Good Deeds Done With Honor
The Hordes of Squibble, as they later came to be known (I like that title even better than the Legion of Miracles), dispersed into the city in every direction, spreading themselves thin over a range much too large for even a thousand mice. I didn't know if they would actually find the pickup point. But I knew our chances were now better than they had ever been before. I sent them with wisdom and knowledge I had gained from experience: how to survive in the city, how to avoid cats and wild mice, how to find food and water. How to camouflage so they weren't glowing neon "eat us" signs. Their chances were better now than they had been in the lab, and soon they'd get better still - for I had plans.
Shiva, Thor and I snuck back into the lab and found antibiotics. Finding them was easy. Figuring out the right dose was the problem. We found the good stuff - Baytril and Doxycycline. They had a liquid form, but we had no way of getting into it without breaking the glass. So we took pills, and decided that a small nibble twice a day would probably do the trick. We made the rat twins backpacks out of small medicine bags and string, and filled them with goodies from the lab. Medicine, gauze, medical tape...all kinds of things. Pieces of this and that and anything else we thought we might need, including the bland food they had fed all the captive rodents.
It was almost dawn by the time we were done. I would have loved to stay and see the look on the humans' faces when they came back to an empty lab, but nope. Gotta go! Mice don't stick around when they gotta go. We went.
We holed up in a brick wall. The hole was about three blocks from the lab and some of our travel was during daylight, which none of us liked. We finally had to make do and picked out the hole, but it turned out to be better than we had hoped. It went way back into the wall, and it was kinda warm back there. Some of the heating from the building made it pleasant. It was spacious and near a water leak from a clean source. (Oh, praise the Mousegod!)
We were exhausted, but before we went to bed I told the boys how I got there, and what I'd gone through to get there. I really wanted to leave the part about the bully mouse out, but I didn't. They had confided in me their shame, so I returned the favor. They just looked at me and nodded. That gaze of affection and respect never changed. Such good boys.
We slept all through the day and into the night. It was deep sleep of tired rodents who had done a righteous night's work.
At least it started that way.
I had dreams of Shiva and Thor in bright red armor, made of steel, using guns and flamethrowers against an unseen enemy. I saw burning fields and screaming mice. I saw mice killing each other and bees in battle over their heads fighting other flying terrors. I saw ants marching to war by the millions. I saw the kind human, dead on a burning field of battle. And, finally, I saw the black mouse again, standing in front of me with an army of insane animals, driven by the power of the undead evil thing in the dark rodent body. I was standing on an opposite hill, my army behind me. An army of Mouse Knights. Just as the horn sounded and we were about to charge, it began to rain.
And I woke up to rain. The sound of it, the smell of it, outside. Our shelter was untouched, and still warm. Thor was asleep, curled protectively around his fragile mouse-uncle. He was warm and snugly. Shiva was awake and grooming himself, unaware my eyes had opened. Then he was practicing slow moves with his new metal spear. He looked strong and defiant...majestic and dangerous, like his father had been. He was really a large rat. He must weigh in at more than a pound and a half, and he wasn't yet done growing. Moving with fluid grace and perfect form, I saw him then for the first time as an adult rat - and a fine warrior. I would not wish to be caught at the business end of that iron point. Heavy as it was, he moved it with great speed and control. These boys had absorbed everything BJ had sent their direction, and then some. I thought I had done well, but they had it down. I knew I couldn't take them anymore. I knew our playing days were over. Now they were dangerous rats, and they were done with childish playing. It was a moment of sad nostalgia for me, knowing that those times were gone. Much was lost now, and more was yet to come. I felt this was just the beginning, and I felt the first pangs of regret at so eagerly accepting my title as champion of the Mousegod. I was afraid of what it was going to cost me, and I knew not the price.
I tried to remember my dreams, but they swam away from me on the river, and became ghosts in the back of my mind. I kept the general feelings and thoughts in the front of my mind, holding them against the day I returned to the safe house when I could warn everyone. Those dreams and thoughts, day by day, seemed less important, and farther away. They were just dreams. Here and now, I was struggling for my survival.
