The sound of a loud horn echoed around the Cabin on the Cliff, causing everyone inside to jump from their fur piles and grab their weapons.
“Whyyyy,” a tired Patrick whined. The horn sounded again, seemingly in reply. “Why are you doing this to me? Please stop."
Unlike everyone else, Patrick didn’t jump up and immediately grab his True Iron Maul. Instead, he rolled around in his fur pile, clutching his head and complaining.
“What is that horn for?” Alex asked James.
James shrugged. “I’m not sure. I know the Martyrs used to sound a horn when it was dinner time, but they haven't done that in a while. Besides, this horn sounds different,” the two exchanged a glance as both worried that they were under attack. They rushed out the door, leaving Lilly responsible for getting Patrick up.
“We need to find Torunn. He will know what is going on!” James yelled as the duo rushed down the Tower of Stairs.
When they reached the ground the scene unfolding before them caused them to skid to a halt. Freydis ran about, yelling and crashing into the guard towers. Dreng barked orders at the other Martyrs, telling them to give her space but to try and protect the towers. Amidst the calamity, James spotted Torunn and started in his direction. Alex followed. Torunn noticed their approach and waved them to a halt, before jogging over to meet them.
“Don't go near. You are not strong enough,” Torunn cautioned.
“What’s going on? Are we under attack?” James nervously asked.
Torunn blinked. “No. We are not under attack, brother.”
Alex interjected impatiently, “Then what is going on!”
James put a hand on Alex’s shoulder. He knew that if Torunn was not worried then they shouldn’t be either. A loud cracking noise broke into the conversation. Everyone looked in the direction it came from just in time to watch the right guard tower collapse.
Torunn turned to James and smiled. “Our mother is having a litter, brother!”
James's eyes widened. Frey was having babies? He didn’t even know she was pregnant. Looking back, she had been absent for a while. The last time he saw her was when she came over to calm Noma down, but even then he didn’t get much time with her. Not knowing what else to do, he hugged the excited Torunn.
When the calamity ended, everyone gathered around the wreckage that was once a guard tower. James’s party, the majority of the Martyrs, and even Noma waited in silence for Frey to climb from the wreckage. The only people that weren't present were Frode and Michael. James was sure Frode would be here if he hadn’t given James his word that he would heal his brother.
Just as James started to worry, a large wooden wall tilted upward from the pile. Frey’s large furry hand could be seen underneath it, lifting the wood up, but not off of her. Suddenly, something shot out from the gap in the wreckage that Frey created.
“A little cub!” Lilly exclaimed excitedly.
More Martyr cubs shot out from the hole, except they weren't really small at all. They were slightly smaller than Torunn was when James first met him - about the size of a shorter adult human - but by no means small. James's excitement turned to horror as the first Martyr cub to emerge from the wreckage ran full speed into the adult Martyr standing next to James.
The village returned to madness once again. Martyr cubs streamed from the wreckage and ran around with the same energy as a kitten on catnip.
James looked over to Torunn and smiled, placing a hand on his shoulder. The Martyr race was growing once again. Torunn turned to meet his game brother’s eyes but was violently tackled by two of the Martyr cubs. James panicked and turned his attention back to the wreckage just in time to see a brand spanking new Martyr cub soaring through the air, heading right towards James like a furry missile of destruction.
James couldn’t help but laugh as the innocent Martyr cub did its best to clobber him. James finally let go of the stress he was holding. He mentally set aside his to-do list and let himself focus on something else for once. James gritted his teeth and used his new strength to toss the Martyr cub off him. The cub soared through the air and skidded to the ground in a heap. Just when James thought that he had accidentally hurt the cub, he was proven wrong. The cub hopped up onto all fours, looked around to find his target, and gave James the same exact mischievous grin that Torunn used to.
A few hours later, James lay on the ground panting. Patrick crawled over to him.
“Holy crap, that was fun,” Patrick said in between breaths.
James laughed. “Yeah, it was.”
“So that was how Torunn was before I got here, huh?”
“I think one of them likes me... or hates me, I can’t tell.” Patrick laughed.
“Which one?” James asked, also laughing.
They both pulled themselves up into sitting positions. Patrick looked out across the devastation that the Martyr cubs had caused and pointed to one particularly fat cub. The cub was average in height for a Martyr cub, and not actually fat in a general sense, but did have a distinct beer belly.
“Hmm, I wonder what Frey is going to name them all,” James replied before standing up. “I’m going to find out!”
Patrick collapsed back onto the ground and lay out like a starfish. James set out to find and congratulate Frey.
As he walked past the only standing Martyr tent, Lilly popped her head out.
“Is it over? Are they gone?” she frantically asked. She had sticks caught in her hair and her face was streaked with dirt. Her eyes darted all around, making her look paranoid.
James laughed and swept his hands across the land. Scattered all about in random positions, were 10 exhausted Martyr cubs.
“Yeah, I think it is safe now.”
“Finally!” She exhaled, visually relieved that the Martyrs had finally tuckered themselves out. Frey rounded a corner and came into James's vision. He watched as she picked up a Martyr cub by its foot and slung its limp body over her shoulder. She repeated this action until she had a stack of sleeping Martyr cubs draped across her shoulder.
“Congratulations!” James said as he entered her range of hearing. He made sure his voice wasn’t too loud. He was sure she didn’t want to deal with any more excitement for the day.
“Thank you, James,” Frey said with a tired smile, “It is good to see you, but I have to find a place for our cubs to sleep.”
James nodded, deciding to bother her about their names at a more appropriate time, and set out to find Dreng. He stopped though when Frey called back to him.
“Sorry about your building, James!”
James dismissed her with a smile and a wave. Having a litter of Martyr cubs was better than any building he could build. Besides, he could use the wood for new projects, which is why he needed to find Dreng. He knew the chieftain would want to discuss construction to make sure the town was as safe as possible for his new litter.
James wandered around his little village. The ground was mostly torn up, and Martyr cub footprints covered everything - even a portion of the last guard tower.
“Did they try to run up the building?” James said with a shake of his head and a smirk.
The guard tower in front of James was now the only building they had in the town, besides the Tower of Stairs and the Cabin on the Cliff. Even the Martyr tents were all torn down by the rampaging newborns - an impressive accomplishment considering how sturdy the tents were. The canvass that made up their walls was thick and spread so tightly they almost felt like they were made from a metal. James also noticed that his resource piles had even been scattered about; pieces of wood and small boulders were everywhere.
James let out a breath. It was odd, but soaking up the destruction laid before him made him happy. The Martyrs were growing in numbers. They were generally safe. His brother was at least here and not missing anymore. Once he recovered, everything would be perfect. James looked up, just in time to catch a snowflake on his tongue.