Chapter 1: Thaddeus VulFurrin
Sanabar was always a busy town, but not one of high repute. A harbor town brought in all manner of visitors, after all. Some for business, some for travel, some for adventure. Nearly all commerce for the province of Maranatha had to pass through the busy port at some point, making it a wonderful hub for thieves, debauchers, and all manner of mammals of various ill influences.
In the corner of town near the docks was the Duke’s Tavern, oddly named since dukes and duchesses would never be caught dead in a cesspool of that variety. The exterior looked rundown, with wooden walls warping over time from the salt water in the air. The overwhelming stench of mead and vomit overtook the senses upon entering, and the floor was sullied with dirt and stains from spilt drink and blood. It wasn’t the safest or most appealing place, but many mammals consider it a second home.
Two smaller mammals entered Duke’s Tavern that evening, treading cautiously. Their long ears were completely on end, attempting to take in as much around them as possible to ensure their safety. The male was taller, a tan and beige colored hare, wearing a covering of chainmail under his brown cloak and a sword at his hip. His paw rested on the hilt of his sword, ready to draw if the need arose. His face showed his age, a scar on his cheek and a missing tip of his right ear showing his experience. The female, purely white furred and slightly smaller, could have passed for an ordinary rabbit were it not for the large bow and quiver strapped to her back and a small dagger that stayed on the belt which girded her dark green tunic. She was much younger than the hare, seemingly lacking the experience of her associate. Her eagerness showed as she moved ahead of her comrade, scanning the room for their target.
At the end of the bar, off by himself, sat a brown and gray fox with a large, black tipped tail. He wasn’t much larger than a hare himself, and wore only a simple red cape over his business attire. Next to him on the bar sat a wide brimmed deep red traveler’s hat. He motioned for the barkeep to come closer.
“Hudson, if you’d be so kind. Seems I’ve run a little dry,” he said, raising his tankard.
The barkeep, an old badger, grunted as he began to pour another pint for the fox. “Better settle up soon, fox. Your tab’s been overdue for a week.”
“No doubt a testament to your generosity.” The fox smiled at him coyly, reaching for the drink.
“More business to attend to tonight, fox?” the badger asked.
“I certainly hope not.” Taking his drink in paw, the fox slowly turned to see the crowded tavern. A fairly regular crowd was in attendance tonight: Reginald, a gray wolf and his pack; Clawson, a black bear who frequented Duke’s for years; Marshall the bobcat, likely here to be rejected again by Hudson’s ocelot barmaid. All was normal, as it had been for some time, until he saw them.
At first, he noticed the hare, standing proud but cautious, trying to ignore the strange looks he was getting. He noted the chainmail, the blade, and the scars. Must be an adventurer, likely a former soldier. What caught his eye next though took his breath away. A beautiful younger female rabbit darted from around the hare, fur as white as snow contrasting her darker green tunic. Her eyes scanned the room, sparkling with an emerald hue, before landing on the fox. She turned back to her comrade, mouthing something he couldn’t hear, and turned back, pointing to him.
“Blast…likely no good to come from this.” He pretended not to notice the duo approaching him as he turned back to the bar.
The hare spoke first. “Are you VulFurrin?”
The fox shrugged. “Never heard of him.”
“Odd…” spoke the rabbit. Her voice sounded as sweet as he imagined despite her faux pleasantry. “…since I don’t see any other foxes with black tipped tails and a red cape drinking in solitude.”
A small grin came over the fox, figured he might as well have some fun. “And I haven’t seen a hare soldier from Tarsen or a poorly trained naïve bunny archer around here before either.”
The hare stepped back. “How did you know I was from Tarsen?”
The fox turned slowly to him, rolling his eyes. “Your stance, the way you rest your paw on that ornate hilt. But even beyond that, your accent gives you away.” He turned to the rabbit. “And as for you, no self-respecting fighter keeps a combat dagger in the front of her tunic like that. The sheath is brand new, grip untarnished. You probably haven’t even pulled it out save a couple times to slice your carrots.”
“So you are VulFurrin,” the rabbit chided. “Mr. Dunmar said you were arrogant.”