Since coming so close to death, and looking my own (so obvious now) fear of it in the face, I knew that nothing lasts. Nothing at all. My playtimes with Shiva and Thor, beloved as they were, was only the very tip of the iceberg. In the end, entropy swallows everything. Death comes to all, and nothing can stop it.
It was the heaviest thought I had ever had in my short little life.
I was eager to be rid of it, at once!
"We're gonna need to find more food an' all that," I whispered.
Shiva stopped his pole on a dime and turned to look at me. "Pet stores."
"Yeah," I said. "Pet stores." Click. "I know one, and ...we need to do something else there as well."
"Something?" Shiva asked.
"Something right," I said, "And fear not."
It was a journey to the pet store. I still had my map, and it led me back on a reverse route directly to the place where the trapped mother mice were. The journey was long. I rode on Shiva's back because of my leg. Oh, how thankful I was for him! The idea of going all that way again on foot terrified me. My leg was slowly shrinking to the right size again, but the smell of infection and sickness was not gone by half. It still hurt to stand on, or even move. Mice normally heal quickly, but I had pushed this about as far as I could have. Stupid Squibble.
The journey, which had taken me about two weeks, took only two days! Wow. Two healthy rats travel seven times faster (at leisure) than a sick mouse. It made sense. I told the rat twins how grateful I was for their presence.
"We love you, Uncle," Thor told me as we hunkered down below some cardboard boxes in a wet alleyway across the street from our target. "Without you, we'd be dead now."
"Same here," I said. "You guys are worthy knights."
"You make us look like chicken feed," Shiva said. "You're the greatest knight there is!" He toasted Thor with a piece of crusty bread. They didn't mind eating trash, it seemed.
My head sunk down. "I don't think so," I mumbled. They looked at me funny, but I think they understood. Despite the scene at the lab, I would always know that I had surrendered to a bully. I had given him my precious things; I had let his cronies destroy what was mine. The humiliation would follow me the rest of my life. No knight would have let that happen.
It was dark and quiet except for the noises of nocturnal animals like us. We found another hole in the wall (okay, okay...we made a hole in the wall, but don't set out the rodent traps just yet, okay?) and inside it was even nicer than the last place. Warm, heated, and some modicum of fresh water available. This place would do nicely. We hastily made a nest and went outside, armed to the teeth with whatever we could find. Shiva and Thor made slings for their sleek metal weapons so they could climb unhindered, yet draw the spears quickly if need be. Quite the genius architects, my boys. We slinked (slunk...I like slunk better, even if it isn't a word...well it is now) across the street and hopped the curb. I could go under the door but they couldn't, so we found a way in the back (more vandalism - did you know two big rats can go through a cheap wooden door in under ten minutes?) and it was game time.
Pet store rescues. Mouse Knights had gotten a reputation for it. Anytime all the pets mysteriously vanished from a pet store, the rodent world knew it was one of us. We just couldn't stand to see our kin sold as snake food, and knights would never sit still for such blatant cruelty. Other Mouse Knights had gotten it down to an art, and even kept notch marks on the back of their shields to record how many stores they had liberated. I think the record so far was thirty three by a single knight.
Of course, by now, the humans were not a little upset about it, and blamed animal rights activists, though they could never quite find the group - nor any evidence of the group. It had made the news. I remember watching it with glee from the safe house. Anytime we saw news attributed to our rodents we knew it, and we all laughed. The humans just couldn't figure out what was going on. Probably because we were beneath their notice, so they'd never catch us. Who would ever guess that intelligent rodents were breaking other rodents and critters out of captivity? Science fiction that was. An' they can go right on thinkin' it.
So we got up to the mothers with their babies. It had been a little while and there was a new batch of babies under both mommas. I didn't want to think what happened to the others. It was a miracle I had even gotten back here. I was doing my best.
