The next day, I was awake (of course) when the attack came. The front door guard squeaked loudly, waking the many named mice who sleep in the front room, my master among them, who shouted "To arms! To arms!" and ran down from his cage buckling on his sword and armor.
The door guard perished before he could get inside, and we heard creatures flooding over the floorboards of the deck. Myself, Stompy, Squibette, BJ, Ghost, and several other knights and squires were the first to the door as the mouse door was struck by something large. Always bolted from the inside, they couldn't freely come in, but it sure sounded like they meant to one way or another. I was the only one really ready, but I wasn't wearing any armor. That'll teach me. Hey, it was my first attack.
"Archers to the roof!" My master shouted.
"Mice forward with the shield wall," BJ yelled.
"Someone wake Nemo!"
"I am already here," Nemo said. He was squinting in that chinchilla death stare he had when he slew the rattlesnake and saved my life. It was really going down. A battle. A real battle. My first. Mice were flooding in from everywhere as a horn sounded. I realized suddenly - and with real fear of death - I was completely unprepared.
I turned around to dash back to my cage and don my equipment and there he was. Scratchy was lumbering toward me, bearing all of my things! He looked ridiculous under the mass of armor and equipment. He had even brought my slingshot and bag of ammo. He was moving in slow circles toward me, though clearly breaking his back to move as fast as he could.
I ran to him and yanked the breastplate off him. He dropped the other things and helped me to buckle it on. I didn't argue - I didn't have time!
The heavy thing against the door began to get louder - and there were more of them. My master was setting soldiers in formation. Shield wall, then swordsmice, then pikes. Archers behind.
Scratchy put the stuff on me in a third the time it would have taken me alone. It was as if he practiced day and night (which maybe he did), and knew just what to do. I was ready to go in no time, and he handed me my shield. Then, bowing low on one knee with his head down, my sword.
When I ran for the front line, he stayed behind.
"What!" I yelled. "Aren't you coming?"
His head perked up and his eyes got wide. He frantically pointed to my cage - where Favorite was. There were thirty other armed mice up there already.
"No!" I yelled over the battle din, and motioned him to come to me. "A squire belongs with his knight! Get a sword, stupid!"
His face beamed. His eyes welled up with tears, but he snatched up a bag of swords, his own practice shield, and raced after me - in circles, of course. The little runt actually managed to keep up with me.
At the front line my master stood, ready for the fight. The mice there at the front had left me a space next to him, which I took right away. Scratchy nosed his way into the line next to me. My master saw and smiled at me as I unslung my slingshot, loading a copper BB. I made a face back at him.
"Enemy at the rear gate!" A mouse shouted from the basement.
"Rear guard - go!" BJ shouted. One hundred armed mice took off running in that direction. The back was already guarded, but if they called for help, reinforcements were needed.
"This is a big attack," BJ said casually.
"Biggest yet," my master declared.
They both looked at me.
"What!" I chirped. But I knew what they were thinking. The black mouse was after me. It was me he wanted. Why!? No fair!
We heard the thunks of arrows pelting the enemy from the rooftop. We heard creatures scream and fall. Something growled at the front door. That was no mouse.
"Cat," BJ said. "They have a cat."
"Squibble, ready?" My master said.
I nodded briskly. I pulled back my legendary slingshot and aimed.
"Open the door!"
The door swung open when a guard released the latch, revealing two giant paws.
SPUNG! I let a BB fly right between the toes. The cat howled in pain. I was reloaded before he could even hit the ground. I let another BB fly at whatever was behind the cat. And another. and another. There was no measurable space of time between my shots, just one constant motion and a repeating thrumming sound of the rubber band. I heard later that everyone had been watching the volley I let loose in awe. Even BJ.
Everything behind the door perished or moved.
"Now - charge!" my master screamed, and barreled forward, sword thrust out in front of him.
The mice made a funnel formation, and two by two, left the safety of the house to take the fight to the attackers. I was out right behind my master and BJ, moving aside immediately to let others out.
A rock clanged off my shield. I swung my sword at a rabid white mouse to my right and dropped him with the flat of my blade to his head. It was utter chaos. There were so many mice - at least two hundred. It was a huge assault. I saw the cat, its eyes blazing with possessed fury. There was a hawk circling overhead, diving at our archers.
"They have a hawk!" I shrieked.
"And five snakes!" Ghost yelled.
"Four!" Stompy yelled as she and Squibette dispatched one using the Rikki Tikki technique (jump behind the head, bite, and hold on!)
"Archers on the roof, retreat!" BJ yelled.
"We can't take out that hawk," BJ said.
My master smiled. "Squibble?"
I slapped one more mouse aside, sheathed my sword, and readied my slingshot. "Make room for me!" I cried out.
