= Prologue

An old female hare sat in the nearly deserted dining hall in the mountain of Salamandastron, recalling memories from long ago. The old hare sat thinking of those long gone days when a young hare babe ran up and sat beside her. "Can you tell me a story about very fierce warriors, ma'arm?” asked the hare babe.

"I think I can tell a story to please you, you little rouge!” said the old harewife. The old harewife was about to start her story when more hares started to gather around to listen to her tale. Soon, every hare in Salamandastron, and even the Badger Lord was crowded in the dining hall, awaiting the old hare's tale. The old harewife started her story.

"This happened a long time ago, I will start my tale, it begins like this..."

Book One: The Badger With a Blue Stripe

Chapter 1

Long ago, in Mossflower Woods, there lived a family of badgers. The father was a strong, sturdy badger called Oakpaw. The mother was a big, but gentle badger named Renah. The smallest member of the family was special. What made him special was that where most badgers have a white stripe running down the middle of their faces, he had a blue stripe instead. Because of his blue stripe, his parents named the badger babe Bluestripe. One day when Bluestripe was older, (three seasons old) he became bored and started searching for something to keep him entertained when he saw his mother, Renah.

"Mamma, Mamma, I'm bored, can you play with me?" Renah knew she had no other option.” It seems I have no other choice, it seems I will be your playmate."

Bluestripe jumped up and down excitedly. "Yay! Mamma is gonna play games with me!" Renah smiled at the antics of her son.” Come Bluestripe, let's go play outside." Renah and Bluestripe had played together for a long time when Renah had to stop to catch her breath. When Renah got up to play more games with Bluestripe, her son was nowhere to be seen. Renah searched through the forest calling his name.

"Bluestripe! Come out, wherever you are!” No response. Renah was getting worried, it was almost dark outside. After several more minutes of searching, Renah spotted Bluestripe hiding behind a bush.” Come here, you little wretch!” said Renah, making an attempt to grab her son.

"EEK!", squealed Bluestripe as his mother grabbed at him. Bluestripe jumped nimbly out of his mother's reach and ran. Renah began to chase her mischievous son. After chasing Bluestripe for a minute or two, Renah finally caught the naughty badger babe.

"Grr! I’ve got you, you fat little badger!" said Renah as she began tickling Bluestripe. "Hee hee hee! Oh Mamma, stop that tickles!" giggled Bluestripe. Despite the happy atmosphere, trouble was not to far away. As Renah and Bluestripe laughed and played together, a group of vermin circled mother and child.

"Well lookee 'ere, 'tis a pair 'o stripedogs!", snickered a ferret. "You two stripehounds better come with us to the castle of Lord Panthera Longclaws, you two would make good slaves for 'is majesty," said an important looking stoat.

"You're not putting a paw near my child!" growled Renah.

"Then we'll just take your brat an' you can stay 'ere. Get the stripedog babe!" said the stoat. A rat had walked forward towards Bluestripe when THUMP! The rat who had walked forward lay dead, killed by Renah, who stood clutching a tree branch like a mace. "I warned you once now away with you all!" Renah charged at the vermin. CRASH, THWACK, WHACK! Renah battered away at the vermin.

"Stop the stripedog! Kill 'er!” shouted the stoat. A ferret raised his spear to throw when Renah brought the tree branch over his skull, killing him. Renah made a rush for the stoat captain, attacking whoever came too close. “Kill the badger, hurry!” wailed the horrified stoat. A weasel archer named Scring pulled an arrow and prepared to fire at Renah. TWANG! The arrow found its mark in Renah, right in the chest.

"Mamma!” cried out Bluestripe. Renah gave her son one last smile and fell over, dead. Bluestripe began to cry.

"Hurry, get that badger brat!” commanded the stoat captain. Right before the vermin left, the stoat captain kicked Renah's body and said, "See, no worries. Just stay 'ere an' sleep."

As the vermin carried Bluestripe away, he turned to look at the body of his mother. Soon, the vermin were at the castle of Panthera Longclaws. The vermin carried Bluestripe to the top of the castle, the chambers of Panthera Longclaws. When the vermin brought the badger babe in, Bluestripe was surprised. Panthera Longclaws was a wildcat with no stripes and he wore a black cape fastened by a weasel's skull.

"My, my, what do we have here?” The wildcat's voice sent shivers down Bluestripe's back. "We found 'im in the woods with another stripedog, Scring was the one to kill 'er.", said the stoat captain.

"Hmm, you're quite a skilled archer, Scring. I will reward you by appointing you as the Assassin Squad Captain." said Panthera.

"Thank you, sire," said Scring.

"Now, why did you bring me a badger babe?” asked the wildcat.

"When he grows to be big an' strong, he will become a good slave.” answered the stoat captain.

"Give him the markings of a slave; and use the blue paint," ordered the wildcat ruler.

Bluestripe sniffled. Panthera Longclaws turned on the young badger. He gave a wicked smile. Even though Bluestripe was scared, he tried to be brave. “You killed my Mamma, I'll get you someday!” The wildcat's smile grew larger. Then, Panthera Longclaws laughed. "Guards, take him away!" Bluestripe glared at Panthera Longclaws as the guards carried him away.

Chapter 2

Sixteen seasons after the badger babe was brought to Panthera Longclaws, a blue striped badger sat thinking in a cell, his hands and feet manacled to the wall. The badger was trying to recall something from many seasons ago. In dreams, he would often see a big female badger smiling at him. The badger could not recall who she was. In the dream, the female badger would always say this, "Bluestripe, Bluestripe..." The badger did not know what that meant.

He was thinking about the female badger in his dreams when a sound aroused his attention. He turned to see a rat who was on guard duty knocking his spear butt on the cell door. "Oi! You in there! 'Is majesty, Lord Panthera Longclaws, demands that you, 'is slave, bring 'im a bottle o' wine an' somethin' decent to eat!" said the rat guard.

Two more guards, a fox and a stoat, came and unhooked the badger's manacles and chained his hands together so that he could only reach a certain length and led the badger to the wildcat's chamber.

Soon, the badger was holding a platter with a bottle of wine and a roasted dove, ready for Panthera Longclaws. When the two guards and the badger entered the chambers of the wildcat, Panthera gave a smile at seeing the blue striped badger doing as he wanted.

"Give me my meal, stripehound," ordered the wildcat. The sound of the wildcat's voice always sent a chill through the badger's body. The badger walked forward to give the wildcat tyrant his food.

"Your food," said the badger.

Panthera Longclaws dismissed the food, wanting to taunt the badger more. “Well done, stripedog, I thought you might have gotten the dove confused with a fish, seeing as how great a fool you are."

The badger was so used to being called names that he forgot his own real name. The badger felt his temper rising a little. “As a matter of fact, I had no trouble telling the dove and fish apart."

"Is that so? Then what took you so long to get here, thickhead?” mocked the wildcat.

"Seeing as how my feet are bound, it makes walking a slow process. You should know since you have had ordered your guards to do that," the badger coolly replied.

Panthera Longclaws's features became angry. “Well at least I am not foolish enough to have forgotten my own name!” smirked the wildcat triumphantly.

The badger could no longer restrain his anger. “Here wildcat, do you want something to eat?” The badger threw the platter of food in the wildcat's face.

Wine dripped from Panthera's stripeless fur while his roasted dove lay on the ground. “Why you little gutless worm! I’ll make your death nice and slow for you! Grrrr! Guards, take the stripedog out of my sight!"

More guards came in to pull the badger back to his cell. The badger never blinked once as he and Panthera Longclaws locked eyes. Spear butts hit the badger as he was dragged from the wildcat's royal chamber.

Chapter 3

Log-a-log Sorex was the chief of all the Guosim shrews. The Guosim were in their logboats, which they use to get around in, when Log-a-log stopped them. “Halt, Guosim! What's that over yonder?” The shrews looked in the direction their chief pointed to. A long shape was swimming in the water, towards the shrew logboats. The shape stopped in front of the logboat Log-a-log Sorex was in. Suddenly, a huge, scaly head appeared from out of the water.

"Paddle, mates! It’s a water snake!" commanded the shrew chief.

The Guosim paddled as they never had in their life to escape from the water snake. The shrews kept paddling until they were on the shore.

"Phew! That scaly fiend is gone!” said a shrew.

"Are we gonna get back in the logboats now, chief?” asked another shrew.

Log-a-log Sorex was an adventurous shrew, never giving up once there were adventures to be had. “No, we're gonna explore the land to see what the land offers for us."

In the distance there was a large castle, looming over even the tallest trees in Mossflower.

Log-a-log planned to go around the wildcat's fortress, just in case foebeasts occupied it. After the Guosim had gotten closer to the castle, a young shrewmaid named Lilla spoke up. "Oi, Chief, come an' take a look at this."

Log-a-log Sorex ran over to Lilla, who sat peering into a barred window. In the cell sat a badger with a blue stripe.

"Hello, friend, how did you get stuck in there?" asked Log-a-log Sorex.

"I don't know. I’ve been here for as long as I remember," replied the badger.

"No worries, mate. We're gonna break you out of there as soon as we can." said the shrew chieftain.

"Oh, thank you so much! When are you going to get me out of here?" asked the badger. "Tonight." said Log-a-log Sorex.

Chapter 4

Panthera Longclaws was in a terrible rage. "Scring! Go fetch Wroc Caw for me, quickly!" snapped the wildcat.

The Assassin Squad captain looked nervous. “But Lord, Wroc Caw's a mad killer!"

"I know that! Now get out of my sight before I skin you and use your hide as a new rug! Go!” snarled Panthera Longclaws.

Wroc Caw was a huge crow who led an army of crows and ravens. Wroc Caw and his army lived in the roof of the wildcat's castle. Wroc Caw's force numbered to nearly a thousand in all. Wroc Caw and Panthera Longclaws had a great respect for each other, seeing each other as skilled warriors.

The crow leader was preening his neck feathers when Scring appeared with a message.

"His Majesty, Lord Panthera Longclaws, requires your presence in 'is royal chamber," said Scring.

The big crow looked down at Scring."Caaacraaaaawww! It's about time the wildcat needs me. I thought he had forgotten of my existence! Let us go see Panthera Longclaws!"

Panthera Longclaws was awaiting the arrival of his Assassin Squad captain when Scring and Wroc Caw walked in.

"I have brought 'im, sire," reported the weasel.

"Very good, Scring," said the Panthera.

"What do you need from me, Longclaws?" asked the crow leader.

"You see, Caw, it goes like this....."

The badger sat in his prison cell, waiting for his shrew friends to rescue him. The badger gazed out the window. In the sky sat a full moon. The badger recalled no life outside being a slave to Panthera Longclaws but something about that full moon was familiar. A moon as full as this one also hung in the sky sixteen seasons earlier. Suddenly, the image of the female badger appeared in the badger's head. The badger continued to look at the full moon while the female badger appeared in his mind.

The badger grew angry. Angry at not remembering his name. Angry at not remembering any life before being a slave to the wildcat. Angry at not knowing who the the female badger was. And lastly, angry at Panthera Longclaws for keeping him as a slave.

Blood rose to the blue striped badger's eyes. The badger's vision was clouded by red mist. The badger slave let out an angry roar. "Roooooooaaaaaaaarrrrrr!"

The rat on guard duty, named Winey, woke up and complained loudly. "Give your yappin' gob a rest, will ya? Some of us are tryin' to get a bit o' sleep around 'ere!"

Winey looked over at the badger. The badger was walking as far as his manacles would allow him. "Oi! You in there! Stop pullin' the manacles or they'll break!" Winey then realized what the badger was doing.

The badger kept on pulling the manacles to their limit when CRACK! The manacles snapped off the locks in the wall. The badger dropped them, walking towards the barred window. The blue striped badger began to pull on one of the bars in the window. The incredible strength in the badger allowed him to pull the bar out with little difficulty.

The badger stood there, manacles in one hand, a bar in the other. The badger walked to the door and kicked it down. Winey fled in terror. "Aaaaaaagghhhhh! The stripedog is escapin'! The stripedog is escapin'!"

Chapter 5

Log-a-log Sorex and his shrews were using grappling hooks to climb up the wall that surrounded the prison cells so they could get inside to were the blue striped badger was. When all the shrews, about four hundred in all, had climbed onto the wall, Log-a-log spoke up.

"Okay Guosim, here's the plan. We're gonna take the stairs that lead us to the main part of the castle an' we'll get the badger. After that, we help the badger escape safely by fightin' the vermin that get in the way. Then we run back to the logboats an' go as far as we can until the vermin come after us."

"That sure is a plan to me, chief!" said a shrew named Boggle.

"Prepare to fight, Guosim. Slingers, check your supply of rocks. Archers, make sure your quivers are full. Get ready, we're goin' in!" said Log-a-log Sorex.

Every shrew pulled out the brightly colored headbands and tied them around their foreheads. Log-a-log pulled out his rapier as a sign for everybeast to do likewise. Sorex and all the other shrews licked their rapiers as a sign of an upcoming battle.

"I'm ready, chief!" said Lilla, the shrewmaid.

"I am, too. Here we go Guosim!" said Log-a-log Sorex.

Panthera Longclaws was planning with Wroc Caw when Winey, the rat came darting into the wildcat's chamber.

"What do you want, rat?" asked the wildcat tyrant.

"Sire, the stripedog 'as escaped from 'is cell," reported Winey.

"WHAT?!" said Panthera Longclaws incredulously.

"Get Scring and the Assassin Squad and any other soldiers down to the dungeon stairs. Hurry!" commanded the wildcat.

Winey ran off to follow his master's orders.

"Cacraaaaaawwwww! I will bring my crows and ravens to help you and your soldiers catch the stripehound!" said Wroc Caw.

"Thank you, friend. Let us put that blue striped fool in his place," said Panthera Longclaws.

The blue striped badger was making his way past the cells in the dungeon and was getting nearer to the dungeon stairs. So was another creature. Scring and his Assassin Squad were also getting closer to the dungeon stairs. The Assassin Squad numbered about seven score and was mainly weasels and foxes with several ferrets and a few stoats. Scring began to reveal the plan to the vermin assassins.

"Alright, me lucky buckoes, here's the plan. Once the stripedog comes up those stairs, he won't see us. That's when we use our bows and arrows. We won't kill 'im, though. Lord Panthera wants 'im alive."

The badger could see the stairs now. He began to walk up from the dungeon slowly. The badger finally made it up the stairs when, suddenly ,a stoat jumped onto his back from behind! The badger jumped backwards, smashing the stoat against the wall.

Chaos suddenly broke out. Scring knew his cover was blown. The Assassin Squad ran towards the badger pulling out weapons for close combat. Every beast in the Assassin Squad had daggers that they began to draw. Other vermin began to pull out swords and one sided axes hidden under black cloaks. The badger saw the oncoming vermin and began to swing the manacles madly. He hit out with his bar at the vermin assassins. The badger knew he could not fight them forever. He needed help, fast.

Log-a-log Sorex and his shrews heard cries from not too far off and wondered what they were. The Guosim walked a little way until the blue striped badger was in view. Log-a-log Sorex recognized the creature who was fighting the vermin.

"It's our badger friend, mates! Charge, Guosim, charge! Logalogalogaloglooooog!"

The Guosim shrews charged at the Assassin Squad as shrew rapiers slashed at the foebeasts. The shrew archers and slingers were finishing off the vermin that were not killed by the shrews with rapiers.

A fox with an axe slashed at the blue striped badger. The badger ducked and kicked the fox, knocking the air from him. Soon, the blue striped badger was fighting back-to-back with Log-a-log Sorex.

"We have to leave before Panthera Longclaws comes for us!" said the badger.

"Alright, mate. I've got a plan. When I gives the signal, we all rush past the vermin and leave before the wildcat comes," said the shrew chieftain.

"One, two, three, charge!" yelled Log-a-log.

The Guosim and the blue striped badger began to run where they saw sunlight in the distance. When the shrews and the badger ran by a passage in the corridor, a spine chilling voice rang out.

"It's the badger and some shrews, get them! Don't let them escape!"

It was Panthera Longclaws. Behind him was a horde of vermin and Wroc Caw with his crows and ravens.

Some of the faster vermin were catching up with the Guosim and the badger. The archers and slingers were sending volleys of arrows and stones at the vermin. The archers and slingers were holding the vermin off for a while until Wroc Caw and his crows and ravens came swooping down at the shrews. Around five shrews were slain by the birds' sudden rush.

"I can see daylight ahead, run as fast as ya can!" said Log-a-log Sorex.

The shrews and the badger ran as fast as their legs could carry them towards the daylight. The vermin were getting closer. Panthera Longclaws ran outside after the shrews and came to a sudden stop. The wildcat tyrant looked down from a balcony at the shrews with the escaped badger who were in the water below.

"Grrrrrr! I'll get you one day, stripedog! You just wait and see! And when I do catch you, I'll make your death nice and slow!" yelled the wildcat furiously.

The Guosim and their escaped prisoner looked up at the wildcat and his horde and laughed. Panthera Longclaws turned to grab his spear, but when he turned to look back, the shrews and the blue striped badger were gone.

Chapter 6

Log-a-log Sorex and the Guosim shrews were getting in their logboats with the now free badger in tow.

"Hurry, Guosim, hurry! The wildcat will 'ave his vermin out searchin' for us soon!" said the shrew chieftain.

The shrew logboats began to go faster as the shrews paddled faster. The Guosoim shrews kept on paddling until late afternoon when they were sure that Panthera Longclaws and his vermin were far behind.

The shrews sat around campfires as it grew dark, eating and drinking, cracking jokes, arguing ,(something shrews are well known for) and generally relaxing. Log-a-log Sorex and a few of the other shrews were sitting with the blue striped badger, questioning him about his life.

"So what's yer name, matey?" asked Boggle curiously.

"I don't have one," the badger casually replied.

"WHAT?! Yer meanin' to tell me that ya don't got a name?" asked Lilla, the shrewmaid. "I never remember having a name. But sometimes, I have strange dreams with a female badger calling out "Bluestripe, Bluestripe..." said the badger.

"Well I've got an idea why she was callin' out Bluestripe. You probably forgot yer name since the vermin just called you stripedog an' such, Bluestripe is probably yer name!" said Log-a-log Sorex.

"You really think so?" asked the badger curiously.

"Aye, that's what I think yer name is. You will now be known as Bluestripe," said the shrew chieftain.

"It's a nice name for me, don't you think?" asked the newly named badger.

"Aye, what else would you be called with a big ol' blue stripe runnin' down the midle o' yer face?" said Lilla.

Shrews were rolling around on the ground, laughing at the joke told by the shrewmaid. Bluestripe began to do something he had not done in a long time. Laugh.

Panthera Longclaws was in a terrible rage. The wildcat commanded his horde to gather in front of the castle and await orders. When the wildcat strode outside, his horde had done as they were commanded. The wildcat tyrant began to speak to his awaiting horde. "Earlier today, the stripehound escaped with the help of some shrews. You brainless idiots let him escape. Now you will have to be punished. I will send Scring and most of you out in the woods to do some recruiting to make up for your slain comrades."

Scring looked up at his master dutifully. "Sire, I will carry out your orders as they were commanded."

"Good, Scring. Now take five hundred of our strongest soldiers and go recruit any roaming vermin bands that will join us. Now, go, quickly!" ordered the wildcat tyrant.

"Craw! This is a good time for me and my followers to become useful. We will find the earthcrawlers and that stripehound and ambush them. This is good, my followers and I are ready for bloodshed! Caaaaaacraaaaawwwwww!"

Panthera Longclaws turned to see Wroc Caw perching on a big oak tree with many of his crows and ravens with him.

"Do as you may, but do not kill the stripedog. I am the one to carry out the death of him," commanded Panthera. The look in his eyes was deadly. Everybeast present knew how serious the wildcat tyrant was. Death was in store for anyone who tried to stop the wildcat warlord from accomplishing his task.