I told them their days of suffering were over. They were keeping these babies. They couldn't comprehend what was about to happen, since their entire lives had been spent in a tiny cage no longer than nine inches, but they were full of joy. The rat twins chewed the plastic off in moments and the metal lids sprang free. We put all the little ones in a blanket and made a carry-hammock for them and the moms. Shiva and Thor did all the carrying. We had to take the kids one by one down off the shelf, though, and the moms got to help. Once they understood what was happening, they shook with excitement.
"You mean we're really free? Forever?" she asked.
"I can't promise its going to be easy or safe," I said, "But yeah. You're free."
She just stared at me in wonder. It was a weird moment.
No domestic mouse can survive in the wild, nor for long in the street without some sort of edge. We had no place to put these mother mice with their babies except that hole we had prepared across the street in the wall. It went back quite a ways, and it was heated. We took them there, then went back several times to the pet store to filch food and supplies they would need. Once that was done, we freed all the other animals with the understanding that the mice would guard the mommas and babies, and hunt for food for them. I left further instructions that if any other mice came, the ones we just freed would ask if they were from the Miracle Legion. If they were, they would tell the new mice that orders from Squibble were to find a safe, underground environment for a new mouse city. It had to have heating, food, and water readily available. I told them to look in the basements of restaurants and hotels. Sooner or later, one of my faithful would come by, and the fifty-some mice I rescued that evening would join the legion if they wanted to. Most of them expressed desire to join. Within a week, I guessed, the mommas and babies would be safe. Until then, I would scout with Shiva for other members of the spread-out legion and/or news of the drop-off/pickup point. Thor would guard the mice. They couldn't have a more fearsome guardian. Thor eagerly agreed and was treated as divine by those mice.
Shiva and I scoured the city for a week, each day traveling a new direction from the "nest" and coming back to it at daylight. In every direction we were able to travel many city blocks. Sometimes twenty or more. Shiva was a fast rat. And he knew we had a mission. Still, the city was so gigantic. I couldn't even begin to comprehend it. It was like a human trying to fathom the depths of space. Twenty blocks was nothing.
In that week, we found many more pet stores, and many more miserable animals. Shiva and I looked at each other upon finding the first one, and he said "Why not?" I agreed wholeheartedly. We freed them all, and told them where our nest was. I gave them the same orders I gave the others. Mice are good at gossip. Surely now the word would spread rapidly. I could issue orders to any mouse, and within a week it would be all over the city. During that week we also found an art school for humans that was open at night. It was called an Atelier (which later I learned meant studio in French), and there were people there drawing and painting, and a few teachers telling people how to do it. I was instantly fascinated, and Shiva had to drag me bodily from the peephole we were spying out of. I marked the location of the school, though, and it was just a few hours travel from our mouse hideout. I wondered if this was the school that the kind human went to - but what were the odds? There must be hundreds of art schools in the city, and this one wasn't quite on a corner. I knew I'd come back to this one, though. Just as often as I could.
Who wouldn't want to draw and paint?
Some of the mice wanted to come with us on our scoutings, and some wanted to scout in other directions. We had scouts, guards, and gatherers. It was a well organized outfit. They started calling me Lord Squibble. I can't say I minded. My nest was over three hundred strong now, not including the mommas and babies (well over 100 there alone). We tried to outfit the guards with weapons, and Thor taught them how to use them all day long. He was at least as tasking as BJ, maybe more. All I heard was complaints when I got back. To which I'd say, "Well, nobody's making you do this. You can always quit." And they'd say, "Oh, no my lord, I'd never quit! I wanna be a Mouse Knight someday!"
They all wanted to be Mouse Knights. I wondered. Was there room enough in the world for that many knights? I wasn't about to make that decision. I handed out military-type ranks, but I didn't so much as even think about making one squire. I thought of home alot. I dreamed alot. Disturbing, deeply emotional dreams from which I often woke crying. The rat twins never said a word.
