There was one beast that had not been stirred by the commotion. He lay curled in his yurt, unable to stretch out to his full size. The feral cat was asleep, making a low purring noise and twitching his thick fluffy tail as he dreamed. His fur was light brown, but marked with stripes of black, except around his chin and the front of his neck, which were white. He was quite thick-furred, with a dense mane around his neck and chest, and pointed tufts on his eartips. This gave him the appearance of being bigger than he was, though by Juska standards he was already a giant. In fact, nobeast stood over the feral cat save yet more intimidating creatures like badgers, wildcats or the almost legendary size of the wolverines. Though he was heavy and muscled, with paws that could crush skulls and a ravenous maw of sharp teeth, he was also quite young, perhaps just leaving his teenage years. His adoptive father, Chief Wildgrass, had chosen a suitable name to fit the feline's fearsome appearance and the ease at which he wrought havoc and destruction. The feral cat was named Fiasco.
Fiasco had always been difficult to control, ever since the Juska chief had accepted him into the tribe. As a child he had been the equal size of a Juska warrior, but far more prone to tantrums, getting into fights and wandering off to get into trouble. To keep a constant watch on Fiasco's violent outbursts, a bulky ferret named Tiho was appointed as a kind of companion. Tiho was Fiasco's combat trainer, his mentor, his nurse whenever the cat got himself hurt, and Fiasco's closest friend. Tiho was quite used to dealing with Fiasco's mood swings, and his strength. The ferret knew when to be firm with the big cat, and when to just keep out of arm's reach. Fiasco would not really want to hurt Tiho, but he sometimes forgot his own strength. Playing with the young feral cat often meant playing very rough indeed. Since Fiasco was Wildgrass' son, it meant he could often get away with sleeping late. However, today he could not miss his father's meeting. As the newly declared Taggerung of the Juska, he had to be present at the war council.
"Fiasco! Fiasco, time to get up," Tiho prodded the feral cat gently. The purring took on a more predatory tone, as Fiasco drifted back to consciousness. The ferret tried prodding him again, and in return he got the cat's heavy paw shoving him nearly out of the yurt. Tiho muttered curses under his breath as he stormed back up to Fiasco's hulking form and gave his shoulder a good shove. "Fiasco! There's a war council on!"
Luminous green eyes snapped open, eyeballing the ferret with an intense, piercing stare. The feral cat rose, the fur on one side of his body all mussed and tangled. Tiho did his best to smooth down his young companion's unkempt fur, to make him look presentable. Fiasco yawned, lazily flicking his tail as Tiho attended to him. The feral cat had taken his title of Taggerung with little surprise; after all, who was better qualified as the Juska's most powerful warrior? Fiasco had enjoyed the celebrations that had taken place, where he had been honoured by the whole tribe. Now the tribe was going to war, and the Taggerung had to attend the war council, even though he was so young. Fiasco's stomach growled, and he gave Tiho another one of his searching stares.
"Food?" Fiasco growled hopefully. Tiho grinned and held the flap of the yurt open. The yurt itself was nowhere near big enough to let the cat stand up, so he had to crawl out all fours, straightening up as he came out into the sunshine, and stretching his cramped body. Fiasco licked his dry lips and padded over to the cooking fires, where some fish for the Taggerung had been prepared. He scarfed down his meal messily, licking bits of fish off his chin as Tiho fussed around him, trying to apply the tribe's green and ochre-orange war paint to his arms and back. They both already had the wavy, grasslike tattoos on their faces, applied to the bridges of their noses. Fiasco waited impatiently as Tiho fetched his favourite weapon. The Juska made spears, machetes, bows and arrows themselves, but sometimes scavenged weapons from their enemies. Fiasco had taken for himself a morning star; a club with a long, thick handle and a wicked looking spiked head. Fiasco could already kill and maim with his bare paws; with the morning star his destructive tendencies were made into a form of art.
