The Specter Squibble
I went back to the oak tree and the sewer grate, praying the entire way. My slingshot and nest were still there, and I breathed a sigh of relief. I put on my old, battle-worn armor, took up my shield that smelled of beer, put my beloved slingshot around my neck once more, and even wrapped the rag of a cloak around my shoulders. It was blue, my chivalric color. No one but my family was allowed to use it.
"Halt," he said. "Friend or foe?"
Sick of that horseshit, and remembering Percival's whipping all too well, I kicked him in the shin, took his spear, broke it over my knee, and went inside.
Several other mice had heard the commotion and saw me coming down the hall. One screamed outright. All of them fled. A rat even poked his head around the corner and upon seeing me, beat a hasty retreat. Rats and mice fled before me until I came to the grand hall and the newly installed throne of the king. The throne was surrounded by knights and soldiers, none of them happy about being there. I saw weapons tremble in brave paws, armor shaking upon trained shoulders. Only one mouse was not terrified of me.
BJ came off his throne and cautiously crawled down to me. The high guard parted to let him through as he rebuked them for thinking him unable to defend himself. He came up to my face with no fear whatsoever. He looked into my eyes a long time.
You must understand that by this time I looked like a supernaturally fierce wreck. I was covered in blood dating back to the Great War. I had fresh stuff on me as well in great amounts, and my fur was ragged with self-inflicted bites and scratches from mites. My armor looked just as it had the day I took it off - rotten, dirty, wrecked, and cut in a thousand places. Barely hanging on. My shield was dinged, beaten, bashed, and most of the paint on it chipped away. It also smelled like cheap alcohol. My cloak was a rag, but still barely blue, and my cracked sword belt was empty. But most of all, my vibe was different. I was a completely different mouse than BJ had last seen.
He held his gaze until he was satisfied, then bellowed, "Get this knight a weapon! Now!"
Someone handed me a plastic sword. It was blue.
I took it, put the tip in the ground, and knelt before the king.
"The specter has returned to the living then?" he said to me.
I looked up. "I have."
He motioned me to rise. While the entire room gawked in awe and horror, we went to the throne. He sat me beside it and turned to me as he sat down. He was older, like me. I could see it in him. But like me, he still felt full of life chi. His movements were not slow or forced. His eyes were still bright.
"Everyone thinks you are dead," he said. "And worse, haunting the park."
"I was. I did."
He gave me the look of deep focus and contemplation Nemo had done a few times. Finally, he nodded. "What now then?"
"I have a job to do, and a great plan to accomplish," I said. "I require the assistance of the entire mouse kingdom."
"You shall have it, prophet," he said.
"Whassat?" I said.
"Nemo had declared you a prophet to the mice. He said you are to take his place."
"Why would anyone need to take his place?" I asked.
"He is very ill, Squibble," the King told me. "He is slowly dying."
I said nothing.
"He traded his own life for your master's. I thought you knew."
I frowned. "I was dense."
He nodded. "You were you. Nothing more."
"How vast is the kingdom after the Great War?" I asked. "And how much money do we have?"
He raised his eyebrows. "This plan of yours must be big."
"Bigger than you could possibly imagine," I said. "And just as insane."
He chuckled. "We have over three thousand mice here in the new kingdom," he said. "And a few hundred back at the safe house. As for money, your orders have stood since the day you issued them, for all rodents world over to collect money and valuables. We have alot of money."
"How much?" I said.
He grinned. "More than you can possibly imagine." He told me how much.
I nodded. "The safe house? The human lived?"
"And gave a few mice permission to breed," he said, grinning, "to replenish the losses of the Great War."
"You, sire?" I asked.
"Yes, I had a few litters," he proudly announced, and waved his hand about the room. I saw his children gathered about, all young mice, princes and princesses, all staring at me as if I was some character from a fairy tale come to life. Perhaps to them I was. They all looked like BJ. Some looked like my master. I saw the family resemblance.
"Who else?" I asked.
"You'll see," he said.
"What of Percival?" I said. "I saw not his body at the site of the great battle."
"He left this journal at the battle camp," he gave me a mouse-sized book, full of writing. "I think perhaps, as a writer, it should go to you."
The old Squibble would have argued at being a writer, out of pure self conscience, but I took the book and said nothing.
"He also sent this letter just a week ago," he said, and some rats brought forth a piece of paper in an envelope with words scrawled upon it. The envelope's return address only said "Idaho."
I opened the letter and read it. It was addressed to me.
I set the letter down and closed my eyes. Such a grim task had fallen to Perky. He had been made for better things. My great calling had cost everyone too much. I could not waste one more moment.
"Tell all the mice, everywhere, to continue gathering the valuables," I told the King. "Tell them to gather gems, jewels, coins and paper. Tell them to learn the internet. Tell them to learn everything. Tell them to prepare for a great accounting of their evolution."
He nodded at me, his face taking on some of the awe that surrounded us. "It shall be so."
I turned to go, sheathing my new blue sword.
"Will you not stay with us a while?" He asked. "We can get you new armor, clean you up... repair your slingshot?"