Wroc Caw and seven hundred crows and ravens took off as soon as Panthera Longclaws had given orders. Scring and five hundred soldiers made their way into Mossflower Woods, searching for new vermin recruits.

Wroc Caw and his crows and ravens were all flying silently, blending in with the night sky.Wroc Caw noticed several small lights and began to fly closer to them.

Log-a-log Sorex and Bluestripe, along with the Guosim shrews, were growing tired and decided to go to sleep.Bluestripe was almost asleep when an uneasy feeling crept over him.Bluestripe rolled over on his side to look around.He saw a something moving closer to where the Guosim shrews were sleeping.Bluestripe picked up his manacles and began to spin them.With a whirring sound, Bluestripe threw the manacles.The manacles hit the figure with a loud thud.Bluestripe ran over to the limp figure.It was a raven.

Suddenly, many crows and ravens flew from the night sky.Bluestripe picked up his manacles and iron bar and shouted,"Wake up, Guosim!We've been ambushed!"

Shrews woke up amidst mass chaos.Slingers and a few archers began to drive the birds back a little.Log-a-log Sorex shouted,"To the logboats, Guosim!Retreat!"

The shrews ran as fast as their legs could carry them to the logboats."Row!Row!Row!",roared the shrew chieftan to his rowers.

Deathfang was the leader of a tribe of barbaric vermin.He was a muscular stoat with red, blue, and yellow markings on his face and arms.Deathfang had about eight score at his command, all savage killers.

Deathfang and his small army always sat up in trees, making an ambush would be no problem.Deathfang was sitting up in a oak tree with Ammz, the fox tracker."Ammz, where's the next place where the pickin's are good?", asked Deathfang.

"I'm not sure, Lord.", answered Ammz.Deathfang looked at his tracker with an exhausted look on his painted face.

"Well, go look fer someplace with nice grub!", said the burly stoat.

Before Ammz could go look for a place with lots of food, Yeltir, a small, brown-furred rat with keen eyes, yelled out,"Chief, I sees an army comin' this way!"

Deathfang looked where Yeltir pointed.A weasel with five hundred vermin were coming near the grove of trees he and his little army were in.

Winey the rat had been promoted from a rank of a normal soldier to a scout.Winey was running slightly ahead of the recruiting party to scan the woods for any vermin who could be recruited into the horde.Winey was poking at bushes with his spear when he heard a rustling noise nearby.

Winey crawled to the bush and jumped where he heard the rustling noise.A powerful creature threw Winey of of its body and stood over the rat with anger in its eyes.The creature Winey had jumped on was a large,fat weasel with red, blue, and yellow markings on his face."Wot do ya think you're doin', eh?",asked the fat weasel.

"I didn't know yew was in those bushes, honest!", babbled the rat scout.

"I don't forgive anybeast fer hurtin' me.", growled the weasel as he pulled out a long dagger.

"Hey, Reic, wot 'ave ya found?", said a nearby voice.

Out of a bush near Winey and the weasel came a ferret with markings similair to the fat weasel's.

"I just got ambushed by dis lil' rat.Jumped on top o' me, so he did!", said the weasel.

"Oi!Reic just found a rat over 'ere!", shouted the ferret.

A whole group of vermin with markings like the weasel and the ferret surronded Winey, grinning wickedly and toying with their weapons.A huge, muscular stoat stood in front of Winey and smiled and asked the rat a question in a mocking tone."Where do you come from, rat?"

"He's with us.", said a stern voice.

All of Deathfang's army looked up to see who the speaker was.It was Scring with five hundred vermin soldiers at his back.

Chapter 7

Panthera Longclaws was on his castle walls when he spotted Scring and his five hundred soldiers.Panthera shouted orders at the guards at the front gate."Guards!Open the gate, Scring and the rest of my horde are back!"

The four guards at the gate opened the gate for their comrades.Scring and the recruiting party marched into the castle grounds with the newly recruited vermin under Deathfang's command.

"We have recruited more soldiers for your army, just as you ordered, Sire.", said Scring as he bowed to the wildcat tyrant.

Panthera Longclaws looked at the army of Deathfang curiously."Hmmmm, who is the leader of this little army that has just recruited?", asked Panthera.

"I am.", said Deathfang as he strode out of the crowd.Deathfang carried a big club in one hand and a long, sharp dagger in the other.

"So this is the big, strong commander that leads the group of soldiers that Scring has just recruited.I am honored to meet you.I must know your name so that I can premote you to a high position in my army.", said Panthera Longclaws.

"My name is Deathfang.I lead an army of eight score, all loyal and armed to the teeth.", said Deathfang, looking around at his small army.

Panthera looked at the primitive weapons and shields that were carrried by Deathfang and his army."Hmmmm, your weapons are a bit primitive, I will give you weapons and shields made of steel instead of wood or rock.", said Panthera Longclaws.

"We are grateful to yer Highness fer doin' such a kind act for me and my army.", said Deathfang.

Panthera turned to Scring and gave out orders."Scring, get some of my soldiers to bring better weapons for Deathfang and his followers, and bring several hard-working soldiers to me."Scring bowed and left to carry out his master's commands.

Wroc Caw and his followers were in pursuit of the shrew logboats.Log-a-log Sorex looked over his shoulder to see Wroc Caw and many crows and ravens flying only a few feet behind the logboats.Two shrew brothers were bravely holding back the birds with a sling and their bow and arrows.

Two crows and a raven came flying at the shrew brothers, giving out the warcry of Wroc Caw and his followers."Wrrrrrrooooccccccaaaawwwwwwwww!"

The brother with the bow and arrows quickly placed a shaft to his bow and fired at the raven.The raven dropped like a stone into the water below.The brother with the sling quickly took a good sized pebble from his pouch and put it in his sling.The shrew fired the slingstone with deadly accuracy.One of the two crows fell into the water, dead.

There was still one crow left for the shrew brothers to kill.The brother with the bow and arrows placed another shaft to his bow and fired at the crow.The crow was fast and it narrowly avoided the deadly shaft and came flying towards the brother with the bow and arrows.The crow grabbed the shrew in his claws and thrust at the shrew's neck with his beak.The shrew felt blood gushing from his neck as his eyes clouded over in death.

Log-a-log Sorex saw that the birds were closing in on the logboats and shouted out commands."Paddle, Guosim!Paddle like ya never did before!"

The logboats began getting farther ahead of the birds until they came to a shady are where trees towered over the river.The followers of Wroc Caw stopped abruptly when they came to the shady area.The trees were so low that it made flying difficult for the birds.

"Cacccrrrawwwww!Those rivermice have escaped from us for now but I have a plan.We will perch nearby where the trees become normal and do not make it where we cannot fly.When they come out of there, we will swoop down on them and we will kill them all!", said Wroc Caw with a wicked twinkle in the crow leader's dark eyes.

Chapter 8

Bluestripe was lying exhausted against the side of the logboat when he heard crying.Bluestripe looked to where he heard the crying and saw a young shrew weeping over the body of a slain shrew.

"What is the matter, friend?", asked Bluestripe, putting a hand on the young shrew's shoulder.

"Ya see this shrew 'ere?Well, that was me older brother, Nurra.He got slain when me an' him was fightin' off those birds back there.He got killed by one of those crows.Someday, if we meet up again, I'm gonna kill the crow that slew my brother, that's a promise!", said the young shrew, sniffling as he tried to stop himself from crying more.

Log-a-log Sorex walked over to Bluestripe and the young shrew to see what was going on."What's the matter, Rune?",asked the shrew chieftain.

Bluestripe answered for Rune."His brother, Nurra got killed by one of those crows that was after us.Rune says that he and Nurra killed two of those birds before they killed his brother."

"I know how you feel, mate.I lost mates in many battles.", said Sorex comfortingly.

A shrew named Aran called out to Sorex in a loud voice."Chief, I see a lil' group of houses over yonder.Should we stop to see if we can rest a while?"

Sorex began issuing orders to his tribe."Paddle the logboats to that shore over there.C'mon, Guosim, let's get the job done!"

The shrew logboats were all on the shore in a short amount of time with shrews standing on the riverbank, awaiting orders from their chieftain.

Log-a-log Sorex looked at the assembly of shrews and then began to speak."I'm familiar with these parts and I know the creatures who live in those houses over there.Since they're kind to all, I think they will show us hospitality and treat us well.So when they offer ya food, don't go shovin' it down your gob, act like you're shrews who have at least a little bit of manners.Understood, Guosim?"

"Aye, aye, Chief!", answered the shrew tribe in a roar.

Log-a-log Sorex walked over to a tree with a door in the middle of it and knocked on the little door.A female hedgehog came out of the house and looked very suprised when she saw Sorex."C'mon out everybeast, quick!Sorex is back to see us!", shouted the female hedgehog as she ran to all the other houses to spread the news.

Several mice, a whole crew of moles, a rag-tag band of squirrels, and a big male otter ran out of the houses to gather around Sorex.The big male otter clapped Sorex on the back."Curl me whiskers an' pull me rudder, is it really ol' Sorex?Where have ya been all these seasons, matey?"

Sorex shoved the otter playfully."What have I been doin' all these seasons?Take a look at yourself, you shrimp scoffin' barrel bellied excuse for an otter!"

Sorex and the male otter walked over to Bluestripe when Sorex began to introduce the otter."Bluestripe, this here is me ol' matey, Tide Riverdog."

Tide Riverdog shook Bluestripe's paw and greeted him."Nice meetin' ya Bluestripe.Wot are ya doin' in company with this lil' spiky furred, pot-bellied, logboat ridin' shrew?"

Bluestripe liked Tide so he answered the big otter."Well , it's a bit of a long story.Sorex and a few of the Guosim will explain what's happened so far."

"C'mon, everybeast, time fer supper!", yelled Meekrose, the hogwife.

Everybeast from shrews to mice, moles, and squirrels crowded into the biggest of the houses to eat supper.Tables were covered with all kinds of wonderful things to eat.Among the dishes were Turnip'n'Tater'n'Beetroot pie, all kinds of cheese, cheese and celery flans, mushroom pasties, shrimp and hotroot soup, and puddings that were freshly made.There were good things to drink, too.Cups, beakers, and flagons were filled with mint tea, strawberry fizz, october ale, and dandelion fizz.

All creatures sat down and ate and drank happily.Bluestripe sat with Tide and Sorex with Lilla and Boggle, the two young Guosim shrews, sitting across from them.Tide's plate was piled high with many good things too eat and had a flagon full of october ale.

"Oi, Tide, when's the ten season famine?", asked Sorex.

"Very funny," said Tide with a honey covered scone in his paw,"Just look at young master Boggle's plate."

Sorex,Bluestripe,and Lilla looked at Boggle's plate with shock.Boggle's plate was piled even higher than Tide's with nine scones, two mushroom pasties, three pieces of cheese, a small bowl of pudding, and a beaker of strawberry fizz.

"Shame on ya, Boggle!", said Lilla, shaking her finger at the gluttonous shrew.

"Boggle, what did I tell you about how much you eat?You eat like a hungry hare!", Sorex roared at Boggle.

"I was only a lil' hungry..", mumbled Boggle.

"Only a lil' hungry?!", asked Sorex with his mouth wide open.

The hogwife, Meekrose walked over to the group to see what was going on."What's the trouble, Sorex?", asked the hogwife.

"Look at all that food that Boggle's eatin'!", said the shrew chieftain.

Meekrose looked at Boggle's plate and gasped."My, my, you're quite 'ungry aren't you?You knows good cookin' when ya sees it, don't you?You just come with me to the kitchens, I'll bake an apple pie for you!"

Boggle rescued two scones and a piece of cheese as Meekrose led him to the kitchen with Lilla, Sorex, Tide, and Bluestripe laughing heartily.

Chapter 9

Outside the grove of low hanging trees, Wroc Caw and his followers were perched in a big oak tree.Wroc Caw was perching on a long limb, with the crow captain, Vukor, and his raven captain, Corax, in his company.

"Cacraw!Do either of you remember if any of the earthcrawlers were killed when we ambushed them yesterday?", asked Wroc Caw to his two captains.

"Cachaw!I only know of the earthcrawlers that we slew back at their campsite.The slain earthcrawlers numbered about a score, Lord.", said Corax, the raven captain.

"Were only a score slain?", asked Wroc Caw.

"Just before we came upon the low-hanging trees I slew one of the earthcrawlers who was skilled witha bow.He and another like him slew two of our soldiers.", said Vukor, the crow captain.

"Hmm, this is good!Now with fewer numbers we can overtake with ease!Cacraawww!", said Wroc Caw, gazing down at the grove of low hanging trees with his wings spread wide.Wroc Caw's dark eyes glinted wickedly as he gave a loud cry."Wrrrooocccaawwwwwwww!"

Back in the castle of Panthera Longclaws, Deathfang and about a score of his army were in an empty room, discussing the most recent events.Panthera Longclaws had just promoted some of his soldiers to Captains in his army and had even promoted a fox named Vulpin to second in command.

"That fox, Vulpin is a bossy ole thing.I don't care for 'im that much, I sure don't.", said an old, grizzled ferret named Odje.

Shouts of agreement answered to Odje's statement.Deathfang shouted to quiet them down."I agree with ya on that un there, Odje.But 'ere's what I think.I respect an' trust Panthera all right but the one that I don't trust is that Scring.He looks like the type who'll kill if'n ya don't follow an order.He could probably slit yore throat an' make it look like it was an accident."

Murmurs of agreement and nodding of heads greeted Deathfang's words.Deathfang raised his new iron club and his new skinning knife and said,"So I'm the one who's gonna kill our ole matey Scring!"Deathfang exposed his sharp, glittering fangs in a grin."So what do you think about me plan, mates?"

Shouts and cheers rose from the army of Deathfang as they answered their chief.Among all the shouts and cheering, the door swung open to reveal three figures.Vulpin, Scring, and an old stoat captain named Eminear, who had caught a young badger sixteen seasons ago, stood in the doorway."What's all the noise about?", asked Vulpin, looking accusingly at the assembly of vermin.

"Wot's it to you, fox?", asked Odje insolently.

The fox glared at Odje as Scring pushed him aside."What was all the noise about?Were you lot celebratin' something?If ya were, what were ya celebratin' about?", asked Scring looking straight at Deathfang.

"We was just celebratin' our new alliance with your master, Panthera Longclaws.", said Deathfang innocently.

"Well now that you lot are done with the celebration, get out.", commanded Scring.

Deathfang and his fox tracker, Ammz walked out of the rest of the army with Deathfang and Scring glaring at each other the whole time.

Chapter 10

Back in the grove of low hanging trees, in the large house where everybeast ate dinner, some of the creatures who were still awake and a few of the Guosim sat near the fire.Sorex, Bluestripe, Lilla, Tide, a few of the moles, and the rag-tag band of squirrels were present to hear the adventures of Bluestripe and the Guosim.

Meekrose, the hogwife, walked into the room and sat down in a wooden chair to hear the tale of Bluestripe and the Guosim, too.Lilla, the shrewmaid remembered that Boggle had been with Meekrose and asked her where he was."Miss Meekrose, do you know where Boggle went after you made that apple pie fer him?"

Meekrose smiled and answered politely."Oh, poor Boggle was just so tired that he fell asleep while he was eatin' his apple pie."Meekrose pointed to an armchair where Boogle slept.Crumbs were in his whiskers and on the corners of his mouth.Boggle was snoring softly as he slept on, dreaming peaceful dreams.

"So tell us about yore adventure, mates.", said Tide.

Bluestripe and Sorex looked at each other.The task of storytelling ended up going to Bluestripe.

Bluestripe looked at his audience and began to tell the story."Well, before I met with the Guosim, I was a slave to Panthera Longclaws, the wildcat tyrant.One day, Log-a-log Sorex and his tribe saw me sitting in my cell and planned to free me.Before they saved me though, dreadful thoughts raced through my mind and I went into a terrible rage.I broke out of my cell and met up with the Assassin Squad.Log-a-log Sorex and the Guosim rushed to my aid and we fled from the vermin.Panthera Longclaws was persuing us and we all escaped.Panthera Longclaws sent his ally, Wroc Caw and his crows and ravens after us.We were ambushed during the early morning and we fled until we came to the grove of low hanging trees."

The listeners sat awestruck for a minute and finnaly, one creature spoke up."So what can we do to help?"Everybeast turned to the speaker.It was Acer, leader of the rag-tag band of squirrels.

Bluestripe, Sorex, and Lilla looked at each other with surprise."Um, excuse me fer askin' but, what do you think we need help with?", asked Lilla.

"With the vermin, o'course!", said Acer with a drawn dagger and a smile.

"We can 'elp ee withee birdbag villians from followin' ee anymore!", said Foremole Muld, the chieftain of the mole crew.

"But you've already done so much for us already.We don't want you to have to help us.", said Sorex pleadingly.

"I know who can 'elp 'em, mates, Hawthorn Streambattle!", said Tide in a loud voice.

Tide's idea was greeted by roars of approval by the squirrels and moles.Bluestripe, Sorex, and Lilla looked puzzled at each other."Who's Hawthorn Streambattle?", asked Bluestripe.

"We'll tell ya in the mornin', you lot just go an' get some rest, you'll need it by the time we get to where Hawthorn Streambattle lives!", said Tide with a twinkle in his eye.

Later that night when everybeast was asleep, Log-a-log Sorex was having a strange dream.A mouse warrior in bright armor and a marvelous sword like no other appeared to the shrew chieftain and left him with important instructions.

Chapter 11

The next morning, Bluestripe walked into the room where he told his story the previous night and sat down in a wooden chair next to the table.Bluestripe sat thinking of the creature that Tide had talked about last night, Hawthorn Streambattle.He wondered if Hawthorn was capable enough of helping defeat Wroc Caw and his followers.Tide certainly thought so.

While Bluestripe was thinking, a tired voice addressed him."Ah, good mornin' to ya, Bluestripe.Did ya get a good night's rest?"It was Boggle.Boggle was still in the armchair he was in last night and was picking crumbs out of his whiskers.

There was a knock on the small wooden door.Boggle ceased picking crumbs out of his whiskers and went to answer the door.When Boggle opened the door, he saw a vole who wore an old traveling cloak.The vole asked Boggle a question in a slow, deep voice."Is an otter named Tide Riverdog here by any chance?"

Boggle nodded."Yeah, Tide's in 'ere, want me to get 'im?"

The vole answered."That would be nice."

Soon, Boggle was back with a Tide.The vole smiled and said,"I'm here, Tide, you lazy lump of an otter!"

Tide glared comically at the vole."Arvic, you ol' wretched vole, git inside so we can talk about the plans!"

Arvic turned ariund and addressed somebeast nearby."It's alright, Mirtha, me dear.You an' young Caythen can come inside!"

From some nearby bushes came Arvic's wife, Mirtha and their shy daughter, Caythen, who was about Lilla's age(sixteen seasons) came with Arvic, Boggle, and Tide to go inside.

Everybeast sat down somewhere.Boggle went back to the armchair he had come to like so much, Tide and Arvic sat down at the table with Bluestripe, and Mirtha and Caythen went to the kitchen to talk with Meekrose, who was a long-time friend of Mirtha's.

Tide introduced Bluestripe to Arvic and they shook paws.Arvic had a strong grip.Bluestripe speculated that Arvic was an able-bodied creature by the muscles that were shown from Arvic's rolled back sleeves.

Tide left Bluestripe and Arvic to go and bring Log-a-log Sorex.Bluestripe saw Arvic looking at the tatoos that Panthera Longclaws gave to him and turned to Arvic.Arvic looked slightly embarrassed at being caught staring.Bluestripe told his tale to the vole.Arvic felt sympathetic for the blue striped badger.

