Chapter One

Written by SalemtheCruel

It was a quiet early summer day. The sky was a pale blue; and the clouds lavender and edged with gold as the sunset. The sun was a forbidding amber ball that hung crookedly above the pine trees; turning everything gold. Faint whispers could be heard in the bushes, and twigs cracked and snapped as paws clad in leather boots tramped across the ground. “Ow! Y’ve busted my ‘ead!”

“Watch it, numskull! Lord Torva’ll have our guts for garters if we let this lot get away.” A small group of vermin sentries representing the wildcat Warlord Torva Wildfang were stealthily pursuing their prey: New slaves for Blackedge. Blackedge!! The name could easily send chills down the spine of a full-grown badger. Blackedge, was a place of death and evil; the gem mine where Torva Wildfang had slaves working; and under brutal conditions as well. It was said that many creatures would rather die, than be a slave in Blackedge.

By now, the party was nearly to their prey. “You lot, stay calm, silent and stick near me.” The leader, a weasel named Plaguesnout intoned, gesturing for his trackers to stay close to him. “Now!” The trackers charged out into the open clearing; with a deadly assortment of spears, pikes, arrows, and all manner of swords divided between them. All these weapons were pressed to the throats of the various woodland creatures who had merely been passing through.

Plaguesnout trembled; fingering with his granite-bladed spear. “None of you slugs move a muscle!” He snarled at the woodlanders. “Anyone who so much as breathes at the wrong moment dies. You are now the slaves of Torva Wildfang; Overlord of the Northern Forests and keeper of the Blackedge mine. I am Torva’s second-in-command, and your master in the unfortunate instance he’s not there. So I suggest you move your carcasses and bring forth any ones too old or slow to make the voyage.”

There was a murmur of apprehension among the woodlanders. None of the elder creatures stepped forward. “THAT’S AN ORDER! Anybeast who defies authority will be, by various methods, put to death!” Plaguesnout bellowed. Three elderly creatures; two squirrels and a bankvole who had never done anybeast harm stepped forward. Immediately they were gored to death with spears. “Now get moving!” The quiet group of woodlanders were herded past the carcasses on the ground and marched to Blackedge, Blackedge; the place that made Hellgates look like a summer picnic ground.

A young wildcat was pacing the rooms of Torva Wildfang’s stronghold, a contemptuous grin on his face. The cat’s name was Alexei Wildfang; and he was the son of Torva. Alexei however, was his father’s polar opposite: Calm, as well as gentle in disposition. It was these traits that made him the scorn of his parents: Torva, and his cunning mate, Elsa the Wicked.

Alexei was a slim, blue-black colored cat with hazel eyes flecked with darker green. Instead of dressing decadently like his parents often did, Alexei also differed. He was wearing a plain tan shirt, and torn, darker brown breeches. His claws were out as well; they often were when his father asked something of him. His father. Alexei tensed visibly as his father entered the room, slamming the door open. “Alexei!” The wildcat gulped as his father strode towards him. Yes, Torva Wildfang was a terrifying site to behold: his fur, like Alexei’s was blackish-blue, the color of the sky on a stormy summer night, and he was dressed extravagantly in a red tunic with a yellow diamond on the collar, a purple cloak, and black trousers.

As he approached his son, Torva’s Cursed Eye flickered and blinked. Alexei grimaced. The cursed eye of Torva Wildfang, like his other was blue, but it was nearly always closed, scarred and bleeding a yellowish liquid. And when it was open? It was always an omen of death and torture for some unlucky soul. Alexei knew this for quite some time; so he tensed visibly and backed against the wall. Torva followed. “Well, well, well, Alexei.” He snarled in a fakely-amused voice.

“Fleatail has been telling me that food has been going missing from the storage, and you are the suspect…..” The Warlord paused to look his son in the eye, but Alexei however, was unfazed. “Father, that’s ridiculous and you know it.” Alexei replied. “There’s plenty of food for me here at the stronghold- why would I steal?”

Torva grinned wickedly and bared his teeth. He laughed with a humorless chuckle. “Because,” He hissed. “It’s obvious that there’s SOMEBEAST you’re feeding. Somebeast in the slave quarters if I’m not mistaken.” Alexei winced. The secret was out, but he could still try to deny it. “It’s not me!” “You filthy liar!” Torva drew his broadsword, and Alexei, his axe.

They appeared to be ready to use their weapons when another wildcat entered the room: Torva’s reddish-ginger colored mate, Elsa the Wicked, her hazel eyes glistening with rage as she did so. “Alexei! Torva! Fighting again?” She sighed and pulled the two apart. “You put me both to shame. Alexei, especially you. You’re a disgrace to the family name!”

Alexei looked to both his parents, growled and walked off. Torva shook his head and looked to Elsa. “How that troublesome child is related to me I’ll never know. Heir to the mighty Northlands and this is how he acts? The little backbiter had better show some respect for his elders.” Elsa, who was a bit less strict on Alexei than Torva, put a paw on her mate’s shoulders. “Perhaps he could reform yet,” She offered. “Once a Wildfang, always a Wildfang.” Torva grinned.

“Yes, Elsa…. Yes, you are right indeed. I should give our son time to prove this of himself…. But in the meantime, he still isn’t forgiven of his suspected food theft. If he turns out guilty, you deal with him.” And with that; the Warlord and his equally-evil mate went their separate ways.