"I will do that myself," I said. "I must return to the safe house, gather my things, and then come back here to the city."
"It is said you flew away, to the east, on the back of a great owl," the King said. "I must ask if that one legend is true. For my own sake."
"I did fly into the east on a great owl," I said. "And then I flew west in the hands of an archangel, to say goodbye to my master at the seashore." I faced the crowd now as well. Might as well quell the superstition with fact. "Then I went into the city and despaired of life for months. I fell far from home, and became an empty shell, a ghost, wandering the dark. I have risen from the underworld at last, and I have a difficult and grave task to perform. I will need all the help I can get."
In response, the mice and rats of the kingdom raised their weapons and voices in support, all bowing down to one knee. They did not hear me whisper, "Thank you," but BJ did.
I walked through the parted Red Sea of rodents to the exit and departed. Outside, a rat was waiting for me. It was the same rat from the lab whose father had been a sword of Michael. He was wearing the armor of a knight, and two friends stood by him also in knightly dress. They wore hats with tall feathers in them, and bore long swords at their sides made of steel. Their capes were black and gold - the colors given to Michael's family, though the twins preferred blood red.
I stood as they stared at me. "Yes?"
The first one I knew bowed low. "Sire," he said, "We beg leave to escort you to wherever you are going. We have never seen the safe house, and would go there."
"You are wearing the house colors of Michael Mousefriend," I said. "I assume you're sure of your lineage? Because I know of only two sons of Michael."
"King BJ confirmed it through The Great Nemo, sire," one said.
The one I knew said, "Michael may have had two sons and two daughters by his mate Baby, but before that, he had many mates, sire. The city is full of his offspring. We did not realize it until it was told to us upon arriving here, after you freed us from the lab. We brought the cure to Sendai and SDA here, and the King knighted us for it. We told him it was you who helped us, but he knighted us anyway."
"I see," I said. "Then you have names?"
He grinned. "I am Athos, my lord."
"I am Aramis," another said.
"I am Porthos," the last said.
I stared. "Are you serious?"
They nodded, proud of their names. And why not? BJ had named them, and he rarely ever did that.
"Okay," I said. "I will accept your escort. We must go to the park, to a great oak tree near a sewer grate."
Athos bent down so that I could get up behind his shoulders. I mounted my first steed. His hat was big. "Ummm... "I said.
He whipped his hat off. "Sorry, my lord."
"No problem. Onward."
Onward we went.
We went back to my stashed nest and I got the notes these very same rats and I had taken on my last trip to a lab. They recognized them, but said nothing.
"Do you know where the pickup point is for the safe house?" I asked.
"We must go there and catch a ride to the safe house," I told them.
"Excellent, and with all due haste," Athos said. Aramis chuckled, but stifled it.
"What is it!" I said.
None of them spoke.
"Oh, come now - you've seen me near death, at least you must know I'm not some revenging phantom. What is it?"
"Well, sire," said Athos, "you don't exactly smell... nice."
"Is that so?" I said, grinning. "And this coming from a male rat."
He stiffened, clearly impugned. "Sir! I bathe on an hourly basis!"
"Alright, alright. I know I stink. The sooner we get there the better. I agree. Thank you for bearing such a stinky burden, Sir Athos."
"The honor outweighs the burden by far, my lord," he said, and bowed lightly as to not topple me off him.
Yep. Smooth as Mike ever was.
Together, we made ten times the ground I could have covered on my own, and in no time were waiting at the pickup point. It was, as I knew now, the Atelier corner. I gazed with longing at the school up the block. How I wanted to go there and draw. Oh, how I longed to try oil painting! I had good times there. Almost the best of times. But those had been with my master. I would continue to draw, maybe one day paint, but the rest of my life was going to be busy, and I knew I would never again get to spend Saturday nights at the Atelier doing something only for myself. I was a little sadder for it.
Several other mice showed up at the pickup spot. They were trying not to look at me or the rats, and Porthos was edging closer and closer to them every minute as they tried to edge away, working them into the wall with glee.
Finally I turned to them and snapped my fingers.
"Take a good look," I said. "Yep. It's Squibble the Damned. Back from Hell. Here to lop off the heads of bad mice. Beware, the Dread Pirate Squibble has come for your SOULS!"
I had been joking, but they fled in terror. Oops.
"Mayhap thou overdid it, sire," Aramis said, trying hard not to laugh. Finally, none of us could hold it back and we all busted up in laughter.
The car came an hour later.
Heide and the kind human stopped suddenly and came forward, dropping to their hands and knees before me, though it was to get a better view, and not worship of any kind. Thank goodness.
"Squibble!?" The kind human exclaimed.
He picked me up from Athos' back and ran his fingers lightly over my furry head. Flakes of dried blood fell from my hair.
"Oh, I can't believe it!" He cried. His eyes watered up. "It's really you! My prayers were heard! You're alive!"
I nodded again, glad for the affection after so long. I licked his finger. I felt my soul rise in his embrace, and I was grateful.
"We thought you were dead," Heide said, looking emotional as well. "Oh, what you must have been through!"
I looked toward the sea. You have no idea, humans.