him without any trouble. The one I want to duel is that mouse. I never had my chance to duel him. That’ll teach ‘em to try and escape from me!”
The vermin band continued to march on with their heads bowed so that they may be protected by the cold winds that blew at their faces. Siber gave a very small smile, which was nought but a twitch of his mouth. Siber and his followers continued their journey through the highland plains as they pursued their quarry.
The bar had grown quiet since Zakrav and his crew had occupied it. Several creatures left when they saw the pine marten and his crew inhabiting the tavern. One of Zakrav’s bodyguards, a stoat named Wilrav strode over to his captain and reported. “Cap’n, I think we lost that ship full of hares who patrol these waters. We’re safe fer now.”
Zakrav took a sip from his goblet and nodded. “Good.”
His other bodyguard, a female weasel called Azrea stood by Wilrav. “How long are we stayin’ ‘ere, Cap’n? We need to find a place to stay so we can leave what we stole there until we set out again fer another raid.”
Xeris looked to her companion. He looked back at her and turned to his two bodyguards. “I think that we will stay here for another day or two and then we will search for a hideout.”
Wilrav left to check on the crew while Azrea remained where she stood. “Cap’n, about that last raid on that wolf clan... I have a funny feelin’ about it.”
Zakrav looked passively at the weasel. “And what sort of feeling is it that thou art feeling?”
Azrea thought for a moment. “I’m not quite sure... It’s just that almost every one of those wolves was old. There are usually a few younger ones in a clan and I didn’t see any...”
Zakrav responded as he shook off her words. “It was a dying clan. Most clans that are on their last leg usually are full of old creatures who are about to die. When the remaining clan members die, the pack is no more. What do you think, Xeris?”
The yellow-scaled serpent looked to Zakrav and hissed softly. “I think there isss nothing to fear.”
Zakrav looked at the ash colored ring with its black jet stones embedded in it which he wore on his middle finger, not taking his eye from it as he answered the serpent. “Yes, thou shan’t need to worry at all...”
The party of three continued on their way until they had well-distanced themselves from the castle. Martin had discovered an overlook that formed a small cave-like structure in the hillside. Martin led the way down a slope, offering to assist Lonebuck, who, though declining, thanked Martin for offering. Gralmag ran on ahead passed them and stood in the entrance of the cave. Gralmag plopped down with his back against the side of the cave wall. “Ahhh! After travelin’ all morning with little sleep, it’s good just to sit down an’ rest a bit, eh?”
Martin and Lonebuck sat down on the opposite side of the cave. Martin pulled off his backpack and began to pass out rations as Lonebuck looked over at Gralmag. “Tell me about it, I’m older than you youngsters, wot!”
Gralmag waved a paw, as if dismissing Lonebuck. “Yeah, yeah, I know how ya old creatures are.”
Martin shot his wolf companion a look that told him to keep his mouth shut. “So, Lonebuck... If you don’t me asking, what caused you to become so distanced from your family?”
Lonebuck sat up a little bit and took a swig of water from his canteen. The faint trace of a smile played upon his lips. “I was hoping one of you chaps would ask me that sooner or later.”
Martin leaned eagerly forward as he waited for Lonebuck to begin. Gralmag, with his arms crossed, glanced at Lonebuck from the corner of his eye. “Well, go on!”
Lonebuck cleared his throat and gave a brief cough before beginning. “Well, it happened many seasons ago when I was a chipper young lad with a hunger for adventure. Now during my father’s reign of ruling the noble family of highland hares, there were several campaigns led by him to expand the land owned by our family. I longed to be out there on the battlefield with the others, so one day, I snuck off and watched them battle our enemies. It was then that I discovered the truth. The brutal fashion in which my family fought the foebeasts appalled me so much that I fled from the scene of bloodshed and back to the castle. I quickly gathered supplies as I told myself that I was running away from my family. Nobeast, not even vermin, deserved to be killed in such a gruesome manner. The hares didn’t even blink as they did it, too! There was no remorse or guilt in their eyes, just a thirst for bloodshed that must be quenched. So after I gathered all of my supplies, I took a small dirk from the armory (I was able to sneak in because the guard was sleeping) and left the castle. I didn’t know where I was going, but I had no knowledge of where exactly I was destined.”
