The plane had gotten in late, so Dante took the nearest cab and headed for the funeral home. When he arrived the place seemed deserted. The only employee there directed him to a room where a man and a woman were standing beside an open casket. He immediately recognized his Aunt Rita and it took him a moment to recognize the man. He was Dr. George Yardley, or Uncle George as Dante had called him most of his life, though not an uncle by blood he was so close to his family that he may as well have been. He had been an old friend of his father since their days at the National Institute of Mental Health and his partner at New Horizon Bio-Research, but he looked like he had aged fifty years since the last time he had seen him just a few years earlier. At the door, on a stand was a register for the mourners to sign. He looked down, there was not a single signature on it, his Aunt Rita and Dr. Yardley had not even signed it. He walked over to his Aunt and hugged her.
“I am so sorry, Aunt Rita. I got here as soon as I could. Hi, Uncle George. Thanks for coming.”
“Don’t be sorry Dante, even if you had been here, there would have been nothing you could have done to prevent his death.” She replied weakly, even though her health had been declining in the last few years she seemed different, she seemed so at peace as though his father’s death had been some terrible load lifted from her shoulders and deep down he had to reluctantly admit that his father’s death brought no tears, he had tried but could shed no tears for the man who had spent his whole life locked away in a lab, completely indifferent to the fact he was also a husband and a father. A man who, while his wife lay dying in the hospital could not be bothered to leave his lab to be by her side. Who when his wife died did not come to the funeral so he could be at his lab. After his mother’s death Dante had lived with his father and it seemed that his father was for once glad that he had a son, but his memories of that time were vague to say the least. He was only five when he had been taken away by the authorities and placed in the care of his Aunt Rita, he saw very little of his father after that, his father again oblivious to the fact that he had a son. He had to change his train of thought as he felt long bottled up anger and resentment welling up inside him. He finally built up the strength to face the body, He hadn’t seen his father in years and he had been in ill health, mentally and physically, but the body in the casket gave him a start. Dr. Erhard Schultz lay there in a blue suit, his hands crossed over this chest and what should have been a look of peace on his face was in fact a horrid grin and his eyebrows furrowed in what would have been an intimidating manner. His battered horned rimmed glasses were the only thing that gave his disturbing features any look of normalcy. Dante was a little annoyed at the undertaker for not making a better effort to make him look peaceful.
“Did I get here early? Where is everybody?”
“No one came and we were just waiting for you to show, we’re ready to go.” George replied then reached into his pocket removed a flask and had a drink. His Uncle George had always been a moderate drinker but from what he had been hearing from his Aunt the drinking had gone from moderate to perhaps full blown alcoholism.
They waited a little while longer just on the slim chance anyone else might show up but soon Dante realized that his dad had been a stranger to him his whole life and it seemed that he had made everyone around him a stranger also.
They left the funeral home a short time later and drove to the cemetery, the funeral was as silent and poorly attended as the viewing, even the minister found it difficult to say anything encouraging to the family about Dr. Schultz. After the funeral they all went back to his Aunt Rita’s house in silence. No fond memories or amusing anecdotes about his dad to lift their spirits. There just was nothing to say about the man other than he was truly a genius, but his genius came at a terrible price to those around him. At the house they sat in the living room discussing everything but Dr. Schultz. George poured Rita a drink and then went to the kitchen and soon returned with a large plastic cup and poured half the bottle of whisky into it and then he drained it in three gulps.
“So Dante, how is academic life treating you? George asked.
“Fantastic, the best grades in class.” He said proudly.
“How about athletics? That was always your strongest gift.” George asked.
“I just don’t have the time. Science takes up every single waking minute of my life.” He responded sadly.
“Do you have a girlfriend?” Rita asked.
“No, With so much work I just don’t have the time.” He replied sheepishly. His admission only elicited a frown from her.
“Never let work be your only love. Look where that path took your father, your mother, you and for that matter all of us.” she said with remarkable coldness. George jumped in and jump-started the conversation with some lighter topics as it grew later. Growing tired Rita went to bed and George and Dante continued talking. After midnight Dr. Yardley bid him goodnight and left. Dante decided to call it a night also and went to bed.
He had hoped that now that he was coming to terms with the loss of his father that the dreams and nightmares of impending doom would cease. Each night the dream was more terrifying than the last, this was one of the worst occurrences he ever had. For a couple of days back in early childhood he had some terrible dreams and for some reason he kept dreaming about a cinder block and just the year before he had strange dreams, nightmares and hallucinations so terrible he had to be hospitalized and heavily medicated to keep him from harming himself and others. He had began having nightmares, hallucinations off and on since he was about five years old, he had fallen out of a tree and hit his head on a rock, it took over two hundred stitches to close the wound he was told, it was shortly after that he was taken away from his father. Again in his dreams he saw the terrible specter growing closer, he watched as everything it touched died a terrible death, death swallowed up the world till he stood alone in front of the thing. He stood helpless as darkness swallowed him up, then there appeared a tiny pinpoint of blinding red radiance being held by a tiny form. Then he woke suddenly and leaped out of bed, the phone was ringing.
“Dante! Get the phone, its George.” Aunt Rita called from beyond the door of his room.
“Uncle George...What?” he asked groggily into the receiver.
“Did I wake you, of course I did, its only two in the afternoon. Can you come out here to the lab today? Your dad’s car is still here. Rita gave me the keys,
“Sure Uncle George. I’ll be there as soon as I can.” He said between yawns and hung up the phone. Even though he had technically gotten more than eight hours of sleep, when he had awakened after a nightmare of that magnitude it felt as though his body did not get a moments rest the entire night. He got quickly got dressed, threw on his trenchcoat and had his aunt call a cab and hastily ate breakfast. The cab pulled up moments later they were on their way and armed with his laptop, he checked his e-mail and was not surprised to see he had none, “Make friends and influence people” was not exactly his motto. He relaxed and enjoyed the scenery, scenery he had missed terribly since his leaving for college. As he approached the lab the first thing that was evident was that a large warehouse next to the main lab was just a charred ruin surrounded be orange cones with police tape running around the entire building. He noticed, standing in the parking lot was George taking papers out of filing cabinet on a hand truck and burning them in a fifty-five gallon drum. Dante quickly paid the cabby and rushed over to George, who looked even worse than he did the night before.
“Good, your here.” He said and took a key ring from his pocket and tossed it to Dante and pointed to a rusty, banged up, faded red ‘59 Cadillac convertible that sat in the middle of two prime parking spaces.
“Uncle George, may I ask what you are burning?”
“Lets just say that I’m taking out the trash. Come inside won’t you, there someone who I think would be glad to see you.” He said and led him inside the lab.
“What happened to the warehouse?” he asked.
“The fire investigators said it was lightning.” He replied with a note of skepticism. As the walked through the place, it seemed deserted.
“Where is everybody?”
“I gave everybody two weeks off after the fire. I also needed to take care of some business after your dad died.” He said as he directed Dante to his office. Dante had noticed the smell of cigarettes and the sound of a wet, hacking cough even before they entered, the room inside was hazy with the smoke. A woman sat at a table, apparently doodling on an official looking document while she puffed on a cigarette, beside her on the table was an ash tray with a several large piles of cigarette butts stacked pyramid style in it and a half empty bottle of vodka and an empty bottle of scotch. He knew her, she was Dr. Julie Kemmerer. She and George had been working with his dad all the way back to his days at NIMH. Her appearance alarmed him, she, just like everyone else associated with his dad looked weak and old before their time, her right and left hands were heavily bandaged. Dante had always had a crush on her, she had been so beautiful, so full of life, enthusiasm and intelligence and now she looked like death warmed over. She looked up suddenly.
“Hi, Dante. Long time no see.” She said with a big smile and resumed her doodling.
“Hello Dr. Kemmerer.” Dante replied and went to get a cup of coffee, He couldn’t help notice that next to the coffee machine were a dozen bottles of booze and in the garbage can were a half dozen more empties. Dr. Yardley poured some gin into a coffee cup and Dante turned and looked out the window at the remains of the warehouse.
“So Dante, what are you going to do when you graduate college?” she asked.
“If possible I would like to work here, with you and Uncle George.” He replied.
“You know you’re always welcome to work here, Dante” George replied.
“Thank you Uncle George. And I would also like to continue my father’s research on project Titan.”
The last statement did not have the response he expected. The moment he said “Titan” he heard a pencil snap and a coffee cup shatter on the floor. He turned to them slowly.
“What...do you...know...about project Titan?” George asked, a terrifying look on his face. Julie had a look of stunned horror but said nothing.
“Uh...many years ago he told me it was the project that the three of you had worked together on at NIMH. It involved modifying brain cells to compensate for serious mental and physical illness. He said at NIMH it never got beyond the testing of lab animals before the project was officially closed. I was thinking that with the advances in science since then the project might really bear fruit. That way there may be at least one lasting legacy of his work.” He replied, his own conviction of the wisdom of his plans seemed to vanish at the sight of utter horror and anger on their features. Julie just folded her arms on the desk and lay her head down and George picked up a bottle of whisky off his desk and quickly drained a quarter of it and then slammed the bottle on the desk.
“Ha! Dante, There are many, many legacies of your fathers work. So I will show you a legacy of your fathers work in the hopes that you are so terrified that you will shudder in fear every time you hear the word ‘Titan’ The story he told you about project Titan has a microscopic grain of truth, there were experiments involving the modification of the brains of lab animals, but that was the tip of the iceberg, what he was doing just wasn’t right, in fact it was evil.” He said in a deadly serious tone.
Dante was very unnerved by such a dramatic and passionate condemnation of his father’s life’s work. George pulled a piece of paper out of his desk and began writing, then while handing it to Dante he quickly drew it back.
“I’ll be honest with you, you’ve been like a son to me and you know that I would never steer you wrong. Now, I will ask you just once. Will you now and forever abandon project Titan and never ever speak the name again in our presence or to anyone else for that matter or will you force me to reveal to you what your fathers life’s work really was?” He asked with absolute seriousness. Dante was beginning to feel a surge of anxiety, What could his father have been doing that brought about such emotions in people? Dante gulped and spoke.
“Uncle George, I have to know what meant more to him than mom and me. I want to see if somehow it was worth it. From the way you and Julie sound, it must have been something truly terrible, but I must know or I’ll never be able to put father to rest in my mind.” Dante said with deep sadness in his voice, George smiled faintly and handed the paper to Dante. He opened it and saw that it was a map leading to a location outside of town.
“I understand why you need to do this, I just wish it wasn’t necessary, but so be it. That map is to your father’s private lab.” Then his face took on a intense scowl and his voice took on a menacing tone. “But bear in mind that when you leave the lab that you and everything that you believe will be forever altered and not for the better.” He said and handed Dante a second keyring. This one had a dozen large keys on it.
Dante accepted them hesitantly. His mind trying to imagine the terrors that awaited him at the lab. George sat down and poured himself another drink and pulled a quarter out of his pocket and began to spin it on the desk top. Dante was startled when Julie threw a lighter onto the desk.
“George is right. Dante, have you ever wondered what it was that was so unspeakable that it destroyed your father and everyone around him, take a good look at George and I, you can’t imagine the things we’ve seen. The horrors that have made us like this. I beg you, don’t open the door to that lab, take the lighter and burn the place and all its contents to the ground. Let the secret of NIMH be forever put to rest.” She said pleadingly. He picked up the lighter and slipped it in his pocket. He looked at George, still spinning the quarter, stopping only long enough to take a drink. Julie returned to resting her head on the table and no one said anything more. As he was leaving he heard George speak.
“Afterward, stop back here and join us for a drink.” He said without emotion.
Dante quickly left the room and hurried to his father’s car. He was growing very uneasy. George and Julie had been two of the most brilliant, rational and stable people he had known growing up, but he had watched their deterioration along with his father’s and he began to deeply fear whatever it was that had caused such trauma.
Soon he stood before the car. As he thought back sadly, he could remember precious few times he and his father had ever been in it together. As he studied the car’s battered condition in his mind it became a metaphor for his own father’s decline. When he was a child his father’s car had looked dignified, respectable but was beginning to show signs of wear. As the years had passed the car and his father had begun to grow shabbier and neglected until it seemed there was nothing but sheer force of will holding either of them together. He slowly turned the key, part of his mind going back to the metaphor, half expecting that now that his father was dead the car would be dead also. To his surprise it started and ran perfectly. He enjoyed the country side as he drove, thinking about his father helped push away the growing uneasiness about the up coming task at the lab. The car had once commanded respect on the road, now it received only looks of horror or laughter as people wondered how such a broken-down car could still be running. Driving it also took some practice as it was almost twice as big a car as he was used to driving.
Periodically looking at his map he managed to find the place or so he believed. The only thing that could be seen from the road was a dirt road with many large “No Trespassing” signs all around it. He turned onto the dirt road and followed it to what appeared to be an old abandoned strip mine with one large building in the middle of it. He pulled up and parked. He cautiously approached the door, remembering the many warnings about what he would find. He reached into his pocket for the keys and was reminded about the lighter he was also given. He looked at it and then to the building.
“No. Father you owe me this.” He said and unlocked the door, he paused and looked over the door as if expecting the words “Abandon all hope all ye who enter here” to be posted on the frame. He hesitantly grasped the door knob and threw open the door.
Nothing, after the build up that he had been given, it was very anticlimactic to actually see the lab. It in fact seemed like a regular lab. He turned on the lights and began to slowly explore his father’s refuge. He examined the lab equipment and numerous documents that were laying around the several tables. Many were old NIMH papers, showing lab results and his father’s own thoughts about the experiments, Dante couldn’t help but notice that most of the NIMH documents were boldly marked “Classified” As he searched he noticed that the large building had been divided into three rooms, one small one for living quarters and a second small one sealed with a metal door that was firmly locked with two large padlocks the rest was one large open space filled with tables and equipment. He felt uneasy just being near the padlocked door, he reached into his pocket but couldn’t muster the courage to withdraw the keys. He resumed his investigations. He went first to the living quarters, all it consisted of was a small cot with a pillow and a military blanket and a padlocked foot locker at the foot of the bed. There was nothing else in the room, no personal effects or photographs, nothing. He unlocked the footlocker and slowly opened the lid. It was filled to bursting the papers, but these seemed to be of a more personal nature. What he hoped to find, he didn’t know but he needed to find something here that would make him believe that his dad did care about something else other than his work. In the box were old tax returns, medical reports about his father, legal papers. He found honors and awards that his father had won early in his career and his college diploma. But as he dug deeper he began finding some very disturbing things, near the bottom of the locker he found a small pile of old documents in German, Dante shuddered when he saw that all of those documents had large swastika’s on them and were all dated in the mid to late thirties. At the bottom of the box was a single photograph, a black and white picture of a couple with a child. Dante recognized the child as his father. He had always wondered what his grandparents looked like and he had to admit that they made a disturbing picture because both of them were wearing nazi uniforms. There was some writing on the back but he couldn’t read German, but something about the papers and photo made him quickly drop them back into the box and pile the other papers back in the box and re-lock it. He slammed the door behind him as he left the room and began looking else where for answers. He made a grisly discovery in one part of the lab, there were about a four tiny rat brains, two mouse brains and a single human brain in jars. On the table next to them there were photographs and documentation about mutation and other changes that were apparent in their development and in a box was a set of slides with rat, mouse and human brain cross-sections. He sat and began examining them under a nearby microscope. He was astonished to see that the sections of some of the rodent brains were approaching the advanced development of human brains. He suddenly pulled back from the microscope. It was to much to believe. He would have to see more proof before he was able to believe what he was seeing. Dante noticed an antiquated computer sitting partially buried under papers on a table and to his surprise, next to the table was a garbage can filled with weapons. It contained fire axe, a crowbar, a golf club (9 iron), tennis racket, samurai sword, baseball bat and slightly alarmingly was a pump shotgun with a bandoleer of about twenty rounds draped over the edge of the can. Ignoring the weapons he slowly examined the out-dated computer, he turned it on and began to pour over his father’s files, most were password protected and though he spent over an hour trying to get into them, he had no luck. What he could read was mostly incoherent pseudo-science and outright dementia. He gave up on that and returned to the mountain of papers.
For hours he poured over them, trying to discover what had been done and as he read he grew more horrified by what he found, frankly it was impossible, beyond impossible. His thoughts drifted back to the papers and photo in the foot locker. On one of the few coherent discussions he had ever had with his father, his father had boasted that this his father had been a brilliant scientist and surgeon, perhaps the greatest in the world and that his work had been far ahead of its time and that he was going to eclipse his father’s work. Dante felt a wave of horror roll over him. Had his grandfather been one of those mad nazi scientists who performed all those horrible experiments on prisoners during the war? And his father had said he wanted to do even greater things than his own father! Dante was staggered, this couldn’t be, it was to horrible to even imagine. He couldn’t believe it, he wouldn’t believe it, but the evidence was mounting before his eyes that it was so. He realized that he himself had been going to an ivy league school, getting the best grades in the school’s history in his field all with the intention of following in his father’s foot steps. He began pacing the room. In a dark corner of the room he found a TV-VCR and a pile of unmarked video tapes. He began to play them, they were all of his father ranting and raving about his work and making many references to something he called “The Power”.
“Uncle George, why didn’t I listen to you?” Dante shouted and shook his fists in rage. He began pacing the room. George had warned him that what he would find would be evil, but he could never have imagined what he would find. As he raged his eyes came to rest on the locked door again. With determination he approached the door and withdrew the keys. Ignoring the strange and very intense feeling of dread that he felt just being at the door he continued and removed the padlocks but paused before he opened the door. Every instinct in his mind and body told him not to open the door. The warnings that he had been given about just walking away from the place were running over and over through his mind. He knew he could just walk away, even as horrible as the things he had already learned about his family and his father’s work were, whatever was behind that door he knew would somehow be more terrible than anything he could imagine. But now deeper down he could feel something else, it was very faint but he felt something drawing him to the room. Throwing caution to the wind he quickly opened the door. At first he could have sworn that all the room contained were about a dozen empty animal cages and a small padlocked metal box about the size of a 3X5 card holder sitting in the middle of the room, but against his will his eyes came to rest on what was standing guard at the box. His mind didn’t want to register what he was seeing. Standing, on two legs, both wearing armor and one with a spear and the other with a crossbow stood two large, rat-like creatures, they stood no more than eight or nine inches tall but to Dante’s mind they might as well have been ten feet tall. They both looked shocked for a moment then looked at Dante and snarled menacingly. Dante quickly stepped back and slammed the door and threw his back against the door, then his knees seemed to give out and he now was sitting on the floor with his back still to the door.
“I did not see that. I did not see that. I did not see that. I did not see that. I did not see that. I did not see that. I did not see that.” Dante kept repeating to himself.
Deep down he had believed, after seeing what his father had become and his own questionable mental health, that there was probably serious mental illness in his family and for the last several years he had begun to worry that he was finally starting to join his father in madness and this last sight was certainly a good sign that he was losing his mind. He tried to stand but found his knees were not cooperating. With his foot Dante dragged a nearby chair over to the door and wedged it under the door knob. He quickly crawled over to the can of weapons and began dragging it over to the door. He took the shotgun in his trembling hands and pulled the slide down. A shell was ejected and it clattered loudly when it hit the floor. He grabbed the shell and reloaded it and put the bandoleer over his shoulder. He tried and succeeded to stand, then kicked the chair away from the door. But cautiously opened the door, but there was nothing in the room other than the metal box, he slowly approached the box. He noticed that the only other feature of the box was the fact that there were about a dozen small air holes drilled into the lid. It could have been just his imagination but it seemed that there was a faint glow inside the box. Just as he was had almost convinced himself that he had just imagined the creatures when he felt a stabbing pain in his left leg. Dante clutched his wounded leg and fell to his knees. He looked behind him to see the two rats emerging from behind the door. The one rat approached and fired its crossbow at Dante. Dante managed to protect his face with his right arm, he felt the sting of the projectile hit his arm. Both creatures drew knives and came charging at him. Dante quickly swung the gun around and struck them both with the butt. He stood and turned toward the door, only to see about a dozen more armed and armored rats converge in the doorway, standing in front of the others was one rat wearing dark colored robes and around its neck was a medallion that read “4” on it. In an instant his fear transformed into determination and he lowered the gun and began blasting away at the rats before they had a chance to make their move. In seconds they were all dead. The doorway an image of micro-carnage. Dante quickly reloaded his gun, grabbed the locked box and pocketed it in his trenchcoat, he looked down, the rat with the robes was dead but the body wasn’t to badly damaged, he picked it up and after stepping over the gore he began limping toward the exit. He leaned against one of the tables and painfully removed the spear and crossbow bolt. Then dumped the dead rat into the can of weapons and picked up the can and with difficulty carried everything. Here and there around the room he saw small dark figures scurry around the room. As he got near the door he overturned a table, dumping chemicals and papers onto the floor, he kicked a pile of papers against the wall, then using the lighter he set the pile on fire. When he exited he locked the door behind him and limped as quickly as he could to the car. He threw everything inside and took off at top speed, his left hand on the wheel and his right hand tightly clutching the shotgun. Just before he got to the main road he heard a tremendous explosion. What had exploded Dante couldn’t imagine, but he was glad it had been there. Only now was he even aware that night had fallen, he sped along the dimly lit country roads toward his uncle’s lab. He was oblivious to everything in the world except the memory of what he had seen since he had opened that last door.
“I did not see that. I did not see that. I did not see that.” He kept repeating.
He didn’t know how long he had been driving when his rationality began to return. He pulled off to the side of the road and just began to shake violently for several minutes. His heart rate slowly began returning to normal and his hands stopped shaking. He cautiously reached into the garbage can and removed the dead rat. He opened the car’s glove compartment and in its dim light he examined its body. He was astonished to see that the creature had opposable thumbs, its legs were designed for bipedal motion. For a moment he wasn’t sure which emotion felt stronger horror or admiration for his father’s handiwork.
When he reached the lab he drove across the grass into a parking space and clipped one of the two cars parked out front. He kicked open the door, carrying the dead rat. He rushed down the hall to Dr. Yardley’s office. The lights were still on and smoke still filled the air. He stepped into the room and saw to his astonishment that George was still spinning a quarter and Julie still sat at the table with her head resting on her arms a lit cigarette in her hand. He looked at the table and saw that almost all the booze that had been there nine hours ago was now gone.
“Care for a drink?” George asked, holding up a bottle of scotch.
Dante silently walked up to his desk and dropped the dead rat in front of him.
“Say, that’s a big one. Hey! Julie take a look at this!” He said loudly. She roused herself, crushed out her cigarette and dragged her chair over to the table.
“This isn’t one of the R alpha group.” She said without the slightest bit of alarm or surprise. George poked at the dead rat with a pencil.
“I didn’t think he could do it without the resources of the main NIMH lab. I have to give him an ‘A’ for effort.” Dr. Yardley responded while they examined the rat.
Dante was speechless as they casually talked about the strange creature on the table. He also thought it odd that they both sounded perfectly sober even though they both must have toxic blood alcohol levels from all the booze they had consumed that day.
“You knew about this?” Dante managed to ask.
“For years. Dante, we helped your dad create these little monsters.” George explained and took a gulp from a nearby bottle of booze.
“You destroyed the lab I hope.” Julie asked earnestly, lighting another cigarette.
“Yes, its blown to smithereens.” She looked very relieved at his response.
“His secret project was to create a race of super-intelligent rats?” Dante asked.
“And super-intelligent mice.” Julie added.
“No, his project was not to create them. These vermin were a completely unexpected side effect of the treatments. We planned to increase their intelligence a little, but we had no idea just how much it had increased. I think that for me, the world as I knew it ended the day I went into the lab and found the cages in the lab open and saw the thread that they had tied to the vent to use as a guide to help them find their way out of the ventilation system and to freedom. But, didn’t you find anything really strange or unusual at the lab?” George asked with all seriousness. Dante’s mouth fell open and he struggled for words to respond to that question.
