Blackstone ordered his party to lie down in the tall grass near an enemy warren. Blizzard wanted as many rabbits brought back to Brimstone so they could be used as either prisoners or turned by him so he could form a great army that would wipe out Watership Down, Vleflain, Efrafa and Sunstone. He shook his head sadly at the destruction Blizzard had brought to countless rabbits and Thanatos was no better. Those two rabbits made everyone’s lives hell in their warren. Try as the few rabbits that were good might they knew there was no way to escape Blizzard or Thanatos.
Blackstone, Fuser, Pecan, Vosper and Irondale spread out in a loose line as they watched the small warren. Blackstone and his patrol had come across this warren two days ago and been watching the warren before they attacked it. Vosper and Irondale were two evil rabbits so Blackstone and his friends had to be careful not to let any rabbits loyal to Blizzard find out that they weren’t evil.
“Fuser,” Blackstone called to his friend. “Yeah Blackstone?”
“Do you think you get to one of those warrens that Blizzard’s always talking about?”
“I don’t know. What if Irondale or Vosper report back to Blizzard?”
“Pecan and I can take care of them.”
“Alright. I’ll go tonight. But I may end up being killed. How am I supposed to keep those rabbits from killing me?”
“Take a prisoner with you. Then you can say you were merely running after a prisoner who was trying to escape on our journey home.”
“If we get caught we’ll be used as toys for Thanatos to hone his skills.”
The Brimstone Owsla watched the warren. As a couple of rabbits came closer to where they were the Brimstone Owsla struck and grabbed the rabbits by their necks before dragging them away into the bushes. The rabbits were pinned under two of the Owsla. One looked to be a doe of about six months and the other was a yearling buck. “Take the doe back to Brimstone Pecan and throw her in the prison run until Blizzard decides what to do with her. Vosper you go as well.”
“Right Irondale. Come on and don’t try to escape.” Vosper said. Vosper and Pecan shoved the doe between them and took her back to Brimstone. Captured does were either put in the prison run to be used as target practice or given to the Owsla and other changed rabbits to help the warren flourish. Their fate depended upon Blizzard and where he thought they were best suited for the benefit of the warren. The majority of the does were going to the Owsla and main part of the warren to help the warren expand. A consequence of pairing regular does and changed bucks was that the kittens would be born changed rabbits with the powers of their fathers. This saved Blizzard time since he didn’t have to change newborn kittens that would otherwise have died due to the changes inflicted upon them.
The buck got kicked in the face which knocked it out. “He won’t be waking up anytime soon,” Irondale said. “We’ll try to snatch some more rabbits before nightfall and start home tonight. Since there are only three of us we’ll have to make sure these rabbits don’t try to run.”
Blackstone, Fuser and Irondale continued watching the warren. They had counted only fifteen rabbits and had already captured two. “It must be a new warren. Or something killed off the majority of rabbits,” Blackstone said.
“Hopefully it isn’t the White Blindness,” Fuser said.
“No these rabbits smell healthy. It must be a new warren like Blackstone said,” Irondale said to Fuser.
The rabbits waited and caught six more rabbits before deciding to head home and report to Blizzard. A doe that appeared to be about four months old bolted as they were nearing a stream. “Runner!” Irondale shouted seeing the doe make a run for it. “We can afford to lose a buck but not a doe!”
“I’ll get her Irondale,” Fuser said and took off after the doe. Blackstone and Irondale quickly tightened the remaining five rabbits into a circle and herded them into the stream. Fuser spotted the doe making towards the forest. He caught up to her and pinned her beneath him.
“Be still and I won’t have to kill you,” Fuser whispered to the doe.
“Let me go!” The doe screamed struggling in vain to get out from under Fuser.
Fuser sat up on his back legs but kept one paw on the doe. “I don’t want to hurt you. I need you to help me get a message to a warren that’s far from here.”
“What do you need me for?”
“If you don’t want to end up in the prison run or become the doe for one of the Owsla of Brimstone you will listen to what I say and in return I can help you.”
“Why would you do that?”
