Vol 4: Chapter 3, Part 3: Interrogation

As Beddigan approached the tent near the southern edge of the army’s camp, where the three prisoners were being held, he felt his gut clench. This was not going to be a pleasant conversation — not with the Lord Regent running the interrogation.

A Lion soldier nodded to him and held open the door flap for him enter. Tied to sturdy wooden chairs were three Wolves clad in the standard grey Mormant Military garb. Beddigan noted that none wore any of the patches and medals that the higher-ranking military officials wore. These are basic soldiers — grunts, really, he thought.

The Wolf in the centre looked up and Beddigan saw naked relief on its face.

“Finally, something I recognize.” The Wolf croaked, leading to a coughing fit. Beddigan turned to a soldier standing near the entrance,

“Get them some water.” He ordered. The soldier just looked at him.

Beddigan made a frustrated sound. The Lord Regent was sitting on a chair near the side of the tent, and Beddigan looked to him, trying to disguise his annoyance.

The Lord Regent stood then and gestured to the soldier to heed Beddigan’s request, and the Lion left the tent to fetch the water for their prisoners.

“What… who…” the same Wolf stammered, staring at the Lord Regent, who wore the finest white breeches and vest, with shimmering gold adornments, and red piping, and a brilliant red cape. Before Beddigan could offer an explanation, the Lion’s booming laughter filled the tent.

“I am the Lord Regent of the United Empire of the Lions.” He said smugly. The Wolf just blinked at them for a moment, confusion furrowing its brow.

The soldier had returned with shallow bowls of water for the Wolves and Beddigan moved to untie one of each of their paws so that they could drink but the Lord Regent stepped in.

“They will remain tied.” The Lion said firmly. Beddigan didn’t try to hide his frown and snatched one of the bowls out of the soldier’s paws. He held it to the Wolf’s mouth and allowed him to drink. He repeated the process with the other two prisoners.

“They…” he began. “The Lions, and other Felines like those in this room, and the Rams which you may have seen in the battle — the ones with great curled horns, that is — come from the north.” Beddigan said, once each Wolf had taken the edge off their thirst.

The Wolf on the right scoffed, which lead to a coughing fit and Beddigan to offer the prisoner a bit more water, eyeing the red stain on the chest of the Wolf’s uniform, and wondering about the possibility of internal injuries. When his throat was clear the Wolf said,

“There is nothing to the north, Mouse.” Beddigan cocked and eyebrow and gestured around the tent.

“Well then what do you suppose is going on here then?” he asked. The Wolf’s face twisted into a snarl.

“Sorcery. Lies and deception. Tricks. Your kind has always been full of tricks.” Beddigan pushed down his immediate reaction of rage. The Lord Regent stepped towards the three prisoners and interjected,

“Ahh, and was it these mere mystical illusions that drove your forces from the city? Was it magic and trickery that captured you and brought you to this tent?” Beddigan waited for the Wolves to react but they said nothing. The Lord Regent continued, “No, it was the soldiers under my command that did that. Even with your war machines, you were no match for us. And we will take your capital next, and leave you with nothing to control but what food you put in your mouths.”

The Wolves snarled and Beddigan felt the increasingly familiar prickling of unease at the pleasure the leader of the Lions seemed to take in threatening and conquering.

Trying to diffuse the situation, Beddigan stepped between the prisoners and the Lord Regent,

“Okay, enough of this. Answer our questions and you’ll be on your way.” He said, ignoring the peculiar look the Lord Regent gave him. “I’ve no doubt the Bears of Sinerrah have joined you. Exactly how many of those war machines does the Mormant army have?” he asked. The Wolves said nothing, casting their eyes down to the ground. After a few moments, he asked a different question. “Okay, fine. They run on crystal power. Where did you get these crystals from? The Bears?” The Wolves continued to say nothing, but in this case, Beddigan was fairly sure their silence was confirmation.

Pacing across the room, Beddigan thought about what to ask next. They weren’t likely to answer any of his questions, but he could hope to catch a flicker of recognition. Turning to face the prisoners again, he asked,

“Have you secured Katheyra?” A twitch, a tiny movement of the corner of the Wolf on the right’s mouth. “Ahh, you have then. Fighting a war on two fronts is never a wise choice.” He said softly. “But you Wolves and your arrogance know no bounds.”

The Lord Regent chuckled then, a low, rolling sound.

“Well done, Beddigan! Well done. And we didn’t even have to torture them.” The Lion chuckled. Beddigan winced and silently thanked Annalose and Ardra that he had gotten what he needed to satisfy the Lord Regent out of the prisoners before it had come to that.

“We should find a couple of soldiers to accompany me in escorting the prisoners away from the city.” Beddigan said, looking towards the door flap leading out of the tent. The Lord Regent placed a paw on his back and pressed him forward toward the exit.

“I’ll take care of that, my dear Mouse. Why don’t you go and get some food and rest? It has been a long day for us all.” The Lion soothed. Beddigan almost agreed, but that prickling feeling and the echo of the Lord Regent referring so casually to extra lost men in the securing of the war machine, had him digging his heels in.

