A Grim Preparation
The human had to make ten trips back to the city to get us all the supplies we asked for. He spent all day doing it, and in the end had to get Heide's help. Heide came herself as well, and brought Fred and her children, who all asked to come to the house they had heard so much about. Heide asked Fred to stay out of the war, and that was fine, because there would be alot of rodents staying out. Most of the women, children, the old, the sick. Those who didn't want to go. No one would be forced.
Heide paid for everything with the money Mike gave to her through Ruby. She insisted. The Rat and Mouse Club they had created was in full swing now, gathering members and putting up a web site. They planned to publish a magazine. I saw a future in that for old Squibble. Stories, art...I would be published maybe. Getting published in the real world is hard enough without being a mouse (yeah, like I would tell anyone that), but maybe the kind humans of the RMC would give cute little Squibble a chance to get a foot in the door. I would even bat my eyelashes and groom their fingertips for them. I'm not beyond a little begging. I'd love to have lots of people read my stories. My master did it. I did end up trying to get published as both a writer and an artist, but that story comes later on.
Vulcan took several apprentices to whom he taught his trade to, including some mice. They set out right away building war machines. Catapults, ballistae, ranged weapons, and improved spears and shields for our troops.
It was in that first couple of days that I met up again with Fred and her boys, plus a couple of other mice I had missed.
I was walking about with my master when I found myself confronted by a bunch of mice. Seven mice in brand new soldier's armor came to me, led by Sneaky, Squeaky and Clyde. Clyde looked...burned. His hair had the smell of gunpowder to it, and his face looked kinda, well, edgy. But he was happy to see me.
"Hail Lord Squibble!" He said. The men all saluted and went down to one knee.
My master chuckled and went on, inspecting the preparations. I turned to face them. It was then I recognized Fred's children. Theodore, the big one that had fought me so hard back at Heide's house was, of course, not there.
"Come far, have we?" I asked.
"Sire, we ask to be in your special cohort," One said.
Clyde giggled. It sounded like he was a loon, but who am I to judge that?
"I don't' have a special cohort, men. Just the Horde itself," I answered.
"The King says you get to pick 1000 of the best and keep them all around you," Sneaky said. "We brought you the news first."
"How mousey of you," I commented. They smiled. I looked the men over. Fred's kids were healthy, strong, and eagerly desiring action. They had some talents, I could see it.
"Okay," I said. "When they let me know, you're in. And you," I pointed to the biggest. He looked up, surprised. "You're a sergeant in charge of these others, and more will be put under you."
He smiled. "Thank you, Sire!"
I nodded. Turning to Clyde, I asked, "Blown anything up lately?"
He tittered. "Ohhh yesss, master!" He hopped about. "We are getting quite good at demolitions. Yess...quite decent, I would say. Quite dangerous! He he heee!"
He looked too happy to be just blowing things up. I narrowed my eyes. They had a metal worker...
"Please tell me you haven't built a nuke or something like that," I said.
"Eh?" he tilted his near-deaf ears toward me. I gestured with my hands like a mushroom cloud and raised my eyebrows.
"Oh, we're working on that," he said seriously, "but no...not yet." He giggled again. I relaxed.
"We have stuff almost as good," he said. My relax went away. "The generals will show you..yeeeEEEsss... they shall show you. hehehehehe!"
"Oh," I said. "Okayyy. Can't wait."
"Boom!" Clyde hollered. "Boom Boom!" Laughing maniacally, he ran off. I gave Sneaky and Squeaky a stiff look. They both shrugged and followed Clyde. I turned back to Fred's kids.
"Don't end up like that," I told them. They nodded, frightened.
Stompy had her gauntlets in a day, as she had been promised. They were custom fitted to her giant fists by Vulcan himself. She was eating like a machine, and regaining her former size (maybe a little bit more even). Nothing could stop her now. She gleefully went about punching holes in wooden beams, plastic toys, and snapping our plastic weapons in two whenever one was aimed at her in practice. After knocking a rat out cold with a single punch she was forbidden to punch any friendly forces while wearing the gloves of doom. Vulcan made her a marble stone statue of a black mouse to practice on, but she demolished it in one sitting, and the entire house had a healthy fear of her after hearing the swearing and the noise from that vehemently vicious session.
Shiva and Thor designed the outdoor training area. I had taught my troops well, and the rat twins had improved upon that, but BJ and my master saw holes in their training. They all needed to practice line battle. It would be weeks, maybe months before we were ready for the final conflict. The kind human set up the back yard exactly as we asked him to, digging trenches and piling dirt into high mountains. He built walls and laid out huge, flat boards. He built platforms and boxes for the different training areas. He built us an archery range and a castle wall with battlements. Staircases, terrain of all types, including swamp, was duplicated. We laid out red tape, designating where the humans would step. Mice had to cross at the wooden bridges, or risk being stepped on. Within days, training had begun again at the safe house, in earnest. BJ commanded groups of ten thousand at a time, and every single knight, officer, or mouse of interest had a job to do. Many rodents were promoted, for in the field we would need corporals, sergeants, lieutenants, captains, and more to commands all the different groups the inner circle was creating. My master was patterning it after medieval warfare from the books he read, with Shiva and Thor adding the modern element to it.
