“Kosetsu?” Shingetsu breathed as his snowfall’s scent once again filled his nostrils after so long. He’d recognize his mate anywhere but it was hard for him to believe that she was now free from her icy prison that Frith had trapped her in for so long. She looked the same as ever if not a little shaky on her paws from being held in one form for centuries. Her emerald eyes shone with happiness as she looked upon her mate. The new moon and his snowfall were together again.
“Shingetsu how I’ve missed you,” Kosetsu said nuzzling noses with her mate before collapsing to the ground.
“How is the warren?” Shingetsu asked Shadepaw who had just returned from informing the rabbits that their master’s snowfall was free.
“They appear to be improving master. Some are still sick and shaky but they’re recovering in their burrows. Hopefully they’ll be right as snow once they’ve had time to recover.”
Shingetsu nodded and sighed. It had been a long six months for him trapped in Brimstone with Blizzard draining him of his power and energy. Though Blizzard was dead and he had returned home to the Shadow Land he was still weak from his ordeal and would need time to heal and get over what he went through. However he knew he’d never forget what Frith and Blizzard had done to him but at least that crazy rabbit was dead and wouldn’t trouble anyone anymore.
“How are my seers?”
“Sleeping master in Moonblossom’s burrow. None of them have awakened from their slumber.”
“Let them be. They used up a lot of energy to kill Blizzard and free me. Come find me when they awaken.”
“Yes master. What about Kosetsu?”
“Help me take her to the frozen pool. We both need to heal and rest. I don’t want anyone bothering her or me as I’m afraid I’m still weak and shaky.”
Shadepaw nodded and he helped his master support Kosetsu and the three rabbits made their way to the frozen pool. Shingetsu and Shadepaw helped Kosetsu onto the ice where it cracked and they fell into the water. Shingetsu quickly threw on his heating ability and the water turned hot so that Kosetsu could get some warmth after being trapped in ice for centuries. Shadepaw clambered out onto the ice and walked back to shore which was only a few yards from his master.
“Do you need anything else master?”
“No Shadepaw. Please spread word around the warren that I don’t want anyone bothering me or Lady Kuu. Not even Prince Rainbow if he comes for a visit. And thank you,” he called at the retreating captain. Shadepaw paused and turned back to nod before making his way back to Inle Warren.
Two rabbits were playing a game of bobstones while two other rabbits sat on either side of the challenger watching the game intently. Bigwig, Hawkbit and Dandelion had reunited with Silver after coming to the Shadow Land and were pleased to see that their old friend and Owsla member was doing well. Silver and Bigwig had both been officers of Sandleford Warren before they had left due to Fiver’s vision that man would destroy Sandleford. They had been the only two Owsla members to flee with the outcasts; a group of rabbits not strong, clever or fast enough to get positions in the Owsla and had gone in search of a new home in the high hills which had been another of Fiver’s visions.
Their journey had been plagued with danger from the day they set out for a new home. They had almost been arrested by Captain Holly, Fiver and Pipkin had nearly been killed by a dog, Bigwig had nearly lost his life in Shining Wire Warren, then he’d volunteered to go into Efrafa to help bring back a group of does for Watership Down and had nearly been killed in the fight with Woundwort when Efrafa had attacked his warren. The veteran of many fights and Owsla Captain had grown old and tired and after their last battle with a mad rabbit created by Frith at a warren called Brimstone he had chosen to die rather than have immortality as offered by the Black Rabbit. It was finally nice to be able to just relax and not have to worry about any more battles. Hawkbit and Dandelion who had been in the Watership Down Owsla and have become friends of Bigwig had followed their friend and Captain to the Shadow Land for as Hawkbit muttered to Dandelion while they had sat amidst the destruction of Brimstone “someone’s got to bother old Biggy in death and it will be no fun without him here,” which had earned a snort of amusement from Dandelion and a cuff from Bigwig before all three rabbits had died and followed Shingetsu into the Shadow Land where they had been turned over to a rabbit named Dawn before Shingetsu had gone off on important business.
“Have you seen Hazel Silver?” Bigwig asked.
“No Bigwig I haven’t. He’s dead?”
“Yes. He died in the Battle of Brimstone.”
“That’s a shame. What happened?”
“Hazel, Groundsel, Campion and Lightstone ordered all seers to be killed if they were born into any part of the alliance. Hazel told us to kill Spot but I couldn’t do it. I let Fiver take Spot and disappear and nearly got killed by Captain Holly and couple other bucks. I had to kill Holly and fatally injure the two rabbits that were attacking me before I could get away. Then I made my way to Brimstone as fast as I could.”
“Bigwig came in to save the day,” Dandelion said.
“That’s Biggy for you. Always leading the charge into danger. Taking risks. While he’d be another Rabscuttle and Hazel another El-ahrairah,” Hawkbit said.
