The journey to the house was a long one by field mouse standards. It would take days. While preparing for it, Kippy wondered non-stop if his father had made it. Surely the chief felt the same.
Their mother packed grains and pieces of plants that held water. The season was not yet cold as it would get, but it was bad enough to freeze an unsheltered mouse in the night. They took pieces of canvas, cloth, and cotton - anything that might keep them warm. Their momma worried over them. It was considered a very dangerous journey, even in summertime. The cold breath of winter was before them now.
"We'll be okay, mom," Kippy said, annoyed at her endless preening like any teenager would be. "Fleeter is fast and I'm smart. We'll be Mouse Knights! You'll see."
"What he meant to say," said Fleeter, "was 'Fleeter is fast and smart, and will protect me every step of the way.'"
"One day when you might need me, Bro," said Kippy. "And when you do, I'm gonna rub it in."
"If that happens, be my guest," said Fleeter.
Their mother went on and on about the rules of the field and the things they might have to do to survive. She was compensating for their having no father. It would have been his job to say all those things.
Somewhere during the lecture, the chief came by their nest.
"I came to say goodbye, Kippy," he said with a broad, warm smile. He nodded to the other. "Fleeter."
Kippy had never met the chief up close. He stood still and tried to remember how to be polite.
The chief chuckled. "It's all right, little mouse," he said as he groomed Kippy's fur. "I told your dad I would look out for you, and I have done my job. Now go and make me proud. The entire village is counting on you to put us on the map of field mice. Mouse Knights can name places as well as mice, you know."
Kippy's ears quivered with excitement at the recognition from their leader. "I'll do you proud, Sir," he panted. "You'll see. I'll come back one day and name this place."
The chief smiled. He gave them some fatty nutmeat from his own private stash. He groomed Fleeter and told him in confidence while he was doing so, "You take care of that mouse, son. Don't let anything happen to him."
Fleeter whispered back, "I swear it, Sir. On my name."
The coming of the darkness saw them on their way. Their first time over the log that spanned the creek made them tremble with anticipation of a great adventure. They had never been this far from home before.
That first night went by quickly. They stayed to the sheltered brush and walked quickly. They drank water when they found it and ate lightly. The coming day they dug a hole, spread out their cotton and fabrics, and slept like the babies they had been only days before.
The cold increased and the food dwindled. Before long they were tired at the end of the night and hungry often. Their pace slowed and they took to telling Mouse Knight stories to each other from memory - for inspiration, and to quell the fear that now they were truly on their own. They knew the way to the house. Everyone knew it - it was the path the bees flew. Just follow the bees and you find the house. It also happened to lay in the direction of morning. But how far it was exactly no one knew. It was just... far. And far for a mouse was relative. They certainly followed the path their father had taken less than two months before. They both silently hoped they would not come across his body, but that was just pure fear. There would be no body if he hadn't made it. The field used everything, living or dead. Nothing was wasted.
So the nights wore on and they grew more concerned as they went. Their food from the village was gone and they had to forage in a landscape preparing for long, cold sleep. More and more they went hungry and became more worried. They were thin mice now, a week and a half out from their sweet village.
When they finally topped the last rise and came into sight of the famous house of the Mouse Knights, they were almost run over by a car.
It went right over them and was followed by others that barely missed them.
Shocked and frightened, they scurried to the nearest cover - a dense bush. Confused, they stared in awe at the bizarre scene below.
The house was exploding with action. The bees were swarming, attacking several humans in white and yellow suits that covered everything - even their heads. The ants were marching against the humans also, and also to no avail. There were mice, rats, and other creatures everywhere, all running in different directions, trying to escape the men who held long red sticks and cages full of mice.
There was one human being led out of the house by two others, a man and woman in suits, his hands held behind his back. He had long hair and was obviously angry as hell. He struggled, yelled, and fought his way every inch until he was tossed violently into the back of one of the waiting cars.
Standing in front of a black car was a tall man in a black suit. He wore a flat brimmed hat low on his forehead, and his skin seemed almost blue in the light. The face of the man was blank, and appeared frozen in a frightening emptiness. And sitting on the shoulder of the tall man was a black mouse with red eyes. Kippy felt prickles of instinctual danger shoot up his back at the sight (and more the smell) of the creepy black mouse. It was looking right at him from a distance of over fifty feet! The tall human grinned mechanically as the other human who had been dragged from the house struggled against the locked door of his prison. All the while the spooky mouse would not stop staring at Kippy and Fleeter. Chaos reigned around them, but that shadow mouse never moved. It wasn't right.
The once peaceful haven was a war zone! The very last thing the brothers had expected.
Kippy did not hesitate. "Come on! We have to help!"
His brother held him back. His dark eyes narrowed. He could see ten times the distance that Kippy could with his red albino eyes, and what he saw wasn't good. The humans could not be opposed. Rats bit them in ferocious attacks, and were stilled by the touch of the red sticks. Gas billowed out of the house and nothing within moved. Animals that were even close staggered like they were brain damaged. The only real hope, the Kind Human of legend, was already subdued. It was a tragedy they were witnessing - not a fight.