"Vanguard - make way for Sir Squibble!" BJ commanded. Mice attacked straight forward to the edge of the porch. Thirty mice hurled themselves at the cat to keep it busy, but it was charging me anyway. I had enough time for one shot. I ran forward, sliding to a halt at the very edge of the deck, holding my slingshot raised and ready for when the hawk came into sight.
Stompy threw herself under the cat's feet and it stumbled, buying me time. Mice tried to yank a tightrope across its path, but it just pulled them all along for the ride. Sometimes being small sucks. That cat had it in for me. And now, the entire field could see me in plain view.
The hawk showed and banked, diving for the fleeing archers. I let fly and heard a satisfying whack! against its skull. It dropped from the sky, thudding on the rooftop.
"Hawkslayer!" a mouse cried.
I turned just in time to yank my shield up against the force of the cat's charge. It still hit me full speed, knocked the wind from me, and blew me back off the deck, down the stairs, and right into the enemy. My slingshot flew from my hands and landed two feet from me.
The entire enemy army stopped then. They all looked right at me, as if they all shared one mind. One thought.
Scratchy flew off the deck, heedless of damage from the long fall between steps. The enemy came at me. ALL of them! Every single one. Snakes, cat spinning on its heels, and well over a hundred mice. I was going to be surrounded and buried if I didn't retreat immediately.
But my slingshot! I couldn't lose it! I desperately looked at it, lying vulnerable twenty-four inches away.
"Squibble!" my master commanded. "Fall back!"
Scratchy was charging in. He was the only one.
"Fall back, I say!" my master yelled.
I hesitated. I should have either gone for the slingshot right away, and stood a tiny chance at reaching it, or run for the porch, but I did neither. I hesitated! In front of everyone.
"In the name of the kind human, Squibble!" my master screamed, and leapt off the top step. BJ, Stompy, and the others followed him faithfully. The enemy was closing in - the blank-eyed zombies were one inch from my slingshot when Scratchy, a white, circular blur, snatched it from the ground and spun his way to me.
The cat was pouncing over the enemy lines for me when a spear lodged itself in its nose. Deep.
It howled, landed among the enemy, and thrashed in pain. I looked to the porch and saw Sir Percival there in bright armor, four other spears in his left hand, and another ready in his right. He cut a mighty figure against the background, head lifted, eyes confident. He nodded to me.
The front line reached me and my master smacked my helmet with a resounding clang.
"What are you doing!" he yelled. "They're after you, Squibble!" He grabbed me and launched me toward the other mice in the direction of the porch. "It's you they want!" The other mice all grabbed me and handed me off backward like a moving runway. Scratchy threw me my slingshot. I caught it and clutched it to my chest. Mine. My precious.
I was back on the porch in several heartbeats. Archers from the roof had come down through the lower door and were covering our retreat. The front line took a bad beating backing toward the door. Three knights fell in combat, and many soldiers. Scratchy took many blows from teeth and claws, having to run in circles to get back. Finally Squibette grabbed him and carried him. They made it back, and we fought until our backs were against the wall. I had used all my ammunition. When my sword snapped against a snake's head, Scratchy faithfully replaced it instantly.
"Full retreat!" Nemo's voice bellowed over the fighting. "Back into the house!"
A stiff wind rose at our backs, driving the enemy backward. Some of the possessed mice climbing the stairs fell off. We began filtering through the mouse door two by two, as we had come. My master and I were last.
"I'm sorry," I said.
He turned to me and I could see his eyes alight through his crusader's helm. The eyes said it all. I could have lost you!
Then we were through the door, throwing the bolt just as the cat recovered enough to ram his head against it.
BJ wasted not a second. He ordered reinforcements and medical attention to the wounded.
"The fight is over," Nemo said. Matter of fact.
BJ turned. "Prophet, how is that? They have us boxed in, and I saw more coming.
"It's going to rain," the chinchilla said, eyes closed.
Outside, thunder rippled across the sky. All the mice looked upward. Outside, and in.
As the first few drops hit the roof, the safe house army cheered. No mouse, possessed or not, will stay out in the rain. And it turned out to be true. The enemy dissipated, the cat ran away, and the battle was over. All that was left were the wounded and our heavy breathing.
My master was wheezing fiercely. He pulled his helmet off as if it were choking him. His nose was covered in blood. He spat it out until he could breathe again.
"High council convenes at once," BJ stated, and began crawling toward his cage. Other knights began following. Percival, Stompy...Squibette...my master.
"Coming?" my master said.
"Me?" I put a paw on my breastplate. He nodded. I came.
The High council consisted of me, my master, Nemo, BJ, Stompy, Squibette, and Percival. Though many others waited outside, this was it. The mice who made the decisions. I felt intimidated to be one of them. No one had let me know I was high council.
"We were beaten," BJ said.
"Yes," my master agreed.
