Chapter 1; Bell I
The moon was full and high in the sky. A huge grassland stretched in all visible directions. It was an ocean of fresh green grass with several rocks serving as icebergs. The only thing visible apart from that was a village. The village was in flames. there were no inhabitants. Bell approached it as silently as she could. She could hear screams and ravens. She was terrified of ravens. Ken had always told her ravens could easily kill puppy just by pecking it multiple times. Due to that, Bell always kept a good distance from them. She would be their dinner if she was caught.
The young boxer moved closer and closer into the village. She noticed it wasn't completely deserted. There were canines in there. Moving closer, she realized they were in a circle. A banner of black bull on a crimson field stood above all of them. In the middle of the circle, there was a creature Bell had never seen. It had long limbs, had no tail, its legs moved in different angles, its claws could fold, it only had hair on the head, its nose was the same color as the rest of the body, its ears were very small to begin with. It was full of cuts and moaning in pain.
"Confess!" someone bellowed, "Confess and we can end this quickly!"
The creature shook its head. A couple of ravens flew down and dug their beaks on it. It screamed.
"Confess!" said someone else "You know what you did!"
The creature growled. The ravens dug the claws at it. It shook them off but it was no use.
"Stop denying it!" said a female voice, "what you did changed everything."
the creature did not give any sign it heard her.
Bell was suddenly curious. What could it have done?
"I repeat: stope denying it!" she said again, this time it sounded even closer.
The creature didn't seem to hear her once again.
"Stop ignoring the question!"
Bell was suddenly shoved to the side. There was a bat right in front of her. It was much larger than her and its teeth resembled a moon on a starless night sky. It growled at her.
"Well," it said on the same female voice, "confess!"
Bell shook her head. She had no idea what she was referring to. She never saw this bat before.
Suddenly, Bell remembered what happened to the creature when it denied whatever they were charging him for.
Bell then felt claws on her back. She panicked believing the ravens had returned. She shook desperately trying to get them off, but it was futile. She kept shaking them off desperately, until she realized the claws weren’t harming her at all. She was taking very heavy breaths. She looked up and found out who was her true “aggressor”
“Pepper!” She yelled, “What are you doing?”
“Oh don’t complain, Bell,” said Pepper, the young brown Akita, “you overslept! Ken sent me to fetch you!”
Bell got up quickly and ran out of her den. She and Pepper ran over to Ken. The large Tosa stared angrily at Bell.
“Sorry sir,” she said.
“Sorry won’t make you go back in time, Bellona,” he replied, “A sleeping lamb can’t run from a wolf.”
Ken took her to the bottom of the hill where several large stones waited for them. Bell was to spend the rest of the sun dragging them up the hill, with a Hokkaido mile making sure she did it. The rocks would be later used to build tectums for other dogs Ken would have to take in. The castra had almost hundreds of those. They surrounded a mount full of caves, which served as various things, including Ken’s den, the forum where the dogs were sold, the nursery where females gave birth and nursed their young, and many others. Walls surrounded the area and kept everyone inside. The forum was the only exit to the outside world.
Ken told her that if she got tired enough, she would sleep earlier and wake up earlier. Or perhaps, her aching muscles would keep her from sleeping in the first place, which would mean she would have no risk of being unable to “run from a wolf”.
When the sun was the brightest, it was even worse. Not only did she have to drag those rocks but the sun was upon her.
“Bell!” Someone called. She turned towards the caller. It was her friend, Beaver.
He sneaked in a squirrel he caught and saved for her, as well as a clam of water. She didn’t hold back for a second. She was famished and parched with all the work. The Mile noticed that and allowed her to eat.
“I heard some adult dogs die during this punishment,” said Beaver.
“Well, thanks even more then,” said Bell.
“Well, at least he didn’t make you listen to an hour long lecture about not wasting time!”
Beaver was almost always a very humorous puppy. He was about twice of Bell’s age and twice as playful. He wasn’t a very good fighter, but being a young English Setter he could swim quite well.
Beaver had told her a new Vesper Lord had come to attempt buying soldiers. Lords came there quite often for soldiers and mates. That’s exactly how Ken’s business worked. Ken took in abandoned or lost puppies and occasionally adult dogs as well, trained them to fight and sold them to the Lords. They traded exotic food, materials, and even young puppies in exchange for Ken’s trained dogs. Most dogs bought were around one year old, where they were both tough fighters and had their minds mostly as a “blank canvas yet to be painted”.
“A Vesper Lord?” Said Bell, “You mean, an Etnan?”
“Yep,” he said, “Etnan. Feel kind of bad for the ones getting bought!”
“Me too. Their leader is said to be the worst.”
“At least it’s not a Felis Lord. I don’t like the idea of hiding in a mountain just waiting for the ‘right time’ to get out! Who knows if the ‘right time’ will even be in your lifetime?”
