The Great War
The Last Day
It began in my sleep, of course. I woke to a zombie trying to bite through my armor. Behind it were a dozen more. Then Scratchy came barreling into them, and they went down in a pile as I grappled with the others. We resorted to teeth, and believe me, zombie doesn't taste good. Taking heavy wounds, we defeated those, and more came. Nearby, Shiva and Thor were boxed in, laying waste to those around them, but they were fighting rats!
Our own rats.
Somehow, our own dead had been brought back as the enemy, inside our own lines. That might have been enough to tell me what was happening, but things happened too fast, and kept me off balance.
Ghost came screaming from the front room, yelling that the doors had been opened from inside. The zombies could not have done that - they possessed no fine motor skills. The doors in front and in back were breached. The enemy was pouring into the house.
That combined with our own condition, and the fact that our own dead numbered now against us, spelled our doom.
"Rally to the front of the house!" I cried. "Rally together in the dining room!"
The undead rats were much harder to kill, and they were taking mice down right and left. Shiva and Thor were less invincible that they had once been. We were in deep trouble.
Fighting with the aid of adrenaline and fear, our forces fought back to the dining room and held the mouse door. The enemy filed through the kitchen window and we heard them coming through the back, from the garage, and from the basement. We huddled close, forming rings of defenders, using our own cages as barriers, and tried to protect the elderly females.
They would have none of that, however, and the old women, the young mice, the sick and the crippled, all came out to fight alongside us, wearing no armor, with nothing but their teeth. We had no time to deny their gesture.
We fought the enemy out the mouse door and I elected several of our strongest, including myself and Scratchy, to venture outside and fight with our backs to the open portal so that those inside would not have to worry about at least one front.
When we finally fought our way out (mostly with Stompy knocking mice two feet into the air with her metal fists), we saw further horrors.
Heide's car was open, and she was nowhere in sight. Dead mice swarmed all over it like thick paint. We could not tell her fate. But perhaps worst of all was the small clearing ten feet from the front porch. There was a circle, five feet in diameter, with not one body in it. The ground was clear, except for one mouse.
A black mouse.
Our eyes met.
Time seemed to hold still. That mouse was the most evil, wretched, obscene thing I had ever known. Its power was terrifying, and I could feel it from where I fought. He had finally shown himself at last. That meant he was certain of our destruction. And I wasn't sure he was wrong.
I was filled with instant rage. Deep, loathing wrath came up in me for everything that mouse had done to my family. I had to avenge them! My blood boiled and my heart raced. I felt true hatred.
"Don't let it take you, Squibble," came the voice. The same voice that had saved me in the city. Bigfat. "He wants you to lose your temper. Don't give him the satisfaction."
I sent my breathing down to my center and did my chi gung breath. Instantly, calmness flowed through me like my magical river. The black mouse was unpleased, and began to stride in my direction.
"Shiva! Thor!" I yelled. "He's here! The black mouse is here!"
They bullied their way through the mouse door in a heartbeat. They stared aghast.
"Good Ratgod - he's really real!" Thor exclaimed.
"Really dead!" Shiva growled, and launched himself off the porch. Thor was one inch behind him.
My two boys never stood a chance. I'd never seen anything move faster than that demonic mouse. And it was strong. Strong enough to toss an armored rat twenty feet. My boys suffered the beating of their lives and were tossed aside like garbage. Mice were flooding out the door now, saying that the house was being taken. We were losing out only defensible place. The end was near. I had to do something!
"Stompy - Squibette - delay him!" I yelled. They nodded. "Ghost - Scratchy - to me! We have to reach my nest!" Easier said than done - that nest was through thirty feet of swarming enemy.
We were joined by fifty other mice, including three knights, and a few of the remaining Swords of Michael offered their backs as transport. Once upon them, we rode right over the enemy, plowing them down like tenpins. We rode forth, the safe house's last heavy cavalry, and reached my nest in moments.
I grabbed the gun. Oh yeah. It was time. I hoped my aim was as good as it was with the slingshot.
We fought our way back to the dining area and I left the heavy cavalry to hold the line against the invaders.
"Don't break - no matter what!" I commanded them. "Hold this room with your last breath!"
"SIRE!" they all shouted at once, and set into the enemy with desperate power.
We have come down to this. A pell-mell free for all as the enemy hits us with everything they have. Out of food, water, supplies, and time, we fight hand to hand against them now, in every corner of our camp. My father and I have fallen back to the fallen human. All of us fight around him now. The enemy is on all sides. The good news is that we can see he is finally running out of troops. The end of his force is in sight. The bad news is that we are down to our last company. It is our thousand against his ten, and the fighting is viscous beyond compare. Our troops are using everything they've got, even their teeth. My father has told us to hold out no matter what it takes. The sword will not let him rest, and his energy is limitless. Even being near him, we all feel it. Our power to hold now comes from on high, and no other source, for our bodies are used up. Each swing of our weapons is a divine gift.
