It was almost sunrise.
Justin stood on top of a rock, watching the sky. The sun rose, slowly but surely, as the sky changed colors. Golden light spilled everywhere, and the wind whipped all around. Justin took a deep breath and let it out in a happy sigh. Another day had dawned in Thorn Valley.
In the end, the move to Thorn Valley had been nowhere near as difficult as anyone had imagined. Now the rat's colony was thriving. Most were happy with their new lives. But there were a few rats whose lives had changed drastically, as a result of last year's events. They had been living on the farm then. Nicodemus, the former leader, had conceived a Plan, which stated that the rats would set up their own civilization and not steal from the farmer. But two rats, Jenner and Sullivan, had opposed the Plan. At the same time, Mrs. Brisby, the widow of an old friend, came to the rats asking for help moving her house. While Justin and Mrs. Brisby were off drugging the cat, Jenner cut the lines holding up the cement block house and Nicodemus died in the wreckage. But Jenner and Sullivan both died in the aftermath, by each other's hands. Now Justin was the rat's leader. But still, he never thought he was doing enough.... Justin's thoughts drifted back to Mrs. Brisby. She was very pretty for a mouse, small and dainty, with big blue eyes. There had definitely been something between them. But whatever it was, it was over now.
Justin was still deep in thought when someone tapped him on the shoulder."Whoa!" he cried, and lost his balance. He started to fall off the rock, but a hand grabbed the sleeve of his blue and white tunic and hauled him back up.Quickly, he checked to make sure the Stone that Mrs. Brisby had given him was still there. Slowly, he turned to face his rescuer. "Isabella....?"
Standing before him was a tall, pretty girl-rat with tan fur and brown eyes. It was Isabella, the rat's doctor-in-training. She wore a pink half-shirt and skirt. "Didn't mean to scare ya," she said with a grin. "Sorry." Justin was annoyed now."You didn't scare me, you just...uhhh.....," he trailed off. "Just made you jump out of your fur, that's all." Isabella finished. "Well......"Justin knew his face was flaming. Now he was ticked and embarrassed."You shouldn't sneak up on people like that.....Izzy." He knew she hated that nickname. Isabella took offense."For the ten millionth time, my name is Isabella." Justin grinned."Sure, whatever you say.....Izzy." Before she could say anything back, he walked off to find his friends Xander and Brutus.
Isabella watched Justin go. What a jerk, she thought. I save his life and does he thank me? No. She honestly could not stand him. She hated the way girls fell all over him when he so much as looked their way. That easy, slightly mischievous, smile of his. All of it annoyed her. Still, she had to admit.......he was pretty good-looking. He could be really nice when he wanted to be, and he was a good leader. But there was just something about him that did something to her.......something she just couldn't explain.
Justin found his friends at their posts at the entrance to the rats' living place. It had been built into a side of one of the tall cliffs that surrounded Thorn Valley. Each rat had his or her own room, and , with the help of another rat named Terrence, had rigged up a way to produce electricity. "Hey guys," Justin greeted them."What's up?" Xander grinned."The sky, the ceiling..." Justin rolled his eyes at Xander's dumb joke."You and your corny jokes," Justin laughed. Xander merely shrugged. "Hey, you laughed, didn't you?"Justin turned to Brutus."How about you, buddy?" The captain of the guard smiled."Not much. Xander and I are off duty in a few minutes, and then I plan to hit the sack!" He laughed. "Hard night?" Justin inquired."Nahhhh..just long," was Brutus' reply. "Well, I was just on my way to check on Terrence in the engine room. Come with me?" Justin offered. Both guards readily agreed.
The engines in the engine room were powered by solar energy. The head engineer, Terrence, a middle-aged rat and council member, had even rigged up a way to conserve the energy for nighttime. Now Terrence was checking a clipboard and speaking to another rat. He looked up and noticed Justin."Hi, Justin. One sec." He finished speaking to the other rat and turned back to Justin."Yes?" Justin paused."Just checking in. Everything okay here?" Terrence nodded. "We had a breakdown at midnight, though. It wasn't serious," he added, seeing the look on Justin's face."But it took us awhile to fix it. Anyway, it's fine now." Justin nodded."I see. Anything else" Terrence shook his head. "Remember," Justin told Terrence "The harvest begins today. Do me a favor and tell everyone to be outside this afternoon." Terrence nodded, and Justin left with his two friends in tow. On the way he ran into Lita, the new Captain of the Guard. She was not exactly pretty, but she had a lean, intelligent face and was a skilled warrior. Justin remembered Lita had been his second in command in the rosebush. Some of the guards hadn't been too happy about the new Captain of the Guard being a girl, but it hadn't taken Lita very long to earn their respect."Hey, Lita." Justin greeted her. She grinned at them."Well, well, well, it's the Three Musketeers. What's up?" Justin grinned back."Not much. Just Terrence being his usual stodgy self." Lita smiled now."I've got to check on Arthur and Cal down by the south entrance. See you around." She left in a hurry.
Justin stepped back out into the light of the sun. Other rats were coming out to help harvest the crops. It was their first crop of the year, and it had been successful. He was walking beside an older rat named Serena. Serena was Jenner's widow, and had always treated Justin with respect and kindness. He looked up to her as kind of a mother figure, even though Serena had two children of her own, Paul and Jeneveive. She was very tall, and had dark grey fur and blue eyes. Serena looked at him."Is something troubling you, my Justin?" she asked. She always referred to him as 'my Justin'. Justin shook his head no. "It has been a morning of strange events, has it not?" Justin grimaced."I'd say so. When are Ages and Mrs. Brisby arriving?" Serena thought for a moment."Tomorrow, as planned." Justin nodded."Good." Serena straightened the hem of her black-and-blue robes.
"It looks like the harvest'll do well." Justin commented.
Serena nodded."And the weather is so beautiful." She sighed."I had the strangest dream last night."
Justin looked at her."What about?"
"Jenner,"Serena said."He and I were standing in a desert, and he was trying to warn me about something. He kept saying,"Things aren't what they seem," over and over. Then I woke up."
Justin nodded. He really didn't believe in all of that paranormal stuff, but he wasn't going to say that to Serena. "You miss him, don't you?" was what came out of his mouth instead.
Serena's eyes took on a faraway look."Yes, my Justin, I do miss him. It is always painful when someone you love dies. And I loved Jenner...I still do." Then she seemed to come back to earth. "Come, my Justin. It is time for the harvest to begin!"
Part 1: The Harvest
The harvest took place that very afternoon. Every rat in Thorn Valley was required to help. Isabella and her friend Michaela were filling their baskets with blueberries and talking. "I heard you and Justin had it out again this morning," Michaela said, smiling. Isabella rolled her eyes."Honestly, Isabella. He's only the hottest guy in Thorn Valley."
Isabella groaned."I know he's hot. He knows it, too!" Michaela laughed."So the truth comes out! You do like him!"
Isabella was horrified."What?!!"
Michaela looked at her."Lord, Iz, don't have a coronary. I'm joking! But seriously," she added,"The way you get around him sometimes....."
Isabella went back to her work, furious.
Suddenly, a hand clamped over her eyes and someone grabbed her from behind."Reveal thy name!" a raspy voice hissed in her ear.