As soon as I got a break, I went back to the art school for an entire day and just listened and learned. It was wonderful - the things they said made so much sense, it was like someone opening a magic box of answers to me. I could just reach in and use it immediately. Within the first room as the students went on break I risked exposure to sneak down to the floor level (the peek-a-boo hole was up high in the ceiling - which was great, because I could see everyone draw) and I took me some paper, and if the students even noticed that the ends of their charcoal pencils were chewed off, they made no noise about it. So I began to draw along with the students and learn. Mice learn very quickly, and I made it a point one day a week to make Shiva take me there and pick me up when I was done, so I could study at the Atelier for six hours straight. My teachers were this guy named Jeff who ran the whole place - he was really cool and I liked him alot - and this guy named Ron who was so fast I couldn't believe it! And good. Fast and good...just what I want to be. He could whip out a drawing in ten minutes and it would be perfect. He was a genius. And almost... almost as fast as a mouse! Between the two of them they showed everyone what to do, drew in front of everyone, and gave their secrets away to the students. No one does that - especially artists. I was touched by their nobility. They really wanted to share this powerful knowledge with everyone who wanted it. Then they'd go around and draw on people's drawings, showing them how to make it better, and the students got to keep the drawings! I wished I could go down there and say, "Excuse me, Sir, but what's wrong with this drawing? It looks off, and I can't tell how to fix it." I imagined they'd sharpen their pencil up real good, and draw right on my drawing, and show a little mouse how to get better at art. Maybe they'd even sign it for me. It was a dream, of course; more likely they'd scream and slap me or run away. But somehow, Ron and Jeff didn't seem the type to do that. They seemed cool to me. So cool I almost went down there several times just to see what they'd do. Who knows? Stranger things have happened. Maybe they would let a mouse sit in on class. But of course, then our secret would be out. I couldn't do that, no matter how much I wanted to. So I stayed out of sight, and learned by absorbing everything I saw and heard. It worked well enough. I drew many live models, and desperately wanted to paint, but I couldn't figure out how to steal oil paint and all the stinky stuff that goes with it, so I just watched and learned, promising myself that at some future time, I would figure out how a mouse could paint in oils. It looked so fun. I took tons of notes, and studied them on my rare spare time back at the base. Whenever I had a spare few minutes, I would draw something. It was usually Shiva, Thor, or a mouse (big surprise there - I was surrounded by them), but on occasion I snuck outside to draw a human sitting on a bench or something. Humans are hard to draw.
On occasion I had a nagging thought. I only went to the Atelier once a week. What if the kind human really was going to this school? Maybe just not on the day I went. What if this was the one, and that corner the corner?
Ah, what were the odds? I dismissed the thoughts when they came and took care of business back at the base.
Weeks passed and turned into months. By April, we had over five hundred mice, had moved to a new location, under a hotel building. The new mice called it the "New Kingdom," after the first mouse kingdom where I had grown up. Everyone had heard of it in the stories and fables, just like they had heard of my master. It was actually an "old kingdom," but I think "new kingdom" sounds more cool, so I let them call it that. Soon the entire city knew about "Overlord Squibble" (it got better and better, and I did absolutely nothing to stop it!). The best part was that while technically these mice were all members of Miracle Legion, they heard me calling them the Hordes of Squibble. It spread like wildfire across the city and I never heard the term Miracle Legion again. He he he hee!
I had made some new makeshift armor from lobster shells down by the beach brought to me by mice wanting to join. A mouse who had lived in a toy store brought me a plastic helmet from a toy knight, just like the one my master wore on his first journey, and the female mice made me leather tunics and belts, sheaths for our weapons and even a blue cape for my back with a hood. Other mice raided bars after hours and brought back plastic spears and swords. I gave the mice who had gotten to level five in Thor's training program permission to use them. Thor had ten levels to his class. No one had made it past five yet. I told them if they made it to six they could begin wearing armor. Not full lobster plate, but cloth and leather maybe, like the men-at-arms of old.
I missed my master. I always felt that I was flying by the seat of my pants, making everything up as we went along. I never knew if I was doing it "right" or not, but everyone seemed to have great faith in me. So I didn't give it too much thought. I was so busy keeping it all going that I didn't have the time to let my mind wander. I came to relish with all my heart the one evening I spent at the Atelier, drawing until my soul sang. I loved it. It was pure and free of grief. It gave me something to strive for (getting better at drawing) that I loved to do. Without that, I might have suffered from the constant demand on me by my horde.