“Look, it would be easier to show you what your father was really trying to accomplish.” He said and rolled his chair over to a safe next to his file cabinet and quickly opened it, inside were four items. A shoe box and resting on its lid was a large caliber hand gun, an overstuffed file folder the thickness of a phone book and a spool of thread. He left the gun in the safe and placed the box on the table.
“Oh, not the bottle.” Julie said plaintively and fled the room. Dante looked at the box with growing uneasiness. Whatever it contained must be something truly astonishing to disturb two people accustomed to such unspeakable sights. George removed the lid, it revealed an object wrapped in black cloth. He lifted it out and set it on the desk.
“Now, if you think what you have already seen is beyond belief then get a load of this, this is what your father was really after.” George said and unwrapped the object in a way that allowed only Dante to see it. Dante stared at the glass bottle for several seconds, his eyes seemed to have trouble focusing on it, in fact he was quickly developing a headache and nausea just looking at it. The only word that his frantically searching mind could use to describe the bottle was “inverted” but that was only a feeble attempt to describe the indescribable. He had to turn away from the physical abomination that he saw. George covered the bottle with the cloth and returned it to the safe.
“What...was that?” Dante asked in horror.
“That was one of the few successful manifestations of ‘the Power’, your dad did that many years ago. Some where, some how your father discovered a way of manifesting a strange supernatural power. His animal experiments were designed to discover what parts of the brain controlled its use, so he altered the lab animals so their brains could develop those powers, those experiments alone were far beyond anything known to science, but his attempt of harness “the Power” went dangerously beyond science. Well, the treatments went very well and the animals began to grow in intelligence and some were even able to manifest ‘the Power’ in tiny ways. What we didn’t expect was that the animals were playing dumb. They knew that their days were numbered so they hid their high intelligence and made a great escape. That day at the lab your father really went off the deep end. He became obsessed with those escaped animals, he was convinced that with them free that they actually posed a threat to the human race. He became paranoid that they would come after him or they would vow revenge on the entire human race. And to his horror, he knew that their control over the Power might continue to grow. That drove him for the next several years to pursue the escaped animals with a maniacal passion. He got close a couple of times but he never caught them. He got canned by NIMH around that time, they had just gotten sick of his unstable ways and his paranoid theories. They didn’t know even half the truth of his project so they couldn’t understand the seriousness of what was at stake. Even what they did discover about the project disturbed them and they wanted the book closed on project Titan once and for all. Julie and I, having worked so close with your father were fired also. The three of us came here and started this company, Julie and I did regular science and your dad kind of kept working on his pet project. If the animals were going to have access to those powers then he had to be ready for them when they made their move against humanity. When his lab exploded it destroyed most of his work and that stuff you saw me burning in the parking lot was what had survived of his personal work, no offense, but I personally don’t want there to be a shred of documentation of project Titan. No one must ever know how to do what your father did.” George said in icy tones.
“You say that my dad’s lab exploded, but this morning you said it was struck by lightning.” Dante said.
“Your dad was in the middle of some sort of experiment, it went very wrong. The lab exploded and killed your father. Julie was able to drag your father out of the wreckage but it was to late to save him.” George said and poured himself another drink. Julie returned to the room with a first aid kit and began to bandage Dante’s wounds. Fortunately they were all very minor.
“Dante, go home and get a good nights sleep, say good bye to all of this, go back to school and never look back.” Julie said seriously as she lit a cigarette. Dante walked over to the coffee machine and poured himself a cup. He drank it in silence and the three of them sat there, each lost in their own thoughts. Dante put his cup down.
“For once I am going to take your good advice. Good evening to both of you and good night.” Dante said and just walked out of the room. As he slowly walked across the brightly lit parking lot to the car, he was still lost in his thoughts, until he noticed a large robed figure standing at the base of a tree, the lights of the parking lot illuminated it just enough to see that it wore a medallion around its neck the read “3”. Dante froze in fear. Its hand rose to its hood and pulled it back to reveal itself to be another rat-creature, but human sized. It raised a hand to the tree behind it and a bright glow leaped from its hands and went up into the tree, moments later there was loud rustling in the branches above and some very threatening noises. Then suddenly four tiger sized creatures leaped out of the tree, four snarling, hissing, large fanged...squirrels. Dante couldn’t help what he did next, he could only point and laugh at the ridiculous sight. The rat frowned when it saw him laughing, it gestured toward Dante and the creatures began racing toward him. He stopped laughing and made a dash for the weapons stowed in the car. He got to the car first and was going to attempt to slide across the hood of the car the way he had seen in the movies, however when he leaped, to his utter amazement he cleared the entire hood and then moments later two of the squirrels clawed their way across the hood and trunk of the car and one leaped over the roof. Dante quickly reached inside and grabbed the first weapon he could find, it was the samurai sword. He quickly unsheathed it and faced the squirrels, one was perched on the hood of the car and the other three were slowly closing in on him. Suddenly Dante felt very strange, his senses seemed to go into overdrive. The three squirrels that were circling all moved forward at once. Before Dante could consciously act he struck three times with a speed that could not be described as anything but superhuman and in seconds the three squirrels lay dead at his feet. The one on the hood pounced, he ducked and slashed with the sword as it leaped over him and it to fell to the ground, dead. Then for a few moments Dante stood, overwhelmed by what he had just been able to do. Then he snapped out of it and turned to the rat by the tree. The creature looked very afraid, but walked toward Dante and then Dante began running toward it with sword raised. Dante ran and leaped into the air, foot out toward the rat, at the last instant the rat grabbed Dante’s foot and Dante felt himself floating in midair with the creature still holding his foot, Dante moved his sword, but the rat hurled Dante across the parking lot, where he crashed into a tree, the tree cracked with the force of the impact. Dante stood weakly, shaking himself, part of him stunned that he could have possibly survived such an impact. The rat reached out its hand and several balls of fire erupted from it. Dante dodged them easily.
“Hey, cheese breath!” George shouted. The rat turned, then a loud shot rang out, the rat staggered as it was struck by a bullet, About ten feet behind the rat stood George, smoking gun in his right hand and a bottle of booze in the other. He walked up to the rat and fired at it several more times until it lay dead at his feet.
“You had better get out of here. There are bound to be more of them.” George said, taking a gulp from the bottle. Dante felt the haze lift from his mind. He felt desperately weak.
“What about you and Julie?” Dante asked.
“Don’t worry about us. It seems they are making their move, you obviously can manifest some degree of the ‘Power’, your going to need it. Now go before reinforcements show up. Dante grabbed the sword sheath and rushed to the car, he threw it in reverse and again cut across the grass and took off down the road. His mind in utter confusion and terror, wondering what had happened to him. Just that morning the world had been perfectly normal, now suddenly reality was in utter chaos.
“Dante.” He heard faintly. He slammed on the breaks and skidded off the road into a corn field. He leaped out of the car, sword in hand. He looked around nervously, expecting an attack at any moment, however after a few moments he regained some control of his frayed emotions and returned to the car.
“Just my imagination.” He reassured himself.
“Dante.” The faint voice repeated. Dante froze, he now realized where the voice was coming from. It was coming from the small locked box in his pocket. With trembling hands he drew it out of his pocket and placed it on the seat next to him, he dug out the keys and slowly unlocked the box. The glow that he saw there earlier seemed to be gone now. He opened it, inside was a small gray mouse lying on the bottom of the box, obviously modified like the rats at the lab, five finger hands, including thumbs and modified legs. The mouse slowly turned up to face him.
“Dante, Thorn Valley is in terrible danger...we must help them before its to late.” it said weakly. Dante looked at it silently for a few moments. His mouth agape.
“You can talk. Who...What are you?” He asked in shock.
“I was one of your father’s experimental animals, my name is...Jonathan Brisby.”
He replied and then seemed to collapse into unconsciousness or at least that is what Dante thought as he himself lapsed into unconsciousness.
“I have urgent news for the master.” Mercy said as she and Five approached the rats guarding the large door. He was deliberately walking fast so that she had to run to keep up with him. Both guards looked down at the small gray mouse with indifference and then looked to the rat that stood next to her. She gave Five a look of contempt. She despised rats, him in particular. He gestured to the guards to open the door.
“Open it you fools, or Master will crush the life from your bodies.” He warned. The guard turned and opened the door. Mercy hurried inside, the only illumination was a single candle on a stand in the center of the room. She stood by the candle trying to take comfort in its small light, she waited for the Master to make himself known. Five chose to stay in the background, by the door.
“Master?” She called out into the darkness. She shuddered when she felt his presence approach her, but still out of sight.
“Ah, Mercy. Why do you disturb my meditation?” Asked a condescending voice.
“Terrible news, Jonathan Brisby has escaped, Three and Four are dead and the lab has been destroyed.” She replied. There was a long pause, she wasn’t sure what to make of it. She dreaded having to be the bearer of bad news. On occasions like this in the past, Five had said that the Master had a tendency to ‘shoot the messenger.’ His silence was becoming deafening.
“Jonathan will no doubt send them a warning. It is truly unfortunate. I would have preferred that no pure blood be shed in the taking of Thorn Valley, but now that cannot be so. My army is not fully prepared for this conflict, we must now do this the hard way.” the Master said with little concern in his voice.
“Master?” Mercy asked hesitantly.
“May I speak freely?” she asked meekly.
“What if we were to offer them terms of surrender, might we then avoid bloodshed?” she asked hopefully. Again there was silence.
“The chance that they will surrender is so remote as to be nonexistent. However remote though, there is the slightest possibility that they might, provided we use the right incentives.” he said thoughtfully. Mercy suddenly felt her mind fill with information about the people of Thorn Valley and her master’s terms of surrender and his dire warnings about the fate of those who resisted.
“Go to them and give them my offer.” The voice said.
“Five, step into the light.” the Master commanded. With great reluctance he approached the candle.
“Yes, Master?” He said weakly.
“With the deaths of Three and Four there are two vacancies in the ranks. Mercy, the position of Three is vacant, it is yours if you wish.” He said.
“Master! Not to a mou...” Was all Five was able to say before he cried out in agony and collapsed to the floor, writhing in pain.
“Do you dare to tell me my business you half-blood fool? Speak to me in that manner again and I will create a third vacancy. Leave us.” He said with anger in his voice. Five slowly and painfully got to his feet and clutching his chest and limping he vanished into the darkness, followed moments later by the sound of the door opening and closing. Mercy didn’t like being in the Master’s presence alone. Even with that idiot Five with her she still felt better.
“Mercy. What is your answer?” He asked.
“Master. I am very honored that you offered, but please forgive me, I do not wish to become Three.” She tensed, waiting for an outburst or swift punishment. There was only silence.
“Mercy, if you were to accept my offer, you would have the power to make the likes of him fear you. No one would dare to show you the least disrespect.” he said.
“Master, I do not wish to be feared.” She replied.
“A pity, you have such potential. Why must you hold yourself back? So be it. That idiot Five will be promoted to Three. You may leave, only return to me with their response to my offer. If not accepted, we continue as planned. Go. I must prepare for the arrival of my enemy.” He said.
“Yes, Master.” She said and quickly left the room.
Jenner stepped into the candle light and smiled an evil grin. Soon, so soon all would be his. Thorn Valley, the stone, the deaths of his enemies, then he could set his sights on the destruction of the human world. He laughed and returned to his meditations.
Justin woke suddenly, he had fallen asleep at his desk, he looked at his pocket watch, it was after eleven p.m. He felt his coffee mug, it was cold. His crossword puzzle sat unfinished before him, the empty squares of seven down were silently mocking him. He stood stiffly and stretched and walked to the window and looked out into the darkness.
“Penny for your thoughts.” Jonathan said. Justin whirled around and saw his old friend standing there. Justin’s mouth moved but no words came out at first.
“Jonathan! I’m dreaming aren’t I.” Justin said, regaining his composure.
“Well, yes and no, old friend. I’m here to warn you that there is trouble, big trouble coming to Thorn Valley. A few days, a week at the most. You must be ready, already it is sneaking up on the valley, it thinks it has the element of surprise on its side.”
“Of course there is, this year was the first since we moved here that nothing natural or supernatural has threatened the community. Apparently no one is maintaining the giant glowing sign inviting people to attack us. Who is this enemy?” Justin asked angrily.
“They are rats, big ones, possibly NIMH rats. I have encountered one that could wield magical powers to a limited degree. I don’t know who is the leader behind this attack. Possibly Dr. Schultz.” He responded defensively. Justin turned to the window again.
“Dr. Schultz and NIMH rats?” Justin asked with surprise.
“I’m not sure, but where else could they have come from and I was captive of Dr. Schultz when I was rescued.”
“How do you expect me to convince the populous of Thorn Valley to prepare for war when I tell them that a dead mouse came to me in a dream and told to prepare for an attack. They would laugh in my face and throw me out of office.” He said sadly.
“Justin, I know its all hard to believe but I wouldn’t be here if it wasn’t of the utmost importance.” Jonathan replied. Justin was silent, standing at the window, Jonathan just looked at him for a few moments then saw that Justin was sobbing. He rushed over to him and patted him on the back as high as he could reach.
“Justin, what’s the matter.” He asked with concern. Justin turned to him and looked down at his old friend.
“Jonathan, it’s my fault your dead. I should have been more careful. I should have been watching better for the cat. I’m so sorry.” He sobbed and fell to his knees and hugged Jonathan.
“Justin, I was there, remember? You did your job, you made no mistakes. The cat was very unpredictable. He caught us both off guard.” He explained, his eyes began to get misty watching his friend’s emotional display.
“I’m so sorry.” He repeated.
“Justin.” Jonathan said. Justin didn’t look up.
“Justin!” Jonathan shouted. Justin met his gaze.
“Justin, get a hold of yourself. I’m not dead. If I was I wouldn’t be here. I’m alive and kicking.” Jonathan said sternly.
“But Jonathan, I saw it happen. I was watching from under the cabinet when Dragon pounced on you and...devoured you.” Justin said weakly.
“He pounced on me, but that’s as far as he got. What happened was that at the moment he was about to bite I vanished into a strange ethereal place, limbo, so to speak. There is something that only Nicodemus knew about, I was beginning to manifest strange powers just like him, he created the red stone to help me use them, I should have kept it with me. But anyway, I vanished right in front of Dragon’s eye.” Jonathan said.
“But, I went back that night, I had to make sure. I found traces of blood on the floor.” Justin replied.
“The stupid cat bit his tongue as I vanished.” Jonathan said with satisfaction, then looked around Justin’s office.
“Justin, how long have I been away? This is obviously Thorn Valley, so the move went according to plan. Do you know anything of my family?” He asked fearfully.
“Yes, Jonathan, they live here in Thorn Valley, They have been a great blessing to us over the years.”
“Years?” Jonathan asked in horror.
“Yes, Jonathan. It has been years. Your children aren’t children any more. Teresa is one of our scientists, Martin a machinist and Timothy, well. Jonathan, a lot has happened while you’ve been away. After Dr. Schultz destroyed the Rosebush, a different NIMH scientist came to the farm, he caught Martin and took him to NIMH.” Jonathan gasped in horror. “He did some experiments on Martin and turned him into a strange evil version of himself.” But Justin gave a reassuring smile. “Timothy went to NIMH and freed him, and Mr. Ages managed to bring him back to normal, and Jonathan, Tim also freed the mice that were lost during the first escape.” Justin said.
“They all survived?” Jonathan asked in amazement.
“They all survived, they and their children thrive here. Thanks to Tim, what can I say, he’s his father’s son, he is my Vice-president now and it wouldn’t surprise me if he is leader here someday soon. He’s a son any father would be proud of.” Justin said.
“President? Vice-president? Things certainly have changed.” Jonathan said sadly.
“Justin, What of my youngest? A boy or girl?” Jonathan asked.
“Cynthia is a lovely young woman, bright and hard working and to the surprise of all of us, is in the guard.” Jonathan’s looked shocked and indescribably sad.
“Cynthia? Cynthia...Would you believe I’ve never even seen her? Dragon got me just before she was born. She has never even seen me.” Jonathan said sadly. Justin tried to change the subject.
“Well, as I said they are all grown, Martin and Teresa are both engaged and Tim is married, his wife’s name is Jenny, she was born at NIMH, she escaped and following directions given to her by Martin. She, who had never in her life had been outside the lab made the perilous journey through city and wilderness to us and informed us about Martin and the other prisoners. She is clever, intelligent and brave to the point of foolhardy, she was born to be a member of the Brisby family. Well, she and Tim took it upon themselves to set out to start a rescue without waiting for the rest of us, who were somewhat hesitant to return to NIMH, we caught up with them at NIMH and to make a long story short, the prisoners were freed, Martin was rescued and the lab was burned to the ground. That reminds me, your going to be a grandfather in about a month, courtesy of Tim and Jenny.”
“A grandfather?” Jonathan asked excitedly. “Tim, a father. The last time I saw him he was so weak and sickly from the spider bite we thought he might not survive and now he’s going to be starting a family.” Jonathan sighed sadly.
“What about Rose?” He asked, his voice now little more than a whisper.
“Rose...Mrs. Brisby. She recently agreed to move here and stay with her family permanently. She had stayed here with the kids until the were grown and then returned to the farm, Until recently that is.” Justin said cryptically and he turned away from Jonathan.
“That’s great, with her here and her armed with the stone. It will give us a great advantage over our enemies. Even though I couldn’t be there to see it, while I was in Limbo I was aware of the times she used it. Our bond was so strong I could see her, but I couldn’t reach out to her, to speak to her...to tell her I wasn’t dead...” His voice trailed off. “But now that I’m back, I’ll have time to get to know her and the kids all over again. Hopefully its not to late be a part of their lives.” Jonathan said hopefully. Justin remained silent and continued to face the window. Jonathan detected something ominous in Justin’s silence.
“Is there something wrong with Rose?” Jonathan said with growing anxiety.
“Jonathan, you have to remember that you have been away a long time and you also have to remember that Rose isn’t one of us. I mean she is a valued, cherished if not revered member of the Thorn Valley community, but she didn’t have the NIMH treatments. She has lived far beyond the life span of an natural field mouse, I think the few times she has used the stone have something to do with that, but Jonathan...” Justin’s voice choked with emotion. “Jonathan, I honestly think she’s come here to die.” He said softly. Jonathan’s mouth fell open, he turned and began pacing the room, then he climbed onto Justin’s large office chair and looked over the cluttered desk.
“If only there was more time, its taking a tremendous amount of power to make this contact with you. I want to go to her, but I only had the strength to visit one of you, I have to put personal feelings aside, all of Thorn Valley is in danger. Justin, you must prepare for the coming storm. I know you still think this is a dream, but you must believe me. Tell Rose that I love her and that I’ll be home soon, I’m not sure where in the country I am right now, but I’ll get home as quickly as possible. Please don’t tell the kids. The trip to Thorn Valley may be very dangerous and if I don’t make it then they will be none the worse. But, tell Rose not to give up hope. I’m bringing help, his name is Dante. Farewell, Justin. See you soon.”
Justin woke suddenly, he had fallen asleep at his desk, he looked at his pocket watch, it was after eleven p.m. He felt his coffee mug, it was cold. His crossword puzzle sat before him.
“It was good to see you again, old friend. Even if it was just in a dream.” Justin said and glanced down at his crossword puzzle. Then he gasped when he saw that the answer to seven down had been written in with the unmistakable handwriting of Jonathan Brisby. He reached over to the intercom and buzzed the captain of the guard.
“Owen! Get your tail to my office A.S.A.P.” He said into the intercom. Justin sneaked quietly into the bedroom to change into his work clothes. Trying hard not to wake his wife or the infant twins.
“Justin, why are you getting ready for work? Its after eleven.” Isabella asked sleepily. He leaned over and kissed her.
“Sorry, duty calls.” He said and hurried out the door and headed for his office.
Rose wasn’t sure where she was, she seemed to be wandering, lost in some strange place. She could have sworn she had just seen Jonathan for an instant and was desperately trying to find him. Strange sounds and images crowded her senses, she was growing very frightened.
“Mrs. Brisby.” A ghostly voice called out of the darkness. It was a deep, bold voice, vaguely familiar. She followed it.
“Mrs. Brisby.” It repeated. She could see a large form in the mist, it was slowly approaching her. The figure quickly leaned forward so that its face was visible. It was Jenner! She cried out in rage and raked her nails across his face. Jenner stumbled back, she continued attacking him, cursing him and hitting him. Suddenly, some force pulled her away from Jenner.
“Rose! Killian! What in heaven’s name is going on?” Justin shouted. Justin’s voice snapped her out of her dream. She looked over at the rat she had attacked.
He was sitting on the floor, holding a hand over the bleeding scratches on his face, looking at her with a look of shock and anger. It was not Jenner, but there was a very disturbing resemblance.
“I’m sorry.” She said to the rat.
Justin released her and moved over to Killian.
“What happened?” Justin asked him.
“I was doing my rounds when I saw Mrs. Brisby in the hall, it looked like she was lost. I was about to ask if she needed help when she scratched me.” He replied.
“It doesn’t look to bad, get up to the infirmary and have them take a look.” Justin said reassuringly. Killian stood and nodded.
“Yes, sir. Right away, sir.” he responded curtly and stormed off down the corridor. Justin turned his attention back to Rose. Her small gray form trembling terribly. She had her red cape tightly wrapped around herself. She looked down at the blood on her hand.
“I don’t know what came over me. I must have been sleep walking. I’m so sorry.” she sobbed, he gently picked her up and cradled her in his arms.
“Better get you up the infirmary also. Maybe Mr. Ages can give you something to help you sleep better.” He said gently.
“Who was that? He...he looked like Jenner.” she asked, shuddering at the mere mention of Jenner’s name.
“Killian is Jenner’s son.”
She rested silently. Justin thought, perhaps blissfully in his arms. When they got to the infirmary they found Killian lying on a bed while Mr. Ages, still in his night shirt, was treating the scratches. When they got there Justin placed her gently on one of the beds and wrapped a blanket around her. Finally, Mr. Ages finished bandaging.
“Your face will be as good as new in no time. Just keep the area clean and you’ll be fine.” Mr. Ages said gruffly. Then he walked over to the still shaken Mrs. Brisby and began gently speaking to her.
Justin looked at her sadly. He thought back to the first time they met, she had been so young and beautiful then, now just a few years later, he and the other NIMH fugitives looked scarcely a day older than when they escaped, while she now seemed as old as Mr. Ages, her once lovely brown and white fur had turned almost entirely gray and she walked with a slight stoop, but he still thought her beautiful. He had never been able to admit it to anyone other than her, but he had always loved her. Since the day he first laid eyes on her under the rosebush all those years ago. For him it had been love at first sight. Her beauty alone would have been enough to win his heart, but her selfless courage and deep nobility had truly won his heart. He could tell that she had felt something also at their first meeting, he could see it in her eyes and just before he had left for Thorn Valley, when she gave him the stone, they had impulsively kissed, and just the memory of that kiss still gave him Goosebumps. But, sadly, it became clear that her heart would always belong to Jonathan Brisby, in life and in death. It wasn’t that he didn’t love his wife, Isabella. But the humans had an expression, “You never forget your first love.” His thoughts were interrupted when she looked up from her conversation with Mr. Ages and smiled warmly at him, then she looked back to Mr. Ages. He quickly looked away. He found that very unnerving. She had done things like that in the past, it seemed that she had developed a strong sense of empathy over the years, most likely another side effect of the stone’s power. He walked over to Killian and patted him on the shoulder.
“I want to thank you, Killian.” He said softly, hoping Rose wouldn’t hear.
“For what, Justin?” He asked in surprise.
“For not fighting back. I know that as a guard you’re trained to react and return an attack in an instant. Thank you for having the presence of mind not to hurt her.” He said. Before Killian could respond, Rose approached his bed.