Isabella nearly had a heart attack. That voice! She knew it all to well."Justin, you punk!" she yelled, and jabbed him with her elbow in the ribs - hard! "OW!" Justin's voice cried. He released her and doubled over in pain."Ohhhh..." he moaned.Isabella glared at him."Well, you shouldn't have snuck up on me like that!" she exclaimed. Justin groaned."I think you broke my ribs," he complained. Then he picked himself off the ground and dusted himself off. He flashed his winning smile at her."Guess we're even." Isabella had to smile."Guess so." Justin looked at her for a minute. She was pretty good-looking-beautiful, even-but there was just something about her that bugged him. Maybe it was the fact that he couldn't use his usual tricks to win her over. Isabella was staring at him."Justin.....are you ok?'", she inquired. Justin managed a nod. Then he got an idea. He picked up a blueberry and threw it at Isabella while her back was to him. She responded with lightning reflexes, and soon Justin found himself covered in blue gook. "Oooh, you'll get it for that!" he exploded, and tackled her to the ground. Both of them were laughing hysterically. Suddenly they realized that there faces were awfully close. Their lips had almost touched when a shadow fell over them.
Justin leaped to his feet and helped Isabella up as well. "This is not good." was all he could say, watching the shape in the sky.
A screeching noise came from above. Before anyone could take cover, a great white hawk swooped down over the field. "Hit the deck!" screamed Xander. Lita sprang into action, ordering Xander and Brutus to help the other rats take cover. Brutus had just shoved Serena's daughter Jenny under a rock when the hawk swept over him, lifting him off the ground. He had never been so scared in his life. He shut his eyes and prepared to be eaten.
But he wasn't.
To Brutus' amazement, the hawk released him a few seconds later.A small slash wound was the worst of his injuries.
Isabella ran to him."Brutus! Brutus! Are you all right?" she asked, fearing that there would be no answer. He groaned. "Fine, I think. I'm just a bit scratched up." She checked his arm. A minor slash wound was the worst she saw. She wrapped it with a corn husk bandage, and then shoved him to the ground as the hawk made its second swoop. This time it caught Justin."Oh, my God!" she screamed. The look on Justin's face one of fear. "Oh, man!" he groaned, as the hawk took him higher and higher."Oh, man do I hate heights!"
The hawk flew around in a circle."What, no in-flight movie?" Justin muttered. The hawk screeched back. Justin struggled. "Hey, just making conversation!" He grunted, and suddenly the hawk released him and he plummeted toward the ground.
When he landed, all he could think of was the pain. It felt like every bone in his body was broken. Slowly, he lifted his head. Both legs were still there......yep, all fingers accounted for.....then Justin noticed that the sleeve of his tunic had been slashed through, and a small cut was bleeding all over it.
When the hawk had left for good, Isabella discovered that there were thirteen other hawk victims besides Justin and Brutus. She was too busy disinfecting the wounds to notice anything else. But when she finally got a chance to look over the records for the day, she noticed something strange. Not only were all the victims male, but they all had the same type of wound-a slash on the arm. And, she wondered, why didn't the hawk eat any of them? Not that she wished for anyone to be hurt or worse, but it was definitely unusual for a hawk to pick up fifteen rats and not eat one of them. She sighed, too tired to think about it. What is going on here? She pressed her hands against her temples and groaned. Soon she had fallen asleep on the open record book.
Meanwhile, Justin was making his usual rounds before he went to bed. His last stop was at the Infirmary, where Isabella cared for the sick. He knocked on the door. Twice. Nothing. He pushed the door open cautiously and still heard nothing. He stepped into the room, and discovered Isabella asleep on top of an open book. He watched her for a minute. Her hair had come out of its usual bun at the nape of her neck, and was now loose and flowing. Funny, Justin thought as he watched her. She looks almost peaceful this way. He didn't really want to disturb her, but he had to know how the rest of the hawk victims were doing. He tapped her shoulder gently. She sat up in a flash."Aaauugghhhh!" she cried.
Justin backed up in a hurry."Whoa, sorry."
Isabella relaxed a little."Oh, it's you." she said, sounding relieved."Can I help you?"
"Yes," Justin answered."How are the other hawk victims doing?"
"Oh, they're all fine." She yawned."No complications. All have the same type of wound." Isabella showed him the record book."See? This thing picked up fifteen male rats and didn't eat or do serious damage to any of them! I don't know about you, but that is definitely a ten on the Weirdometer."
Justin agreed."Beyond a shadow of a doubt. Who are the victims?" Isabella consulted the book."Let's see. There's you, Brutus, Terrence, Isaac, Kevin, Stephen, Jake, Arthur, Joseph, Cal, Will, Eric, Cory, Matt, and Dylan." She drew in a deep breath. "That's it." Justin sighed."This has been one weird day. I hope things go back to normal by tomorrow."
"This is only the beginning," Isabella said suddenly. She wasn't sure where the thought had come from, it had just popped into her head.
Justin gave her a weird look."What?"
Isabella shook her head suddenly."Oh...nothing. I don't know why I said that."
The next day was a hectic one. In addition to all of his usual duties, Justin also had to help prepare for the mice's arrival. Luckily he had help, but things got hairy while Paul, Serena's son, and another rat named Isaac (who was Sullivan's brother) were putting grain in crates. Justin wasn't sure what happened, but while his back was turned, a fight started. Now, Isaac wasn't the most stable guy to begin with. He had been angry as anything when his brother died, but he had never said a word about it...until now. Almost out of nowhere, Isaac grabbed Paul by the shoulders suddenly, causing him to drop a load of grain."Son of Jenner, you must die!" he shouted. Paul looked confused and, although he did his best to conceal it, afraid.
Isaac pushed Paul into a stack of crates, which nearly fell on him."What are you doing, man?!" Paul shouted.
Isaac wasn't listening."You've got a lot of your father in you, don't you?" he said, a malicious smile crossing his face.
Paul's face hardened."Maybe."
The rat looked furious."Your father," he said slowly,"Was a murderer. He murdered my brother. And then, being the true coward her was, died himself. And for the deaths of Nicodemus and Sullivan," Isaac continued,"No one was punished, because there was no one left. But there is someone! YOU!" Isaac drew his sword and ran at Paul."Isaac! No! Stop!" Paul cried. He ducked as the sword nearly took his head off. "Isaac, I'm not my father!" he shouted."Don't you think I've suffered too? I lost my father!" Isaac glared at him. "You should be ashamed to look like Jenner," he sneered. This pushed Paul over the edge.
"I AM NOT ASHAMED TO LOOK LIKE MY FATHER!" shouted Paul."I'm not ashamed to be like him! Okay? Happy now? But I AM NOT MY FATHER!" Isaac's eyes glowed a bright aqua. He charged at Paul again. This time, Isaac struck Paul with such force that he went flying and hit the ground, unconscious, as a small trickle of blood ran down his neck. Isaac stood over him, ready to bring the sword down on Paul's head. The sword was just making its descent to kill the son of Jenner when Justin stepped in the way. "Isaac! Stop this at once!" he ordered. Isaac growled and said,"Get out of my way! The boy deserves to die! The murders of Nicodemus and my brother have gone unpunished!" He brought the sword down a final time."An eye for an eye!" he screamed, cold hatred burning in his eyes.
Justin was frozen with fear, but not for long. Not when he saw the figure that was slowly creeping up on Isaac. WHACK! went a sound behind the deranged rat. Then he dropped the sword. His eyes rolled up in his head, and he crumpled to the ground. Isabella stood behind him, holding a shovel."Is he....?" Justin couldn't bring himself to finish his sentence. He hoped Isaac wasn't dead.
"He'll be fine." Isabella told him."What about you?"
"I'm okay." Justin told her. But I'm not sure about him," he said, pointing to Paul. Isabella rushed to his side, and checked his pulse and made sure he was breathing. "Well?" Justin inquired tentatively.
"He's fine too, thank God. Although I think he's got a slight concussion. No permanent damage." Isabella looked at Justin."Help me get these two down to the Infirmary." Justin nodded. He was about to help Isabella when another rat rushed in."Justin! The Brisbys and Mr. Ages have arrived!" Justin smacked his forehead. Oh, great! He quickly sprang into action."Fine. I'll go out to greet them. You," he said, pointing to the rat,"Help her get these two to the Infirmary. Well, why are you standing there? Move it!"