“That is most gracious of you, my Lord.” He said, turning back towards the Wolves, “But I’d really feel much better escorting them from the city myself. This is my home.” He added. The Lord Regent gave him a measured look, and Beddigan felt relief wash over him at the Lion’s curt nod.

“As you wish.” The Lion said, before beckoning his personal guard to follow as he left the tent. Beddigan turned to the two other Lion soldiers in the tent.

“Will you join me in removing these Wolves from the city?” he asked. The two Lions nodded, and they set about untying the Wolves, and checking them for any weapons that may have been missed in their original capture. Satisfied that they were unarmed, Beddigan lead them out of the tent and set off to the east, to return the Wolves to the border.

To be continued…

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Vol 4: Chapter 3, Part 2: Walking Into The Past

It was eerie to walk through what was always such a bustling city and see nearly no one about. Winding his way through the damp streets, Beddigan peered around at the city that he had spent much time in during his time in Her Majesty’s Royal Sapphire Brigade. It looked as though most of the city had evacuated before the Wolves and their war machines had arrived, as there was little to no evidence of battle in the city’s interior. Instead of looking like a war zone, Yroebrage looked mostly like a ghost town.

The Wolves had used their war machines to tear down most of the eastern wall, where the war front had always been. That wall had stood against the Wolves since it had been built., through decades of sieges. It was nearly completely destroyed now from the mechs, worse than any of the other walls which all bared some damage as well. So, even though the Wolves had been driven out of the capital by the combind forces of the Lions and Rams, it would not be easy to hold the city from their next attack, and it would take the Mice much time to rebuild their stronghold.

He hadn’t even noticed where he was walking when he abruptly stopped at the end of a cobblestone lane, and looked up at the royal palace of Queen Elendie. His eyes drifted to a low building, just to the side of the palace on the right; the army barracks — the place he had spent most of his youth and young adulthood. The place where soldiers grew and trained, and the place where those seen as worthy were picked for Her Majesty’s elite force, The Royal Sapphire Brigade.

The draw-bridge leading to the island that housed the castle and it’s surrounding buildings was in its usual, affixed down position, the moat having been filled in with rocks and gardens many turnings ago. What had once been a precaution against invasion, was deemed unnecessary because of the strength of the city walls, and the Queen had demanded it be replaced by something pretty.

Bitterness creeped up Beddigan’s spine as he walked adjacent to the palace.

“Would’ve served you right to have the Wolves take your palace, my queen.” He muttered sourly, walking towards a nearby town square.

As he approached what was usually a bustling market square with a large, brilliantly carved fountain in its centre, Beddigan’s eyes fell upon a familiar form and face. The Panther, in her shimmering purple Mage robes turned and smiled at him as she heard his approaching footsteps.

“Ahh, Beddigan. Just the Mouse I was looking for.” She said sweetly. He rolled his eyes at her in response.

“I’m the only Mouse you know.” He said pointedly, a smile teasing across his mouth, happy to see a friendly face. “Besides, there are very few Mice left in the city.” Serina chuckled and gestured up at the statue.

“Is this your Queen?” she asked. All humour left Beddigan’s face.

“Yes, the illustrious Queen Elendie.” He said bitterly, not even trying to hide his feeling for the ruler of the Mice.

He caught Serina’s arched brow at his tone, but she must have decided to leave that bit alone, and instead said,

“It’s a beautiful statue.” Beddigan grunted,

“The old statue was better. Annalose and Ardra entwined, carved out of a similar stone, but as old as anyone could remember.” He sat on the edge of the fountain and dipped his paw into the cool water. “Ancient and reminiscent of a time before war, before all this division. Before all this fighting.” He said wistfully. His expression darkened again as he looked up at the statue of the Queen. “But she decided that as the symbol of hope for our people, a statue of her would be a much better fit for the capital city.” He finished bitterly, rising to his feet.

Serina linked and arm through his, her silky chuckle cutting through his feelings of bitterness.

“Well now, don’t hold back, Beddigan!” She said smiling at him, “You clearly have some very intense feelings about your ruler, hmm?” Beddigan simply grunted and allowed her to lead him out of the square in the direction of the western wall.

Changing the subject Beddigan patted her forearm gently.

“Were you looking for me for some reason then?” he asked. Serina nodded, her face losing a bit of its gentleness and humor.

“Yes, the Lord Regent would like you to be present while we question the prisoners.” Beddigan felt his heart skip a beat and he skidded to a stop on the tiny side street.

“Prisoners?” he asked. Serina nodded,

“Yes, three Wolf soldiers are being held at the camps for questioning.” She said, brow furrowing. “You didn’t know?” she asked. Beddigan felt anger twist in his gut. Normally he would be pleased that a few soldiers had been captured for questioning, but he did not trust the Lord Regent, and that distrust was only growing.

“Apparently, the Lord Regent is making a habit out of not telling me things.” He said before stomping off in the direction of the camp.

To be continued…

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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…

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Vol 4: Chapter 2, Part 3: Family Reunion

Ragnon shifted his weight from foot to foot, feeling awkward and wary about being trapped in his father’s office; alone with a Wolf he hated most, had betrayed, and who he had not seen in many turnings. He had known this moment was coming for quite some time, but he was not prepared for the palpable tension, and the sick, twisting feeling in his gut.

