Night had fallen over the kingdom of Armello.
In the great white castle in the center of the kingdom, the king was still awake, brooding and muttering. The lion had not been sleeping lately.
In rat clan’s shantytowns, couples were dressing up in their finery, hoping to sneak their way into the parties held in the mansions of the upper crust.
In the grand warren of the rabbit clan, the rabbits slept beneath their caverns of earth, stone, and gold.
In the northern mountains, wolf clan cubs pestered their packmates to spar with them on the snowy ground.
In the forests, bear clan sages slept in their caves and dugouts, trusting the Wyld to keep them safe while they dozed.
But scattered between these grand places of the kingdom are towns, villages, and hamlets, all homes for the creatures making their way through life in Armello.
In the town of Stag’s Landing, pine marten cheesesmiths had finished flipping their last cheese wheels for the night and were starting home. In the hamlet of Greenguard, the badger leatherworker and his apprentice had finished setting up their work benches for the next day’s orders.
And in the the settlement of Southbank, almost everyone had locked themselves in their homes.
Those who hadn’t had gathered together at the Golden Trough Inn and Tavern.
* * *
Within the tavern, a half-dozen rat merchants whispered at their corner table. Lone wolves and scarred hares waved the hog proprietor over for another round. And at the back of the room, near the stairwell to the rooms, a fennec fox sat, studying a map beneath the glow of her lamp.
It was the usual hustle and bustle, but subdued. Everyone was waiting for the news.
At the door’s click, conversation halted. Everyone lifted their heads and twitched their ears towards the door. Only the fennec ignored them, tracing a line on the map with her finger.
It was only a trio of cats, hurrying in off the street. The door closed behind them, cutting off the scents of the cool spring air. No one bothered to razz them over the fussy styling of their pelts. Instead, the crowd searched the felines’ faces.
The cats shook their heads no. The hog snorted, uneasy. The rest of the patrons turned away, muttering.
A hare with a scar across his jaw turned to his companion, a wolf with one eye. “You’d think he would have taken one of you.”
The wolf growled. “And risk getting infected by those Rot-infested birds? No thanks. Besides, the prince won’t have anything to do with outcasts like us. And I wouldn’t want anything to do with him. Huh!” He snorted. “Do half his dirty work and get zero glory. That’s pack life for you. I’ll never regret leaving!”
The hare beckoned the hog, watched the level of his Killer Carrot rise in the glass until it was refilled. He asked for extra hot sauce.
“Still,” said the wolf, peering into the bottom of his mug, “wouldn’t want to see anything bad happen to him. He’s distant kin, but still kin. You get my meaning?”
The hare rolled his eyes. “’Course I do. Everyone’s kin in rabbit clan, sumac-licker.”
The wolf’s lip raised in a snarl and his paw went to his sword. But just at that moment, the fennec’s huge ears spun around to the front.
“He’s back,” she said.
The bar hushed. The wolf’s paw lowered, offense forgotten.
Voices could be heard outside, joined by the mad strumming of a lute. The sound swelled with power chords, and then the door exploded open. A possum cartwheeled through the door. A makeshift headdress of black feathers had been formed by huge pinions stuck into his red cap.
A vixen slid into the room. She hammered a dramatic sting before scream-singing:
“BAD BIRDIES BETTER FLY WHEN THEY HEAR THE WOLF CRY!”
“OW-OW-OW-AWOOOO! OW-OW-OW-AWOOOO!” replied the crowd. She jumped onto a table a second before a grey wolf wearing armor and a sword leapt through the door. He was covered in black and purple ooze, but grinning like a loon. He lifted his fists in triumph and the inn leapt to its feet.
“Your prince has returned!” he shouted. “Let the real estate market recover. The bane is vanquished!”
Deafening cheers went up. Coins began passing between the merchant rats.
The hog tossed the prince a bar towel and the wolf began cleaning up. The possum scuttled up to the bar and grabbed a menu.
“A round for everyone,” said the prince. “My treat!”
In the approving roar that followed, no one noticed the lanky maned wolf shuffling in after the wolf, carrying a mucky spear, equally mucky helmet, and a cracked shield in his arms.
The hog passed out mead as though he had six hands, and soon the bar was roused again by spontaneous toasts.
“To Thane Greymane!”
“Three howls for the Winter Wolf!”
“Thank you, Prince Thane. I don’t have to pack up my shop!” said one of the rats, pumping the grey wolf’s paw.
“Which is great,” said his friend, “’cos you know how us packrats hate moving!”
The maned wolf stumbled into a corner, collapsing on the chair, but carefully setting down the gear.
“So what happened?” an otter asked Thane.
His golden eyes glittered. He turned to the fox.
“Hit it, Rusty!”
Chapter 2 will be posted tomorrow! The game Armello and its characters are property League of Geeks. Buy it today!
Click this link to read the other chapters; newest ones are at the top.
You might also like to read my free short story The Stone Seekers because it is the first of my Armello stories.
Feel free to comment below!