A somewhat-elderly female red squirrel named Foxglove bent over in the rough ground of Blackedge mine, trying to pry a shimmering purple crystal from a stray geode. Cursing and clenching her teeth; she yanked the crystal out with her claws and fingers; making them bleed in the process. She had been a slave in Blackedge for half a season now, but that didn’t stave her burning desire for freedom.

Gritting her teeth together; Foxglove sharpened her claws on the wall. She would need them for all the excessive digging and prying in the mine. The squirrel jumped in surprise, hearing claws on the firm ground. It was only Oaktail, a younger gray squirrel who had been at the mine for three weeks. “Oaktail,” Foxglove whispered, backing against the wall to catch her breath. “I nearly thought I’d seen a ghost when I’d seen you.” Oaktail grinned. “That or a vermin guard.” “Bad news.” Foxglove muttered, pacing. “Did you hear the story?” Oaktail shook his head and sighed. “What happened now?”

Word traveled fast in Blackedge; as slaves often eavesdropped on Torva’s hordebeasts when possible and learned current information that way. “Alexei got caught smuggling us food.” She muttered sourly. “Plaguesnout must have seen him do it earlier; that little Chief’s pet.” Foxglove looked up suddenly, as a group of animals were led, at the spearpoint into the mine, Plaguesnout at the head of the pack. He snarled at Oaktail and Foxglove “Stow the gab, you lot! Get back to work! Less you talk the more gets done!”

Foxglove looked bitterly up at Plaguesnout and nodded, eyes blazing with contempt. As soon as the weasel officer was out of sight, and his grumbles about ‘being an officer and still workin’ in the pit’ could no longer be heard, Oaktail turned to Foxglove. “Should we….?” Foxglove rolled her eyes. “Of course!” She stopped clawing at the walls and turned to the frightened newcomers, and somberly told them what they were in for, thus beginning a new section in the lives of the slaves of Blackedge mine.

Chapter Two

Written by Lordsunflash (Corbus)

Miles from the miserable depths of Blackedge two creatures stirred within the long abandoned home of a mole. In this dark hole were two creatures, a small male mouse, and a large female badger. After a long day of journeying they had laid out in the middle of the main cavern and prepared themselves for a cold night that was commonplace in the northlands. While their preparations had given them some warmth, and the shelter that the empty home gave them a swift breeze would still blow through the halls. As one such breeze came into the darkness of the cave the badger shivered. Her name was Lady Sable Brock, a badger of great size that hailed from the south. She had long been wishing to embark on a great adventure, as she had long wished to. To this point she had traveled for several seasons, early on in her travels she met the timid mouse Leyren as she neared the northern fringe. They had grown to be great friends in times since. He was a rather timid mouse that held a simple rapier and hailed from some far off land. As Sable pulled the cloak that was over her tighter she quit her shivering, yet began to shift in her sleep. Within the deep confines of her dreams a great many images flashed past her mind’s eye. Dark rocky walls surrounded her while from deep below moans and a steady beat of metal striking stone was heard. And all through this a voice spoke through.

A fortress of oak in a sea of stone Darkness and metal their home The fang of the wood their master

As the walls around her began to fade as the world of dreams disappeared she was left wondering what these words could mean.

Suddenly Sable came out of this world to the sound of birds singing happily just outside. Stretching a bit she wandered towards the mouth of the cave and found the sun to already be up. Shaking Leyren he awoke without much fuss, yawning and scratching his ear he got up.

“Is it morning already?” Said the small mouse in his unique Gaulish accent

“Yes it is my friend. Now get up before I have to drag you into the sun.” Said Sable as she walked outside

“I’m already up, don’t get in a fuss.” Pulling himself off the ground he put his sleeping gear into his bag and walked over to the mouth of the cave, accompanying Sable.

“So where to today? I think we’ve been wandering for long enough. When you said you wanted to go north I thought you would at least have somewhere in mind.” Sable looked up into the clouded blue sky, as if trying to remember something from long ago.

“Do you know of any fortresses Leyren?”

Leyren took a small sigh before answering “There are many across the northlands, dotted all over. But I don’t think you’ll want to be visiting them any time soon.” “Why is that?”

“Well they’re all vermin forts. Run by warlords and filled with the worst vermin you’ll find anywhere. They rule the land up here. Some even get at each other’s throats and start wars, a terrible thing to see.”

“Well I’d rather like to see one of these, it sounds fun.”

Leyren looked at Sable with a look of bewilderment “Have you gone completely mad Sable? Did you not hear me say how terrible they were?”

“Yes yes yes, I heard all of that. But the thing is, I had a dream last night. It told me of a grand fortress and some kind of “fang of the wood” For the most part it was complete gibberish, but I think it would be a bit of fun to see if it does mean a little something after all.”

Leyren put a paw to his forehead and shook his head “First you want to go to the most dangerous region in the world. And now you want to see the ones who make it that way? I’ll show you, but I’m keeping my distance.”

“Well then, let’s go. Do you know where the nearest of these is?” Sable asked, gathering up her things.

“No idea. But if we look for the signs we’ll find one soon enough.”

Content with the given plan they wandered around in the forests of the north without much success. The most they found of any living creatures were the birds in the trees, whom were not ones for chatting, and the various insects. This went on for a while until they found small tracks of two ferrets, and the nearby ones of a rat.

“That would be a small patrol, these warlords are rather territorial.”

“Well let’s follow these and give them a friendly hello.”

Following nervously Leyren and Sable walked in a northwardly direction, towards the fort and bottomless mine of Blackedge.

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