Once upon a time there was once a kingdom, far far away. It had no specific name, because its inhabitants did not feel the need to differentiate it from others, and, indeed, hardly knew of the existence of realms other than their own. “The World,” they called it, and it was enough for them. Its inhabitants were very different from each other: Dogs, Cats, Mice, Foxes, Wolves and more shared the World. Of course, they were different from each other, as I said, but harmony reigned between them due to an old treaty of truce, imposed on them in the first centuries after decades of bitter conflict. Together, they formed the People.
The People were animals, or Animals: they could speak, move, grasp objects, create, think and do everything a human can do. But they were not alone: the world was also inhabited by animals, those with a lowercase initial. Animals were... just animals, and therefore were their prey. For every People there was also its animal.
The World was formed by a small continent, about the size of what we call Australia. It was surrounded by sea and a single large river, with many streams flowing into and out of it, and covered by dense forests. Within these forests, in small and large clearings, stood the Cities of the People, spread all over the world according to the customs of each: some on treetops, some underground, some outdoor. Not all People built Cities, but you could find any kind of Animal in them, from the most shy to the most social, each with its commitments.
If any of us had been able to move in that idyllic world, he would see magnificent places and views, with rich Cities in a Renaissance style surrounded by wilderness, with fields and farms here and there spotting the green masses of woods and forests. A virtually perfect world.
What People did not know was that, beyond the endless ocean that surrounded the World, there was a “real” world, with islands, continents, archipelagos and all the rest. In one of these places magic was known and used. In that distant kingdom, the Prince in charge was engaged in a fierce battle against the militia of the Witch Queen, an evil spellcaster looking for fame and power that had begun an assault against the main local rulers. With his sword and shield, the Prince had reached the inner sanctum of the Witch Queen, when her, in a desperate attempt to save her life, attempted to cast a powerful spell of destruction, to eliminate once and for all the threat of the Prince.
But something went wrong: some say that the hero had killed the Witch Queen shortly before she ended to utter the spell, some say that this was diverted from a good heart or from his armor, some say other things. The fact is that the Prince killed the Witch Queen, dissolving most of her spells and then removing all forms of power to her armies. Shortly thereafter, he had the victory.
But her own power was far too strong to die. Instead, it left her body just before her death, and travelled through dimensions. When it found the World, it decided to stay there.
What happened next is confused, partly because it happened very quickly, partly because it happened differently in each area of the World. The only thing all the Animals saw and understood was about the color of the sky, which changed from blue to red. Blood red, bright red, a colour not easily forgotten. It was a flash, but remained in the memory of all, to the point that the day went down in history of the World as the “Red Day.” From that moment everything changed. The Strange made its entrance into the World, a force hitherto unknown, but living, although impalpable, and can change everything it enters in contact with. It penetrated into the trees and mountains, into rivers, animals and People, deeply changing many of them. The trees began to speak, some to move, some more... to eat. The leaves of some oaks near a bend of the great river became metal, rocks along the estuary still drip blood. It is said that somewhere in the woods further away from the Cities of the People exists a living being formed with all the bodies of an old pack of wolves…