“Yes, Thank you. You certainly had every right to strike back. I’m very sorry, Killian. When you came out of the dark, all I saw was your father coming at me...the way he did at the farm, on the night...” She fell silent, they knew all to well what happened next. Killian smiled at her. She had seen Jenner’s smile, an evil, insincere smile as he had manipulated her in her time of need. She searched Killian’s face and his smile for similar emotions, but could only find genuine warmth.
“No apology necessary. Actually, this isn’t the first time something like this has happened.” He said and gave Justin a stern look. Justin looked away.
“Uh...Yes, that is very true. It was a couple of weeks after we had moved here. I was under a lot of pressure and still felling very responsible for the death of Nicodemus when Killian came up behind me in a dark corridor. I turned and before I could stop myself, I sucker-punched him so hard that I broke one of his ribs.” Justin said sheepishly.
“For which I have long since forgiven and forgotten.” Killian replied.
“For which I am very grateful. Killian.” Justin responded, still obviously embarrassed. Mr. Ages interrupted.
“Justin. May I have a word with you, please?” He asked and grabbed Justin by the sleeve and led him to another room. Rose stayed by Killian’s side.
“Its strange, I thought I had met all the rats here in Thorn Valley, but I don’t recall ever meeting you.” She said.
“That’s because I have been specifically avoiding you.” He responded.
“Why?” Then she looked at the scratches on his face. “Oh, of course.” She responded and looked sad.
“Its nothing personal, I know that Jenner tried to kill you for the stone and that he nearly killed your children also in the process. I just thought it best to stay away, to prevent any wounds from being reopened” He responded. She could sense genuine sincerity in him. She found it hard to believe that the unspeakable Jenner could produce anything but a miniature version of his evil self.
“Has it been difficult being the son of Jenner, here at Thorn Valley?” She asked.
“Not really, the entire community knew that he and I were as different as could be. They knew that I did not share his views and goals. But to make it easier on those who do hold a grudge, I’m a Lieutenant in the guard and I’m in charge of the night watch. So that way I stay out of everyone’s way and needless to say, having more than a little resemblance to the man doesn’t sit well with those who remember him...or what he did.” He said sadly. She stepped closer and reached up to touch his cheek, she turned his head so that she could see the scratches.
“Again, I am so sorry, Killian. I hope it doesn’t leave a scar.” She said sadly.
“That scar would be nothing compared to this one.” He said and lifted his chin up to reveal a long scar that ran all the way across his throat, running almost from cheek to cheek. Mrs. Brisby gasped at the sight.
“How did you get that?” She asked in alarm.
“From Jenner.” He responded matter-of-factly. She gasped.
“Your own father...slit your throat? Why?” She asked in horror.
“Well, I was very young then, I only had him to take care of me. One day I asked him why I had no mother. He smiled a sad smile and put me on his lap, Which was very exciting, because he never let me sit on his lap. Then he told me she had died. I asked him what that meant and he told me. Then I asked him how mother had died, he sighed, put his hand gently under my chin, then he roughly pulled my chin up so our eyes were locked and he drew his dagger and pressed it against my throat.
“You murdered your mother, you killed her as she gave birth to you.’ He said and slowly drew the blade across my throat, not deep enough to kill me, just deep enough to leave a scar. Then he stood, dumping me, bleeding and crying onto the floor and walked out and for the rest of his life had nothing more to do with me. So when Jenner...did what he did, no one suspected me of being a coconspirator, thankfully.”
He recounted the story so calmly, so emotionlessly that it hurt her just to listen, she wanted desperately to offer some words of sympathy and comfort, but the act which had been described was so horrible she found herself speechless. He smiled at her again.
“I appreciate what your trying to say. I’m sorry, its an ugly story. I don’t know why I brought it up. Please forgive me.” He said and rose to his feet. “If you’ll excuse me, Mrs. Brisby. I have to get back to my rounds.” He nodded to her and quickly left the room.
“Justin, I’m worried about Rose. She just told me that she just had a dream where she saw Jonathan and that concerns me very much.” Mr. Ages said, his normally cold, stoic front fading.
“Why?” Justin asked.
“Well...I don’t know how to say it...”
“Your worried that she’s begun mentally preparing herself to die.” Justin responded. Mr. Ages nodded.
“In so many words, yes.”
“This is one instance where your guess is off by miles. You’ll have to trust me on this. She’s not crazy or ready to cash in her chips just yet.” Justin said.
“Well, I certainly hope your right. I gave her something to take to help her sleep tonight.” Justin stood and patted Mr. Ages on the shoulder and walked to the door, then he stopped and turned back to him.
“Do you ever recall Nicodemus speaking of anyone named Dante?” Justin asked.
Mr. Ages thought back. He had a sudden vivid memory. He was sitting in a very crowded restaurant at a wooden table that had graffiti carved on it and then someone put a large plate of pancakes in front of him. Then the image quickly faded.
“No, I don’t recall that he ever did.” Mr. Ages replied. Justin smiled and left the room.
“May I escort you home, Rose?” Justin asked hopefully.
“My, what a gentleman. You certainly may.” She said with a smile. The two walked the dimly lit corridors chatting about nothing in particular. Then she grew very serious.
“Killian told me how he got that scar on his throat, is it true?” She asked.
“Yes, Jenner gave that to him when he was a small child. The only time I ever saw Nicodemus enraged was when he found out about that.” Justin responded.
“What would have driven him to do something like that to his only child?” She wondered out loud. Justin sighed.
“Jenner was what’s called a sociopath. He had no conscience, no sense of right or wrong. Willing to do anything to anyone to achieve his goals. Jenner had always been unstable, even before we were captured by NIMH. The captivity and the treatments only made him worse, when we escaped he teetered on the brink of madness, with only our collective will to survive keeping his madness in check. Then as our people wandered he grew close to a pretty rat named Nell, she was everything he was not, he was darkness and evil, she was sweetness and light. They made the strangest pair you could imagine. It was the one and only time in his life that he had ever opened his heart to another living thing and when she died in his arms a short time later, giving birth to Killian that is when he finally snapped. He actually wept over her death. But when he had finished mourning, it became clear that his soul died with her and what filled the void inside him was a deep and abiding hate for everything. He didn’t fall into the abyss of madness, he eagerly hurled himself over. I’ve wondered on occasion over the years, that if Nell had lived, if she and Killian could have saved Jenner from himself.” Justin said sadly.
“Its so sad, what a terrible legacy to leave your child.” Rose responded.
Justin was well aware of how badly she felt about what had happened that evening, he debated whether to tell her about his dream, not sure if it would help or hurt her. It couldn’t have been mere coincidence that the both of them dreamed of Jonathan at that same moment, what would be the odds of that? He had seen with his own eyes Jonathan’s handwriting on the crossword puzzle and as his thoughts drifted back years, to that tragic night on the farm, he in fact hadn’t actually seen Dragon eat Jonathan. He weighed these things on his mind as they reached her door.
“I know you don’t like it when I do this, but I know something is deeply troubling you. What is it?” She asked, looking up to meet his gaze. His heart and his reluctance melted under her gaze, the sparkle in her big blue eyes was undiminished by time.
“Mr. Ages said that you dreamed about Jonathan while you were sleep walking.”
He replied. She looked embarrassed.
“Just an old woman’s flight of fancy, perhaps. Nothing for you to worry about.” She reassured him.
“No. Rose...” He knelt and put his hands on her shoulders. “Jonathan came to me in a dream, this very night. At the same time you had your dream. He came to warn me that there was danger coming to Thorn Valley, He wanted me to tell you that he loves you and the children and...” He took another deep breath. “He said that he is still alive, Dragon hadn’t killed him. He said he is returning as quickly as possible to help us.” He said. Her mouth fell open and tears were forming at the corners of her eyes.
“Alive?” She asked in a whisper.
“He said he wanted to go to you, but he wasn’t strong enough to do it. He felt he had to warn Thorn Valley first. I guess he tried to contact you anyway, but he just wasn’t strong enough.” Justin replied. She buried her face in his shoulder and cried tears of joy. He gently put his arms around her.
“Jonathan’s alive. I think I knew, somewhere deep inside that he was alive. All these years I’ve waited for him to come home and now, at last, I’m going to see him again.” She said between sobs. He held her gently until at last she stopped crying.
“I’m sorry, Justin.”
“Well, now you can understand why there could never have been anything between us, even beside my growing old. This is why I could never leave go of Jonathan, because he had never gone from me. Justin, if things had been different,” She said and kissed his cheek. “I would have married you in an instant.”
“Jonathan is the luckiest guy I know.” Justin said and smiled.
“Did he say what type of danger we are in?”
“He didn’t know much, he said it was NIMH rats and perhaps Dr. Schultz. He said it was only a matter of days till they arrive.”
“We must be ready for them, I will use the stone if need be.” She said. Justin cringed inwardly at that suggestion.
“I’m sure it won’t come to that.” Justin said. She looked sad.
“If it does, I hope I have a chance to see Jonathan first.”
“Don’t talk like that, Rose. We’ll take care of whoever is coming and you and Jonathan can be together again.”
“But will he still want me? Look at me, this is the very reason he couldn’t bring himself to tell me the truth about his nature. He lived in dread of the day when I would finally know the truth, when I grew old and he remained young. He will return to find his worst fears come true.”
“Mark my words, Rose. Jonathan will shed tears of joy when he sees you again.”
“I pray that is so. I better get my rest, thank you for telling me. Goodnight Justin.” She said. He waited until she had gone inside, then sighed. She would have said “Yes” Justin thought as he stood at her door. Then like a bolt of lightning he remembered that Owen would be waiting for him in his office. He took off in a run and looked at his watch, it was after midnight.
When he got to his office he found Owen fast asleep on the couch.
“Owen, Wake up. Sorry I’m late. I was unavoidably detained.” He said. Owen groggily, sat up and rubbed his eyes.
“What’s this about Justin? What’s the problem?” He asked.
“I have information that an attack is being prepared against us. We may have no more than a few days to prepare. But even those numbers are not certain. I need you to double the guards, the wide range patrol and call up the rangers.”
“The rangers? Their training is just barely over.” Owen asked.
“This will be their baptism by fire. We need to know who and what we are up against.”
“Do you want all the rangers called into active duty?” He asked. Justin knew why he had asked the question. He sighed.
“Yes.” He replied. “Also, I am going to have Arthur check on the condition of the sanctuary, to see if there are adequate food and medical supplies there and to make sure the escape paths through the caves are all clear.”
“Justin, who are we going up against?” He asked.
“Rats, possibly NIMH rats and possibly Dr. Schultz.” He replied. Owen looked stunned for a moment.
“Justin, where did you get this warning from?” Owen asked with skepticism.
“I’m sorry, Owen. That source will have to stay secret for the time being.”
“For the record, I do not like being kept out of the information loop. It makes me wonder if perhaps you doubt my ability to do this job.” Owen said with veiled hostility.
“Its nothing of the sort, Owen. I have never questioned your ability to do this job. If anything, my source may affect people’s perception of my ability to do my job. You’ll learn soon, be patient and when you see, you’ll understand why I had to keep you in the dark.” Justin replied. Owen shrugged.
“You haven’t steered us wrong yet. I can wait.” He replied. They discussed further plans and details and when Owen had gone, he dragged Arthur out of his home to discuss further details. Arthur was not happy about the thought of another impending crisis, but he immediately sent people to check the caves and supplies. After he had finished with Arthur, he went to address the Rangers, it was one of the hardest things he had ever had to do. Afterward Justin dragged himself home. He knew this was probably the last chance for a good nights sleep for quite a while. He walked back to his desk, the crossword puzzle still sat there, Jonathan Brisby’s handwriting still clearly visible. He took out his key ring and unlocked a large drawer on the right side of his desk. In the drawer was a metal box, marked with a large “N” that contained the stone. He opened it and lifted it by its gold chain, then he looked closely at the stone. Never in all his years as leader had he ever been able to active the stone. Regardless, he put the stone around his neck. Then, with a moment of hesitation he removed the second item in the drawer. A sealed letter and on its front, written in Nicodemus’ handwriting, were the words “To Dante.”
“Dante, Dante. Who are you?” Justin asked. He closed his eyes and leaned back in his chair. His mind was suddenly filled with a strange image. He was sitting in the passenger seat of a huge car. He was small enough to not be able to see over the dashboard. He looked down and saw that he was human, he turned to look at the driver. and to his horror saw that it was Dr. Schultz. He woke violently from his dream. His wife appeared in the doorway, he placed the letter back in the drawer and locked it.
“You look so tired. Come back to bed.” she said and hugged him.
“I am tired, but not just physically. In the last few hours I have experienced just about every emotion I am capable of and had old wounds painfully reopened and relived many painful memories. One of the worst being that I discovered that I had felt responsible for the death of Jonathan Brisby.” He said as they walked arm in arm to the bedroom.
“You say ‘felt’ not ‘feel’. You don’t feel responsible now?” She asked.
“No, my love. I can say with a clear conscience that I am not responsible for the death of Jonathan Brisby.” He said with a smile.
Cynthia was so tired, she had been up very late studying and had only been in bed less than an hour when she was called up for active duty. She leaned on her bow and was just going to rest her eyes.
Cynthia quickly opened her eyes and stood at attention. Lieutenant Snap was standing in front of her. Rats were normally twice her size but he seemed many more times larger. The huge rat leaned over and had his nose so close it was almost touching her’s
“Am I interrupting your beauty sleep?” He shouted in her face.
“No, sir” She responded.
“I’m glad to hear it. Now pay attention. President Justin is coming here personally to brief you all before your mission. I don’t want anyone napping when he gets here. Is that understood?” He shouted.
“Yes, sir.” Cynthia replied. The Lieutenant then continued down the line shouting at the rest of the Rangers.
“All I have been told so far is that this is not an exercise, this is the real thing. So no games and don’t get lazy!” He shouted.
“Lieutenant Snap. Is everyone present and accounted for?” Justin asked as he and Captain Owen approached.
“Yes, sir. All rangers present and accounted for, sir.” He replied. Justin’s eyes scanned the line of rangers, all twenty covered in camouflage fatigues, cloaks, packs on their backs and each with long bows, the fur on their faces streaked with black and green camouflage paint. His eyes came to rest on the comparatively tiny form of Cynthia Brisby at the end of the line. She smiled when their eyes met.
“Ladies and Gentlemen of the 1st Ranger team. I’m sorry to have to call you to duty at this stage of your training, but we have reason to believe a threat is coming. Rats of unknown origin. It could be within days, a week at the most. It is with great reluctance that I send you out with your training just completed to face a very real danger, but we need the Rangers out there to locate and keep us informed of the enemies movements. So we must send you out into the field because our home, no, our very lives depend on thwarting this enemy. All Thorn Valley may depend on your eyes and ears.” He said passionately.
Cynthia could see the pained look in his eyes when he had looked at her. Justin, you have been like a father to my brothers, sister and especially to me, and I’m more grateful than I could ever put into words, but like a father you have to accept that there comes a time when you have to let go. To let your child spread her wings and fly. I have chosen to help protect Thorn Valley, I was to small to be an effective guard but here in the Rangers my size is a positive boon. Though I think Commander Snap still thinks that the guard in any capacity is no place for a mouse. But I passed the training, I showed everyone that I could do it. I know you didn’t like the thought of me being in the Rangers, but this is what I want. Its something I need to do. I hope you can understand that. She thought to herself as he spoke.
“Captain Owen will give you your assignments. Good luck and good hunting.” Justin said and turned away. Just before he was out of sight, Cynthia saw that he wiped his eyes with the back of his hand. Captain Owen went down the line giving each Ranger a map.
“Brisby, Carl. You get zone five.” He said. She frowned, as the ten zones around the valley go, zone five was the least likely place for any attack. She had a feeling that Justin had put him up to this, because he didn’t want her in any danger. She made a mental note to have some strong words with him when she got back. Commander Snap then addressed them.
“I have spoken with the people in the communications center. I have been assured that all the long distance communication systems are fully operational. Do not forget to take your code books. Just remember that I worked long and hard to get authorization to form this unit, its my baby. I will not tolerate any of you screwing it up. If any of you do, I’ll personally kill and eat you. Do I make myself perfectly clear?” He shouted.
“Yes, sir.” They shouted back.
“Well, what are you waiting for? The clock is ticking! Go!” He shouted.
With that the line separated and began the long march to their respective zones. Cynthia and her partner Carl looked at their map and groaned collectively. It would take them at least a seven hour march to get to their position in zone five. This wouldn’t be the first time they had to go without sleep while with the Rangers. She checked her compass heading and they began walking.
Dante could only see dimly lit corridors, he saw figures moving, he had been in these passages many times in his dreams, but he had no idea where he was.
“You OK, young fella?”
Dante slowly regained consciousness, he looked up and saw that he was still at the wheel of the car, still in the corn field. He saw an old man at the window.
“What happened? Where am I?” Dante asked.
“Fell asleep at the wheel by the look of it.” The man replied. Dante got out of the car and stretched. Every inch of his body hurt. He looked at the trail his car had made deep into the corn field.
“Sorry about the corn. I can pay for the damages.” He said apologetically.
“Don’t worry sonny, just find a safer place to sleep at night next time.” The farmer said and walked back along the trail to his tractor. He got back into the car, he noticed the small box and cautiously peered inside. The small gray mouse lay sleeping inside.
“Great, just great. It wasn’t a dream.” He said and reversed the car out and back onto the road. He was hungry, he hadn’t eaten since breakfast the previous day. He stopped at a convenience store. He looked at the pay phone. He wanted to call his Aunt Rita or Uncle George, but he was to afraid of what he might learn. He gassed up the car and bought a sandwich and a large cup of coffee. He drove off, lost in his thoughts.
“Hey, that smells good, how about sharing? I haven’t eaten in years.” A weak voice came from beside him. He pulled to the side of a secluded country road. The mouse was standing looking over the edge of the box, looking up at him. Dante broke off a corner of his sandwich and handed it to the mouse, who eyed it hungrily and quickly began devouring it. Dante searched the floor of the car and found a bottle cap. He poured a few drops of coffee into it and handed it the mouse.
“I forgot to thank you back at the lab, Dante. You saved my life.” Jonathan said.
“How do you know my name?” Dante asked. The mouse smiled.
“Think back, don’t you recognize me? We have known each other for many years, perhaps not directly, but we have met many times before.” Jonathan said. Dante had a momentary flash of recognition.
“I remember a rosebush, a farmhouse, a cinderblock, you and some others.” He said in astonishment as he grasped for any more details in the memory. The memory was brief but very vivid.
“Yes, The rats lived in the rosebush in front of the Fitzgibbons farmhouse. The cinderblock was where I lived with my family. See, you do remember. I know its just bits and pieces right now, but it’ll all come back to you.” Jonathan said encouragingly.
“Why do I remember you?” Dante asked with panic in his voice.
“For now lets just say that we have a strong connection because you are the son of our creator, Dr. Schultz.” Jonathan said and continued eating. Dante sat there and soon his mind was flooded with images. The farm, the cinderblock, sorrow, the rosebush. The valley again, fields of grain, corridors filled with rats, one in particular wore a necklace with a red stone. Then the memory faded.
“All these things I’m seeing are the things from my dreams, the dreams I’ve had since childhood. Do you mean to say they’re real?” He asked.
“As real as I am.” Jonathan replied.
“Last night you said that Thorn Valley was in trouble. Is that the valley I see in my dreams?”
“Yes, my friend and it’s in terrible danger. We need to get there before it’s to late.” Jonathan said with great seriousness.
“Why does all this involve me? Why have I been dreaming about this all my life?” Dante demanded. Jonathan quickly finished his sandwich.
“I wish we had the luxury of doing this the easy way, but there just isn’t time.” Jonathan said and to Dante’s astonishment, Jonathan’s eyes glowed bright white and then he raised a hand toward him and suddenly Dante felt something touch his mind. He felt his mind filling with images, the dim and vaguely remembered thoughts and images that had cluttered and accumulated in his mind over a lifetime were suddenly made clear. Some things were vague and incomprehensible, but collective memories were strong and very vivid. What he saw was life through the eyes of the rats and mice that had been part of project Titan. He was with them in the cages, he was with them in their escape, he felt the sorrow for those that were lost, he traveled with them as they wandered, looking for a home. He was there with them at the rosebush. He remembered Nicodemus, Justin, Jenner and all the others. He saw Jonathan and his family. He witnessed the death of Nicodemus and mourned his passing, He saw Jonathan’s wife use the stone to save her children and the rats hurried flight to Thorn Valley. He saw the community that the rats built and he witnessed their hardships and triumphs. The last feeling he had was that of impending danger. All these things were more than just images, they felt as real to him as anything he had ever experienced, it was like living an entire lifetime in moments. Then he felt Jonathan’s grip on his mind withdraw.
“I’m sorry to have had to do that. But as I said we haven’t much time.” Jonathan said. Dante was to shaken by the emotional overload to respond. Deep within himself he felt the urge to help the people of Thorn Valley. It felt like his duty.
“I...still don’t understand. How could I have seen these things? They feel so real, so personal to me.” Dante said, his voice trembling with emotions. Jonathan sighed.
“Do you really want to know why you are a part of us?” He asked. Dante shuddered, remembering what happened the last time someone asked him a question like that.
“Yes.” Dante said with determination.
“Are you sure? Your not going to like it.”
“I’m ready for anything, nothing you can say could possibly shock or surprise me now.”
“When I tell you, you may change your mind about that.”
“Please, tell me!” Dante shouted.
“Very well, Dante, that scar you have on your head, you didn’t get that from falling out of a tree.” Jonathan said calmly.
“What are you talking about. Where else would I have gotten it?” He asked, already growing nervous.
“It goes across the right side of your skull, from here to here.” Jonathan said and he drew a finger across his own head to demonstrate.
“How did you know that?” He asked with panic in his voice.
“Because all the lab animals from project Titan had the same surgery as part of the experiment.” He responded. Dante was silent with shock. Jonathan continued.
“Your father removed tiny parts of our brains and implanted them into your brain. You were the first human subject of project Titan. Your father wanted to see if the parts of our brains that contained these strange powers would cause any manifestations in you. Unfortunately, the only manifestation he saw were your dreams and hallucinations, which were in fact telepathic contacts with the animals that were in the other part of the experiment. You see, your conscious mind was with the human race, but your subconscious mind was with the ‘Rat race’. You are part of us, one of us. You now have a chance to discover and experience this other part of your life that has been hidden from you for so long.” Jonathan concluded.
Dante sat silent for several minutes. Then he flung open the door and ran into the grassy meadow beside the road, he threw himself to the ground and just looked up at the sky. Several minutes later Jonathan came running up beside him, holding his side, panting from the exertion.
“Don’t do that, your legs are a lot longer than mine.”
“You were right, Jonathan. I wasn’t ready for that.”
“Its understandable. How could a person prepare themselves for news like that?”
“I just can’t believe my father would do something like that to me. I’m his son, how could he experiment on his own son?” Dante asked in anguish.
“Your father was a man obsessed with his work, in his mind there was nothing in the world more important than the experiment. Not even family.” Jonathan said comfortingly. Dante lay on the grass, his mind filled with the new memories.
“Its just not possible. Our brains are just to different, it would be impossible for your brain tissue to be successfully transplanted and function in a human brain. The physiology of our neural...” he struggled to end that sentence. He wracked his brain for the knowledge of science, biology, chemistry and genetics he had spent the last four years studying. It was as if it had all been wiped away. He grabbed Jonathan and stood suddenly.
“Why can’t I remember anything scientific? I spent a fortune at an ivy league college to learn that stuff and now I can’t remember a single thing about any of it. What have you done to my brain?” Dante shouted and shook Jonathan. Jonathan’s eyes glowed white and Dante felt the touch on his brain again. Against his will he dropped to a sitting position and opened his hand, releasing Jonathan. Then he felt his mind released.