The rat moved it. Between them, he and Isabella managed to support both Paul and Isaac, and they left in a hurry. Justin raced outside to meet the mice.
Jeremy the crow was just landing in the field when Justin arrived outside. Also waiting were all of the other rats, except for Isabella and her patients, of course. Martin Brisby leaped off first, and was followed by Timothy and Cynthia. Justin offered his hand to help Teresa off the crow, and she went join her siblings. Then came Mrs. Brisby. She looked exactly as Justin remembered her. Blue eyes, grey-brown fur, and same tattered red cape. He smiled at her. "Welcome to Thorn Valley," was all he could say. Then he had to introduce the other rats. Serena and Mrs. Brisby hit it off right away. They had a lot in common, namely, both widows and with children. Mrs. Brisby was very surprised to hear that Jenner had been married."Unfortunately," Justin broke into the conversation,"Not all of Serena's family is here now." He gave Serena a significant look."Paul's in the Infirmary. Isabella is with him."
Mr. Ages, who had slid off the crow unnoticed, spoke up now."I suppose I'd better go with you, my dear," he said, referring to Serena."I want to make sure that girl is doing her job properly." Serena nodded her approval, and the two of them set off.
After they had gone, Justin introduced Lita, who was standing beside him."This is our Captain of the Guard, Lita." Lita shook Mrs. Brisby's hand."Pleased to meet ya."
Mrs. Brisby smiled."Likewise." Justin turned to Terrence."And this is Terrence," he told her. He introduced a few other rats and asked Lita to show the Brisbys to their rooms.
Once the Brisbys had been settled, Justin made a trip back to the Infirmary. He found Paul lying on a cot, his head bandaged and Isabella pressing a cold compress to his face. Serena held her son's hand, and Mr. Ages and Jenevieve looked on. All of them looked up when Justin entered."How's Paul doing?" he asked. Isabella looked down at him."Still unconscious, but he'll come out of it soon. As for Isaac, well, I think I did more of a number on him than I thought. He's in a coma. His friend Arthur is taking care of him." Justin nodded. Just then Paul stirred, and opened his eyes. He sat up right away. Serena pushed him back down gently."Rest, my son." Paul groaned."Mom, do you know.........?" Serena nodded."Yes, my son," Her eyes took on a sad look."I know."
"I don't know why he did that," Paul said, as Isabella crossed the room to get something."He just came at me, ranting and raving." He sighed."And the worst part is, everything he said was true."
Serena looked surprised. Paul scowled."Come on, Mom. Isaac was right. Dad was a murderer. He was a bad person. And to think this is the same guy who gave me life! The same guy who saw me and Jenny take our first steps. The same guy that raised us. The same guy that you married." he finished, his voice breaking."Mom, the same guy."
Serena patted his hand."No, my son." she said softly."Not the same person at all. The Jenner that killed Nicodemus and Sullivan was not the same Jenner that raised you and your sister. That Jenner was not the Jenner that I married. That," she told her son,"Was someone who had been overcome with hate and anger. I am not saying that what Jenner did was right, because it wasn't. But," she said, looking her son and daughter both in the eye,"I am saying that you should never be ashamed to look like your father or be related to him. What he did isn't your fault, and don't ever let anyone blame you for it." Both Paul and Jenny looked at their mother."I'm sorry, Mom. I guess...well, remember how Dad and I got into that stupid argument the day he....died?" Serena nodded."I've always been so angry at myself for that." he finished.. Serena nodded,and hugged her son. She held him for a long time. Jenny looked at her mother, her piercing green eyes full of admiration."He's still with us, Mom. You just have to know where to look." Jenner's widow smiled tearfully at both of her children, and Jenny joined the mother and son in their embrace. Isabella came back with an extra gauze bandage just then. She came to stand beside Justin. The two of them just watched as the family laughed and joked with each other.
Later that day, Justin and Mrs. Brisby took a walk together. Justin really wasn't sure what to say to her now. Mrs. Brisby solved the problem for him by chatting pleasantly about the weather and every other imaginable topic. Finally Justin said,"You know, Mrs. Brisby, we're both avoiding the real topic." Mrs. Brisby looked taken aback, then sighed."You're right,"she said."The real topic is us." Justin nodded."I know I felt....something for you when I met you. But," he said, holding up a hand to silence Mrs. Brisby,"I.....I think it was, you know, infatuation. I don't know how else to describe it." He looked at Mrs. Brisby, to see her reaction. She looked shocked."That's exactly what I was thinking," she said finally."Whatever it was, it wasn't love." They looked at each other.
"Friends?" Justin offered, putting out his hand.
"Friends," Mrs. Brisby said firmly, putting her hand into his.
Then they looked at each other and laughed. "Come on, let's get back," Justin said to Mrs. Brisby,"Or they'll think we really are more than friends!" The thought was too much for either of them and they nearly collapsed with laughter.
"But before we do," Justin said,"I, for one, would like to do some catching up. What's going with you, Mrs. Brisby?"
Mrs. Brisby smiled now."Call me Sheila. And not much, to answer your question.Now, what's going on with you?" Sheila. The name was lovely, Justin thought. Sheila.
Justin sighed."A lot. Being a leader is harder than I thought it would be. I always knew that Nicodemus had it hard when people didn't like what he was doing, but....." he sighed."A few of the rats don't really like the way I run things. They're all great people, but they're really narrow-minded."
Sheila looked at Justin."Narrow-minded how?"
Justin rolled his eyes."Where to start? Well, not so much narrow-minded as sexist. A lot of people had a problem when I appointed Lita as the new Captain of the Guard. But she was more qualified for the job than all the other male guards put together. They got over that, though. Then we elected a whole new council, since the old one was basically doing a lousy job." He smiled now."I appointed Serena as the new Head of the Council. She's a fair person. I knew she'd let everyone have their say. In fact, she was on the old council. If Jenner hadn't decided to help you that day, she would have. And," he added,"She's also my unofficial chief advisor. I even asked her to lead instead of me, but she wouldn't hear of it. A lot of rats didn't like the fact that I think females can do these jobs."
Sheila raised her eyebrows."Serena must have been a fair person if she was married to Jenner," she remarked. Instantly she felt terrible."I didn't mean it like that."
But Justin only laughed."I know what you meant, Sheila. I often thought that myself."
Sheila was curious now."Did they fight often?"
Justin stopped laughing."He never hit her, if that's what you mean. He wouldn't have dared."
The mouse looked embarrassed."I'm sorry. He just struck me as that kind of person."
Justin sighed."I know. Me, too. But whatever else he was, Jenner was a good father and a good husband. He loved Serena. It was a blow to her when he...did what he did."
Sheila sighed, too."I know what that's like. You think you know someone, then they turn around and give you the shock of your life." Now her blue eyes took on a mischievous look."What about you? Any wedding plans for you?"
Justin sputter-laughed."No. I don't even have a girlfriend right now."
Mrs. Brisby grinned at him."I'm sure that'll change."
When they got back, it was nearly sunset. Mrs. Brisby went to check on her kids, so Justin decided to spend maybe the only free time he'd had in awhile by the pond, one of his favorite places. The pond was surrounded by beautiful flowers, and a few tree saplings. The pond itself was clear and unpolluted, and some frogs and a few fish lived there, but none were present that day. Justin leaned over one of the rocks jutting over the pond and stared into the water. Then he saw another reflection in the water. He looked up. Isabella! She smiled at him."Back from your walk?" she inquired. Justin looked at her for a second."I'm here, aren't I?"
"Well, I could see that," Isabella snapped."What I meant was, how was your walk? Did you and Mrs. Brisby have a good time?"