“After several days, I stumbled across a few other hares about my age. They accepted me into their little group. There were the two lads, Horatio and Brochadume. There were also the two gels, Priscilla and Euboria. They were the best pals a chap could ever have! They were the ones to first call me Lonebuck.. (I didn’t want to me called my Highlander name) Horatio was a bit of a stick in the flippin’ mud, but that’s the only downside to the whole group. I learned from watching Priscilla and Euboria in battle that you should never judge a beautiful haremaid’s strength by her looks. Brochadume and I got along fairly well, despite me being a little shy for the first two seasons with the group. After several seasons together, we were caught up in a war between a wildcat named Argent Ceallach Longclaws and an army of woodlanders from the Northlands who stood in the way of the wildcat’s campaign. We joined the woodlanders in the last battle as they fought Longclaws and defeated them after a long battle. The wildcat was spared and he and his mate took the remainder of his horde and left the North. After that, I was horrified when I realized that the woodlanders whom we had allied with were all hares, but not just hares: my family. They recognized me and tried to make me return home with them, but I refused to and stayed with my four friends. We travelled a little while longer until we came to the conclusion that we should go our separate ways after all these seasons we had spent together. I travelled far and wide for many seasons with nobeast save myself. I eventually mustered up the courage to return to my home and hope they accepted me again. The reception to my homecoming was mixed, a few were shocked at my returning, for they thought I would never come back. Others, such as my brothers and sisters, treated me with hostility, calling me by the name I went by while I still lived with them, which was Brearainn. I discovered that my father and mother had passed away during the time I was gone. I soon realized that my family had (in a way) locked me within my own home until I regained their trust. Then, I would wander the highlands briefly, recalling my old adventures as I did so. That is when I came across you two. So that’s my tale.”
Martin sat up a little and gave Lonebuck a smile. “Wow, I didn’t know you went through all of that. Do you ever wonder what’s become of your old companions?”
Lonebuck nodded. “Yes, nearly every day. I haven’t seen or heard from them since we separated that day many season ago, though.”
Gralmag glanced over at Martin. “Ya can’t hold on to everybeast ya meet, Martin.”
Martin met his gaze. “I am fully aware of that.”
Lonebuck yawned and stretched out. “I say! I’m rather tired! I suppose that’s what happens when you stay up all night. Let’s get some sleep while we can so we can travel tomorrow without worrying about a lack of sleep.”
Martin laid down. “Sounds like a good idea to me. Who’ll take first watch?”
Gralmag rose. “I will. You two get some sleep.”
Martin nodded. “Thanks, mate.”
Gralmag strode to a boulder near the mouth of the cave and sat down, his scythe drawn. He watched as Lonebuck immediately fell asleep. It took a while longer for Martin to, but eventually, the mouse warrior joined Lonebuck in the land of sleep. When Martin woke up, it was dawn. He sat up to see if Gralmag was still keeping watch, but when he looked around, there was no sign of the wolf.
The sun was starting to rise as Siber Winterfang and his band of followers approached the large wooden doors to the castle they had spotted earlier. Siber was reluctant to venture to the castle, but a few of the other creatures made a good point when they said that they could learn if the two escapees had passed through that area. Siber looked to an ermine and nodded. The ermine knocked on the doors with the end of his spear. After a few moments, a hare appeared. The hare was generally surprised by the unexpected arrival from the vermin. The hare stood aside and opened the door for the vermin band as he nervously welcomed them. “Och, come in oot o’ th’ cold an’ make yerselves warm an’ comfortable.”
Two hare soldiers came and watched the vermin while the hare who had let them in went to report to Cailean. Shortly after the hare left, he returned with Cailean. Cailean looked Siber up and down as he walked over to him. “Och, weell, wot do we ‘ave ‘ere?”
Siber Winterfang gave a brief bow to the highland hare. “Thank you for letting us in, my good hare. Now onto business. By any chance, have you seen a mouse and a wolf travel by here recently?”
Cailean remembered the night before when his doddering old uncle had brought a mouse and a wolf into the castle for some reason or another. The wolf had made his nose bleed. Cailean rubbed his nose. It still smarted. Cailean nodded. “Ye came t’ th’ right place, laddie! They were ‘ere a wee bit ago.”