Now time, to mice, is much different from humans. One day to a human is like a week or two to a mouse. We only get one hundred weeks to our lives on average. That's it. One day is a long time to us. So a week to us is like a year to a human. A human year is half our lives. And so many mice never make it even that far. Disease or accidents catch them first. I had been in that city for two months at that point.
Nine human years. Do you understand? A big chunk of my life. A long, long time.
I constantly missed home. I wondered, in my few spare moments, what was happening there.
My leg healed, and I was quite glad for it. I didn't know if it would or not, but I was a young, strong mouse, and it worked fine. Fred had set it correctly. It pleased me to think of her and her children being cared for tenderly by Heide. I missed Heide. My own first kind human.
I began to walk to the Atelier by myself at nights once a week, even in my armor with all my art stuff, and it didn't bother me much.
I had quite an army by now. I had over four hundred warriors, three hundred gatherers, and so many scouts I couldn't count them. The original mouse kingdom I had come from had been about this big. If a mouse showed up wanting to join, which happened about thirty times a day, I'd tell them "You're a scout," show them a map, and tell them "Go here and stay one day and one night, then come back. Report all you see." We gave them supplies, but the distances were long and hard. We would lose half the mice who came to apply, but hey - that separated the mice from the men. Through this amazing network of mice, I "saw" the entire city. I heard almost everything that went on, trying to sift through it for signs of important things. Shiva and Thor were flabbergasted by the efficiency of the system. They suggested making it global. I told them I might just do that if we needed to.
I refused to be called "king" or anything like that. BJ was King, and I told everyone so. Their loyalty was to him first. I told them all about the safe house, and our brothers and sisters far away. I told them about the old kingdom, and about all the brave deeds of my master. I spoke so often and so intensely about my master and the other legendary rodents that they became like gods to those mice, beings completely magnificent and yet completely unseen - the heroes of mythology. They worshipped my master from afar, and I wondered if he knew it.
My dreams never stopped, and several times I would wake to see the black mouse staring at me from some shadow...only to wake again and realize I hadn't been really awake. I dreamed of back home, and talking to Nemo. I had those dreams alot. I dreamed of taking walks with my master, and I dreamed of the kids. Percival and the others, growing and learning at ridiculous speeds, even for mice. I dreamed that happiness reigned in the safe house, and that I was missing it. That was okay. As long as they were happy. I dearly wanted to see my momma, and thought of her many times each day. I wrote her many letters while I was the commander of my hordes. Over a hundred - many with drawings of what was going on in my life. I piled them up in a corner and would add to it daily.
I joined in the classes and taught the mice how to fight. I taught them how to read. I taught them how to write. I even taught some how to draw, using the very words my unknowing teachers had used while I was watching. Mice would bring back anything that had words or pictures on it. We were very poor, but mice are exceptional at making something from nothing. The smartest mice excelled and were given rank.
Missions were planned and executed. Sneaky, Squeaky and Clyde came back and found our new nest, as did many of the original Miracle Legion. They were trained. They always volunteered for missions, and because they were officers in my army, I let them go all the time. They were amazingly efficient and smart. Clyde would go upstairs in the hotel and watch TV. I would join him sometimes when I had time, which was almost never. One of those times, he saw a huge explosion on the screen and his eyes lit up.
"OOOOOOooo...my lord, we have to learn to do that!" he claimed.
"MMm... why for?" I said.
"Cause it's big and pretty and goes boom!" he gleefully chirped.
Yeah, Clyde was a little off his rocker. That's okay. He and his brothers were as loyal as they come.
He immediately set about to collect books and notes and whatever else he needed to make explosives. I let him do it, because I knew what mice were capable of, though I was a bit concerned about the possibilities. When Shiva and Thor joined in eagerly, I became worried. Together, they set a hundred mice on the task. Within the week, they blew something up, and took out part of our nest. No mice were hurt, but several were deaf after that. I told them to blow things up far away from then on. Clyde became a colonel, in charge of demolitions. Shiva and Thor were my generals. I had about 50 officers, all told. All good mice. All willing to die for the nest.