Justin looked at her strangely."Yes, we did." he said carefully, not sure where this was headed.
"You know," Isabella told him,"There's a rumor going around that you two are.....more than friends. That you've, you know, kissed."
Justin was shocked."What? Of course not! Where did you hear that?"
Isabella waved her hand in the air."It's only a rumor."
Justin glared at her."Well, I think that some people have no lives," he growled,"And that anyone would be pretty stupid to make up something like that! Kiss the widow of one of my best friends? And you," he said,"would have to be pretty stupid to believe it!"
Isabella looked taken aback, but she recovered quickly."Who says I believe it? And anyway, Justin, it isn't so impossible. You do hit on every female you see! Every girl in Thorn Valley is in love with you!"
Now a slow smile creeped across Justin's mouth."Except you, right Izzy?"
She glared at him."Oooh.....I could hit-"she started to yell, but she never finished her sentence.
That was because she realized just then that their faces were within inches of each other. She and Justin found themselves lost in each other's eyes. Before either of them knew it, their lips had touched.
When the kiss ended, they could only stare at each other."Wow," Justin said at last."Yeah,"Isabella agreed."Wow." Isabella looked at him now."I don't know about you, but...this is too weird. I need to think about this."
Justin agreed."Me, too. But," he said, grinning at her,"I did enjoy it."
Isabella had to grin back."Me,too," she said, and was surprised to realize that she truly meant it.
"Well, I'd better go check on Isaac and Paul." she said quickly."I'd better go." And off she went. Justin stared after her, then looked back into the water. The stars were just beginning to appear in the sky, but Justin didn't feel like going in just yet. He knew he'd have to talk about what happened eventually. But right now he wasn't sure what he felt. He was incredibly confused. He stared up into the sky."Nicodemus, what am I going to do?" he yelled. "What?" He sighed and touched the Stone, which hung around his neck.It started to flicker, on and off like a light bulb He sighed again and stared at his reflection. Then he noticed another reflection in the water."Isabella,I-"
But he didn't finish his sentence.
Because it wasn't Isabella.
Standing before him, on the other side of the small pond, was the most beautiful girl he had ever seen. She had white fur, and aqua-blue eyes. Her hair was loose and flowed down her back like a white waterfall. She wore an aqua robe that matched her eyes, and a small crystal hung about her neck. She was looking right at him. He slowly rose to his feet, still staring back at her. She was positively ethereal. "Hello," Justin said, already smitten. The girl looked frightened and backed up a few steps."No, no, I won't hurt you." Justin assured her. For some reason, he didn't want her to leave."Please, tell me your name."
The girl-rat smiled at him. "My name," she said in a soft, whispery voice that matched her looks,"Is Rhiannon."
"Rhiannon." Justin repeated."That is the most beautiful name I've ever heard......maybe because you're the most beautiful girl I've ever seen."
Rhiannon looked to the ground."And now," she said,"You must tell me your name."
Justin told her, then inquired where she had come from. Rhiannon told him that she,too, had come from Nimh, and that she had only recently escaped. Justin, of course, invited her back with him. She accepted the offer. Justin seemed hypnotized by the beautiful rat's aqua eyes and ethereal nature. She had an aura of magic around her, and Justin found that very appealing.
When he arrived back at the colony with Rhiannon, Brutus and Xander had just taken their posts. Justin greeted his friends and introduced Rhiannon. Brutus, too, fell under Rhiannon's spell. "So....." Xander said, trying to make conversation,"You're from Nimh, too?" Justin and Brutus glared at him."Of course she is." Justin said indignantly."Are you accusing her of lying?" Brutus said sharply. Xander took a few steps back."Whoa, sorry. Just tryin' to make conversation." Justin led the girl past the guards and to a room of her own."We are pleased to have you here," Justin told Rhiannon."And I," Rhiannon said, fluttering her eyelashes at him,"Am pleased to be here." She smiled charmingly and closed the door.
After the door had closed, Rhiannon burst into hysterical laughter. Tears of laughter rolled down her cheeks as she collapsed on the bed. This is too easy, she thought. NIMH didn't know what they had created when they gave those injections! But they'll pay! Rhiannon's group of rats had been seperate from Nicodemus' group, and they had been given stronger injections. Those injections had left Rhiannon's group with superior mental abitlities, and even strong magical abilites.Unfortunatley, it also made them evil. The group had planned to escape using their powers, then kill Dr. Shultz, who was in charge of the experiment. Jenner had overheard them making these plans. When the day came, Rhiannon and her group almost carried out their plan. But then a strange thing happened. Jenner, with the help of Nicodemus, Jonathan Brisby and Sullivan, had stopped them using a red Stone that they had together created, thus keeping Rhiannon's group from escaping. When they finally did escape, (without killing the doctor, and without using their powers) Rhiannon had cursed the heroes all with a violent death. But for Jenner, she had a worse punishment for him. She cursed him with madness and a violent death. And we all know how that turned out. Now, though, she wanted to kill Jenner's family, as well as get the Stone back. She wanted it to use it to give her comrades back their powers. She had the bulk of her magic taken away, and she wanted it back. Nicodemus, however, had known that Rhiannon might one day escape, so he fixed the Stone so that only one with a courageous heart could use it. And that meant that she had to find someone who could. Like Justin. If he gave up the Stone willingly, then she could get her comrades' powers back. Of course, she had turned herself into a hawk and cut all those rats. It won't be long now before they are completely under my control, she thought, smiling evilly to herself. So Justin, you thought Jenner was bad? You ain't seen nothin' yet!
Isabella, of course, was in the Infirmary. Isaac hadn't come out of his coma yet, but Ages was sure he would soon. Paul was recovering in his own room now. Isaac groaned in his bed, then sat up rather suddenly. Isabella gently pushed him back down. His eyes popped open, and they glowed -literally glowed- a bright aqua. He closed them a few minutes later. Isabella was shaking. This isn't normal, she thought. I know Nimh did some weird things to us, but I've never seen anything like this! She wondered what on Earth had brought all this on. The door opened, and Michaela strolled in."Hey, Iz," she greeted her friend. "You aren't going to believe this!" Michaela filled Isabella in about the mysterious girl that had come back with Justin."You should have been there, Isabella." Michaela finished."Anyone could see he was totally smitten over her." That hit Isabella like a hammer."What?"
Michaela stared at her."Isabella, are you all right? You look sick!"
Isabella looked up."Huh? Oh, no, I'm fine...I've just been working too hard, that's all."
Michaela shook her head."No, you aren't. Isabella, you are my best friend. I know you. You can tell me anything. Now what is it?"
Isabella groaned."Why do you have to be so annoyingly logical, Mike?"
Michaela shrugged. "That's what friends are for."
Isabella told Michaela all about what had happened between her and Justin. Michaela's mouth hung wide open."Oh, God, Isabella! He kissed you? Oh, wow! And to have him come back with another girl!" Isabella nodded miserably."Well, it's time to get some sleep," Mike told her friend."I'm sure we'll find out about this mystery girl tomorrow." The doctor-in-training buried her face in her hands."I know all I need to know," she muttered.
Mike watched her friend carefully."No," she told Isabella,"I don't think you do."
The next morning at breakfast, Justin introduced Rhiannon to the other rats. They seemed to like her, at least most of the males did. But when she was introduced to Serena, Jenner's widow didn't seem to trust Rhiannon at all. She only nodded politely to the girl, never losing control of her queenly dignity. This was strange because Serena was generally inclined to think the best of everyone, but she regarded Rhiannon with an air of suspicion. Rhiannon returned the courtesy, but she obviously didn't think too highly of Serena, either. Justin didn't notice any of this. He only had eyes for Rhiannon, it seemed. Isabella felt like she'd been run through with a sword. But she managed to keep herself composed when she was introduced to Rhiannon. Rhiannon didn't seem to like her very much at all. Mrs. Brisby muttered a polite hello, while Mr. Ages managed to choke out his usual curt greeting.
