Vol 4: Chapter 3, Part 1: And The Walls Come Tumbling Down

Wincing, Beddigan huddled against the side of the makeshift medical tent, cradling his left forearm and paw. The bandage wrapped around his arm was wet through from a mix of rain and blood, and he could tell the wound had reopened in the day’s fighting. He stared at the reddened strip of linen.

The tent was bustling, Felines rushing around him as he sat quietly, waiting for his turn with one of the three Healing Mages that had come along with the army of the Empire of the Lions. While they could use their magics to heal most wounds, their power was far from limitless, so they mostly used their first aid training on the soldiers, coupled with a bit of power to numb the wounds, unless a life was truly threatened.

The fighting had been going on for several days, and he’d had very little sleep. And on top of being exhausted physically, he was emotionally drained from seeing the capital city of his homeland decimated by the giant mechs that the Wolves had received from the Bears of Sinerrah. That moment, on the top of the gentle rise, looking down at Yroebrage and seeing its walls fall under the mechanical beast’s paws, was burned into his mind. He could think of little else in his meagre downtime, even now when they had regained control of much of the city.

They had been fortunate to learn that despite their enormity and power, the mechs had a limited power source — one they had yet to determine. As their army had swarmed down the rise towards the burning city, Beddigan had felt a sense of hopelessness that was new to him. How could they ever win against such machines? But once the fighting began, that feeling had ebbed. Seeing how few of the mechs there truly were, as well as how quickly the Wolves pulled them back from the city to avoid damage and conserve energy, now that they had a large attack force to battle against, had changed is mood entirely.

Beddigan had been shocked by the scattered Illensdar army, and even more put off by the lack of Sapphire Brigade members on site in the capital. He realized shortly after arriving in the city that it was mostly evacuated, and he suspected Queen Elendie had tasked the Brigade with getting her safely out of the city.

“Let’s have a look then.” A young Tigress approached him and he held up his arm. She gently unwrapped the bandage and tutted softly at the sticky, reddened fur beneath. “You’ll need a few more stitches.” She murmured, pulling out a small suture kit. Beddigan felt the peculiar sensation of her power as she drug her paw gently over the long, jagged wound he had earned from a Wolf’s short-sword. The area was now numb and he watched with interest as she stitched him up and wiped away as much of the dried blood as she could, before wrapping his arm up with a fresh piece of linen.

“Thank you.” He murmured. She nodded curtly and hurried off to help another soldier in need. Before her could even stand and exit the medical tent, a young Lion soldier he recognized as one of the Lord Regent’s personal guards dashed inside, eyes darting around the room. Seeing that he was the intended target of this soldier’s attention, Beddigan climbed to his feet with a sharp groan, suddenly aware of how tired and sore he was.

The Lion rushed over,

“Sir! We’ve done it.” the youth exclaimed, “The second wave has driven the last of them out towards the border. The Lord Regent would like to see you straight away!”

Beddigan felt relief wash over him, not just at the news that the city was free of Wolves and secured, but that he wouldn’t need to fight any more that day. He nodded to the Lion solider and ushered him out of the medical tent, heeding the annoyed looks of the Healing Mages and nurses.

“That’s wonderful news.” He told the youth as they wound their way through the camp, sidestepping tents, tables, and piles of supplies. He listened as the solider recounted the last push as he’d seen it, from the Lord Regent’s side a short distance away from the actual fighting. Not only did it appear that the Lions and Rams were equal, if not better trained fighters than the Wolves, they also greatly outnumbered the amount of forces the Wolves had allotted from their Army for this particular task. Though many had been injured, they had lost very few soldiers so far, and none had been captured that they knew of. Though, Beddigan suspected that was likely to change once the news got back to Strille that a couple new species of fighters had joined the Mice’s cause.