“I understand your emotions, really I do. But don’t do anything like that again. Do I make myself clear?” Jonathan said menacingly.
“Yes, I’m sorry. I over reacted.”
“Two things. First, remember that you are trying to convince a talking mouse with magical powers that what your father did was impossible. Second, there is a reason you can’t remember any of your education, but its not my fault. It was your own doing.” Jonathan responded, sitting down also.
“I don’t understand.”
“Think back, didn’t you find it the least bit strange when, you, being a below average student but an exceptionally gifted athlete, practically overnight became an scientific genius? You have had these powers to a limited degree all your life, just like some of the escapee’s from the lab. Some of us manifested that power in our strongest abilities or talents. Nicodemus, he had exceptional knowledge and wisdom. He had the strongest manifestation of the power. To a lesser extent people like Arthur, he became an exceptional builder and mechanic. Mr. Ages an exceptional physician.”
“That doesn’t answer my question.”
“What happened was that you used your powers to create a knowledge reservoir that you used to store that information. Science wasn’t your true gift. So your mind just recorded the information and stored it like a computer, you didn’t really learn the material. The only reason you went into the field of science was to try to win your father’s approval by following in his footsteps. Then yesterday when you realized that you didn’t want to complete his work your mind simply discarded the information. Its as simple as that. The reason you ache all over is that now your body is being modified to suit your true gift. That is how you were able to fight like that yesterday and how you were able to survive such attacks. You are a natural born athlete and warrior.” Jonathan said.
“How is it that you know so much about me and my thoughts?” Dante asked.
“Just as you share our memories, we share some of yours. The connection is strongest in your favor, but as we are in such close proximity I can see into your mind very clearly.” He responded. Dante sat silently, digesting all these revelations.
This world, the unexpected side effect of his father’s work. He thought back to his own empty life. No friends, no goals or direction. Was that because he had spent more of his life with the rats than with his own kind, was their world more real to him than his own? He thought about these questions and he found the answers very disturbing.
“Dante. I have to know, will you help me or not? I can’t get there in time on my own. I can’t do this without you.” Jonathan asked earnestly.
“I’ll help, how could I not? Knowing, feeling, after what I just experienced. But how will they react to me. I mean, I feel like one of them, but look at me. I don’t think their going to feel all that happy when I show up on their doorstep.” Dante said.
“Obviously you can’t arrive looking like this, but not to worry, my friend. There are ways to deal with that. Lay your hand on the ground, palm up.” Jonathan instructed. Dante did so and Jonathan stepped onto his hand.
“Close your eyes, Dante.”
“I have a bad feeling about this.” He replied and hesitantly closed his eyes.
“Trust me.” Jonathan said. Now Dante had a very bad feeling about this.
Dante sat with his eyes closed and waited for something to happen. He could still feel Jonathan in the palm of his hand. Suddenly, he felt as though he was being picked up and then became aware that he was laying down. Then all of his senses seemed to become overloaded with sensation. He was beginning to feel very afraid.
“Don’t open your eyes yet, Dante. Relax, this is going to be very intense for the next couple of minutes.” A strange, deafening voice said comfortingly. Dante tried to cover his ears, but they seemed to no longer be where the should have been. His fear continued to grow. He moved his hands over his head and found that his ears were now on top of his head and seemed to have gotten much larger. He opened his eyes and screamed. He was laying in the palm of a human hand.
“Relax, Dante.” The voice said to him. Panic was overwhelming him. He looked at his hands and then to his body and saw to his horror that he was now covered in light gray fur. They had switched bodies. Dante was so blinded with panic he just curled up in a ball and laid there trembling with total abject, blinding terror. Jonathan gently raised his hand and cupped the other over Dante’s tiny trembling form.
“Dante, the fear you feel will pass. Its just your mind adjusting to strong animal survival instincts. Remember, the humble little mouse is about rock bottom on the food chain and to just about everyone you look like lunch. You’ll need these instincts if your going to survive when we get to Thorn Valley.” Jonathan said reassuringly. For about ten minutes Jonathan sat there holding Dante in his hands. Eventually, Dante’s rational mind began returning. He stood weakly.
“Was this absolutely necessary?” He asked looking up fearfully at his former body.
“If I just gave you a quick change into a form like this and you go marching up to Thorn Valley still thinking like Mr. Big Shot human, ultimate predator, before you know what hit you an owl will swoop down and crush you in its claws or a fox would sneak up on you from up wind and pounce, kill you and eat you. You need to have these instincts, whether you like them or not.” He said and gently lowered his hand down to the ground and opened his hand. Dante took a cautious step onto the ground. His depth perception was a little off, his senses were still in overload. He could seemingly hear and smell everything in his environment, he was amazed at how big everything was. The tall grass seemed like a forest and his old body was like a sky scraper. He could see, smell and hear far better than any human ever could have. As his mind adapted to the changes he grew a little bolder and took a few hesitant steps away from the hand. His new body was built somewhat differently and it took him a little while to get used to walking. He felt something strange moving behind him, he looked and realized he now had a tail. It felt very unnerving, above all else, that he now had a new extremity. Soon his fear turned to what he could only describe as acute awareness. To the human eye this environment would seem devoid of any life or activity, but for his current incarnation it was teeming with life and activity, animal and insect life in abundance. It was astonishing to him.
“It’s astonishing to me.” Dante said in awe.
“It’s astonishing to me that you humans are the top of the food chain. Poor sight, poor hearing, poor sense of smell. You seem to have no instincts at all.” Jonathan said in amazement.
“Jonathan, this is all well and good, but what does this accomplish? What are we supposed to do, share one body?”
“No, I can change this body into a more suitable form. But I felt it would be easier on you if you were just switched with a ready made body rather than go through the full transformation all at once. This way allows you to ease into a new form.” He said and to Dante’s amazement his old body began to glow faintly and started shrinking. As it grew smaller he could see it beginning to change and in seconds, there stood a white mouse before him, still dressed in Dante’s clothes.
“Close your eyes again Dante. I’ll switch you back.” Jonathan said. Dante quickly closed his eyes and soon felt the strange sensation of motion and when he opened his eyes he was there looking back at Jonathan, whose eyes continued to glow, he was glad to be back in his own body again, even if it was in a somewhat different form. To his surprise he was quickly growing accustomed to this new form, in fact, it felt natural.
“See, Its not so bad, remember you’ve seen the world from this perspective, through our eyes for most of your life.” Jonathan said. Dante did a series of lightning fast martial art moves just to test this body out. It seemed to have the speed and size equivalent strength of his human form.
“Will I be able to fight like I did last night while in this form?” He asked.
“Absolutely, better in fact. Now that you have heightened senses.”
Dante went through another series of moves, faster than the first. Dante noticed that Jonathan began to glow lightly for a few moments and to his surprise an identical set of clothes appeared on Jonathan.
“Its a good look, maybe we can start a fashion trend when we get home.” Jonathan said and laughed. Dante continued practicing for a few minutes. Jonathan looked at his new watch.
“Hey, a Rolex! Dante, we must go now.” He said seriously and raised his hand and Dante could feel himself changing, growing larger, but to his surprise his senses remained very acute.
“I have left your senses remain the way they were, so that by the time we get home you will be accustomed to them that way.” Jonathan said. Dante picked Jonathan up and hurried to the car. Dante was about to start the car when a thought occurred to him.
“Where exactly is Thorn Valley?” Dante asked.
“Its near a little town called Bolair, West Virginia. It borders Thorn Mountain National Park.” He replied. Dante reached behind him and drew out his laptop computer. He booted up and surfed to a map site and as Jonathan watched enthralled, the computer came up with the route, time and distance it would take to get to their location.
“From Cabot, Vermont to Bolair, West Virginia will take an ideal driving time of 14 hours and 51 minutes covering a distance of 825 miles. Its about ten a.m. now so that would put us in Bolair by about one a.m. Less if we hurry.”
“Could we conceivably take a plane?” Jonathan asked.
“I wouldn’t recommend it. It took me ten hours to fly from New Jersey to Vermont just two days ago. Air travel is just to unpredictable. We could get tickets and then get bumped from the flight at the last minute, our plane could be delayed. I think driving would be our best bet.” Dante replied.
“Well then, lets get rolling.” Jonathan said. Dante started the car and off they went.
“We need to make a quick stop on the way.”
“We need to prepare for war.” A quick stop at the sporting goods store Dante bought a hundred rounds of shotgun shells, a duffel bag and improvised slings to use for the gun and sword and good set of binoculars.
“Justin, wake up. Captain Owen is here to see you.” Isabella said softly in his ear. Justin dragged himself out of bed dressed quickly and met Owen in his study.
“Justin, I have increased patrols and guards and Arthur reports that the sanctuary is prepared and adequately stocked with provisions and supplies. We appear to be ready for anything.” He reported.
“Excellent work. Have we gotten any response from the Rangers yet?”
“No, but we are expecting the first reports within the hour.”
“You may find it necessary to inform the people as to what is going on. The rumor mill has been busy since last night. The people are getting worried.”
“I was hoping to have a little more time before this happened, let me think about that for a while and I’ll address them later. I want to be at the communications center for the first check in.” Justin said as they left the room.
Mercy easily slipped past the rats guarding the narrow entrance to Thorn Valley. A rough path had been cut directly into the sheer rock face that surrounded the valley. She looked out over the valley with amazement, for years she had listened to the Master speak of this place. Sometimes with bitterness, sometimes with envy. But to stand here and look at it was simply amazing. In the distance she could see the plowed fields, growing tall with corn and wheat. On the lake she could see boats, with rats casting nets into the water. She continued down the very long path on the cliff face. At the bottom she headed in the direction of the most visible activity. She saw rats and to her great surprise, even a few mice going about their business. She saw children of both species laughing and playing together. To her these people had not a care in the world. She envied them. If only my parents had made it out of the ventilation system at NIMH with the others, then I could have been one of you. She thought bitterly. Now she had come to Thorn Valley as the harbinger of its doom. She hated herself and hated doing what she was about to do even more. She soon found her way to the main entrance. When the guards saw the strange robed mouse they drew their weapons.
“Halt, state your business.” A frightened rat asked as they watched her with great suspicion.
“I am here to speak to Justin.” She replied. A rat quickly ran inside. A few minutes later two rats came to the entrance. The larger one was gray and looked very disturbed to see her, she knew him to be Owen, the captain of the guard. The other was light brown, tall and extraordinarily handsome and around his neck hung the coveted magical stone that her master so desperately sought, she knew him to be Justin.
“Who are you and what do you want?” Justin asked. Captain Owen drew his sword.
“Do not draw your weapons, I am here to talk not to fight. My master sent me to offer you the chance to surrender. We had hoped to take you by surprise and avoid unnecessary bloodshed, but now that is impossible.” She said seriously.
“We will not surrender Thorn Valley.” Justin replied with equal seriousness.
“My master is offering generous terms. If you surrender without a fight then no one will be killed. You may continue to go about your business, but you will obey him as your master. Some of your people will move to our colony to provide technical and medical assistance and we would send some of our people here to learn and to help the colony grow. If you resist us, there will be terrible bloodshed. All the defenders will die by the sword. Your women and children will be spared to help repopulate the colony and we will take all that you have learned and created for ourselves.” She replied.
“This colony is the result of our blood, sweat and tears. Years of labor have gone into the building of this colony. We will not give up our homes and our work to any petty tyrant who covets our success.” Justin said, slowly feeling his rage growing.
“Don’t be fools, We know your numbers, we know your strengths, we know your weaknesses. We know everything about you. We have the valley surrounded, there is no escape Justin. Are you willing to gamble with the future of your two children.” Justin was barely able to control his rage, he looked at the mouse for several seconds in silence.
“Who is your master?” Justin asked through clenched teeth.
“My master has chosen for the time being to remain nameless.”
“Tell your master that if he chooses to try to take what is ours, his army will pay for every inch of Thorn Valley with its blood. We will not yield an inch without force. We will fight to the last. The blood of all the dead will be on his hands...and on yours.” Justin said with finality. A look of horror came over her face. Justin realized he hit a nerve with that one.
“I do not seek bloodshed, I am a healer. It will fall to me to pick up the pieces after this conflict. Isn’t survival a good enough reason to accept our offer? Why must you die to protect this place? You cannot possibly prevail over us. It will all be ours no matter what.” She pleaded.
“Because for the first time in the history of our two races we are free. We are people now, not just vermin. This isn’t just a colony of rats and mice, this is a civilization of rats and mice. We have created it through sheer force of will. It is the most precious thing in the world to us. Now you come and just expect us to yield our hard won freedom. We escaped human bondage and now you ask us to accept a yoke of bondage from another. We live free or die. There is nothing more to discuss, return to your master.” Justin said and dismissed her with a wave of his hand, then turned to return to the entrance.
“You have twenty four hours to decide. Choose wisely, the destiny of your children depend on it, Justin.” She called out.
“Owen, make sure she is escorted out of the valley and have the guards who were on duty report to Lieutenant Snap for a little refresher course in guarding the entrance.” Justin called out as he walked down the hall, he didn’t want to give her the satisfaction of seeing his terror at the threats she made against his children. He ran to his apartment and threw open the door. He found Isabella standing there holding the twins. She looked stunned by his unexpected entrance. He quickly walked up to her and hugged her and the children tightly. Then he kissed her and then the children.
“Justin, what’s gotten into you?” She asked.
“We are all in great danger. In twenty four hours, unless we surrender we will be attacked by a force of rats of unknown strength, they want to take over Thorn Valley. They want to make us their slaves.” He replied. Isabella had a look of shock, but it quickly faded.
“We must never surrender. No matter what the cost. How could we face our children if we let someone make slaves of them.” she said.
“That’s what I told her. But standing here looking at the twins, just how much would I be willing to sacrifice to save Thorn Valley?” He said, strong emotion evident in his voice. They stood in silence, still in an embrace. “I am the leader of Thorn Valley, they all look to me for guidance. It is not just my children that will suffer if we submit, all the colony is counting on me. We must defend it at all costs.” He said as he looked down at his children. Justin could see tears in Isabella’s eyes. He kissed her again.
“I swear on my life that no harm will come to you or the children.” He said and released them.
“I love you, Justin, never forget that, we all love you.” She replied.
“I will keep that in my heart always. I must return and begin preparing for war.” He said sadly. Justin went to the bedroom and grabbed his sword, he kissed his wife and children again then set out for his office. He ignored all the people whom he passed, all the way to his office. He locked the door behind him and sat at his desk, he looked at the microphone for the public address system. He stared at it, it was one of many things that seemed amazing to him. His people had created it. Here he was sitting in his office, with electric lights. At his desk, on which there was a large mug with his name on it, filled with pencils and pens, there also sat on his desk a folded newspaper, the latest edition of the Thorn Valley Herald. He was just amazed, there was a time when he and others here had been ordinary street rats, to whom all of life was just a day to day struggle to eat and stay alive. Now he sat here as elected president of a democracy. One that was facing a grave threat to its sovereignty by a enemy colony of their own kind. He turned on the system and picked up the microphone, he sat silently for a few moments to collect his thoughts.
“Attention people of Thorn Valley. As many of you now know, yesterday we became aware of a threat to our valley. Within the last half hour we have had confirmation of that threat. An emissary was sent to offer us terms of surrender. There appears to be another colony of rats and mice, different from the natural creatures, the way we are. They asked us to surrender to prevent bloodshed. If we were to surrender they would become our masters, they want to take some of our people and relocate them to their own colony and they would send some here to be educated by us and to expand this colony. If we refuse, all defenders will be killed and only the woman and children will be spared and then they will come in and take over everything that we have created. We have faced threats before, some human, some natural and some supernatural. But for the first time we are facing an attack from our own kind. The emissary made threats and offered dire warnings, so I am advising that all non-essential personnel begin moving to the sanctuary. All day and night patrol personnel are now on active duty. This will be the end of the world for us if we fail. We will not surrender to protect our children. We must fight to protect them. Pray. For them, for all of us.” Justin turned off the microphone and sat back in his chair.
“Jonathan, you were right, we are in big trouble. Your warning prevented a sneak attack that would have undoubtedly taken us by complete surprise. Hurry home, we are going to need all the help we can get.” Justin said with a bemused smile. He remembered that he wanted to be there for the first contact with the Rangers, he exited his office and rushed to the communications center. He burst through the door. Everyone in the room turned to look at him. He walked up to the line of a dozen rats who sat at their telegraphs, copying transmissions and tapping out orders to the various guard posts and levels. It had taken a over a year and a half to string the wires out and to set up the communications points in the woods, hopefully it would now be worth the trouble.
“Rangers teams one, seven and ten have reported in, no sign of the enemy yet.” Owen said. Justin paced the room silently.
Cynthia and Carl finally reached their check in point. Before them loomed an enormous stone. She walked around its base and found the object of her search, near the base of the stone were several distinct gashes cut into the stone. To anyone else they would appear to be nothing more than scratches, but they were the marker indicating the buried location of a communication unit. She unpacked her trench shovel and unburied the unit while Carl stood guard. Wrapped tightly in plastic was a telegraph. She hooked it up to the buried wires, looked at her codebook, put on the headphones and began tapping out a message.
“Thorn Valley. Rangers five. Check in.” she tapped out.
“Rangers five. Mercury, Zeta, Civil.” was the reply.
“Thorn Valley. Comet, Legend, Castle.”
“User confirmed. Anything to report?”
“Negative, no enemy has been sighted. Will begin first recon.”
“Be advised, enemy has delivered ultimatum, they threaten surrender or death in twenty four hours. They claim to have valley surrounded and knowledge of our security measures. Be on your guard they may know about you. Will await next check in four hours. Thorn Valley out.” That message sent a shiver down her spine. She quickly disconnected the unit and reburied it. She looked around carefully, if an enemy was going to ambush them it would seem the best time would be right after check in. They slowly began moving out of the area.
“We’re in trouble. The enemy wants Thorn Valley to surrender and they may know that were out here.” She said calmly.
“Well, this is precisely why we volunteered for the Rangers. Come on, No guts no glory.” Was his reply
“Our stealth against their strength.” She said with determination.
“That’s the spirit.” He said and patted her on the back. She envied his confidence, he had been in the regular guard and just transferred to the Rangers while she was raw recruit. Together they made their way into the undergrowth.
“We are entering Pennsylvania.” Dante said as they flew past the sign.
“Jonathan?” Dante asked.
“There’s something that’s been puzzling me since we started this.”
“After you were nearly eaten by Dragon, how did you end up in my father’s lab years later? I know you said you were absorbed by the Power, but how did you end up in the box, where did those guard rats come from and who is this enemy were running to fight?”
“Well, your father was determined to control the Power, he had over the years managed to access a small degree of it. He couldn’t really focus or control it. When he used it he was just sort of flailing around with it. During one of his last uses of it he discovered me, just sort of floating there. He was able to recognize me as one of his escapee’s. He drew me out, but he was afraid that if I was loose I could stop him from gaining control of the Power. He interrogated me quite thoroughly. I was doped up and starved. He wanted to keep me as weak as possible so that I could not interfere with his plans, which were very near completion. He was afraid that if he tried to kill me, I would get sucked back into the Power and once there I could stop him. So he was going to wait until he had the Power and then he would dispose of me, however the accident at the lab changed all that. Then some other person came onto the scene and he also did not want me killed for the same reason as your father. But he had one of his magical henchrats keep me in suspended animation. When that henchrat was killed, I was freed. Now I grow more powerful by the day. I don’t know how Nicodemus had the self-control he did. I certainly feel tempted to use it often and for the most mundane uses. As soon as this mess is over, I’ll have to shut it down and let my body rest. Its a strain to keep it active all the time.” Jonathan replied.
“There is something else I wanted to ask you. Why is it you and Mr. Ages both have last names while none of the rats do?”
“I never actually thought about it before, but you’re right, it is odd and frankly I don’t think I could give you a reason. We discovered many things about ourselves during our wanderings, We discovered modesty and discovered that falling in love and getting married was more important than just simply choosing a mate. We discovered guilt, hate, conscience, remorse, compassion and love. I’ve wondered from time to time if we should thank you or hate you for what humanity has done to us.” Jonathan said and finished his Yoo-Hoo that Dante had gotten for him when they stopped at the interstate rest stop for gas and food. Dante had at first thought it odd that a tiny mouse would ask for three foot long hot-dogs, a pickle and a Yoo-Hoo, but when he brought them back to the car Jonathan had simply shrunk them down to his size to consume them. Dante was hesitating to respond to Jonathan’s last remark, he decided not to say anything and tried to change the subject.
“Do you think that we are in any danger as we travel?”
“No, I don’t think they would have any real understanding as to how to track a car traveling at high speed through several states. I expect them know where we are headed, so they will be waiting for us when we get to Thorn Valley.
No amount of time in a college classroom could compare or prepare Dante for the sheer mind numbing boredom of a car trip this long. They had been on the road for over nine hours. Traffic had been lighter than expected so they were making good time. The car radio was broken, it had a working 8-track player, but the only tapes available were, A Polka Christmas, Perry Como in Vegas, Andy Williams greatest hits, the Original Broadway cast recording of Fiddler on the Roof, with Zero Mostel as Tevye and the Motion Picture soundtrack of Fiddler on the Roof with Topol as Tevye. He was really starting to hate this car.
Jonathan was sleeping most of the time to recover his strength. Dante still ached all over from his continuing changes.
“Jonathan? How do you think they will react to me when we get to Thorn Valley? After all, I am the son of Dr. Erhard Schultz.” Dante asked with a little concern in his voice.
“I think it will take them some getting use to. But if you’re one of us, I doubt that they will be able to hold a grudge very long. Especially since you are coming to help them. Relax, they’ll love you.” Jonathan said comfortingly. Dante could only hope he was right.
Cynthia and Carl were in the second sweep of their zone when Cynthia thought she heard the faintest out of place sound. She grabbed Carl’s arm and drew him deeper into cover.
The two froze and waited, a short time later they saw a figure slowly and stealthily move within inches of them. It was a strange rat, dressed in camouflage and with a bow.
They both silently drew their combat knives. The rat moved on, the two continued to wait silently for the figure to disappear in the distance, then they began to follow the direction that the rat had come from. About a half an hour later they found what they were looking for. Through their binoculars they watched the enemy army march in their direction, the army of rats was several hundred strong, mostly ferocious looking natural rats, backed up by around a hundred NIMH rats and even more horrifying was the fact that the army contained a large, fat, orange, one eyed tabby cat. Carl had only heard of Dragon through legend, but Cynthia was all to familiar with Dragon. He had been a threat to her and her family until the day they moved to Thorn Valley. He was the cat that had killed her father and nearly killed her mother and their friend Jeremy the crow. They stayed at the position gathering information as long as they dared and then began the painfully slow and cautious trip back to the communication unit.
Dante was so worn out from the drive that he could hardly appreciate the beauty of West Virginia, that and the fact it was almost midnight. He was finally in Bolair. As he was driving through he turned onto a wide, recently paved road that cut deep into a field.
“Dante. Are we there yet?” Jonathan asked sleepily.
“I’m not sure where we are.” He replied.
“Give me a boost.” Jonathan asked, Dante picked him up so he could see out the window.
“I know where we are. This was the Fitzgibbons farm. Look, there’s the house.”
He said and pointed into the distance. They drove a little further and pulled up in front of an abandoned farm house. Dante pulled out a flashlight and approached the house with Jonathan in his other hand. There was a large sign in the yard showing how the entire property was being subdivided and sold for housing. They both approached the farm house cautiously. They both knew it very well and were so accustomed to the dangers that were to be expected there that even Dante felt nervous.
“The rosebush was right in the front yard.” Dante said as he walked up to where it had been. Then he went up to the house and forced open the door. They could both feel the threat of Dragon. Dante had to remind himself that Dragon was not a threat to him in this form. They found there way to the kitchen.