"What?" I piped up. "We kicked their-"
"They would have broken in eventually," my master said, wiping his nose. "They had heavy infantry" (he meant snakes and cats), "and serious air power" (he meant the hawk). "We have nothing like that."
"Maybe," Nemo said. Everyone looked at him. I wondered if he had made it rain, or if he just knew it was going to. "Raven helped me once, when I was desperate. Raven might help us."
"If this black mouse can call on any numbers it wishes, then we're going to be outnumbered eventually," Percival said. "Does it have no limit?"
"None that we have seen yet," Squibette said.
You don't know anything, I thought. Wait till it starts raising the dead.
"These attacks were foolish until now," my master said. "Now that Squibble is back, he will throw everything he has at us."
"What do we do?" I said. "We can't leave our home..."
He shook his head. A pang of terror hit me in the tummy. I suddenly knew the only thing that would stop the attacks, or thought I did.
"I have to go," I said.
"Oh, that's absurd," my master said. "You're not going anywhere."
I expected someone to debate him, to see my logic, but no one did. In fact, they agreed.
"Yes, you must stay. We aren't giving up our secret weapon," Nemo said.
I shook my head. "You're all a bunch of loons. I'm no secret weapon...I'm a little mouse that freezes up when I need to move!"
"Happens to the best of us," BJ said.
I stared at him. "Nuh-UHH!" I said.
"Uh-Huh," he replied. "When I was little, I was bought as a pet. My owner stuck me outside, on her deck, six feet above an asphalt driveway in summer. I had no food or water except when she remembered I existed, which wasn't often. Cats hunted me at night, cruel children tried to poke me with sticks during the day. I lived in a planter, fighting my way over every inch of that eight foot deck, grateful it was cluttered with so much junk, for two months of my life. So many times I came so close to death, and each time I swore I couldn't go on. I wouldn't last another day. I wanted to give up. I was thirsty, starving, and had no rest. I hated humans, and often...often I froze up in the beginning, terrified and not knowing what to do."
I was shocked at his confession. So was everyone else but Nemo and my master.
"But...How did you live?" I asked. "I thought you were in the cage with my master when they all got taken to the snake..."
"I was," he said. "I was. But in truth, I am probably your master's uncle, not his brother." At this my master's eyes got round and he looked at BJ in shock. BJ chuckled. "Could very well be," he remarked, and continued, "One day a human came in the night and picked me up - kidnapped me off the deck. I had heard that I was the third mouse on that deck - two others before me had bit the dust up there - or fallen off, and were too wounded from the fall to ever get back up there again. I heard the kids with their sticks chased my predecessor into a crack in a brick wall that was too small and stuck sticks into him until he died there. I though my fate was upon me, but the human was halfway kind. He took me back to a pet store, asking them to put me up for adoption. He couldn't take me because he had cats. They swore they'd take good care of me, but as soon as he was gone, they plunked me right in with the feeder mice again. It was the same cage I'd originally come from. Funny how things work. That was all before your master was born."
There was a moments silence in reverence to the King's story. What a life he'd had. No wonder he was such a fighter. A mouse would have to be to survive that.
"What does BJ stand for?" I asked, while he was revealing all.
"Billy Jack," he said. "It was a movie I saw once, through the screen separating me on the deck from the human's living room. I was always trying to get through that screen, or at least get the humans attention - to remind her I was dying... I could smell food and water inside. It was torture..." he got a far away look in his eye, but came back. "Anyway, it was this character in the movie. I liked him. He had to survive alot of crap, too."
I resolved to ask the kind human to rent this movie. He rented Mouse Hunt for us once. We all watched it together - him and several hundred mice. It was a good time.
"Back to business," BJ said. "We've been effectively conquered. We cannot fight from this position, defending our women and children. What do we do?"
"We cannot take the fight outside to him," Stompy said. "It's his ground, and we have no help."
"We could ask the field mice for help," I said.
BJ nodded. "That's a good idea, Squibble. They don't often interfere, but they might come if we asked them. We've never asked their help."
"They are a shut lot," Percival said. "They keep to themselves. I have never seen them in my wanderings as a young mouse."
"Nor will you," my master said. "They are twenty times faster than we, and can vanish in the blink of an eye into the wild. But as fighters they have no equal. They fight every day of their lives just to survive. They would be very helpful indeed."
"We have to get a messenger to them," Stompy said.
"Better send many," Squibette said. "Because most of them won't make it."
"She's right," BJ said. "We have to assume our enemy is smarter than us."
Yeah, he probably is, I thought. Stupid black mouse. You killed my family. I'm gonna see your head roll if it's the last thing I ever do. I swear it on my name.
"Okay, we send messengers to Raven and the field mice," BJ said. "We defend until then, and see what happens."
"We cannot go to war," my master said quietly.
All eyes turned to him.
"Why not?" Percival said respectfully.