“Dunmar…that crazy old goat? He sent you my way?” The fox’s face relaxed slightly as he laughed.
“Yes,” the hare responded. “We have need of your information and services. We seek the Lost City of Turalis, do you know how to find it?”
The fox thought for a moment. “No one does, hence why it’s the lost city.” A cackle exploded out of him.
The duo looked to each other, both raising eyebrows. Looking back to VulFurrin, now gasping for air laughing at his own bad joke, they continued.
“I am Abel Hopson, this is my associate, Sera Burrows. For reasons of our own business, we seek the Lost City. Our search led us to Agrus Dunmar, who sent us to you. Have you been there?”
The fox’s laughs finally calmed as he looked back up to Abel. “Fine. Aye, that I have. Where do you think I got this?” He reached in his shirt, pulling out a small golden trinket in the shape of a glyph.
Sera’s eyes widened as she stammered, “That…that’s the symbol of Turalis!” The two looked at each other, nodding. “Please, can you take us there? Payment is negotiable, of course.”
“Negotiable, you say?” VulFurrin quipped as he eyed Sera. “And what type payments are on the table, my bonny bunny?”
Sera gasped, stepping back. Abel stepped forward, pulling the fox’s attention. “Sir, you would do well to refrain from crass behavior like that.”
The fox raised his paw, feigning innocence. “My apologies, didn’t know she belonged to you, mate.”
Sera huffed as the fox laughed. Abel was not amused. “Can you, or can you not lead us there? We can pay you a portion now, and give you a portion of what we find there.”
“With all due respect, Mr. Hopson, I don’t know that a hare of your influence could afford such a grandiose request.” He gave a small smirk as he took another sip of his drink.
“Two hundred Tarsen golds.” Sera’s voice surprised the fox.
The words hit the fox like a hammer, causing him to spew his drink out. “Two hundred…Tarsen golds?”
Sera smiled at Abel. “Should be more than enough to cover our travel expenses with enough left over to sate your tongue in mead for months.”
The fox’s eyes bulged. “Beautiful and wealthy.” He shot a look to Abel. “You’ve found a treasure, hare.”
Abel shook his head. “Miss Burrows is not…involved with me. I am assisting her on her journey as a favor to a fallen comrade.”
A small grin made its way over the fox’s muzzle. “Even better then. Very well!” He stood, grabbing his hat, placing it on his head and bowing lightly. “Thaddeus VulFurrin, at your service. If you’d be so kind as to cover my tab, we can begin planning this fruitless journey.”
“What do you mean, fruitless?” Sera asked, moving forward to stand before the fox.
“I don’t know what you hope to find there, my dear. But Turalis only offers two things to those foolish enough to venture through her limits.” He looked into her eyes. “Disappointment and sorrow.”
A loud bang of the tavern door opening caught VulFurrin’s attention. Looking at the mammal entering, he grimaced. A grizzled older fox stepped in, fur grayed with age and draped with a black cloak. Behind him a couple of boars entered, both clad in mail and swords at their disposal.
The fox quickly nodded to his new acquaintances. “Sorry to abruptly end our meeting, but I must be going.”
“Going? Where?” asked Sera. “We have much yet to discuss.”
VulFurrin pulled the brim of his hat down, attempting to avoid the gaze of the other fox. “Meet me at the entrance to the city tomorrow morning, the Northern Gate.”
As quickly and quietly as possible, the gray fox moved through the crowded bar doing his best to keep his face hidden. Seeing that the exit was now approachable, he made his way over there, quickly scanning the crowd to see where the older fox and his porcine entourage had gotten to. One fox, one boar, where’s the other-
“OOF!” VulFurrin fell backwards and landed on his rear as a very stout overbearing boar blocked his exit. The boar reached down, grabbing the fox by the cape and pulling him to his feet. He stared him down, huffing in his face.
“’Ey boss! Look who decided to show ’is ugly mug!” The boar laughed maliciously, emitting a foul breath into the fox’s sensitive nose.