Soon, Tide was back with the shrew chieftain and they all sat down to talk."The reason I've gathered y'all here is so I can tell you lot the plans.Arvic is a wise creature and I think he should come with us when we leave today.Acer, the squirrel chief will also come with three score of his squirrels.When we meet up with Hawthorn, I'll explain the rest of the plans.For now, we should just go an' eat a good breakfast.", said Tide to his three friends.

Tide and Arvic went ahead but Bluestripe saw Caythen, Arvic's shy daughter wandering around.Bluestripe started to walk towards Caythen when the shy volemaid saw the huge badger and began back off.While Caythen was backing up, she bumped into Lilla, who was heading to breakfast.Lilla looked Caythen up and down."I haven't seen you around here before.Me name's Lilla, pleasure to meet ya."

Caythen was already begining to like the shrewmaid.Caythen greeted Lilla in a whisper of a voice."Um, hi, my name is Caythen, daughter of Arvic and Mirtha.There's a big badger with a blue stripe right behind me and he looks terrifying!"

Lilla looked over Caythen's shoulde."Oh, him, that's just me matey, Bluestripe.Oi, Bluestripe over here!"

Caythen's eyes grew wide in fright as the huge male badger, covered in tatoos and, the one thing Caythen noticed the most, a blue stripe, walked over to the two maids."What do you need, Lilla?"

Lilla introduced the unlikely pair to each other."Bluestripe, this is me new friend, Caythen.Caythen, this me matey, Bluestripe."

Bluestripe gently shook the trembling volemaid's paw."How do you do, Caythen?"

Caythen was surprised at the badger's manners and stuttered a reply."Um, uh, I'm d-d-doing well, th-th-thank you."

Bluestripe felt bad for scaring the shy vole and made a suggestion."How about the three of us sit together at breakfast?"

Lilla thought it was a great idea.Caythen nodded her head slowly.That made the descision.The trio walked to breakfast chatting happily.Sorex, however, still sat at the table where Tide told them the plans, remembering the instructions the mouse spoke to him in his dream.

After breakfast, the trio came out of the dining hall laughing and joking.Caythen had become less frightened of Bluestripe as they talked during breakfast and now the trio were talking like lifelong friends.

Bluestripe and Lilla ran to their rooms when Caythen's voice stopped them."Wait, where are you going?"

Bluestripe had forgotten to tell Caythen the mission he and Lilla had to go on.Bluestripe and Lilla stopped and told her the story behind their mission.Caythen looked crestfallen at the news."But, how am I going to talk to you guys while you're both gone?"

Lilla thought of a solution."We will send a messenger to tell everyone who's taying here what's going on.You can send a message with the messenger and we will tell us your news!"

Caythen perked up at the idea.She walked back down to the kitchen and Bluestripe and Lilla went to their rooms to pack their belongings.

When they were done, they met the rest of the group who were going on the mission in front of the houses.Shrews were putting supplies in logboats, friends were bidding each other farewell, and Acer, the squirrel chief was calling role for his three score squirrels.

Acer looked at unrolled a scroll and read out the names."Oachie?",asked the squirrel chief."Here!", said a tough looking squirrel."Blunder?", asked Acer.None of the squirrels answered.Acer yelled in anger."Blunder!Where are you?I can't believe that you're always the last one to report when I call role!"

A young squirrel who was carrying a heavy haversack tripped out of the doorway and answered."Right here, chief!"Acer finished calling role and the squirrels began climbing in the logboats.

Everybeast was finishing farewells and climbing into the logboats except for four creatures.Bluestripe, Lilla, and Arvic were saying goodbye to Caythen.The volemaid hugged her two new friends and gave a big hug and a kiss to her father.Log-a-log Sorex looked towards the departing trio and they all climbed into the first logboat with the shrew chieftain.

"Goodbye, everyone!", said Meekrose, waving to the departing logboats.Foremole Muld and his crew, who had stayed to watch over the remaining creatures, waved goodbye and sniffed loudly.

The remaining creatures waved to their friends as the logboats disapeared in the distance.

Wroc Caw sat on a branch, sleeping peacefully until the noise of many paddles hitting the water woke him up.The crow tyrant looked in the distance and saw several logboats moving swiftly down the river.Wroc Caw screeched to awake his followers."Yeeeerawwww!There go the earthcrawlers, after them!"The chase was on!

Book Two: When Allies Gather

Chapter 12

Panthera Longclaws sat in his chamber all alone.Not even Scring, who was his faithful counseler was not with him.Panthera stood up and closed the door as he left the chamber.The wildcat ruler walked through the coridors until he saw one of his soldiers.It was a stoat named Ner.

Ner was a loyal stoat who would carry out all orders given to him but, he was slow and in that regard, not as good at carrying out orders as Scring.Panthera walked towards Ner without making a sound.The wildcat gave out a swift command to the soldier."Ner, gather all of my captains!Also, bring Vulpin and Scring to me as well!"

The stoat jumped at the command saluted quickly as he ran to carry out his commands."Yes, yore majesty!Right away, my Lord!", cried the stoat as he ran down the corridors.

Panthera Longclaws smirked and walked back to his room.Half an hour later, Ner was in Panthera's chamber with Scring, Vulpin, and the captains."Very good, Ner.Now get a little bit of rest and get back to work.", said the wildcat tyrant.

Ner was the very picture of happiness."Thank you, Lord!A bit o' shuteye would be nice!Thank you, Lord!Thank you!"

Panthera waved a paw towards the door, a sign to leave.Ner left and the council got underway."Now, Scring, remember when I gave tou orders to catch the stripedog by ambushing him?How did the ambush fail?", asked the wildcat.

"Sire, right when we were gonna jump on him, a stoat named Eero blew our cover," explained Scring.

Panthera stroked his chin thoughtfully."Where is Eero now?"

Scring pulled out a bone whistle and blew it. Not long after Scring blew the whistle, the stoat, Eero, came running into the wildcat's chamber.Eero stood at attention."Yes, Sire?"

Panthera walked towards Eero and began circling him as he spoke."Now, do you remember when that stripedog was escaping and Scring and the rest off the Assassin Squad were to ambush him?How did the stripedog get past all of you?"

Eero gulped visibly."Er, um, some creature jumped on 'im before we was given the signal, Sire"

Panthera smiled a wicked smile.The fur on Eero's body stood up and chills went down the frightened stoat's back."Now can you recall who that creature was, Eero?", asked the wildcat ruler mockingly.

Eero sobbed a little and gulped again as he answered."Me?"Unfortunately for Eero, the stoat's life was cut short.

Panthera stopped circling Eero and lunged at the terrified stoat and grabbed his victim's head with both paws, with the long claws he was named for sunken into Eero's head.Panthera spun around and hurled Eero at the wall.There was an audible*CRACK!* as the stoat hit the wall. Eero's lifeless carcass slid down the wall and laid limp on the stone floor.

Scring, Vulpin, and the captains looked at the dead stoat with wide eyes.Panthera turned to his officers."Now, let me tell you why I gathered you all here. I gathered you all here because I still have my doubts about the stripedog."

The weasel captain, Altac, scratched his stomach lazily."Your Highness, why do ya worry about the stripehound?"

Panthera turned to Altac and answered him. "The badger escaped all by himself.He tore a bar out of his cell window.No normal creature can do that.I think that this badger is a very powerful creature.I saw him killing my soldiers like they were nothing.His eyes were blood red and he killed all enemies that stood in the way.I fear that he is one of those Berserkers.I have heard tales from travelers about them.They are usually badgers who rule at some mountain on the Western Shores called Salamandastron."

The ferret captain, Furo, leaned on his spear and shook his head. "A berserker, eh? We need to take special precautions when time comes to fight 'im."

Panthera paced the floor and addressed his officers."That's the other thing I wanted to talk to all of you about. War. Did you see all of those shrews with that badger?I believe that the badger intends to gather an army and wage a war with us.I have plans when we do battle with their army.I think that stoat, Deathfang could be useful for my plans."

The rat captain, Yuta, nodded at the idea."Your a wise ol' ruler if ever there was one, Lord."

The old stoat captain, Eminear, spoke up."Lord Panthera would come up with a crafty plan to finish off the stripedog good and proper!"

Vulpin liked the sound of the plan."All I know is that whatever the plan is, it'll make those woodlanders cringe in terror at Lord Panthera's might!"

Scring smirked."They won't cringe in terror because they'll all be dead or enslaved!"

Panthera dismissed his captains but kept Scring and Vulpin with him.Panthera smiled evilly as his wicked mind devised a cunning plan against the woodlanders.

Chapter 13

The Guosim logboats were speeding through the water, with Wroc Caw and his seven hundred followers pursuing them.Sorex sat in the first logboat, paddling harder than anybeast.Bluestripe was in the fifth logboat, making sure that the last logboat did not fall behind.

Wroc Caw's dark eyes glittered maliciously as he and his followers came closer to the six logboats.Corax and Vukor, his two captains, flew on either side of their ruler, screeching raucously with their comrades.

Wroc Caw raised his voice above the screeching of his army and said, "Caaacrrawwww!We are getting closer to the earthcrawlers!They cannot escape!After them!"

Tide looked back behind him and saw the huge crow and his multitude of crows and ravens flying over the river only a couple of hundred feet away.Tide shouted an alarm out to Log-a-log Sorex."Sorex, that big crow an' his gang are less than a thousand feet behind us!"

The shrew chieftain looked solemn."Alright, everybeast, time to use all of yer strength to get the logboats far from that crow an' his lt.Paddle away, everybeast!"

Every creature on each logboat grunted with excersion as they began to paddle as hard as their muscles would allow them.Some of the stronger creatures, such as Sorex, Tide, Acer, Arvic, and Bluestripe, had to use all of their sinew to increase the logboats' speed.

The six logboats continued speeding through the water for quite a while until Wroc Caw and his followers were black specks in the distance.The group still ventured towards their destination until Tide raised his paw for silence.

"What's that noise I hear?It ain't too far away.It sounds like somebeast is singin'.", said Tide.

Everybeast stopped to listen to the singing beast.The tune it was singing sounded like a sea shanty.The song went like this:

"Back in the days when I was young, me messmate was a shrew.He liked me an' I liked him, we got along with the crew.

The crew was a misbegotten bunch, it's been quite a while since the cook has made us any lunch.

I offered me mate a sip o' wine an' he said,"Fill me up, that would be just fine!"

Oh, I shook the cook an' the lookout will shout.Oh, I'm 'appy as a lark an' mean as a shark.

On this ship there's me, an' me mate, with the rest of the crew now all we need is yoooooooouuu!"

The creatures in the logboats paddled into an area with a few overhanging trees and on the shore was a big, cave-like den.When the logboats came into this area, they saw the creature who was singing the song.Bluestripe looked surprised when he saw the singer.It was the biggest otter he had ever clapped eyes on.She was almost bigger than Bluestripe, who was quite large for a badger.

The logboats pulled up to shore where the big otter was and everybeast started climbing out of the logboats.Tide ran up to the otter and embraced it.Tide grinned as he spoke to the otter."Hawthorn Streambattle, you ole waterdog!How have ya been all these seasons?"

Hawthorn Streambattle, who wore a necklace of shells and an old skirt, pushed Tide away playfully."Tide Riverdog, ya look as small as ye did when I last saw ya.Wot have ya been doin' all these seasons, fillin' yer hungry gob with shrimp 'n' hotroot soup?"

"Hawthorn, we need yer 'elp. Let's all get inside an' then I will explain things.", said Tide, looking over his shoulder at the ever-nearing crows and ravens.

Hawthorn nodded her head."That sounds reasonable.Alright, you lot, let's go inside so you can meet the family."

All the creatures followed Hawthorn into the cave.The cave was packed with otters.There were about four hundred of them in all, but they were comfortable in the cave they lived in.

Hawthorn approached an older male otter and tapped him on the shoulder."Wizem, these are some of my friends an' they got a bit of a problem on their hands.Ya see, this big crow an' his gang are after this badger right 'ere.I offered to help 'em.Do you think I made the right choice to say I would help 'em?"

The old otter, Wizem turned to Hawthorn and addressed her."Hmmm, that's awful kind of ye, Hawthorn, but how many o' these birds are there exactly?"

Hawthorn gritted her teeth."There's about seven hundred of 'em in all. All of 'em are crows an' ravens, all led by a big crow."

Wizem shook his head."That's an awful lot of birds. But, since you've already told these goodbeasts you would help, I guess we've got to keep our promise an' help."

Hawthorn put a paw on Wizem's shoulder."Thank ye, Wizem. Can ye gather the clan together so I can explain everything to 'em?"

Wizem nodded."I will do as you wish."

A few minutes passed by and the whole Streambattle clan stood waiting for their chieftain to make the announcement.There was a hushed silence as Hawthorn stood on top of a rock that was placed in the center of the cave.Hawthorn spoke loudly so that everybeast could hear her."Alright, Streambattles, a couple of me friends are havin' trouble.There's a big group of about seven hundred crows and ravens outside this cave who want to kill us all.Our friends can't fight 'em alone, there are too many birds to fight.We can't leave our mates to fight that many birds by themselves, right?Streambattle clan, are ya with me?"

Roars of approval from the Streambattle clan arose from Hawthorn's question.Some of the otters held javelins over their heads and others gripped slings.Hawthorn waited for the noise to die down and then continued with her news."Alright then, Streambattles.We fight tomorrow."

Later that day, Hawthorn, with several of the elders of the Streambattle clan, met with the Guosim and their allies.The council that met that night consisted of Log-a-log Sorex, Bluestripe, Tide Riverdog, Arvic, Hawthorn, and otter elders, such as Wizem.

The first creature to speak up was Hawthorn."One of our first priorities is to know exactly where that big crow an' his gang are.If we know at least that much, we might have an advantage when we battle 'em."

There were nods of agreement at this statement.Then, Tide spoke up."We need to find out their whereabouts tonight while they're all restin'."

Wizem looked uncertain."But who would we send?"

Log-a-log Sorex solved the problem."The beast for the job is Acer."

More heads nodded at Sorex's answer.Everybeast turned to Acer for what to do next.Acer stood up and conveyed his plan."I'll gather up about a score of my squirrels an' we'll head out.We'll be back faster than two shakes of an otter's rudder."

Acer then left the room and gathered a score of his squirrels.After he told them the plan, he and his followers snuck out of the cave to venture into Mossflower Woods.

The squirrels leapt from tree to tree expertly, with the exception of Blunder, who lagged behind the rest of the group.After twenty minutes, Acer halted and raised a paw as a gesture to stop.All the squirrels sat silently as Acer pointed to a leafless tree where several crows and ravens roosted.Acer chose two of the fastest squirrels he had with him and pointed in two different directions.

The meaning of Acer's orders were clear to the two squirrels.The two squirrels, named Oachie and Lumb, leapt to their indicated directions.The setup of where the squirrels were was that the birds who were roosting in the tree were surrounded.Acer cupped his paws around his mouth and hooted exactly like an owl.

One of the ravens woke and looked around him.Acer indicated for Oachie to do as he did.Oachie cupped his paws around his mouth and hooted like an owl.The raven's eyes popped back open and looked for the source of the noise once more.Oachie gave the signal for Lumb to go.Lumb likewise cupped his paws around his mouth and hooted like an owl.

The raven unfolded his wings and cawed.This is what Acer hoped he would do.Not too far away,a few other figures of crows and ravens were seen flying above the trees.Acer motioned for Oachie and Lumb to come back.The two squirrels jumped back to the tree they had formally occupied.The squirrels began jumping through the trees again back towards Hawthorn's Holt.Acer and Blunder were in the rear of the group.Acer had to help Blunder up one or two times until they were able to continue.Acer pulled out an arrow from his quiver and strung it to his bow.*Zip!*The arrow it a tree right in the middle of where the crows and ravens were staying.

Acer sped up to catch up with the rest of his squirrels so he could tell the council what he had discovered.

Chapter 14

Back at the castle of Panthera Longclaws, Deathfang stood in the chamber of Panthera Longclaws. Deathfang had been ordered to see Panthera Longclaws in his chamber at once. Deathfang got on one knee and addressed the wildcat ruler. "You called me, Lord?"

Panthera looked down at the burly stoat chieftain."Ah, yes, Deathfang, I have a special mission for you and your followers alone. Go to the main gate, Scring and Vulpin are awaiting you there. They will explain the object of your mission. That is all."

Deathfang bowed to Panthera and left saying, "Yes, Your Majesty."Deathfang gathered all of his followers and told them what Panthera had told him. They all made their way through the castle until they reached the main gate. Scring and Vulpin stood there with many bows and full quivers of arrows.

Scring's eyes were mere slits as he spoke to Deathfang. "Hmm, Deathfang. As Lord Panthera said, you will be going on a special mission. You will be using these bows and arrows. Your mission: burn down as many trees as you can. Vulpin will accompany you until you find the fire that he has set up. You will stick one arrow per beast into the fire and you will all shoot fire arrows at the trees. Eventually when the blue-striped badger and his woodlander allies will try to attack Lord Panthera's castle. With no trees, they won't have the supplies to make arrows. They also can't hide behind the trees for protection or any surprise attacks.Do you understand?"

Deathfang and his eight score followers nodded. Vulpin signaled for Deathfang to follow him. On their way out, each vermin received a bow and a quiver of arrows.

When the vermin reached a clearing, they saw four of Panthera's soldiers adding dry wood to a fire."Out of the way, you four!", commanded Vulpin. The four soldiers ran away hastily.

"Alright, everybeast circle around the fire!", ordered Vulpin. Deathfang and his army obeyed their orders. Vulpin pointed to the trees and said, "You see those trees? Well, stick your arrows into the fire and you may begin."

Deathfang was the first one to shoot his arrow. After putting it into the fire, Deathfang placed his arrow on his bow. Deathfang pulled his bowstring back to its limit.*ZIP*The arrow hit a birch. The flames began to spread up the tree until the birch started to burn.

Once everybeast had seen their chief do it, they all began to do likewise. The sound of fire arrows flying through the air sounded like the buzzing of hornets. Soon, trees all around the barbaric army of Deathfang began blazing scorching. Occasionally, squirrels would desert the burning tree they had been in only to be brought down by arrows.

Deathfang was enjoying himself immensely. Deathfang grinned wickedly, exposing his white fangs, as he saw the bodies of squirrels and burning trees. Deathfang saw a squirrel trying to run away unnoticed. Deathfang drew an arrow to his bow and took aim."I'll just think this squirrel is that windbag, Scring.", Deathfang thought to himself.

  • ZIP*The squirrel fell with an arrow protruding from his neck. After a while, the trees were all burned. Vulpin looked at the surrounding trees and the dead squirrels."You lot did a fine job. Lord Panthera will be pleased. Now, let's get back to the castle!"

Deathfang's army headed back to the castle with their chief thinking to himself." I just can't stand that oaf, Scring. He thinks he's better than us just cause he's Panthera's second-in-command. I'll kill him one day! But that means me an' the army would hafta leave before Panthera finds out. I know the perfect time to kill Scring! He won't be so high an' mighty when he's dead, will he?" Deathfang smiled wickedly with an evil gleam in his eye. Oh yes, Scring would be dead before much longer!

Chapter 15

Back at the Holt of Hawthorn Streambattle, Acer had just finished telling the council the whereabouts of Wroc Caw and his army. Hawthorn Streambattle nodded her head. "This is good. Now the battlegrounds are decided.We need to hasten before Wroc Caw an' his lot reach here. If they did that, they'd 'ave pinned in here an' we'd be under siege."

Log-a-log Sorex understood. He backed up Hawthorn's statement. "Hawthorn's right. If we wait 'ere too much longer, that crow an' his followers will use that to their advantage an' we'll be under siege.We need to start movin'. Quickly."

Hawthorn began to relate her plan to the council."Alright, we need to start gathering able-bodied beasts together fer battle.Sorex, I know that most of our force will come from yore Guosim tribe. I know that I will have roughly about the same amount of otters as Sorex does shrews. Do we have anymore beasts who are able to battle?"