“So, are you well then?” Commander Rollstad asked, pushing off from where he had been leaning against his desk and taking a few steps toward him.

Ragnon skittered back a few steps.

“Well enough.” He said flatly. The Commander made a frustrated sound.

“You don’t have to fear me, Ragnon. I’m your father, not an enemy.” The older Wolf growled.

Ragnon arched an eyebrow and crossed his arms over his chest.

“You could’ve fooled me.”

Rollstad looked into his eyes then and he felt his belly slosh at the naked anger in his father’s eyes.

“Oh, I can be an enemy, Ragnon. I don’t want to be, but I can be. If you make me.” Rollstad growled again, closing the space between them until he was within arm’s reach of him. “I wouldn’t have put the time and effort, and coin into having you returned to me just to harm you.” Ragnon met his father’s eyes and was wary of the softness now found there. “And I sure as hell wouldn’t have let your filthy Fox friend leave with her hide still intact if I were truly your enemy.”

Ragnon glared at his father for a moment before consciously relaxing his posture. He left out a soft breath. I need him to think I believe him. Play the part old boy, play the part, he thought as he did his best to inject softness into his eyes to match his fathers.

“Aye, that much is true then.” He said noncommittally.

Rollstad tucked and arm around his shoulders then and he suppressed a shudder, allowing his father to lead him to a small cluster of chairs by the flickering fireplace. He took a seat and for a moment, let himself relish the warmth of the flame on his chilled fur. He allowed himself to think of good things; of Beddigan and Clottie, of Haven, and of a steaming bowl of stew with a tall glass of ale. He gave himself just a couple of moments to feel those feelings, before pulling himself back to the moment and the dangerous Wolf who was now sitting across from him.

The silence they were sitting in was anything but companionable, so Ragnon cleared his throat.

“So, uh, what’s new?” he asked, wincing a bit internally at how awkward and stilted the question sounded. He felt a strange flutter at the small smile that curved the Commander’s mouth; a shadow of a memory of when he was just a boy, the last time he could remember seeing his father smile.

“Surely you know of our great successes in this time of war. We have finally made an alliance with the Bears of Sinerrah, and the tide has turned. We had sought to conquer Katheyra first, and then turn our efforts to Illensdar to finally put those Mice to heel.” The older Wolf said, causing Ragnon to frown, unable to hide his worry. “Oh, come now, Ragnon, don’t be too upset. With the help of the Bears we have taken Illensdar’s capital, for the first time in all of these years of warring with the Mice. We’ve done it. This entire land will soon be ours.” Ragnon tried to force a smile, tried to summon up the will to act pleased, but he couldn’t. Yroebrage has fallen, he thought miserably, staring into the fire. What has become of Beddigan and the army then? He thought. He glanced at the Commander out of the corner of his eye. Clearly his father didn’t know of the army that had come down from the north. Maybe he’s wrong… maybe Yroebrage still stands, he thought hopefully.

“I imagine the King is quite pleased with you then.” Was all he could think to say in response to his father’s news.

Another ghost of a smile flashed across the Commander’s face.

“Indeed.” The older Wolf murmured. “This is part of the reason I chose now to have you returned to me.”

Ragnon gave his father an odd look. The Commander chuckled, “I could have had you returned to me at any time.” The Wolf said arrogantly. “But now, our family is on the cusp of making history. You can finally be forgiven by our people for your… defection.” His father’s voice dripped with venom on that last word. “We can work together as we take this land for the glory of the Wolves!” his father finished, voice rising with a ferocity that caused Ragnon to shift back in his chair, because every millimeter of distance between him and his father mattered at that moment.

When Ragnon said nothing, his father sighed.

“I know that you have… grown fond of some of these… lesser species.” The Commander stood and paced in front of the fire, his paws clasped behind his back, and Ragnon had another flash of a childhood memory. When his father has first been promoted to Commander, he had paced in front of the fireplace in their family home, muttering to himself plans of destroying the Mice, now that he had the power to command the army. The memory chilled him but he stayed put in his chair, not wanting to get closer to father despite wanting to be nearer to the fireplace.

“I am not an unreasonable Wolf.” His father continued. Ragnon rolled his eyes as his Father paced away. “I can arrange for some… liberties for your… friends.” Ragnon felt anger twist his stomach into knots. He squashed it down and forced a pleasant expression onto his face.

“That is most kind of you, father.” He said flatly, unable to completely erase the sarcasm from his voice. The Commander suddenly quit pacing and strode over to his chair, grabbing two pawfuls of his tunic and wrenching him up from his sitting position.

“I am trying to be kind to you and you are making it very difficult with your insolence.” He snarled, spittle flickering onto Ragnon’s face. His father let him go shoving him back down into his chair. “You are not too old to be disciplined, pup.” His father added, stalking away from the sitting area to his desk.

Get it together, play the part, Ragnon thought to himself, pushing down the fear and anger he felt, as he pushed up from the chair, straightened his tunic, and followed his father to the more business-side of the room.

“I’m sorry, father.” He said simply but with as much sincerity as he could muster.

Rollstad sat down in the big overstuffed chair behind the desk and sighed.