“It was here that Dragon ruined my life. If our paths ever cross again I’ll make that fat cat rue the day he ever laid his eye on this little gray mouse.” Jonathan said with grim determination. A short time later they wandered out into the field where the large stone that sheltered the cinderblock where Jonathan had lived with his family.
“Ah, home sweet home. I wish, I wish...” Jonathan said sadly as Dante set him on the ground nearby.
“I know you miss them, Jonathan. We have such a strong connection that I miss them also. Come on, Just a little while longer and we’ll see them again.” Dante said and quickly scooped up Jonathan and they hurried to the car.
“To Thorn Valley!” Jonathan shouted as they headed east.
A short time later they turned into a parking area for the park. Dante parked and began packing his gear in his large bag. He loaded the gun and filled the bandoleers put the straps on the gun and the sword.
“Dante we can only go part of the way with you in this form. They are going to be expecting us. They will most likely try to track me by the power I radiate. I’ll have to lower it to almost nothing. When we get to that point, I’ll change you over because we must try to get to the valley without detection so don’t use the gun unless its absolutely necessary, just use the sword, right now the enemy and his entire army are between us and the valley and I doubt that the two of us are strong enough to beat them all.
“I’ll get us there. Let them try to stop us.” Dante said as he saw a flicker of white cross his vision. Dante picked up Jonathan and put him in his shirt pocket and they headed off into the darkness toward Thorn Valley.
Cynthia and Carl weren’t sure how many hours it had taken them to inch their way back to the communication point, the woods felt alive with enemies. When they got to the stone the area seemed quiet, to quite. They could sense an ambush. They did a quick huddle and whispered conversation.
“Someone is waiting for us to show ourselves.” Carl said.
“We have to send our message. I have an idea, you’re the better archer. I could draw their fire and you can hit the shooter.” She said with determination. Carl just looked at her with a look of complete shock.
“That’s insane.” He replied.
“But it’ll give you a target.” She replied. He didn’t want to agree, It might take several hours of cat and mouse to find their enemy and that enemy could still end up killing them both. It was a suicidal proposition but there just wasn’t time for anything else. The message had to get through. He nodded his reluctant agreement.
“I’ll go for the com-unit, I’ll stay in the shadows, the shooter will hopefully not know my exact location until I start digging for the unit. Then get ready to shoot.” She said with mock confidence and began crawling silently on her belly through the shadows toward the stone.
Carl still couldn’t believe she was willing to make herself a target to draw the enemy out. He readied an arrow and waited, scanning the area for any sign of the enemy they knew waited for them. He was not going to let her down.
Cynthia slowly and silently made her way to the stone. Fortunately the entire stone was shrouded in darkness. She reached the spot where she had buried the unit hours earlier, with her hands she dug in the soil for it. When she found it she slowly pulled it out and began putting it together. She thought of her family and how they would react when they found out she had been killed in action. It will break mother’s heart and Justin and the others will be devastated. I’ll never get to see Timmy and Jenny’s baby. She thought sadly. She suddenly heard the faint sound of something cutting through a leaf and she instinctively rolled over and felt the breeze of an arrow missing her face by just a fraction of an inch and striking the ground where she had been an instant before, she heard a cry of pain, she looked up and saw a figure fall from high on a bush. She quickly assembled the unit and sent her message.
“Thorn Valley. Rangers five. Check in.”
“Rangers five. Coffee, disk, English.”
“Thorn Valley. Hammer, fish, seven.”
“User confirmed. Anything to report?”
“Yes, narrowly avoided ambush at com sight. Enemy sighted. Rats, at least three hundred, mostly naturals and some NIMH type rats, army includes Dragon. Estimate eight to ten hours before they reach valley.”
“Please explain: Dragon?”
“Dragon the cat.”
“Rangers five. President Justin has ordered that all rangers return to valley if possible.”
“Orders received and understood. Rangers five out.” She tapped out and disassembled the unit and reburied it. Carl came creeping up to her.
“What did they say?”
“They said we can return to the valley.”
“Yes!” he whispered with delight.
“We still have to be careful, they may have people already ahead of us.” Cynthia said seriously.
Dante and Jonathan blazed new trails through the woods as they quickly moved at a superhuman pace toward the valley. A cloud cover had come over the entire area, so Dante, even with his improved senses was having difficulty finding his way. Jonathan had to guide him all the way. Dante knew they had covered many miles to get to the valley, which, he thought was exactly why they would have chosen it to live in.
“Stop.” Jonathan commanded.
“Not yet, but this is as far as we can go this way. I’ll have to change you over.”
Dante took Jonathan out of his pocket and placed him on the ground. Dante closed his eyes and waited. He felt the sensation of falling and when he opened his eyes he was looking at Jonathan eye to eye.
“I can lead us on the shortest path to the valley. I’ll leave my power on just enough for me to be aware of any presence nearby. The enemy is ahead of us, we may have to fight our way through them after all. But still, we must try to be as subtle as long as possible.”
“No problem, Jonathan.” Dante said as he drew his sword and handed Jonathan the dufflebag.
“Now we travel the metaphorical ‘longest yard’.” Jonathan said as they continued into the woods. His new small size was still strange to him, but he was growing more use to it every second. He did find it very unsettling that he now had to watch for predators. They didn’t encounter anything as they walked, in fact the forest seemed deserted, as if all the animals could sense that something terrible was going to happen here. Dante could feel Thorn Valley, with every step he felt it stronger and stronger, drawing them, welcoming them. Suddenly, Jonathan grabbed his arm.
“Oh, please dear God, no!” Jonathan cried out in distress.
Cynthia and Carl were stuck. They had stumbled upon a patrol of a dozen enemy rats in their haste to return to the valley. They managed to find cover before the enemy could attack but were separated and the enemy was searching for them. The rats were spreading out, driving their spears into the undergrowth to kill anyone hiding and they were closing in on her. She heard Carl suddenly make an agonizing cry of pain. She saw her pursuers turn toward the sound, she took that moment to bolt. She was up and running before they even knew she was there. She got a good head start but her smaller size made for shorter distance. The rats were closing in on her when she became aware of someone rushing at her from the front. She was determined not to be taken without a fight. She crouched defensively and drew her knife. A moment later the figure in front of her appeared in a flash and leaped over her and did a somersault forward and landed in front of her rat pursuers. The stranger was an oddly dressed, but handsome white mouse with a sword. They all stood looking at each other for a moment, then the white mouse leaped at the rats and a brief but furious fight ensued and in a matter of seconds all the rats fell dead at his feet. Then as quickly as he had appeared he headed in the direction that the other rats were and moments later there was the sound of more fighting, then silence. She could hear the sound of returning foot steps. The white mouse appeared and ran up to her.
“Cynthia, are you all right?” He asked with great concern.
“Who are you and how do you know my name?” She asked in amazement as she got to her feet. Then seconds later a gray mouse dressed just as oddly came rushing out of the woods and ignoring her knife he ran up to her and hugged her.
“Cynthia, sweetheart, are you all right?” He asked with tears in his eyes.
“Who are you guys?” She asked, pushing the gray mouse away.
“I’m Jonathan... and he’s Dante. We have to get you back to Thorn Valley.” He said with great seriousness. She came to her senses and held up her knife. They both stepped back in shock.
“I appreciate you saving my life, I don’t know who you are and your not coming with me to Thorn Valley.” She began backtracking to try to find Carl. The swordsmouse had sheathed his sword and the two mice followed at a safe distance.
“Cynthia. Over here.” Carl waved to her, he was laying on the ground, a spear driven through his right leg.
“Carl, stay still, this is going to really hurt.” She said and pulled the spear out of his leg. He let out a cry of agony louder than the one he made getting stabbed in the first place. It was a large wound and bleeding badly.
“To add insult to injury, I think it might be broken as well.” He said weakly. She looked to the two mice that were still nearby. If they had wanted them dead they could have killed them both by now. Perhaps they wanted to be taken to Thorn Valley to get past its defenses, she would have to play along for now, to get Carl home.
“I need something he can use as a crutch.” She called out to them, they both disappeared into the woods. She looked at the wound. It was big and ugly. She drew out the pressure bandage. She looked to Carl, he nodded his approval. Carl took a stick and put it between his teeth and prepared himself.
“I’m sorry Carl, but this is also going to really, really hurt.” she said as she began wrapping the bandage around his leg and then putting as much pressure on as she could to stop the severe bleeding. He groaned in terrible pain as she treated the wounds. She felt sick and she winced with pain with every sound he made. She set the broken bone and made a splint. After she had finished, Carl let the stick fall from his mouth.
“You looked like you were in more pain than I was.” he said and smiled weakly.
The mice soon returned with a long stick that closely resembled a crutch. It took the three of them to get Carl to his feet.
“Thank you my fiends. You saved our lives. Who are you?” Carl said to the strangers.
“I wish we had time to explain, but we must get to Thorn Valley before the enemy does.” Jonathan said. Cynthia was still suspicious, but he had a good point. Eventually someone would miss these rats and come looking and the enemy army was getting closer by the second.
“We better go, its not much farther. But there may be more of them between us and the valley.” Cynthia said and began leading them toward the Valley. Carl’s injuries were slowing them down considerably, plus they had to abandon all hope of stealth, so Cynthia reluctantly agreed to let Jonathan and Dante take the point and clear a path to the entrance to the valley. As they walked Dante could hear that Jonathan was sniffling.
“Jonathan, what’s the matter?” Dante asked quietly.
“That’s my baby, my little Cynthia. She’s all grown up now, I’ve missed every single moment of her entire life until today. All grown up...So beautiful, just like her mother. The cruel games that fate plays. I am rushing to protect a community that I helped to create but have never seen, to be reunited with a wife who is dying of old age and children to most of whom I’m only a dim memory at best and my little Cynthia who has no memory of me and we are facing an enemy that might destroy us all.” he said in anguish. At least you have a family to return to. Dante thought as they walked.
“Hey, not so fast we’ve got a wounded man, remember?” She called out with annoyance. They stopped and waited for her and Carl to catch up. Carl could hardly walk by now. His wound still bleeding badly. He was getting weak from loss of blood, he wouldn’t last much longer.
“How far are we from the valley?” Jonathan asked.
“About ten minutes, why?” She asked
“You’ll see.” He said and then suddenly his eyes and hands began to glow.
Cynthia drew her knife in alarm.
“Relax, he won’t hurt either of you.” Dante said quickly and put himself between Jonathan and Cynthia. Jonathan put his hands over the wounds and a bright glow flowed through Carl’s leg. Soon the bleeding stopped. Jonathan pulled back from Carl, he fell to the ground, exhausted. Dante examined the wound. It stopped bleeding but that was it, it still looked terrible.
“I’m sorry, that’s the best I can do. Healing is not my gift. But that should be good enough to get you back to the valley.” He said weakly. Dante helped him to his feet.
“Let’s go, were almost home.” Dante said.
“Yes, home at last.” Jonathan replied with a little sadness in his voice.
Cynthia couldn’t help but notice that the strange mice had both called Thorn Valley home. Who are they? She wondered.
Carl was still having trouble, but soon the entrance was visible in the distance.
“Dante, go on ahead and clear a path for us. You’ll know ours from theirs so if the bad guys have it, clean house.” Dante drew his sword and disappeared into the direction of the entrance.
“Let’s go.” Jonathan said and they followed Dante. They stopped when they heard sounds of prolonged and furious fighting.
“All clear!” They heard Dante shout. They arrived at the gate to find about twenty enemy dead and Dante uniting the Thorn Valley guards and about a dozen others that had been captured and bound, Cynthia recognized them as members of the long range patrol and four of her fellow rangers. Cynthia stood in amazement. Again this strange mouse had ripped through the enemy without a scratch. Cynthia went to the com-unit at the guard house.
“Thorn Valley. This is Ranger Brisby at main gate. Enemy had taken over gate and was capturing those returning to valley. Entrance cleared of enemy by two outsider mice named Jonathan and Dante. We are returning to base with one wounded. Beware, one outsider is a remarkable swordsman and the other has exhibited strange powers. They claim to be here to help us, but be on guard in case of tricks.”
When Timothy Brisby rushed into Justin’s office he found Justin at his desk with his hands folded, his head lowered and his eyes closed and on the desk in front of him was an open book. Justin looked up and Timothy handed him the message from Cynthia. Timothy noticed that the book Justin had been reading was the Bible. When he saw Tim’s curious look he smiled.
“It can’t hurt to ask.” Justin said. Justin read the note quickly and smiled.
“We have sent reinforcements to the entrance and have also dispatched a medical team.” Timothy informed him. Justin laughed, overjoyed to receive the message from a surprised Timothy Brisby. Justin went on the P.A. system and made an announcement.
“Would Rose, Martin and Teresa Brisby please meet me at the front gate as soon as possible. There is a special friend of our people who is returning after a long absence. Cynthia and Carl are escorting him home right now. I would like the rest of you there to greet him.” He said joyfully. Justin saw the look on Timothy’s face. A look of confusion upon seeing Justin’s big smile. Then his mouth fell open.
“Justin..., is this Jonathan...dad...?” is all Timothy could say.
Justin walked over to Timothy and put his hands on his shoulders.
“Yes, Tim. Your father’s coming home.” It was a good thing that Justin had his hands on Timothy’s shoulders, it allowed him to quickly grab hold of his shirt to prevent Timothy from falling to the floor when his knees gave out. He helped Timothy to a chair.
“How can dad be alive? He was killed by Dragon.” Timothy asked in a daze. Justin told him all about the dream and about what Jonathan had explained about his survival.
“Tim, I know this is going to be difficult for you and your family. But, remember that its also going to be very difficult for your father. He’s been the proverbial Rip VanWinkle. He’s suddenly awakened to find that life and the world have passed him by. He told me that his last memory of you was you as a sickly child who might not recover from the spider bite. He’s missed out on every facet of your lives since then.”
Timothy sat silently for a few moments, then a big smile crossed his face and he leaped up and began jumping up and down.
“My father’s alive!” He shouted.
“Yes, he is and if we wait here much longer we’ll miss his arrival.” Justin said. Timothy bolted out of the room and down the corridor with Justin not far behind.
At the gate they waited impatiently. They both paced back and forth in front of the guards at the gate. Later Rose, Martin and Teresa showed up. Rose had a serene smile on her face, but her two older children just looked confused. They were more confused when they saw the obvious excitement of Justin and Timothy.
“Justin, who exactly are we greeting?” Martin asked.
“Wait and see.” Is all Justin would say. A short time later, illuminated by the bonfires that burned to light the killing zone in front of the entrance of the community of the valley, came a large group of rats and mice, some of which were carrying a wounded rat on a stretcher. When the group came through the small opening in the barricade and spikes they could see Cynthia Brisby in front. When Cynthia saw them she ran to them.
“Mother!” She cried and threw herself in her mother’s waiting arms, then she quickly hugged her brothers, sister and then she ran to Justin, he knelt and hugged her.
Justin heard gasps of alarm and astonishment. He looked up and saw Jonathan Brisby. He released Cynthia and stood up and looked at his friend in the flesh for the first time in years.
“Welcome home, Jon. We’ve all missed you so much.” Rose said and walked over to him and hugged him, tears flowing freely down both their faces. Cynthia just looked at the others in astonishment. Timothy, Martin and Teresa slowly overcoming their total shock and astonishment began inching closer to their father.
“Justin, who is he?” Cynthia asked in confusion. He looked down at her.
“Cynthia, honey. That’s your father, Jonathan Brisby.” he replied. Her eyes went wide with shock and she quickly turned to look at him. He was only partially visible through the group hug he was receiving.
“Go to him, he needs and loves you all so much.” Justin said softly. She turned and quickly ran up to the others and joined in the hugs and kisses. The others parted and Cynthia and Jonathan just looked at each other.
“My baby.” Jonathan said and hugged her.
Justin looked up to see that the rats had already gone past, taking Carl to the hospital, but standing silently in the background, looking up at the sky was a lone white mouse. Justin approached the stranger.
“Hello, I’m Justin, President of Thorn Valley. You must be Dante. Welcome to Thorn Valley. Its a pleasure to meet you. Thank you for bringing Cynthia, Carl and Jonathan home safely.” He said warmly and extended his hand. Dante looked up at Justin, it was odd meeting Justin for the first time and yet knowing him for years and even having seen some of life through his very eyes.
“Its a pleasure to meet you at last Justin. I’m glad we were able to get here in time.” Dante said and shook his hand. Justin turned to the Brisby’s.
“My friends, we should go inside, its not safe out here anymore.” He said and led the still entangled Brisby family past the entrance. Dante noticed that the place was almost completely deserted. It was every bit as grand as he had seen in his dreams. It was amazing, everything he had always expected it to be.
Justin led them through the reception area which contained Tim’s desk and then into his own office. It was high and spacious with a large desk in the middle. Dante wondered if it’s oval shape was an accident or intentional. Jonathan began to explain to them what had happened all those years ago and how he had returned. He was deliberately vague about Dante and his origin. The hugs and tears were suddenly interrupted by the door opening and Rose suddenly shouting.
Justin turned just in time to see a blur of white and silver. Dante moved with blinding speed. In a fraction of a second he leaped in the air and caught the crossbow bolt that was aimed at Justin’s heart and with his sword he had deflected the other projectile, aimed at Rose’s heart. They all turned toward the door to see Captain Owen and two other rats standing at the door, two with crossbows and one with a sword, Owen eye’s were glowing bright white. He waved his hand and everyone in the room was thrown back violently. The Brisby’s all threw themselves defensively around Rose. The two enemies with crossbows discarded them, Owen drew a glowing dagger and threw it at Rose, then he and the other drew swords and then all three charged. Jonathan reached up and engulfed the dagger with a power emanating from his hands, the dagger struggled to free itself from his control, Jonathan had to fight hard to contain it. Dante attacked Owen and Justin attacked one of the others, but the third was headed for the Brisby’s. Cynthia leaped to her feet and drew her knife, she charged at the rat. The rat grabbed her and casually tossed her aside. She was instantly on her feet again and ran up to and slid her legs in front of the rat, causing him to stumble and drop his sword. She plunged her knife into the right leg of the rat. He turned and gave her a powerful blow to the head, throwing her back. While he was struggling to his feet she leaped on his back and locked her arms around his neck in a choke hold. The rat flailed around wildly to try to dislodge her and trying to pull her off. Dante was fighting what seemed to be an even fight with Owen, considering his opponent was twice his size.
“Help! We’re under attack by Owen in Justin’s office. Come quickly!” They heard Timothy shout into the PA system. Justin was busy with his own opponent. He knew this rat. He was Lenny, one of Owen’s hand picked lieutenants. Justin hadn’t used a sword in a long time, but it was quickly coming back to him. He quickly and deftly dodged the attacker and delivered a fatal thrust. Jonathan was still struggling with the enchanted dagger and Dante was still fighting Owen to a standstill. Moments later Killian burst into the room and drove his sword through the rat attacking Cynthia. The arrival of reinforcements distracted Owen just enough for Dante to deliver a critical blow. He gashed Clayton’s sword arm, causing his to drop his weapon. Before he could deliver the fatal blow. Justin’s fist suddenly struck Owen across the chin, staggering him. Then Justin punched him a second time on the chin.
“Take him alive if possible.” Justin said. Dante then proceeded to leap into the air and deliver a powerful roundhouse kick to Owen’s head, causing him to collapse to the ground, unconscious. The dagger that Jonathan was fighting, suddenly deprived of direction was just floating there, Jonathan took the opportunity to drive it into the stone wall, destroying it. Jonathan then raced to Cynthia. He helped her to her feet. She was battered and bruised, but basically okay. They both went to Rose who had been bodily shielded by Martin and Teresa. Timothy pried his fingers off the microphone for the PA system and joined them. Moments later Lieutenant Snap and about a dozen heavily armed rats appeared at the door.
“Wow. That really sucked.” Dante said.
“What happened, Justin?” Killian asked.
“It appears that we found a spy.” Justin replied and kicked Owen.
“Lieutenant Snap. Take him to a cell. We need to interrogate him very carefully because of his powers. Jonathan can you handle that?” Justin asked.
The guards pulled Owen to his feet.
“You should surrender while you still have the chance. Death awaits you all. The Master cannot be defeated.” Owen said groggily. Snap punched him hard in the stomach, causing him to double over.
“Get him out of here!” Justin shouted. Snap and the guards restraining Owen were out the door in moments. All the Brisby’s were surrounding Cynthia. Hugging and congratulating her.
“Cynthia, that was amazing.” Timothy said in awe.
“Good work, Dante.” Justin said and patted Dante on the back. Justin picked up the microphone for the P.A.
“The situation is under control. The assassination attempt failed. The Brisby family and myself are all unharmed. Captain Owen has been captured and his cohorts Harrison and Lenny have both been slain. Justin out.” Justin said wearily. They suddenly became aware of a commotion down the hall. Justin, Killian, Dante, Jonathan and Cynthia all raced down the hall. They found Owen lying on the ground in a large pool of blood, clutching his throat and Snap pinned against the wall by his own guards, a bloody knife lay at his feet.
“He did it before we could stop him, Sir.” One of the guards said.
“He sold us out. He betrayed us all. He sent my Rangers marching right into the enemy’s hands. I sent those poor kids on a suicide mission.” Snap said in anguish.
Jonathan rushed over to Owen. It was obvious to even a non-medic such as himself that the wound was a fatal one. He didn’t have a moment to lose. He placed his right hand on Owen’s head, his hand began to glow brightly. He probed Owen’s rapidly dying brain for information. He gasped in amazement and horror when he found the information he was looking for. He drew his hand back. He stood, and to everyone’s astonishment he began kicking the body. Justin had to pull him back.
“Let go, I’m all right. Back to the office. I know who are enemy is and I know where he got his army and you’re not going to believe it.” Jonathan said.
“I’m sorry to have to cut the reunion short. But safety must come first. Guards take Snap to the detention area and have someone clean up this mess and get the body out of here.” Justin said and looked at Cynthia, clutching her sides. He looked to Martin and Teresa.
“You better take Cynthia to the hospital, just in case.” He said.
“I’m fine, Justin.” Cynthia said.
“Please, humor me. Timothy, Killian, Rose and Jonathan we need to talk.” Justin said. Suddenly, amongst the rats there was a collective moment of realization that Jonathan Brisby was in their midst.
“Mr. Brisby?” Snap asked in astonishment.
“Yes, Snap, its me.”
“Mr. Brisby, how can it be you?” Killian asked in alarm.
“Its a long story, Killian. I’ll tell you all about it later. Justin, I really think Dante should be included in this. Its important that you know about him.” Jonathan said. Justin looked to Dante and then to Jonathan and shrugged. Jonathan thought it odd though that Justin had asked Rose to come also.
“All right. I do owe him my life after all.” Justin said.
“I’ll try to catch up with you all as soon as I can.” Jonathan said to his kids as he hugged them again and then followed Justin and the others back to the office.
Mr. Ages was in the hospital when, having just supervised the medical team’s treatment of Carl’s injured leg when he was buzzed on the intercom.
“How is Carl doing?” Justin asked.
“Carl was about a hair’s breadth of death when he came in, he’s lucky to be alive and even luckier to be keeping his leg, he’s stable now. He’ll pull through.” Ages responded and drank some of his now tepid tea.
“That’s great. I have someone here who wants to say hello.” Justin said.
“Hey, you old grump. Did you miss me?” Jonathan asked. Mr. Ages did a spit-take.
“I’ll take that as a ‘yes’.” Jonathan laughed.
“Jonathan...you died.” Mr. Ages said fearfully.
“The reports of my death have been greatly exaggerated.” Jonathan replied.
“We need you in my office pronto, if you can get away from the hospital that is.” Justin said.
“Dr. Laura can handle things here in the hospital. I’ll be there as fast I can.” Mr. Ages said and to the amazement of everyone present he took off at a run.
The Brisby children watched in stunned amazement as a small white form came rushing down the hall in their direction. He didn’t slow down when he saw them.