Just as we thought we might last the day, the enemy set fire to the bone dry grass. In several places, flames grew around us. What matter if they burned? They drew no breath anyway. But we were going to be dead in minutes.
Such an unworthy end for valiant warriors. I hear burning to death is very painful.
Wading through bodies, I came back out front just in time. The black mouse was engaged face to face with Stompy and my daughter. He was so fast that now my daughter had taken hits. Severe hits. Her armor was cracked and broken, her shield missing entirely. Stompy was black and blue, and her leg looked broken. Blood was all over their faces, and around them lay the bodies of their friends who had died that they might live this long.
Ghost set into the black shape with two new matches. That caused the demon a moment of concern, and in that moment I took aim. My finger was squeezing the trigger when I heard Scratchy shriek in pain. The gun was firing when my arm was hit by something, throwing off my aim. I missed. Then something heavy hit my helm full force, and I was bashed to the ground. Ghost fell beside me, dead or unconscious. Stunned and disoriented, I looked up. I saw two things. First, I saw spirits. My powers had activated. I saw demons in mortal combat with angels all around us. Everywhere.
And I saw One-Ear. He was standing over me with a mace in his hand. A metal mace that had belonged to one of the Mouse Knights. He was grinning from ear to...well, you get the idea.
"Son of a-" I started, and he hit me again. My helm cracked and fell off. I saw stars now. I felt nothing. I looked to my side and saw Scratchy with a sword stuck through him. He was barely alive, and in agony.
I heard Stompy curse One-Ear and come for him. Then I heard the wind part for something black and swift. Then I heard Stompy fall. I wanted to shout, "Squibette, no!" but I couldn't speak yet, and so my daughter joined her friend on the ground.
One-Ear laughed. It sounded rotten, and he stank, though he was clearly not dead yet. A situation that needed immediate fixing.
"You sorry sucker!" He spit in my face. "You're such a gullible idiot!" He kicked me. I took some pleasure in the fact that I didn't feel it. "I've been working you over since that first day and the 'Mighty Prophet' Squibble didn't have a stinking clue!" He tapped the mace in his hand as the black mouse came up behind him. Their leaders dead or down, the rest of the mice retreated back inside to fight "normal" foes, but the door stayed open. Mice were curious animals. They had to see the end of this.
One-Ear squatted down next to me and looked over at Scratchy, who was writhing in pain on the bright blue sword. So we weren't out of swords after all. He had probably hid the rest. Bastard.
"I killed your wife," he said, smiling. "She didn't drown on her own. I helped her." My heart skipped a beat. A glowing anger rose in me. I tried to fight it, but I was losing. He pulled a sword of his own, bright green. My master's colors. How mocking. How disgusting. "I also opened all the doors of the house for my master. It was the least I could do."
"I'm going to cut your ears off, and blind you," he said. "Then I'm going to cut off your hands and feet, tail, and burn the wounds so you won't die. But before we blind you, we're going to destroy everything that you have ever loved. Your precious house, daughter, friends, and squire..." he kicked Scratchy, who squeaked and opened his eyes. One-Ear continued, "...are all going to suffer god-awful fates. And it's your fault, you know. All your fault." When he turned back around to face me, what he didn't see was Scratchy get angry. The little runt was really pissed. Behind the black mouse and One-Ear, Scratchy was trying to get up.
"You've failed," he said in my face. I smelled smoke drifting over the house. Everyone did. The fields were on fire. That black monster had ignited the fields!
It just couldn't end like this. This wasn't the end I wanted. This wasn't what I signed up for. The Mousegod's sense of humor wasn't this bad. Evil isn't supposed to win! What would my master do, I thought, panicking. What would Kirk do?
"This is your last chance to surrender," I said to him, blood dripping off my head, dead serious.
The black mouse tilted his head back and laughed. It sounded like a truck being dragged sideways through a junkyard. One-Ear joined him like any two-bit minion would. Then I saw a pair of glowing mouse feet step into my field of vision, right next to my head.
I looked up into the eyes of Branch. Or his spirit, anyway. He wasn't solid. He smiled and held a finger to his lips.
Scratchy fixed his face into a mask of heroic determination, got up, pulled the sword out of his own body, and poised himself to strike. I snapped to my feet so fast One-Ear didn't have time to notice it - and sprang for his throat with my teeth. I ended up grabbing his head, but that was fine too. He squealed in pain and grabbed at my jaws, dropping the mace. I wasn't about to let go.
The black mouse crouched to take me out, and Scratchy ran him through. A bright blue sword came out of his chest. He didn't appear killed. Just annoyed, but it was enough to turn him around.