True to my commands, the mice brought money. You cannot imagine how much. People drop coins all the time. They lose paper money just as easily. They lose jewels, rings, necklaces, and bracelets. And what they lost, my mice collected. Sometimes it took many mice, sometimes even rats, to do it, but they brought it all home, and we buried it deep within the cellar of that hotel, with one exception. Once every week I took some of it and left it in Jeff's office at the Atelier art school. His classes weren't free for humans, and I shouldn't get them for free either. They were worth every cent of that money and more. I thought he didn't charge enough, but I left him sixty dollars every week, which added up to the cost of his classes. I was a Mouse Knight. It was the right thing to do, and it didn't even put a small dent in our treasury (which grew at an exponential rate as more mice joined us). I imagine it drove him a bit crazy wondering where that money came from. He he he.
I practiced my meditation whenever I could, which was almost never, and I never did get back to that dock. I was not to visit my dock again for a very long time. I could see it when I tried, but I was never quite "there" as I had been that one time. I guess my powers require some sort of injury, pain, suffering, starvation, or other stupid thing to work. Fine with me. I don't make the rules. If Bigfat wants the gig to work only with suffering, who am I to argue? But I wasn't about to tweak myself in order to get all spiritual. I could do without.
Interesting reports came back to us through the network of scout mice. The rats in the city had organized into a huge gang to come take out my mouse nest. There were over seventy rats in this gang, calling themselves Heaven's Vermin. They were tough rats, and said that rats being friends with mice was preposterous (actually they used a much nastier word than that, but hey, fill in the blanks). I was worried and pondering what to do when Shiva and Thor went out without my knowledge, met the gang in the street, and trashed them within an inch of their lives. They slew the leader of the gang, and assumed command. Now I had seventy hard case rats under my control. They obeyed Shiva and Thor without question. They reminded me of the samurai I had seen on TV, and my twins were the Shoguns.
Such good boys, those two.
Other reports included things such as:
The humans had put guards in the pet stores, making our jobs more difficult. We had to be quiet now. Oh, no! How difficult! (Snicker.) Mice had to be quiet. Imagine that.
The missions did not even slow down.
Other reports included many times that mice were seen wearing things, reading, writing, or even operating technology. The newspaper published an article about the "vanishing rodents" from pet stores all over the city. Nothing I could do about that (except be amused), but many reports were clearly things where mice just got sloppy. I reprimanded mice harshly each time if I found who was responsible. Sometimes I even kicked mice out if they did it repeatedly. There was no room for mercy in that department. The humans must not know. Meanwhile, I took to studying chemistry. I was fascinated by the drugs I had from the pharmacy and the lab. They could do so much. The difference between life and death. I sought to understand. Before I could do that, however, I had to go back and relearn math, physics and a bunch of other things I didn't pay attention to as a young mouse. I set to the task, using books we found in the trash, and shared all I found with my boys.
It was during this time that the rat twins discovered the internet. Nothing was ever the same after that. They sneak up to hotel rooms at night, turn on people's computers, and surf for hours. Learning, learning, learning! I went up with them several times. You could literally just type in a word and thousands of books or articles would come up that you could read on the subject. It was a free, unlimited source of information. (Did you know the humans use a thing called a mouse to push the little pointy thingy around the screen? That chunk of plastic does not even slightly resemble the beauty and artistic grace of a mouse! The rats and I learned to use the keyboard. There's this button called "help" on the screen - and it does! We read everything... everything..."help" had to offer us. We learned a ton.) Other mice learned of our new pastime, and soon rodents all over the city knew about the internet. I had created a monster. As long as that monster was on our side, that was fine with me. Some mice sat in front of the stupid screen all night. I would get bored with it eventually and go back to my duties, or go draw. And nothing, not all the millet in China, would stop me from going to art class on Saturday nights.