Acer spoke up."Aye. There are three score squirrels at my command."

Tide and Arvic were next to speak."We're fightin', too."

Last, was Bluestripe."I'm the reason all this has happened, don't think for a second that I'm not going to fight alongside all of you."

Hawthorn nodded."All we have left to do now is to make sure that everybeast is fitted out in armor and has a weapon. Wizem, you are in charge of the clan who stays behind while I'm gone."

Sorex put in one last word."Time for battle, everybeast."

Bluestripe was nervous. He had never been in a real battle before. The only time he fought was with the Guosim back at the castle of Panthera Longclaws. The only reason he had felt confident then was because they outnumbered their enemies by many. Now, it was the enemy who outnumbered them.

Bluestripe was so large that the only armor that fit him was one of Hawthorn's breastplates.Bluestripe made his way to the main room where everybeast was finishing putting on their armor.

A few minutes passed by, everybeast had finished preparing for battle. Hawthorn stood up to say the last word."So this is it, mates. We go to battle with that rotten crow an' his bird scum. If they win the battle, will take as many of 'em to Hellgates with us!"

A roar came up from the forces of the woodlanders. Hawthorn raised her javelin and pointed it to the sky."Mates, today, we battle!" Creatures raised their weapons and shields and roared.

Log-a-log Sorex and the Guosim did the rituals they do before a battle. The brave Guosim shrews put on their colorful headbands and unsheathed their rapiers and licked the blade. The Guosim sheathed their rapiers once again, looking brave and ready for battle.

The otters of the Streambattle clan, covered in tattoos, carried javelins and slings with a few of the bigger otters carrying large swords. Hawthorn led the woodland army to the battlefield. The land was like an open field with trees surronding it. Northeast of where the woodlanders stood, was a ridge. The ridge was about sixty feet above the woodland floor below it.

In the trees on the opposite side, was Wroc Caw with seven hundred crows and ravens that were ready for bloodshed. When Wroc Caw spotted his foes, he flew up into the air and said, "Cakkraw! I see that ye would like to end all of this with a battle. Ye are few and we are many. Harrrrakkaw! I accept your challenge. But be warned, we will not lose! Wrrrroooooocaaaaaaaawwwwww!"

Hundreds of crows and ravens flew into the sky with their leader, screeching out their battlecry with Wroc Caw.Bluestripe looked towards Lilla and Boggle. They were trying to look brave, but fear was shown on their faces. Log-a-log Sorex stood bravely with his friend, Aran at his side. A pretty squirrelmaid named Blossom began to have tears show up in her eyes. Acer patted her paw and turned to see Blunder shaking uncontrollably. Acer spoke to him in a harsh tone."If we all go to the gates of Dark Forest today, be brave for once in your life and fight!"

Seven hundred crows and ravens flew towards the woodlander army, cawing and shrieking. The woodlanders began to shout out their battlecries.

The Guosim raised their rapiers and yelled."Logalogalogalogaloooooooooooog!"

The clan of Streambattle otters pointed their javelins at their foes."Streambaaaaaaaaaaaattle!"

Bluestripe, Arvic, and Acer and his squirrels shouted out."Mossfloooooooooooower!"

Tide unsheathed his otter sword and pointed to the heavens."Riverdooooooooooooog!"

The woodlanders stormed onto the battle with weapons drawn and shields raised. Otters began to load slings and squirrels began to notch arrows to their bowstrings. Now the woodland army was divided. Creatures that were using projectiles were on the hill while the other creatures who used weapons for fighting hand-to-hand were at the bottom of the hill and on the field.

The birds swept down on the woodlanders at the bottom of the hill. Lilla the shrewmaid was fighting a crow. The crow would fly out of blade range every time she tried to slash at it. The crow flew at Lilla, ready to stab with its beak. Before the crow could do anything, a pair of manacles hit the side of his head forcefully, killing him instantly. Lilla looked up and saw Bluestripe standing over the dead crow's body. Red mist clouded the badger's eyes. Bluestripe and Lilla charged at the enemy do to do battle once more.

Boggle was having a harder time while tying to fend off a raven. The raven raked Boggle's cheek with his curved claws. Blood trickled from the wound on Boggle's cheek. Boggle winced in pain. The raven suddenly seemed to have a rapier growing out of his chest. The blade was swiftly pulled out and the raven went limp and fell to the ground. Log-a-log Sorex wiped his blade on the grass. Aran was with him. Sorex stood in a fighting position once more and called to Boggle."C'mere, youn un', we'll fight with you!" Boggle ran to Sorex and Aran and began fighting back to back with the older shrews.

Hawthorn was a breathtaking sight. With loaded sling in one paw, javelin in the other, she was a force to be reckoned with. Whenever a bird flew near her, she would hit it with her loaded sling. Then she would aim at another bird and fire her stone . She would stab at the blackbirds with her javelin and would throw it at distant bird. Then she would reload her sling and grab another javelin. Tide was at his old companion's side, slashing at any birds who got too near.

Acer and his squirrels were doing well until a score-and-a-half of the blackbirds saw them. They flew at the squirrels swiftly. Acer shouted out an order."Now is our chance, fire at 'em before they reach us! Hurry!"The squirrels quickly notched arrows to bowstrings and fired at the birds. In the little time they had, some of the squirrels dropped their arrow while trying to notch it. Only about a third of the arrows were shot succesfully. About fifteen of the birds fell. The other fifteen dove at the squirrels. About five squirrels were killed by the diving bird. Acer drew his long dagger and began slashing and stabbing at the birds. Other squirrels began pulling out weapons for close combat. In short time, the squirrels had killed all but two of the birds, who flew away.

Wroc Caw was not like most evil creatures who commanded a horde. Wroc Caw was actually fighting with his army. Wroc Caw stopped at a small yew tree when he spotted one of his ravens not fighting."Rekaw! Why are ye not fighting, brother?"

The raven looked up at his master."Kraw! Who have killed many of them, but they are killing many of us!"Wroc Caw's dark eyes flashed angrily.He stabbed the raven in between neck and chest with his beak. The raven's limp body fell from the tree onto the battlefield.

"Harrraaakk!That will teach ye to fight during a battle!"

Vukor the crow captain knew that the blackbirds were now losing the battle. He looked around to see if anybody was watching him. He was about to fly away when a cold voice stopped him."Where are you going, crow?"

Vukor turned to see a young shrew carrying a loaded sling and a rapier.It was Rune, brother of Nurra, the shrew that Vukor has slain."Remember me, crow? I'm the brother of that shrew you killed back at the River Moss. I promised to avenge my brother. A Guosim shrew never backs down on a promise. Prepare to die."

Vukor was scared witless! He tried to fly away, but the shrew was with him! Vukor stopped once he saw the shrew in front of him. Rune stabbed at the crow's feathery chest with his rapier. The rapier did not kill him, though. Rune had missed the middle of Vukor's chest and had stabbed the lower left side of his chest instead. Rune pulled the blade from the crow captain. Vukor flew to escape death by the shrew's paw. Rune whirled his sling until it was barely visible. He fired the stone at the retreating Vukor. *CRACK!* The stone hit Vukor in between the neck and the back of the head, slaying him. Rune looked up towards the sky smiling and said, "You may rest easy now, brother."

Wroc Caw was shocked out how many crows and ravens were being slain by Hawthorn. He had to stop the otter! Maybe then, the tide of battle would be in his favor once more! Wroc Caw flew towards Hawthorn, who was at the ridge saw Wroc Caw and spoke to him."So, crow, ya want to try to kill me, eh? Well, let's see ya try, crow! Me an' you, one-on-one! C'mon!"

Wroc Caw launched himself at Hawthorn, claws spread wide. Hawthorn tried to block the crow's claws with her javelin, but the huge crow grabbed the javelin and pushed Hawthorn to the ground. Wroc Caw tried to stab Hawthorn with his beak, but Hawthorn hit the side of his face with her loaded sling. While Hawthorn was busy holding back Wroc Caw's beak, Wroc Caw sank his claws into Hawthorn's shoulder and chest. Hawthorn grunted in pain and swiped at the crow with her loaded sling. Wroc Caw jumped back. Hawthorn's plan worked, she stabbed at Wroc Caw as he jumped back, stabbing him right below the wing. Wroc Caw tried to grab Hawthorn with his claws again but Hawthorn blocked the claws with her javelin. Wroc Caw grabbed the javelin with his claws and tried to force Hawthorn back. Hawthorn rolled over, sending the crow onto the ground. Hawthorn tried to roll over again so she could stab Wroc Caw in the back with her javelin, but Wroc Caw flew to one side and stabbed Hawthorn in the lower part of her neck close to her shoulder with his beak.Wroc Caw screeched triumphantly, "Wroooooooocaaaaaaaw! I have you now, waterdog!" Hawthorn saw her chance. While Wroc Caw had her pinned to the ground, she made a wild stab with her javelin. The javelin sank into the middle of Wroc Caw's chest. Wroc Caw let out one final shriek, and fell limp. Hawthorn pulled her javelin from the dead crow tyrant and closed her eyes.

Corax the raven captain and about a hundred other birds saw no sign of their leader. They saw that the woodlanders had won. Corax and the remaining blackbirds flew back in the direction of Panthera Longclaw's castle.

When the woodland army saw the retreating birds, they gave a cheer. Tide, who was bleeding from several different places spoke up."Has anyone seen me matey Hawthorn?"

Everybeast looked around them until a voice shouted out."She's over here!" Tide, Log-a-log Sorex, Aran, Acer, Arvic, Blustripe, and Lilla ran to where an otter named Cain stood. Tide threw the body of Wroc Caw off of Hawthorn and lifted up his matey.

Tears started appearing in Tide's eyes." I think she's dead. That big crow must've killed her. Well at least she sent 'im to 'ellgates before she died."

More creatures started gathering around Hawthorn. When they heard the news, everybeast began crying unashamedly, for Hawthorn Streambattle was a brave otter who had been greatly loved.

Chapter 16

Back in the grove of low-hanging trees, Caythen had been thinking of her two friends, Bluestripe and Lilla. Even though they hadn't been gone long, she missed them. Her mother, Mirtha, was talking to her old companion Meekrose. There was a knock on the door. Mirtha looked up. "Can you get that, dear?"

Caythen walked to the door and opened it. It was Boggle the shrew. Caythen smiled."Come in, Boggle."

Boggle walked inside and sat in his favorite armchair near the fire. Caythen looked at him expectingly."Well? What's the news?"

Boggle opened his eyes and sat up to relay the news. Meekrose and Mirtha gathered around to listen."Well, 'ere's the news: First thing ya need to know:Wroc Caw an' 'is birds are dead except for the ones who retreated. Second thing ya need to know: We thought that Hawthorn Streambattle had been slain by Wroc Caw. Turns out, she's alive! That's all the news for now. I'm gonna be staying here fer a while."

Caythen slapped a paw to her forehead."Oh no, how long will we last with this glutton to feed?"

Boggle crossed his arms."I am gettin' a little hungry. Me cheek hurts so bad!"

Meekrose looked at Boggle's injured cheek."Ooh! That is an awful injury! Come with me, I'll make an apple pie for you to make you feel better."

Boggle let himself be led to the kitchen by Meekrose. Meekrose taught Boggle how to make an apple pie. After the apple pie was done baking, Boggle sat down in his armchair near the fire and began to eat it.

The corners of Boggles mouth were covered in crumbs. Boggle remembered something Log-a-log Sorex told him to do. Foremole Muld walked past and Boggle shouted out to him."Um...wait up, Foremole! I gotta message fer ya!"

The mole leader turned around at stared at Boggle with his small eyes."Wot iz et, young zurr?"

Boggle relayed the message that Log-a-log Sorex had told him to Foremole."My chief, Log-a-log Sorex said that when time comes to fight the wildcat, we'll need you an' your mole crew to help us. We need lots of rocks and soil to make a trap for the wildcat an' 'is army."

Foremole grinned and said, "Urr, me an' moi moles can git 'ee lots o' soil, zurr! We'll 'elp 'ee gurtly!"

Boggle smiled."Good ol' moles! They're so helpful!"

Caythen came over to where Boggle sat and pulled a chair up next to him."So, how're Bluestripe and Lilla doing?"

Boggle looked up from his pie."Oh, they're fine! They were workin' together perfectly in the battle. Bluestripe, though, I'm worried about 'im. Durin' the battle, Bluestripe's eyes were all clouded over and red. Bluestripe killed many of the enemy!"

Caythen looked concerned."I'm worried about Bluestripe, but I'm happy that neither of them got injured badly. I think I will write about all that Bluestripe's done. He's such an amazing creature! I think I'll write a poem. I'm good ar writing poetry, you know."

Boggle went back to eating his pie."Writing a poem for Bluestripe would be lovely!", thought Caythen as she walked upstairs. Yes, Bluestripe had done some amazing things but, unknown to Caythen, more was yet to come.

Chapter 17

Back at the castle of Panthera Longclaws, the wildcat tyrant sat in his large chair, deep in thought. There was a knock at the door."Come in." It was Vulpin.

Panthera looked at his fox officer questioningly."Well?"

Vulpin saluted and stood straight to attention with his pike at his side."My Lord, the crows and ravens have returned. They are waiting just outside this room to see you."

Panthera Longclaws rose from his chair and strode out the door with Vulpin at his side. Panthera was shocked at how many blackbirds were left. Only five score. Panthera gazed at the flock of blackbirds."Who is in charge here?"

The raven captain, Corax, stepped forward."I am."

Panthera looked him up and down."What has happened to Wroc Caw and the six hundred others who left with you?"

Corax shook his head."Craaaaw! They were slain by the rivermice and riverdogs."

Panthera's eyes widened."This is worse than I thought. The mad slayer Wroc Caw lay dead? Your companions, too? This badger is even more powerful than I imagined. I must do something about this. You may all leave."

Corax and the others flew off. All but one who was about to take off until Panthera halted him.Panthera had devised a cunning plan in his wicked mind.Panthera spoke to the crow in a low voice."I see you are grieved by the death of your leader, Wroc Caw. Is this so?"

The crow nodded."Craw! Wroc Caw was a strong and wise leader. I will miss him much."

Panthera looked around as if another creature was listening.He put an arm around the crow's shoulder and whispered to him."Wroc Caw was not slain by the woodlanders. It was Corax who killed him. I know this because I could tell when I looked into his eyes. Tell all your remaining companions and avenge Wroc Caw!"

The crow looked stern."Hewkrah! I will do as you say. Wroc Caw's memory will not go unavenged!" The crow spread his wings wide and flew off.

Panthera turned to go back to his chamber, smiling wickedly.

Deathfang and half a score of his followers were walking down a corridor when Scring appeared from around a corner.Deathfang and his followers continued to walk down the corridor until Scring was about to pass them. Deathfang remembered wanting to kill Scring. This was the perfect opportunity to kill him! If he was going to kill him, this might be the only chance he would have! He must kill Scring now!

Deathfang drew his skinning knife and club. He launched himself at Scring's unprotected back. If Scring hadn't turned at that very second, he would have been slain. Scring jumped back and drew his daggers. He jumped at Deathfang. Deathfang blocked the daggers with his club. The weapons were locked together, both their owners trying to push the other back.

They were going to continue until a harsh voice yelled out,"Scring, Deathfang, what are you two doing?"It was Vulpin. Vulpin marched over to where the leader of the Assassin Squad and the burly stoat chieftain stood with locked weapons."Scring, you should know better, you're Lord Panthera Longclaws's second-in-command! Deathfang, you're a chieftain, you should set a better example for your followers! I'll have to tell Lord Panthera about this."With that, Scring and Vulpin walked off and around the corridor.

Deathfang was nervous. Vulpin said he would tell Panthera Longclaws what happened. If the wildcat found out, he would surely kill Deathfang!

The grizzled old ferret named Odje leaned on his spear."So what do we do, Chief?"

Deathfang turned on the ten who were with him."Do? I'll tell ya wot we're gonna do! We gotta leave now before the wildcat finds out. But first, we need to get food and some more weapons from the armory. You five, go get some food fast! The rest of yew lot will come with me to the armory to git some more weapons!"

Deathfang and the five who were with him opened the door to the armory and stepped inside. Deathfang saw his old dagger and stuffed it into its old sheath. Others went and grabbed their and other weapons that had belonged to Deathfang and his followers.Ammz filled his quiver with arrows and switched his old bow with a longbow. After everybody was done with weapons, they went back to where they split up with the other five.

The five were standing with full sacks of food.Deathfang looked around at them and gave an order."Alright, mates, let's move out."The eleven vermin made their way through the castle until they saw a door. Deathfang opened it slowly and stepped out. There were two rat guards asleep. Deathfang snuck up on the first one and slit his throat with his dagger. The lifeless rat dropped to the ground. The second guard woke up.

"What's goin' on 'ere?" Deathfang hit him over the head with his club. The rat fell to the ground senseless.

Ammz looked down at him."If we leave him here, when he wakes up, he'll sound the alarm.We must do something."

Deathfang looked down at the rat guard."Yore right. I can't kill 'im while he's knocked out. That ain't me. We have to take 'im with us."

Odje's son, Ojash, slipped a strangling noose around the rat's neck. The noose was not too tight, allowing him to breath.Ojash inspected the senseless rat."Oi, Reic, come an' take a look at this. Remember this little fella? He's the one that you found the day we met up with that weasel Scing, remember?"

The huge weasel, Reic, cracked his knuckles."I remember 'im all right. That whiney lil' rat that kept moanin'. He nearly got me with 'is spear! If it weren't for that Scring, I would've gotten 'im good."

Deathfang shook Ojash and Reic."We need to 'urry before they start lookin' for us! Let's go!"Deathfang and his followers ran off into Mossflower Woods with Winey the rat in tow.

Chapter 18

Not too far away from where the battle between the woodlanders and the blackbirds took place, the woodlanders were treating the wounded. Hawthorn Streambattle was lying on the ground and was being bandaged by an assortment of the woodlanders. The main creature that was tending Hawthorn was Arvic the vole. Arvic was experienced at tending wounds.

Lilla looked over Arvic's shoulder."Is she gonna be alright, Arvic?"

Arvic looked up at Lilla."She'll be fine as long as she stays in bed and rests for a while. That crow certainly gave her some nasty wounds to be sure."

Tide looked over at his friend. She was covered in bandages. She had bandages on here neck, shoulders, and chest from where Wroc Caw had sank his claws in and stabbed her with his beak.

Hawthorn opened here eyes a little."I'll be fine, mate. You'll see."

Tide smiled hopefully as Hawthorn was starting to awaken.Arvic made sure Hawthorn did not try to overexert herself as she sat up some.

Bluestripe was happy to see that the big, brave otter was going to be fine. Log-a-log Sorex stood nearby and spoke up."Mates, I have somethin' to say. Before we set out fer Hawthorn's Holt, I had a strange dream. In this dream, a warrior mouse dressed in armor appeared before me. He was carryin' a marvelous sword like no other! Anyway, he said this to me:

Fight the blackbirds, tooth and claw, you will defeat them, one and all. Tend the wounded and count the dead, blue striped badger with eyes o' red. Continue on your quest. Meet the bucked-eyed you. You'll be feeling your best with friends with you on your quest. Your journey is almost over. Go to the tree surrounded by clovers. There one will meet a long lost friend. You're coming closer to the end."

The group of creatures looked at Sorex. Bluestripe repeated something Sorex had said."The Buck-Eye You?"

Tide dismissed Bluestripe's question."We can solve the riddle later. Right now, we need to see how many are slain."

Arvic looked up."I've already counted the dead. There's about four score slain."

Tide shook his head."If you thought these birds were hard, our next battle will be much harder than this one."

Many agreed with the Riverdog otter. Bluestripe's mind was still on Sorex's dream."A long lost friend? I wonder who that could be."