“Children. Jonathan’s alive. Your father’s alive. He’s in Justin’s office.” He panted as he shot past them.
“We know already! We’ve seen him!” they shouted to the mouse disappearing in the distance.
“Master?” Mercy called out into the darkness.
“Uh...the assassination attempt failed. Justin and the Brisby’s have all survived. Owen and the others are dead, they were thwarted mainly by Jonathan Brisby and an unidentified mouse.” She replied hesitantly.
“I am surrounded by idiots.” He said with a hint of anger in his voice. “Come with me.” He commanded. She followed his presence through the darkness, nearby she could see a large glowing sphere begin to spin. Strange lights flashed and a strong wind began billowing from this strange device.
“This is an interesting device that my late friend Nicodemus created. It was destroyed and its remains were left behind under the rosebush after the others fled. I have restored it. I would prefer not to use any power unless absolutely necessary, but I think that what we need to know right now is who and what we are dealing with and modify our plans and assumptions accordingly.” He said. To her amazement an image formed in the sphere. Together they watched a replay of the assassination attempt and then moved forward to the meeting in Justin’s office.
“So Jonathan, back from the grave I see and powerful no less. Returned just in time to save that lower creature that you call a wife and who is this friend that you have brought with you? These are unforeseen complication.” Jenner said with annoyance.
“Arthur and Mr. Ages are on their way.” Justin said as he sat on the edge of his desk and Jonathan stood on the chair. The others sat and stood around the room.
“Oh, Jonathan, there is something I wanted to take care of.” Justin said.
“What’s that?” Jonathan asked and was suddenly hugged by Justin.
“Welcome home, old friend.” Justin said warmly. Jonathan hugged him back.
“Its great to be here with all of you and to be able to call this home.” Jonathan replied. Jonathan then walked over to Tim.
“Son, I don’t know what to say to you. I’m sorry that I wasn’t there for you over the years. I hope you can forgive me for the time I’ve missed. I would give anything to go back and make it up to you.” Jonathan said, trying vainly to hide his emotions.
“Dad, its okay. There’s nothing to forgive. Your here now and that’s all that matters to me.” He said and hugged his father.
Rose was suddenly overwhelmed. Not at the love and joy she felt between Timothy and Jonathan, thought it was very strong, but by the sudden terrible anguish and desperate yearning she felt from both Killian and Dante who stood stoically and silently watching the father and son. She knew the origin of Killian’s pain, but she couldn’t imagine what Dante’s father must have done to create such equally deep wounds in his son.
Jonathan and Timothy then sat next to Rose on a large couch. Jonathan looked at his wife. He hated himself for not being there for her and the kids, he knew her lifespan would be so painfully short compared to his. He was deprived of even being able to share that short time by her side. Only one short year together and that was it. Now she was old and frail. Yet from that one short year he grew to love her more dearly than he imagined possible for him to love another. Now he had been reunited with her just to soon lose her forever. He began sobbing and held her tightly.
“Rose. My sweet, beautiful, delicate flower. I’ve missed you so much. When I was trapped I tried to reach out to you. I just wasn’t strong enough. I wanted you to know that I wasn’t dead. But I just couldn’t do it.” he sobbed.
“Jonathan, my love, I always knew. I’ve waited all these years, just for you.” She said reassuringly. Suddenly the door burst open, causing everyone to jump with alarm. Mr. Ages burst into the room and immediately doubled over, with his hands on his knee’s panting like he had just run the Boston marathon. Jonathan left his wife and son on the couch and walked up to Mr. Ages who was still panting so hard he couldn’t stand straight or speak. Jonathan laid down on the floor and looked up at his old friend.
“Well, Ages. You don’t look any worse for wear. How are you doing, old timer?” Jonathan asked. Mr. Ages could only manage a thumbs up.
“Glad to hear it.” Jonathan said and helped Mr. Ages to a chair.
“Jonathan? How can you be alive?” Mr. Ages asked, still panting.
“As soon as Arthur gets here I’ll explain everything.” He said.
“Good Gravy! Jonathan Brisby!” Arthur shouted when he walked though the door, he instantly turned around and left the room and sat on the floor, then a moment later he peeked in and saw Jonathan still standing there.
“Have a seat my friend, we have very important things to discuss.” Jonathan said, his smile leaving his face. Justin locked the door and took his seat behind his desk. The mood of the room suddenly turning very grim.
“Now that we are all assembled I can tell you all that I learned from Owen.” Jonathan sighed. “Killian and Dante. This is going to be very difficult for you most of all. The force behind this enemy is Jenner.” Jonathan said. There were gasps of astonishment and anger from everyone. Killian grimaced.
“Will we never be free of that man?” He asked in frustration.
“He probably survived in a way similar to mine. As to the origin of his army.
Justin, Arthur, Ages. Do you remember back to when I married Rose and had my first child?” He asked. They nodded. “Do you remember Jenner’s response when I informed the citizens of the rosebush about it? He was ecstatic when he learned it was possible for us to reproduce with natural’s and have our NIMH genes remain dominant, he immediately put forth a proposal to the council. He suggested that we start capturing female rats from the countryside and begin a program of forced breeding to build up our small population. He even offered to capture female mice for Mr. Ages and myself. He was shot down instantly by the council, but it turns out he went ahead and started a rouge colony with the help of a hand picked number of cronies, of which Sullivan and Owen were members. But his colony is dying. They need the resources of Thorn Valley to survive.” Jonathan said. The room was silent.
“That is the most terrible thing I have ever heard.” Mrs. Brisby said in astonishment.
“Unfortunately it get worse. Jenner now has tapped the Power to an unknown degree. He will do everything he can to take Thorn Valley away from us. Dante and I have come here from Vermont and the entire way I have been aware of a presence ahead of us, which is Jenner, but I have also been aware of a second presence, coming toward us. Dante, I think its your father. I think he also faked his death in the accident at the lab.” Jonathan said, looking sympathetically at Dante. Dante had no visible reaction to the news.
“Who is your father, Dante? Is it anyone we’d know?” Mr. Ages asked.
“My father was...is Dr. Erhard Schultz. Your creator.” Dante said without emotion. Everyone froze with shock, mouths hanging open.
“Let me start from the beginning...” Jonathan said and related the tale of Dante and how he was connected with the twenty eight of NIMH. Dante only occasionally interrupted to fill in a missing piece. When they had finished, the room was still in dead silence.
“Why are you helping us?” Arthur asked.
“Because I’m a part of this, a part of you, a part of all of you. Whether you like it or not. I know this place from top to bottom. I saw its creation through your eyes. Thorn Valley is like home to me and now that home is in danger.” Dante replied seriously.
Rose was shocked. She had seen humans before from a distance on the farm, but to be in the presence of one, even an altered one was very alarming. For a moment she had to fight back the primal instinct to flee at a human presence, but she managed to suppress it. She remembered the pain she had felt from him and Killian. Though different of species they were both capable of the same deep emotions and experiences. She also remembered that in this very office not twenty minutes before, that same human had saved her life and Justin’s also and he had brought Jonathan back to her and had saved Cynthia’s life out in the woods. She could also sense that neither Dante or Killian were being deceptive in their feelings about the revelations of their father’s returns. In both their hearts they deeply cared about Thorn Valley and they would not betray it.
“We have Dr. Schultz who wants to kill us or enslave us again. Jenner who wants to kill us and enslave us, steal the stone and most likely then follow through on his burning desire to destroy the human race and he has an army that out numbers ours by more than four to one odds. I’d say were are in a bit of trouble.” Jonathan said.
“We do have one thing they don’t. We have the stone.” Rose said. Everyone looked to her.
“Jonathan is here now, perhaps he can use the stone now that he can use the Power.” Justin said hopefully. Jonathan suddenly realized where Justin was going with his train of thought.
“He’s right. I’m sure I can do what needs to be done without you putting yourself in danger.” He said to Rose. She frowned.
“I know what you are both getting at, but remember I’m the one most experienced with its use.” She relaxed and then smiled at them both. “I know you are both looking out for my safety. But you must remember that the value of one life is nothing compared to the lives of hundreds. If the time comes, I will use the stone, no matter what the cost, if it means saving all that I hold dear. But try it if you can. With three enemies to fight we may need more than one person to use it.” She said.
“That’s probably why Owen and the others tried to kill us all. They wanted to kill everyone who could use the stone.” Jonathan said.
“It just occurred to me, the reason that all this is happening at once is that perhaps Jenner knew that Dr. Schultz was coming to attack Thorn Valley. So Jenner is actually here to protect it so he can have it for himself. He must be planning to fight Dr. Schultz right here at Thorn Valley. That is going to be very bad. The only possible benefit is that hopefully they might kill each other.” Justin said, then looked to Killian and Dante.
“Hey, I’m sorry, guys.” Justin said apologetically.
“No need for apologies. It would be the best possible outcome.” Killian said.
“I chose to be here on your side, as one of you. He won’t get any support from me.” Dante said.
“But if Jenner has these powers why did he need an army to conquer Thorn Valley? Unless...unless he was going to use the army as a diversion. To get Mrs. Brisby to use the stone and after stopping the army had worn her out he would step in and there would be no one strong enough to stand against him.” Killian said.
“That may well be his plan. I have no doubt that he would sacrifice his army to conquer us. Then we must really be on our guard and speaking of guards. Killian, with Owen dead that makes you the new Captain of the guard.” Justin said. Killian was startled for a moment. He looked Justin in the eye. He could see the enormity of what Justin was offering, he was willing to trust the security of Thorn Valley to him, the son of Jenner. Killian suddenly beamed with pride.
“Yes, sir. I will defend Thorn valley to the death.” Killian said with excitement.
“Good man, I always knew I could count on you.” Justin replied, then walked over to Jonathan and he took the stone and placed it around Jonathan’s neck.
“Good luck, my friend.” Justin said.
“Thank you, Justin.” he replied.
“Arthur. How is the Sanctuary?” Justin asked.
“Everything is good. The people are safe and adequately supplied.” he replied.
“I just worry that if it becomes necessary for them to flee, that since the enemy knows all about us. He will have the hidden exit surrounded to prevent anyone from escaping.” Justin said with concern.
“He won’t hurt them, he does want them alive. We just have to make sure that it doesn’t come to that.” Dante said with determination.
“Excuse me, what exactly is the ‘Sanctuary’?” Jonathan asked.
“The Sanctuary is the end of the two miles of natural cave that was carved by the water that feeds the lake, we discovered them when we were building storage space into the wall of the valley. We have a monorail train that goes to the end and back, that’s our last refuge in case of attack. We have the bare essentials to start over somewhere else stored there, with food, tools and technical equipment that could be easily carried. The caves are also used for storage, and contains several green houses and the reservoir that powers the hydro-electric dam that gives us our power.” Arthur replied.
“That’s amazing.” Jonathan said.
“Mr. Ages, are the medical staff and facilities ready?” Justin asked.
“Yes, everyone and everything is ready.” Mr. Ages replied.
“Tim, I want you to go to the Sanctuary.” Justin said.
“Justin, no! I want to be here where the action is.”
“I’m sorry, Tim, but as vice-president the people will need you to lead them if anything happens to me, we both can’t be in danger at the front. I know you’re a man of action, but the good of the community must be first in your mind.” Justin said. Tim looked angry, but eventually he nodded his head in agreement.
“Is there anything else to discuss?” Justin asked, no one responded. “Everyone return to your posts. Keep me informed of developments.” He said and everyone quickly left the room.
“That was informative.” Jenner said.
“Master, they know our plans.” Mercy said with concern.
“It is of no matter. We will continue according to plan. Dragon will deal with Jonathan Brisby and when the time comes I will deal with Mrs. Brisby. I do find this Dante person fascinating, though. Imagine, to be willing to give up his human form to join with them. He is a wild card in these proceedings, he has the Power and he must be dealt with cautiously.” Jenner said. Mercy wanted to say something, but she knew that Killian was a very sore subject with the Master.
“What troubles you?” He asked. She jumped when he spoke.
“Master, what will we do about Killian?” She asked. To her very great surprise he sighed.
“As you well know, Mercy. We all make choices in life and we must be willing to live or die by those choices.” He replied.
“Yes, Master. I know.” She replied sadly.
“I know your heart, you alone serve me without duplicity. Not even Patrick serves me so faithfully. You alone will would stay with me till the bitter end.” He said.
Mercy was concerned by what he meant by that.
“Master?” She asked.
“How long till the army is in position?” He asked, changing the subject.
“Two hours.” she replied.
“That is not good. They should have been in place an hour ago.” He said with annoyance.
“They have been delayed by the darkness and unfamiliar terrain.”
“My enemy is near, the people of Thorn Valley must not interfere in my battle with him. When the army arrives have General Jabez lead the attack and have One through Five provide magical support. I must lie in wait for the good doctor.”
“Master, what shall I do?” she asked.
“You must save the lives of as many of the full-blood people of Thorn Valley as possible.” He said.
“Yes, sir. I will do my best.” She responded.
“The time is late. We must go. In a few hours world history will be written. All that remains to be seen is in whose handwriting it will be.” He said.
“I want to speak to Snap.” Justin said as he and Killian were leaving the office.
“Are you sure? He’s pretty distraught.”
“Yes, we can’t afford to have him out of action right now, I need to know if he can function or not.” Justin said. Killian led Justin to the door of the room where Snap was kept.
“I’ll return to the front. I don’t think it will help him to see me.” Killian said.
Justin went inside, he found two guards standing at the door. Justin dismissed them and walked over to Snap. Snap sat on the end of a bed with his head in his hands. Justin grabbed him by the collar and pulled him to his feet and pushed him against the wall.
“What were you thinking when you killed him? He knew important information. If Jonathan hadn’t been there to read his mind, we wouldn’t have known that Jenner was behind this attack, not knowing that little detail could easily have cost us our lives. Who gave you the right to be his judge, jury and executioner?”
“Jenner?” Snap asked in horror.
“Yes, Jenner and your little lack of self-control nearly helped him in his plan to attack us.” Justin said angrily
“I’m sorry, Sir. He tried to kill you and the Brisby’s. He deserved to die.”
“Look, Snap. I know you want Jenner dead more than any of us, I know you want to avenge your father’s death, but you have to use your head. This is Thorn Valley, people have rights, you don’t just kill people when you feel like it, even enemies. What’s wrong with you, I thought you had more intelligence than that.”
“When we were out in the hall, Owen said to me that if we didn’t surrender, we’d all die like dogs, like my father did. That was just to much for me to endure.” Snap said. Justin released him.
“Sullivan served Jenner, but in the end he made his choice and tried to undo what he did, it cost him his life, but in laying down his life he saved mine and possibly the entire community. Your father died a hero, Snap. Never let anyone tell you otherwise.”
“Thank you, Justin.” Snap said and sat on the bed again.
“I need to know, can you still do your duty or are you going to go crazy again? We need all guards at the front. Can I still count on you?” Justin demanded. Snap stood and saluted.
“Yes, I can do my duty, sir.”
“Good, you will report to Captain Killian for orders.”
“Killian? Can we trust him?”
“Snap, Killian is not Jenner, his sense of duty and loyalty runs as deep and as passionately as yours. I trust him and so should you.”
“Yes, sir.” Snap replied.
“When this battle is over, there will be a tribunal to decide what disciplinary action should be taken for your actions. But given the circumstances, I seriously doubt you’ll get more than a slap on the wrist for what you did. Remember Snap, if you ever do anything like that again, I will personally see to it that the court throws the book at you. I will not tolerate anything like that ever again. Is that clear?”
“Return to your duties.”
“Yes, sir.” Snap said as Justin led him out the door.
After the meeting broke up, Dante found himself left pretty much to his own devices, except for Justin’s instruction to be at the gate when the alarm was sounded. He wandered the dark and empty halls. His wandering eventually brought him to the cafeteria. It was deserted, but plenty of food had been left out for the defenders. He inhaled deeply and was overjoyed to smell coffee. He found a rat scale mug and poured himself some. It was good, really good even though he had to make do with non-dairy creamer, he then loaded a tray with various foods he found, soup, sandwiches, spaghetti, but the oddest thing he found was grain. He had certainly eaten things made with wheat, but he had never had wheat as an entree before.
“When in Rome.” He said and dug in. At a nearby table he found a discarded newspaper. He laid it out before him as he ate and read it with great curiosity. The articles were of no real interest as they mostly dealt with the mundane day to day affairs of Thorn Valley, what he did find interesting was the entertainment section of the paper. To his surprise there were two comic strips and a crossword puzzle and in the place of the movie section was the music and theater performance section. He was surprised when he saw the play that was advertised and was more surprised to see who it was starring in the lead.
“May I join you?” Asked a friendly feminine voice. Dante looked up to see Cynthia Brisby standing at the table with a tray of food, she was still covered in grime and grease paint with bow and arrows strapped over her shoulder. He quickly stood.
“Certainly.” He responded and sat back down after she sat.
“I want to thank you, Dante. You saved Carl and I in the woods and my family’s lives in the office.” She said and smiled.
“Your welcome, but no thanks are necessary. After all, we are in a state of war, we must all look out for each other.” He replied.
“True, but I give credit where credit is due.”
“How do you feel? You took a bit of a beating back in Justin’s office.”
“A few bumps and bruises, but nothing broken.” She said and after a few moments of thought she spoke again. “If I may ask, how did you meet my father?”
Dante stopped and thought for a while. How much did he dare tell her? He thought about the terrible guilt that Jonathan had always felt because of hiding the truth about himself from his family and here he sat, facing the smiling face of the youngest Brisby, the one who knew the least about her father, was he going to lie to her or keep her in the dark. But as he thought about it, this wasn’t about Jonathan. He was hesitating to speak about himself. Did he want her to know the truth about himself? He might be dead in a few hours, what did it matter?
“How much time do you think we have?” He asked.
“An hour, maybe two.” she replied. While she ate, he told her the entire story about himself and of everything that he and Jonathan had been through the last few days. She listened wide eyed with amazement. As he spoke he drew out his wallet and showed her his drivers license.
“This is the real me.” He said. She looked at the small plastic card in amazement. She looked at the picture and then at him. Even for how remarkable the transformation was she could still see the shadow of his former self in his current look. She saw the birth date. He was chronologically older than any of the eldest members of the community by several life times. Even the late Nicodemus would have been younger than him, yet Dante seemed to her to be only about Tim’s age and maturity. He was in college when she was born. She knew that humans age differently and that certainly put it in perspective. She handed the card back to him.
“Its amazing you can be that old.” She said in astonishment.
“Old? Its going to be a long time till I’m old. Well, how old are you?”
“I’m five years old.” She replied. Dante froze with shock. She smiled.
“Dante, for those of us with the NIMH genes its about four years from birth to full adulthood. Which may not seem like much compared to a human lifespan, but its much longer than the entire life span of a natural rat or mouse, my mother is perhaps six years old, but she is an exception to the rule. Bear in mind we still have no idea what our life expectancy is so we don’t know what percentage of our life is spent in childhood. Those that came from NIMH still appear young and healthy.” she replied, amused by his surprise. “You explained why your here now. What about after all this? What will you do?” She asked. After he recovered his voice he responded.
“I don’t know. The race to get here and fight has been so all consuming that I hadn’t really given that any thought. Ask me again when this is all over.” He replied.
“How do you like being one of us?”
“Its not so bad, a little disorienting at first. I lost over five and a half feet of height and about one hundred and sixty pounds of weight. I like the greatly increased senses of sight, hearing and smell. There’s nothing actually bad about it. But there are some things that are really annoying.”
“Such as?” she asked with amusement.
“The tail, its going to take some getting use to. I nearly got it caught in a door earlier and lets not forget these.” he said and grabbed his nose and one of his whiskers.
“The human nose is so small that you just don’t notice it, but having a muzzle instead is really a nuisance, with it I’ve lost nearly a full quarter of my field of vision. A bigger annoyance are the whiskers, because they are constantly moving. Since I am not accustomed to them my attention is always being drawn to them. I’m sure that in time I’ll get used to them and won’t even notice their there and on top of all that I see that the once simple act of combing my hair is going to take a lot longer now.” He said. She chuckled.
“You know all about me. Tell me about yourself.” Dante said. She smiled shyly and began telling him about herself and her family.
“...and for the longest time people just thought I was stupid. But Mr. Ages finally figured out what the problem was. It was because I had mixed parents. My siblings and I are a mix of normal and altered genes. Teresa, Martin and Tim matured faster than full NIMH gene children, so when I didn’t share their accelerated development they just thought I was dumb, but I was maturing slower, like the full NIMH gene children. So in time I reached full maturity. But it was very frustrating as a child being thought of as stupid. But in a sense I can’t really blame them. We Brisby children are the only mixed gene people in the community. There just wasn’t any way of knowing what the hereditary effects of mixed genes are and their effects on development.” She said with a hint of bitterness in her voice. He opened his mouth to speak but suddenly the P.A. system came to life.
“To battle stations! The enemy has reached the valley!” They heard Justin shout. In a flash Cynthia and Dante were on their feet heading to the entrance. When they got near the area was crowded with guards, everyone with a bow and a sword. A series of staggered barricades had been erected in the hall to the main entrance. They had to force their way to the front of the pack. At the entrance they found Justin, Killian, Rose and Jonathan. Dante noticed that Killian was wielding the now rat-sized shotgun and bandoleers in addition to his sword.
“Mother, what are you doing here?” Cynthia asked in alarm.
“It might be necessary for me to use the stone, dear.” She replied.
“But mother, the strain might kill you.” Cynthia said weakly. Rose just smiled and hugged her.
“Cynthia, you shouldn’t be here. Its not safe.” Jonathan said with concern. Her angry look startled those standing nearby. She readied her bow and got in line with the other archers.
“Jon, she’s not a little girl anymore. This is where she belongs.” Justin said sadly. Jonathan looked to Cynthia.
“I’m sorry, Cynthia.” He said. Her angry look faded.
“Its all right. I understand.” She said and smiled at him. Killian interrupted the scene.
“Guards! Listen carefully. We will now take our positions. We will line up in three rows on each side of the entrance. At my command you will begin volleying shots and at my command you will withdraw from the field into the entrance. We do not have the forces to repel them on the field of battle so we will fight a defensive battle. We can do more damage when we make them fight on our terms. Go!” He shouted and the troops marched out and formed six lines of ten each. Rose waited at the entrance.
“You be careful, Jonathan Brisby. I don’t want to become your widow a second time.” She said with tears in her eyes. He held her tightly and kissed her.
“Rose, my love, Don’t worry. I’ll be back in just a little while.” Jonathan said as he and Dante left the entrance. Rose couldn’t suppress a shudder at Jonathan’s words. Those were the exact same words he uttered that terrible day when he had left their cinderblock home for the last time all those years ago.
Dante walked up to where Justin and Killian were standing. Using his binoculars, Killian could see the enemy army approaching. Out in front were four figures, three were wearing medallions, the numbers they bore were ‘2, 4 and 5’ and the forth was a huge armored rat with a sword.
Dante knew that they would not be walking into enemy archers without some form of protection. He could even feel it. He instantly knew that the only way the Thorn Valley guards were going to have a chance was if he could neutralize the magical strength of the enemy. Jonathan had to be ready to deal with Jenner and Dr. Schultz when they showed themselves. Killian and the others had only conventional weapons. He with his powers and his sword would have to be the equalizer.
“Killian, let me go ahead. They are going to have magic on their side. I will be able to even the odds if I can destroy their chain of command.” Dante said with absolute seriousness. Killian just looked at him in amazement.
“Killian. He isn’t joking, he can do it. Justin and I have seen him in action. I can sense the enemy has shielded itself from our arrows. I could undo it but I need every bit of strength I have for when Jenner and Dr. Schultz show up.” Jonathan said with conviction. Killian looked at Justin and Jonathan, two of the greatest heroes in the history of their people. They both honestly believed that Dante could just walk up to the enemy alone and gut it of its most powerful leaders. He looked at Dante. The mouse had a look of absolute confidence and determination on his face.