“Because my chief and master plans on attacking four innocent warrens soon and they need to be warned about how stronger Brimstone has gotten. I can’t go myself as they’ll kill me so I need a regular rabbit to take with me to one of these four warrens that are many days from here. In return I may just be able to convince my chief to let you be my doe. You’ll be safer with me as your mate than with most of the Owsla and the regular rabbits in the warren. It’s either that or you’ll be killed for trying to escape when I bring you to Brimstone and I will have to bring you to my warren.”
The doe quieted at the thought that she would be killed unless she agreed to help this strange rabbit and become his doe. She couldn’t imagine being a buck’s doe at four months old but she could see she didn’t have much choice. “Fine I’ll do it.”
“Good. If I let you up do you promise not to run?”
Fuser looked at the doe intently before nodding and taking his paw off her. “What’s your name?”
“Monza huh? My name’s Fuser. Get some sleep Monza. We leave at dawn.”
They passed the night in comfort but for the seven prisoners their night was anything but easy.
“Where’s Fuser?” Blizzard demanded. Thanatos looked at the new prisoners with interest. The rabbits flinched and cowered in Blizzard and Thanatos’s burrow as the young rabbit gazed upon them with malice shining in his eyes.
“A doe escaped master. Fuser ran after it,” Irondale said.
“What of this warren that these rabbits are from?”
“Fifteen rabbits total master. Eight have been captured,” Blackstone stated.
“Seven you mean since you let a doe run. It seems a punishment is in order then for your failure to control your prisoners.”
Blackstone, Pecan, Vosper and Irondale flinched at that. Though Vosper and Irondale were evil they didn’t fancy being punished by Blizzard or Thanatos. “Thanatos how do you feel about getting in some practice before bed?”
“Thank you parli!” Thanatos said smiling as he felt inside for the energy that lay in his body. He decided to try something different this time. Picking out the energy he formed them into separate balls and sat up as he fired the balls of energy at the rabbits cowering before him. He laughed in delight as all eleven rabbits were thrown backwards into the wall. Two of the rabbits screamed as they felt their legs break from the impact before all the rabbits slid down the wall and lay in a crumpled heap of bodies on the floor. Shutting his eyes he breathed slowly and let the energy flow back into him before concentrating on the lightning he had been practicing with his parli. Opening his eyes he threw bolts of lightning at rabbits making them scream in pain as the lightning burned their flanks and passed through their bodies. He was careful not to have the lightning go to any vital organs.
“Thanatos that’s enough,” Blizzard said placing a paw on the buck. Blizzard shouted for his Owsla. Seven rabbits quickly ran into the burrow and bowed before Blizzard and Thanatos, their noses wrinkling in disgust at the smell of burnt fur and flesh. “Take the bucks to the prison run. Distribute the does to any regular bucks that don’t have mates. Fetch Lummis and have her attend to my Owsla members.”
“Yes master,” Frostbane said before motioning to some of the Owsla to drag the bucks down to the prison run. “Oh and don’t let the prisoners be healed. They need to pay for that doe escaping. Make sure Lummis heals the does though.”
“Yes master,” the Owsla chorused before vanishing.
Blackstone woke up in his burrow. He screamed as he tried to get up only to find that his back right leg was broken. “Hold still Blackstone,” Lummis said pressing an herb concoction to the burn on Blackstone’s right flank. “Thanatos did this?”
“Yeah. Blizzard said we had to be punished for letting the doe escape. But it was part of a plan that I concocted with Fuser.”
“Where is Fuser?”
“Went after a doe that tried escaping. They’re on their way to one of those warrens that Blizzard wants to attack to warn them about how strong Blizzard is getting.”
“Are you mad Blackstone?!” Lummis shouted. “If Blizzard finds out he’ll have you and Fuser killed as well as that doe.”
“They have to be warned about Blizzard. Either way they won’t stand a chance. There’s no stopping him or Thanatos.”
Lummis shook her head sadly. Blackstone was right. There was no hope for the good rabbits and the prisoners of Brimstone. Unless Lord Frith delivered them from the jaws of the Shadow Land itself, then they would be slaves to Blizzard and Thanatos forever.
Fuser and Monza set out before dawn the next morning. They traveled for two weeks before they were surrounded by a group of Watership rabbits led by Captain Bigwig. The rabbits formed a wary but tight circle when they saw Fuser.
“It’s one of those rabbits Blizzard created!” Acorn shouted.
