Never in all this time of my writing, drawing, and being depressed did I ever not think of my mother. I thought of Shiva and Thor. I thought of Branch. I thought of Squibette, and often left treats for her at her nest box (I let her and Favorite have my cage, pretty much - I had no use for it anymore. I didn't see them much, or even sleep there. I slept in a corner of the living room under the drawing table, in a small forgotten box the human had lost... I moved all my stuff in there and that was where I worked during the day). A full month and then some days had passed since my return. I was far removed from the world of normal mice by now.
One morning I went to my lessons with Nemo and he was smiling, holding a letter in his paws. A real letter, with a stamp and postage an' everything. You could see the question mark pop up over my head. He handed it to me. It was addressed to "Lord Squibble" and had the safe house's address on it. The return postmark was from Tibet!
"Branch made it!" I cried. Nemo grinned widely and nodded.
He said, "Open it. It's to you."
Here is what Branch's letter said:
The plane flight was hairy. Sneaking past everyone at four in the morning was easy, but to get aboard I had to sneak into luggage, which they promptly closed on me. Once aboard, I had to chew my way out, only to find that it was freezing cold in the luggage compartment! I thought that was it for this mouse. I searched and searched and found a way into the pet area (they have a pet area on planes...I didn't know this!) where it was warm, but there was a human who checked on things every once in awhile. The flight was long. Really long for a mouse. There was a pair of guinea pigs that let me share their food and water. They were a nice couple. I hid with them when we disembarked and snuck out before they were put with their humans.
Once in the airport I snuck my way around to find maps - only to find that everything was in Chinese! Did you know there's, like, 47 dialects or something just in Hong Kong?? Wow. So I thought again, my trip was for nothing. I was supposed to meet monk mice here somewhere, and I didn't even know where. I started to panic, but remembered Nemo's empty mind trick (Thank you, Master, since I know you already know what this letter says, don't you?). It worked like a charm, and I sat there and meditated for a long time. Eventually, the monk mice found me. Cool huh? They said they homed in on my vibrations - much higher than other mice. They said I have potential.
When I first arrived, I sat meditating on a balcony. They gave me a bowl - a Tibetan spirit bowl, they called it, and a gong to play it with (it hums!). I watched everyone picking rice and working in the fields. What a spoiled, arrogant American I was! I assumed they'd treat me special and teach me cool things, but no. They ignored me for days except to fill my bowl and show me where water was. When I finally asked one of the masters why, he simply pointed to the field. Duh! I slapped myself and went down to do my share of work. A few days after that, I was admitted into the temple and my training truly began.
It has been magnificent. I do Chi Gung (Energy cultivation) every morning and evening, meditate four times a day, and learn mantras (chants that set your mind to a particular frequency, like wisdom, or peace). I have included very detailed drawings and instructions for you, brother, on how to do these things. I am not sure Nemo even knows (forgive me if it is not so, Master). You would do well to practice every day. The chi gung makes you very healthy and powerful - and some say that if it gets strong enough, you can even levitate - or heal people with it!
(At this point I looked at the rest of the envelope and there were, indeed, about 40 pages of mousey drawings with notes...I was so excited!)
I am enjoying my time here. It is where I was meant to be. I have already learned to speak Chinese Mouse very well. They tell me no one has ever mastered it so fast. I asked them when it might be that I got to throw fireballs and control the weather. They laughed and said I had a funny sense of humor. No one has ever accomplished those feats, they said, except in ancient legends. I was reminded of father's stories of knights and dragons. Maybe it's all just a myth. Probably. Kinda disappointing, but they tell me that all disappointment comes from expectation. I think they're right. Well, I won't expect to attain great magics, but I sure ain't givin' up! (he he he)
Please take care of father. He's not the same since mom died. Share this letter with him, and the rest of the family. I miss you, Squibble. I hardly got to know you, but I know there's good reason for that. Nemo said you're going to be the mightiest of us all someday. That must be a heavy burden, and not many will understand.
There were drawings of the temple, of some of the monks he knew. The art wasn't great, but the point got across well, and his heart was in each pencil stroke. It warmed my heart that he made it. I thought he was going to become just one more lost tragedy in this whole stupid mess. I didn't realize it, but tears were flowing down my face.
"You miss your mother."
I looked up at the chinchilla and nodded.
"You feel that you're wasting your time with me, and by sitting around, doing nothing."
I nodded again.
"Tell me how you feel, Squibble," he said gently.