Chapter 19

Panthera Longclaws sat in his chamber when a caw was heard. Panthera stepped outside his chamber and saw the blackbirds all looking at him. Panthera looked at the ground in front of the blackbirds. The lifeless body of Corax lay limp on the ground at the wildcat ruler's feet.

Panthera grinned wickedly."I am proud of you all. Now the memory of Wroc Caw may rest at ease."Panthera kicked the raven's corpse.

The blackbirds flew away back to the roof. Panthera was about to go back to his chamber to rest when a voice addressed him."Lord, I have brought them here."

Vulpin came from down the corridor leading the one hundred and fifty remaining members of Deathfang's army. Scring was at the back of the group of vermin.

Vulpin saluted Panthera Longclaws with his pike."M'lord, we could not find a trace of the creatures who fled. We checked all the doors until we found the body of a rat guard outside. There were no other traces of his companion anywhere."

Panthera Longclaws massaged his brow with both paws."Have you asked the remaining followers of Deathfang anything?"

Vulpin shook his head."They don't know what's happened to him."

Panthera Longclaws saw Scring skulking in the back of the group of Deathfang's followers. Panthera called to his second-in-command."Scring, do you know anything about this?"

Scring shook his head."The last time I saw Deathfang, he was running towards the exit near the dungeon."

Panthera sighed."No matter. We have only lost half a score."

Panthera Longclaws's mind started thinking about when he would have to meet Bluestripe and his friends in combat. Panthera thought it wise not to underestimate the woodlanders. Panthera could not wait for that day to come!

Chapter 20

Deep in Mossflower Woods, Winey the rat woke up and looked around him. Winey rubbed his skull."Oooooohhh! Me achin' skull! Where am I?Ooooooo, I'm so 'ungry!" Winey discovered that he had a noose around his neck that was tied around a stake deep in the ground.

Winey tried chewing the rope when he was kicked on the bottom. Winey fell flat on his stomach and turned to see who kicked him. There were two young rats who were the youngest of the followers of Deathfang who escaped. Winey looked at the two rats quizzically."Wot was that for?"

The slightly smaller rat, a black rat named Jeiwa, crossed his arms."Ya make-a too much noise! Be quiet!"

Jeiwa kicked Winey once more. Winey glared at the young black rat."I'm 'ungry!Oooooo, my 'ead 'urts, too!"

The other rat, a brown-furred rat named Yeltir, pulled Winey's tail."Stop moanin', yew! Here, 'ave this loaf o' bread!"

Yeltir threw a loaf of bread in Winey's direction. Jeiwa began rummaging through the provision's sack."Looka 'ere, Yeltir, mate! Cheese!"

Jeiwa picked up a large chunk of a fine cheese and was about to eat it when Yeltir grabbed at the cheese.

Jeiwa was not going to let go."Leta go! I founda the cheese 'fore you did!"

Yeltir was persistent."So? This piece is too big fer ya! Gimme some!"

Jeiwa stuck his tongue out at Yeltir. Yeltir jumped on top of Jeiwa. The two young rats fought each other for the cheese."Give it 'ere, Snotwhiskers!"

"Snotwhiskers, eh? You're-a worser than a baby mousey!"

"Shut yer gob!"

"Make-a me!"

While fighting, one of the young rats had kicked the sack of provisions. The bag landed closer to Winey. The loaf of bread was not much, so Winey crawled towards the provisions sack and began searching for more food. Winey extracted two scones and a piece of cheese from the bag when he saw something more valuable than food, wine! Winey's favorite drink was wine so he grabbed the bottle and his food and scurried away.

Winey started by eating the cheese and then moved on to the scones and finished off his meal by drinking his wine. Winey greedily drank from the bottle and drank it one gulp. Winey had wine running down the corners of his mouth. Winey belched and wiped a paw on his mouth. Winey rolled the empty bottle of wine towards the fighting rats.

Jeiwa spotted the bottle and picked it up, intending to smash it over Yeltir's head. Jeiwa rose the bottle when it was wrenched from his hand. The two young rats stopped fighting and looked up at the interferer. It was Ammz the fox.

Ammz stroked his chin as he looked at the wine bottle."Hmmm, why would either of you be in possession of Deathfang's wine?"

The two young rats stammered."It wasn't us! Honest!" "Yeah, we did-a nofin'!"

Deathfang suddenly strode up to the two rats and cuffed their ears."Idjits! Wot were ya doin' with me wine?!"Deathfang did not wait for an answer. He began kicking at the pair as they scurried away.

Deathfang kicked at the ground."Lil' fools! Since they're gone, we need some other beast to watch the prisoner. Oi, Muggrah!"

A young male weasel with a battle axe strapped to his back walked forward."Yes, Chief?"

Deathfang gaved orders to Muggrah."We need ya to watch the prisoner. We'll be movin' out shortly and you will probably need another beast to help you watch this 'un."

Just then, a skinny little stoat with a grin on his face skipped over to Muggrah."Here I am, Muggrah. Didja think that I couldn't find ya? Well, I found ya, I found ya!"

The runty little stoat pranced around Muggrah, giggling and sneering like a young one who knows a secret. Muggrah brushed the stoat aside."Cut it out, Nadle. We have to watch the prisoner."

The stoat called Nadle smiled and gave a mock salute."Alright, Muggrah! Heeheehee!"

Deathfang gathered all of his followers together and they moved out. Winey was being led by the weasel Muggrah. The stoat Nadle, who was constantly following Muggrah, would usually prance around Muggrah and annoy Winey. To make things worse, the two young rats, Yeltir and Jeiwa were behind Winey, pulling his tail or kicking him shouting,"Go faster, You!" or "Go-a faster, funny rat! Quick! Quick!" and then would kick Winey with a bit of tail-yanking.

After traveling for a short while, the group stopped at a clearing with two different paths leading into different directions. Deathfang consulted Samje, his weasel scout."Which way, Samje?"

Samje looked at the area that the paths led to. The first path was covered by bushes and trees, making it hard to see past. The second path led to a lake. Samje turned to Deathfang."I think we should 'ead towards the lake. Down there, we can catch some fish an' 'ave fresh water!"

Deathfang nodded."Good idea, Samje. Follow me." The vermin followed Deathfang for a while until a howl of anger was heard. The vermin came running back up the path, a tribe water rats were after them!

Muggrah saw a small cave with bushes in front of it."Chief, in there!" Deathfang saw the cave and led the others to it. They all huddled inside and did not dare to make a sound.

Chapter 21

The morning was sunny and clear. Bluestripe hoped it would stay that way. Hawthorn, who was using the aide of a crutch, was leading her otters close to the back of the group of woodlanders. Log-a-log Sorex and the Guosim were closer to the front with Bluestripe. Acer and his squirrels were doing fine until Blunder tripped over his own feet. The squirrelmaid, Blossom, helped him up and cuffed his ear."Stop trippin' on yer own footpaws! C'mon, let's go!"

Tide and Arvic were ahead of the rest of the woodlanders so they could scout ahead. They were climbing an enormous hillside. Arvic wiped sweat from his brow."Wooh! It's getting hot! This hill sure is big!"

Tide agreed with his friend."Aye. This hill ain't fer the faint 'earted. I can see the top, though. We're almost there!"

Tide and Arvic trudged on for a little while longer until they were on the top of the hill. The pair looked around and saw that the surronding area also had hills on every side. Arvic's sharp eyes noticed something."Hey, Tide, look down there!"

Tide looked where Arvic was pointing. Where the hills all came together, there was sort of gorge. There were tents and fires with creatures moving about. Tide cupped his paws around his mouth."C'mere, mates! Me an' Arvic found a gorge with creatures livin' there!"

The rest of the woodlanders came to the top of the hill and looked down at the ravine. Tide turned to Sorex and Hawthorn."Should we go meet 'em?"

Sorex nodded."I think it wouldn't 'urt."

Hawthorn nodded."Maybe the creatures down there are hospitable."

Tide looked around at everybeast."Alright, it's decided, we're goin' to meet the beasts down there."

The woodlanders marched down the hill until they came closer to the camp. The inhabitants were hares. They looked at the shrews, otters, squirrels, Arvic, and mostly Bluestripe as they passed. Sorex stopped a male hare."Excuse me, mate, do you goodbeasts have a chieftain or a leader of some kind that we could speak to?"

The hare, whose name was Isel, nodded at Sorex. He spoke with a faint Borderer accent."Aye. I guess ye ken call him a chief. Ye want tae know where his tent lies? It's over yonder."

The company proceeded until they came upon the tent that Isel had indicated. The only creatures that were permitted to enter were Tide Riverdog, Log-a-log Sorex, Hawthorn Streambattle, and Bluestripe. There was a red carpet with yellow trim spread all the way to the back of the tent. At the end of the carpet, was a thrown were a huge hare sat.

The four creatures walked up to the hare. The hare spoke to them in a strong Highland accent."Weel noo, wot brings ye beasties tae mah kingdom?"

Log-a-log Sorex spoke for others."Well, yer majesty, we were travelin' an' we saw this place so we wanted to meet the creatures there. We're in dire need of help. We have a tyrant wildcat to do battle with an' he commands many. We have few an' wish for your assistance. Will you please help us?"

The hare rubbed his chin and turned to the four woodlanders. Bluestripe noticed that left eye was completely closed."Ah'll have tae think about it."

Bluestripe could not resist asking the hare a question."Excuse me, Your Majesty, but what's your name?"

The hare looked at Bluestripe."Mah name is Buckayoo."

Bluestripe's eyes widened."Buckayoo?! What did the rhyme say now? Buck Eye You?"

The Highland hare raised an eyebrow and looked towards the four woodlanders with his one good eye."Wot is this noo? Ah was in a rhyme ye heard?"

Log-a-log Sorex nodded."Aye, Your Majesty. I had a dream where a warrior mouse appeared to me an' he gave me instructions in a rhyme. Yer name was mentioned in it."

Buckayoo walked down from his throne to where the four woodlanders stood. It was when he stepped down from his throne when Bluestripe noticed that he had the biggest feet of any of the other hares he had seen. Buckayoo put a paw on his belt, which was full of weapons."Ah see that this wee mouse warrior appeared tae ye in a dream an' told ye tae take me with ye. Since ye need allies an' Ah was told tae come with ye in the rhyme, Me an' mah hares will join ye. Ah'll call some of mah hares tae show ye beasties aroun'."

Buckayoo clapped his paws together and two young hares darted into the tent and saluted. Buckayoo introduced the two young hares to the woodlanders."These are mah two wee friends. This is the older o' the pair an' the better o' 'em at eatin', Jaren. This other 'un is the younger an' bonnier o' the pair, Kaylen."

The two hares saluted to the four woodlanders. Jaren spoke up first."It's an honor to be your flippin' guide, wot, wot!"

Kaylen saluted."It's an honor to guide you around our camp!"

Buckayoo put a paw on each of the young hares's shoulders."Ah expect both o' ye tae show these good beasties aroun' camp. Ye hear me?"

The hares nodded. Buckayoo let the two hares go, but grabbed Jaren and whispered in his ear."Ye better nae act a fool."

Jaren smiled and saluted."Act a fool? Who? Me? You won't see Jaren the hare actin' a fool at all, sah!"Buckayoo grinned and let Jaren go.

Jaren and Kaylen were at the head of the group of woodlanders. Th first place the hare siblings led the woodlanders to was the tent where the food was prepared. Jaren took full responsibility telling everybeast about the food tent."Chaps and chapesses, this is the food tent. Here is where lovely scoff is made to feed everybeast. Pies of all sorts, trifles, and most important of all, puddin'!"

Jaren had been stepping closer to the food tent until Kaylen grabbed him by the shirt."Oh no you don't! I think it's time to show them to the next tent!"

The next tent was the biggest of all the tents. Kaylen started telling the woodlanders about the tent."This is the armory. We keep all of the weapons, shields, and armor in here for when we need them."

Jaren stepped next to the tent flaps and opened them."You'll have more than a sport o' fun in here, I can tell you, wot!"

Chapter 22

Deathfang and his remaining followers (and Winey) were crouched down in the bushes in front of the small cave as the water rats ran past where their would-be-victims were. Nadle was clinging to Muggrah's arm, Yeltir and Jeiwa hugged each other fearfully, Deathfang showed no emotion, and Winey sat huddled in a corner with both paws on his helmet and teeth chattering.

After a few minutes, the water rats had passed and Deathfang confirmed that they could go. The group left the cave and silently went the to the trail that the water rats hadn't taken. Nadle, as usual, was with Muggrah again. Nadle was talking nonstop."Um....hey, Muggrah, that was a close call back there, wasn't it? But now we can go on, with our adventure! Heeheeheee! Adventure! Adventure! Are you ready for adventure, Muggrah? Stupid rats thought they could get us! But, they were wrong! Oh yes!"

Nadle was cut off by Muggrah who had spun around to confront his childish friend."Be quiet, Nadle! Do you want those water rats to hear you? If they do, they'll catch us an' kill us!"

Nadle giggled."Heeheehee! Then we could play again! They would look an' look fer us....but, they wouldn't be able to find us!"

Muggrah sighed and shook his head. The group kept on traveling for a long time. They would crawl under trees or scramble over them and would get cut by thorn bushes. After everybeast was covered in cuts and bruises, they had become inpatient. Yeltir stumbled. Samje helped him up. Muggrah, Reic, and Ojash glared up at Yeltir. Muggrah pulled his axe from its straps."Stop holdin' us up. The more you keep stumblin' along, the longer it'll take for us to be free of this acursed forest!"

Ojash pointed his spear at the young rat."Muggrah's right. Do you know what 'appens to lil' rats who slow us down?" Ojash made a slitting motion across his neck with his finger.

Reic scowled."Yew wouldn't like to see us when we're angry!" Reic unsheathed his sword. The three began advancing on Yeltir.

Samje stood in front of Yeltir."He's done no harm! I'll help 'im along the way to make sure he doesn't stumble!"

Nadle and Jeiwa defended Yeltir as well. Jeiwa stood between the three vermin, Yeltir, and Samje. "You-a leave my matey alone!"

Nadle grinned nervously as he stood in front of Muggrah."Calm down, mate, he's only a young 'un. I'm sure he didn't mean to slow us down! Heehee! We don't want friends to be fighting now, do we? No, not at all!"

Muggrah glared down at his runty companion."Shut up, Nadle. OK, Ojash, Reic, let's leave the lil' rat alone for now."

Imit, a stoat, took charge."Let's get goin'. No more stopping for another hour or so!"

Odje started shoving other creatures out of the way with his spearbutt."Let's get goin'!"

The group continued on their way. Winey was becoming use to the other vermin and was starting to like them more than the soldiers who served Panthera Longclaws. Jeiwa began talking to Winey."I think I like-a you, funny rat."

Winey smiled. Never had anybeast said that to him in his entire life!"Blimey, well, you're a good lil' mate, too."

Ammz turned to Deathfang."Chief, I think I can hear water up ahead!"

The burly stoat grinned, exposing his shiny teeth."Good. Let's move on! We'll take a break soon as we reach the water!"

Chapter 23

It had been two days since the woodlanders had arrived at the hare camp. All the woodland creatures had each been given a new weapon and were being trained in how to wield it. Bluestripe had been given a one-handed sword and a war hammer. His trainer was Buckayoo. Buckayoo looked quite impressive with all of his highlander weapons.

Buckayoo turned to his apprentice."Och, are ye ready tae learn how tae wield weapons for braw beasties, laddie?"

Bluestripe grinned as he drew his sword."Oh, I'm ready alright!"

Bluestripe held the sword with both paws. Buckayoo did not draw his weapon. Instead, he held up both paws and jumped at Bluestripe. He punched at the young badger. Bluestripe leapt back. Buckayoo jumped in the air and spun around so that his foot hit Bluestripe in the jaw.

Buckayoo stopped. Bluestripe rubbed his jaw. Buckayoo decided to share a tip with his badger apprentice."Ye have tae hold your arms up when an enemy tries tae use the end o' the weapon on ye. Noo, Ah'll teach ye how tae fight against things such as daggers."

Buckayoo pulled a dagger with a black blade from his belt. Buckayoo crouched low to the ground and sprang at Bluestripe. Bluestripe stabbed at the highland hare, but Buckayoo ducked and rolled to Bluestripe's unprotected side. Buckayoo was acting as if he would stab the young badger, but Bluestripe whirled his blade in front of him to block the dagger.

Buckayoo grinned."Och, Ah ken see ye are gettin' better at this. Noo, let's switch tae yon war hammer."

A couple of feet away, some of the younger creatures such as Lilla, Rune, Blunder, Blossom, Jaren, and Kaylen were watching Bluestripe and Buckayoo.

Lilla was impressed."Woah! Look at him, he just blocked the dagger with his sword! Buckayoo didn't see that comin'! Too bad Tide isn't here to see this, he was nowhere to be seen when we woke up this mornin'."

Rune whirled his sling and fired a pebble into the distance."Aye, he can certainly surprise us all. He needs a bit more practice, though. Then, he might stand a chance when we fight that wildcat."

Blossom looked concerned."I hope that Tide is alright, he's needed by all of us! I hope he returns before we fight that wildcat Panthera Longclaws and his army."

Blunder tried to kick at the grass. Instead, he tripped and fell onto his stomach. He began to get off the ground."I'm sure that ol' Tide's alright wherever he is. He's a pretty strong and capable creature. Bluestripe will become better when Buckayoo is finished with 'im!"

Kaylen was practicing with her sling along with Rune."Our chief will train him to be the best of a warrior he can be!"

Jaren was open-mouthed with the performance of Bluestripe."Bluestripe flippin' blocked the jolly ol' dagger, wot! Our chief Buckayoo looked more than a bit confounded. I say, I couldn't do a job any better myself, wot, wot!"

The voice of Log-a-log Sorex called to the young ones."Oi, stop gabbin' an' get back to trainin'!"

A female otter named Daru spoke."Log-a-log's right! We 'ave to fight against trained soldiers so we need to keep practicin'!"

Acer sat watching his squirrels, Blunder and Blossom. He thought to himself. "Blunder is clumsy, but he means well. Blossom is too gentle an' doesn't like to shed blood. I think she's learnin' that it's for the protection of your friends an' kinbeasts."

A female hare with black fur named Aggie was practicing with her mate, Isel. They would stop occasionally to watch Buckayoo. They had both been trained personally by him.

Buckayoo sheathed his Sgian Dhu and stopped to rest."Och, ye are a braw beastie, Bluestripe. Ah think that noo is the time tae train ye how tae fight against larger weapons."

He unsheathed his claymore and stood in a ready position. He jumped at Bluestripe and swung the blade at his head. Bluestripe ducked to avoid it and hit Buckayoo in the stomach with the end of his war hammer.

Buckayoo took a pace or two backwards and sheathed his claymore."Ah think that ye have learned all Ah ken teach ye. The trainin' is finished."

Isel and Aggie were training Jaren and Kaylen while Oachie and Lumb were training with Blunder and Blossom. They looked up."What do we do now?"

Arvic looked Buckayoo in his one good eye."I think it is time to leave this place and march to the castle of Panthera Longclaws. I believe now we march!"

Bluestripe had a grim look on his face."It's time. Panthera Longclaws, I'm coming for you!"

Book Three: "The Wild"

Chapter 24

Deathfang stood with his faithful companion, Ammz, while the few other followers ran by. In the front of the group was Nadle with Muggrah right behind him. The rest of the group was far behind them.

The roar of the waterfall was louder now. Nadle and Muggrah were where the noise had come from. There was a cliff-type ledge with a clearing and grass aplenty. Below this, was a cliff where the waterfall was. Nadle jumped up and down triumphantly as he pointed at Muggrah."Heeheeheehee! I beat ya! I knew I would win! Your too sloooooow!"