He looked up at us. "We can't hurt other mice like this. This is what the enemy wants. He's demonic in his tactics. We're so busy fighting ourselves, possessed or not, that we aren't doing what we're really supposed to be doing." He looked right at me.
"Yes, I agree," BJ said. "Our quest is to save mice, not fight them. It's a huge diversion tactic. A very good one at that. If we end up fighting ourselves, we're no better than humans. "
"We aren't," I said. Now it was my turn to get stared at. Clearly I had offended everyone's mousey dignity. I snaffed. "It's true," I said. "They got themselves into the mess they're in by thinking that they were better than all the other animals. Now we're doing the same thing. We'll inherit their problems the more we become like them."
Nemo smiled and gazed at me, nodding. I had impressed him. The others thought it over, and one by one, nodded also.
"This enemy we fight was the enemy of humanity first," Nemo said. "He has only recently turned his attention to rodents. He knows how to fight men. He does not know how to fight mice. We must avoid war at all costs, but if it comes to that, there is our strength."
Everyone nodded again. It was ominous, what Nemo had said. How old was the black mouse? What was Nemo talking about? It gave me goosebumps.
"We will hold here," BJ said. "We will speak to the kind human, tell him of our trouble. We will send requests for aid. We will test the limits of our adversary."
Everyone agreed. The council disbanded. In the end, my master and I were walking along the living room floor as dusk was falling. Following ten steps behind me was Scratchy, holding my extra swords, a bag of BBs, and my shield.
"You've made him very happy," my master smiled, glancing back.
"Yeah, whatever," I said.
"He will serve you as faithfully as you served me," he said. "Maybe even more so."
"Impossible!" I blurted. He laughed. I was being serious.
"Anyway, you've done the right thing," he said. "You may freeze up once in awhile, but you always do the right thing, Squib. I have faith in you." He put a gloved hand on my shoulder and looked me in the eye. "I am proud of you, Sir Squibble."
I blushed. Scratchy looked away from the tender moment. "Thank you, master," I said. I smiled like a little kid. "Master?"
"Yes Sir?" he asked.
"What are you going to ask Michael?" I said.
He looked puzzled. "What do you mean Squib? Mike's dead."
"I mean the archangel Michael."
He shook his head as if trying to hear me correctly. "Ummm...haven't seen him lately," he said, chuckling.
"No really. For your favor. What are you going to ask him? Maybe you could ask him to squash the black mouse," I grinned, picturing it. "That's what I'd do."
"Squibble...I am not understanding you, I'm afraid."
"Mike said you could have one favor. From him personally. Don't you remember?"
"No," he said.
I shook my head. "But...I told you everything when I was hypnotized, didn't I? My dreams...?"
He looked concerned. "No, Squib. You didn't tell us any dreams. You told us many things, alot of them very disturbing. But you told us none of it might come true. Or some of it, or maybe all of it. You said the future was a road with a million forks in it, like a tree, ever reaching upward with smaller and smaller branches. You told us you were speaking to us from some two years in the future. But you mentioned no dreams."
Oh my Mousegod.
"Oh...Oh master, I thought I had told you everything! I've messed up real bad! Really, really bad!"
"Slow down, Squib," he said as I was turning in circles. Anxiety gripped my heart. Scratchy was looking at me puzzled, obviously wondering why I was imitating him. Because I'm a moron, I thought.
"Master, Mike said you could call on him one time in all of this...all this...this...junk. He asked me to be a champion of the Mousegod, and I said yes...stupidly...and...and this is all my fault. My fault!"
"Slow...Squibble," he said.
"Okay... Okay..." I fought to breathe. "He said you could call on him one time."
"For what?" he asked.
"Anything!" I squeaked.
"Uh huh..." he said. "And what else?"
"Ummm..." I fought to remember. My mind went blank for my efforts, of course, but then I remembered talking to Michael. (Can I remember my dreams now?" I had said. "Yes, Squibble," he said. "You can.") I looked up into my master's eyes. "He said your sword would be waiting for you at the lake. He said the Lady would hold it for you."
He looked confused. "My sword? The Lady?"
"Yeah. By the lake," I said.
His face went ash white. His eyes grew into circles. "The Lady of the Lake!??" he chirped.
"Yeah," I said. "A Lady by a lake. Yeah. Mike tossed his sword into the lake...his glowing..."
"Excalibur!" he exclaimed. He was way out of it. He looked as if he were seeing Mike right then, staring into space.
"Ummm... Are you okay?" I asked, waving a hand in front of him.
"Squibble, are you certain of what you just said?" he stared at me with frightening intensity.
"Yeah," I said. "Yeah, pretty sure."
He slapped himself in the face. He looked back at me. "This is huge, Squibble," he whispered. "Bigger than I had ever imagined. I have to go see Nemo!" And he ran off, lightning quick.
Funny master. As if he were surprised he had a sword sitting in a lake.