Siber grinned. “Excellent. Could you show me which way they travelled?”
Cailean crossed his arms and smirked knowingly. “Ah ken do more than that. Ah ken ally with ye an’ ‘elp ye find these two. Ah ‘ave business with ‘em, or one who is travelin’ with ‘em.”
He extended his paw to the fox and looked him straight in the eye. “So wot d’ ye say?”
This was highly strange because the highland hares and the wandering vermin bands of the highlands were famous for having been such bitter enemies. Siber shook the hare’s paw firmly. “Deal.”
They both turned away, the same thought passing though each other’s minds as they did so. “Once I find those three, I’ll kill this fool, too!”
Martin shook the sleeping form of Lonebuck to inform him of what he had discovered. “Lonenbuck! Lonebuck, wake up! Gralmag’s gone!”
Lonebuck sat up slowly, grumbling as he rubbed the sleep form his eyes. “‘Wot’s that you say? Growl ma’s hog? Complete rubbish, I say!”
Martin shook his head and sighed in exasperation. “No, I said Gralmag is gone!”
Lonebuck’s ears stood erect. “The bally wolf’s vanished! We’d best find him- and soon!”
Martin scurried over to where they had kept their supplies and rummaged through the bag of provisions. Martin turned back to his hare companion. “He hasn’t taken any of the supplies. I wonder what he could’ve been up to...”
Lonebuck shrugged. “Beats me. If he really wanted to have been done with us, he would have taken some food and water with him.”
Martin put his head in his paws. “You’re right, but what is he up to? He didn’t tell us he was going anywhere.”
Lonebuck waggled his ears. “Say... What if he wanted to deal with the corsairs himself? After all, he has more right than the pair of us to kill them.”
Martin nodded and tossed Lonebuck a scone. “Good thinking. If you’re right, we’ll cut across here and to the northeastern shore. I’m sure that’s where he’s heading.”
Lonebuck caught the scone and bit into it. “Shall we follow him?”
Martin took a sip of water from his canteen before responding. “Yes, but we’d best follow him at a slower pace. I doubt he’d be too happy if we caught up with him so soon.”
Lonebuck finished the scone and sat up. “Mmm... blueberries... Ah, yes. Quite right. We’ll head out of this flipping cave in less than an hour.”
The mouse warrior nodded. “Sounds good to me.”
The pair packed up their supplies hurriedly and took their belongings with them as they left the small cave. They headed northeast, figuring that was the direction where Gralmag was going. Unbeknownst to the young mouse and the elderly hare, they were being watched.
Another creature was also occupied with another beast. The female squirrel was somewhere between twenty-three to twenty-six seasons old, but looked younger than that. She cautiously lurked among the branches of the trees, tracking the large burly wolf that she had seen about fifty yards away. She could have taken him down with a well-aimed arrow if she had wanted to, but the wolf had done no harm to her and she was curious about what his intentions were. The squirrel decided to take a slight detour from her patrolling of the northernmost area of the forest so that she may continue to pursue the wolf and discover what he was up to.
Cailean and several fit highland hares, along with Siber Winterfang and his followers, had ascended the hill. One of the hares squinted and scanned the highland plains for any signs of Lonebuck and the two creatures who had accompanied him. The hare caught sight of two figures and reported to Cailean. “Mah Laird, Ah see two creatures o’er there aways.”
Cailean gave a tight lipped smile. Siber’s ears twitched as he heard this. “Do ye think it’s them?”
Cailean nodded. “Two or three. Does nae make a difference if we’ve caught all o’ ‘em or not.”
Siber looked to his followers. “Then we’ll kill ‘em after we’ve gained enough distance to ambush ‘em?”
Cailean nodded. “Yon beasties will nae expect a thing.”
The squirrel continued to follow the wolf through the treetops. The wolf paused to drink from his canteen of water. The female squirrel used her chance and bounded onto a sturdy limb on the next tree. The wolf’s ears twitched. The squirrel perched on the limb and called out to the wolf. “Hello.”
The wolf spun around in the direction he heard the voice come from. “Who are ya and what are ya doin’?”
The female squirrel was taken aback by the tone in which the wolf responded to her. “My name is Rosaline Fernflash and I am merely patrolling.”
The wolf snorted. “What’s there to patrol in this wasteland?”