I hesitated. He nodded as if to let me know that there would be no consequences for this action. I felt calm. Somewhat safe. Even though I didn't really believe in safety anymore.
"Okay," I said. "I feel this is all stupid." I hopped to emphasize my point. "Stupid. We're sitting around, trying to hide me, when the enemy is just picking us off. This is a horror movie where no one can hear the music! He has limitless numbers, and ours go down a little every day. And I can't stand doing nothing! I hate it. It's making me crazy."
He nodded. "And?"
"And you haven't taught me nothin worth diddly!" I blurted.
He nodded again. "And?"
"And Scratchy is all around me all the stupid time like a leech! And Favorite is crippled and it's not fair! And my master is sick, and he's not supposed to be sick! He's supposed to be strong and majestic!"
Nemo nodded. "And?"
I frowned. I was on a roll now. "And I forgot to tell my master the most important thing! An' now it's too late 'cause we're stupidly surrounded by stupid zombies! An' that's just stupid! I bet no one sleeps well at night! I mean...In the day... an' I don't even get to see my own daughter 'cause I can't sleep! An' I watch... I watch too much stupid TV! It's doing something to my head!"
Nemo nodded. That was all.
I huffed and puffed. "Well?" I said.
"Well what?" he asked.
"What do I do about it!" I chirped.
He cocked his head. "I don't know."
"Oh, mister brilliant master! Why are you so powerless anyway? I saw you do presti-digaform or whatever, but you can't do any real magic. Can't really help anyone, can you? Maybe you're a scam artist. Yeah....just tryin' to pretend you're a great wizard or prophet or whatever. Maybe my master's...maybe he's..."
"Wrong?" he said.
"Yeah! That! An' there is no such thing as magic! An' maybe there's no hope neither, an' maybe everything sucks! Everything's STUPID! STUUUUUPIIID!" I snorted and stomped and hopped and leaped. I ran my head a couple of times into the cage to see what Clyde felt like (it hurt). I squeaked in helpless frustration and thrashed about mindlessly. Finally, I was worn out.
"Feel better?" he said.
"No!" I lied.
"Please take care of father. He's not the same since mom died. Share this letter with him, and the rest of the family. I miss you, Squibble. I hardly got to know you, but I know there's good reason for that. Nemo said you're going to be the mightiest of us all someday. That must be a heavy burden, and not many will understand. Be strong," Nemo said.
I gaped. I checked the letter. It was still in my hand.
He had it exactly. Word for word.
He couldn't have read it. It was sealed. Too many pages to hold up to candlelight...no...he couldn't have read it.
"How did you do that!" I demanded.
"Branch knew I could do it," he said.
"How did you do that!" I repeated.
He smiled. "Prescience."
My ears went up stiff (heard something!). "Whassat!"
"The ability to see all the futures," he said.
I was suspicious mouse. "No way."
"What am I going to do next?" I said.
"You're going to go talk to your daughter, then your master, then come back and talk to me," he said.
"Nuh-UH!" I said. "What if I just don't, huh? What if I just ....go back to my stupid box an' draw the day away?"
He was silent with that I-know-it-all-and-you-do-not grin on his furry face. Grrrrrr.
"Okay, how does it work, Einstein?" I said, putting the letter behind my back and the other hand on my hip.
"I'm glad you asked," he said. "Would you like to learn? Because our time grows short."
I was suddenly concerned. "Howcome?"
"The enemy is very shrewd, Squibble. These attacks are just a diversion. He is preparing for the real attack shortly, and when it comes, there will be nothing we can do against it but survive."
"That sucks!" I squeaked. "This is a two-bit horror flick! We need to go gank his sorry butt right now!"
"Gank?" he said.
"Mess him up good! We bad!" I exclaimed.
He gave an okay, whatever look and said, "Not a bad idea."
"Thassright!" I said. "I'll learn your magic trick another time. I gotta go tell everyone what the deal is!"
"Okay," he said.
"You can teach me prestiwhatsit tomorrow."
"Okay, master," he said, still smiling.
"Yeah. Das' right." I lifted my chin and zoomed off, carrying the letter from Branch.
A moment later I was at my cage. I dropped off the letter. Though it was late, Squibette was up talking to Favorite. She was speaking in soothing tones, saying kind words. Her head came up and she saw me. I smiled like a fool. She groomed her momma some, then came over to me.
"I never see you anymore, Dad," she said.
"Yeah," I said, shifting my feet. "Sorry."