"You have many that follow you," Rhiannon said, smiling at Justin."You are the leader?"
Justin nodded."Sure am." Then they kissed passionately. In front of everyone. In front of Isabella.
A gasp went up from the crowd as Isabella pushed her way back, fighting tears. Rhiannon watched her, a cruel smile forming on her lips. Causing trouble is so much fun, she thought.
When she got into her private quarters,. she threw herself on her bed, but didn't cry. She was too angry. How could he do this to me? she thought. It was as if Justin had been under a spell or something. It was like he'd totally forgotten about the kiss. It probably meant nothing to him, she thought bitterly. I hate him! A knock sounded on the door just then. "Go away!" shouted Isabella. She really didn't want to see anyone right now.
"Isabella, are you okay?" It was Xander.
"Oh, it's you," Isabella sighed."Come in if you must."
Xander entered."I wanted to see if you were okay. You looked pretty upset a minute ago."
Isabella assumed a sitting position on her bed."I was. Did anyone see?"
The guard shifted."I could tell. Justin didn't notice, or if he did, didn't give a flying bail of hay. But that Rhiannon girl saw you. She had this weird smile on her face, like she enjoyed causing trouble."
The doctor-in-training laughed bitterly."She probably did." She burst into tears." Well, I guess it doesn't matter now anyway. I can't go back out there. No way."
Xander drew himself up tall."You sound like Mrs. Brisby. And she found her courage too, eventually. Besides," he added,"Serena made me promise to see if you were okay. I don't think she likes Rhiannon too much either. And if Serena doesn't like someone, they've got to be evil."
Isabella laughed again, this time genuinely."All right, Xander. I'm okay." She brushed her tears away." I just need to be alone for awhile."
Xander nodded and backed out of the room."All right. You just call if you need anything. A shoulder to cry on. An ear to listen. A neck to strangle. Just call me."
Now Isabella was laughing through her tears."Bring me Rhiannon's or Justin's. On the double."
That made Xander laugh, too."Right away, sir." he said, saluting Isabella as he left.
Serena and Mrs. Brisby were sitting in Serena's private quarters, conversing about their late husbands. "I remember Jonathan," Serena remarked, a faint smile crossing her face."When he would come to the council meetings, he would tell us all about his children. You couldn't get him to stop!" She laughed, Mrs. Brisby with her. "Jenner was like that too, in his way." Serena continued."He really wasn't very affectionate with the children, but he was always proud of them. I don't think they ever knew that. Jenny was very close to him, but Paul..." She sighed. Mrs. Brisby spoke up just now,"I met Paul a little while ago. He looks just like his father."
Serena grinned."He does, doesn't he?" She paused, trying to remember something."My son never got along well with Jenner. Paul was just too independent and incapable of taking anything seriously. I remember their screaming fights. They'd had one just before the move."
Mrs. Brisby rolled her eyes."I've got one like that myself. His name is Martin. And he's always there to remind me of Jonathan."
Serena raised her eyebrows."And how does he remind you of Jonathan?"
Mrs. Brisby winked conspiratorially."Well, he's got Jonathan's ears, and he thinks he's never wrong!"
The two women laughed.
"How did you find out about Jonathan's death?" Serena asked.
Mrs. Brisby looked sad all of a sudden."I didn't know until Nicodemus told me. But I knew, deep inside, that he wasn't coming home."
Serena patted the mouse's shoulder."I know how you feel. When the others came back from the move to tell us about NIMH coming, I didn't see Jenner and I asked Justin where he was.....poor Justin! He had to break the news to me. I'd had a headache all day, but right then it got so bad I collapsed. I'd never done anything like that before."
Mrs. Brisby nodded."When I found out, I put everything that reminded me of Jonathan in a little box. He hadn't left much," she said, smiling at the memory,"But I still can't look at it."
Now Serena crossed the room and went over to a shelf where a small trunk sat, along with several books. She carried it to where she and Mrs. Brisby were sitting. "This is where I shoved everything that reminded me of Jenner. I think," she said, taking a deep breath."It's time to open it."
Mrs. Brisby put her hand on Serena's shoulder. "Go on, then."
Serena took another shuddery breath. Then she slowly opened the trunk lid. She reached inside, and carefully lifted out A large rectangular piece of black-and-red cloth."Jenner's cape." she explained to Mrs. Brisby."I made that for him." The cape was dusty now, and Serena folded it back up and placed it next to the trunk. She reached inside again and pulled out a few other little keepsakes, like Jenny's sketch of her father that she'd made him for his birthday, that kind of thing. Finally she pulled out something wrapped in a handkerchief. She gasped, then slowly unfolded the handkerchief. Serena lifted out a small silver pendant set with a blue stone. "Jenner gave this to me the day we were married...sort of like a wedding ring." She studied the inscription on the back"When this you see remember me," she read. Her eyes clouded."I always will, Jenner," she whispered."I always will." She slipped the pendant around her neck.Then she shook her head, trying to snap out of it. Abruptly, she began putting the things back into the trunk, Mrs. Brisby looking on.
"It just goes to show," Mrs. Brisby told Serena,"Real love never dies."
Later that day, Justin and Rhiannon were walking through the fields, talking. Justin found that he couldn't get enough of her. They stopped next to the pond. Justin kept feeling like there was something he should remember about this place, but he couldn't remember what. It would have bothered him except that Rhiannon kept him distracted from remembering much of anything. "Where did you get that?" she asked, pointing to the Stone.
Justin's hand flew to the amulet around his neck."Oh....a friend gave it to me."
Rhiannon's eyebrows went up."It looks like it would have magical powers." Justin was startled. How did she know that?
"I could sense it right away," Rhiannon informed him, blinking innocently."I have a few magical abilities."
"Oh?" Justin smiled."Like what?"
The girl paused."Oh....little things like making objects float around and lightening shooting from my hands....that sort of thing."
Justin nodded."I see," he said, but all he saw was Rhiannon's beautiful eyes. She looked up at him through her lashes and asked,"Justin, do you think they liked me? The other rats, I mean?"
"Of course they do," Justin responded soothingly."They'd be crazy not to."
Rhiannon's face took on a pouty look."I don't think that Serena woman liked me very much."
Justin tipped her chin up."Don't worry about it. I'll talk to her for you."
"Now, about that stone," Rhiannon purred."I don't suppose you'd consider giving it to me?"
Justin was about to say yes, but something inside him told him not to. All he said was,"Maybe."
Serena, while walking through the fields after her talk with Mrs. Brisby, heard everything. She knelt down next to the herb garden and began filling her basket with the plants. She heard Justin tell Rhiannon that he had some business to attend to, and Rhiannon responded that that was fine, she'd just continue their walk. With that, Justin left. Serena's back was to the mysterious girl, and she didn't see the figure creeping up on her until it was too late.
The dark shadow had picked up an axe lying nearby and was slowly coming toward the widow of Jenner. She raised the axe in a battle position, and prepared to swing.
Jenner's voice screamed in Serena's ears, Watch out!
Suddenly, a huge gust of wind blew the axe out of the figure's hands and into the trunk of a nearby tree sapling - directly in front of Serena.
Serena looked up, startled."Rhiannon!"
Rhiannon looked startled, too."Yes....hello, ah, Sarah, was it?"
"Serena," the blue-eyed rat corrected her. "Hello to you, too." She continued picking herbs.
Justin jogged up to them a minute later."Hi, Rhi," he greeted Rhiannon."Hello, Serena."
Serena looked up again."Greetings, Justin. Strange things are happening here."