“There are no more Marsilians. Even if there were, they wouldn’t be able to buy anyone with their resources.”
“Sweet Minor, Bell! They have mountains all to themselves! They can get plenty of precious minerals there!”
“What makes you so sure their mountains has anything worth trading? Even if there is, considering how many Lords I’ve seen claim to hate them, I doubt anyone would let them walk around freely if they were caught out of their mountain.”
In truth, Bell nor Beaver had ever seen a Felis Lord walk past there. They weren’t even sure if there was still such thing as a Felis Lord anymore. They were from Throng Marsili and last time a Marsilian had shown any sign of life was decades ago. From what Bell had heard, they were all dead. Beaver believed the rumors claiming they had refuged themselves inside a mountain, but there was no true way to be sure.
Vesper Lords from Thong Etna on the other hand were much more frequent. They usually took the youngest ones, even those who hadn’t been trained yet. Bell at a younger age however couldn’t help but fear them due to their motto, “Bow or Burn”, and their sigil, the Purple Bat on the Black Sky. She almost always hid when they were around when she was younger. Ken would punish her for so, but she didn’t care. She wouldn’t go with the bats!
On the recent suns, Bell wouldn’t mind it that much if they found her. If they did, she could misbehave a little or perhaps show she couldn’t swim and they would forget about her. Ken tried his best to make her swim, but Boxers are not an ideal breed for swimming. Her fighting and hunting skills were quite good, but she was still young.
But after the dream of the bat and the ravens, something about Etna being around was truly troubling her.
Beaver had to leave shortly after. He wasn’t actually scared of the Vesper Lord, but he didn’t like them. However, he was a little over a year old, so the Vesper Lords wouldn’t see him as a first option. Bell got back to work.
Bell was allowed to stop shortly after sunset. Her body was aching all over. Beaver himself came to escort her to her den. A bunch of rocks pilled up forming a little cave made up the older dog’s tectums. Puppies would inhabit small dens on the foot of the mountain where Ken lived (he lived in a cave near the top of it). Once they were too big for them, they would have to move into tectums. About four grown dogs could tightly sleep in one while about ten puppies were to sleep in each den.
Bell slept with several other females in her own den, including Pepper. Counting Bell, only four of them were still in their den while the others got too big and moved out to the tectums. Pepper’s younger sister, Hazel, slept with them as well. They were about two months older than Bell, but Pepper was still twice as fierce. Hazel was much kinder than any of the other puppies in her den. The last puppy in their den, Sabina, was a quiet four month old coyote.
They had already bathed and were ready for bed. Bell not receiving a bath was part of her punishment. Yet, Hazel still rubbed some dirt off Bell with the skins Ken left in the den for blankets, much to Pepper’s annoyance. After that, she told her about the sun with the Vesper Lord.
“He was a Doberman,” she said, “he as usual wanted the puppies. He almost took Jed, but since he got injured last week he wouldn’t be able to keep up with the Gregibus. He almost took Thyme but he doesn’t like Akitas very much. He ended up taking Rosebell, Cristopher, and Lizzy. He took a few adults I don’t remember their names.”
“He must have been a skullbrain to deny Thyme,” said Bell, “He’s one of the best fighters!”
“Well, I’m still glad he didn’t though. I would miss him a lot if he did. Same for Jed.”
Thyme was Hazel’s older brother, or at least he claimed to be. He was almost all black while Hazel was very light yellow and Pepper was orangish brown, not to mention he was at least four months older than both. Bell never understood how Thyme could get Hazel and Pepper to like him despite him being a foul mouth to everyone.
“So Cristopher’s gone?” Said Bell, “what about Brone? Did they take him too?”
“Sadly no,” said Hazel, “the two were way too attached to each other and the Vesper Lord said that would weaken both of them, not to mention Brone is too sensitive.”
Bell felt terrible for Brone. He and his brother were extremely close since their mother was sold. Now he only had his friends left, and he didn’t even have that many friend. Ken tried his best to keep other pups away from him to keep them from getting his bad habits and soft character.
Pepper attempted to convince Bell to sleep outside since despite her sister’s effort, she was still filthy and smelly. Bell however knew better than to obey Pepper just for the sake of obeying her. Ken had told them dogs who called themselves the Mortes, or Mors if singular, would devour puppies outside of the dens after hours. Bell didn’t believe him until she peeked outside one night and saw two cloaked figures with skulls for heads. She never peeked outside after hours again. Pepper believed the Mortes were just a pup story. Hazel and Sabina believed Bell.
Al last, Bell curled herself on the corner of the den. Hazel and Sabina curled there beside her while Pepper curled beside Hazel. There was a brief argument between the sisters but at last they slept peacefully, and grandly, dreamlessly.