He came to us a beast of the wild, untamed and mad
Yet He was soon reborn as a Lord to us
His kindness eternal and wisdom endless
Before him would come both bandit and bishop, united before Him
His love was given to all, and with it we prospered
In His time we knew there could only be joy
For He was The Vulpuz, Lord of the Earth
- -Ancient Verse, found in ruins of Loamhedge Abbey
Barely a season had passed since Russano had come to Salamandastron and taken his place as Badger Lord and in the time since then he had taken on every last plan to improve the mountain fortress that had come to him, not refusing a single sane request. There were hares running all around the mountain, carrying all sorts of building supplies and equipment heading off to aid in whatever minute change they had been assigned to make. He seemed to have endless ideas for what he could improve, some more useful than others. At the current moment the badger was in his private quarters, looking over the schematics that had been given to him, plans for a climbing wall that would be built along the interior of Salamandastron's peak which would help the younger hares train for rough terrain, but was also built with a mechanism which would cover up the walls in times of attack. Surrounding him were a selection of officers and the hare who had come up with the idea, a lean wiry fellow with a small patch of missing fur on his chin.
"Where exactly would we be heading that our hares would need this kind of training? The only large mountains are those to the south, and that is far outside where we patrol." Said the large badger, looking out the stone window to the sandy shores before him.
The hare scratched at his floppy ear for a moment, thinking over the talking points he had planned to say before giving Russano the plans.
"Err.... well I suppose so. But! IF we wish to go there, say like if some vile vermin decides to call it his own, then we will bally well need to be prepared!"
Russano nodded, taking that idea into account but still retaining his look of criticism. Off to the side one of the officers, the youngest of the four, seemed to be shaking his head and shuffling through the others to get a better look at the schematic. Russano was quick to notice this and turned an eye to him.
"Do you have something to add, Brigadier?"
"Well, Sire , if you ask me this seems like a lot of work for something we will never use. I mean can you picture our hares climbing up a bloomin' mountain just to get some mad beast? We'd have to be just as daft to go after him there rather than starve him out or send a few quality troops to get him." The Brigadier accentuated this point by gesturing to the guards at the door, two hares belonging to his regiment, with his mention of "Quality Troops."
"I suppose so. The mountains are not too large so I imagine whatever force there could not be large enough to require the entire Long Patrol."
This, unfortunately, let loose the flood gates of criticism after criticism of the idea, the vast majority of them coming from the Brigadier.
"We'd have to weaken the walls of the mountainside as well."
"They could bally well break through our walls then!"
"And why do we need an entire construct. A wall is just as good, wot!"
"Just seems like a waste of good time."
This last one hit the designer of the construct especially hard, as he seemed to back away from the table. Russano, however, noticed this and took the hare aside as the officers started to look over the design again more closely.
"I apologize for those harsh words. I really do agree with them here though. I can see how useful this can be but.... perhaps not at the current time. If you can give me something that is temporary then perhaps that will do better. Good effort though."
"Yeah.... well thank ye, sire. I appreciate that you gave me audience." The hare then took his design and left the room, leaving Russano to the officers. He turned to them with a slight look of anger, though it was well hidden behind his normal look of concentration and calmness.
"I understand you all have to be able to make your criticisms and give your input as officers, but breaking the spirit of creative minds is no way to do that."
One of the older officers spoke up reassuringly to the Badger Lord. "I am sure that he will be fine Lord. Salamandastron hares are more than used to a little rough treatment. He'll survive."
"I agree entirely, sometimes hares need to hear their mistakes, and you have been far too easy on all these 'inventors' as you call them. This is a military base after all! What we need to see is how to train better warriors!"
This statement of course came from the Brigadier, who had taken a seat in one of Russano's smaller chairs. He had placed his left leg, which could not be clearly seen as a wooden rod screwed on to the stump where his leg should have been. This was the greatest of his many scars and marks, the others only being a assortment of slivers and slices along his forearms and face along with a hole right smack in the center of his ear, an old arrow wound.
Russano approached the young beast, growing quite frustrated with his insubordination and disrespect towards the younger troops.
"Brigadier Barnum Wildscut, To attention!"