Rosaline shook her head. “I’m not patrolling the highlands. I’m from Mossflower Woods, you see, and I was patrolling Northern Mossflower and decided to go a lil’ bit off course.”
Gralmag snorted. “That doesn’t explain why ye’re followin’ me.”
Rosaline shrugged. “I was merely curious. So you’re all by yourself, eh?”
Gralmag looked at the female squirrel and narrowed his eyes, but answered her, nonetheless. “I am now, but I was travellin’ with two other creatures. One was one o’ the longears an’ the other was a mouse.”
Rosaline tilted her head to one side. “Why did ye leave ‘em?”
Gralmag crossed his arms and looked away. “That ain’t any o’ your business, treemouse.”
Despite what the wolf had said, Rosaline was not angry at him. She sensed that he had something that he felt he must do alone. When the wolf said no more, she began to climb a tree and farther from him. Casting one quick look back, she bid him farewell. “Well, I ought to be going. It was a pleasure meeting ye.”
With that said, she dashed away into the trees. When Gralmag could no longer hear the squirrel, he looked up to see the sun rising. The stubborn wolf had not slept since he left his friends, but he would not give up until he had located the pine marten that his uncle had spoke of. Wearily, Gralmag continued on towards the ocean at a sluggish rate.
Martin had stopped for Lonebuck, who was starting to go slower, but did not say so out loud. The mouse looked at the elderly hare as he caught up with him. “Are you all right?”
Lonebuck nodded as he began to breathe evenly again. “Aye, I’m fine, laddie buck.”
His ears lifted slightly as the wind blew gently. He twitched his nose and drew his claymore, which he leaned on for support.
Martin looked around to see if there was anybeast in sight. “What is it, Lonebuck?”
Lonebuck squinted his eyes as he peered into the distance. “I thought I caught a whiff o’ something.”
Martin’s spirit was slightly raised by this. “Was it Gralmag?”
Lonebuck blinked and shook his head. “I’m not sure: although I thought I caught the scent of several creatures. I’m getting to flipping old, wot.”
Martin sighed and shook his head. “We must carry on until we find him.”
They continued to journey until they climbed the top of a hill. It overlooked the rest of the highland plains. Martin’s eyes were wide at the size of it. Not far from them was a lake, which had frozen by winter’s spell and the a grove of trees a little way from that; and near the grove of trees was the ocean. Lonebuck noticed Martin’s astonishment. He grinned at him. “Big, isn’t it?”
Martin nodded slowly. “Did you travel through here when you were younger?”
Lonebuck smiled. “That I did. Up ahead is the lake. We could go across since there are only two of us, but I’d rather not risk being caught in the middle of the lake when the ice breaks.”
Martin nodded solemnly. “Sounds good to me. It may take a while to go around the lake, though.”
Lonebuck put his claymore back in its scabbard. “Then we’d better get a move on.”
They headed down the hill and began to trek around the lake when they were nearing the end of it. Lonebuck looked at the ice. “I think it’s good for me to jolly well say that it’s safe for us to cut across the ice, but one at a time.”
Martin nodded at the hare’s words. “Sounds good to me. You can go first.”
Lonebuck straightened his shoulders. “If you say so. Here I go.”
The old hare gingerly placed one footpaw on the ice. Nothing happened. Martin called out to him. “How is it?”
Lonebuck wrinkled up his nose. “It’s jolly cold, but apart from that, I’m fine.”
He continued until he had safely reached land on the other side of the lake. Lonebuck cupped both paws over his mouth and shouted to Martin. “Your turn, laddie buck!”
Martin cautiously stepped onto the frozen lake. He continued to take careful steps as he crossed. Suddenly, he heard Lonebuck give a cry of alarm. The mouse warrior looked up to see a few hare warriors, along with some ermine and foxes rushing at Lonebuck. Martin bit his lip. He had to help Lonebuck, but if he hurried, he might fall through the ice. He began to walk across the frozen lake more quickly, but continued to make sure he was cautious. When he was about five feet from where Lonebuck was, he heard something behind him. He spun around to see Siber Winterfang bringing his buster sword from over his head down on the mouse.