“I actually happen to think my mug is rather handsome.” With that, the fox shot a foot forward, planting it directly in the boar’s oversized gut. Reeling back, he reached for his blade, stopped by a firm paw grabbing his tusk and pulling. Maneuvering the now off-balance boar, the fox pulled and tripped him. Free for the moment, he turned back towards the door to escape only to realize another cloven hoof had grabbed the back of his cape. The second boar pulled and slung VulFurrin back into the tavern, putting him on the ground next to the feet of a now very pleased older fox.
“Thaddeus VulFurrin. Ye’ve been avoidin’ me.” The fox spoke with a harsher tone.
Standing and dusting himself off, VulFurrin put on his best smirk. “Fires forbid, I’d never avoid you Wallace. In fact, I was just coming to see you-“
“Save yer lies for someone else, mongrel.” Both boars now stood behind him, blocking any exit. “I find it amusin’ that ye have the money to keep yer bar tab current, but ye dinnae have anythin’ to pay on the debts ye owe to me.” Before he could react, both boars reached out and grabbed VulFurrin by the arms, holding him in place. Reaching his arm out from inside his cloak, Wallace raised a hooked paw towards the younger gray fox. He placed the hook against the fur of his neck, pressing in. “So tell me, what do ye have to say for yeself?”
VulFurrin’s eyes widened as the blunt of the hook pressed into his neck. “Wallace…let’s be reasonable mammals now…”
Wallace’s face contorted hearing a voice come from behind him. He turned away from VulFurrin, relieving the pressure on his neck to see the source of it, taken aback by the much smaller white rabbit addressing him.
“And who might ye be, lil’ bunny?” Wallace approached, standing tall over her. Sera didn’t back away like he’d expected her to.
“That fox is my guide. I just hired him to direct me on personal travels. I demand your grunts let him go this instant.” Sera stood her ground, motioning towards the fox.
Wallace began laughing. “Thaddy, I ne’er took ye as one to chase cottontails.” The boars joined him in laughing as VulFurrin’s ears fell back. Wallace looked back to Sera. “Unfortunately, me dear, this fox here owes me a great deal of coin. If’n ye hired him, may happen ye’d be able to cover his debts?”
Without batting an eye, Sera responded. “How much does he owe?”
“A hundred Maranatha silvers.”
“The deal was for eighty, Wallace!” screamed VulFurrin.
Wallace turned back, placing his hook to the younger fox’s face again. “Aye, that be before ye tried crossin’ me.” Turning back to Sera, he repeated himself. “A hundred Maranatha silvers, and not a coin less, then he’s all yers, bunny.”
“Very well.” Sera reached into a pouch on her belt, pulling five large golden coins from within. “This should cover his debt and more. These are Tarsen golds.”
Wallace nearly choked in surprise. “T-Tarsen golds? I wisnae expecting that, wee bunny.” Sera placed the coins into his waiting paw. Reaching up, he snapped his paw at the boars. They released VulFurrin, who quickly stepped behind Sera.
“VulFurrin’s debt is paid, now leave us.” Sera pointed to the door.
Wallace eyed the rabbit carefully. “I dinnae ken, wee bunny. I might be interested in seein’ what else lay inside that pouch of yers.”
VulFurrin placed a paw on Sera’s shoulder. “Um…Miss Burrows…I believe now would be a good time to take our leave.”
“Oh, but why would ye be leavin’,” Wallace motioned for the boars again, spurring them to move around him towards Sera, “when we’re just gettin’ so well acquainted?”
Sera stood her ground, pulling on her belt lightly.
VulFurrin attempted to pull her back by her arm. “Miss Burrows…I really must insist-“ His words were cut short by her pulling from him.
“I can take care of myself, Mr. VulFurrin.”
“Of course you can.” VulFurrin stepped back, scanning the room for the hare soldier he’d seen earlier, but couldn’t find him. This is bad, really bad. I don’t want to have to do this here…
The boars took to their sides, and Wallace stood in front, drawing his hook towards Sera’s face. “I’d suggest ye give that pouch over, me dearie.”
“I’ve no intentions of obliging a petty thief, fox.”
