Chapter Two

The bearling jumped to his feet and hurried over to Acorn’s side. “Come join us” he said with a sweeping motion towards the fire. With some hesitation, she walked towards the fire and sat down in a small hollow on the floor. She looked around at the other figures sitting about the fire. The owling looked tired, with large black circles under her eyes. She was hunched over herself, encircling her long legs with her arms. She met Acorn’s eyes unflinchingly, however, leaving Acorn with a rather unsettling feeling of … Knowing. Pulling her eyes away, she turned her gaze towards the fox lounging next to the owling. It met her eyes, blinking, than began to stretch in a languidly fashion. First the front legs than the back stretched and planted themselves in an upright fashion. After hunching it’s back, the fox sat on the stone and yawned. By the time it completed the yawn, a foxling dressed in rust coloured cloth was sitting before her. Acorn started and scrabbled backwards. “Tha…. that’s a fox…” She pointed her finger shakily towards the young male sitting across from her. Smirking, he smiled at her and waggled a few fingers in a mock wave.

The bear gave her a friendly clop on the back and seated himself next to her. “Don’t mind him.” He said as he poked the fire. “He’s just a show-off.” He leaned back on his elbows and gave a deep sigh of contentment. "I'm Chesterton, the fox is Tellon, and you've already met Allora." He swept his arm in the direction of the owling. Acorn gave the fox a mistrusting look and again settled herself by the fire. It did feel good after nearly three days in the cold soaking rain deep in the woods. Feeling her muscles relax, she let out a small sigh of contentment. She reached her hands forward to feel the heat singe the pads of her paws. "This is heavenly", she thought dreamily. She started when a mellow voice came across the fire. "So what brings you out of the treetops of Willow Haven?" Looking over the fire pit, she met the emerald eyes of the fox.

"How did you know I was from Willow's Haven?" She eyed him suspiciously.

Wordlessly, he pointed toward her clan's medallion, half hiddend under her new clothes. She gave a brief nod.

"Nothing that concerns you," she said stiffly.

"Well now, that's not the way one should talk to one's rescuers." The fox raised one eyebrow.

"And what's it to you anyway? Trolling for information?" Acorn said pertly.

"Woah now." the bearling interupted the rising argument. "Let's be civil to each other." He looked over at Acorn. "I realize you squirrels value your privacy, but Tellon does have a valid point. We did rescue you. Why are you so far from your stronghold?" He looked at Acorn with an open, yet curious, expression on his face. Acorn shifted her feet nervously.

Sighing, she stood up and started pacing across the back of the cramped cave. At least, she was small enough to. She doubted the Bear could. Looking deep in thought she finally stopped and looked at the group before her. The three of them were following her every movement, much to her discomforture. "It started about one week ago..."

My family was getting ready for the annual fall harvest festival. We had been planning for months, as usual, to make sure all the great families would be represented. The fox snorted to himself. Acorn shot him a dirty look and continued. Trains of food and supplies had been arriving for almost a week straight...driven by tenets of our lands. Most of these families had been supplying us with these goods by farming our demeneses for many generations, often at a profit to themselves. This year was looking to be no exception. As we were unloading the goods, the first disturbing signs of what was to happen came in, although we didn't realize it at the time.

One of our household serving girls noticed that all the tapestries and wall hangings were off center. She thought it was a castle prank by one of my brothers or their friends and reported it to my father. My brothers spent the rest of the day climbing ladders and rehanging all the pictures and wall hangings, much to my unending delight. I can still picture them perched and straining to reach... She choked slightly and resumed in a lower tone of voice. The next day villagers brought us news that large cracks were developing along the houses of tenets and servents and that all the stairs seemed to be off-kilter. People were tripping and falling going into shops and temples. The healers of our household were kept rather busy that day tending many a scraped knee or elbow.