“It’s alright, Ragnon. We have been apart for a long time. This relationship will take some adjusting.” Ragnon nodded and sat in one of the plainer chairs.

After a few beats of silence, Ragnon cleared his throat.

“It’s uh, getting late and it was a tough journey here.” He ventured, “When will we be returning to the house?” he asked. His father looked up at him with surprised eyes.

“No one has been to the house in years. I often forget I still own it. I live here now.” Ragnon felt hopelessness wash over him at this revelation. It would not be easy for him to escape or for his friends to eventually rescue him from this fortress. All the more reason to play along, he thought.

“GUARD!” his father bellowed, and he winced a bit at the harsh tone of his father’s yelling voice. He remembered that too from his days of being a child. One of the burgundy-sashed guards entered the room in a hurry. Rollstad looked to the man as he stopped just behind Ragnon’s chair.

“Please take my son to the room we have prepared for him.” Then his father met his eyes again. “The kitchen has saved you food from the evening meal and it will be brought up once you are settled.”

And with that dismissal he stood, nodded to the Commander, and followed the guard out of the office. They climbed two flights of stone stairs, to an unadorned hallway with a number of heavy wood doors. The guard lead him wordlessly to a door midway down the hall, and pulled out a heavy key ring. Unlocking and pushing the door open, he said in a low voice,

“Go in.” Ragnon hesitated at the threshold for a moment, peering into the barely lit room. One hasty look at the guard’s flat expression and he was walking into the chilly room, relieved to see a small oil lamp had been lit and a stack of firewood sat near the hearth. The door shut behind him and he heard the tell-tale click of a lock being turned.

“Expected that,” he muttered to himself, and set about making a fire to ward of the night’s chill.


Shianne stretched her legs out under the small table, tucked up in the corner of the common room of the Racing Rabbit Inn. She’d returned to the Inn after her encounter with Commander Rollstad, miserable for having to leave Ragnon behind with that monster. They’d had little choice though, and she knew that now that this part was settled, and her wrist was free from that cursed cuff, she could begin plotting a way to free the Wolf from his newly acquired bonds.

A desire to take the pulse of the populace, or at least eavesdrop on a few conversations to see what the rhetoric travelling down from the Mormant Military officials was, she had pulled her hood up and chosen the shadowy corner of the room. Her stomach growled and she sighed inwardly as the single serving girl drifted from table to table, never quite making it to her own. In another time or place she would have easily snagged the young Wolf’s attention, but on this cold, drizzly night, so fresh from being in the Wolves clutches, in the heart of their capital city, she thought better of calling any undue attention to herself.

Ignoring her stomach, she focused on the two Wolves wearing standard issue military garb, stiff, heavy grey and navy with brass buttons. The matching uniform hats were sitting on the wood table top, soaked from the storm outside. She perked her ears up under her hood and listened, trying to parse out what the two soldiers were saying to one another between heavy gulps of ale.

“Took long enough.” One of the Wolves grumbled, his speech slurring a bit from drink. “Wouldn’ta lost a brother if those Warbler’s Cursed Bears had towed the line a few turnings earlier.” Shianne frowned. The Bears? she wondered, listening for the other soldier to respond to his friend. When he just slurped ale she bit back and annoyed grunt.

After several minutes he finally spoke up,

“Ya gotta hand it to them Bears though. Clever beasts. Turned the tide of a war centuries old.” Shianne listened intently. So the Bears have joined up with the Wolves, hmm, she thought. I wonder what happened to William.

Her attention shifted back to the two Wolves as the first one slammed his beer stein down on the table top hard enough to make the two hats jump.

“Yeah, yeah, they’re so smart. Bastards. They could’ve done this turnings ago! Saved us all a lot of grief.”

Done what, exactly? Shianne thought, feeling her belly clench. When the other soldier simply grunted and went back to drinking his ale, she got up and slipped out of the common room. She needed to find out exactly what the Bears had done that had shifted the tide of the war. How is Katheyra fairing if the Wolves are focused on Illensdar? She thought, climbing the stairs to her room, suddenly bone-weary and exhausted. She felt a glimmer of hope as she shut the door to her room and stripped off her soaking we cloak and boots.

“Well, Beddigan will have a nice surprise for Mormant’s military.” She said aloud, chuckling to herself. “There may yet be hope for us all.”

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Where it All Began…

In lieu of an update this week, I thought I would give you all a chance to take a look back at (or revisit!) where this story began. Chapter 1 of Volume 1 lies below. If you’re new here, and like the story, you can visit this page to get a FREE pdf ebook copy of Volume 1. And if you prefer to have a physical book in your hands, you can purchase Volume 1 here.

Chapter 1: Beddigan T. Mouze

The wind ruffled Beddigan’s fur as he crouched against the smooth rock-face, his eyes never leaving the inky dark mouth of the cave. Moments before, the lumbering bulk of the red Dragon, dubbed Galantus by the residents of the nearby village of Windermere, had landed on the bluff and stalked into its home. Little did the Dragon know that Beddigan T. Mouze had already been inside and set a trap to finally rid Windermere of the winged beast. One paw on the hilt of his sword, Beddigan crouched, frozen like a statue, waiting for the boom of the triggered explosion and the howl of the Dragon.