Oh yeah. Speaking of modern elements.
They took me aside one day to the training grounds. Carefully avoiding the graveyards, I followed them to a metal box about four feet square, with only one open side. Inside was a long range, burned black, with metal targets at the end in the shapes of humans, not mice. Several of the targets were covered in rags looking like clothing. The far wall of the box was slanted upward, and there were many walls and barriers placed in front of the targets for some reason.
"You aren't going to blow something up near me, are you?" I asked my boys. "Because mice don't like loud noises, and I ain't wearing metal armor."
"Well, we're gonna make a loud noise," Thor chuckled, "but it won't hurt you."
I leered at him.
"We promise," he said.
"Ohhh...Okayyy," I said. He smiled and whipped out a gun.
A rodent sized gun. Shiva pulled one out as well. They both got an evil light in their eyes, something like psychotic glee.
"No way!" I said.
"Way," Thor said, and cracked off a shot. It slammed the far target down and bounced off the ceiling, into one of the barriers.
I flinched hard. Fell down and covered my face, in fact.
"It's okay, Uncle," Shiva said. "The range won't let them bounce back at us. Vulcan designed it after human firing ranges."
"Oh...okay," I mumbled. Rats with guns.
"The great equalizer," Thor said proudly. "Now ours."
"Are those for the war?" I asked, getting up.
"No," Shiva said. "Too gnarly to produce. Money, time, all that. Also, Clyde doesn't have gunpowder down yet, exactly, so we steal it. It's hard to get. We only have four models. One is for you." He held out a pistol to me. A mouse sized pistol. Now I'd seen it all.
"It only carries one shot," he said as I took the device (handling it like it was a tiny snake). "But we have extra bullets. We figured you liked the slingshot, you might like this."
"My slingshot is an art form..." I started.
"It's a weapon," Shiva insisted. "Like this. And this can be an art form too. How about those old west movies, eh?"
"Mister," said Thor as he squinted, "we deal in lead."
They both busted up, cackling in glee.
"Besides," Shiva said, "this is the future, Squibble. You gotta stay on top of things if you wanna win."
"My master would think this was unchivalric," I said. Unchivalric meant it gave one opponent a clearly unfair advantage. In the old days, swordsmen had honor, and tried to keep things decently fair.
"Yeah, well then save it for an unchivalric opponent," Shiva said.
I nodded and thanked them for the nice gift. They smiled. Going the long way around the graveyard, I went back to my house and put the gun in my pile-O-stuff. I then tried to forget it was there.
The humans kept busy helping us. They were our giants, using their size and strength to do things we never could. Our kind human had brought, at great cost to his shattered body, more supplies from the city for Shiva and Thor, as he had been delighted to see them, and deeply regretted that they had been through anything traumatic because of his bad judgment. My boys weren't past using guilt to get what they wanted, and worked it for all it was worth. It turned out to be worth quite a bit. Stuff from the hardware store, Radio Shack, military surplus stores, gun shows, and mail order specialty stores littered the bathroom. The rats made a spot in the basement for their lab, and made it clear that to trespass meant death.
The humans clearly did not approve of a war, and hated the thought of rodents killing each other. They tried to talk us out of it. Having not been on our side of the pain the black mouse had rained down on us, they could barely understand. Our kind human seemed to understand better than Heide, but he was a man. He had been there to watch us die of the plague. When my master told him the black mouse must go, he knew it was true. It was after that talk when he went out and bought the rats all that stuff. I think he was trying to give us as much of an edge as possible. He was completely on our side, and so was Heide, despite what they wished wouldn't happen. Hey, we wished it too, we told them.
Especially my master.
The inner circle was offered metal armor. My master was the first to turn it down, loving his natural armor too much, and claimed that nature knew best. After that, no mice took the generous offer of Vulcan, though they did let him reinforce the armor they had with better buckles, straps, and metal hinges. Some mice added metal extras to their armor. Squibette had dimes put on her shoulders, which everyone thought was very bold until Stompy used quarters.