Justin and Rhiannon, who had just hopped into each other's arms, looked at her. "Strange things?" Justin inquired, gazing at Rhiannon."Yes. Unless you consider axes flying through midair all by themselves normal," was Serena's quick reply.
Justin looked irked all of a sudden."I don't like what you're implying, Serena," he snapped.
"Ah, yes, my Justin, but it does not matter what you like or do not like. Things are not always what they seem." was Serena's response.
Justin's face muscles tightened."I see. Good day, Serena."
With that, he and Rhiannon left.
Isabella had now given up crying and was pacing around the Infirmary. She was mostly watching over Isaac, who still hadn't come out of his coma, and she was also thinking. Serena glided in just then with Xander in tow."Hello, Izzy girl." Serena greeted the doctor-in-training.
Isabella grinned. From anyone else that nickname would sound like an insult, but not from Serena."Hi, Serena. Hi Xander. What's up?"
Xander rolled his eyes."What isn't? I think Rhiannon tried to kill Serena!"
Isabella dropped the stack of neatly folded bandages on the floor in shock."What?! Serena, are you okay?"
She began picking up the bandages and throwing them back in their box. Serena nodded."I am fine, Izzy girl. But if Jenner had not been there, I would not have been so lucky."
Now Xander and Isabella just stared at the wise rat."Excuse me?" Xander asked.
"Jenner was there. Or at least his spirit was," Serena explained, as though that were something everyone should know."He called to me, so I was prepared. But then he blew the axe out of her hands and past me."
"I'll bet lover boy Justin thinks his sweet little angel could never do anything like that," Isabella said with a scowl.
Xander nodded in agreement."He's not the only one. Do you know I had to break up a fight today between Cal and Brutus?" He groaned."I don't think I need to tell you what it was about. And when I tried to tell Justin that I didn't quite trust her, he came this close-" Xander placed his thumb and index finger an eighth of an inch from one another,"-to punching me out." He shook his head."Cupid sure is claiming his own today." Serena nodded."That is so. But somehow I do not think that this is Cupid that we are dealing with."
"Definitely not," Isabella agreed."I just hate to see Rhiannon playing him like a fiddle!"
"Fiddle, nothing," cracked Xander."She's playing the whole orchestra! But," he added mischievously,"I thought you hated him."
That made Isabella angry."I don't hate him! I never did! In fact....." she trailed off, the realization in her mind becoming all too clear."I....I love him. I love him!" She turned to face the calm face of Serena and the shell-shocked face of Xander. "Do you hear me? I...love...Justin!" Then she groaned."But then he'll come back from his walk with Rhiannon and probably announce his engagement to her or something and totally break my heart and I hate Justin!" she exploded.
Serena put her arm around the young rat."Tell me, Serena," Isabella said, looking the older rat in the eyes,"Is it possible to love someone even if they hurt you?"
Serena nodded sagely, with complete understanding."Yes, my dear. It is very possible."
Xander cleared his throat."Ah, well, that's great and all, but we have a slight matter of murder attempt to look into, as much as I hate breaking up this touching mood and all...."
Isabella seemed to snap out of it then."He's right. Hey, has anyone noticed something?" She jumped up and crossed the room and got the record book. Xander raised his eyebrows."I've noticed a lot of somethings," he said dryly."You'll have to be more specific."
"Well, in case you haven't noticed," Isabella continued, ignoring Xander,"Most of the hawk attack victims are the ones going crazy right now. Justin, Isaac, Brutus and Cal are the only ones so far." She sighed."But that could be a coincidence."
A look of realization crossed the faces of Xander and Serena."It could be," Serena said,"But it isn't likely."
"I think," Xander said,"That this is a pretty heavy accusation we're making. And anyway," he continued,"We don't have any proof that Rhiannon's behind all this." He paused for breath."And we don't even know if Rhiannon has magical abilities."
"Oh, she does," Serena told the guard."I overheard her say so."
Xander nodded."Okay, so she has magical abilities. That doesn't necessarily mean that she transformed herself into a hawk and...." he trailed off."Or does it?"
Isabella spoke up now."It might. If we caught her in the act, we'd know for sure. But this whole thing is pretty weird. Maybe that's why Isaac went psycho! After all, that was the day Rhiannon arrived!" she exclaimed suddenly."And that's probably why all the victims are trying to 'protect' her now. Either that," she said wryly,"Or they're just being typical males."
Serena frowned."That could be what Jenner was warning me about in my dream." She filled Isabella and Xander in on her dream."It's a thought."
Isabella shook her head."It certainly is. All this makes so much sense now....and that is strange because all of this is so crazy!" That cracked Xander up."Think about it, Isabella. Has anything that's happened in the last forty-eight hours been normal?"
"No," Serena said,"And it will get worse." These words came just as Isaac sat up in bed again, and slowly pulled back the blanket and got out of bed. Isabella went to him and tried to make him lay down again. He growled and literally picked her up and threw her into a cart full of medical supplies. Bandages, syringes, and other stuff rolled everywhere. Xander picked up a broomstick and held it up as a weapon in front of Isaac."Stop, or we shall do battle!" he cried. Isaac growled again and raised his fist, and knocked the broom out of Xander's hands. He punched the guard squarely in the face, push past him, and ran out the door, leaving the Infirmary a shambles.
Michaela stood outside, watching the twilight creeping in. It's beautiful out here, she thought happily. Her thoughts were interrupted by a procession of rats. Michaela quickly ducked behind a blackberry bush to watch. She saw fifteen rats marching in the direction of the forest. Mike was surprised to see that the group included Justin, Brutus, Isaac, and a whole bunch of others she recognized as the hawk victims. And they all have glowing eyes! She began shaking all over. Who can I tell? Who will believe me? she thought desperately. She stood up suddenly, a look of determination crossing her face. She only hoped Isabella was still in the Infirmary.
Back in the Infirmary, Serena and Isabella were helping Xander to his feet. His nose was bleeding, and medical supplies were everywhere. The place was trashed. "Are you okay?" Isabella asked him."Fine," he responded with a weak smile."But what about you? You were the one who was airborne for awhile, Iz." Isabella sighed."I know. And they say rats weren't meant to fly. Come on, we've got to follow him!" They were just heading out the door when Michaela burst in."Guys!" she exclaimed, and filled them in on what she'd seen."Listen," Xander told her, taking Mike by the shoulders,"Calm down, Mike. Now. I am putting you in charge while Isabella, Serena and I go to see what the heck is going on here, okay?" Michaela nodded."Good. Just tell us which way they went and don't worry about a thing." Mike nodded again, somewhat convinced by Xander's speech. She pointed out the direction and the group set off.
Part 2: The Battle
Serena, Xander, and Isabella followed the procession of rats from a safe distance. Finally, they came to a clearing in the woods, where a large bonfire flickered in the center. Isabella wasn't the least bit surprised to see Rhiannon there. Rhiannon put her hand towards the fire, and instantly the red flames became silver. "That is better," she said in a taunting voice."And how are all my faithful servants this evening?"
The fifteen rats gathered in a circle around the mystical rat and she cackled."Justin, my dear, come forward." Justin stepped forward.
"Now," Rhiannon said with an evil smile,"Give me the Stone."
Justin didn't move. Rhiannon looked irritated. "Did you not hear me? Give me the Stone!"
"Justin!" Isabella shouted,"No!"
Xander clapped his hand to his forehead."Isabellaaa!" Isabella looked embarassed."Sorry."
"Don't be sorry," Serena told the rat,"Be quiet!"
Xander and Isabella looked up to find five of the fifteen rats coming towards them. They started to run, but they were much too slow.
