Chapter 1

He stood there, gazing over the remains of the feild. His fellow commoners pressed into battle by the barron, all over a baren strip of land. This land, now soaked in the blood of his comrades and his enemy alike. He stood there, the fur on the back of his head standing at end, his leather jacket, an inheritance from his father stainded red from the lives he took. He stood there, his grey arms tinged crimson from his friend's life flowing out in his arms only hours ago. He stood there, tail drenched in the mixture of rain, mud, blood and vomit that this wasteland had now become. He stood there, the arrow in his chest, lifeblood flowing freely between his finger's vain grasp, his eyes clearly seeing the tall skunk that had shot him, and thought of his son. Now orphaned, in these battle stradled lands, his son...

The raccoon soldier collapsed to his knees, eyes starting to cloud over. As his vision starts to blur, a figure comes beside him, grabing him as he falls back.

"Easy, friend... You'll be fine, just hold on."

The raccoon blinks, vainly trying to clear his vision to see who's aid he has. "Who..."

"Hush, this wound isn't deep..."

The raccoon shakes his head. "I am dead, don't feed me false hope. Tell my son.."

"Your son?"

"Tell him, I'm sorry." The raccoons vision blurs completly and breathes out one last time.

The stranger beside him shuts the raccoons eyes, and utters a prayer. Then the skunk stands up, his steel armor plating reflecting the sun's glare upon all around him and highlighting a small silver badge depicting a heather entwined arrow. "I will, friend. Though I know not you, I will." The skunk bends down, sliding a small silver ring from the raccoon's hand and nods his head in respect. Reading the inscription, the skunk bows his head one last time before walking away. "I will find your son, Bret of Lotcyon."

"Thing are never gonna be the same again, Lara. I'm telling you, the skunks and our people will keep fighting over this silly land dispute, and all because the barons of Lotcyon and the dukes of P'lfal will never agree to a peace. The skunks of P'lfal will take our village in a few days, and then we'll be a part of P'lfal. They already lost Brandur's Well three days ago." An old raccoon sitting besides a fire points his crooked staff at a middle aged raccoon mother. Behind her, two younger raccoons peep through a cracked open door.

The boy stands back from the door, sitting on the small bed inside the darkened room. "They're at it again. I hope my father gets back home soon. I don't want to stay here with you much longer, if the skunks do invade.

The girl sits besides him. "You think I want to be here, too? Hah, If I wasn't a girl, I'd ditch this mudhole and go with you. Ryalto, this war can't keep going, or they'll ruin the lands. No lands to farm, and we'll all starve and die."

"You're assuming that there will be anyone around to farm. The barons will relax that rule about women in the armies, and then everyone will be fighting." Ryalto sighs, placing an arm around the girl. "Tara, this is just real bad. I can't do anything, my dad hadn't even finished teaching me to fight with a quarterstaff, let alone a sword. I have only him, and he's off fighting..."

"Hush, cousin. Mom's coming." The two crawl under the bed's sheets, closing their eyes as the door opens.

Lara sticks her head in, looking at the two peaceful kits laying next to each other. "Hmm.." She then turns and closes the door.

Opening his eyes, Ryalto sits up and then nudges Tara. "Tara, I'm not gonna stay here. I'm leaving in a few days, one way or another. I'll not stay here and be captured by the skunks."

Tara smiles and then turns her back to him. "Fine, but I'm coming with you then. There's no rule saying that girls can't run away."

"Actually, the rule says no one can run away." Tara reaches back and whacks him. "Ow... Alright, you can come too." Ryalto yawns, then lies back down, his back to her as well. "G'night."


Five days. Five days of travel, and two villages. Not one person knowing of a Bret. The skunk sighs as he walks down the dry dirt road towards this new villiage's gates. This war was only a few weeks old, and already these villiages had wooden stockades... And guards. This villiage must be fairly well off, since the guards had a decent set of armor and swords. The skunk walks up to the guards, bowing his head slightly to the raccoon that moves before him.
"I am L'thal of the Pryan Order. I am-"

"I don't care who you are, skunk. You will leave now or die." The raccoon rest his hand on his sword's hilt.