Time passed. Too much time. Straightening, he stepped cautiously towards the cave, brow furrowed. By now, he should have been well on his way down the mountain to collect his fee from the thankful villagers. Creeping towards the cave, he kept his ears perked for any sound of movement. Silence. Stifling a growl, he pulled out his illumination crystal from his pocket and affixed it to the leather gauntlet that wrapped around his paw and covered the bulk of his forearm. Tapping it, he waited until the soft glow of green light penetrated the edge of the darkness of the cave. Moving slowly, he approached the darkness and peered inside, wincing when the leather of his boots creaked softly. He scolded himself inwardly for not having oiled them properly after his last adventure.

Soon, the hulking form of the slumbering Dragon appeared in the faint glow of his light crystal. The iridescent scales of the beast shimmered and glowed as if lit from within. Beddigan froze, extinguishing his light crystal and plunging them both into darkness, for fear of waking Galantus. He stood stiffly, paw firmly on his sword and waited for any sign that the Dragon would wake. After a long stretch in the darkness he tapped his light crystal back on and crept behind a spire of rock, feeling confident that he had not woken the beast.

From this angle, he couldn’t see the Dragon’s face. When Galantus had lain down must have narrowly missed the triggers for the carefully packed and placed explosive crystals that Beddigan had set. Stepping around the spire, he squinted, searching until he saw the tiny pink telltale marks of the explosives near the Dragon’s tail, foot, and neck. Beddigan’s lip curled in a silent snarl of frustration. It should have been an easy end to this adventure. It had taken him time and coin of his own to put together the plan that would earn him enough gold to take a nice, long vacation. An explosion, a Dragon buried in rubble, and him with his feet up and a few tankards of ale, counting out his fee gleefully.

Extinguishing the light again, he moved quickly out of the cave, blinking in the bright sunlight as his eyes adjusted.

“Okay Beddigan… what in this Warbler’s Cursed world do you do now?!” He snarled, pacing around on the bluffs. He angrily kicked a rock off the edge of the ledge and listened while it tinked and thunked down the mountain slope. His eyes settled on a much larger rock, this one about the size of his fist, and an idea was born. He picked up the small boulder and tested its weight. It would be risky. He would have only one shot. It was dangerous. Even if it worked, the chances of being caught in the explosion were much higher this way. It either worked, or he ended up on the business end of a very angry Dragon, who undoubtedly would enjoy eating Mouse-flesh.

Beddigan turned towards the cave, gripping the rock tightly. “May Annilose watch over me.” he muttered the prayer, stepping into the mouth of the cave. He closed his eyes, listening to the Dragon’s heavy breathing. He visualized where he was in relation to the undetonated explosive crystals. Tucking the rock into the crook of his arm, he carefully loosened his light crystal from his gauntlet. Taking a deep breath, he activated the crystal to its brightest setting and tossed it into the cave, praying it would provide enough light for him to see his target. Eyes locking on a pink flicker, Beddigan heaved the rock into the cave, just as Galantus began to stir from the light, its massive head whipping around; golden eyes locked on him.

Beddigan leapt to the side, trying to escape the mouth of the cave as the explosion shook the mountain, and the Dragon roared. Rock exploded off of the cliff face as the other explosive crystals triggered. Beddigan tucked himself into a ball and covered his head and neck with his arms, waiting for the explosions to stop. He waited several minutes after silence descended on the mountain before lifting his head. Standing and shaking the rubble from his body, he crept towards the mouth of the cave. Huge slabs of sandstone, broken and jagged, filled the entryway into the cave completely. He leaned forward and listened carefully for any sounds of life within.

After a few moments he stepped away, looking out over the thick, evergreen forest below, towards the little village of Windermere, with its brightly coloured roofs. With a satisfying grin he thought, I can officially add Dragon slayer to my resume, as he started to make his way down the mountain.


Later that evening, after being greeted by the thankful villagers of Windermere and meeting with the town elders to claim his fee, Beddigan sat at a small table in the corner of the lively Three-Headed Rabbit Inn. He would always have a free room and a full glass and plate in Windermere, now.

The Dragon had slaughtered half of the town’s population over the past turning, since it had taken up residence in the bluffs of Mount Lileen. Dragons were rare in this part of the world, and few were skilled or crazy enough to try and slay one. The villagers thought it a thing of fate that Beddigan had shown up and taken on the task of ridding them of Galantus. But Beddigan had heard word of the Dragon while adventuring to the north. With the confidence that he could outsmart the Dragon, and the desire for the coin he would get for such a deed, he was immediately interested. But most of all, the challenge of such an adventure lifted his soul and set his blood afire.

So, he had made his way south, stopping in the bustling metropolis of San Vincent’s Port to procure the crystals he would need for his plan. It had cost him a considerable amount of coin, but the fee for slaying the Dragon would more than make up for it. He had enough now to take a nice, long vacation, which he was desperately in need of. He had been on a steady streak of adventures for the past five turnings. Constantly, one job after another, creating quite the name for himself in this part of the world; and racking up quite the list of enemies as well. He was starting to slip up with little things, like oiling his boots properly, or having a solid Plan B, simply due to exhaustion. But at the same time, he didn’t have much desire for down time. He wasn’t the type to lay on a beach or stay in the city for theatre and parties. He was happiest when he was adventuring; solving problems, battling beasts, saving fair maidens. He felt most alive when he had his sword in paw, battling for his life.