"No one sees you anymore. Mice are beginning to say you've lost your mind, or want to leave again."
"They don't say I'm a cowardly, worthless cretin who's afraid to fight?" I asked.
"Oh, no!" she snapped back. "The Lord of the Mouse Knights, the King, myself...none of the honorable would ever let them say that about you! They know better!"
"I thought they'd just make stuff up about me."
"No - your master beat them to it," she smiled.
"Reeely?" I asked. I skinched closer. "What does he tell them?"
She skinched too. Just like me! "He told them you're preparing to save us all, in a manner that no other mouse could. He said you're learning great power."
(Heard something!) My head popped up and my ears went aperk. Mice do that alot.
"Great power called channel nine," I mocked. "Sometimes channel thirteen."
"He seemed very convinced," she said. "He doesn't lie often."
"He never lies!" I insisted. Then I saw she had tricked me. Tricky mouse! She smiled. I laughed. Chip off the old block. "I have to go tell him that enough is enough. We have to go gank the black mouse."
She nodded. "I agree."
"You do?" I said. "I thought no one around here wanted a war."
"No one does," she said. "But it's not as if we have any choice."
"Let's go together."
So we went. Strangely, we found my master awake in the middle of the day. He was poring over his precious encyclopedias. He was looking in "D."
"Hi master!" I said.
He took off his spectacles and peered down at me from his special research table. He smiled. He looked tired, and hadn't removed his armor. I noticed it was well used. Dinged, bent in places, dirty and marked with many teeth scars.
"Oh, hello, Squib. And Squibette." He smiled wider. "How are the both of you this fine day?"
"How goes the battles, my lord?" I said.
He climbed down from the book and took rest with us. He ate an oat laying there. He wiped his brow, cleaned himself, and picked up his tail to observe a bandaged wound on it (one of many). "Not so good, Squib. We can hold out for almost ever, but we lose a few mice every day. They lose tens, hundreds, it doesn't matter. We drive them back every time, but they keep coming. It's crazy." He shook his head. "The other day we finally took the time to observe one of the fallen mice. It was in rigor mortis."
"What's that?" I said. It didn't sound good.
"That's when a body has been dead a long time, it stiffens and grows cold," he said. "The mouse we 'killed' had already been dead. Dead when it attacked us."
"I knew mice couldn't survive the journey to the safe house," Squibette hissed. "That's the answer...they don't!"
My master nodded his head. "Yes. At least most of them. It seems we are up against a diabolical foe with no reservation, and no morals of any kind. He is sending these mice from the city at us, in huge waves. Some die somewhere along the way, and get up. And...keep coming."
"That's horrible!" Squibette said in horror.
You ain't seen nothin' yet, I thought, thinking of my dreams. Why, in fact...
"I had this dream last night," I said.
"Yes, I hear you're sleeping at night," he said in a concerned tone. As if a human had said to another human "You're sleeping all day?"
I nodded. "Yeah."
Finally he thrust his head at me. "The dream?"
"Oh yeah," I said. "I had this dream that the black mouse was eating our children."
"Father!" Squibette shrieked.
My master winced and made a face. "That's pretty bad, Squibble."
"That's one of the nice dreams!" I chirped. "I can't stand it anymore, master! We're sitting ducks! We have to go kill this stupid mouse now!"
He lowered his head.
"What!" I said.
"Squibble...." he looked up. "You don't know what war is like. No one does. It's terrible. No one wins. It's the very last resort. War is what this mouse wants."
"With all due respect, sire," Squibette said, "How do you know what war is like?"
He nodded and motioned for us to come over. He had another volume of the encyclopedias open, and next to it, one of his favorite books of all time - one he read over and over - Le Morte d'Arthur. He showed us pictures in both. They were pictures of war. Squibette squinted her eyes and shied away, but my master grabbed her and made her look. To me, these were illustrations of my dreams. Detailed drawings of bloody horror.
"This is what happens in war," he said. "It is not glorious. It is not valiant. It's ... stupid," he said, imitating me (quite well).
I got busy looking at the drawings, studying them, trying to learn from them how to draw like that (they were by Gustav Dore), when I came back to reality. My master looked at me as if to say were you listening, Squibble? and I looked back as if to say I'm jaded, master...these dreams are killing me. Both of us got the messages loud and clear. Like telepathy. Like magic.
But Squibette was deeply affected. "Those...those are men," she said. "Not mice."
"Mice die like men," my master said. "And men die like mice, though they refuse to admit it."
"Yeah," I said.