“Such a sharp tongue for a wee bunny. Teach her a lesson in respect!” The two boars moved in unison, both springing forward to grab Sera. Without hesitating, she hopped up into the air, gracefully dodging their attempted grabs and causing them to crash into each other. Sera’s feet landed directly onto Wallace’s head, kicking him forward into the pile of his own grunts as she flipped and landed smoothly on the ground.
VulFurrin stared blankly, completely dumbfounded for a moment, before he realized Wallace and his goons were getting back up. “Miss Burrows! Run!”
Wallace pointed towards Sera. “Get her ye fools!” The boars shook themselves off and both started stomping towards her. The first one dashed at her, arms out to grab. She deftly side-stepped, causing him to trip past her. The second boar had already drawn his sword, and went to swing it at her. She jumped again, dodging the attack and sailing over his head, delivering another kick to the back of his head before rolling along the ground and standing back up. She quickly drew her bow and three arrows, training her gaze upon the boars as they both turned back to her.
Thwt! The first arrow flew, striking the sword out of the boar’s hoof.
Thwt! The second flew, pinning the same boar’s leg to the floor as he cried out.
Thwt! The third flew, finding lodging in the shoulder of the other boar as he attempted to reach for his blade. Satisfied with her aim, she lowered her bow.
“Sera, watch out!” VulFurrin’s voice perked her ears. She turned just in time to him slam into the side of the older fox, stopping a hook from finding a home in her neck. Wallace lost his balance, causing him to falter and his hook to slam into the wooden floor and lodge itself. This lowered the fox’s face to a much more agreeable height to receive a swift set of kicks to the face. The impacts caused him to slump to the floor, unconscious.
Shouts and cheers could be heard through the bar as mammals all over raised their tankards to her in praise before going back to their business.
Sera dusted herself off and walked back over to VulFurrin, who was again completely dumbfounded. His muzzle hung open as she approached.
“Miss Burrows…how did you…where did you…?”
Her ears lopped slightly as she gave a sly grin. “Not bad for a ‘poorly trained naïve bunny archer,’ eh?” She reached up and closed his mouth for him. “I know how to handle foxes, Mr. VulFurrin.”
The fox smiled nervously. “Remind me never to cross you, my dear.”
“Miss Burrows!” Abel’s voice caught both of their attentions as returned from a back room of the tavern. “Mr. VulFurrin’s tab is resolved now. How one fox could drink that much mead…” he stopped when he saw an unconscious older fox being carried out by two injured boars. “What happened here?”
VulFurrin laughed. “Miss Burrows happened. I think I’m in love, Mr. Hopson.”
“By the Fires, I can’t leave you alone for five minutes without you scuffling with civilians!?”
“They deserved it, they tried to steal from me and tried to hurt Mr. VulFurrin.”
“And they tried to hurt you, Miss Burrows…however futile and foolhardy it may have been. My apologies for earlier when I assumed you were unskilled in combat.” Adjusting his hat, the fox bowed again. “As entertaining as this has been, I must bid you good evening. I have matters to attend to prior to our departure tomorrow.”
“Unfortunately, Mr. VulFurrin, you’ll not be going anywhere.” Sera stood in front of him, blocking his path.
“I beg your pardon?” The fox seemed confused.
“Seems you have forgotten, but I now own you, fox.”
Abel looked at her. “Miss Burrows, what are you speaking of?”
“I paid five Tarsen golds to purchase your debt from that older fox, Mr. VulFurrin. You are now indebted to me. I own you, and you will be staying where I can keep an eye on you.”
The fox’s ears dropped. “I wasn’t aware of this arrangement, rabbit.”
“Did you think I’d simply pay your debts out of kindness? I didn’t want to let you out of my reach, because…”
“You find me that irresistible?” VulFurrin interrupted. His smirk was answered by a pointed finger in his chest.
“Because I don’t trust you. At all.”
“A strikingly sagacious decision,” he replied.
Her green eyes peered into his with a smug look. “So it’s good that I have a hefty debt over you. And you wouldn’t want to cross me, now would you?”