A pang of grief struck his chest at the thought of battles, and the memories of war, almost enough to make him set his tankard of ale down. He quickly chugged the remains of his ale, trying to drown the feelings of unease; the thoughts of his time in Her Majesty’s Royal Sapphire Brigade.

From a child, he had wanted to be a soldier. Just like his papa and his uncles and nearly every man in the Mouze family. He had paid attention in school just enough to pass until he was old enough to join Her Majesty’s Royal Cadets. The fighting between his home country of Illensdar and the neighbouring kingdom of Mormant had been alive for ages. He had lost papa to the very same war he would grow to fight in, turnings later. Mama had begged him not to go to war, never having been the same once papa died. But more than anything in the world, he knew he must.

Thinking about mama always brought a tear to his eye, which he quickly blinked away. He had left mama, his little sister Clottie, and old uncle Thomas at their family homestead in Shillingdell, and had made his way to the capital city of Yroebrage. The next six turnings of his life were spent training and battling in the name of Her Majesty, Queen Elendie. He had worked his way up through the ranks of the army until he had been chosen to be a part of an elite group of warriors known as the Royal Sapphire Brigade. His time amongst those fine Mice were some of the best in his memory; and also some of the worst. He had made some great friends during that time, including Sir Charrin, who had been his most trusted friend and ally.

Beddigan signaled the barmaid for another tankard of ale, while his mind flew unbidden into memories he had tried so very hard to bury. The shame of them caused him to hunch down in his seat, and to keep his eyes averted from the barmaid’s as she delivered his drink. He shook his head, trying to lose the image of betrayal that had been stamped upon Sir Charrin’s face as he took his last breath. Beddigan’s paw shook at the memory of sneaking away from the castle in the dead of night, knowing he could never return. Slugging down more ale, he forced his mind to turn away from such thoughts, as he had trained himself to do over the turnings since he left his homeland. He was good at burying things. And running. And never letting anyone get too close. Pulling his coin pouch loose from his belt he started methodically counting the pieces, his ritual to bring himself back to the present.

Soon, having finished his last tankard of ale for the evening, he pushed back from the table and stretched, the room spinning a bit from his impairment. He started to move towards the stairs that would lead him to his room when he felt it: that feeling that someone was watching him. His paw instinctively moved to the hilt of his sword, as he sharpened his gaze and peered around the busy, raucous room. Nothing stood out as odd behavior among the many inebriated patrons. Chalking it up to the ale and haunting memories, he continued to make his way upstairs. Fumbling with the key at his door he almost didn’t hear the small voice behind him,

“Excuse me, Sir. Are you Beddigan? The Adventurer?” his back stiffened a bit, listening carefully before turning. A child’s voice. He turned slowly and saw a little Mouse, no more than eight or nine turnings old, in a tattered pink dress. Her soft gray fur tufted along her cheeks. She stood a few steps away, tugging shyly on the hem of her skirt. Beddigan tried to smile, though he was sure it came off weak, and crouched down, holding out his paw,

“Indeed I am, little one. How can I help you?” he asked. The little Mouse stepped forward, reaching out to gingerly touch his paw.

“It’s.. I-It’s my papa. And my village.” she said with a sniffle. Her mouth quivered, “This a-awful beast came and took papa away. He has taken lots of papa’s and they say.. they say he may come for the children next.” A door in the hallway opened before Beddigan could answer, and a tall, striking Mouse came out, startled to find them together in the hall. Her amber eyes softened when they settled on the child’s distraught face.

“Beatrice.” the Mouse scolded softly, crouching down and pulling the little girl away from Beddigan, “I told you not to bother him. Go in, go to bed.” she pushed the little girl towards the room she had come from. Standing, she smoothed her dress, looking at Beddigan as he rose,

“I am so sorry. I was going to approach you about helping our village in the morning. She must have been spying on you.” Beddigan smiled, genuinely this time,

“It’s alright. I take it you are her mother? And your husband was taken by some beast?” he asked. Tears filled her eyes but she blinked them away furiously.

“Yes, we need help in the worst way, which is why Beatrice and I came to see if you could help. You rescued my sister’s village a few turnings ago. And we heard you were to take on the Dragon here.” Beddigan nodded along, but before he could answer, Beatrice burst from the room and wrapped her arms around his legs.

“P-please mister Beddigan. I need my papa.” she sobbed, while her mother tried to tug her away. Beddigan crouched down, hugging the little girl close for a moment and then pushing her back into her mother’s arms.

“Don’t worry, we will find your papa. Now do as mother says and go to sleep.” Beatrice sniffled and rubbed her eyes and headed back into the bedroom. He heard her mother assure her that she would be right in before she pulled the door closed with a soft click. Turning back to Beddigan, fresh tears in her eyes she asked,

“Do you mean it? You’ll help us?” Beddigan nodded and reached to take her paw,

“How could I say no?” he murmured. They made plans to meet in the morning over breakfast downstairs, and Beddigan finally made it into his room, and shut the door. “So much for a vacation,” he muttered before collapsing on the bed.