The labs in the area had all been raided several times. We took drugs, science info, and tools. They tried to get smart and made their facilities "mouse proof." They installed doors we couldn't squib under, walls we couldn't chew through, and electronic door codes. Thanks for those door codes, humans. Thank you very much.
We even got on the news. The show "funniest animals" had a clip of several mice talking and when one realized the camera was on them, he alerted the others and they started acting like stupid mice again, eating, running on their wheels and grooming themselves. This scene happened three times. They'd go back to talking, realize the camera was on them again, and suddenly they were acting like normal mice. The clip made the news. The humans laughed. So did I and my officers, after demoting every single one of those stupid mice for almost letting the cat out of the bag. In the end, it was laughed right away into nothing but a funny video someone had made. No one took it seriously.
I wondered if the safe house saw that clip. I wondered how all my friends were.
One mission of those long days stands out in my mind, and for good reason.
We had just liberated a colony of mice from a pet store - we had gotten about fifty from there - and we were loaded up with medication from raiding a lab. (I had learned more about medicine and drugs in the last two months than ever!) We were taking a side street back to the nest, as it was always our habit to take a new route - which is alien to mice, who usually fall into ruts - and we came across a building that smelled of animals. It wasn't a lab, or a pet store, or even someone's house. Then I saw the sign.
It said "Paradise Place Pet Hotel." My heart froze in my chest. This was where Tiny, Heide's beloved pet, had met his dark fate.
Now, I had told Shiva and Thor absolutely everything by now, and they knew instantly why I was gaping. We were overloaded with stuff, and past quota, but we went in anyway. They had no mice, but they did have many other animals. None of which were happy to be there, many of which had clearly been abused and tormented.
"What do we do?" I said to my generals. "These are pets - they have homes."
"We send em home," Shiva said. "Show em maps, send em home."
"Then we burn the place," Thor growled.
"What!" I chirped in shock.
"We burn it," he repeated. "They'll keep abusing animals if we don't."
I looked to Shiva, and saw that he clearly agreed with his brother. His face was stone fury.
I thought it over. The brothers were right. Everyone was looking to me for a decision. A leader must never hesitate. My master never did.
My brows came together thinking of Tiny and what they did to that poor mouse, who was used to nothing but tender care and love.
"Burn it," I commanded.
Shiva and Thor grinned from ear to ear.
So we let out every animal in the place. We told them if they waited their owners would come get them in the morning, most likely, or they could use our maps and head home. It wasn't going to be easy, but they unanimously preferred it to the abuse they were suffering in that stupid place.
And you know what? As I watched it burn to the ground I felt better immediately.
"That's for you, Tiny," I said.
By May I had a kingdom that topped a thousand, not including the scouts. Once scouts had done three scoutings, they were promoted and could join the kingdom. The sick, old, too young, weak, or mommas were exempt from this initiation.
The rats got their own unit title, because nobody liked the word vermin. It was a rodent insult. Because they wanted to be feared and respected, Shiva named them The Swords of Michael. They loved that, and became a name known on the street overnight. Once trained, they were truly the Roman centurions of my army.
By the middle of May, there had still been no word of the kind human or the pickup point. I had not seen him in the art classes, at least on Saturday evenings. I began to despair. Then a report came in from a scout. He brought a piece of paper and said pieces just like it had been strewn all over the city near the first pet store the Rat Knights and I had liberated. The paper said: "Squibble. Looking for you forever. Please come home. -Heide."
My human had not given up on me.
I asked the scout what happened at the pet store. They and several other scouts who had been to that area said that every night a car drove up, waited there for fifteen minutes, and then drove away.
Every single day for almost three months. She had not abandoned me after all. What a wonderful, dedicated human.
I dug out my old supplies. I had stashed them in my quarters, a very private place where no one but my generals were allowed in. I found my old drugs, my old paper I had used as armor. One of them had Heide's address on it. Wearing my new armor, bearing my new shield and sword and all my old stuff as well, I took my slingshot around my neck, gathered up a squad of my finest men and went, not knowing I wouldn't be coming back.