At first we didn't put these seemingly random items together. We just figured these dwellings needed to be repatched, which was not uncommon for these stucco and brick based houses. It wasn't until the third day that we realized something was really wrong. There seemed to be a constant background "humming" in the air, as if the crickets were droning just below our hearing. In fact, we realized that it was unusually quiet, outside of that droning noise, with no singing of birds or rustling of tree leaves. It was dead and still. Acorn took a deep breath. It wasn't until the fourth day that it hit.

That morning dawned bright and clear. The sky was a lovely shade of blue, but there still was no sounds of birds chirping, neighing of horses in the stables or even the lowing of cows in the fields. Everything had a preternatural silence... By mid-day, a strange effect was noticed in the air. A shimmer of sorts, as one would see on a hot summer day. The children had noticed it first, and spent all afternoon happily chasing mirages across the meadow. The adults, however, were becoming concerned and talking about leaving the area until the disturbing signs improved. They never got beyond the planning stage.

The first tremour came as we were sitting down to supper. At first the wine in the goblets seemed to gently move about and the candles flickered sharply. Those few who sat very still could feel the earth's movement under their feet. After a few brief moments, when things stilled, they jumped up to their feet and tried to warn us to flee. None got beyond the first few words. There was a great sound as if a thunderclap had burst through the dining hall, and the whole castle began to shake as violently as if a giant had taken hold of our house and began to toss it about. People began screaming, and chaos reigned. Parents shouted for their children, husband shouted for wives, all others shouted for the gods to save them. It was horrible. Those who made it outside escaped the falling stones as the castle collapsed, but had to face the fires of overturned cooking stoves. Everything was either fallen apart or on fire, and the fires were spreading into the heart of our fortress. It was a scene of the most terrible carnage, no one was spared but a lucky few.

Acorn put her head into her hands and collected herself. Looking up, she continued. "But that wasn't the worst of it....oh no, not by far."

You see, this earthquake was nothing short of an opportunity for our enemies to attack us, and hooded they swooped down upon us like a howling wind and began to cut down those who were still standing: men, women and children alike. Those of us who could still walk fled into the surrounding forest where we were hunted down and either killed on site or were dragged back to be used as "sport" for the maurading army. By now night had fallen and the screams only made the horror of the burning area that much more terrible...the screams just wouldn't stop. I was lucky. I had learned enough to melt into the undergrowth and fled westward towards our nearest ally, the Oak Haven clan. As you can see I never made it. I evaded two gangs before falling prey to the third. I might have made it, but I was dazed and bleeding and they used my blood trail to track me. When they finally encircled me, they tried to trap me with nets and snares, but wounded or no, I was not to be caught in such things. It was finally magick that brought me down, vines winding up to encase me like a moth in a cocoon. Struggle as I would, I could not break free. The ringleader laughed mightily to watch my feeble attempts at freedom. At my demands to be let free he just laughed all the harder. Finally I became still and demanded to know who my captors were. At that, he swept away his hood and I looked into the face of a fox. Tellon started but remained silent. I was horrified. I knew our family relations were never more than nominally polite, but never in my wildest dreams did I imagine the foxes would begin an out and out massacre! Seeing my bewildered expression he advanced on me until we were muzzle to muzzle. Ever so softly he whispered to me, "This is the last thing you will ever see little squirrel." And then he signed for the beatings to began. They closed about me, using whips and daggers to attack and strike me. All I could do was scream and struggle, listening as their laughter assaulted my ears as their weapons assaulted my body. It was only by the knowledge that death awaited me that I gained the strength to break free of the vines and flee into the treetops. I used the last of my internal reserves to cast one final spell that would remove all my tracks so they couldn't follow. I sped treetop to treetop until hunger and the cold forced me to stop. That was were you found me, I had finally reached the end of my strength and had settled down to either heal or die.

Turning towards the fire, she said angrily; "Now do you see why I don't trust him? It was the foxes that betrayed us! How can I know you won't betray me as well?" And with that final burst of anger, she collapsed back against the wall and sobbed into her hands.

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