Sighing, L'thal shakes his head. "As a member of the Pryan Order, doing that would be ill-advised. I am aware of your current war with the P'lfal, but understand that I am not aligned with them."

A taller raccoon in finely curred leather walks out from behind the villiage's gates. "What's going on here? Tral, leave that man alone."
He walks up to L'thal, smiling at the badge on his armor. "So, a knight of the Pryan Order is gracing this villiage with his pressence. What business have ye here, kind sir?"

L'thal bows to the raccoon and takes a small silver ring from his belt satchel. "Five days ago, the villiage of Brandur's Well fell to the P'lfal. I was there on other business when the fighting broke out. Near the end of th battle, I tried to render aid to a soldier who had been struck by arrow. He died, but not before asking me to deliver this to his son." He hands the ring to the raccoon.

The raccoon raises the ring high, reading the inscription inside. He then looks at the skunk with a heavy sigh. "This is sad news for me and mine. Bret was my wife's brother, and his son is here. I will see that he gets this."

"Forgive me, but I have more than that to deliver." The skunks looks the raccoon in the eyes, gently pressing his case for entry.

The raccoon looks back into the skunk's teal eyes for a few seconds, then stands back. "You will not enter here while still armed. Sorry, but the locals are nervous enough without an armed skunk walking about."

Smiling, L'thal takes his sword from his belt and hands it to the raccoon. "Fair enough. But be warned that I still have a dagger in by bag. I will not take it out unless attacked, but it would not do for me to be completly without weapon."

The raccoon looks at the bag on the skunk's back, then shrugs. "Friend, if you can get a dagger out of that series of knots fast enough to use in battle, then I have no problem with it." With that, the raccoon ties the sword to his belt and the pair walks through the gate.

Tara walks heavily down a small path through a wood, a few feet behind Ryalto. Both have large packs and a quarterstaff each.

"Ryalto, wait up! This pack's heavy."

Stoping beside a tall hemlock, Ryalto crosses his arms as Lara catches up. "Tara, we have to be away from the villiage quickly, or they'll drag us back. As nice as your parent's inn is, I don't want to stay there. And you decided to tag along."

Sitting down to rest for a few seconds, Tara smiles up at her cousin. "That's because I knew you'd get in trouble on your own. What's in these packs, anyways?"

"Just a few suplies. Clothes, food, some money that my dad left me." Ryalto looks down the path, ears high and fully alert.

Pulling out a small hatchet, Tara holds it up to him by the handel, blade hanging down. "An axe?"

"Two, one in my pack as well. Kinda hard to cut firewood with quarterstaffs, you know."

"Ok. So, where are we heading then?" Tara puts the hatchet back in her bag, then stands back up, dusting the dirt and needles off of her leather trousers and tail.

"Away from there, for now. Maybe head towards the Colds."

Tara looks at Ryalto, eyes wide and one ear down. "Are you crazy? Those mountains are filled with monsters and barbarians and.. and..."

"And a few dragons, if you believe some of those old kooks that stoped at the inn. But I said towards them, not actually into them. Maybe go to Heather's Peak." Ryalto shifts the pack on his shoulder and starts walking down the path, slower this time.

Walking beside him, Tara smiles. "Heather's Peak? Cool, we'll get to see the Rygle River then. Hey, if you get better with that staff, you could join the Order."

Ryalto smiles. "Yeah, maybe. Dad almost did."

The raccoon walks into a small tavern, and smiles weakly towards Lara behind the bar. The few patrons in the bar look up at L'thal as he enters, but then see the badge on his armor and return to their drinks. Both the raccoon and L'thal move towards the bar, and stand in front of Lara.

"Sykre, what's happened?" Lara looks from her husband to L'thal, worry written in her eyes and frown.

Sykre hands Lara the ring, and says "This is L'thal. He brought this for Ryalto. Where is the lad?"

Lara clasps the ring to her chest and starts crying. "I told him and Tara to clean out the stable out back... Oh, my brother..."

L'thal bows her head to Lara. "I am sorrowed to bring such news to you, M'lady. But I must speak with your nephew. If you will excuse my abscence?" He looks towards Sykre and bows once more before departing them.

Sykre comes around the bar and embraces his crying wife. "Hush... It's alright. He died doing what he felt was his duty."