Beddigan eyed the solider curiously as the youth lead him away from the camps, towards the northern wall of the city. He was surprised he wasn’t being lead to the eastern wall, where the battle would have ended, or to the Lord Regent’s lodgings. He half-listened as the young soldier babbled on about the battle, but his eyes were sharply watching the horizon for the reason the Lord Regent was so far away from the front.

He didn’t have to wait long before he saw the twisted, hulking metal, broken over half the city wall, to know why they were headed that direction. The Wolves had abandoned — or more likely been driven away from one of their mechs.

“Ahh, there you are Beddigan!” the Lord Regent boomed as they approached a cluster of soldiers near the base of the wall. Beddigan bowed hastily to the leader of the Lions.

“My thanks to you for your assistance here, in driving the Wolves from my city. I can’t thank you enough.”

The Lion thumped a paw heavily on his back and chuckled,

“You can thank me later when we’ve put an end to these Wolves for good.” The Lion said jovially, though the light tone did not match the intensity of his eyes. “Well, that and with the magics you’ve promised me.” He added with a wink.

Beddigan felt the same peculiar squish in his belly that always accompanied one of the Lord Regent’s hints at their bargain — a bargain he wasn’t sure he would be able to hold up. He quickly looked to the mech to change the subject.

“I can’t believe they left one behind.” He said, looking up in wonder at the thick, steel leg, hinged over the crumbled stone wall. The Lord Regent chuckled again,

“They didn’t leave it so much as my elite team overwhelmed their forces so much so that the operator had to make the choice to abandon the machine or die.” Beddigan looked at the Lord Regent sharply.

“You sent a team to secure one of the mechs?” without telling me, he finished silently. The Lion thumped his back heavily again.

“Well, of course I did, my dear Mouse!” Beddigan swallowed his anger and let the Lion continue. “We needed to get a good look at one, and it was worth the price of a couple of lives to procure that.” Did we lose more soldiers that I’ve been told? Beddigan thought, his gut twisting with a combination of guilt and anger. He loathed the Lord Regent’s flippant way of discussing loss of life. It reminded him far too much of Queen Elendie, who had sent his father to his death.

“Pity that Wolf had enough time to pull the power source in his escape though.” The Lion grumbled, bringing Beddigan’s attention back to the motionless machine on the city wall.

Bracing himself against the wall and using the metal leg of the beast as support, Beddigan shimmied and climbed until he reached the top of the crumbling section of wall. Ensuring his footing was sound, he crept towards the cage-like centre of the mech. From this angle, he could see that a steel framework in the shape of a bear had been soldered and bolted together, leaving a thin conduit which was no more than the depth of a piece of rope, running along each leg, linking to the central compartment. Attached via steel cable suspension, right in the heart of the mech, was an operators cage, with a small seat, several levers, and two conspicuously empty hollows that connected to the web of conduits reaching down each extremity, and encircling the head.

The door to the cage hung open from when the operator had fled to safety. Beddigan slipped inside, sitting on the small, hard seat. He ran his paws over the levers and around the hollow spots, imaging what it would be like to run one of these machines. His eyes lingered at the place where the power-sources obviously went, that would provide power to the empty conduits, and bring the mech to life.

“Crystals.” He murmured, remembering seeing an odd silvery light on that first mech as it tore down Yroebrage’s western wall.

Climbing out of the cage he took his time scaling down the wall to the Lord Regent and his soldiers that waited below. There’s no way to get around telling him that it was powered by crystals, he thought as he made the final hop down to solid ground.

“Well then, find out anything?” the Lord Regent asked as he turned to face the Lion.

“It’s about what I expected,” he hedged, scrubbing the grime from the wall climb off his paws and onto his already filthy breeches. “The Bears are master crafters, so I’m not surprised they could build such a machine.” The Lord Regent nodded and gestured for him to continue.

Sighing, Beddigan scrubbed is paws over his face.

“It looks like it is powered by crystals, though I have never known a crystal that could do something like this. It’s entirely new.” He said, turning back to look at the mech. Could this be how the Bears have powered their building? And why they keep their borders so closed to outsiders? He thought, not wanting to share those details with the Lord Regent.