“Be careful of that rabbit. We’ll take them both back to Hazel-rah. Kehaar!” Bigwig shouted up into the sky.
“Get Groundsel, Campion and Lightstone and tell them to be here on the double.”
“Yah okay Mister Pigvig.” Kehaar turned and flew south to Vleflain.
“Come with us,” Bigwig ordered the two rabbits. He sent Acorn ahead to tell Hazel about the rabbits on the down. Hazel, Hyzenthlay and Fiver walked to the edge of the hill and watched Bigwig’s patrol escort the two rabbits up the slope. More rabbits came and gathered around Hazel, Hyzenthlay and Fiver as all watched the two rabbits stop before Hazel.
“Who are you?” Hazel asked the black rabbit before him.
“My name’s Fuser. This is Monza. I’m here to warn you about Blizzard.”
At Blizzard’s name a jet back buck suddenly jerked its head up and ran over to Fuser and Monza. “Did you say Blizzard?”
“Yes. Blizzard is my master and chief.”
“You were changed?” Hyzenthlay asked Fuser.
“Yes. Blizzard and his rabbits came and attacked my warren. Our chief betrayed us and sold us out. Blizzard killed him anyway. Then he took myself and a few friends hostage and slaughtered the rest of the warren. We were changed and became part of Blizzard’s Owsla. I came to warn you that Blizzard is getting stronger every day. Our warren is growing with the prisoners we’re sent on raids to capture. The rabbits we don’t capture as prisoners are destroyed.”
“How do we know you aren’t loyal to Blizzard?” Hazel asked.
“I know you won’t believe me which is why I brought Monza. She’s a doe we recently captured from a warren ten miles from Brimstone, that’s our warren. I brought her with me because I knew you would kill me otherwise. Not all of the reborn rabbits are evil Hazel.”
“How do you know my name?”
“Blizzard constantly rants about Watership Down and the other three warrens.”
“My son. He would have been a young kitten when he was taken three months ago. Where is he?” Blackavar asked.
This must be Thanatos’s real parli. I can’t tell him that his son has become evil.
“Dead. Blizzard killed him the same day he took him from Watership Down,” Fuser said.
The rabbits around him gasped in shock. “Only fifteen of us that were changed have remained good. The rest of the warren is evil like our master as they had evil already in their hearts. We aren’t enough to stand against Blizzard and the rest of Brimstone. I just came to warn you of Blizzard. Now I have to get going or else… well that doesn’t matter.”
“Wait. Did Thorn… did he suffer?” Blackavar asked Fuser.
“He died quickly,” Fuser said before he and Monza turned and began picking their way down the hill. A thick fog rolled in and when it passed Fuser and Monza were gone.
“Blackavar I’m sorry about Thorn.”
“I’ll kill him! I swear I’ll kill that blasted rabbit for murdering my son!” Blackavar shouted before turning and bolting underground to break the sad news to Mist and their kittens.
Campion, Groundsel and Lightstone immediately left their warrens and ran the entire way to Watership Down. They were breathing heavily when they crested the hill and collapsed in the grass. Hazel hopped over to them and waited for them to catch their breath before speaking. “Thank you three for coming so quickly.”
“No problem Hazel. What’s this about? Kehaar said that Bigwig and some of your rabbits captured one of Blizzard’s rabbits?”
“Yeah. They disappeared after they told us that Blizzard is getting stronger every day. They live in some warren called Brimstone but Fuser, he’s one of Blizzard’s rabbits, didn’t tell us much information about his warren. Apparently Blizzard has been sending his servants out to kidnap rabbits from other warrens and destroy these warrens to grow his own warren. And Thorn, Blackavar’s son that was kidnapped is dead.”
Lightstone, Campion and Groundsel looked at each other and shook their heads sadly. “Sorry to hear that Hazel,” Lightstone said.
“What do we do then?” Groundsel asked.
“Are the escape tunnels dug in your warrens?”
“Yes Vleflain and Efrafa are connected by a long underground tunnel and I have some Vleflains working on connecting Vleflain to Watership Down as we speak. It’s almost finished,” Groundsel said.
“What about you Lightstone?” Hazel asked.