There was a long silence.
"We can't go to war, Squibble," he said. "But we can find this black mouse...and kill it." He went back to the "D" encyclopedia. "I have been studying our foe."
"Reely??" I said, and hopped up with my daughter to sit next to him on the page.
"Yes," he said. I looked at the top of the page and it said Demons. I shuddered.
He nodded. "It's not just any demon, either," he said. He pointed to a picture on the page. It was a man...kinda. It had wings and horns. Kinda like the black mouse without the wings. The caption said, "Lucifer, Prince of Darkness."
My eyes got wide. I had kinda known this, though I didn't know how, but I had known.
"The black mouse is...is...the Devil, master?" I asked.
"If not the Devil himself, some part of him, or one of his high ranking agents," he said. "I guessed this from your descriptions of the black mouse after you told me Michael had offered to help. Before that, I just thought we might be dealing with some small, pestering demon. A lower rank, a nuisance. But a mighty angel like Mike wouldn't be allowed to help if this enemy was not his own equal."
"There are really demons?" Squibette said in shock.
"Oh yes," my master said. "Though they aren't allowed to walk the earth for very long, or for any light reason. Squibble, your mission...your holy quest... must be very important if the high ranks of Hell wish to stop it."
"Master?" I said, swallowing hard and looking at the picture. "Why is it important that Mike said he'd help you once?"
He signaled to a series of helper mice, who flew up the table at his request, grabbed a bunch of ropes, and waited. My master set a long place holder into yet another encyclopedia (the table was full of them, he loved them so much). He drove it in all the way, and at the end of it was a ring attached to the ropes, which, in turn, were attached to pulleys, which led to the helper mice. They heaved, and the book came open. A few shoving pages later, he had the right entry before us. It showed a mighty, shining angel with a blazing sword standing on two continents at once, one foot on one and one foot on the other...really big. It was Michael. As I had seen him. He was pointing his burning sword down at ...Hell, I guess...this burning place below the earth, where another angel writhed in anger and wrath, wrapped in flames, lying among the ruins in defeat. It was Lucifer.
"Michael and Lucifer are brothers," my master explained. "And as the rules of engagement for cosmic forces declare, one isn't allowed to act without the other also having the power to do the same."
I perked up. "Well, that fixes it!" I said. "Ask Mike to smite the black mouse but good an' we can all go back to our Cheerios!"
My master grinned at the joke, but said, "It doesn't work like that, Squib. They don't directly smite each other often. Mike allowed me to decide what he would do. It has to be something very, very smart. Smarter than the Devil."
Squibette whistled softly and said, "Wow."
"An' Mike gave you the sword," I said. "Don't forget."
"How can I?" he said almost to himself. He seemed deeply disturbed. "That is the sword of kings. Excalibur. The Holy Avenger."
"Cool. Let's go get it, and smite the-"
"It's not so simple, Squibble!" he exclaimed, startling me. He held up his paw, and said, "I'm sorry. I'm sorry. It's just...that sword comes to one person...man or mouse...only once every thousand years, if that. It's a huge, ungodly responsibility. I don't know if I'm up to it."
"Of course you are," I whispered, as if someone had told me the sky was not blue.
He shook his head. "That sword is a weapon of immense power," he said, the awe clear in his voice. "If I take hold of that sword, my fate is decided. Everyone's is. That sword is meant for wars. It is meant to bring peace the hard way. Its original purpose was to unite the land. In the old days, that couldn't happen without battle."
"Okay, so we can kill the black mouse without it," I said. "I'll bean him with a BB." My daughter laughed, trying to stifle it.
My master smiled. "Oh, I love you, Squib." He hugged me. Daylight entered my soul. "I wish this enormous task had not been put on you, dear one." He held me close so I couldn't see the tears on his face, but I smelled them. "I wish you had been allowed to live a carefree, happy mouse life."
"Yeah..." I said. "Me too. I wish that too."
He held me at arms length. "So do all who live in such times, eh?" I nodded. "We need to go talk to Nemo."
"What?" I said. "Why?"
"He can tell us how this is going to turn out. What the best choices might be. This is no decision to be made lightly."
"But...But..." I said. No way. Ears went aperk again. My eyes got round. Oh, my Mousegod. "He...He said... He said..."
"Squib?" my master said, passing a hand over my face. "Seeing ghosts again?"
"No..." I said. "But I bet I soon will be."
When we returned to the master prophet, he had not moved one inch from where I left him.
And he was still wearing that grin.