The hare immediately stood up and saluted the Badger Lord, something that was almost instinctual to every hare.
Russano then walked around him, giving him a momentary inspection and thinking over his previous actions towards the badger lord and young hare.
"Name your position and the reason for it."
"Brigadier Sah! I was promoted shortly after the battle of a Thousand for my actions during it. I had single handedly defended my platoon of 4, previously 15, from attacking vermin. I slew a good score of them before reinforcements arrived."
Russano shook his head after hearing this in what seemed to be disgust.
"And still you talk to me in this manner?"
"Simply giving my input Sah. It is my right as an officer to do so."
"And it is my right to command you to be kinder."
"I apologize Sah. I shall do my best to speak with kinder words towards the inventors in the future."
"Good. Because you will be aiding them."
It was at this that the Brigadier lost his composure, breaking his form and showing surprise on his scarred features.
"Come again, Sire?"
"You heard me right. I want you to supervise and assist these inventors, helping them when they need it. Seeing as you know only too well how to criticize them."
The Brigadier seemed dumbfounded, unsure whether his commander was serious or simply giving him a hard time for his actions. But the look on Russano's face told him it was no joke.
"Then who will watch over my regiment?!"
"I will watch over them until the last of the plans has been seen through and constructed. Do not worry, we are not in a war right now."
Even as he was escorted from the forge and taken to the drafting room he still seemed to be taking in what had just occurred and did not believe it. Russano turned to the rest of the officers, who seemed more amused than anything that the youngest among them had finally been shown a bit of resistance.
"You are all dismissed, we have no other plans to go through today. If I were you I would look for a nice spot on the table for dinner tonight."
Soon the officers left Russano to his collection of books and scrolls that he had gathered on the wall, his most prized collection. He walked over to the shelf and looked through them, searching for one that he had yet to read. He then lifted it off the shelf, took his place in his chair, and enjoyed the first moment of peace that he would be given during the day.
The spider web of paths and roads that crisscrossed through Mossflower wood had been there as long as there had been beasts to walk along them. They were the campaign trails of great hordes and the routes of fabulous parades. While the castles and homes built along their length may have come and gone, blown away by the winds of time, the paths that once welcomed them remained. However among their most seen users were the refugees and survivors that sought these paths as a passage to a new home, or as an escape from the life they dreaded.
Along one of these roads, a small path that ran through the northern mountains towards the shore, there walked a family.
The mother trudged forwards at the lead. Her feet were worn and tired, made hard and rough through constant use. The shoes she once wore in an attempt to protect them were now little more than pieces of leather dangling around her feet, although it was clear they were not much to begin with. Her fur, once a beautiful almond brown, was a wiry mess that appeared like hay that had been left out in the sun. Her whiskers were fading too, showing flecks of light grey similar to the hair that was now growing more frequently on her head.
From behind her there came a voice like pure gold, untainted and clear.
"Momma where are we going?"
The young mousemaid looked up at the mountains and then to the road ahead of her, taking in a breath of the cool mountain air before answering.
"We'll see when we get there Lilith."
The little mousemaid did not take this answer as anything but nonsense, walking a little bit faster so that she could get into her mother's view. She tried to jump up in an attempt to better get her attention but quickly recalled just how sore her legs were.
"But I am tired!" Said the little maiden, extending each letter of "tired" as long as she could make them. However this did not seem to affect her mother a single bit. She simply continued to walk onwards along the path.
Lilith tried this several more times, lengthening the word in every way she could and even faking a few tears, but all in vain. Eventually she grew silent and decided to occupy her time by playing with the little fetish that hung from her mother's pack. It was a small doll of a male mouse crafted from scraps of cloth and twine with a small tail made out of a root. Around the fetish's neck there was a scrap of paper with the name "Steven" written on it in scraggly poorly shaped letters.
It was not the only thing that hung from her pack. There were several other small idols and amulets, all of similar style and make but created from varying materials. Straggling at the back was another young mouse, most likely in his early teens or later childhood. His eyes were hooded and downcast, remaining locked on the path just before him. His pack too was strung with these amulets and idols, dangling down and sometimes brushing against his tail. He did not say a word.