"What are you doing!" shouted Kippy, turning on his brother. But when he saw his brother's face, he understood. Looking back at the scene, he saw it with a panic-free understanding. Two mice could not change that.
Just then, two other mice came puffing up the hill toward their bush, running for their lives. And behind them came a yellow suited human, red stick pointing.
One of the mice was huge. Easily seven times the size of Kippy. She ran well for her size, but clearly wasn't going to make it. Her companion, a slender beige mouse, would not leave her behind. The brothers looked at each other. This was something they knew about.
"You help them up the hill!" shouted Fleeter, and he was gone.
Kippy ran forward, barreling down the hill toward the two mice, who immediately stopped when they saw him, their eyes wide as saucers.
The suited human almost got them, but Fleeter appeared before him, baring his teeth and arching his brown back. The man was taken aback, but stuck his red weapon of doom out before him anyway. Fleeter wasn't there. Having easily dodged the snail - paced attack, Fleeter rushed in and tore open the human's suit at the ankle, having no clue how effective this would be.
"Breach!" yelled the human. "I've got a breach!" He flailed, dropped the red thing, and ran back down the hill in panic. Fleeter gazed after him on wonder. He had heard humans were strange, but this? His first encounter with one, and he won. He would make an excellent Mouse Knight, he decided.
The two mice that had been running up the hill stayed still until Kippy got to them. The little white mouse paused before them with exasperation written all over his desperate face. "What are you waiting for!" he chirped. Then he ran back up the hill to the bush.
"So fast," the slim one said to the big one. The large mouse nodded and ran.
They followed at their best pace. When they finally collapsed back inside the bush, Fleeter was waiting for them.
After much panting, the mice all sized each other up. The fact that one of the strangers was a field mouse didn't seem to shock the two locals. The huge one, heaving with each breath, held out her hand. "I'm Stompy," she managed between breaths. "And this is Squibbette. Thanks for the rescue - that was awesome. You're unbelievably fast!"
"Thanks," said Fleeter.
"I wasn't talking to you, brownie," she interjected rudely. "I was talking to this..."
"Kippy!" Kippy exclaimed.
Their expressions went back to the ones they wore coming up the hill. Their heads filled with questions, their faces with confusion.
Stompy frowned. A scary thing. Fleeter regretted his words immediately. She was five times his weight. And balling up her fists.
"Now, Stompy..." Squibbette said, calming down her friend. The tan mouse looked very much like a young female version of the old legend that had visited the colony two weeks ago. She looked at Kippy and smiled. Same smile. "We thought you were...someone else at first. Pardon our surprise. It's not often we meet named mice."
"What's happening?" asked Kippy in dismay, gesturing with his snout to the scene below. The tall man and the black mouse were gone. The rest of the humans were gathering every mouse in sight, unconscious or not, and stuffing them in tiny metal boxes.
Stompy turned her head to look and through a grimace, answered. "The bad humans. They heard the rumors of the Mouse Knights. Word has gotten around after the book came out. At first no one believed in mice that could read, or wore armor - the book was fiction, after all.... But soon, the city had Mouse Knights, and people began to report the strange things they saw. Lord Percival told everyone to ditch their armor and weapons, to try to look like normal mice and rats, but some refused. This was inevitable. Squibble predicted it all. He warned us."
"Squibble!" exclaimed Kippy.
"Yeah. He told us it would happen. We just weren't ready for it. It came so suddenly."
"Where is he?" asked Fleeter.
"On some quest he's been working for months and months... well, his whole life, really. Before he left he got this message from a field mouse...then he said it was vital that he go visit this mouse's colony in search of..."
"Where is the field mouse!" Kippy demanded immediately.
Stompy was taken aback at the interruption, and answered with a grim gesture. "Down there."
Kippy's face flashed to panic. "Father!" he cried, and bolted down the hill.
Fleeter yelled, "Kippy, no!" but it was no good. The little mouse was already halfway there, flying with the speed of a field mouse.
"Damn, that's amazing," said Stompy, looking after.
Fleeter blurred out, following Kippy down the hill.
Squibette looked at Stompy meaningfully. "Squibble said he was going to that village in search of a white mouse," she said. Stompy's eyes got wide again. "You don't suppose..."
"Aww, hell," Stompy complained.
The two mice broke forth from the cover of the bush and blazed down the hill toward the house, looking for any hint of white. When they finally saw it, they drew back in horror.
Kippy was in a cage. One of the humans was carrying him off toward the back of a van filled with rows and rows of other cages. His face was set in terror. He clawed wildly at the bars and bit them savagely with no effect. The humans were taping the house door shut with yellow tape that said "Quarantine area by order of the U.S. Government Center for Disease Control." They were getting into their cars and leaving. Taking all their prisoners with them. There was no sign of Fleeter. They were too late.
Stompy and Squibette watched the army of men drive away leaving dust and destruction behind them.
"Poor Kippy," said Stompy.