“Interesting.” Mused the leader of the Lions, as he mounted his horse. “I guess we’ll be paying these Bears a visit before we leave.” He said with a wicked grin, before urging his horse towards the camps. His soldiers followed, leaving Beddigan to stand near the crumbled wall of the city, staring at the back of what could be his biggest mistake.

To be continued…

© Copyright 2018. All Rights Reserved.


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Vol 4: Chapter 2, Part 2: Freedom & Binding

Shianne felt the tension in the room thicken as father and son met eyes for the first time in many turnings. Hoping to diffuse the moment of tension, she held up her arm and made a face at the Commander.

“If it’s not too much trouble, Commander, I’ve had just about enough of this gaudy thing.” The lamplight flickered on the gold and jeweled cuff, catching both Wolves attention. Mission accomplished, Shianne thought as she felt the tension in the room break.

Commander Rollstad beckoned her forward,

“Yes, yes, you’ve fulfilled your end of the bargain.” He said, roughly jerking her arm forward, studying the cuff. “Part of me wants to deny you this freedom, for all you’ve done.” His eyes met hers and she saw the naked malice in them. “I could do that, you know.” The Wolf said, releasing her arm.

A feral grin transformed Shianne’s face, and she leaned in close,

“And I could fill you with daggers before you could even cry out for help.” She hissed.

Regaining her composure, she stepped back, “But let’s just keep the unpleasantness to a minimum, hmm?” she said with a cackle of laughter.

Rollstad gave her a flat look before unceremoniously placing his paw on the jeweled cuff just long enough for a soft click to break the silence in the room, causing the cuff to fall to the floor with a heavy thunk.

Shianne blinked at the bright orange fur of her now bare wrist for a moment before she rubbed it greedily, relishing the feeling of her fur.

“Annalose and Ardra, that feels good!” she murmured with glee. Turning away from the desk and the Commander.

After a moment of bliss, she looked up to see Ragnon, his eyes cast down to the cold, stone floor, and she remembered the consequences of that bracelet falling away. Her mind raced; two guards outside the office door, then two more by the entrance. There has got to be more guards than that, she thought moving to stand with Ragnon.

“You’re well then?” the Commander said, breaking her concentration and the silence. Shianne grinned at him,

“Quite well, thank you so much for asking.” She replied sarcastically.

Commander Rollstad’s face twisted into a snarl,

“I didn’t mean you, you insolent kit! Your work is done here. Be gone.” The Wolf growled.

Shianne turned to look at Ragnon, wishing they had taken the time for a last-minute discussion on how to get them both out of this room — this building, before they’d come inside. She knew she could get out alone, even if Rollstad’s letting her leave was ruse, but getting them both out of this fortress, that she was certain was well-guarded despite the few Wolves they had seen on their way in, was an entirely different and more difficult matter.

After meeting Ragnon’s eyes, she felt her gut twist, and knew from his resigned look that he was going to be staying, and she needn’t bother trying to make any last-minute plans to free him.

“Ragnon…” she said softly, reaching out to touch his forearm. The Wolf tried for one of his trademark toothy smiles, but it came across forced, and faded far too quickly.

“I’ll be fine, Shianne. Get out of here before that bastard changes his mind.” He said with a sideways look at the Commander.

She hated leaving him there. But it wasn’t her choice anymore. Pulling him into a gentle hug and expertly turning him out of earshot of his father, she whispered,

“We’ll break you out. Count on it.” Ragnon gave her a grim nod before gently breaking the hug and taking a couple of steps away from her, towards his father.

Shianne flashed the Commander a grin,

“Until we meet again.” She said with a bit more edge in her voice than she’d intended, and then she left the room. A guard escorted her out of the building. As she walked past the two Wolves guarding the entrance pathway to the fortress, she pulled up her hood.

“Can’t believe he’s letting her leave.” She heard one of the guard’s snarl, as she walked away, crossing the wet cobblestone street. As she slipped into an alley she thought to herself, me either.