Suddenly, there was a loud noise of metal against metal and Siber’s buster sword was knocked from his paws. It hit the ice and skidded across onto land. Martin looked to see Lonebuck’s nephew, Cailean, with a claymore in his paw. He smirked at the arctic fox and whispered into his ear. “Ye’re dead, laddie.” Siber Winterfang grinned coldly back at the hare, his ice blue eyes gleaming. “Think again, rabbit.”
There was a splintering sound as the ice began to crack beneath the footpaws of both creatures. While the two vermin were fighting each other, Martin had scrabbled away onto land to help Lonebuck fight off his attackers. The fighting ceased as the ice began to crack and everybeast watched in horrified awe. As the ice split, it could no longer support the weight of hare and fox. The two fell into the icy water. They struggled briefly to keep their heads above water, but after several minutes, Cailean sank below the freezing water. He did not resurface. The onlookers watched in fascination, not being able to take their gaze from the scene. Siber’s head sank below the water but a moment later, it broke the surface. The white fox swam weakly towards a chunk of ice near the land. He managed to pull himself up on the ice, his claws slipping as he tried to get a grip on it. He gritted his teeth in vain as he failed to get his claws in. He slid off and back into the water. There were bubbles where he was last seen, but disappeared after several seconds.
The followers of each respected leader looked at one another in horror at the death of Siber Winterfang and Cailean. The hares fled back in the direction of the castle while the ermine and foxes scattered in random directions. Martin looked over at Lonebuck as the other creatures left them to stand beside the lake. The hare veteran had several wounds and was panting, leaning on his bloodstained claymore for support. “Phew! I say, wasn’t that exciting? We won’t have to worry about those cads anymore, eh, Martin?”
Martin nodded and wiped blood from a cut on his brow. “Aye, you’re right. Now we can focus solely on finding Gralmag, but first, let’s see to our injuries.”
Lonebuck removed his pack and took out medical supplies. Martin caught a glimpse of the look in the hare’s eye. Even though his nephew had not liked him, his death still grieved him. Martin decided it was better not to speak about his nephew’s death.
After Lonebuck and Martin treated their wounds, they were about to set off once more when Martin noticed that Siber’s buster sword was still next to the lake. Martin walked towards it. “We can’t just leave this here, it’s too good for that.”
Lonebuck twitched his nose. “Well, my whiskers are greying and my strength isn’t as reliable as it once was. It takes a jolly old badger to wield that sword!”
Martin eyed the large blade. “It could be used by a creature with great strength or skill. It’s too big for me to use it. How about you give me the supplies and you can carry the sword?”
The old hare nodded as he handed Martin the supplies. “Sounds spiffing! We could give ol’ Gralmag the sword as a present.”
Martin grinned. “It would be a pleasant surprise for him, wouldn’t it?”
Lonebuck put the buster sword in a strap slung across his chest and began to walk forward. “I hope so, old boy! This blinking thing is heavy!”
An ermine who had been a former follower of Siber Winterfang, whose name was Javir and his mate, Schalveira ran like a pair of bats out of Hellgates with a companion scrambling after them. The trio halted after running for what seemed like eternity to catch their breath. They panted and cast uneasy looks over their shoulder as if they would spot the veteran hare and the young mouse warrior with weapons drawn and letting their battle cries be heard. Javir looked to Schalveira and the other ermine, a male named Makarov and spoke with fear in his voice. “Lord Siber Winterfang is dead an’ so is that rabbet! Did ye see ‘ow the ol’ rabbet an’ that mouse started slayin’ our comrades? I’m tellin’ ye, mates, those two are madbeasts. There ain’t no way I’m goin’ an’ fightin’ ‘em.”
Makarov nodded. “Aye, but at least we’re safe now. Those two ain’t gonna find us now.”
Schalveira sat up erect and twitched her ears. She spoke in a husky voice with her curious accent. “Quiet! I am thinking that I ‘eard something.”
Gralmag was continue on his way towards the ocean. He heard several voices speaking in low tones as if they did not want to be heard. The muscular wolf halted and crouched until he saw the flames of a campfire spark to life.
The three ermine did not suspect a thing when they were attacked. The creature that had ambushed them was a muscular creature with gray fur and pointed ears with a tail similar to that of fox’s save that it was less bushy. Makarov stabbed it in the side with a spear, but that was the last thing he did while alive. The wolf attacked by slicing downward at the ermine’s chest; killing him.