"Come on now, Fiasco!" Tiho urged him, shoving the heavy weapon into Fiasco's paws. The feral cat wielded it with ease, and a playful smile crossed his face as he gave it a casual swing. It hissed as the deadly spiked head moved through the air. Tiho's exasperated prodding eventually got Fiasco moving, his steady lumbering gait drawing him to the meeting area where Wildgrass and Rheda were speaking. Tiho followed him to the war council, he was a warrior with some seniority himself, and had trained many other beasts besides Fiasco. The cat swaggered a bit as he passed by some of the younger warriors. Some of them looked up to him as a kind of role model, and the feral cat loved being the popular one.
"Fiasco Juskaverde Taggerung, my Chief!" Tiho announced as the two warriors entered the yurt of Chief Wildgrass. The both bowed their heads before the weasel, who seemed quite unamused by his son's late appearance. Fiasco, however, straightened his back and looked rather proud to hear his new title being announced.
"So, our Taggerung decides to join us," Wildgrass said. Tiho winced, hoping the chief was not too displeased, since it was the ferret that was supposed to keep Fiasco on time. Every beast knew if Tiho didn't keep Fiasco on the right track, the cat wouldn't turn up to anything the tribe did. He would probably miss his own betrothal, if they ever found a suitable cat to be his mate. Wildgrass sighed, but did not press the issue any further. "As we were saying, the beasts will likely accept my demand. I shall take a few warriors to their gates and speak with them. Rheda, I wish for you to come with me too. I do not wish to let them know the strength of our numbers, though. Fiasco, you will lead an ambush group and keep hidden near the road. If the thieves refuse to give up the stone, you will kill any beasts trying to get in or out of the fortress."
"Why can't I come with you, Dad?" Fiasco demanded, looking disappointed. He did not want to sit in the bushes just watching from a distance. He wanted to be standing by his father, intimidating the thieves with his menacing glare.
Wildgrass frowned at the interruption. "I don't want them to see you just yet, Fiasco. In war, it is best to appear weak when we are strong. If they do not know we have a Taggerung, they will underestimate us to their peril."
Fiasco opened his mouth to answer back, but Tiho subtly put his footpaw on the feral cat's tail. Fiasco shut his mouth, getting the hint. It would not do to start an argument with Wildgrass at a time like this. Fiasco knew the ways of the Juska; deceive the enemy, blind him with his tears and frustration, and be elusive when the enemy is stronger. But the feral cat preferred his own way; he wanted a head-to-head confrontation. That was how he would live up to his name. With that matter settled, there seemed little else to discuss. Wildgrass gave Fiasco permission to choose the beasts he wanted in his ambush group. Tiho would be going of course, but Fiasco had a few ideas of his own. The feral cat left the yurt and approached the group of young warriors nearby.
"Your blades are not bloody enough," Fiasco said, hefting his morning star. "I need some real killers by my side to lay an ambush on the road. Fangin, I want you on my team."
Fangin Ro stood up and grinned. "You'll want a scout too, Fiasco. Let's take Jirri, he's got sharp eyes, and he's eager for his first kill."
Fangin gestured to Jirri, and winked at the weasel conspiratorially. Fiasco looked over Jirri and considered him for a moment. The Kors were a good warrior family, but this young scout had not yet killed. Still, if Fangin trusted Jirri to be a proper warrior by their side, Fiasco would let him prove himself. Fiasco nodded, and beckoned to Jirri. "Alright, you can come too. But you better be ready to kill something! The Chief wants anybeast coming along the road dead."
As Fiasco sorted out his ambush group, Wildgrass assembled a few warriors to go with him and Rheda to the fortress. He watched as his son and his friends sauntered confidently out of the camp, on their way to set up the ambush. He sighed, and looked at Rheda. "If there's one thing I know my Fiasco can do, it's make trouble. So, this job should be perfect for him. Now, let us go see how reasonable these beasts are."
The warriors and their chief moved out towards the fortress. The camp was some way off, hidden from the view of prying eyes. The rest of the Juska watched and waited, preparing their weapons. The meeting with the inhabitants of the fortress today would decide their fate. Peace, or war. As Fiasco led his band of warriors through the forest, he hoped above all else for war. A cruel smile played about his muzzle as he marched onward.