The threesome was dragged before Rhiannon, who no longer looked sweet or innocent. Her hair was a wild mess, and her aqua eyes flashed angrily."Well, well, well," she sneered."Look who decided to drop in. I really must insist that you call next time," she said sarcastically."Let's see. We've got the psychic," she said, pointing to Serena,"The fool," Rhiannon continued, pointing at Xander,"And last but not least, Juliet." Isabella lunged forward but was held back by Isaac and Matt. "Really," Rhiannon taunted,"Isabelle, did you think for even a second that Justin would have you instead of me?" She cackled.
"That's Isabella!" Isabella shouted, breaking free of Matt and Isaac."And you're toast!"
She lunged at Rhiannon again, this time knocking her to the ground. It was a full-on battle. Isabella tried several times to land a punch on Rhiannon's jaw, but the sorceress rat blocked it each time."Oh, please. Is that the best you can do?" The evil rat picked up a sword lying nearby, and Isabella grabbed a stick. Rhiannon came at Isabella with the sword and Isabella raised the stick, trying to remember everything Lita had taught her about swordplay. Rhiannon may have been good with magic, but she was even better with a sword. Isabella just barely managed to block several would-be blows, but she knew she couldn't keep it up much longer."So sorry about your boyfriend," Rhiannon snarled."But you won't have to worry about that for much longer." Isabella growled."We'll see about that! By the way," she added, ducking to avoid getting her head chopped off,"I'll bet that hawk was you, wasn't it? You did all this!" Rhiannon grinned evilly."But of course."
Isabella knocked the sword out of Rhiannon's hand."How? Why?"
Rhiannon smirked."Because I want the Stone. It contains what I need, but it can only be used by one with a courageous heart." Isabella's eyes widened."You're just like Jenner!"
Rhiannon smirked again."Jenner? That fool? Please! Do you really think he could have come up with something that brilliant on his own? Of course not! If it hadn't been for him, the humans would have been serving us. Nicodemus, Jonathan, Sullivan and he thought that they were so smart, using the Stone to stop us. But they paid for it, didn't they? My curse certainly paid off, but the Stone and Jenner's family are my unfinished business." She laughed hysterically. "Justin!" she called over her shoulder."Justin, my dear!" Justin came forward."Be a good slave and take care of her." the sorceress told the Justin, pointing at Isabella. Justin picked up the sword and came at her. "Justin! Stop!" Isabella screeched."Justin, I don't want to fight-" She was cut off as the sword nearly took off her arm."Hey! Watch where you're swingin' that thing!"
But Justin wasn't listening."Justin," Isabella pleaded,"I don't want to fight you!" The sword almost stabbed her in the midriff. Now she was angry.
"You asked for it!" Isabella shouted, and kicked Justin good and hard in the stomach. He let out a yell of pain. Before Isabella knew what was happening, Cal and Brutus were holding her down and no amount of struggling did any good. Justin stood over her with the sword. "Justin! NO!" Isabella screamed. "No!"
But Justin didn't seem to hear her. He raised the sword high over his head.
"Kill her, Justin!" Rhiannon screamed."KILL HER!"
"Justin! Stop!" Xander and Serena shouted.
"Please," begged Isabella,"Justin, snap out of it! You don't have to be Rhiannon's slave! I'm not giving up on you!" she yelled."Because I...." her voice faltered, and she had to start again."I love you."
Justin paused for a minute. For one horrible moment, Isabella thought he really was going to kill her.
But the glow in Justin's eyes flickered, then went out. He dropped to his knees and in the process dropped the sword, horrified at what he'd almost done."I know," was his reply."I know."
Rhiannon broke the mood just then."If you won't do it, then I will!" White lightening gathered around her hands, and a whirlwind of energy surrounded Isabella.
Isabella had never been in so much pain in her life. It felt like a thousand swords were all running through her body at once. She screamed in pain as the white light continued whirling around her and through her, causing sparks.
Justin was horrified, then his horror became anger. He started to move towards the light, but it was like his legs were made of stone. He couldn't move.
"Oh, my God!" he heard Xander shout."I'm drowning!"
Brutus dropped to his knees."Oh, man, I hate heights!"
Then it hit him. Rhiannon was attacking them with their worst fears.
"Jenner! Jenner, no! Don't do it!" Serena cried.
He felt the fear coming at him, close to him as a shadow. "Nicodemus...." he groaned,"Nicodemus, help me!"
Justin had to shake himself free of the fear that surrounded him like a think, impenetrable fog.
"Rhiannon!" a booming voice shouted. "Stop this at once!"
Justin recognized that voice. Jenner! He could only stare as Jenner materialized right in front of Rhiannon, a transparent figure. She looked shocked, but not for long.
"Really," Rhiannon said in a dangerously calm voice."And who is going to stop me?"
Jenner stood tall."I am! I kept you from killing my wife and son, didn't I? I can certainly keep you from killing innocents like Isabella!" He turned to his wife."Use the Stone," he told her. She was absolutely speechless. Her face had gone dead white. But she nodded at him and raised her Stone. Then he disappeared.
"Justin!" Serena yelled suddenly. "Use your Stone!"
The leader of the rats just looked at her."What?"
"Don't ask questions! Just do it!"
Justin struggled, still fighting his fear. Fear that he wouldn't be able to use the Stone at all. But then he remembered Isabella. If he didn't do something right now, she would die.And he couldn't let that happen. He raised the Stone, and glowing red fire shot out of it.
Blue lightning shot out of Serena's Stone and the two merged together, forming a brilliant violet. Rhiannon screamed in agony as the violet fire and lightening enveloped her.
"NOOOOOOOO!!!!" she screamed. But it was way too late. The Stones' energy seemed to make her more and more transparent, until finally there was nothing left of her but her crystal.
"Oh, wow," Xander spoke up."She vaporized!"
Serena scooped the sword up off the ground and brought it down hard on the crystal. It shattered, clouds of silver dust spreading from where the crystal had been. The silver dust materialized into three shapes. Jenner. Sullivan. And Jonathan! Justin was shocked.
The white lightening that had been holding Isabella prisoner disappeared, releasing her.
Isabella, exhausted but happy, collapsed quietly nearby. Justin rushed forward and caught her at the halfway point. He slowly lowered her to the ground.
The two of them laughed, then looked up at the sky. It was almost dawn.
"I love you," Justin said simply."I don't know how else to say it. I was too proud to admit it, until now."
Isabella grinned back."I know."
Serena flew into Jenner's arms, laughing and crying at the same time. The reunited husband and wife turned to watch Isabella and Justin, smiling.
When they got back, Justin settled everyone into his office. He wanted some answers, as you can probably imagine. Justin sat behind his desk, and Jenner, Sullivan, Jonathan and Xander occupied the chairs in front of it. Isabella lie on the couch in the office, half asleep, with Serena on another chair, watching over her."Now," Justin said,"This is a little strange for me. It's not every day three guys who are supposed to be dead sit in your office. Can someone please explain what the heck happened out there?"
Jenner nodded."I can. You see, our group wasn't the only group being experimented on. There was another, like ours, but with different injections."
Jonathan spoke up."Those injections left them with superior mental abilities and even a few magical. But it also made them evil."
Justin wrinkled his brow."That makes sense. But why did she....?"
Sullivan looked up."She and the others in her group had plotted to escape using their powers and kill the scientists in charge of the experiment. Jenner overheard them," he said, gesturning. Jenner nodded to acknowledge this."And told Nicodemus, Jonathan and I. We created the Stone to stop them When the day came, the Stone basically drained most of their powers. But not all."
Xander looked facsicnated."Wow."
Jenner grimaced."Rhiannon knew what we had done, and she was mad as hell. She cursed us all with violent deaths. But since I had been the one to notify the others in the first place, she cursed me with madness and a violent death." He smiled ruefully."I think we all know what happened after that."