Javir retaliated to his companion’s death by lunging at the wolf with his shortsword drawn. His eyes flared and his teeth were bared as he attempted to slay the creature. The wolf spun his scythe swiftly and cut Javir’s left paw off. Javir shrieked as blood poured from the stump of where his paw had been seconds before. The attacker turned to Schalveira and clawed at her. Blood oozed from scratches on her left shoulder and on top of her head. The wolf kicked her in the midriff before turning and leaving. Schalveira stumbled over to her mate and took pawful of mud and applied it to the stump where his paw had formerly been.
She gazed sorrowfully at her mate and then to the body of Makarov. She cut a bit of her tunic with her dagger and wrapped Javir’s stump with it to act as a bandage. The female ermine thought to herself in silence. “Why did that wolf attack us?”
Soon, Javir awoke and saw his mate looking down at him. “Come. We must be leaving now.”
Schalveira helped him up and they begin to quicken their pace as thy traveled onward lest the wolf attack again. The female ermine narrowed her dark eyes and caught sight of a tavern nearby. The pair of ermine stumbled towards the tavern and staggered through the door to see many corsairs sitting and drinking. At the sight of the two newcomers, the bar fell silent.
A stoat marched over to the pair and looked them up and down before addressing them. “Ermine, eh? Wot are ye two doin’ ‘ere?” He looked at Javir’s bandaged stump. “Wot ‘appened to yore paw?”
Javir’s voice trembled slightly as he answered loudly. “I-it was a wolf! He attacked me an’ my mate! ‘e slew our friend, too!”
The stoat looked over to a pine marten who sat coolly in the corner with his elbow propped up on the table. “Did ya ‘ear that, Cap’n? I thought we killed that pack o’ wolves.”
The pine marten rose slowly from his chair. “I believe I did, Wilrav. One must have been out while I slew them all. We’ve wasted enough time here. Everybeast return to the ship.”
As the other corsairs rose and began leaving the tavern quickly, the pine marten turned his single eye to Javir and Schalveira. “Thou shalt accompany me.”
The tone in which he spoke was enough to persuade the two ermine to obey him as they eyed his twin katanas warily.
Xeris hissed softly to Zakrav. “Perhapsssss he isss sssseeking revenge on you, Zakrav.”
Zakrav blinked and glanced down at his serpent friend, but said nothing. Xeris’ words echoed in his head as he strode out of the tavern behind the pair of ermine. “Perhaps he is seeking revenge on you, Zakrav.” He shook his head slowly, but an image of a young, muscular wolf appeared to the corsair. Zakrav looked down at the ring and tried to push the mental image aside.
Gralmag glared down at the lifeless body of the ermine he had slew. His broad chest rose and fell as his breathing became harder due to his anger. Ermine slew his parents many seasons ago when he was only a very young creature, leaving him to be raised by his uncle and grandparents.
The wolf drew a dirk from his victim’s belt and skinned him. He draped the ermine’s skin over his shoulders and smiled darkly. “That’ll teach them to mess with me,”Gralmag thought to himself.
He kicked dirt over the hot coals and the remains of the ermine before continuing towards the coast.
Lonebuck and Martin had entered a small area with a few trees when a few leaves from a nearby tree fell to the ground. Martin looked up with a paw on his swordhilt to see a female squirrel leap out into a limb. The squirrel smiled at them. “Hello there.”
The pair were slightly taken aback by the sudden appearance of the squirrel. Martin took up the initiative to respond to the squirrel. “Er, hello. What brings you around these parts?”
The squirrel sat down on the branch. “Oh, I’m just patrolling. Have you seen a wolf around here?”
Lonebuck spoke up. “I’m afraid not, marm. We’re searching for one, though.”
The squirrel cocked her head to one side. “You are? Follow me. I saw one around here not too long ago.”
The pair exchanged looks. Martin made an inquiry of the squirrel. “Was he a big, burly creature with a scythe?”
The squirrel looked upward as she thought. “Now that I think about it, I believe he did carry a scythe. He was quite large an’ muscular, too.”
Martin grinned as he looked to the hare veteran. “She’s seen Gralmag! We’re going in the right way!”
Despite his seasons, Lonebuck leapt up and clicked his heels together. “Jolly good, I say!”
