By Ailannah

"Bandits, from the west!"

It was that call that roused Penny from her slumber. The sable fox girl rubbed her eyes sleepily and sat up on her straw bed. The stone walls of her grandfather's home did little to mask the sounds of panic from outside. This was the third raid in a month. The village was formed of poor farmers who struggled to survive the winters. With nothing left the bandits raiding a third time had to be less about goods and more about terrorizing the populace. Many villagers had lost loved ones to the raids, Penny's parents having fallen in the fight.

Fear gripped the young vulpine as she threw off her blankets. The air was cold and Penny easily saw her breath as she rose. The fear that gripped her spine did little to warm her as she ran across her small bedroom to her wardrobe. With shaking hands the young woman gathered a warm dress and a knit shawl. For a moment her fingertips brushed past her mother's leather armor. A rend in the surface reminded her that her mother had died a hero. Her hero.

Fighting back tears and terror, Penny dressed and ran out of her room. Her grandfather, Elder Garrow, was the leader of the small village and must have been in the small community building where he held council meetings. Penny knew she had to find him. Gloved paws pressed against the wood door that held their home closed. It was pushed open slightly, just enough for Penny to glance outdoors with one eye. Firelight lit that single orb golden as the young vulpine took in the sight around her. Fires were lit towards the west as townsfolk prepared to defend the village.

The coast clear, Penny took off through the door at a full sprint. Her boot-clad feet crunched against frost and frozen earth as she sprinted towards the community building. All around her villagers were arming themselves while children sobbed in horror at another invasion. The last bandit raid had taken almost all of their supplies. As it was they could barely survive the winter without starving. If this final raid went to plan then they would have nothing left. They wouldn't even have enough to travel to another village in hopes of finding safety there.

Penny stumbled through the door of the community building and she barely caught herself before she fell. Large hands caught her by the shoulders, startling her. Elder Garrow smiled down at her.

"Grandfather, we have to hide. This is where they'll attack first. I can't lose you." the girl cried out as she stared back at that smiling face. Garrow shook his head. Penny trembled against his touch but the much larger fox held her firm. "My little one, if I were to run and hide who would protect our people? I cannot and will not leave them in their most fragile hour," the much older and far more grey vulpine replied. Sorrow and exhaustion haunted his eyes despite the smile worn on his muzzle. Penny prepared to plead with him, but an explosion cut off her words and rocked the ground beneath them. Elder Garrow pushed her further inside and shut the door. He barred it with a thick piece of wood and motioned for Penny to run in further.

The sound of fighting touched the young fox's ears as she ran. Her grandfather was not far behind her. He quickly ushered her into his office and barred the door shut there as well. "Grandfather-" Penny started, but Garrow stopped her. With strong arms, he pushed back a bookshelf that held carved wood. Behind it was a door made of metal. "Hide in here, Penny. Do not come out no matter what." Penny tried to argue but she found herself being pushed inside. Within was a small hiding space fit with a pile of cushions. Dried meat hung from the ceiling and a bucket of water was placed next to the back wall. It had been prepared for this occasion. As Penny was moved inside she realized this had been his plan all along. Elder Garrow was going to do all in his power to make sure his granddaughter was safe.

Outside she heard the sound of the bookshelf being shoved back into place. Penny's ears fell as soon after she heard fighting, though distant, surround the entire building. The young fox curled up and she squeezed her eyes tight. It wasn't until the morning came that she found herself with enough light to see a small hidden trap door in the hiding space. With a few good kicks she knocked it out and it led her out into a small storage space full of supplies. Penny fled the confines of the closet then froze. Before her, face down on the stone, was her grandfather. Hot tears filled the girl's eyes as she stared at Elder Garrow as he lay silent before her. It was then that she knew what she must do.

She would gather any survivors. Penny would protect them with all they had left.

It took another week to repair what the bandits had destroyed. Those who perished were buried and those who were wounded were treated. Penny gathered her mother's armor as well as her father's old hunting bow. During their repairs, she had gathered all the gold left in the village to hire two adventurers who had agreed to help her with one final invasion. Only this time the three of them were going to take the invasion to the bandits.

Penny led Jorge, the canine arm's expert, and Glena, the feline rogue, from the village up into the nearby hills, where the bandits held their camp. Luckily for the three, the bandits had no idea they were in danger. During the cover of night, the three crept into the encampment. Penny spied her target and knocked an arrow. While their aim was the bandit king Kradik, her sights were set on their supply bunker. This was their diversion. Glena threw a bottle of oil at the supply bunker. It shattered on impact and was soon met with a flaming arrow. Soon Penny would fight for their victory, defeat the bandit king, and take back their goods to survive the winter and strengthen their village further.

While panic swept through the bandit camp, the three crept inside the bandit king's stronghold. Soon the three found themselves faced with the king himself. "So you are the attackers?" he snorted as they came face to face. Penny smiled back at him pleasantly. "No, we are the heroes here to end your reign of terror," she replied. That was the queue for Jorge to rush forward. The king was a towering Ursine and in his hands he held a huge hammer. While Kradik blocked the first blow of the canine's greatsword Glena found herself attacked by the bandit's second in command. The feline rogue parried with her daggers, easily downing the rodent. The rodent bandit fell unconscious with two swift blows from the feline. Kradik was much harder to bring down. Jorge was slammed with his hammer, sending him sprawling to the ground. As Kradik brought down the hammer to deal a final blow he felt a searing pain in his arm. Penny let out a yell as she let loose another arrow into the ursine's shoulder. Kradik turned his great hammer towards Penny, swinging with all his might. Penny yelped as she spun backward but was smashed in the arm by the weapon. The distraction was enough for Jorge to stand again and he used the flat of his blade to slam the back of Kradik's head. The ursine dropped like a stone. The party tied the two up as they heard noise outside.

The party ran outside in time to see the bandits fleeing in fear. An army had gathered on their doorstep. It was a beautiful thing for Penny to see as the party stepped into dawn's light. A young fox girl, Penny's sister Marigold, stood at the head of the army with a bow in her hands. After the first attack, she had fled to a village to gather help. She'd returned.

Over the next few days, the bandits were gathered and their leaders were charged for their crimes. Penny, Jorge, Glena, and Marigold were proclaimed heroes by the people and the village they had set out to save found themselves far more prosperous than they could ever imagine. While tears were shed for the fallen, trees were planted in their memory. Penny left the village to become an adventuring hero with Jorge and Glena, while in Garrow's stead Marigold agreed to lead the village.

As Penny bid a tearful goodbye to Marigold she smiled at the thought of the future. She was going to make a difference as the people's hero. As the hero vulpine her parents always knew she was going to be.

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