L'thal walks out a small door, ducking under the low hung beams inside the stable. Looking around, he smiles slightly at the neat and well organised fashon that the stable has been arranged. Walking a few steps forward, he looks into the first few stalls and then frowns, puzzled by the silence of the stable. Turning swiftly, he back walks into the tavern and approaches the two raccoons. "I do not wish to intrude, but the stable is emptey."

Lara steps back and beside her husband. "Emptey?"

"Yes, it has been neatly cleaned, but there is nobody in it."

Lara's eyes widen and she races up a flight of stairs behind the counter.

Sykre shakes his head. "They must have cleaned it fast and then went off to play. Those two are probably out by the pond."

A cry is heard from above and Lara runs down the stairs, a note in her hands. "They've left! They have left us!" She hands the note swiftly to Sykre, who reads it quickly then swears.

"Here. They've ran off together. Stupid children, they haven't a clue what danger they're in!" Sykre hands the note to L'thal and then turns to the patrons in his tavern. "You lot! Tavern's closing early. Finish your drinks now, for my wife and I must be off."

L'thal places his hand on Sykre's shoulder. "Sykre, there's no need for that. I will help you find them, and I am sure that some of these fine people will help too."

Lara turns Sykre towards her. "He's right. I will tend the guests, you just find our daughter and nephew." Looking towards L'thal, Lara continues. "Thank you, sir. Thank you for your help. As foul as it may be, I thank you for telling us my brother's fate. Now, please, find my nephew and keep him from joining his father."

Bowing once more, L'thal turns swiftly and heads for the door, a four young raccoons draining the rest of their ales before joining him.

Sykre turns once more to his wife. "I will be back soon, I promise." He kisses Lara, hugging her tightly. He starts to leave but Lara holds him, sliping the ring into his hand.

"You'll need this. Good luck."

"Thanks..." He turns and walks out of the tavern.

The four raccoons, L'thal and Sykre stand outside the villiage gates.

"...Marow, Guav, you two head towards Raven's Head. L'thal and I will head north." The four raccoons nod and head off, two heading west the way L'thal came, and two heading south along the main road.

L'thal turns to watch them depart then looks to Sykre. "We had best be quick. Are you certain they would head north?"

"Yes, very." Sykre starts walking north, taking the sword of his belt and handing it back. "You'll be wanting this."

L'thal takes the sword and ties it back to his belt. "Thank you. May I ask a question? That ring, what significance does it have?"

Sykre smiles. "It was a gift to Bret from your order, since he couldn't join."

Stoping for a few seconds, L'thal frowns at Sykre's back. "I do not understand, many people of all the races seek to join the order, but they are not given rings when they fail." Quickening his pace, L'thal walks beside Sykre.

"Bret didn't fail. His wife died giving birth to Ryalto, and he gave up his place to care for his son."

L'thal blinks, stoping once again. A man that gave up the order? Did he not realise that his son would have been accepted as his charge anyways? Perhaps the death of his wife was the reason...
"Interesting... That explains a few things. You think that Ryalto is heading north to Heather's Peak?"

"No, but I think he might be heading north as it is away from the fighting, and he know he can't protect himself or Tara in that." Sykre looks up at the falling sun. "We must hurry. The merchants of late have been telling me of bandits in these woods. They haven't struck this close to the villiage yet, but I will feel better with the kits with us." Nodding once to L'thal, Sykre then lengthens his stride and pace.

Looking forward, L'thal speeds up to match Sykre's new pace."I agree."

"Ryalto, don't you think we should set up camp or something?" Tara looks about the darkened forrest, using her quarterstaff to ensure the way is clear.

Ryalto turns to her. "Yeah, but we haven't come to a clearing yet. And Dad always said not to camp in the middle of a path." They continue walking forward a few more feet, then Ryalto stops, Tara's staff ramming lightly into the heals of his paws. "Ow, Tara! I think I see a fire up ahead. Come on, maybe we can join their camp for the night."

Smiling, Tara follows Ryalto forwards, her staff near-horizontal along her back and under one arm. "Hey. maybe they're that troupe that visted the inn a few days ago. They did say they were heading north."