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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 2, Part 1: A Desperate Fate

Thunk. Thunk. Thunk. Shianne tossed her daggers at the thick cork board across the small room. She was sitting, reclining in a stiff chair, her muddy boots propped up on the wood table of a small room in the Racing Rabbit Inn; one of only two places travellers could stay in Strille. The Wolves were not known for their hospitality, and their capital city was an excellent example of that.

Pushing herself up and out of the chair, she moved across the room, yanked the daggers free from the board, and walked back to her chair with an audible sigh.

Ragnon looked up from the newspaper he was reading, and pushed himself up into a sitting position, so that he was no longer sprawled across the bed.

“Cheer up, lass! This will all be over soon.” He said with a crooked smile that didn’t quite reach his eyes. Shianne tucked her daggers away and pulled out her time piece, ignoring the twisted not in the long gold chain.

“Not soon enough.” She muttered, her eyes lingering on the jeweled cuff clasped around her wrist — a constant reminder of her deal with Commander Rollstad to deliver his son.

Neither of them was looking forward to the meeting they had arranged with the Commander that evening. They hadn’t come up with a plan that took them any further than her handing over Ragnon to his estranged father, and getting the cuff removed. And they’d had plenty of time to discuss it in the last few days, after arriving back in the Losley Deadwoods via the portal from Haven.

They had lingered only one night at Lady Lisanne’s cottage on the shores of the Lost Lake, before making their way through the woods with the help of Silkelline, the terrifying creature that served as both guide and bodyguard against creatures even more fearsome than itself that called the Losley Deadwoods home.

Having been left at the edge of the woods on the Illensdar side of the border, they’d made their way to the camouflaged tunnel Beddigan had told them about, that lead under the border and a safe distance into Mormant. They had spent a quiet day huddled and hiding, before they used the cover of night to travel closer to the capital. It has been easy to slip into Strille in the still dark hours of the morning, and Ragnon had kept his cloak hood high as he secured them a room. Shianne had chosen to scale the exterior of the Inn and have Ragnon let her in through the window, in the hopes of keeping her tell-tale fox fur hidden from prying eyes. Despite her being on a direct mission from Commander Rollstad himself, she knew she was not safe among these Wolves, especially since her identity as Death’s Whisper had been spread across the land. Many, many Wolves would want her dead, and would risk the Commander’s wrath for the privilege of putting her down.

Ragnon set the newspaper down and stretched, walking over to the window, he peered out at the darkening streets.

“I don’t know why you’re in such a mood. You aren’t the one being delivered to your worst fate.” He grumbled, catching Shianne’s eyes in the window’s reflection. She frowned, careful placing her daggers back into their sheaths.

“You know I don’t want to deliver you to him, but I’ve little choice, Wolf.” She snarled. “But you can rest assured, I won’t leave you with him. Even if I have to slaughter every Wolf in the building to get you back out.” She added darkly.

Ragnon sighed,

“I’m sorry, Shianne. That wasn’t fair of me. I know neither of us wants this to happen but it is what it is. This is my way of paying you all back for having rescued me from that prison in Yroebrage.”

Shianne grinned at him for a moment,

“Oh, this does not pay back that debt back at all, sugar.” She said, winking at him. “I will collect on that at a later date.” Ragnon couldn’t help but chuckle in response, and Shianne felt a bit easier as she settled in to wait.

The sky continued to darken, and Shianne began to feel her anxiety begin to grow again. Ragnon was still standing at the window, staring out across the wet streets. It had rained for the better part of two days, which was good for them, because less would be out in the streets while they made their way to Commander Rollstad’s base of operations. The message she had sent off to the Commander after they had settled in at their room had been responded to so swiftly that she had no doubt that their efforts to remain hidden had failed, and that Rollstad already knew they were in Strille.

Shianne cleared her throat, standing up and pulling her cloak from the back of the other chair.

“It’s time we make our way.” She said softly, clasping her cloak on and raising the hood. Ragnon turned to her and she saw the naked despair in his eyes. Her gut clenched and she felt both of their gazes shift to the bejeweled, cursed cuff, which would take her paw in a matter of days if she didn’t hand over Ragnon to the Commander. “If you’re having second thoughts…” she began, feeling her gut twist in a mix of guilt and fear. Ragnon shook his head and held up a paw before her interrupted her.

“No, this is something that needs to be done. And I’m going to do it.” he said firmly, his amber eyes losing the mask of despair and returning to their typical, shining yellow. “Besides,” he said with a grin, “You wouldn’t be a very effective assassin with only one paw, now would you?”

Shianne shoved him playfully and tossed his cloak to Wolf,

“Still a better assassin than most.” She said primly, raising her nose in the air before dissolving into giggles.

Gathering the last of their things they made their way out to the dark, wet streets, and began their trek across the city to Commander Rollstad’s offices, which squatted very near the military barracks. When the building came into sight, they ducked down a pitch-dark alley so that they could gather their thoughts and say the last things they needed to say to one another.