And when he did he saw that he was surrounded. The entire house was surrounded.
On the ridge around the house stood Nemo, Shiva, Thor, and the Tribes of Nemo. About one million field mice. Nemo smiled. Shiva and Thor gave the black mouse two fingers.
That was the only time I ever saw even a hint of panic on the demon's face. He looked at Nemo and hissed. Behind Nemo, the great owl landed and hissed back. The black mouse's burning red eyes got wide, and he turned, slamming Scratchy to the ground brutally, and fled.
"No quarter!" Nemo cried, and the mighty army of field mice charged. Shiva and Thor were right in front, their faces burning with fury to get at the black mouse before he got away.
"AHHHH my FaaaaAAAACE!" Screamed One-Ear. I left deep, terrible gouges in both his cheeks. It was fitting. In the medieval days, those were called coward scars. Traitors were branded by such cuts to their face.
He had dropped his mace, but not his knife, and that he plunged into my neck. He got me just below the collarbone, and not in the actual neck itself, or I'd have died on the spot. Still, it hurt like hell, and I let go. He turned, leaving the thin blade in me, and fled with the black mouse.
"Bastard!" I shrieked, and in one smooth motion whipped out my slingshot, loaded it with his own dagger, and snapped off the shot. It struck him right in the back, where it belonged. Still, some unholy force kept him alive - or it wasn't enough damage to kill a mouse - and he kept going.
"DANG!" I screamed. "Dangdangdang!"
The enemy was finished. The field mice were wayyyy too fast for those slow zombies. The carpet of dead moving bodies became a carpet of unmoving dead bodies run over by brown lightning with bushy tail tips. Once inside the house, they cleared it in minutes. It was glorious to watch, and Branch was watching it with me.
I went over to Scratchy, who had fallen over, breathing hard and fast. I couldn't tell how bad the wound was. He might have been dying. Something tugged at my heart strings, but I was already overwhelmed. I put my hands on the holes in either side of his ribs, trying to hold his blood in. He looked up at me with question on his face.
"Yeah," I told him. "Yeah, you did great, squire. You did real good."
He smiled and passed out from blood loss. Nemo's feet appeared next to Scratchy's limp form. I looked up as he set his paws on the tiny little body and focused his formidable willpower.
"Will he live?" I asked, but Nemo did not answer. He was deep into his trance already, trying to save the little mouse. I turned to Branch.
"What are you doing here!" I asked in wonder. "You can't have grown powerful enough to project your spirit all the way from China!??"
He grinned broadly at me. "I got Nemo's letter today. Said you needed help."
"You...you projected yourself all the way from China..." I gaped. "No one can do that..."
"You ain't seen nothing yet," he said, and held his hands up to the sky.
It is almost over. We are down to fifty men, and we are choking on smoke while the enemy is not slowed in the least. The last of his forces had just reached us when the rest began to rise. Even those we had beheaded are now getting up to fight us. His numbers have shot past fifty thousand and climbing. This is our end for certain, I thought.
But then I heard the strangest noise, unfamiliar to my ears in this long drought we have suffered.
My eyes went wide as I looked upward to see dark clouds gathering rapidly, flooding over the safe house in huge waves, straight out of Raiders of the Lost Ark.
Lightning has fallen like swords upon our foes! The sky is full of fire! It is like ancient Biblical tales - fire and brimstone pouring from the sky. The roar is deafening - unbearable. The ground quakes and trembles. My father and I exchanged glances. We both know. Branch has come to our rescue. This was his fondest dream, and now it is our salvation.
The enemy burns. They explode. They shatter like glass. They will not be coming back. Righteous wrath is upon them.
The last of them have mounted the humans' body and we fight tooth to tooth, hand to hand for the only place in the field not burning. All around us, Heaven pours out its furious deluge on the blasphemy our foe created, putting it back where it belongs, in still finality. Fireballs hurl themselves over the horizon, coming from the direction of the safe house...or perhaps China... and scatter the dead like sand burned into slag.
Despite myself, I am laughing. As I take my enemies down, I hear my father laughing too. It is the maniacal laughter of those pressed far beyond their limits. Win or lose, it has been a wonder to behold this. The light of God shines around us as we battle to our last in the heart of a burning hell. This is the death of a warrior poet. This will be a fine death!
I stared at Branch as Nemo lifted his head up to us. He smiled at me. I gazed in silent awe at the burning sky. The fires from the field were licking at the back door to the safe house. Branch looked as though he were sleeping with his arms raised. Fireballs the size of houses were coasting over our heads like falling comets, headed for the battlefield. He did it.
He really did it.
We are down to our last few. It is just my father and I, and two others. Then it is one other. Then it is my father and I. Two hundred sword strokes later, I finish off the last of their zombies and I think we are alone. I think it is over. We will burn to death here in this place, and this is our end. It is well enough, except that I did not get to destroy the true enemy. I did not meet the black mouse in combat.