“I hope for our sakes that you can really do as you say.” Killian said.
“Have no fear of that, my friend. As soon as the enemy is within arrow range, begin firing. Don’t worry about me, hurt them as much as possible for as long as possible. I’ll look after myself.” He replied.
“Good luck, Dante.” Justin and Jonathan said. Dante turned and began walking toward the oncoming enemy. Behind him he heard one last voice.
“Be careful, Dante.” Cynthia Brisby called out.
Dante marched alone toward the enemy, the only light coming from the roaring bonfires that dotted the valley floor. Why am I doing this? He asked himself. Thorn Valley isn’t my home, as much as I want to pretend, these are not my people. To them I am the enemy, Humanity. They just want me here to fight for them. They don’t care about me.
My only connection to them are stolen memories of their lives, none of it is real to me. On top of all of this I will have to stand against my own father. A man obsessed with destroying this side effect of his work. But wasn’t that what he always did. His touch destroyed everything and everyone it came in contact with. Now he was trying to destroy the one thing he created that had survived his kiss of death. These people, this civilization was now fighting for its very survival. Death and/or slavery is all that awaits them if they fail. Why would they not seek out every possible source of help? Jonathan hadn’t forced me to come here. I came of my own accord. I could have said no when he asked if I would help him. I could have left him when we arrived at the park, but I willingly followed. I am here because I want to be. All my life I have never fit in, I have never had any sense of belonging, being wanted or needed. To father I was nothing more than an experimental subject. Aunt Rita looked after me not out of love, but only out of duty to her late sister. I am here because I feel I am one of them and I will be one of them truly afterward if they will have me. Dante thought as he neared the enemy leaders. The armored rat raised a hand to his army when they saw Dante approach. To Dante’s surprise the entire army stopped. Dante walked boldly up to them.
“You have given us an ultimatum, now I give you one. Surrender or flee now and avoid bloodshed. Fight and you will all perish.” Dante said with disturbing sincerity. The armored rat roared with laughter. He crouched down so he could look Dante face to face. He pointed the tip of his sword at Dante’s chest. Dante saw Two step back a few steps.
“The mighty Justin sends a little white mouse to deliver his threats.” He said and laughed, those nearby also began laughing, including Four and Five, Dante used their moment of distraction to strike. The strange white haze descended over his vision, he quickly reached out and grasped the rat’s sword blade with his bare hands and snapped it off, then he did a lightning fast spin and drove the broken blade through the rat’s armor, into his chest, he gasped and fell back dead, then with blinding speed he drew his sword and slew Four and Five before they even had a chance to act. The entire army took a step back.
“Who will dare to dance with the little white mouse?” Dante taunted, looked around and pointed it at Two and began walking toward him, Two began walking backwards.
“Attack him, you fools!” He shouted at his army. The soldiers suddenly overcame their collective shock and attacked. He cut through the enemy as he relentlessly pursued Two. Suddenly, Two hurled a huge ball of fire in his direction. It incinerated the rats in its path, Dante managed to dive out of its way. He threw several more as Dante neared him, each one burning a terrible path through the enemy army. The enemy continued to attack him and he continued to cut them down, to him it seemed every enemy was moving in slow motion. He was nearing Two, he could see panic growing in the rat’s eyes. The army now began falling back from their presence. Leaving the two of them in a large circle. A large area opened up behind Dante, as those rats didn’t want to be on the receiving end of anymore of Two’s attacks. With each of his steps forward, Two took a step back.
“Two, you pathetic, cowardly, unimaginative fool!” A harsh voice called out from behind him. He turned quickly. One strode out into the open area.
“Help me, One.” Two pleaded. A sword materialized in One’s hand, he walked up to Two and ran him through with it.
“How you got to be Two I’ll never understand.” He said with contempt and faced Dante. Dante saw that there was no mocking or amusement on his face. He knew how dangerous Dante was.
“Dragon!” One shouted. A guttural growl responded from the darkness behind the army.
“Go forward, destroy Jonathan Brisby.” One commanded. Suddenly Dante saw an enormous shape leap out of the darkness high above him. The cat leaped over the entire army. His landing caused the ground to shake. The cat began running toward the defenders of Thorn Valley. Dante realized that Jonathan was going to get his chance to get even with Dragon after all. Dante looked to One.
“I have a feeling you are going to be more of a challenge than Two, Three and Four and Five.”
“Absolutely.” One replied.
A wave of sheer terror went through the defenders at the sight of Dragon leaping out of the darkness. He was now rushing toward them. Jonathan had felt the defensive shield of the enemy fall just moments before. Dante had accomplished his task. Now Dragon had to be dealt with.
“Guards, fall back!” Killian commanded.
“Wait, leave Dragon to me.” Jonathan said and began walking forward.
“Jonathan, no!” Justin called out.
“I know what I’m doing.” He replied. Rose just closed her eyes and prayed that he would return from this encounter with Dragon. Dragon slowed to a walk as he approached the frightened defenders. He saw Jonathan and paused.
“We’ve got a score to settle, cat. You ruined my life and took me away from everyone that I loved.” Jonathan said. His eyes began to glow and the stone slowly began to glow also. Dragon let out a terrifying roar and raised a taloned paw to strike Jonathan down. Jonathan just raised his hands. Justin, Killian and Cynthia rushed forward to vainly protect him, but as they neared him they were suddenly thrown to the ground by the heat and intensity of the energy discharge that erupted from his hands. When the smoke and fire cleared, all that remained of Dragon was his charred skeleton. Still intact, his paw still upraised. The defenders, after overcoming their amazement all cheered. Jonathan, singed and exhausted collapsed to the ground. Killian quickly picked him up and rushed him to the entrance.
“I think I was a little excessive.” Jonathan said apologetically to his wife.
“I don’t care, how are you?” She asked with great concern.
“I’m fine, but I can’t believe how weak I feel. I know you warned me about this. I just had no idea.” He replied weakly and noticed that his shirt was smoldering where the stone had rested against it.
“Jon, are you all right? Still strong enough for more when the time comes?” Justin asked.
“I’m ready for anything. Don’t worry about that.” Jonathan assured them. He just wished he could convince himself.
“Here they come!” Killian shouted to the defenders.
“There is no need to die tonight, human. The Master is willing to spare you if you will serve him.” One said with sincerity.
“No.” was Dante’s reply.
“Why must you all be such fools?” One asked with annoyance. Their discussion was interrupted by a blinding flash of light coming from the direction of the defenders, followed by the smell of burnt cat.
“Dragon has served his purpose, Jonathan Brisby is now to weak to wield the stone. The defenses are weakening. You cannot triumph. This is your last chance to surrender.” One said.
“No.” Dante repeated.
“So be it. Army, forward! Attack!” One shouted and began slowly advancing at Dante.
Dante saw the army suddenly surge forward toward the defenders. He wanted to help but he had a little problem of his own to deal with.
“Archers begin volley. Fire at will.” Killian shouted. Suddenly in addition to the archers on the field, the windows on the levels above the entrance opened and archers appeared and began firing also. The archers rained down arrows on the swiftly approaching enemy. Undeterred, the enemy charged forward over the bodies of the dead and wounded, slowed only slightly by the barricade and spikes. Killian gave the order for the lines to start falling back. Killian and the others got to the entrance and sealed and barred the thick wooden doors seconds before the enemy reached them. They could hear the enemy pound against it and hack at it. The defenders fell back to the staggered barricades in the main hall.
“Where’s Cynthia?” They heard Rose cry out in alarm. Killian looked at Justin with concern.
“She wouldn’t have been foolhardy enough to stay out there alone to help Dante would she?” Killian asked. Justin nodded sadly.
“Of course she stayed out there alone to help Dante. She’s a Brisby, its in her blood.” He replied.
Cynthia crept stealthily through the shadows as she evaded the enemy army which had gathered to try to break down the doors at the entrance to the living area. Far in the distance she could see Dante and a rat engaged in a fierce duel. Dante you saved many lives today, mine included. You must be mad to think that I will just let you stay out here and die. I know you told us to leave you behind, but I owe you to much to do that. She thought as she silently and invisibly made her way toward the battle.
Dante quickly realized that he was fighting an equal. Owen had been good, but One was better. One had speed and reflexes equal to his own and also had the additional advantage of size and strength. One was able to match him blow for blow. One drew first blood while Dante dodged his powerful swing. Dante leaped back holding his gashed arm, it wasn’t cut deep, but it startled Dante, this is the first time an enemy had connected with him since his encounter with Three. He took several cautious steps back. He cast a quick glance at the entrance to the living area. The enemy army had not broken through, but they were certainly trying their hardest to do so. Dante moved in closer to One. They exchanged a quick flurry of strikes that the other blocked, they both jumped back. Dante turned and attacked, he dodged One’s swing and stabbed One in the abdomen, as Dante ducked and pulled back, One swung his sword and gashed Dante’s right ear. Dante attacked and One grabbed Dante’s sword by the blade and it instantly grew red hot and broke it off at the middle. Dante cried out in pain and released it. One kicked Dante so hard he went tumbling backward. I must keep him occupied, as long as he’s concentrating on me, he can’t help his army. Dante thought to himself as he struggled to his feet. One came charging toward him, he ducked and dodged several furious sword swings. Then as he dodged a swing, Dante quickly reached up and grabbed One’s sword arm and twisted it, then broke it, causing One to drop his sword. With his good arm One struck Dante across the face with a stunning blow. He then picked up Dante and threw him back. Dante landed hard. Dante was trying to get to his feet when One rushed over and kicked him in the ribs, causing him to collapse to the ground. One grabbed Dante’s tail and with a great burst of strength, he lifted Dante off the ground and began spinning him over his head by the tail and then violently slammed him down onto the ground. The blow knocked Dante senseless. One retrieved his sword and stood above the battered body of Dante.
“You should have joined us, you fool.” He said and put his foot on Dante’s neck and raised his sword high. Dante could only look up helplessly at the rat. His life flashed before his eyes, well not exactly his life. It belonged to a rat named Tom, who was a plumber and a member of the 22. I’m going to die and someone else’s life is flashing before my eyes. That’s just perfect. He thought as he waited for the sword.
Suddenly, an arrow struck One in the chest. One looked up and then collapsed to the ground. Dante turned his head and saw Cynthia Brisby step out of the shadows.
“Dante, are you all right?” She asked with great concern. He smiled weakly.
“I’ll live, thank you.” He replied as she helped him to his feet. He retrieved One’s large sword and looked toward the defenses. The enemy had just about broken through the doors. They moved as fast as they could, but Dante was still so weak he needed Cynthia to give him support. From a distance they watched helplessly as the invaders broke through the doors. They immediately heard the sounds of fierce fighting and shotgun blasts coming from inside. Cynthia and Dante increased their pace. Dante suddenly stopped.
“Cynthia, I have to do this alone. There are still to many of them.” He said. She was startled when she saw his eyes begin to glow bright white. He lifted the sword and seemingly with restored strength, strode forward into the enemy as before and began cutting them to pieces. Cynthia watched in amazement as after several minutes of this punishing two front attack, the invaders began to retreat, soon the defenders emerged from the entrance and again began firing arrows at the enemy. Dante and Cynthia took that opportunity to rejoin the ranks of the defenders. By now the enemy army had been reduced by far more than half, they fled rapidly now. They had almost gotten out of the area illuminated by the bonfires when suddenly an immense presence materialized in front of them. It was the now human sized Jenner.
“I’m disappointed, I thought I had made it clear that I expect you all to fight to the death.” He said and with a wave of his hand he incinerated his army, then he stepped over their remains and approached the defenders.
“Jenner!” Killian exclaimed. He was quickly joined at the front by Justin, Jonathan and Rose. They all shuddered in horror at their own particular memories of Jenner.
“Killian?” Justin asked and put a reassuring hand on his shoulder. Killian turned quickly to face Justin.
“I will not betray you. I will not betray Thorn Valley. If you have any doubt as to my loyalty then strike me down here and now.” He said with obvious conviction. Justin met his gaze.
“Killian, I trust you with my life.” He replied with absolute seriousness. They turned and watched Jenner stride boldly toward them.
“Jonathan, give me the stone.” Rose said softly.
“Rose, I can take care of him.” Jonathan said, his fatigue very obvious.
“You can’t and you know it. Please, Jonathan, there isn’t much time.” she pleaded. He looked at her with a look of such utter sorrow that it brought tears to her eyes. She kissed him and gently took the stone from around his neck. He held her tightly as they waited for Jenner. Shortly Jenner stood before them.
“I see the welcoming committee has come out to see me. Justin, so good to see you again. I wish to thank you, my friend.” Jenner said with what appeared to be sincerity.
“Thank me? For what?” Justin asked.
“You were right about everything. Had I killed you on the farm, we all would have perished the next day at the rosebush. I freely admit that I was wrong about the Plan. Our people have thrived here. But now a greater enemy is coming quickly to destroy you, submit to me and I will protect you. Without my help you and your loved ones will all perish. But with me, then there is nothing that could stop us or harm us ever again. I really don’t want to see you all killed.” He said, then looked to Killian.
“Killian, my son. Join me and all is forgiven.” He said. Rose felt Killian’s resolve waver just for an instant as he heard his father utter the three words he had waited most of his life to hear, but he quickly steeled himself and his uncertainty turned to rage.
“Join you? I have made it my life’s work to escape you. I am not your son. Your son died with his throat slit by your own hand. I am not the son of Jenner, I am the son of Nell, you are a butcher, murderer, coward and fool!” Killian shouted in anger. Jenner maintained a look of aloofness, but Rose could feel genuine hurt from him. He turned and stormed off into the darkness.
“The other guest to this party will soon arrive. Mrs. Brisby, you have the power to defeat one of us, but not both. You must all submit to either I or Dr. Schultz. So choose wisely.” He said threateningly.
You paid a terrible price the last time you underestimated me, Jenner. Now you will pay an even higher price this time. I am not the helpless, frightened little field mouse I was the last time we met. No, your evil turned this mouse into a lion. Rose thought to herself. She looked to the remnant of Jenner’s army, now huddled together, cowering in the presence of their master. At least for the moment her loved ones were safe. She looked at the stone, a faint glimmer appeared in it.
A loud rumbling came from the clouds over the valley. Suddenly a powerful bolt of lightning struck the floor of the valley, leaving in its wake, a man.
“I guess that’s dad.” Dante said.
The man raised his hands to the sky.
“Thorn Valley at last! I will now remove this ‘Thorn’ from my side!” He shouted and he held out his hands and powerful arcs of power leapt from them, striking the walls of the valley, causing showers of stone to rain down on those below. The man turned toward the defenders. He was wearing a white lab coat, brown slacks and blue shirt and on his face were a pair of battered horn rimmed glasses.
“Yep, that’s dad.” Dante said quietly.
Dr. Schultz called out to the defenders.
“So this is the little world you vermin have built for yourselves.” He said mockingly and sent another discharge toward the walls of the valley. “For years I have hunted you all. Now at last you are within my grasp.” He looked at Justin and Jonathan. “I know you both, A-9 and G-7. I have felt your power. I could sense the growing threat that you posed to my kind. As long as you had access to the Power, no human was safe. Tonight all this will come to an end and then once this threat has been removed then I will bring peace to the world. But to show that I am not a cruel man, I will not kill you, I will return you all to your natural state and take you back to the city from which you were taken.” He said calmly.
“Human scum! You will take nothing from us! Tonight it is humanity that will come to an end!” Jenner shouted and appeared behind him. Quickly and grotesquely Dr. Schultz’s head turned 180 degrees to face Jenner.
“A-13, I have eagerly awaited this moment for a long time. I have wanted revenge for your attack on my lab and your attempt to kill me.” Dr. Schultz said, then he smirked.
“You have even brought Mercy with you, I see. Tonight I will indeed get to tie up all my loose ends.” He said with satisfaction and his body turned to match the direction his head was facing. The stragglers from Jenner’s army that still remained on the battle field quickly fled as the two mortal enemies faced each other. Looks of intense hatred on their faces. Each was the embodiment of the other’s worst fears.
Both began to glow. The defenders fell back to the entrance. They all watched in amazement as great arcs of power leaped back and forth between the two. Rose watched and waited, it seemed to her that she was the only one present on either side that saw the value of patients when using the Power. Everyone seemed intent on making a big production of it and wearing themselves out very quickly. That is what she was expecting to happen now. Jenner, you are right. I don’t have the power to defeat you both on your terms, but that is not my way. ‘Courage of the heart is very rare, the stone has a power when its there’ Nicodemus told me. In fact courage, love, hate and fear can all bring the stone to life. That is why you want it so desperately, Jenner. Control of the Power comes from within, hate is what gives you both your powers. All I need to do is wait and strike at whatever gives you focus and then I can take away the Power from both of you. she thought. Using her empathy she gently probed the minds of the two combatants. Their rage blocked her attempts to get inside their heads, but she continued probing, waiting for a moment of weakness.
The enemies still stood facing each other silently. The arcs of Power grew more powerful, striking the ground and valley walls causing everything to shake. The power the two radiated was now at almost blinding intensity.
Rose could feel the moment to strike was drawing near. She turned to Jonathan with tears in her eyes.
“Jonathan, my love, I’m afraid that I’ll have to leave you shortly.” She said sadly and hugged him, they were quickly joined by a tearful Cynthia, who was to choked up for words.
“No, Rose don’t do it.” Jonathan pleaded.
“Rose, let me try the stone.” Justin asked hopefully.
“I’m sorry Justin, I’m the only one experienced enough with it to do what must be done.” She replied. She looked into Jonathan’s sad eyes.
“Jonathan. I have lived a life that was longer and fuller than one of my kind could ever hope to have. I have lived to see my children grow up and I have lived to see
you come home to us. It would be selfish to ask for anything more. Jonathan, be a good father and a good grandfather.” she said and looked to Cynthia.
“Sweet little Cynthia. I am so proud of you. I am sorry that we ever doubted you.” She said. Cynthia just smiled and hugged her mother. Rose looked to Justin.
“Dear Justin. You have been such a blessing to the children and I, words cannot express my gratitude.” She said. Justin knelt and hugged them all. After a short time she reluctantly disengaged herself from their tight embrace.
“Please tell Teresa, Martin, Tim and Jenny that I love them all so very much and when the baby is born let them know that I loved them also.” She said sadly and approached the entrance. She turned one last time to see their sad, tearful gazes and was very touched to see that even Killian and Dante had tears in their eyes. She turned away quickly and gazed at Jenner and Dr. Schultz.
I am not a hateful person, but I hate you both. The two of you have brought nothing but sorrow, suffering and fear to all those whom I love and now you are robbing me of what precious little time I had left to be with them. I accept that stopping the two of you will be the death of me and I have no desire to meet my maker with your blood on my hands, but I swear to both of you that I will do whatever it takes to guarantee that neither of you will ever be a threat to Thorn Valley or its inhabitants ever again. She thought grimly and stepped out of the entrance and waited. She didn’t have to wait long. The battle between the two adversaries quickly grew to terrifying proportions and then it suddenly stopped. Both combatants collapsed to the ground. Rose heard Justin shout.
“Killian, Dante come back!” She saw Killian and Dante rush past her toward their respective fathers. She could feel the strength of Jenner and Dr. Schultz was weak, but quickly they were rallying their strength. She still didn’t have a way inside their minds yet, their rage still to intense to break through, but when she saw Killian and Dante going to their fathers. She instantly knew how she would stop this menace. It seemed to her like destiny, that the fathers and sons should meet like this. Destiny and Deliverance. She could sense many strong emotions from them all. She watched as Jenner returned to his true size and astonishingly, as Dante returned to his true size and form. The two enemies seemingly having forgetting about the other as they were both confronted by the sons that they had abandoned so long ago. Their rage faded in the presence of their sons, their defenses fell. She grasped the stone, it blazed to life at her touch. She was quickly engulfed by its glowing radiance, she felt overwhelmed by its great power. The time had come, she knew what she had to do. She closed her eyes and felt her awareness divide in two, one half rushed to Dante and the other to Killian.
“Father.” Killian struggled to say. It was a word he had not uttered since he was a small child. Jenner gazed coldly at his son.
“Killian. I hope you have the sense to abandon those doomed fools and chosen to join me and live.” He said. What tiny flame of hope Killian had allowed to flicker within himself died instantly. He looked sadly at his father.
“Did you know that I spent the first half of my life wishing you were dead and the second half wishing you were still alive? I see now that I have in fact wasted the second half of my life. No, Jenner. I haven’t come to join you, I’ve come to kill you. You have left me with no other choice. Thorn Valley must be saved.” He said and raised the shotgun and pointed it at Jenner. If Jenner was shocked or alarmed by this action he did not show it. He just maintained his evil smirk. An instant later they were both engulfed by blinding white light.
“Mrs. Brisby!” Jenner cried out in alarm. Rose grabbed Killian by the hand and they were instantly drawn into Jenner.
“Dad!” Dante shouted as he approached the enormous form of his father, laying on the ground. Dr. Schultz’s eyes opened slowly and he looked at the tiny white mouse that had called him ‘Dad’. His eyes opened wide in surprise, then narrowed in anger.
“Dante. How can you be here? Why are you among them, why have you become one of them?” He demanded angrily. Dr. Schultz rose to his feet and waved a hand over his son and moments later Dante stood before him restored to his true human form. Dante had kept his feelings about his father’s return bottled up tightly inside himself since he had first heard about it in Justin’s office, but now there was no need for restraint.
“How dare you ask me why I’m here? You already know the answer. You made me one of them. I was just another one of your lab animals. Why didn’t you just name me A-21 instead of Dante? All the survivors of project Titan are here. We have banded together for protection against the likes of you and Jenner. What we have created here will not be destroyed by either of you.” Dante said and raised his sword. Dr. Schultz looked at him with contempt.
“If you have chosen to be one of them, so be it, then you will share their fate. Living in the sewers of the city, eating garbage and struggling desperately to stay alive in the urban jungle. No memory of who or what any of you once were.” Dr. Schultz said grimly and waved a hand at Dante, returning him to his rodent form. He reached down to try to grasp Dante, but he leaped out of the way, slashing Dr. Schultz’s hand with his sword. They were instantly engulfed in blinding white light. Dante became aware of Rose grabbing his hand and before Dr. Schultz could react, they were both drawn inside him.
“Dante, What is this place?” Rose asked. He looked at her. He was now in his human form again and she was as large as he was. He looked around. It was night, only moonlight to illuminate the scene. In the distance, they could see a small number of crumbling buildings, surrounded by high barbed wire fences. They approached cautiously. Near the gate were several very heavily armed guards with half a dozen vicious German shepherds on leashes. Dante slowly approached. The guards and dogs seemed completely unaware of their presence. They walked more boldly now through the gate. The entire place reeked of death.
“Where are we?” Dante asked.
“We are in your father’s mind, the only place I have the power to stop him. He is weakest here. If I can I will take the Power from him here.” She replied. They walked slowly and carefully through this terrible place. She could sense Dante’s horror and revulsion at this place. She was not familiar with human history and could not imagine what this place was or what it represented. But when she and Dante encountered a red flag with a black cross on a white circle she felt Dante shudder with horror. They both felt drawn to a large building. They went in and made their way deep inside. In the middle of the building was an operating table with a human body strapped to it, body and face were completely covered, but the entire brain had been exposed. Operating on the brain was a man Dante recognized from the picture he had found in his father’s footlocker. It was his own grandfather. He also seemed unaware of their presence and was speaking in German to someone in the shadows. Dante saw a small terrified child sitting on a stool, helplessly watching these horrific experiments. Dante recognized the child to be his father. Dante stepped between his father and his grandfather. The child sat there and continued looking forward. The child’s head had been shaved and there was a long scar on the side of his head, identical to the one Dante had received as a child. Dante reached out and grabbed the child by the shoulders and shook him.