“Never in my wildest dreams.” He gave a pretentious smile as he stepped back. “Fine. I supposed you two will need lodging for the night? My villa is not far from here. Feel free to join me.”
Exiting the tavern as inconspicuously as possible, the three took to the street. Not knowing the layout very well, Abel and Sera closely followed VulFurrin, always wary of him attempting to mislead them. As they meandered through the roads of Sanabar, they left the harbor district well behind them, passing through what seemed to be a small row of homes. Sera noted that the homes didn’t exactly seem like villas, but they would make due for the night.
She was glad they were nearing their destination, as her feet were quite tired from travel. “This area of the city must sit well for a fox of your repute, Mr. VulFurrin. So close to that wretched tavern.”
“Unfortunately, my dear,” VulFurrin said, not even bothering to turn back to her as he walked, “we have not yet reached my residence.”
VulFurrin continued on past the homes and led them down a small path towards the bank of the river. Nearby was a large stone bridge with a walking path underneath that traveled along the water.
Approaching the underpass, Sera noted a line of small fires dotted along the stone wall of the bridge. Many mammals of all sizes stood huddled near the fires. VulFurrin stopped for a moment, turning back to them.
“Please excuse me, I need to make a short stop here before we continue. I promise I won’t leave your sight.” He tipped his hat, walking over towards one of the groups of mammals huddled around a fire. A smaller badger greeted him, and they exchanged embraces.
Sera and Abel looked to each other. Abel shrugged but kept his eye on the fox. Sera craned her ears towards him, attempting to use her great hearing to pick up what he was saying over the wind beneath the bridge.
VulFurrin reached into his shirt, pulling out a small pouch and gave it to the female badger.
“This is for you and yours, my dear. Use it well. I don’t know when I’ll next be able to visit. I may be gone for some time on business.”
The badger smiled and placed a paw on VulFurrin’s shoulder. “Do not worry, Thaddy. You’ve already done far more than needed of you. Fires bless you, son.” The two hugged again, and the fox began to make his way back to his new associates.
As he walked back, Sera quickly turned to act as if she had not been eavesdropping. He arrived, motioning for them to continue following him. A few more minutes past the bridge and a path led back up to the main streets of the city. Heading down one street, the three entered a much less hospitable area of the city. All around, small shacks were assembled in offset rows. The area looked run-down, with the remains of several larger buildings visibly outlined around several of the now smaller homes. Stopping a good way in, VulFurrin motioned towards a small wooden shack with an odd insignia on the door.
Sighing, he turned around. “Welcome to Villa VulFurrin. It’s not much, but it’s home.”
Sera gave a look of concern to her comrade. “You expect us to stay here?”
VulFurrin laughed. “Well, you’re more than welcome to open that magic pouch of yours and purchase us a beachside manor, if it pleases you, madam. But since I figure you’d like to leave town first thing in the morning and it is getting quite late, I’m sure we can find the cleanest spot possible inside for you to rest and not soil that lovely white fur of yours.” He motioned towards the door. “Your suite, Miss Burrows.”
With a huff, the female entered the shack. Abel entered behind her, giving the fox a half amused, half annoyed look.
The inside of the shack was just as homely as she had imagined. A small mat for a bed, a small table covered in pressed outfits, and a desk with writing instruments and parchments. A small fire pit in the corner that fed out into the middle commons area was a welcome sight since the night had begun to chill them.
VulFurrin entered and offered to start a fire. As he was doing so, Sera took a seat at the desk, quickly eyeing the documents. They looked to be some form of inventory or shipping ledgers.
Abel simply stood guard, watching the fox’s movements as he got a fire going.
After he was satisfied the fire would grow, VulFurrin stepped away and grabbed an additional blanket, laying it on the floor beside his mat. “Mr. Hopson, you’re more than welcome to take this makeshift bed for the evening.” A smug grin came over his muzzle. “That leaves my bed for the lovely Miss Burrows and myself.”
Sera rolled her eyes. “You can sleep outside, fox.”