Martin turned to the female squirrel. “Thank you for helping us, Miss- er... I’m afraid I didn’t catch your name... I’m Martin and that hare is Lonebuck.”
The female squirrel landed on the ground before Martin. She shook his paw in a surprisingly tight grip for a creature of her appearance. “Rosaline Fernflash is what they call me.”
As Martin shook her paw, his eyes scanned over Rosaline from head to footpaw. She had green eyes and small brass earrings, as well as several weapons including a bow and a quiver of arrows, a shortsword, a blowpipe and darts, and a dagger. Yes, she would be quite useful at fighting enemies from far away...”Would you care to join us, Rosaline?”
Rosaline’s eyes glinted mischievously. “Ain’t much t’ patrol ‘round these parts an’ I’m looking for something a bit more exciting... You got yourself a new companion, Martin!”
Martin beamed at the female squirrel. “It’s good to have you along, Rosaline.”
Rosaline smiled. “Thank you. I’m sure this shall be much more exciting than patrolling this area.”
With that said, the three creatures began to walk onward as to close the gap between them and Gralmag.
Gralmag could see light from the tavern as he made his way towards the sound of the gentle waves as they struck the side of the cliff. The noises of the creatures inside grew louder as he drew closer to the tavern. Gralmag gripped his scythe and kicked the door open.
Silence fell over every creature, drunken or not, as the door was forcefully kicked open by Gralmag. The wolf entered the tavern and looked around at the creatures whose gazes were all fixed on the newcomer.
A ferret from Zakrav’s crew had had a little too much to drink and had fallen asleep, unaware that he had been left behind by his crewmates, who did not take notice of his absence. The wolf gazed around at each creature in the tavern, who all looked away hastily when they noticed that Gralmag had caught them staring. He noticed the unconscious ferret seated at an abandoned table with tankards and bottles left around him. He strode over to the table and glanced down at him before grabbing the hapless beast by the neck. The ferret’s eyes popped open as he was hoisted from his chair by Gralmag. His eyes widened when he was brought face-to-face with the one who awakened him.
The wolf grinned wickedly as he spoke in a low, rough voice. “Hello. I’m goin’ to ask ye a few questions an’ I’m expecting you t’ give me a few answers, understood?”
The ferret nodded rapidly, not wanting to argue with a creature of Gralmag’s fierce appearance.
Gralmag smiled unpleasantly. “Good! Now tell me, has a pine marten passed through here lately? He’s a corsair who wears an eyepatch from what I’ve been told.”
The ferret’s eyes widened when he realized that the creature that had just been described by the wolf was none other than his own captain. The only wolves they had ever come across had been not all that long ago. Perhaps this wolf was from that pack, thought the ferret. He then remembered that they had, or so they believed, slain the entire pack of wolves. They must have missed this one when they raided their cave! Now this one was tracking them down and preparing to exact his revenge on the crew!
The ferret avoided the wolf’s eyes as he spoke in a timid voice. "Y-y-yes!"
Gralmag cocked his head to one side and grinned now that he knew he was on his enemy’s trail. “How long has it been since he passed through ‘ere?”
Now the ferret regretted having fallen asleep. Not only had he been left behind by the crew, but now he had to tell this wolf how long it had been since his captain and the crew left the tavern. He tried averting the wolf’s hard gaze, but he could not pull his eyes away! The ferret stammered as he tried to think of a convincing answer. “Um...Uhhh..W-well...It’s been around ten hours, if’n me memory ain’t too addled from the alcohol...” He chuckled weakly as Gralmag narrowed his dark eyes.
The ferret shook with fear as he awaited judgement from the wolf. This creature held the key to life and death in his paws. The wolf’s grip on the ferret’s neck loosened. The ferret fell to the floor and rubbed his neck sorely, astonished that he was still alive and breathing.
Gralmag walked coolly over to the bar counter, where the bartender, an aging searat, was cleaning out an empty flagon with a stained rag. He looked up at Gralmag and spoke to him casually. “Can I do anything fer ya?”
The wolf nodded and spoke. “You certainly can, rat.” He jerked a thumb over his shoulder where the ferret lay on the floor. “That ferret over there says a pine marten was ‘ere a lil’ while ago. Can ye tell me how long it's been since he left?"