To be continued…

© Copyright 2018. All Rights Reserved.

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Vol 4: Chapter 1, Part 3: Best Laid Plans

William leaned against the exterior of the shuttered general store in Doucent and waited as the hazy dusk sky darkened to night. Slowly, Bears began to trickle into the village from the industrial park, covered in soot, looking exhausted. They paid him no mind as they made their way to their homes, or to the one lit up building in the shopping square — the Ale House.

Finally, Dorwan approached, offering him a barely perceptible nod of his head, before opening the door and leading him inside. William helped gather some food and ale from the small kitchen. They settled in at the table with roughly made sandwiches, and began to eat.

Once Dorwan had finished a full glass of ale and enough sandwiches to take the edge off, he leaned back in his chair and met William’s eyes. Continue reading

Vol 4: Chapter 1, Part 2: Reunited

“You! Get off the test-field!” a gruff voice shook William from his reverie as he continued to stare up and the giant mechanical Bear. Gleans of the silvery light from within the structure caught his eye through the haze of smoke as he hurried out of the path of the lumbering giant.

Standing on the sidelines, he watched as the mech moved forward with its ground-shaking, staccato steps. His eyes lingered upon the long, hooked claws, sharped into sword points, retracted into the steel framework of the mech.

“What in the name of Annalose and Ardra…” he whispered, staring out at the see of glimmering orange and silver in the haze.

“You will not find Annalose and Ardra here, friend.” The gruff voice that had shaken him enough to get him out of the way of the mech said, and for the first time he noticed he was not alone on the edge of the testing field. He turned to look at the older Bear, who was dressed in protective leathers over his simple clothing. A familiar voice… a familiar face even.

“Dorwan!” William breathed, putting together the voice and the well-worn face with Doucent’s long-time general store owner. They had never been quite friends, but acquaintances, and neighbours.

The Bear narrowed his eyes a moment, scrutinizing his face, before the sparkle of recognition made the older Bear suck in a deep breath.

“William,” he said softly. William couldn’t help feeling a rush of happiness to see a friendly face, even amongst such a hellish background. Clasping the Bear’s paw, he beamed.

“It is good to see you, old friend.”

Dorwan nodded gruffly,

“First an enemy of Sinerrah, then you were dead, and then you were an even bigger enemy of Sinerrah. And now you are here… I’m not sure what to think.” The older Bear said, a ghost of a smile passing over his mouth before it set in a grim line, looking over William’s shoulder at the smoky industrial space. “Though, nothing seems to be right around here anymore.”

William turned to stand beside Dorwan and look out at the giant, shadowy figures that stretched out for a great distance in the hazy clearing.

“Yes, what in this Warbler’s Cursed world is going on here?” he asked.

Dorwan was silent a moment and then he placed a paw on William’s arm.

“Come along. Let’s get somewhere a bit quieter so that we can have this conversation.” The older Bear lead him through the smoky hazy towards the Arch that lead to his home village of Doucent.

William took huge gulps of air as it became fresher, the further they moved from the industrial area. It was a much lighter haze in the village, he noted, though still present, disrupting the simple beauty of the place he had chosen to live after leaving the remote area he grew up in, on the western island of the country.

As they walked through what should have been the bustling shopping district of the small village, he asked Dorwan,

“It’s midday. Where is everyone? Where is the stall market?” he looked around at the near empty square, noticing then that few lights were on in any of the surrounding buildings. As they approached Dorwan’s general store, he noticed most of the buildings were, in fact, completely shuttered.

Dorwan didn’t answer him as he fumbled to unlock the door to the general store. William had never seen the door locked in all his turnings spent in the village.

The Bears’ justice system was strict, and its punishments severe. They had all but done away with petty crime, meaning there had been no reason to lock a store’s door when it was closed. Dorwan saw his astonishment and gave him a grim look.

“Some of those Wolves have sticky fingers.”

