So, this is a possible beginning to 'The Challenger', my next project. I may add other possible beginnings to this later, cause I have a few. Then I'll make a poll and you guys can tell me which you like better.

As you'll find out later in the story, the Noonvalian Alliance is what's been defending Mossflower from the north for five hundred seasons. It's a group of united towns centering around the city of Noonvale, which has developed into a trading hub and has an impressive military for a northern settlement. They call themselves the Guardians of the North, which is exactly what they do. Cluny takes war to them first for fear of them stopping his plans to destroy Redwall.

Hope you enjoy these possible first 813 words :D

Dear Vivan, leader of the Noonvalian Alliance,

I trust it has been a good autumn and winter for you and the Alliance? I’m writing this in early spring, even though I’ll be lucky it should reach you by the onset of summer. That said, I wish you a peaceful spring. I’m sending this letter to you as a formal invitation to visit, you know you are more than welcome anytime, but you always seem to be buried in your work unless I address you directly. Truly, a more dedicated leader I’ve not seen.

But honestly old friend, it’s been over thirteen seasons since we last met, and I miss you. If you have need of anything, I’m always willing to help, all you must do is ask. Again, I wish you the best of springs, and do come down for a visit this fall.

You need a rest. Though I doubt you’ll take one, with the additions to the Library since you left.

Father Mortimore of Redwall Abbey.

Red stains covered the parchment, thanks to the bloody paws of its recipient. The black rat read over it stoically with his blood-red eyes, before rolling it up and dropping it in the satchel under his dark blue cloak.

He withdrew a beautifully made katana from the corpse of the messenger, a young shrew or vole. The uncertainty between which species it had been irritated him, but the only indication of this that he showed was to wipe the blood from his gleaming blade with more vigorous strokes than usual.

He sheathed it next to its equally beautiful twin, across his back, before lifting his hood over his head. As he strode through the northern forest, his booted footpaws barely made a sound.

The rat took his time getting to his destination, he wasn’t in a hurry. Why should he be? In fact he almost seemed to be taking the long way about.

When he finally reached the vermin camp, everybeast gave him rather wide berth as he walked toward the central tent. At least, they all got out of his way, and no greetings were exchanged.

He lifted the tent flap, stopping just inside it and looking at the young rat .. not ten seasons old, that lounged in an engraved chair, his dirty feet on a map laid out on the desk. The child scowled at him. “Watcha want?”

“Get off the chief’s desk, Vitch.” The older rat’s voice was resigned, as if he had been through this many times.

The little rat sneered at him. “Watcha gonna do to make me, huh? If you lay a finger on me ..”

“I know, you’ll have me flogged. But if the chief finds you’ve made a mess a his papers ..”

“He’ll what? Dad’s not gonna do nothin’ to me.”

The black rat let out a sigh of longsuffering. “Where’s the chief?”

“Hellgates if I know.” The child giggled rather dementedly.

“Have you been in his wine again?” The older beast asked it in a disgusted voice, for Vitch’s slightly slurred tone was giving it away. “He doesn’t like that.”

Vitch stood up with a clatter, snarling, “Dontcha dare tell him! Yer just a shadow, never ferget it! Yer seen but not heard, an’ not ta be seen alot either! An’ I can make yer life miserable, so ya jist keep yer mouth shut an’ be what ya is. Cause yer never gonna be more’n that. Ya was named Shadow fer a reason!”

Shadow pinned his ears, before muttering, “forget it.”

He turned and walked from the tent, slipping into the shadows behind it. Shadows, just like him. And truly, they made it sound derogatory, but he knew better.

He walked into his own small tent, sitting down on the bed and slowly pulling out the bloodstained parchment.

A message from the leader of Redwall, eh? Honestly, what sort of naïve fool was he, to send a single beast with a letter? Didn’t he know beasts died on journeys?

Shadow didn’t exactly feel bad about what he’d done, though he hadn’t actually intended to kill the Redstone king’s messenger, he’d simply thought it was a beast of Noonvale taking off for reinforcements.

But maybe it was a good thing Vitch had been in the Chief’s tent, making a fool of himself. The Chief could get uptight about accidents and unexpected developments.

Shadow slipped the parchment back into his satchel, laying back on his bed, little more than a cot.

After all, didn’t they all say he was a shadow? Seen but not heard, and rarely seen at that?

It wasn’t his job to come forward with every piece of information he found. Let the Chief keep on with his plans, his wine, and his dirty little son. What he didn’t know wouldn’t kill him, the Redstone Kings waited for conflict to come to them.