As they continued along the path there eventually appeared a small dark line running across the sky, soon followed by several more of around the same size. The mother cast her eyes upwards toward these, rummaging a paw through her pocket. As she looked around a bit more she saw some lights through the foliage, dim at first but growing steadily brighter.
Eventually from out her pocket came a scrap of bark paper that had been crumpled up. She unfolded it and read its contents.
"Follow the northern path through the mountain pass. From there go straight until you see the smoke that rises from their fires. There will be others but you have no reason to fear them. They are like you. Ask to see their Lord."
At this point there came a road that diverged off the main path, heading towards the smoke and fires. The mother looked around at the woods that surrounded her and then towards the path ahead, which she knew full well would head towards the sea. Towards the past.
For a moment she paused here, rubbing the paper that she held between her paws. Lilith began to walk around and around her mother, humming lightly and making a circle in the dirt with her paws.
"Is that where we are going Momma?"
With this her mother took a deep and long breath, then nodded and began walking forward down the path.
"Yes, that is where we are going."
They approached the camp, quickening their pace and now moving with more of a jump in their step rather than the dragging of feet that had occurred beforehand. Lilith even started to skip a little bit, the hint of a smile on her face as she watched her mother move with so much life.
Once they reached it there appeared a pair great vermin creatures. Standing there before them were two large and burly foxes, one a male and the other a female. They both wielded frightening axes with them, slung over their shoulders and laced to their backs. The male wore a thick heavy belt of some metal that covered his stomach and sides but that left his chest bare, showing the strong muscles that were expected of a beast his size. His face was covered by a helmet with a bronze mesh that fell down over his muzzle, hiding his features.
The female was very similar in style. She too wore a great metal belt that covered her stomach and sides but also wore a bark plate that covered her chest and shoulders with breaks in the armor that gave her mobility. Her face was left uncovered and showed her to be a creature that was once quite beautiful with eyes that were the brightest of blues. However it had been stained by several large scars and missing patches of fur. The mother approached these two, Lilith quickly slipping behind her mother, hiding her eyes from the two vermin. Steven barely seemed to react at all, simply walking up beside his mother.
"What can we do for you?"
The mother took yet another deep breath and looked straight up towards the two.
"I... I am here to see your Lord."
For a moment the female simply looked at her, surveyed her, almost as if she were weighing her worth. But then something happened that she could never have expected. The vixen gave her a smile, or at least what appeared to be a smile behind the scars that covered her face.
"Then I can tell you that you have come to the right place."
The mother seemed taken back for a moment, the tension in her shoulders seemed to release but was replaced with an look of utter confusion. Why on earth would these vermin act like this? Her jaw stood open by just a sliver as she stood there frozen in place. The vixen just gave a little wispy laugh and patted her shoulder with her large paw.
"Don't be afraid miss. We are not like most vermin, not after living with Father for so long. Come with me."
The vixen ushered them into the camp, leading them along the path that went through the center of the camp. As Lilith looked around at the tents she noticed that these were not just vermin here, but woodlanders too. Every now and then she would see a lone otter or a family of hedgehogs, all who seemed to be enjoying themselves. Despite this there seemed to be one thing that they all had in common: Scars. Every creature they saw had something on them, signs of pain, of war, of loss. Those that did not have physical scars on their hides had greyed fur. Those who had no grey fur had memorabilia of lost ones, or altars set up for the deceased. Those who had neither of these were nowhere to be seen.
"So, how did you hear of Father?"
"Well we got news of him from a seer we met to the east. She said that we would have better luck with him."
The vixen nodded. "Well then she brought you to the right place. He has a link. A connection. If you cannot get the answers you need from him then they are not to be seen by the living."
It was not long before the long hallway of canvases and tents parted to show a circle of small homes with a slightly larger one in the center. The vixen tapped on the mother's shoulder and pointed her to the center one.
"You'll find him there. Just walk in."
I am currently looking for someone on the site who can help me make this fan fiction even better for the people of this site. (Who I believe deserve a story of real quality as we seem to get so few) If you think you can help me keep an eye out for grammatical mistakes, inaccuracies, inconsistencies, or just plain bad writing, then please shoot me a message on here. And be warned that I will only accept your help if you show me a bit of your writing first.