Heide comes running over the hill. She is coming to help us. He face is a mask of panic and determination. Good. She will have the strength to move the kind human. She may even reach us in time to save us, but I realize not. The flames have closed behind her. She has only come to join us in a painful fate.
Then the thunder rolls across the sky and shakes the ground. The first raindrop falls on the kind human's forehead.
The first raindrop in far too long, and it is followed by an army of them.
As the rain came pouring down, I saw the sleeping Branch smile. Fireballs. Weather control. That was what he had always said. True magic.
Bravo, brother. Bravo.
The last of the safe house mice came outside to behold the miracle. The great owl landed behind Nemo, Branch and I, and no one ran.
They had seen it all.
Heide has dragged the kind human toward home. He may live.
My father sags a little, the fatigue finally hitting him. I move to help him. We smile at each other. It is over. I pray it is over.
But then I see a mouse coming across the field toward us. A survivor? He is coming from the direction of the house. As he gets nearer, I see that he has one ear. He is crying for help. We turn ourselves in that direction, prepared to aid him. He yells that he has news of the safe house. It has been burned to the ground. All within it are dead. I look in panic at my father, who returns my gaze. The mouse has reached us, and collapses into my father's arms.
That's when I see the marks. The coward marks on the sides of his cheeks, and Squibble's fur still attached to One-Ear's face.
Pushing him back from my father, I draw my pistol and use my one bullet to blow One-Ear's brains out. His headless body falls just as my father cries out.
I turn to see a black sword point sticking out of his chest. My entire body feels the electric shock of alarm as he sags to the ground. I spin to cut down the coward who would commit such unchivalric blasphemy, but there is nothing there. Behind him, the black mouse is ten feet away, and smiling wickedly. The mighty Excalibur falls from my father's dying fingers and clatters to the ground, lightless. Blood erupts from my father's mouth and nose. He is choking on it. His death but a moment away, and he denies it that single second to face me.
"Go," he says.
Scooping up the magic sword, I race after the demon. He must pay!
I looked at the great owl and he turned to me. We had both felt it. I knew I would. Nemo looked out across the field and lowered his head. The owl closed his eyes.
"Please," I said.
He nodded and bent down. Before all the safe house, I mounted the great bird and he lifted off into the rain.
We reached the battle ground in minutes. I saw Heide dragging the limp form of the kind human back to the house, foot by foot. I saw the one uncharred patch of land at the battle's center, and there lay my master.
He was dead.
As we landed I scoured the country with my eyes, but all I saw was death. Black, charred death. My eyes overflowed with tears as I cradled his soft body to me. His face was covered in blood. His eyes were empty. I was too late. I felt the last finger of a grip I had on my security in the world slipping.
"Death is like life, Squibble. It's just another journey."
My head snapped up to the owl.
"You must take me to the sea!" I said.
"He is not fast enough," Michael said, suddenly there, standing over us. "But I am." He spread his enormous wings.
I just stared up at him. Still angry.
"Come, Squibble," he said. "I will bear you."
"But if I take you there I cannot bring you back," he said to me. "I cannot wait there at the ocean. I must return to the safe house at once. You will be alone."
I growled. Always a catch.
"Yes," I said. "Anything! Just take me, and be swift!"
Carrying my master's body, his armor and shield, I climbed aboard Michael's giant hand and we began the long flight. On the wings of an archangel, I raced my master's spirit to the shore.
I prayed we would make it before he did. The sun was falling steadily before us.
I could not catch the damned mouse. He flees with unearthly alacrity. His feet fly, and I could not keep up. I stripped my armor away, casting it aside like waste to match him, but it was no use. Finally, I returned to the place where my master fell, to find him missing.
There was no body. No armor, no shield. He was simply gone, as though Heaven had called him back.
I sat and wept for a long time. The great sword lay at my side, silent. The grief was unbearable, and I felt my heart finally give way, now that strength was no longer needed. At last, the clouds broke and golden rays of sunlight fell gently upon my very place, warming me and stopping my tears.
I felt my father's spirit in that light. I cannot explain it, but I did. I knew he was well, and I knew I had a job to do. Strength was required yet.
Standing, I looked toward the horizon where the black mouse had fled.
I have left this journal here, in the center all this carnage and destruction, in the hopes that someone from the safe house will find it, and know what passed here on these seven days. Someone must know, and there are no witnesses left here, for I am the last, and have another direction to go.
I will chase that black soul to the ends of the earth if I must. Everyone believes in Squibble's quest, even if the mouse himself has yet to. I will take up my father's sword and pursue this enemy of ours until I see my father avenged, and grant Squibble the time he needs. I swear it on my name and the name of my father.