William growled as he followed the older Bear into the store.

“And what do the constables have to say about those Wolves?” he asked, peering around the dim, dusty shop, with its nearly bare shelves. Dorwan snorted and walked over to the small table that sat in the corner by the stairs that lead up to his living quarters, taking a moment to touch the light crystal on the wall until the room was lit properly.

“They say nothing.” William swallowed a snarl in response, and followed his host over to the table, pulling out and sitting on a dusty chair.

“You closed the shop?” he asked, his mind flashing back to Elenya and the kids. He needed to get home, but he also needed to figure out what was going on. He had waited well over a turning to see his family… he could wait a little longer to gather some important information about what was happening to his people.

“I was ordered to close the shop, just like everyone else in the village.” Dorwan snarled, his fisted paw slamming down on the table nearly hard enough to crack the dusty wood. “Ever since the Monarch decided to bow to Mormant… everything has changed here, William. Surely Elenya has told you some of it…” William felt a clutch in his stomach.

“I have just arrived in Sinerrah. I was on my way home when I stumbled into that… whatever you can call it. Beast factory.” Dorwan’s eyes held something then that made William’s heart ache in his chest.

“You must go home. Immediately.” Before William could protest, Dorwan held up a paw. “Your family needs you, and I will be back here after nightfall. We can talk about the war machines and Sinerrah’s new laws then.”

William nodded hastily and hurried out of the shop. He took the familiar path leading out of the village to the east. He could see through the sparse trees the smoke-filled industrial area. So close to the homestead, he thought with a grimace as he approached the marker holding the Bearhelm crest — the one that marked his land, and the short route to his home — to his family.

As he approached the cottage, he noted that the air was thick with the acrid smells of the industrial park not far away, but the smoke was thinner. Tendrils of wood smoke rose from the red-brick chimney that he had built himself all those turnings ago. The shutters were drawn, which was odd for midday. Maybe to keep the smell out? He thought as he approached the door. He tried to turn the front door handle and was surprised to find it locked. The door hadn’t even had a locking mechanism when he had built it.

A fierce snarl, muffled by the closed door caught his ear.

“I’ve already paid my tithe and you are sadly mistaken if you think you can shake me down for more like you do the rest of the villagers.” His heart warmed at the ferocity lacing his wife’s voice.

The thunk and click of the door unlocking made him step back a bit from the threshold. The door swung open and Elenya stood there, crouched into a fighting stance, a heavy looking club brandished. She looked as if she was about to continue snarling until recognition washed over her face and the club dropped from her paw. She flung herself at him, and he caught her, effortlessly, pulling her as close as he could, into a crushing hug. His wife, the mother of his children… the thing he had missed most in his long absence.

“William.” She breathed, pressing her face into the soft crook of his neck, nuzzling him. She broke the hug and took a step back, a grin transforming her stern face into an echo of the young cub she had been when they had first met — when he had first come to Doucent. He hadn’t been looking for a wife, but she had set her sights on him as a mate and it hadn’t taken him long at all to come around to the idea of sharing his life with such a smart, strong woman. She had only gotten stronger as she aged, though there was an edge of hardness to her now that made his heart ache.

It hadn’t been an easy several turnings for the Bearhelm clan. When their youngest son Erikkson had first fallen ill, William had returned home from Katheyra to tend to his family. But the money he had saved ran out very quickly and the healers became more and more expensive as the mystery of Erikkson’s illness continued to be investigated. Elenya had taken the responsibility of the family and their son’s health onto her shoulders when he decided to go off to Mormant for some lucrative work as a mercenary. It had gone against both their moral compasses for him to do such work, but the times were desperate and he was willing to do anything for his son.

Things had gone south with the Wolves and suddenly he was being pinned with faults that were not his doing, and hunted by Wolves. He was declared a rogue and enemy of the state, and he had fled into hiding in Katheyra. With his dear friend Beddigan’s help, and the help of a new friend, Shianne, he had faked his death and sent Beddigan home with his family heirlooms — his last ties to his family name. He had not seen Elenya since his friend had delivered the message to his wife that he was not dead, and he had continued to send money home in secret. But it had been a long time that Elenya had been alone, taking care of the family.