Isabella tried unsuccessfully to sit up."She was pretty methodical about the whole thing, wasn't she? She knew that everyone thought Jenner capable of doing what he did." She attempted sitting up again, but Justin went to her and pushed her gently back down."Don't you dare move," he cautioned her. "Try to rest."
She made a face at him, then smiled at him."All right."
Jenner cleared his throat."To answer your question, Isabella, yes, Rhiannon was very methodical. But before he died, Nicodemus had fixed the Stone so that it could only be used by one with a courageous heart. So the only way Rhiannon could get the Stone was to have the wearer give it up willingly. But the power of the red stone wasn't enough to destroy her. When I realized that, I created the blue stone and gave it to Serena. I knew that when the time came, she would know what to do." Serena smiled her approval."And you were right."
Justin nodded, understanding."Ohhh....I get it. But..there's still one thing that puzzles me. If you all and Nicodemus died, how....?" "That's easy enough to answer," Jonathan told him."The first rule of magic - always allow a way to escape. The curse stipulated that only the ones who died before their time could ever come back. And, well...it was Nicodemus' time." Jenner looked sad."Rhiannon hated me, I knew that much. But I didn't know she hated me enought to have me kill my friends."
Serena went to him and put her hand on his shoulder."It was not your fault. You couldn't have stopped her. She was too powerful."
Jenner sighed in response."We are going to have a lot of explaining to do."
"Oh yeah," Isabella agreed."Believe me when I say oh yeah."
Jonathan looked anxious all of a sudden."Justin, now that we've explained everything, I....I'd like to see my wife again. How on earth am I going to get to the farm from here?"
Justin smiled secretively."You won't need to."
Jonathan was shocked."What? Why not?"
"She's here," Justin replied."Here in Thorn Valley. But don't leave yet," he said to the already leaving Jonathan."Save that for breakfast. There's just one more thing. About Rhiannon's group, are they still around?"
Sullivan nodded."Yes. And you can bet they'll be back with a vengeance."
Justin looked disgusted."Oh....great. Well, that's everything. Let's go to breakfast. Everyone will be there, and I want to explain things to them."
The three uncursed ones nodded their agreement."Well, what are we waiting for, a train?" Xander asked with a grin. "Let's go!"
At breakfast that morning, everyone was curious as to where their fearless leader had disappeared to. Lita and Michaela tried to figure it out. "Oh my lord," Lita said suddenly."Look!" Michaela turned in amazement and saw Justin and his group enter."What the...?"
Justin held up his hands for silence."Please, everyone. I know what you're thinking. And I have the explanation." With the help of Jenner, Sullivan, and Jonathan, Justin explained as best he could about the curse, Rhiannon, and the Stones."
"It's the truth." Jonathan told the crowd. They warned the crowd that friends of Rhiannon might come for them. And they believed it.
Meanwhile, Paul and Jenny had just entered the room. All eyes turned on them."Hey, sorry we're late," Paul said, holding up his hands in surrender,"Couldn't help it...had trouble with the water pipes and....oh hi, Dad. Anyway-" Paul and Jenny did a double take."DAD!" Jenny cried, throwing herself into her father's arms. Paul followed, still wary this rat who seemed to be his father.
Jenner stopped hugging Jenny and turned to his son. Their is a pause as father and son try to conceal their emotions. Then both of them gave it up and hugged. "Dad...I'm sorry....how did you.....?" Jenner smiled."I'll tell you the whole story later."
Jonathan fidgeted. "Justin, where's...?"
Justin grinned, then pointed."Is that her?"
The entire place fell silent as Mrs. Brisby and her children entered. "What are you all...?" Mrs. Brisby trailed off as she caught sight of Jonathan. Everyone watched as a flash of red flew into Jonathan's arms. Justin turned and started the applause. Sheila was crying with relief. "You, sir," she told Jonathan in a false stern voice,"Have a lot of explaining to do!"
Jonathan nodded, his eyes wet."Don't worry, I will. I will." He had to stop as he was mobbed by his children.
"Dad, you're back!" exclaimed Martin.
"You're all right!" cried Teresa and Timmy at the same time.
Cynthia pulled on her father's arm."Daddy, you're home!"
Jonathan picked Cynthia up."I certainly am. And I'll never leave you again. Not ever."
Later that day, Justin came out of the Infirmary after his visit to Isabella, possibly the tenth one that day. He danced out of the room. He nearly crashed into Jenner. "Whoa, sorry!"
Jenner grinned."That's okay. But why were you dancing like that?"
Justin smiled broadley."I asked Isabella to marry me. And she said yes!" He started dancing agan. Then he stopped, and clapped his hand to his forehead."Oh, no! She said yes!"
Jenner had to laugh at this."Getting cold feet already? I don't blame you."
Justin was startled. In all the time that he had known Jenner, they had never really connected. Not until now.
"Don't look so shocked," Jenner informed the leader. "I've been down that road before. And all I have to say, Justin, is that if you love her...you must tell her. Because you never know what could happen.""
"And one more thing," Jenner said in low, serious voice.Then he grinned again."Congratulations! It's about time!"
Justin laughed."Thank you! Wow, you sure are, um....happy today."
Jenner looked at him."Being brought back from the dead does a lot for your mood. And I should thank you, too."
Justin was puzzled."What?"
"It was you and Serena who set us free. And we are forever grateful to you for that." Jenner said solemnly.
Justin nodded again. This was the old Jenner. The twisted, evil thing that had been Rhiannon's creation was long gone. In his place was the likeable guy that Jenner had been.
That just goes to show, Justin thought, Good always triumphs over evil.
That very night, a celebration took place in Thorn Valley. The rats had many things to celebrate that night. A good harvest. Rhiannon was gone for good. And, last but not least, the wedding engagement of Justin and Isabella. The light from the bonfire flickered off Isabella's face as she watched the rats' party. Several rats, including Terrence, had started providing musical entertainment (Irish folk music) and several other rats began dancing to it. Isabella laughed when she saw Jenner twirling his daughter around. Jenny looked like she was having a blast. Paul sat with the band, playing his guitar. Jonathan sat with his family, content to watch the dancers with his wife. Sullivan and Isaac, who had made a full recoverey, were involved in deep conversation. Serena, after quite a bit of prodding, finally persuaded Paul to dance with her. Paul looked embarrassed at first, then started to get into it. He performed a series of what looked like tap dancing moves. He crossed his arms and looked at his mother.
Serena was up to the challenge. She picked up her skirts and copied his moves exactly. She laughed at Paul's surprised face.
Just then Jenner walked up to his son."May I cut in?" Paul gladly let his father take his place. Serena and Jenner couldn't seem to stop smiling at each other as they glided across the clearing together.
Justin broke away from Lita, whom he had been dancing with, and crossed over to Isabella."Care to dance, Izzy?" he offered.
Now Isabella was really laughing."Don't call me Izzy," she said with a straight face.
"Fine," Justin said."Isabella, then." She took his arm and began to dance.
Justin lifted her up in the air and swung her around. He brought her down again, and soon they were in a close embrace.
Okay, so she wasn't a damsel in distress, Justin thought. She isn't a goddess.
She wasn't a perfect angel, either.
But somehow, Justin thought, grinning at his fiancee, I think I like it better this way.
He didn't need to use any tricks to win her over. She already loved him for who he was. And he felt the same about her.
He turned to look at the band. Instead, he saw the transparent figure of Nicodemus. He smiled. He knew that this spirit would always be there for him, keeping the rats safe from danger.
And that, Justin thought to himself, Is what has kept Serena going. It's what has kept me going!
Love is the key.
After all, wasn't love what had brought Jenner back?
Real love never dies.
And, it seems, neither does friendship.