Chapter 1

There once was a slumbering land where geese and ganders liked to watch and grumble and comment every misery from the safe confines of their homes. Far to the west lived the eagles, far to the east dwelled the bears. Roughly in the middle was the Animal Collective. The realm of geese and ganders was a part of it.

But that was the Old Division. An obsolete definition of the world. Animals could settle anywhere and enjoy various freedoms nowadays. In this new and connected age, everyone had access to all known information. Or so it seemed.

Jack the Fox was a traveller by nature. He never spoke too much, yet animals in his presence felt as if his scarce words weighed in thousands. He silently paced through the serene forests and rolling hills, stopping on the highest of them to rest and beholding the land below.

He saw rising smoke in the east. A hint of brewing trouble.

"The bears are at it again," said an old ram. It appeared as if he had emerged out of nowhere, yet Jack had spotted him with the corner of his eye a while ago. He didn't respond, carefully observing the smoulder being twisted by vicious winds.

The ram sat next to him, staring covetously at the fox's backpack. Jack understood the gesture. But he didn't have any food with him. And he certainly didn't call for company. So without uttering anything, he set out to a village below.

The ram followed, though not for long. Jack could thus enjoy those moments of quietness he treasured the most. He was guessing these would be few and far between very soon.

The settlement stretched before him. An orderly array of streets with houses made of wood and iron. Processed greenish leaf gas puffed out of every chimney, harmonious with nature itself. Wheelicles, slender four-wheeled vehicles powered by leaf gas, paraded on the dirt-paths. A peaceful sight.

Yet he didn't even arrive there.

"Stranger," someone grunted ominously. Like he issued a command. Definitely a bear. Haughty and peremptory. Jack stopped. Turned around to confirm his theory. An imposing grizzly towered above him like a titan. "You must have heard of the unrest in the east. Have you travelled from there, perchance?"

"I came from the north," Jack replied truthfully.

"I see," the bear snarled, eyeing the fox like a fine meal. "Well, stranger. We're not exactly common here, are we? An advice. Be careful what sides you pick. There are many who lie and you don't want to be swayed by liars, trust me. Animals can get big-mouthed sometimes. Now they're safe and sound, but mark my words. Things change. Maybe one day, the contested grounds will be here." He paused, squinting to accentuate his message of warning. "And we bears remember who is a friend and who is a foe. We remember and act accordingly."

Jack shrugged. He wasn't used to threats. "Thanks for the info," he responded and passed by the grizzly, pacing down to the village. While most would have pondered the encounter and shivered upon realizing the undertones, he didn't even flinch. The strongest always force their will on others.