“Well this is it then.” Ragnon said, his voice barely above a whisper. Shianne nodded slowly, waiting for the Wolf to continue. “Promise me one thing.” He said, and Shianne nodded again. “You’ll put a tight leash on that sister of Beddigan’s. You can’t let her try and come after me.” He said firmly, his eyes blazing with furious determination.

Shianne mind drifted back to their departure from Lady Lisanne’s cottage in the Losley Deadwoods, and Clottie’s dramatic and emphatic opposition of their plan. The poor Mouse had been beside herself with worry, aimed at her for the potential loss of her paw, and at Ragnon for whatever horrors may await him with his father. She had known that Clottie would not be happy with the plan when they had shown up, but even she had been shocked by the Mouse’s vehement rejection of the plan. Luckily, Ragnon was able to soothe the Mouse enough to let them leave, but she knew that Ragnon was right in assuming Clottie would want to come after him. In fact, she wouldn’t be surprised if Clottie was already plotting a way to free her would-be lover.

Shianne smiled at Ragnon,

“I’ll do my best to stop her, but I can’t promise I’ll be successful.” She said, placing a paw on the Wolf’s arm. “She cares for you a great deal, Ragnon. Those feelings will not be easy to contain.”

The Wolf’s eyes softened then, saddened.

“Aye.” He murmured softly. “Let’s get this over with then.”

They strode out from the alley towards the path leading up to the dark, grey stone building. Two lamps lit the entrance way to Commander Rollstad’s base of operations, and flanking those lamps were two guards, wearing the standard Mormant military grey and blue uniform, but with the addition of a burgundy sash — denoting them as Commander Rollstad’s personal militia. Shianne stepped up and pulled back her hood to reveal her face. Despite knowing it would be necessary to do this much — to show who she was to these guards, to gain entry into Rollstad’s fortress — she still felt the squish and pull of fear in her gut as the Wolves eyed her true face.

“We’ve an appointment with the Commander.” She said simply, fighting to keep the aggression out of her voice. Despite feeling ready for a fight, and a hunger to tear these Wolves to shreds, she knew she needed to keep it chained until the cuff was gone. The Wolves eyes shifted over her shoulder.

“So, that’s the infamous defector son, eh?” one guard said, his mouth twisting into a sneer. “We’re gonna need to see his face.” Ragnon sighed and pulled is hood down to rest on his shoulders and the two guards nodded to one another. “Can’t wait to see what your daddy does to you, pup. Such a disgrace.” The Wolf said, laughter twinkling in his amber eyes.

A snarl flew unbidden from Shianne’s throat and she took a step towards the guards.

“You’ve seen his face now let us get on with this before someone gets hurt.” She growled. The Wolves both laughed then, right into her face and it took everything in her not to loose a couple of her daggers and take them both down.

“By all means,” the other guard said, laughter still dancing in his eyes. “Far be it from us to slow down Death’s Whisper.” He said, rolling his eyes.

Ragnon stepped forward and gripped her elbow firmly, pushing her between the guards and up the path to the entrance to the building.

“Keep it together.” He said in a hushed, warning tone. Shianne shook herself free from his grip, about to snap at him, but caught herself just in time. He doesn’t need anything else on his plate right now, she thought, giving him a firm nod instead, as he pulled open the heavy door to allow her to step into the building.

Two more guards with the trademark burgundy sash greeted them with a simple nod, and then lead them wordlessly through a maze of corridors, until they reached an office — one all-too familiar to Shianne. She felt her gut clench with guilt as she looked at the closed door, remembering the last time she had been there. One of the guards knocked briefly, before opening the door and ushering them in.

And there, at the end of a long, narrow office lined with bookcases, sat the Commander himself. He looked up at them as they entered and flashed Shianne a toothy grin.

“Welcome back, Fox.” He said, standing from the desk and moving around it to greet them. His eyes travelled over her shoulder and met Ragnon’s, who was but half a step behind her, and then the Commander’s mouth settled into a firm line.

“Hello son.”

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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Vol 4: Chapter 1, Part 1: Through Smoke & Haze

The voyage home had been a long one for William. It wasn’t that the distance was so great — it took about the same length of time sailing to San Vincent’s Port from Mormant as it did from Mormant to Sinerrah. Getting through the thick forest of the Losley Deadwoods though, even with the help of Lady Lisanne and her creatures, had taken some time. And then picking his way through the wild parts of Mormant to rendezvous with Captain Linley at the Royal Port near Strille had been a tedious task. Ordinarily he would have arranged to meet Linley at one of the smaller Port towns along Mormant’s coast, but upon stepping through the portal back to Lady Lisanne’s cottage, he had been informed that the Wolves had tightened up their grip on their own people as the war effort raged on, and all other Port’s had been closed.

That wasn’t the only thing that had changed in his absence. To his horror, and incidentally his luck, he had entered the Wolves’ country to find a great deal more Bears than normal. This allowed him to blend in and find his way to the Royal Port more easily, but the shock and disappointment that his people had joined the Wolves in their quest for dominance over the lands settled over him like a black cloud. He had been tempted to ask around so that he may suss out more information about how this had come to be, but had in the end kept his curiosities to himself in an effort to avoid any confrontation. He needed to get home to Elenya and his kids. That had to be his priority, despite the state of world around him. Continue reading