He watched as the smile faded from her face and a haunting look crept into her eyes. For a moment, he expected to be on the receiving end of a tirade — one that he greatly deserved. He would have preferred that to the sorrow that now filled his wife’s eyes.

“Elenya?” he asked as she gently pulled the door shut behind her. He looked at the door for a moment, puzzled. And then it hit him — Erikkson. She must have caught the recognition in his eyes because she choked back a sob and turned her gaze away, trying to hide her tears.

“A few months ago. Nothing anyone could do.” She said quietly, pain roughening her voice. William felt the world dip and bow beneath his feet. His son was gone.

He was mildly aware that Elenya was leading him into the cottage and settling him into his favourite stuffed chair. The daze started to lift as he looked around the open living area of the house he had built, but had not become a home until Elenya joined him in it and birthed his children.

His wife joined him, sitting stiffly on the edge of the adjacent couch, setting a steaming cup of ambleberry tea on the low table in front of him. William tried to meet her eyes but her gaze was fixed on a point across the room — the doorway to the children’s bedroom.

“Elenya… I’m sorry that I was not here.” He choked out, emotion catching in his throat as he felt the waves of despair and anger radiating from the proud, beautiful Sow next to him.

Her eyes flickered over to him and he saw in their depths the same steadfast, resolute strength that they had always held.

“You were away. It could not be helped.” Was her only answer. This is a much longer conversation, he thought, but he let her words close the door on it for now. He took a sip of his tea, enjoying the tart berry burst against his tongue for a mere moment, before the hollow ache returned. He swallowed a sob that burned in his chest.

“When do the children return home from school?” he asked, feeling a desperate need to hold his two remaining children.

The lingering traces of pain evaporated from Elenya’s face, and he nearly leapt from his seat at the anger that replaced it. She was the one to stand though, pacing angrily around the room, fussing with a blanket on the back of the couch, picking up a book and moving it from one table to another just to have something to do while she moved.

“The children no longer go to school. They are old enough to work now, in the eyes of the Monarch. You passed Billy’s workplace on the way here, that polluted festering war machine factory. And Ellie is out on one of the new community farms helping with the planting and harvesting.”

William exploded up from his chair, unsettling his teacup, causing the pink liquid to slosh over the rim.

What?” he roared, “How has this been allowed?!” Elenya rounded on him, nearly crashing into him.

“We weren’t exactly given a choice, William.” She snarled. “The Wolves came in, new laws were formed, and enough dissenters disappeared for us to prudently agree to everything that’s been thrown at us.”

William sucked in a breath in an effort to calm himself. It didn’t work.

What in this Warbler’s Cursed world has happened to my home?” he raged.

She snarled softly in response, turning away from him. Picking up his tea cup and moving it into the kitchen, she sighed, bracing her paws on the countertop.

“Our leaders have failed us, and our society is breaking and changing in ways I never thought I would see.” She said, her back to him as she rinsed the cup. “We have bent to the Wolves and the Monarch no longer places his people first. And enough people have been corrupted to make that will law.”

William stalked over to the door and flung it open, looking out at his land with changed eyes. Everything was different now. The war had come to Sinerrah in a way he had never imagined.

Leaving the door open he turned back to Elenya who was leaning against the washing basin with her arms crossed over her chest.

“This cannot stand.” William said quietly. A flash of fear crossed Elenya’s face, but was gone in an instant.

“No, it cannot.” She agreed.

William crossed the room and pulled his wife into a firm embrace, feeling her soften in his arms.

“I’ll fix this, Elenya. Somehow, I’ll fix this.” She said nothing, but he swore he felt her agree with him.

To be continued…

© Copyright 2016. All Rights Reserved.


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