Muggrah squinted his eyes at his stoat companion."What are you talkin' about? We weren't racin'. You're a fool, Nadle."

Nadle ignored this and walked closer to the edge of the cliff."Oooooooh! That's a loooong way down! It would be bad to fall down there!"

Muggrah widened his eyes and smiled wickedly."Too bad for you then, matey!"

Muggrah pulled his battle axe from his back and used the handle to knock Nadle over the side of the cliff. Nadle looked up in shock at his friend as he fell farther. His paws were reaching for his one-time companion."Mateeeeeeeeey! Helllllllllllllllllp!"

Nadle the stoat, a follower of Deathfang, disappeared over the cliff and over the waterfall. The rest of the group had just caught up. Muggrah changed his mood to that of sorrow.

The group rushed to Muggrah and bombarded him with questions. Ammz put a paw on the young weasel's shoulder."Where's Nadle?"

Ojash looked grim."Nadle's gone an' Muggrah's in terrible shock."

Odje stood by his son."Aye, Ojash."

Winey, who now no longer needed to be on a noose, stood with Yeltir and Jeiwa."Wot's the matter? Wot's 'appened to poor ol' Nadle?"

Samje stood with Imit."He's gone, mates."

Reic put a paw on Muggrah's back."Just tell us wot 'appened, matey."

Deathfang had a solution."Muggrah, would ya like to put a few words together fer yer ol' mate, Nadle?"

Muggrah feigned a sniff and nodded."Uh huh. I know just the thing fer 'im."

Muggrah started."When I saw ol' Nadle go over, I'm tellin' ya mates, I thought it t'was a dream. But when I saw he was gone, I knew he went over the edge, into the stream. Now Nadle was a good ol' lad, he liked to laugh an' was never mad. He was a mate, among the best, mourn now, for you will peacefully rest."

All the remaining followers, except for Deathfang and Muggrah, sniffed.Deathfang looked over to the other side."That right o'er there looks nice. Let's stay 'ere fer a while."

Yeltir and Jeiwa leaned on Winey."This place is good. I 'ope that Chief let's us stay 'ere fer a while."

Jeiwa nodded."Yeah, Chief better let us stay-a longer!"

Deathfang shouted out."No need fer runnin' away anymore! We're plenty far away from everybeast an' we 'ave everything we need right 'ere! We're gonna stay here fer the rest o' our days, mates!"

The followers cheered. Winey sat with the remaining members of Deathfang's army. He lay down on his back and put both paws behind his head and closed his eyes."Ahhhh, this is the good life...."

Chapter 25

Bluestripe stood at the front of the woodlander army as they traveled through Mossflower Woods. Some of the younger creatures, such as Lilla, Rune, Blunder, Blossom, Jaren, and Kaylen, stayed near the older creatures. Lilla and Rune were listening to Log-a-log Sorex and Aran.

Sorex turned to Aran."We've come a long way since we met Bluestripe, haven't we, Aran?"

Aran agreed with his chief."Aye. To think that now we're about to go back to where it all started."

Blunder and Blossom were asking the two older squirrels, Oachie and Lumb, about how the upcoming battle would be like."Oachie, do you think that we stand a chance against those vermin?"

Oachie crossed his arms."I don't know. Remember when we fought those blackbirds? About five score escaped. I'm guessin' that they went back to the wildcat's castle. It is wise to say that there are other blackbirds there, too. The wildcat has somewhere around a thousand soldiers of his own. We have less than that. We'll just 'ave to wait 'till the time comes fer us to know."

Blossom turned to Lumb after looking at the burned trees around her."Lumb, do we have enough supplies to last us for a little while?"

Lumb put a paw on her shoulder to reassure her."I'm sure that we will be alright. What we 'ave right now will last us a little while longer. I'm not quite sure what condition our weapons are in."

Acer came up behind the squirrels and ruffled Blossom's fur."I'm quite sure that our stock of weapons are fine thanks to the hares. They have enough weapons fer each of us to be able to 'ave two weapons!"

Jaren and Kaylen were with the two big hares, Isel and Aggie. Jaren rubbed his stomach as it growled."I say! Bad form for a stomach to be growlin'! I need some jolly ol' tucker for my bally stomach, wot!"

Isel laughed loudly."Hahahahaha! Och, I'd like tae see you dyin' o' starvation!" He nudged Jaren in the stomach with his elbow. Jaren tried best to still look dignified as Isel continued to laugh.

Kaylen was talking with Aggie, who was experienced with fighting."Um...Miss Aggie, I'm nervous about going into battle. I've never fought anybeast before! Jaren hasn't either, but he's skilled with his bow."

Aggie gave a small smile. She remembered when she had been like Kaylen, gentle and unexperienced in the ways of battle. She spoke with a borderer accent like Isel."You nae need tae fear. I'll be watchin' out for you. Just do the best you ken. I'll be with you."

At the front of the group, Bluestripe was with Hawthorn and Buckayoo. Bluestripe was thinking of the rhyme that the mouse had told Sorex."Your journey is almost over. Go to the tree surrounded by clovers. There you will meet a long-lost friend. You're coming closer to the end."

Bluestripe was brought back to reality by Hawthorn."Look at all these lil' clovers growin' aroun' 'ere. I've never seen this many clovers in any other part o' Mossflower before."

Bluestripe looked at the clovers and then he saw a tree. A tree with a door in it. Bluestripe walked towards it. He was drawn to it like a magnet. Hawthorn and Buckayoo were right behind him.

Hawthorn looked at Bluestripe as he walked to the door."Wot's he doin'?"

Buckayoo looked serious."Ah nae know the answer, but let's go find oot!"

Bluestripe stood in front of the door. He opened it and stepped inside. Inside the house was a carpet and a rocking chair near the fire. Over the fire was a club. The only creature in the house was an old male badger.He raised a paw to block the sunlight that had come in from the opened door."Hey, who are-"

The old badger gasped ad he lowered his paw. The badger in the doorway was very large, tattooed, wearing a green tunic, and most noticeably of all, had, instead of a white stripe running down the center of his face, was a blue stripe. The old badger began talking despite his shock."B-b-bluestripe? Is it really you? Where have you been all these seasons, my son? My, you certainly look much more wild than when I saw you last."

Bluestripe's eyes widened as he heard,"my son."Bluestripe opened his mouth and spoke."F-f-f-father?"

Bluestripe's mind raced. He remembered everything clearly. This had been his old home. The old badger was his father. He remembered his mother, Renah. He remembered the night of her death. He remembered everything. He had been a happy little badger babe until that night. He remembered everything.

The old badger, Bluestripe's father, Oakpaw, nodded as tears flowed from his dark eyes."My son...Let me tell you what I recall from the night you went missing. I remember you and your mother had gone out to play. It had been getting dark and both of you had still not returned. So, I went out searching for both of you, calling your names out. Then, I stumbled across the lifeless body of your mother. She had an arrow shaft in her chest. She was gripping a tree branch she was using as a weapon. I saw no sign of you and I had feared that you had been slain, too. I buried your mother and kept the tree branch. I carved it into a club and I keep it over the fire so I can remember her."

Bluestripe hugged Oakpaw."Father."

Oakpaw took the club from where it hung over the fire."Bluestripe, I'm coming with you!"

Chapter 26

Near the castle of Panthera Longclaws, the project of Foremole Muld had begun. Foremole Muld had brought his entire mole crew, a few able bodied mice, and Boggle with him. During the time that Boggle had stayed in the house in the grove of low-hanging trees, Meekrose had taught him to cook apple pie until he was an expert. She taught him to cook many other things, too.

Foremole Muld had gathered many stones and had dug up plenty of soil. There were several wheelbarrows full of dirt. The plan was not very complicated. Foremole gathered his helpers together so he could explain the objective of their mission."Roight, naow 'ere's 'ow ee plan will work. We'm gotten ee wheelbarrows full o' ee soil. We'm be usin' ee nets. First, we's gunna put ee big rocks in ee net. Then, we bees loadin' soil into ee net. Soil will stay in ee net iffen ee rocks bees big enuff to block ee soil from escapin' through ee holes."

This is how the plan went. Large boulders were placed at the front of a large net so the dirt and soil could not spill out. The net went around everything inside of it so it was almost like it was in a sack. Ropes were tied to the net and staked down into the ground. When the vermin got close, they would cut the ropes and the rocks, soil, and boulders would fall on top of the vermin.

Foremole Muld watched his crew along with a few of the mice the mice and Boggle. Foremole crossed his arms and looked towards the castle of Panthera Longclaws."Urr, we'm be's almost ready!"

Deeper in Mossflower Woods, the woodland army was preparing to continue their march to the fortress of the wildcat tyrant. Bluestripe and Oakpaw were taking one last look at their home. Oakpaw led Bluestripe to Renah's grave. Bluestripe knelt down on one knee and cried. He remembered who was in charge of the vermin patrol that had killed his mother. It had been the stoat captain Eminear. Bluestripe wiped his eyes and left a rose at his mother's grave.

The woodlanders continued until they reached the border of the forest. The woodlanders all sat down on the ground and looked over in the distance. It was the dreaded fortress of Panthera Longclaws. It was the very symbol of the wildcat. An evil sign that also stood for death and destruction. The castle was even closer now. Closer. Getting ever closer.

Chapter 27

The woodlanders were gathered around a fire. They did not show fear of Panthera, so they were not concerned with letting a smoke signal be seen. A deep, base voice greeted the woodlanders."Gudd evenin' to ee!" It was Foremole Muld leading a dirty crew of exhausted creatures.

Everybeast greeted Foremole and his crew. Lilla ran up to Boggle and hugged him."Boggle, you're back! It wasn't the same without ya! I'm glad you're back! Let's sit down over here."

Lilla and Boggle walked over to where Bluestripe and Log-a-log Sorex sat. Bluestripe saw Boggle and shook his paw."Boggle, how've you been, mate?"

Boggle grinned roguishly."I'm doin' fine. I can cook apple pie for myself now. I'll have to make some for all o' ya sometime."

Log-a-log Sorex shook Boggle's paw firmly. To Sorex's surprise, Boggle's grip was almost has firm as his! Sorex looked Boggle in the eye."I see that you're becomin' a grown shrew."

Boggle grinned."All that paddlin' an' all that work with Foremole has toughened me up, Chief."

Log-a-log Sorex smiled. He laid down on the grass and closed his eyes. Buckayoo called everybeast to attention."Everybeast, settle down. Hawthorn is ready tae call out the creatures who are to attend the final council before we do battle with Panthera Longclaws."

Everybeast got quiet. Buckayoo stood beside Hawthorn and looked at the creatures who sat around the fire. Hawthorn began to call the creatures for the council."'Tis time for the final council, mates. I will call the names o' the beasts who will attend the council. You're to stay near Buckayoo an' I if I call ya. Acer an' 'is three representatives for the squirrels, who are Oachie, Lumb, an' Blunder, are to stand where Buckayoo is. The next creature to be in the council is Log-a-log Sorex with Boggle, Aren, an' Lilla. Foremole Muld an' Goarum are attendin' the council. Now, the last creatures I will out are Arvic, Oakpaw, an' Bluestripe."

Bluestripe and Oakpaw walked to where the other creatures where going. They came upon a nearby clearing and sat down. Log-a-log Sorex looked looked at every creature attending the council and began."Now, we all know that this has been a long an' 'ard quest. It started with the Guosim finding Bluestripe an' savin' 'im. Then, we met Hawthorn, who 'elped us defeat Wroc Caw. After that, we came across Buckayoo. Bluestripe then reunited with his father. Now our army is large enough for us to finally face Panthera Longclaws in battle."

Acer crossed his arms and nodded."Aye. I'm ready to battle this wildcat an' 'is army. Me an' my squirrels are ready! Too bad Tide ain't 'ere to help us out in the battle."

Arvic shook his head."Tide. I wonder what's become of him. If Tide were here, he would want us to stop worrying and to move on with it."

Foremole grinned."Oi think that Zurr Arvic be's roight. Toime fer us to be plannin'. Moi project is done an' we 'ope it works. Oi can't wait fer ee expression on ee vermin scumbag's faces! Urr!"

Buckayoo grinned roguishly."That's the spirit o' things, mah bonnie! Ah'm ready tae start fightin', ye ken!"

Jaren raised one paw while he held his stomach with the other."I say, if we're going to start thinking of some jolly ol', don't you think that we should have a bit o' tucker first? I'm flipping famished!"

Boggle winked at Jaren."I was thinkin' the same thing 'ere, mate!"

Lilla cuffed his ear."This is time to be serious, Boggle! Can you an' Jaren only think of eating?"

Jaren and Boggle replied in unison."Yes."

Blunder tried to bring order."Um, eh, settle down we-"

Oachie covered Blunder's mouth with a paw."Don't say anything, Blunder. You'll end up lookin' like a fool. He's right, though. We need to get serious!"

Hawthorn spoke up."Here's a thought:why don't we let Bluestripe talk? He's the reason we're all 'ere together. He 'as full right to be in charge 'ere. After all, Panthera Longclaws is the one who made 'im 'is slave."

Everybeast turned to Bluestripe. Bluestripe looked over at his father. Oakpaw smiled and nodded. Bluestripe became serious and took charge."Alright, Panthera already knows that we're coming, so there would be no need in a surprise attack. That also means that he is ready to fight us at any time. So an attack during the night is also uncalled for. What we need to do is to organize where everybeast will be and who are commanders are. I think that our three main commanders should be Log-a-log Sorex, Hawthorn Streambattle, and Buckayoo. We should all get some rest and wake up early tomorrow morning to finish preparing for battle."

Jaren brightened up."So does that mean that the meting flipping well over and that we can fill our guts with scoff?!"

Bluestripe chuckled."Yes. The meeting over. You may do as you wish."

Jaren and Boggle jumped up and ran back to the fire where good things were being cooked. They shouted back at the creatures in the council."By the time you lot get here, there won't be any vittles left! We'll have eaten them all!"

Blunder tried walking off but tripped. He sighed."I was afraid o' that." Everybeast laughed heartily.

Chapter 28

Everybeast woke at dawn to finish preparing for the final battle. The cooks were serving food to the creatures who were going to battle. Boggle helped as one of the assistant cooks. It was quiet. Creatures looked at one another nervously. The woodlanders finished eating and put on their armor. Oakpaw took Bluestripe to one side and spoke to him as everybeast was finishing breakfast."Bluestripe, you have grown so much. You have become wise and powerful. Those are qualities of a leader. Your appearance strikes me as wild. I am proud of you, Bluestripe."

Bluestripe embraced his father and spoke to him."Thank you, Father." Bluestripe wanted to say more to his father, but he didn't know what to say.

Bluestripe finished his porridge and wiped a paw across his mouth. He donned his armor and gathered his weapons, with his helm tucked under one arm. He looked at the bar and manacles that were his weapons. Bluestripe thought of when he had first broken out of his jail cell and taken the manacles and the bar as weapons. They had been served as useful weapons.

Log-a-log Sorex, Hawthorn Streambattle, and Buckayoo were all donned in their armor with their weapons in their holders. They stood in front of the woodland army as they waited for Bluestripe. The woodlanders cleared the way for Bluestripe when they turned and saw him. The large badger strode through the army of woodlanders and stood on a boulder so he could be seen.

Bluestripe gazed at Oakpaw and begin to speak."My friends, we have come a long way since I was rescued. We escaped Wroc Caw and hid in the grove of low-hanging trees where we met Tide Riverdog, Acer, Foremole Muld, and Arvic. We moved on and met Hawthorn Streambattle and her Holt of Streambattle otters. With the help of Hawthorn and the Streambattle clan, we managed to triumph over Wroc Caw. Hawthorn was terribly close to death. If it weren't for Arvic, she wouldn't be here right now. Our army moved onward to discover the colony of hares that were under the command of Buckayoo. Buckayoo and his hares joined. We moved on until we came to my old home, where I was reunited with my father. Now, here we are, united as one army that will wage war with Panthera Longclaws and his horde of evil followers. Today, we battle!"

A roar came from the army. Creatures waved their weapons over their heads and shook them. Log-a-log Sorex, Hawthorn Streambattle, and Buckayoo stood with their troops. Bluestripe looked to Oakpaw, who was wielding his enormous club and smiled."Now, my friends, we march! Onward!"

Panthera Longclaws, the wildcat tyrant, looked out his window when he heard the commotion. He grinned evilly."That stripedog is leading the woodlanders. He's commanding an army, now. The creatures under my command are trained in the art of combat and are greater in number than they. Let him come. I would like to see him try to overpower me!"

Panthera Longclaws turned from the window and strode towards his bedside. His main weapon was hung on the wall. Panthera Longclaws removed the weapon from the wall and stroked it, consulting with it."Yes, we shall conquer this stripedog and put him in his place. There is a spot in Hellgates reserved for him."

There was a knock at the door. Panthera answered without turning his back."Come in."

Scring and Vulpin marched in. Vulpin stood at rigid attention as he addressed his master."My Lord, there is an uproar coming from not too far away. It sounds like an army. I think it is safe to say that it is the stripedog and the woodlanders."

Panthera scratched at the tip of his weapon with a claw."I already know of this. Scring, you have always been loyal to me. I can trust that you know what to do, correct?"

Scring bowed."Yes, My Lord. I will gather the army together an' round up the captains. I will carry out your bidding."

Scring and Vulpin left the room to carry out the instructions of their master. Panthera Longclaws placed the weapon on his bed and picked up his helmet and began to put on his armor.

A couple of minutes later, the woodlanders reached Panthera Longclaws's castle. There was a large, open field before it. The castle gates were opened and a horde like no other marched out. Every kind of vermin imaginable appeared from the gates of that evil place:weasels, stoats, ferrets, rats, and foxes. The four hundred remaining birds that had once been under the command of Wroc Caw flew from over the castle walls, cawing and screeching loudly. The tattooed followers of Deathfang were the last vermin to materialize from the gates of the evil fortress.

The woodlanders saw what they were up against. The woodlanders looked at each other when a battlecry was heard nearby."Riiiiveerrrrdoooooooooog!"

Everybeast turned in the direction the battlecry came from. The woodlanders could not believe their eyes. It was Tide Riverdog and around two-and-a-half score Riverdog otters along with around a score of squirrels. Tide and the reinforcements rushed over to where the other woodlanders were.

Panthera had put on his armor and helm with his broadsword in his paws. This was not his main weapon. He only used that for dire situations. Panthera strode out of his chambers and towards the scene where the battle was to begin. Panthera flung the doors open and stood with his army."We will not hide behind walls! Let them come!"

Bluestripe saw the vermin readying themselves. He remembered a conversation that he and Oakpaw had shortly after they were reunited.

Oakpaw was walking next to Bluestripe."I keep saying this, but you look wild. Even as wild as some of those Badger Rulers at Salamandastron."

Bluestripe blinked."Salamandastron? Badger Rulers?"

Oakpaw explained."There is a mountain on the nearby Western Shores called Salamandastron. At Salamandastron, there are Badger Lords and Badger Ladies who rule the mountain. They are all wise, powerful, and brave. The battlecry of the creatures of Salamandastron is Eulalia. You remind me of a Badger Lord by the way you show bravery, wisdom, and power."

Bluestripe gripped his sword and pointed it at the vermin."Eulaliiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaa!"

Acer and his squirrels, along with the score of squirrels that came with Tide, Arvic, and Foremole and his mole crew raised their weapons and shouted."Mossfloweeeeeeeeeeeer!"

Hawthorn and the Streambattle otters pointed their weapons at the enemy and gave forth to their battlecry."Streambaaaaaaaaaaattle!"

Log-a-log Sorex and the Guosim drew their rapiers."Logalogalogalogalooooooooog!"

Tide Riverdog and the Riverdog otters once again gave their battlecry."Riiiiiverdooooooooog!"

Finally, Buckayoo and his Highland hares shouted out the battlecry of the Highlands."Hawaaaaaaaaaaaay braaaaaaaaaaaaw!"