“Anyway,” Bigwig said never taking his eyes off the game as he waited for Silver’s guess, “I leapt on Blizzard and did him a good number if I do say so myself when two of Blizzard’s rabbits jumped me. Hawkbit and Dandelion here took one while I took the other and then we dodged attacks and weaved through the enemy, dashing hither and thither like foxes attacking as many rabbits as we could. Then the sky darkened and Frith was blocked out. Lady Kuu held Blizzard in place as an arrow shot into Blizzard and he vanished. Then the Black Rabbit offered us a choice of immortality or death and I chose death and of course these two knuckleheads followed me to the grave. I always said those two would be the death of me and it seems I was right. But it seems they are determined to follow me wherever I go.”
“Why Biggy don’t you know you can’t get rid of us easily?” Hawkbit asked.
“We’re stuck to you like two fleas to your skin mate,” Dandelion said.
“Lovely,” Bigwig said rolling his eyes as Silver laughed.
Fiver woke up and looked around before getting shakily to his feet. For a moment he didn’t know where he was. Memories of the fight with Hazel and the others in Shining Wire Warren and Hazel’s words that all seers were now exiled from the warren changed to grabbing Spot and vanishing before his son was killed and flashed to the battle of Brimstone. The last thing he remembered was the Golden Arrow glowing with moonlight disappearing into Blizzard before he and the other three seers fainted. He felt the stone under his paws and looked around the burrow before realizing they must have been taken back to Inle Warren in the Shadow Land.
Does that mean that Shingetsu is free or is he…
Not wanting to wake the others Fiver slowly made his way out of the burrow and into the run. A phantom appeared from the shadows and stood in front of him before turning and walking up the run, pausing only to motion with his head for Fiver to follow. The phantom rabbit said nothing as they went through the various runs of the warren before stopping before a stone wall. Fiver just looked at the wall in confusion before turning to the rabbit and shaking his head.
The phantom rabbit placed a paw on the stone wall and gold letters appeared before him. Fiver looked at the writing. It wasn’t lapine, he knew that even though rabbits couldn’t write down their language, but he was surprised he could read it.
Blood and mind, mind and blood
Merge together beneath the storm
Beneath the storm the wind howls
The one of shadow is the eye
The eye of light brings forth the dawn.
The words vanished and a hole appeared before Fiver. The phantom rabbit entered and Fiver followed with slow steps as the stone became whole behind him and they vanished from the Shadow Land.
“Shingetsu is it really you?”
“It is Kosetsu. My beautiful snowfall I’ll kill Frith before he touches you again.”
Kosetsu shook her head and smiled at her new moon. “Shingetsu you know as well as I Frith can’t be killed. It’s impossible to kill a god or goddess.”
“I know but I’ll be damned if he imprisons you for another five hundred years!”
“Shingetsu you couldn’t have known that Frith would lie to you and hold me captive for five hundred years. Even for a seer seeing that far into the future is impossible.”
They climbed out of the frozen pool and Shingetsu led his mate back to his warren. They went through the runs until they came to a hollow stone burrow with an entrance to the mountain outside. Kosetsu lay down and went to sleep. As Shingetsu made to follow suit a rabbit came running towards him. The rabbit quickly bowed before rising to speak.
“What is it Timothy?” Timothy and the other rabbits who had guarded Spot had brought the young buck to Inle Warren when they had gotten news that their master had been freed of his bonds.
“Master I have bad news.”
“Did Blizzard survive after all?” Shingetsu’s voice cracked and he glanced worriedly back at his mate.
“No master. Fiver is missing.”
“Have you searched the warren?”
“Yes master. No trace of Fiver and no rabbit has seen him since he and the other seers were taken to Moonblossom’s burrow.”
“If Kosetsu asks where I’ve gone tell her I have warren business to deal with and I’ll try to be back soon.”
“Yes master. But where are you going to go?”
“Perhaps Fiver went to Blackstone and his rabbits. They did offer him and the others to live there if Blizzard was destroyed after all. I should check on them any way to make sure they’re alright and did promise Blackstone a visit.”
Timothy nodded and watched as his master went out the hole to the mountainside before disappearing down the path. Then he settled down to serve Kosetsu in any way possible in case she woke up while Shingetsu was gone. Lady Kuu please don’t let anything else happen to my master.
Thanatos screamed in anger and with a surge of power moved the rock that held him pinned up and out of the hole before it burst into pieces and rained upon the cowering Brimstone rabbits. Thanatos floated up into the air and came to rest lightly on the ground as his eyes blazed with hatred and anger. He turned to stare at the cowering whimpering rabbits before him. Shaking to rid himself of the dirt that was on his fur he raised his paw and saw a ball of darkness hovering above it. He flung the ball at the nearest rabbit that screamed in pain and fell to the ground jerking and withering as it screamed in agony. The other rabbits dared not move or look at their young master but they jerked at their comrade’s screams of pain. Finally the rabbit stopped squealing and lay still. The rabbits watched in horror and fascination as a silver collar appeared around the unlucky rabbit’s neck.