“Aye, but then how could you keep sight of me? I was just offering you the easiest way to keep tabs on your newly acquired property.” Noting his humor was not appreciated, he relented. “Obviously I jest, my dear. I’ll take the very chair you sit in. A gentlefox such as me would be remiss to not offer his bed to a fair maiden such as yourself.”
Sera rose from the chair at his words, moving swiftly to the mat. She sat down, finding it to be surprisingly more comfortable than she had assumed.
The fox moved to the chair, removing his cape and hat, placing them on the table. Hopson took to the blanket, laying back and keeping his sword across his chest. Years of being stationed in uncertain fields of war yielded hard habits. Within minutes he’d fallen asleep.
Sera placed her weapons to the side of the bed and removed her belt, being careful with the attached dagger. She kept them right next to her as she laid back, propping her head up with her arms. She pondered for a moment over the day, and the thoughts that bothered her about their new-found guide.
The fox looked up. “Yes, my dear?”
“What was it you gave to that badger earlier under the bridge?”
The fox stayed silent for a moment, then replied. “A matter of personal business. You needn’t concern yourself with it.”
She sat up, looking at him. “You gave her money, didn’t you?”
The fox looked away, speaking softly. “Not everyone is blessed with noble heritage or a pouch full of Tarsen golds.”
“No, I suppose not.” She ran her paw along her ears, pushing them down against her back. “I’m certainly not used to seeing mammals huddled around fires under bridges.”
“Few from Tarsen are.” VulFurrin sat up in the chair. “My turn for a question, love. Perhaps the most obvious. Why do you seek Turalis? You don’t seem like the adventurer type.”
She looked over at him, a small grin on her face. “A matter of personal business. You needn’t concern yourself with it.”
He let out a small chuckle. “I suppose I deserved that. I wager you’ll tell me eventually, but allow me to venture a guess. Does it have anything to do with the Resonant Stone?”
“Please, Mr. VulFurrin. I’m not a child. I don’t believe in myths or works of fiction. Resonant Stones, Firesouls, and all that rubbish.”
He looked to her, catching her green eyes for a moment. “Aye, my dear. But sometimes, the truth is far stranger than fiction.”
Sera turned and looked into the fire as it crackled. She let his words sink in for a moment before speaking again. “What is it you do here in Sanabar, Mr. VulFurrin?”
He picked his head up again, nearly having fallen asleep. “You are as nosey as you are lovely, Miss Burrows.”
She peered through the fire-lit shack at him, casting a scornful look. “If I’m going to travel with a fox for the foreseeable future, I would like to think getting to know basic information about him is a reasonable request.”
The fox laughed. “Fair enough. I am what you could call a...private entrepreneur.”
“What do you mean?”
“Well, I see opportunity to obtain items others would pay money for, I acquire them, and sell them for profit.”
“You’re a thief, then.”
“Your words are as sharp as your arrows, Miss Burrows, and your assumptions quicker.”
“Then let me guess,” she chided, “you don’t always use your own money to purchase said wares? Hence why you may have owed Wallace a considerable sum?”
An annoyed chuckle left his muzzle. “A brilliant deduction, my dear.” He leaned forward in his chair. “Tell me, Miss Burrows, what will it take for me to earn your trust?”
“Mr. VulFurrin, since we’ve met, you’ve insulted me, endangered my life, twice asked me to bed, and given me nothing more than cryptic answers to the questions I’ve asked. What level of trustworthiness have you provided me?”
“I have also demonstrated kindness, generosity, saved your life, provided you with lodging, and asked nearly nothing of you in return.” The fox raised his paws, looking expectantly at her.
“Oh, forgive me, sir fox,” she said, sardonically. “Pray tell, what type reward would you like for your valiant actions?”
“A kiss would be grand,” He said, giving a smirk.
“Oh of all the…you are the most arrogant, selfish, uncultured, and smart-mouthed vulpine I have ever had the displeasure of meeting!”
Leaning back in his chair, VulFurrin placed his paws behind his head. “You forgot handsome, love.” Her huff of annoyance made him smile. “Get some rest, princess. We’ve a long day ahead of us tomorrow.”