Now it was the vermin's turn. The four hundred remaining crows and ravens flew at the woodlanders."Wroooocaaaaaaaaaaaw!"

The followers of Deathfang did not have a battle cry, but they yelled and howled.

The soldiers of Panthera Longclaws prepared themselves and drew their weapons."For Lord Panthera, for Lord Panthera! Chaaaaaaaaaaaarge! Yaaaaaaaaaaah!"

The final battle between Panthera Longclaws and the woodlanders had come!

The vermin horde and the woodland army charged at one another, shouting loudly and waving banners. Both armies met. Creatures from both armies met, fighting tooth and claw.

The four hundred crows and ravens that remained were driven back by pikes that were wielded by hares. Foremole Muld had his mole crew and some slingers with him. They stood on the hill where the trap was set up. They waited for the woodlanders to charge after the vermin and waited for the vermin to get closer.

Foremole Muld raised a paw to signal when the time was right."You'm will cut ee ropes to let the net open up an' the dirt an' rocks can crush yon vermin on moi count. One, two, three!"

The ropes were cut and the nets opened up. The plan made an unexpected turn for the worse. The combined weight of the soil and rocks in the nets caused the hillside to break away from the hill. The ground quaked and started to slide away. Foremole Muld, Kaylen, and Rune were about fall away with the hillside until the mole Goarum pushed them back onto the safe side of the hill. Goarum looked back at the three creatures he had saved and called out to them."Git back! Fare ee well!"

The hillside and the rubble collapsed in its intended spot. The creatures who could not escape the landslide were brought down with the side of the hill. The creatures who were not already dead suffered from several broken bones. A few vermin who had tried to get at Foremole and his forces were instantly slain. Foremole Muld and the other beasts who had been on the hill ran down the mound of rubble and ran to the aid of their companions.

A soft moan was heard by Kaylen."I think I hear somebeast. The creature sounds like it's in a lot of pain."The trio ran to where the groan was heard. It was the faithful mole Goarum. Kaylen and and Rune dropped to his side and helped him stand up. Goarum breathed raggedly and started to fall to the ground. Foremole Muld caught him before he hit the ground.

Goarum raised his eyes to Foremole."Oi don't think Oi'll make et. Several o' moi bones be's broken an' some of ee vermin rascals who 'ad avoided ee rubble attacked ee creatures who got caught in ee landslide." Goarum winced as he tried to stand up straight.

Foremole looked at Goarum and saw what was holding him back from standing up. He had been injured by a spear very near the stomach. Blood flowed from the wound. Foremole helped his friend up and put a paw over the wound to stop the flow of blood."Naow don't give ee 'ope up! We'm will get 'elp fer ee soon!"

Goarum smiled softly."Naow don't be worryin' about ol' Goarum. Oi'll be's fine. It be's an honor to be a mole unner ee command. You'm take care o' them young 'uns. Oi 'ope that you'm will remember me."

Foremole Muld felt tears starting to spring up in his dark eyes."Don't ee talk loike that. You'm will be better soon!"

Goarum's eyes started to mist over."Good bye to ee, youn 'uns. Fare ee well, Foremole Muld..."Goarum's eyes misted over and his body went limp. Foremole held the body of his departed friend and wept unashamedly. Rune and Kaylen joined the mole chief, mourning for the death of the brave mole Goarum.

Foremole sniffed and spoke up."Oi think that we'm better bees a-goin up yon 'ill afore them vermin come back."

Foremole Muld, Rune, and Kaylen ran back to the hilltop, which was now a high mound of earth. The mole leader gathered the remainder of his force. He took a count of the creatures under his command and took inventory on weapons. There were about a dozen mice, a score and a half of moles, one hare, one shrew, and around ten otters. THe otters all had javelins and slings, the mice were armed with swords, the moles were armed with slings, and Kaylen and Rune each wielded a sling.

Foremole Muld did not hesitate."Oi 'ave a plan. Me an' moi moles will be's makin' a likkle wall made o' ee soil. Otters, mice, Kaylen, an' Rune, moi job fer ee is simple. Iffen ee vermin be's comin' this way, you'm pick 'em off with ee slings an' javelins. Oi doan't think we'm will last long fightin' with this likkle group. Oi sau that after we'm done with ee wall, we'm will make our way to zurr Acer an' 'is squirrels."

Foremole and the remainder of the mole crew commenced in the building of the wall. During this time, the otters sorted two vermin out with the points of their javelins. A weasel who had tried to seize a mole from the assembly of them was killed by a mouse. Another mouse who was nearby fell victim to an arrow. The mouse made a gurgling noise as the arrow struck him in the neck.

Foremole Muld and his assembly of moles quickly finished the job and begin to crawl alongside the barrier of earth. A broad otter was it in the shoulder by an arrow and a mole was struck by a slingstone. The group gradually crossed routes with Acer and his squirrel posse, who were fairing batter than Foremole had been.

Foremole Muld wiped sweat from his brow and panted."Zurr Acer! Oi think that you'm be's in need o' some 'elp!"

Acer fired an arrow from his bow and grinned with satisfaction as he heard a scream."Nay, looks like the one in need o' 'elp is you, me good mole! We've got squirrels aplenty. This squirrel over 'ere is me mate Conifer, the chieftain of the other group of squirrels. He joined up with us when ol' Tide arrived with some reinforcements. He's a crafty ol' squirrel if ever there was one! He has some brilliant tactics!"

Conifer showed little emotion save when he was fighting. He was slightly larger than Acer and had dark red fur. Conifer was furnished with an ample amount of weapons. He wielded a crossbow, carried two small axes, and had a lance strapped to his back.

Conifer conceived a cunning strategy. He whirled around to Acer."I got a plan. Squirrels hide in trees while the mole an' the others stay down 'ere to lure in the enemy. When they get close, we fire a volley of arrows at 'em an' we jump from the trees to give chase."

Foremole grinned exuberantly."Hurr! Oi think that et be's a gurt plan! We'll 'old 'em off until they'm be's close!"

Conifer and Acer nodded."Right!"The two squirrels darted up a pair of trees, followed by their squirrel warriors. They squirrels remained poised in the trees. Foremole and his troops fired pebbles from slings at a few vermin to attract their attention. The vermin turned and rushed at the small assembly of woodlanders. The squirrels leapt from the trees at just the right time. Some shot arrows from where they were, while other squirrels leapt upon foes and killed them with daggers.

Conifer leapt from the tree, throwing one of his axes at a nearby vermin. The vermin screamed. A rat with a spear stabbed at Conifer, but he ducked. Conifer grabbed the spear and forced it down to the ground with one paw, and slashed at the rat with his dagger-wielding paw. Conifer wiped the bloody dagger on his tunic and tugged his axe from the neck of the vermin he had previously killed.

Acer fired arrows into the ranks of his enemies, making sure that there was no use for a second arrow on one vermin. Foremole and his troops saw Acer and Conifer leap into the vermin ranks and ran to join their squirrel allies. The small woodlander group united and rushed at the vermin. Some of the foes who were armed with spears killed a few of the charging creatures before they had reached them. Blossom and Blunder were imitating the teamwork fighting of Oachie and Lumb.

Log-a-log Sorex was like a whirlwind in the midst of battle. Spinning and slashing at foes, while ducking and parrying the strikes of his opponent. He and Aran could be described as twin whirlwinds by the way they would spin around to slash at vermin while back-to-back. Lilla and Boggle were combing their fighting efforts into one to face up to vermin.

Bluestripe was fighting alongside his father, Oakpaw. Oakpaw swung his club at the skulls of his foes. Bluestripe slashed with his sword. The father-son combination was too great for the vermin to fight back against. Oakpaw spoke to his son as he dueled with a nimble ferret."Not so bad in battle for an old badger, eh, Son?"

Bluestripe countered the blows from a big weasel's sword as he answered back."I guess you're not so bad after all!"Bluestripe knocked the weasel's sword away and killed him with a slash to the throat.

Bluestripe spun around and decapitated the ferret his father had been struggling with. Oakpaw hefted his great club over one shoulder. "You're not so bad yourself!"

Bluestripe smiled."Many thanks, Father!"

The badgers rushed off to fight more vermin. Bluestripe and Oakpaw went separate ways. Bluestripe was passing by combatants that were fighting for all they were worth when something struck him. He saw a stoat that looked familiar. All too familiar was the memory off that cursed night that had changed his life. The image of the stoat captain came into his mind, the body of his mother with an arrow protruding from her chest. It was Eminear, the stoat captain who had led the patrol that killed Renah and captured Bluestripe many seasons ago.

Bluestripe charged at Eminear and brought his sword down from over his head. Eminear turned at the last second and locked blades with the badger. Bluestripe forced Eminear's sword lower to the ground. Bluestripe used his free paw and reached for the stoat. The stoat stammered."Oh n-n-no! You again! I-I remember you from all them seasons ago! Don't kill me! It was Scring who killed yer mother! Honest!"

Bluestripe knocked Eminear's sword from his paw. Bluestripe lifted Eminear off the ground. Bluestripe's rage was starting to build up."You ordered that my mother be killed, you kidnapped me when I was young, you had my father thinking that I had perished, you are the very reason for all of this! You have no guards to save you now! I will not spare you!"

Bluestripe's eyes were clouded in red mist as he slashed diagonally at the stoat with his sword. The force of the blow was such that the stoat's torso was almost separated from the lower half. There was one less captain in Panthera Longclaw's command. The berserker Bluestripe gazed around with red eyes and with foam flecked jaws. Bluestripe charged into the ranks of enemies with no hesitation.

Chapter 29

Buckayoo led his hares with every coveted trait of a leader. He led his hares from the front with speed which carried them into the legion of vermin. Hawthorn was commanding her otters as Buckayoo had been doing, from the front. The crows and ravens would swoop down at the hares and otters.

Hawthorn and Buckayoo banded together to make short work of the blackbirds. Buckayoo placed the pike hares towards the front and Hawthorn kept her slingers and javelin throwers back. The birds prepared to swoop. Hawthorn held up her paw for her otters."Wait for it, wait for it...."

The blackbirds flew at the hares. Buckayoo gave them the signal."Noo, mah braw beasties!" Buckayoo charged at the birds with his pike hares. Buckayoo kept his weapons sheathed. He needed no weapons. For he was just as formidable as he was while using them. He would punch at blackbirds with his large paws while kicking with his massive footpaws. Blackbirds were being impaled on the ends of pikes wielded by the pike hares.

Hawthorn dropped her paw."Streambattle otters, fire!"Javelins hissed through the air while pebbles struck their targets. Blackbirds fell like raindrops and plummeted to earth. The hares and otters made quick work of them. Hares and otters charged past the carcasses of the blackbirds as they met the oncoming vermin.The hares and otters, already weary from their fray with the crows and ravens, were beginning to be overtaken by the nefarious vermin. Buckayoo punched at oncomin adversaries with steel knuckles. The Highland hare would kick at his enemies with his large feet in their vital spots, and then finish them off.

Hawthorn was back to back with her faithful companion Tide and one of his hulking Riverdog kinbeast. Hawthorn gritted her teeth. “I’m not gonna go down fightin’ these vermin!”, she thought to herself. Hawthorn bared her teeth and stormed into a pack of vermin yelling like a madbeast.”’Streambaaaaaaaaaaaattle!” Tide and his fellow Riverdog otter ran alongside her, swinging at vermin with their huge otterswords.

Log-a-log Sorex was like a devil set upon his enemies. He was blessed with agility, skilled with a blade, and it was as if he could foretell his enemies movements and what strategy to use against them. A weasel rushed at the shrew chieftain and jabbed at him with his spear. Sorex ducked the spearhead and went under it. He jumped up with his rapier, slicing a stoat’s jugular open. In the same movement, Sorex spun around and slashed at the weasel who had attacked him earlier. Sorex smirked at the weasel’s decapitated body. Sorex ran ahead to catch up with Aran. An arrow grazed his cheek. Sorex winced but ignored it as blood ran freely down his cheek.

Lilla and Boggle were near the front of the main action. The female rat captain, Yuta, was near the back of the group that she led. She would shove past some of her comrades and slash at woodlanders who would be struggling against her allies with her sabre. Lilla looked determinedly at Yuta and charged at her, with Boggle running behind her. Lilla raised her rapier over her head as she charged at the female rat. Yuta saw the shrewmaid coming for her and locked swords with Lilla right as she brought her blade down. Yuta pushed back hard on her enemies blade. Lilla was struggling to force her opponent back. Lilla thought that she was beat when the sound of metal striking metal made her look up. Boggle had come to Lilla’s aid and had his rapier locked with Yuta’s sabre with Lilla. Yuta was being forced backwards by the combined strength of the two young shrews. Boggle kept his sword locked with Yuta as Lilla would thrust her rapier at the rat captain. Yuta was growing weary and could not hold the shrews off much longer.

Lilla gave Boggle a reassuring look from the corner of her eye. Boggle understood and left Llla to duel with Yuta. Yuta rushed at Lilla, swinging wildly at the shrewmaiden. Lilla blocked most of the blows with the side of her blade, but one of Yuta's slashes got past her and had gotten her in the side. Lilla winced as blood ran down her side. Lilla held her rapier readily and jumped nimbly to Yuta's side and stabbed at Yuta. Yuta was very close to death but was saved by her reflexes. The swords locked once again. Yuta felt her saber slipping from her grasp. Lilla pulled back her rapier and swiftly knocked the sabre from the rat's paws. Lilla made one final stab at her shocked adversary. The blade submerged itself in Yuta's chest. Yuta stared at the blade protruding from her chest and made a strange gurgling sound before being taken by death. Lilla ignored the blood on her rapier and inspected the saber of the late Yuta. It was a fine saber. It had no owner, nobeast was wielding it. Why let a good saber go without somebeast to wield it?

The woodlanders were all spread out now. THe hares and otters were split up and were fighting alongside every ally they met. Jaren was with some of the archers. The archers shot and ran ahead to get closer to their enemies. Jaren was still trying to notch an arrow to his bowstring when the other archers ran ahead, leaving him behind. Jaren yelled pleadingly to his comrades."Wait a bloomin' minute chaps! Don't go leavin' a poor young hare all alone!" Some of the vermin had ran off to deal with the archers. The small group was led by the ferret captain Furo. He signaled for his creatures to take out the archers.

Furo was all by himself now. He spotted Jaren, who was still by himself. Furo smiled and thought to himself."Perfect! This 'un was left behind. Now I can just kill the lil' rabbit!" Furo lay low in the tall grass and crawler forward with his lance at the ready. He crept up just inches from Jaren and held his lance for the killing blow. Some instinct told Jaren to move. Jaren saw the lance in the corner of his eye and rolled out of the way as it planted itself in the ground where Jaren had been seconds before. Jaren drew an arrow to his bowstring and fired at his attacker. The shaft zipped by the ferret, seeing as how Jaren did not take the time to aim. Furo rushed at Jaren with his lance. Jaren sidestepped the lance. The lance lodged itself in the ground. Furo pulled back on his lance. Jaren fired another shaft at Furo. Furo leaned back and the arrow flew over its target. Furo tugged back hard on his lance and it became unstuck.

Furo swung his lance around in the same movement he pulled it out of the ground. Jaren ducked the lance. Jaren kicked at the ferret's stomach. Furo had the breath knocked from him. He stumbled backwards and dropped his lance. Jaren charged at his foe and punched at his head. Furo leaned back until his head touched the ground and he saw a dead rat guard's spear. He grabbed it and stabbed at Jaren with it. The move caught Jaren off guard and the spearhead struck Jaren in the side. Furo yanked the spear from the young hare's side. Furo stood up and began swinging the spear at Jaren. He would swing the spearbutt at his head and use the spearhead at Jaren's footpaws. Jaren was quick on his feet and avoided every attack except a hit to the side of the head with the spearbutt.

Furo raised the spear over his head and brought it down on Jaren. Jaren blocked the spear with his bow. The two pushed back with their weapons until Jaren pushed Furo. Furo started stabbing at Jaren's footpaws again. Jaren felt the spearbutt go into his footpaw. Jaren stepped on the spear and put his full weight on it, breaking it. Furo picked up his abandoned lance. Furo charged at the hare. Jaren ducked under the lance and stabbed Furo in the shoulder with his dagger. The two beasts were a few paces from each other now. They turned to look at one another. Furo roared as he ran at full speed towards the hare. Jaren was thinking of what to do. "Me bloomin' dagger ain't gonna help a chap out now. What to do?"

Too late. The ferret captain was already upon him. The lance went straight through his shoulder. Furo felt something sharp pierce the area around in between his neck and chest that was unprotected. The ferret captain, Furo went limp. Jaren had killed Furo with an arrow from his quiver that he used to stab the ferret where his armor did not protect him. Jaren was gasping and he felt blood oozing out of his wounds. Jaren was too exhausted to shove the ferret carcass off of him. There was nothing to do but to wait for help.

The squirrels were near the castle entrance. Blunder heard a scream and looked up. A fox was dragging Blossom into the castle. Blunder gripped his dagger and ran towards the fox. Blunder would most certainly been killed if it were not for a rock sticking out of the ground. Blunder tripped over the rock, gaining Blunder enough momentum to carry him towards the fox. Blunder landed on the fox. The blade went straight through the fox's neck. Blossom freed herself from the limp grasp of the fox and greeted Blunder."Blunder, you saved my life!" Blossom kissed Blunder on the cheek. Blunder turned redder than an apple or a strawberry.

The battle was now taking place in the castle. Creatures were charging through the corridors, vermin were attacking from the shadows. Creatures were in mixed-up groups. Arvic was fighting in the same group as Buckayoo. The vermin who were defending the castle corridors were led by Vulpin. Vulpin led his vermin in the rush at the oncoming woodlanders. Vulpin put on a burst of speed and raised his pike for the kill. Arvic was back-to-back with Buckayoo. Arvic turned at the last second and saw the point of the pike driven through his chest.

Buckayoo turned and saw what happened. BY the time he saw what happened, he could not have done anything to prevent it. Buckayoo felt an unstoppable rage come over him. He drew his claymore and leapt at Vulpin, screaming his battlecry."HAWAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAY BRAAAAAAAAAAW!" The blade plunged through Vulpin's chest. He made a gurgling noise and fell limp in death.

Oakpaw was taking a different route through the castle than the other woodlanders. He walked slowly down a torch-lit corridor, looking for vermin. The old badger looked ahead and saw a path where the main corridor (where the battle was taking place) connected to the corridor that he was taking. He saw several creatures attempting to fight off vermin.

The vermin ran down the hall after they had slain the score of goodbeasts who had tried to fight them. Oakpaw followed them without their noticing. The other vermin ran ahead of their leader, a tall weasel wearing a black cloak, until they were out of sight. The weasel stopped and concealed himself in the shadows. He saw Oakpaw and pulled an arrow from his quiver. He took aim and fired the arrow. The shaft hit Oakpaw in the shoulder. Oakpaw looked towards the direction the arrow came from. He looked at the arrow sticking from his shoulder. The feathers on the arrow were black.

Oakpaw was no longer in the castle of Panthera Longclaws. He was not too far from his home. Oakpaw felt much younger. He was searching for his son and wife, who had gone outside to play. Oakpaw called out over and over for his wife and young one when he nearly tripped on a large figure. Oakpaw looked down to his footpaws and saw the limp figure of Renah with a black-feathered arrow in her chest. The male badger could find no sign of his son, either. Oakpaw mourned for his wife and his son. He held Renah's lifeless body in his strong paws. He looked up towards the sky and yelled."RENAH!"

Oakpaw came back to reality with his eyes watering after recalling that day from sixteen seasons ago. Scring smirked and leaned against the wall."What's the matter, badger? You remind me of a big female stripedog I slew seasons ago. You remind of that me of that stripehound that we captured, too."