The two kits stop at the edge of the clearing, partialy hidden behind a small holly bush. Their quarterstaffs stood vertical in each hands, they stare out at the specticle they see. Before them, a young, brown rabbit hangs from a small pole, his arms tied to the Y-shaped top. Around him five lynx in ragged clothes lounge around, eating large portions of roasted meat and drinking from leather wineskins. Laughing among themselves, they occasionly throw bones and waste at the rabbit, delighting in his torment.

"I don't think we want to share camp with them... What are they? I've never seen their kind at the inn, Ryalto." Tara starts to edge away from the clearing.

Ryalto looks at the nearest lynx, calculating. "They're Lynx, from Hrral, beyond the Colds. Dad told me that they don't normally travel this far south cause it's too hot for them."

"Hot? It's cold out!"

"For us, but they come from a snowfilled land. They mostly trade gemstones and iron for food, I think. And their troops patrol the Colds, trying to keep the trade route from their lands and ours clear." Ryalto points to the nearest one. "See how thick that fur is? He'd be swealtering being any nearer to that fire. I've got an idea."

Tara's eyes widen and she grabs Ryalto's shoulder. "No! We are not rescueing the rabbit. There's five of those full grown lynx to us two kits."

Ryalto smiles roguishly and then pulls out a small bag from his pack. "I know. But if we can get this into the fire, it will explode and give us a better chance."

Tara grabs the bag and looks inside, grinning evily. "You're cruel. This much of Dad's special fire starter would blow them clear into the sky. Only use a quarter of it, we don't want to hurt the rabbit anymore than he is."

"Good point." Reaching into the bag, Ryalto takes out a small lump of wet looking, brown gunge. He tucks the bag back into his pack and moves the pack behind the holly. " 3..2..1.." Ryalto aims, then tosses the gunge towards the fire, seeing it bounce once in the dust in front of it, then landing in it. Tara pulls Ryalto down behind the holly as the fire burst out, a large explosion issuing forth from under the burning logs where the gunge landed. One of the smaller logs flies out and hits one of the lynx in the head, knocking him down and lying still. Another of the logs lands beside a lynx's own pack and lights it in flames. He stands up, trying to put the flames out with his wineskin.

Tara grabs her quarterstaff and smiles at Ryalto. "You get the ones on th left, I'll take out the amatuer firefighter and his friend." Tara leaps out and runs towards the lynx trying to put out the flames.

"Sure, take the easy ones." Ryalto grabs his staff with one hand and reaches into his pack once more with the other, grabing the hatchet and quickly taking off the blade guard before jumping over the holly bush towards the rabbit. Taking a solid swing, he cuts the ropes binding the rabbit and drops the hatchet in his lap before swiping away a sword thrust from the nearer lynx.

The lynx ducks Tara's first swing, then unsheaths his dagger from his belt. "Little girls shouldn't play in the woods.." He then drops to his back as Tara sweeps his feet from under him.

Smiling sweetly, she lifts the staff high and brings it down hard on his groin, laughing as the lynx buckles in two. "Who said I was playing?" Turning swiftly. she blocks a swing from the other lynx's quarterstaff and is knocked back a few feet.

Ryalto blocks and swipes at the lynx attacking him, then ducks as the lynx tries to thrust at his chest. Holding the staff horizontal, Ryalto trips the lynx into lying next to the rabbit. The rabbit scowls as he picks up the hatchet in his lap and hacks at the lynx's throat, no enjoyment found in his revenge. The rabbit then takes the sword and stands, weezing slightly. Nodding at Ryalto, he then engages the approaching lynx's mace with his sword, parrying the blow and kicking at him.

Tara falls to the ground, her staff flung from her hands. She cries out as her attacker swings towards her, and rolls to the side away from her staff. The lynx swears at her, then jumps between her and the staff, Ryalto only a few feet behind him. "Heh, little girl. Nobody gets away with attacki-Ufh!" The lynx falls down, Ryalto standing behind him with his staff rebounding up from hitting the lynx's head.

"All mouth, no brains. You ok?" Ryalto walks forward, reaching out to Tara, but looks back as he hears a gurgle. He sees the last lynx run through by the rabbit's blade, held up by it still held in the rabbit's hands. The rabbit pushes back, letting go of the blade as the lynx falls back dead.