Thanatos smiled and did the same to the other rabbits before him. He watched in pleasure as the collars appeared around each of the twenty rabbits before him. “Now that should control you better. Now to make sure this works…”
Thanatos looked at the first rabbit who had received his punishment. “Hmm now what I can order to you to do that will test this new power of mine?” He sat and scratched an ear in thought. He caught a movement out of the corner of his eye and summoned the creature to him. It was a doe of Brimstone. His smiled turned sadistic and his eyes seemed to flash in excitement and anticipation. “Kill your mate Claw.”
The doe stared helplessly at Thanatos before turning pleading eyes on Claw. “Claw please don’t,” she begged. Claw glanced uncertainly at Thanatos. He loved his doe that was named Thyme and didn’t want to harm her. She had already been through enough with being on the front of Brimstone’s lines with the other does at Blizzard’s orders and didn’t want to see her dead.
“No,” he said. “I won’t kill Thyme and you can’t make me.”
Thanatos’s smile just grew wider. At Claw’s disobedience the collar tightened around his throat. The nineteen other slaves watched as four bracelets appeared each of Claw’s legs and also tightened. Claw fell to the ground but refused to raise a paw towards his mate. At his continued disobedience the bracelets and collar began digging into the fur and cutting into the flesh and muscle. Blood began appearing as cuts slashed across Claw’s body. He choked out a squeal as he fell to the ground and began suffocating. His nostrils flared for air and his eyes widened in terror and fear. “Oh did I forget? The longer you resist me the worse the pain gets.”
Claw’s terrified and painful squealing filled the air as his body jerked and twitched. More and more cuts began appearing on the helpless rabbit as he struggled in pain. “Please! Please master!”
“Are you going to kill your mate like I ordered?”
Claw shook his head and blood and froth sprang from his mouth. He felt a terrible pain in his lungs. It felt like his body was on fire. The collar and bracelets tightened ever slowly. Finally Claw knew he had no choice. Dragging his body towards his mate tears formed in his eyes as he sank his fangs into Thyme’s throat and tore the fur, flesh and muscle as her dying scream filled the air. The bracelets disappeared and the collar released and settled back loosely on Claw’s neck leaving him panting as he sucked in lungful after lungful of precious air to his burning body.
“The bracelets are invisible. They appear when you disobey me. Resist me, betray me, disobey me, or try to kill me and you will too suffer Claw’s punishment. If you continue to disobey me you will die. Now swear your blood, lives and allegiance to me.”
Trembling the twenty rabbits quickly did as their master asked; the collars slowly beginning to tighten in case they didn’t swear their lives to their master. Thanatos smiled and jumped atop a stump and looked upon his slaves. “I’m glad you finally saw reason and did not hesitate to answer your master. Now get up all of you and start moving. We have a new warren to dig and more does to capture.” Obediently and dejectedly the rabbits followed their master into the night.
Shingetsu came upon Blackstone and his rabbits on the bank of a river, not unlike the one that the Sandleford rabbits had crossed on their way to Watership Down seasons ago. It had only been a day and he couldn’t believe they had managed to travel so quickly with twenty normal rabbits. Blackstone looked pleased to see the Black Rabbit and bowed, his rabbits following their chief’s lead.
“Shingetsu you are well I hope?”
“I’m still a bit weak but will be fine when the full moon appears. The swim in the frozen pool has helped me a little as well as the number of dead rabbits who entered Inle Warren. Sadly I’m not here for a social call. Have you seen Fiver?”
“No Shingetsu. I’m afraid I haven’t.” Blackstone turned to his rabbits and looked at them curiously wondering if Fiver had slipped among their ranks and they just hadn’t noticed. Except for Birch, none of his rabbits had seen Fiver after all or the other three seers so they wouldn’t know what the seers looked like.
“It appears they haven’t either. What happened?”
“Fiver is missing from Inle Warren. None of my rabbits have seen him so I wondered if he had come here to join you though I hadn’t thought he would willingly leave his friends and fellow seers now that they are exiled on pain of death from their warrens. That’s why I came here to check to see if perhaps he had met up with you.”
“I’m sorry Shingetsu but neither my rabbits nor myself know where he is.”
Shingetsu nodded but looked worried. “Well if he shows up here tell him he is to appear in Inle Warren immediately and report to me.”
Blackstone nodded and bowed again. “I’ll make sure of that Shingetsu. Birch and I will keep an eye out.”
Shingetsu nodded in thanks and disappeared back to Inle Warren where he crept back to a sleeping Kosetsu and drifted into sleep.
Fiver followed the phantom rabbit as it proceeded down a forest path. The branches of the trees on either side merged together creating a forested tunnel and blocking out the sky. Fiver had no idea where he was being led, where he was or even who the phantom rabbit was that said not a word the entire time. Finally the path stopped at a small field and Fiver shut his eyes at the sudden bright light that seemed to emanate from all around the field and into his very being. Cowering on the ground with his ears flat against his skull while his eyes carefully stared at the ground below him he heard a voice out of the light. It seemed to be full of laughter.
“Welcome Greystorm. We have long been expecting you.”