“Nobody can harm Sunstone or any of my rabbits. It’s protected by Prince Rainbow and the magic ancient man put there long ago. Not even elil can harm us as long as we remain in the boundaries of our warren.”
“We’ll need to keep the does, kittens and the bucks that will be guarding them near the escape tunnels from now on. If war is soon to come then we must be prepared,” Hazel said looking at the three other chiefs who nodded their agreement. Then the four chiefs retired underground before beginning plans for attack the following day.
“You did well when you decided to spare Blackavar and Mist the fate of their son,” Prince Rainbow said.
“Was it you who created that fog that allowed us to escape?” Fuser asked as Monza gazed in fear at the rabbit before them.
“Yes. Because of your kindness I will protect you both when you return to Brimstone.”
“Thank you Prince Rainbow. What of Blackstone and Pecan?”
“They were hurt as were the other prisoners by Thanatos. I’m sad to say there is nothing anyone can do. He is beyond saving. Take care Fuser and Monza.”
Fuser and Monza made their way back to Brimstone. Thanatos was with the Owsla as Fuser and Monza arrived at Brimstone. “Don’t speak to Thanatos and keep your head down. Follow me,” Fuser whispered to Monza who nodded and did as she was ordered.
“Parli’s been wondering where you were,” Thanatos said hopping up to Fuser and Monza. “Is that the escaped prisoner you ran after a month ago?”
“Yes Thanatos. Where’s Blizzard so I can make my report?”
“In the prison run.” Thanatos watched Fuser and Monza as they went underground. Then he turned and ripped open the side of one of the Owsla members who was trying to attack him before going to the stream and washing the blood off his paws with a couple Owsla members escorting him.
Fuser led Monza down the runs and to the prison run where Blizzard was busy using some of the prisoners as target practice. There were already eight rabbits crumpled at his paws on the ground. Three more cowered in their burrow as they were dragged out by their ears by some of the Owsla.
“Master,” Fuser said bowing before Blizzard and using a paw to push Monza on the ground beside him. “I’ve returned with the prisoner who escaped a month ago.”
Blizzard turned his attention to his missing Owsla Officer and the doe before him. “What has kept you from returning home Fuser?” Blizzard asked icily.
“Master I was detained by some rabbits. A warren where the rabbits are pets of man.”
“A warren run by man? Oh yes I remember. I believe I came across that warren before during my travels when I was trying to find Watership Down. Run by a rabbit named Cowslip is it not?”
“Yes master. I would have returned with this doe sooner but I wanted to see if they would be fit to bring into your service.”
“And were they?”
“No master. They knew nothing of the ways of rabbits. They preferred a life of dying for man instead of behaving like true rabbits.”
“I see. Yes I do remember them being strange. They never answered any questions I asked of them.”
Fuser trembled as he hesitantly raised his head. Blizzard jerked his head and the crumpled rabbits were tossed back into their burrows. “What’s your name doe?”
“Monza. How old are you?”
“Five months old master.”
Blizzard chuckled at the cowering doe before him. “So you have taught her that I am your master and chief while you have been away have you?”
“Yes. Master… I don’t have a doe and I would like permission to have this one.”
“I see. Alright you may have her.” Blizzard dismissed Fuser and Monza vanishing further down the prison run. Fuser quickly pushed Monza to her feet and led her out of the prison run and to the Owsla run where he led her into his burrow. “This is my… I mean our burrow. You’ll be safe here now that I’m your mate. The rabbits may be evil but they have enough respect to not move in on another buck’s doe. Just keep your head down and don’t anger Thanatos or Blizzard. If you do I can’t save you and neither can Prince Rainbow.”
Monza nodded and hopped over to the far wall where she collapsed and went to sleep. Fuser watched her for a while before leaving his burrow and going to find Winterberry, Pecan and Blackstone. He found the three of them in Blackstone’s burrow.
“Fuser you’re back!” Blackstone shouted.
“Yeah I am. And Monza, the doe I went after, is here as well. I managed to get Blizzard to let her be my mate.”
“Good then she should be safe with you as long as she doesn’t piss off Thanatos or Blizzard,” Pecan said.
“Did my plan work?” Blackstone asked lowering his voice.
“Yes. The four warrens know of Blizzard becoming stronger.”
“Good. Then let’s hope that Lord Frith helps us all.”