The Swords of Michael reveled in being the mounts for Mouse Knights, and took pride in their great size and strength. Human mounts could not come close to these. Horses could never scale walls, hop the equivalent of a hundred feet, or strike with their tails. They could not bite with 24,000 pounds per inch of pressure, nor had they claws. And sorry, but rats are just plain smarter than horses by far. Each of them got armor, for by now Vulcan had over 200 rodents working for him. And thus we had our heavy cavalry. My master was pleased. He said that in many wars, the side with the heavy cavalry had won. These armored rats could run clean over a hundred mice each and never even feel it.
The big challenge was gathering our allies. The bees said they would fight with us, as always, and sent out drones to find other nests and ask their help. The ants said they would march with us for certain, being creatures quite used to warfare themselves, but their numbers had been reduced by the drought and the famine. They, too, would go abroad and ask for help from other nests, although that was less likely to be given.
Then we had to find the field mice.
No ally would be more valuable than they. Their numbers were, at least at one time, immense. They were at least twenty times faster than any domestic mouse, and used to hardship. They would be hard to control and not used to organized battle, but even if we just asked them to go ballistic on the enemy, they would take a mean chunk out of the other side. The problem was finding them. The drought and the heat had driven them away in search of continued life. The few that came to our house for food and water did not know where other tribes had gone. They eked out their bare existences day to day, and belonged to no tribe. Those few said they'd join us, but we needed the tribes of Nemo. Their numbers and ferocity were too great an advantage not to have.
So my master sent twenty knights out on rats, equipped for a difficult quest, to find the Tribes of Nemo and ask their help in the war. They were sent to the far corners of our earth, the Fields of Fate, avoiding the area the enemy was known to be amassing his dark army. Regardless, none ever returned.
Mouse scouts from the Hordes of Squibble were sent to the enemy camp, being experts at camouflage and sneaking in the city. The few field mice we had were organized into a group called Lightning Legion, and they tried their best to train the scouts for skulking in the wild. Still, precious few returned, and what they reported was scary.
The enemy had moved mostly underground, and his numbers were not known. But what was too large to be moved underground was visible, and it was clear he had monsters.
When we asked what the scouts meant by monsters, they just trembled and stared at us wide-eyed.
"Monsters!" they'd say, and that was all. It left us with a bad feeling in our stomachs. We knew of a few coyotes, but that was all. We had thought our victory was in the bag with so many on our side, and so well armed, so well trained. Now we had doubt chewing on us.
On top of that, Nemo warned us that the dark powers of the black mouse had grown, and that now it was safe to assume that he might be able to do anything Nemo himself could, probably more.
I asked him exactly how much that was, and he just smiled. I was tempted to bite his ear, but I knew that would only get me flung about like a rag mouse.
Each and every night the safe house was a moving mass of training camps and the sounds of building. BJ felt like a true King now, and it showed in his training. He gave everything he had to the massive group, and still no mouse could beat him in combat. He loved every bruise he took, every wound he suffered, for it meant that his students would be more likely to survive the war.
The ranks went like this:
BJ was king, and therefore in charge of everything. My master came second, although not really, because he held more respect than BJ did, technically, but he deferred to the King in all things. My master was pretty much in charge of the war effort. Then came Percival, who was acknowledged to be second in command. I was equal with Percival, who I had playfully taken to calling Perky because he had way too much energy and was way too serious all the time for such a young mouse. After that came the rat twins, the rest of the inner circle were made colonels, including Stompy, Squibette, Ghost, and Branch, even though he wasn't there. My master wrote a letter to him, explaining everything that was happening, but Nemo stopped him from mailing it.
"By the time it reaches him, all this will have already been decided," Nemo said.
"I want him to know what happened, in case we don't..." my master said.
"He knows," Nemo told my master. "I have written him. He will receive the letter the day of battle."
My master peered at the wise chinchilla. "What day will that be, master Nemo?"
Nemo looked out in the direction of the enemy camp.
"A cold one," he said. "Cold, and dark."
A shudder ran through my fur.
"Soon?" My master asked.
Nemo looked at us both with eyes full of hidden knowledge. He looked quite sad.
"Yes," he said. He sounded sad too.
My master sighed. "I hate this."
Nemo nodded. "It is a just cause, and against great evil." He put his massive paw gently on my master's head. "It was meant to be, and could not possibly have been avoided. Sooner or later, one day or the next, it would have come to this. Waiting would only make it worse."
My master nodded. He turned to look at me, his face set in determination, but still showing the weariness and toil of his troubled soul.
"Well then, Squibble, we are almost ready. It's nearing the end of winter. The field mice have not been found. We must assume they will not come. The bees and ants have had marginal success. It looks like it's up to us."
"Do we have enough to win, master?" I asked.
"Hard to say," he said. "But one thing is yet undone."
My ears went up.
"How do you feel about one last quest together, my squire?" He smiled softly at me.
I nodded immediately. "Where are we going, master?"
He looked out across the snowless, frozen Fields of Fate.
"To claim my sword."