Tara grabs Ryalto's hand and pulls herself up. "Who is this guy?"

"Don't know. He's good with a sword though."

The rabbit walks towards the two and bows forward, only to fall to his knees. "Thank you two for your assistance. I am Brenei of the Pryan Order. Tell me, why are two young raccoon kits such as yourselves out in this wood alone? Not that I begrudge your timely intervention"

Ryalto helps the Rabbit to sit comfortably. "I left my aunt and uncle's inn to seek my fortune. My father left to fight in the war, and I could wait no longer for him there."

Brenei nods, then looks to Tara. "And you?"

"I tagged along to keep my cousin out of trouble. So far, I've kept him from blowing you up." She smiles, then reaches for her quarterstaff at hearing the lynx she felled earlier groan. Whacking him once on the head, and then again in the groin, she then turns back to Brenei.

Ryalto and Brenei both wince at seeing her blow's aim. Ryalto then shakes his head. "My aunt was a great believer in fighting dirty."

Brenei smiles and reaches up, clasping Ryalto's shoulder. "Sometimes, young one, fighting 'dirty' is a good thing. Especialy when you are out classed as you two were. Very well thought out, your assult. Thank you once again. Now, I must say this, you two should return to your villiage in the morrow. I am sure that your parents would not like this."

"And be stuck in that mudhole all my life, waiting to be married off? No thank you. I'd rather go to the Colds." Tara sticks out her tongue, then notices the lynx that was struck by the log regaining consciouness. She walks over to him and returns him swiftly to the land of nod.

Ryalto shakes his head at his cousin's antics, then looks to Brenei. "I have to agree with her, I'd rather go to the Colds than return. I cannot wait for my father to return, and I wish to see Heather's Peak-"

"You would seek to join the order? They would not accept one as young as you, lad."

"No..." Ryalto looks up at the star filled night sky. "I know that I cannot pass the innitiation yet. But I would still like to see it. My father told me such tales about it..."

"Aye, you wouldn't. Not that you wouldn't go far in them. I myself only passed them last season. Very well. Since you are headed for Heather's Peak, and I must return there on business that these bandits interupted, I will accompany you. Let us tie up the living, so that we may sleep safely."

Tara walks behind the holly bush and drags both packs over to the fire, digging through them. After searching both packs, she frowns at Ryalto. "You packed food, fire starter, weapons, clothes and water, but no ropes? Gah, you are hopeless!" She then walks over to the smouldering remains of the lynx's pack and takes out a still intact rope. "Good thing these bandits have some."

"I think I'll check the rest of their packs to see if anything else usefull is in them." Ryatlo walks over to the nearest intact pack, openning it carefully and exploring it's contents.

Brenei get up, smiling. He walks over to the pack near the still standing pole and sits abruptly down next to it. "Yes, please do, and look out for my badge. I think it is in this one here, though I may be wrong."

The next morning, Sykre and L'thal walk into the clearing, and stare at the three tied and gaged lynx next to the pole. They walk up to the pole, and L'thal takes the note stuck on it's top off and reads it aloud.

"'These three are those living from a group of bandits that attacked me and killed my friend Toral. I have escaped from them thanks to the assistance of two raccoons named Ryalto and Tara. We are headed to Heather's Peak, but are not able to ensure that these bandits are surrendered to the appropriate authorities. Please see that they are, however finds this note, and tell the parents of the kits. Brenei of the Pryon Order.' Well, it seems that we both underestimated the kit's abilities. Sykre, I sugest that you return to the villiage to get help in securing the bandits. I will continue after them. If I hurry, I can reach them by Gandrol's Ford." L'thal hands the note to Sykre.

Taking the note, Sykre nods his head at seeing the heather and arrow rubbing under Brenei's signature. "Very well. Good luck, L'thal. And bring my kin back safe."

"I will, Sykre. I will."

Ideas, characters, character names, and anything else that I can say is copyright, is copyright of The Redshirt (Jason Taylor) 2002-2003. If you enjoy this story, why not tell me? Or if you though it was absolute shite, tell me as well. I need the feedback.
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