Oakpaw glared up at Scring with absolute hatred. Oakpaw clenched his huge fists and charged at Scring with blood red eyes while roaring in total outrage. Scring hastened to draw an arrow to his bowstring. He fired at the juggernaut that was advancing quickly upon him. THe arrow hit Oakpaw in the chest, but he kept on coming. Scring was in reach of Oakpaw. Oakpaw grabbed Scring by the neck with one paw and had the other paw around Scring's head. Scing made muffled screams but Oakpaw did not give them any heed. Oakpaw squeezed his victim. There was a cracking noise as the skull and spinal cord of Scing, second-in-command to Panthera Longclaws and one-time leader of the Assassin Squad, were crushed by Oakpaw.

Oakpaw tossed Scring's body to one side and began gasping for air. He fell on his paws and knees and looked down towards the ground. He grinned and began talking."Renah, I...have avenged you." He raised his head and saw visions of Renah and Bluestripe. Oakpaw began talking to the apparitions."Bluestripe, my son, I know I have told you this many times, certainly are wild. I know that one day, you shall become a Badger Lord of Salamandastron. Farewell, my son.." THe apparition of Bluestripe faded away and Oakpaw looked towards the illusion of Renah."Renah, my love, I have avenged you. Your killer is no more...I am sorry I was not there to say you all those seasons was my fault." The apparition of Renah began to fade away. Oakpaw raised a paw."Renah, please don't leave me here to die. I love you....." Oakpaw's paw fell limp. Oakpaw was reunited with his wife once more.

Chapter 30

The woodlanders had defeated the main group of vermin on the main floor of the castle. The vermin had tried to escape. Some of the vermin had been killed while fleeing and others had succesfully escaped.

The woodlanders were gathering back together. Bluestripe carried his war hammer over one shoulder. Hawthorn looked around at the carnage of the battle.”Somethin’ about this feels wrong, very wrong…”

Buckayoo darted his eyes furtivly.”Ah know the feelin’. Ah don’t think that everythin’ was tae be as easy as that.”

The woodlanders arrived at the castle doors where they saw many slain creatures. A groan was heard among the bodies of woodlanders. The woodlanders ran towards where the groan came from. It was Oachie. Oachie’s fur was matted with blood and he was having a difficult time breathing. Lumb knelt on the ground beside Oachie.”Oachie, matey, what’s wrong? What happened?”

Oachie tried to sit up but fell back.”We were fightin’ the vermin, right, an’ then they started retreatin’. We killed some of them while a few escaped. We thought we had gotten ‘em all when Panthera with the remainder of his army ambushed us and left most of us for dead. I tried to stop Panthera but he got me with ‘is claws.”

Lumb looked at Oachie’s wounds and saw where Panthera had attacked him. He had sank his claws deep into Oachie’s stomach and had slashed near the back of his neck. Lumb’s eyes began to water. Oachie tried to sit up again but winced at the pain. Oachie tried once more. Oachie was sitting with his mate. Oachie turned to Lumb and the other woodlanders.”Don’t worry about me…just make sure that wildcat doesn’t escape! Don’t let me die in vain! I hope to see ya some day in another place…Lumb, tell Acer and the others I’m sorry I couldn’t stop the vermin… Goodbye…“

Oachie’s head lolled back and he went limp. Lumb put the body of his companion on the ground and turned to the other woodlanders.”C’mon, mates, we have to catch up to Panthera like Ochie wanted us to! You can’t let his last request go unfulfilled, can you?”

The woodlanders gave a roar and charged outside. They could see the remaining vermin retreating over a nearby hill. Bluestripe was at the front of the army.”After them! We can’t let them escape!”

The woodlanders went in with a pincer movement, cutting off the escape for the vermin. Bluestripe strode up to the vermin soldiers.”Now, where is your leader, Panthera Longclaws?”

A wicked chuckled was heard from the vermin.The voice that sent shivers down Bluestripe’s back was heard by all.”Looking for me, were you, stripehound?” The vermin cleared a path for their master and Panthera Longclaws paced slowly towards Bluestripe until the two were face to face.

Bluestripe locked eyes with Panthera Longclaws. Panthera’s slitted pupil and amber eyes showed his wicked personality and showed his fearlessness. Bluestripe’s brown eyes exposed his determination and chivalry. Panthera’s tail moved back and forth as he stared into Bluestripe’s eyes.”Alright then, stripehound, I accept your chllenge.”

Bluestripe was taken by surprise at how Panthera knew what he was thinking. Panthera turned his head to the west.”Do you see that mountain over in the distance? We shall have our duel there.” Bluestripe looked over at the mountain in the west and a strong emotion swept over him. Bluestripe turned and locked eyes with Panthera again.”Agreed.” Bluestripe shook the wildcat’s paw with force. Panthera’s grip was just as strong as his. They turned and rejoined their own army and began to march towards the western mountain.

The woodlanders were marching when they saw a badgermaid of about twenty-one seasons gathering wild berries. Bluestripe walked over to her.”Excuse me, miss, but I would leave if I were you. There is an army of vermin heading this way.”

The badgermaid turned and was not shocked by Bluestripe’s appearance.”Thank you for warning me beforehand. My name’s Athena. What’s your’s?”

Bluestripe looked into her brown eyes and saw that she was very intelligent and that she was a hard worker.”I’m Bluestripe. It’s not hard to tell where my name comes from. I’m going to meet Panthera Longclaws, the wildcat tyrant for a duel at that mountain.”

Athena began to walk away but turned back.”That mountain is Salamandastron. I live there all alone. I think I’ll come to watch you fight this Panthera Longclaws.”

Bluestripe was shocked.”Salamandastron! Oh thank you for your support! I find it very encouraging!”

Athena walked on ahead towards Salamandastron. The army marched on until they arrived at the Western Shores. The woodlanders crossed the sand until they stood before the mountain. Panthera Longclaws stood alongside his army with his arms crossed.”We will not fight now! We shall rest tonight and shall battle at sunrise! My troops will not harm your troops as long as your troops must not harm mine. Agreed?”

Bluestripe nodded and shouted back.”Agreed!” Both armies set up camp and started building fires as night crept upon them.

Panthera was sitting away from his army. Altac, the remaining captain of his horde walked over to his master and sat beside him.”Altac reportin’ fer duty, milord!”

Panthera sat with his paws folded as he contemplated to himself. He turned to the weasel captain.”Altac, you have always served me faithfully. I will promote for this.”

Altac grinned.”What are ya promotin’ me to, Lord?”

Panthera looked around and beckoned.for Altac.”I can’t tell you. I have to whisper it in your ear.”

Altac scratched his head.”But why, Master?”

Panthera looked as if it was common sense.”If anybeast heard how high I would promote you, they would surely slay you because of their jealousy.”

Altac looked around.”Is it that special?!”

Panthera nodded.”Oh, yes indeed. Now come over here so I can whisper it in your ear. Panthera had put one paw over the side of his mouth as if he were about to tell a secret. Altac leaned forward towards Panthera. The wildcat waited until Altac was close enough. He grabbed Altac’s face with both paws and sank his claws in. He kneed Altac in the stomach and headbutted him. Panthera swung the weasel around and slammed him into the side of the mountain. Panthera threw Altac into the sand and put one footpaw on his back. He pressed his full weight down on Altac.

Panthera snarled and kicked Altac one last time.”I don’t need any captains! I don’t need anybeast! I work alone!”Panthera decapiated Altac with his treasured weapon and stroked it lovingly.

Everybeast slept peacefully that night. Except Bluestripe. He was overcome by a feeling that was telling him thst something horrible had happened.

Every creature woke up at dawn the next day to prepare for the duel between Panthera Longclaws and Bluestripe. Bluestripe sat up while other creatures helped him get ready. Buckayoo, Sorex, Hawthorn, Acer, Foremole, Tide, Conifer, and many other creatures offered help but Bluestripe would just shake his head.”The only things I need for this battle are gauntlets, shoulderguards, and greaves. I want to face Panthera in the clothes I wore when I served him as a slave.”

Bluestripe’s wishes were respected and he suited up fore battle. All of Bluestripe’s friends wished him good luck. Bluestripe turned when he heard somebeast calling his name. It was Athena.”Bluestripe, I hope luck is with you in this duel. I’ll see you later if you win.”

The creatures from both sides formed a circle for the two combatants to fight in. Bluestripe walked slowly into the arena. Bluestripe knew the battle was about to start when all of the creatures went silent. The noise from Panthera’s armor rattled as he stepped through the cleared path of vermin.

Panthera Longclaws was a formidable sight to behold. The wildcat wore gauntlets that had holes for his fingers to fit through, he wore no helmet, the upper part of his arms were covered with a thin leather strap wrapped around the lower arm, he wore no chain mail, and his armor was only a chain mail piece that covered the chest. Panthera held a magnificent weapon in his paws. The wildcat spun the pikeaxe over his head and held it with both paws. Panthera chuckled softly to himself.”All this trouble over a freak stripehound. Come on, badger, show me what you can do!”

Bluestripe held his bar and manacles and looked down at them.”I started with not but these as my only weapons! I’ll defeat you with them as well! I was clad in this garment when I escaped from your castle! Now I will defeat you!”

Bluestripe twirled the manacles over his head and rushed at Panthera. He brought the manacles from over his head and swung them at his head. Panthera ducked the and slashed at the left side of Bluestripe chest with his claws. Bluestripe’s robe ripped as blood trickled from the wound. Bluestripe whacked at Panthera’s footpaws with his bar. Panthera leapt back but Bluestripe struck upwards with the bar and hit Panthera in the chin. Panthera swiped at Bluestripe’s head with his pikeaxe. Bluestripe ducked the head of the axe and stabbed at Panthera with the bar. Panthera grabbed the bar and pulled Bluestripe forward. Panthera headbutted Bluestripe and sent him tottering a few steps back.

Panthera took advantage of this and rushed at Bluestripe. Bluestripe regained his senses and sidestepped Panthera. Bluestripe hit the wildcat in the back of the head with his paw. Panthera was knocked a few feet away. Bluestripe threw his manacles at Panthera like a bolas. Panthera rolled to the side and avoided the manacles. Panthera leapt up and stood in a defensive position. Bluestripe ran forward with his bar held on its side. Bluestripe attempted to push Panthera back with his bar but the wildcat countered the bar with his pikeaxe.

The bar and pikeaxe were locked and their wielders were pushing back on them with excursion. Panthera managed to get the point of his pike over the bar and he stabbed Bluestripe in the lower shoulder with it. Bluestripe roared in pain and pushed back with the bar. Panthera was pushed backwards. Bluestripe charged at Panthera and made as if to swing the bar at his feet but swung at his side. Panthera gritted his teeth as pain spread through his side. Panthera tottered from the left to the right to make his enemy unsure of where he was about to strike. Panthera leapt at Bluestripe and swung the butt of his pikeaxe at Bluestripe. Bluestripe ducked the pikeaxe but was kneed in the face by the wildcat.

Panthera grabbed Bluestripe behing the neck and sank his claws in. Bluestripe roared in pain and lifted Panthera off the ground with both paws . Bluestripe threw the wildcat back about ten feet. Bluestripe picked up his manacles and ran at Panthera with the bar in his other paw. Bluestripe swung the manacles at Panthera’s footpaws. Panthera jumped up to only be hit in the head with the bar. Panthera jabbed upward at Bluestripe from his lower position and the point of the pike jabbed Bluestripe in the knee. Bluestripe kicked Panthera with his other footpaw. The wildcat rolled to the side and swung his pikeaxe at Bluestripe. Bluestripe jumped back and threw his manacles at Panthera like a bolas. The manacles hit Panthera in the arm.

Panthera leapt up and charged Bluestripe. He stabbed Bluestripe in the arm. Panthera felt a sharp pain and saw that Bluestripe had stabbed him in the side with a dagger. Panthera bit Bluestripe’s ear but was knocked back by a headbutt. Bluestripe elbowed Panthera but the wildcat clawed and bit at his elbow. Bluestripe punched Panthera in the stomach with his gauntlet. Panthera kicked Bluestripe in the stomach and knocked the breath from him. Panthera jumped up and hit Bluestripe over the head with the butt of his pikeaxe. Bluestripe thought he had seen his mother Renah.”No, it can’t be. She’s dead.”He saw his father Oakpaw standing with her and he realized what had happened to his father.

Bluestripe’s eyes watered but Bluestripe turned his sorrow into rage. Bluestripe swung the manacles and jabbed with the bar. Panthera was wearing himself down after trying to avoid the oncoming blows of his attacker. Panthera kicked Bluestripe’s legs from under him. Bluestripe rolled to the side as the pikeaxe came down. Bluestripe bolted forward and punched Panthera in the face. Panthera spun around and slashed at the underside of Bluestripe’s arm with his claws. Bluestripe pushed Panthera backwards and hit him with the manacles, causing him to trip. Bluestripe raised the bar over his head and hesitated.”I cannot kill a beast who lays defenseless at my footpaws.” He turned his back on Panthera and began to walk away. Creatures began shouting and pointing to something behind Bluestripe.

Bluestripe turned and saw Panthera Longclaws with his pikeaxe ready for the killing blow. Bluestripe pulled out the sword Buckayoo had let him use while they had been training and prepared himself. Memories flashed before the young badger’s eyes.Bluestripe saw memories both good and bad. He saw his mother fall limp after a shaft from Scring’s bow lodged in her chest, he recalled when he first met Panthera Longclaws, he remembered being beaten if he disobeyed, he remembered when the Guosim shrews aided him in his escape, he recalled when he arrived at the grove of low-hanging trees and met many allies, he remembered the day he met Hawthorn Streambattle and her otter clan, he recalled the battle against the black birds led by Wroc Caw, he remembered his arrival at the camp of Buckayoo and his hares, he remembered when he was reunited with his father, he would never forget the battle against the army of Panthera Longclaws, he remembered all of his friends, and he remembered his mother and father. His eyes turned red with the blood of battle and he gave a tremendous roaring battlecry.”I AM THE WILD! EULALIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAA!!!!!!!

Bluestripe made a diagonal slash with his sword at the same time Panthera Longclaws attacked. Blood showered from Panthera’s torso. Bluestripe’s eyes bulged as he felt his lower back being slashed open. Both creatures collapsed to the ground with blood gathering around them. Bluestripe felt very weak and closed his eyes.

Bluestripe opened his eyes and saw that he was in a bed with creatures gathered around him.”Where……I?”

Athena pushed Bluestripe back to lie down.”You’re in Salamandastron. You almost died out there, you know. Your back was slashed open and you had many other wounds as well. You’ll probably be handicapped by that back injury for the rest of your life.”

Bluestripe gave a small smile.”Well at least I’m alive.”

Bluestripe looked around to see who else was there. Amon the many creatures who came to see him were Log-a-log Sorex, Lilla, Boggle, Aran, Rune, Tide Riverdog, Acer, Blunder, Blossom, Lumb, Foremole Muld, Hawthorn Streambattle, Buckayoo, Kaylen, Jaren, Isel, Aggie, and Conifer. But that is only to name a few.

Log-a-log Sorex stood next to Bluestripe.”Hey, matey, right as you made the killing blow to Panthera, you shouted,”I am the wild.” What was that all about?”

Bluestripe looked puzzled.”I don’t know…I don’t know what I was doing then. I had lost control over myself.”

Buckayoo took off his highland hat and bowed to Bluestripe.”Ah am honored tae ‘ave witnessed that braw duel, laddie! Ah am forever under your service! Ah’m nae ashamed tae serve under ye.”

Bluestripe smiled at the highland hare.”You don’t have to do that Buckayoo, I’m alright.”

Athena turned on Bluestripe.”Bluestripe? Alright? You must stay here until you are fully recovered. Now everybeast out so he may rest.”

Bluestripe muttered to himself as his eyes closed.”Salamandastron….at last….I’m here now, Father. I hope you and Mother are proud of me…”

Chapter 31

About six seasons after the death of Panthera Longclaws, a colony of squirrels were jumping through the trees. A female squirrel named Blossom was watching her young ones jumping awkwardly from branch to branch. Blossom smiled to herself.”Just like their father…”

A few trees back was Blunder and his son, who was having difficulty getting from branch to branch. Blunder stayed behind to help his son.”C’mon, Oachie, you almost got the hang of it!”

Young Oachie, who was named after his father’s deceased friend, sighed.”No I don’t, Father! You’re just sayin’ that to make me feel better!”

Blunder shook his head.”No, I’m not. I was far worse at this than you are now when I was your age.”

Lumb landed on the branch beside them.”I knew ‘im as a young ‘un. Trust me, he was!”

The squirrels laughed and Acer caught up with them.”C’mon, mates, the ceremony is about to start! Let’s get a move on!”

The squirrels sped up until they were on the border between Mossflower Woods and Salamandastron. Many other woodlanders were gathered around the fire mountain.

Friends old and new were gathered for the ceremony. Caythen, her mother, Mirtha, and Meekrose stood with a crowd of other familiar faces. Creatures such as Foremole Muld, Log-a-log Sorex with his Guosim shrews, Hawthorn Streambattle joined by the Streambattle clan, Buckayoo and his hares, Tide and the Riverdog otters, Conifer and his squirrel tribe, and many more creatures were present at the ceremony.

Everybeast became silent as two badgers stepped out of the gates of Salamandastron. Athena and Bluestripe were paw in paw. Bluestripe spoke up.”Today, after several seasons of living together, I am marrying Athena, who healed me when I was weakened from my duel with Panthera Longclaws. I am eternally grateful to everybeast who aided me in my quest several seasons ago. I will be as loyal to all of you as you were to me!”

Every creature roared with delight as Bluestripe gave Athena her ring. Bluestripe raised his head to the sky and shouted,”Father! Mother! I’m the Badger Ruler of Salamandastron now! Can you hear my battlecry? EULALIIIIIIIIIIAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAA!!!!!!


The audience clapped and cheered as the old harewife finished her story. The hare babe tugged on her dress.”What happened to the Guosim shrews, ma’arm?”

The harewife mused to herself for a moment.”If I can remember correctly, I think Log-a-log Sorex continued to serve as the chief. Boggle became the Friar for the Guosim. Rune ended up teaching the younger shrews how to fight. Lilla ended up marrying Boggle and they had a son who is still with the Guosim to this very day.”

A young hare of about fourteen seasons spoke up.”Did that Buckayoo chap stay at Salamandastron like he said he would?”

The harewife nodded.”He did indeed. He became Bluestripe’s general. Jaren now used a lance and served Bluestripe as a lance corporal. He eventually became a captain.”

The hare squinted his eyes supiciously at the harewife.”How do you know this story?”

The harewife gave a clever grin.”I am Kaylen, sister of Jaren and lieutenant under Bluestripe’s command!”

The Badger Lord laughed.”Yes, she was there when all of that happened. I was born a few seasons later.”

The hare babe piped up.”How did you find out about this story?”

The Badger Lord patted him on the head.”I am Roan, son of Bluestripe and Athena. My father told me this tale when I was about your age.”

The hare babe looked puzzled.”Did Caythen ever give Bluestripe her poem?”

Roan and Kaythen began reciting the poem written by Caythen, which was dedicated to Bluestripe the Wild.

"Bluestripe finally overcame the challenges before him.

He defeated Panthera Longclaws, but his future looked grim.

He found the mountain of badger lore

He met a mate and gained much more

Buckayoo came with every last hare

Badgers and hares, the mountain which they shared

Bluestripe was titled by the person who raised him as a child

Bluestripe called himself “the Wild”

His manacles became a ball and chain

He killed vermin, who all lay slain

Many a vermin fell dead before the Badger Lord

Killed by either ball and chain, sledgehammer, or mighty sword.

The Badger Lord with the blue stripe

A warrior strong in seasons ripe

A name heard among dying embers

A creature heard by allies and foes

Surely, Bluestripe will be a name remembered!"

The End