“Snap out of it, dad!” Dante shouted. Slowly, awareness seemed to come to the child’s vacant features.
“Dante?” The child whispered.
“Yes, its me.” He replied. The child smiled for a few moments, then the terrified, helpless look returned to his features.
“I have to stop them, some how. They must not have the Power. Imagine what they will do to the world if they have it.” the child said with panic in his voice.
“Dad, they didn’t get it. They were beaten. The war is long over, they lost.”
“If not them then someone else will try to get it. It must be me. I have to control it before anyone can use it against mankind. If I can beat them to it, then I can stop them all, I can make the world a safe place for everyone. No more war, no more hate.”
Suddenly the room they were in began to fade. The child that sat on the stool began to age rapidly, in seconds the child had grown to middle age, in his arms he held an infant and he now spoke to the child he held.
“I have to be the first. Others even now are trying to discover its secrets. I must put all other thoughts and concerns aside. When I have triumphed, when mankind is safe, then I can make it up to you and your mother. Then I’ll be the father and husband that you and your mother truly deserve.” They suddenly found themselves standing around a fresh grave. The name on the stone was ‘Mina Schultz’ Dr. Schultz stood beside his wife’s grave, tears running down his face.
“I’m sorry I couldn’t be there for you at the end, Mina, but I am getting so close. At last I’m nearing the final stages of preparation. My project has been approved. Soon, so soon it will all be over. I promise to take good care of Dante and hopefully one day he can forgive me and understand that what I’m doing I’m doing for him.” He said sadly. They suddenly found themselves standing in a laboratory. Two humans were in the background working. Rose knew this place. She had never set foot here, but she knew it all the same, from the mouths of the 28 she had heard this place described so many times she knew it in an instant. This was the infamous NIMH. She walked past the oblivious humans and examined the cages. She remembered that Dr. Schultz had referred to Justin and Jonathan as ‘A-9 and G-7’ she approached the cages and peered inside. In the cage marked A-9 she saw a brown rat that she recognized as Justin. In the cage next to his she recognized Nicodemus. She quickly made her way to the cages that held the mice. Inside cage G-7 she found Jonathan. Suddenly Dr. Schultz appeared wearing a white lab coat.
“Results were better than expected. A-10’s in particular. Without a doubt the animals in this lab are the smartest non-human life forms on the planet. It would appear it is time to take this to the next step.” Dr. Schultz said, a maniacal expression came over his features. Everything blurred to darkness. Now Dr. Schultz stood before them, his white lab coat was now spattered with blood. He had a deranged look on his face. Dr. Schultz fell to his knees.
“What have I done? I cut up my own son! I experimented on my own son! Please merciful God, kill me!” He shouted in anguish and pounded his fists on the floor. Everything blurred again and they found themselves back in the lab. This time the cages were empty, their doors all ajar. Dr. Schultz stood staring down at the open ventilator and the thread that was tied to the grill disappearing into the shaft.
“They have escaped. Now I have created a new threat to the human race. I must find them before they kill us all.” he said gravely. Then things blurred again and they found themselves standing in a cheap motel room. An older and very haggard Dr. Schultz sat on the end of the bed with his head in his hands.
“They have stolen Mercy from me. Now I can no longer track them. I have wasted to much time chasing after them. They are smarter and more clever than I was willing to give them credit for. I must forget about them for now. I must concentrate on my original goal, now more than ever. They are more powerful than I had imagined. Mercy had confirmed that. I must develop the powers more fully within myself. I have delayed this to long. Now all energy must be put to that goal.” He said.
“Dante, we must do something, when he gets to the point in his mind when he gains the Power, he will regain his focus and we will be powerless to stop him.” Rose said urgently. Dante felt like he had awakened from a dream. Seemingly his mind had been trying to shut out the intense emotions and terrible images he was witnessing. He didn’t really understand what she meant, but from the tone in her voice it was important that she be obeyed. He walked over to his father and pulled him to his feet.
“Dad, you’ve got to stop this madness. You are the greater threat to the human race than they are. Mrs. Brisby, help me! Make him understand!” Dante shouted. He saw her eyes glow brightly and her gaze locked with Dr. Schultz’s. Dante felt his own mind being opened and the memories and emotions of the 28 began filling his father’s mind. He saw his father’s mouth fall open and his expression turn to one of complete horror, as he was forced to experience what they had seen and lived through and she made him see and feel all that Dante had gone through in his life. The loneliness, the unhappiness and the isolation. When it was over Dr. Schultz staggered back and fell to the ground. Dante ran over to him, but Dr. Schultz pushed him back and struggled to his feet.
“I have become what I despised most. I have become the monster.” He looked to Dante with tears in his eyes.
“Dante...forgive me.” He said, the lab appeared briefly around them and just as quickly it began breaking apart and disintegrating, revealing a swirling vortex beyond them and slowly coming out of the vortex was a tendril of darkness. He turned and faced the vortex and then looked back at Dante and Rose.
“Leave quickly!” He shouted and Rose could feel Dr. Schultz suddenly find his focus, but not one of hate, one of concern. Dr. Schultz raised his hands and Dante and Rose felt themselves thrown violently out of Dr. Schultz’s mind. Rose felt Dr. Schultz yield his Power to her as they were expelled. It was nearly overwhelming as his Power was added to her already great powers.
Dante suddenly became aware that he was still a mouse and that he had been laying on the grass next to his father’s head. He looked to his father, he appeared to be unconscious. Dante looked around for Rose and saw her standing over near the entrance. The glow form her body was impossible to look at directly. Dante turned to Jenner. He could see that Killian lay unconscious by his father. He wondered if Rose was doing the same thing with Killian and Jenner.
Rose and Killian felt lost in the darkness of Jenner’s soul. Feelings of overwhelming evil and hate assaulted them. They witnessed terrifying images of his madness.
“Where are we going?” Killian asked nervously.
“To find something Justin told me about.” She replied. They plunged deeper into the black and twisted mind of Jenner. Both were horrified at the things that they saw and heard. They dug through his life and witnessed the murders of Nicodemus and Sullivan. they saw the creation of Jenner’s rouge colony and the pain and suffering of its captives.
They pressed on through the darkness, going back years.
“Go no further!” Jenner’s voice commanded out of the darkness.
“We must.” Rose responded. Then before her horrified eyes she saw images of the violent deaths that her children and husband would suffer by Jenner’s hand if she continued. She felt her own focus weaken.
“Go no further!” The voice repeated, but there was a slight hint of desperation in the voice.
“I’m sorry, I really wish there could have been another way.” Killian said sadly and grabbed Rose and drew her onward into the darkness. That drew her back to her senses. Moments later she found herself on a large barren plain. The sky above her was gray and overcast. She saw a dark form in the distance, behind it a dark chasm with terrible sounds coming from it. She quickly headed toward the dark form. Rose felt deep sorrow flood over her as she approached the dark figure. She knew that feeling all to well, she had experienced it herself, when she had lost Jonathan. Rose suddenly realized she was now alone, Killian was nowhere to be seen. She hesitantly approached the dark figure and saw that it was Jenner, sobbing violently, clutching the body of his dead wife to his chest and at his feet lay the small body of Killian as a child, his throat slit. Rose walked past Jenner and glimpsed into the chasm. Below her was the enormous form of Jenner, thrashing and writhing in the pit of madness, his face contorted with hate and insanity, when he saw her he lashed out at her violently, but could not reach her. She stumbled back from the edge. That was apparently the abyss of madness Justin had mentioned. But it seemed that one small part of him had not gone over the edge into madness. She felt many emotions standing there watching him. She hated him. He had murdered Nicodemus in cold blood and had murdered Sullivan and she had seen the madness in his eyes when he then tried to murder her and Justin. But the Jenner she knew was at the bottom of the abyss, this Jenner before her was the very last fragment of a Jenner that only one woman had ever known. She reigned in her anger, she reminded herself that she was facing a part of Jenner that had resisted the hate and evil and had remained by his wife’s side all these years, unable or unwilling to let go of the love he had for her.
“Jenner.” She said with a gentleness that surprised her. He looked up in shock.
“Mrs. Brisby? Why have you come here?” He asked weakly.
“You must not destroy Thorn Valley.” She said.
“Why should I care for them? I hate them. I despise them...I envy them. They are a constant reminder of what I have lost.” He said with a flash of anger that alarmed Rose.
“All my life I have watched others have joy, love and happiness. Even a lower animal like yourself have had more joy and love in your short life than I have ever had. Yet whenever any of those things were within my grasp they were always cruelly snatched away. With Nell I actually believed that I had found all of those and for one brief shining moment I had, but it only lasted a moment. Then Nell was taken away from me. It was at that moment that I discovered that those things that I craved were nothing more than cruel illusions. I realized that in life you take what you can, when you can because there is nothing that really matters.” He said with a mix of sadness and resentment. Mrs. Brisby was feeling a little resentment herself.
“You selfish beast! How do you think I felt when I lost Jonathan? Don’t you think I didn’t want to just lay down and die from sorrow? But I knew I couldn’t do that. I had four very important reasons that I couldn’t indulge my self-pity, their names were Teresa, Martin, Timothy and Cynthia. I had to go on, if not for myself then for them. I survived, not a day passed that I didn’t miss Jonathan terribly, but I kept moving forward. The children helped to fill the void that had been made in my heart and I did the best I could to fill the hole that Jonathan’s death had left in theirs. Imagine how Killian must have felt when, never even knowing his mother and having only you, you alone in all the world to care for him, to have you accuse him of murdering his own mother and then nearly killing him by slitting his throat. You know sorrow, but that sorrow could have been made bearable if you could have thought of someone else rather than yourself. Don’t you think that Killian misses her perhaps even more than you? You knew that she loved you, you knew her face, the sound of her voice, her embrace, but what did Killian have? All he could do was imagine those things and all he had were the dreams of what might have been. But you took away from him even what little he had to hold on to. I think it would have been less cruel if you had killed him. You have left your son with nothing but the terrible guilt of his mother’s death and feelings of deep unworthiness. He is forever fighting, struggling to escape your sinister shadow.” Rose said angrily. Her body shaking with emotion, tears running down her cheeks. Jenner’s face contorted in agony.
“Yes. I know. Its all true.” He sobbed.
“Father, I’m sorry that I killed her.” A little boy’s voice said sadly. Jenner and Rose both looked up suddenly to see Killian standing nearby. He was now just a child, the wound on his throat still bleeding, he hesitantly walked toward his father. Jenner looked away, unable to meet his son’s tearful gaze. Rose grew very angry.
“Jenner, you take that child in your arms and tell him he’s forgiven or you’ll miss the one and only chance you’ll ever have to be loved by anyone again.” She said with barely controlled rage.
“What good will it do? I’m doomed. I can no longer run from what I have done. I have no future. Won’t it hurt him more not to be able to have only hate for me?” He replied.
“Jenner, you owe him anything you can do to remove the terrible weight you have placed around his neck. Apologize!” she shouted.
The creature in the pit thrashed and roared violently. Jenner looked down at his wife. Then at his son. Then back to his wife. He kissed her gently on the cheek and then placed her reverently on the ground and folded her arms across her chest, then he turned and swept Killian into his arms.
“Oh, Killian, don’t apologize, it wasn’t your fault. All is forgiven. I never should have said what I did. I never should have cut you. There are so many terrible things I should never have done. I’m so sorry.” He sobbed.
“I’m sorry I said I wanted you dead.” Killian sobbed. Jenner hugged his son tighter. Their tears were a mix of joy and sorrow. The creature in the pit seemed to grow fainter the longer Jenner held his son. Rose was truly amazed that she felt genuine love from father to son. She hated the thought that it would soon end. She realized that she would have to prove correct everything that Jenner had just told her. He was soon going to be separated from his son. She could feel his focus vanishing, along with the creature in the pit. It lurked there but it would be dormant for now. She wrested his Power from him. She felt the power surge into her. Sadly, she could feel her own natural strength waning. The strain she was under was greater than any she had ever experienced before.
“Killian we must leave.”
“No!” He cried piteously.
“You must go. There is nothing for you here and there is nothing for me out there.” Jenner said sadly.
“No!” Killian repeated.
“Mrs. Brisby. Take him, please.” Jenner asked, she reached out for Killian but he resisted and struggled against her.
“Before you go, may I ask you one favor?” Jenner pleaded. He was the last person on earth she would want to grant a favor, but she knew that they both had very little time left.
“What?” She asked with annoyance.
“Can you share my memories of Nell with Killian?”
Rose was so stunned by the request that Killian was able to break out of her grasp and ran back to his father. She smiled.
“I will grant you that.” She said and placed one hand on Killian’s head and the other on Jenner’s head. She saw both their mouths turn into wide smiles. When they had finished, he gently pushed Killian away.
“Killian, please go with her. You must go.”
“No, I don’t want to leave you.” was Killian’s tearful reply.
“I wish we could be together. But I’m afraid there can be no second chances for me.” Jenner said sadly. At that moment Rose had a flash of inspiration. She instantly knew how Jenner and Killian could be together, she knew how she could spare his life and he could live without condemnation or judgment. But did she have the right to thwart justice, the right to take it upon herself to pardon a guilty man, one who’s guilt was far beyond any questioning. What she had done had indeed brought about a fundamental change in Jenner, but it was to little, to late. He had done to much evil to ever be forgiven. Death is all that awaited him. Her strength was fading fast. But as she thought about it, the way to save Jenner could give her what she so desperately wanted, if she used her powers on herself, she could remain with her family and loved ones. She had always acted so selflessly toward others, here she stood about to die and contained within herself the power to save herself. Those thoughts quickly faded as she observed Jenner and Killian. Her children had always had her to love and care for them, and now when she was gone they would have Jonathan and soon they would even have families of their own, but Killian had always been alone, he had never really known his mother or father, now he had finally found his real father and would soon lose him and he would again be alone in the world. She made up her mind, her last act would be one of redemption. She placed her hands on their heads again and she looked into their minds. In Jenner’s mind she found the abnormality that caused his excessive evil. She corrected it and then looked into Killian’s just in case it was something that could be passed on. She found no such abnormality there. She took Killian’s hand and he alone began to fade away.
“I love you, Killian!” He heard his father shout before he was out of sight.
“I’m sorry, Killian, its the best I can do. Its the only way the two of you can be together.” Rose said just before he vanished entirely, she turned to Jenner.
“Know this Jenner, what I am about to do, I do for Killian, not for you.” She said and told him what she was planning. He looked amazed and so utterly happy.
“God bless you, Mrs. Brisby.” He said with deep gratitude.
Killian woke suddenly to find himself laying face down on the ground in the middle of the battle field. He quickly jumped to his feet and looked around and there at his feet, lying amidst a pile of ashes in the shape of Jenner’s body was a small infant rat. Dark gray in color, big green eyes and a smile on his face. He slowly reached down, picked up the child and held him up close. The baby giggled and grabbed Killian’s nose. He hugged the baby close to his chest. Only then did he even become aware of the great radiance behind him. He turned and to his amazement he saw the form of Rose, now glowing white hot, still clutching the stone.
Rose struggled to contain the tremendous energies that she had taken from her enemies. To control the energy of the stone was normally an exhausting battle, but now it felt as though she were trying to control the energy of three stones. She knew that her natural strength was nearly gone. All she had to go on was the tainted energies she had taken from her enemies. When she gave it up, she knew she would quickly die.
“Then why give it up?” asked Jenner’s voice at the back of her mind.
“Imagine the perfect world you could build with your powers” Dr. Schultz’s voice said. She felt their influence flow into her mind. She realized that at this moment she was the most powerful being on the planet. She, a little, tired old field mouse could now be a goddess. No one could look down their nose at her again, none would dare to call her ‘lower creature’ ever again. There were none who could dare oppose her. Even the human race would not be able to resist her will. Thorn Valley was safe. How long before some other terrible threat comes to it? But with me, then there is nothing that could stop us or harm us ever again. She thought confidently. She looked at the defenders, who were staying well back from her. She looked at them closely.
Jonathan, you lied to me for so long. You kept me in the dark for so long. Now you just show up, conveniently leaving the telling of the truth to others. How do I know this latest story isn’t another one of your many lies? Where were you when I needed you? Justin. You were always laying on the charm, always so kind, so accommodating. You didn’t really love me. The only reason you treated me so well was because you desired me. She thought bitterly. I don’t need either of you anymore. Now I have the power to take what I want, when I want.
“No!” She shouted. That wasn’t the way they were and she knew it. Even now as she struggled against her emotions she could feel the deep love and concern that they all felt for her.
“Let us guide you. You don’t have to die, your powers will make you immortal.” Jenner’s voice said. She felt her will weakening.
“Mrs. Brisby.” A familiar, comforting voice said. The dark voices in her head fell silent. She looked up in astonishment to see the towering form of Nicodemus standing in front of her, beside him stood a figure that took her a few moments to recognize. It was the frightening form of the ‘evil’ Martin.
“Mom, don’t do it.” Martin pleaded.
“Please, do not give in. Release the Power. You cannot control it for much longer, soon you will give in and then they will both have control of you, then all that you hold dear will be destroyed.” Nicodemus said and in her mind’s eye she saw the image of the monster that she would become if she gave into the darkness.
“Mom. He’s right, I couldn’t control it either. I very nearly killed Tim and Jenny and many other. I know you don’t want to hurt anyone, but you will, whether you want to or not.” He said desperately. The dark voices in her head roared to life and became louder and louder, both fighting for control of her mind. She collapsed to the ground, clutching her head.
“I don’t want to die. I want to stay here with those I love.” She said with tears in her eyes. She saw behind Nicodemus and Martin the huge form of the Jenner from the pit appear and beside him Dr. Schultz and both were coming toward her.
“Mrs. Brisby, you must decide quickly. Who do you love more, yourself or others?” Nicodemus asked.
“Mom, please don’t become like me.” Martin begged. She saw the evil figures quickly approaching, she looked in the pleading eyes of Nicodemus and Martin. She remembered her promise to Jenner and Dr. Schultz.
“I swear to both of you that I will do whatever it takes to guarantee that neither of you will ever be a threat to Thorn Valley or its inhabitants ever again.” She repeated to herself. She stood and looked again at Nicodemus and Martin. They both smiled at her, they knew she had made the right choice, then they faded from view, leaving the two terrible, evil creatures racing toward her. She wiped her eyes with the back of her hands and drew herself up to her full height, she looked longingly toward her loved ones, then raised her arms to the sky. She screamed in agony as the full power she contained was released skyward. It arced wildly and with tremendous violence into the sky. She watched with relief the destruction of the evil figures of Dr. Schultz and Jenner. She saw the cloud cover break and sunshine begin to flood the valley. She knew Thorn Valley was safe. Soon the last of the Power flowed out of her. The stone even grew dim. She fell to the ground, she felt completely spent. Jonathan rushed over to her and took her in his arms. Soon Justin and the others crowded around her.
“Rose, my sweet, delicate flower.” He said in anguish.
“I’m sorry, Jonathan. Your delicate Rose has wilted.” She said and smiled weakly. “I’m sorry I have to go. I wish I could stay. Goodbye my dearest. I love you all.” She said sadly, everything began growing dim.
“No, no more good-byes, no more tears. Rose, my love. I lost you once, but never again.” Jonathan said with determination, His eyes glowed bright white, he touched her cheek with his right hand and with the left he grasped the stone. The stone literally flared to life. The others watched in alarm as flames erupted from the stone. The flames seemed to have no effect on Rose but Jonathan’s face contorted in pain at the burning, but he didn’t let go.
Rose felt strange, she could feel strength pouring into her body, but not just strength. It felt like vitality, youth. She felt alive, more alive than she had felt in years. Her vision began to grow stronger. She became aware of Jonathan’s embrace. She could feel Jonathan’s Power mingling with her own. She looked into his furiously glowing eyes. She suddenly felt her mind changing, expanding. She gasped as she saw her fur turn from gray back to brown. The aching and soreness of her age faded away.
Then the glowing in Jonathan’s eyes faded to reveal their natural brown and the flames from the stone faded away to nothing. He collapsed, clutching his burned hand.
“Jonathan!” She shouted and leaped to her feet. The fact she could even do that amazed her.
“Help me up.” He said to those around him. That shook them out of their stunned silence. They quickly gathered around him and put him on his feet. Justin practically had to hold him up. Rose rushed into his arms.
“Rose my love, now you are one of us. Inside and out.” He said.
“Really?” she gasped, she looked at herself, her legs were now longer and straighter and clumsy paws had become highly articulate five fingered hands.
“Yes. Now we can be together forever.” He replied and hugged her with his good hand.
Dante did everything he could to rouse his father, but his tiny size made it all but impossible. He cried out in frustration. He was feeling desperately weak from the fighting and his injuries and still feeling overwhelmed by the things he had witnessed in his father’s mind. He looked around for help, but his attention was drawn to where the remnant of the enemy army had gathered. He overcame his exhaustion again, his eyes again glowing bright white, he raised his sword and began running toward the enemy. When the enemy saw him coming they cringed with fear. A lone mouse in a white robe stepped before them.
“Death to the enemies of Thorn Valley!” Dante shouted, the glow faded from his eyes and he stumbled and fell on his face. Cynthia raced over to him and crouched defensively over his body, bow drawn back with an arrow aimed at Mercy.
“Surrender!” Cynthia shouted.
“Yes, we surrender. Please, no more killing, I beg you.” she pleaded.
“Everyone on the ground, hands on the back of you heads.” Cynthia commanded. They all obeyed. She reached down to Dante’s neck and was relieved to feel a pulse. A few moments later Justin appeared with a large number of guards and surrounded the prisoners while Dante was quickly carried off on a stretcher.
“President Justin, the enemy has surrendered.” Cynthia said with satisfaction.
“Excellent work, Ranger Brisby.” He said. Justin walked over to where Mercy lay on the ground. When she saw his feet, she looked up. The look on his face was one of anger and contempt.
“Ironic, isn’t it?” Is all he said, then he turned and walked away. He wondered why they had not attempted to make their escape up the trail on the cliff face, until he looked at the trail and saw that about half way up a large gouge had been cut into the cliff face cutting a wide gap in the path, most likely caused by one of the arcs of energy from the earlier battle. Arthur is going to blow a gasket when he sees that. Justin thought.
His thoughts were suddenly interrupted when he heard a cry of alarm.
“Incoming!” Someone shouted.
Rose looked up and saw four large black creatures flying out of the sun. The rats on the plain scattered as they neared the ground. Then surprisingly, the four crashed to the ground and tumbled to a stop.
“Mrs. B never fear, Jeremy and family are here!” A familiar voice shouted. Rose began running toward them. Jeremy and family jumped up and began swinging their wings back and forth threateningly at the rats, Jeremy jumped around until he came face to face with the skeleton of Dragon. He cried out in fright and fainted.
“Your too late, everything’s over.” Rose called out. Jeremy’s wife Wanda and his sons Cecil and Winston stopped flailing around and they all gathered around Jeremy, who lay flat on his back. Rose stood by his head.
“Jeremy, are you all right?” She asked with concern. He opened one eye.
“Hey! Teresa, great seeing you again. Where’s your mom?” He asked.
“Jeremy. I’m not Teresa, I’m Mrs. Brisby.” She replied. He jumped up in shock, then he leaned to get a closer look. He gasped in astonishment.
“Mrs. B, you look so young and so pretty and so... sparkly.” Jeremy said and eyed the stone very closely. Wanda snorted and nudged him with her wing. He smiled and hugged his wife.
“I mean not as pretty as my wife, of course” He said apologetically.
“What happened here Mrs. Brisby? Are you and the kids all right?” Wanda asked with concern.
“Yes, were fine. An evil rat and an evil human tried to take over Thorn Valley, but they have been stopped.” Rose said with relief. Jeremy looked at the skeleton more closely.
“Well, it certainly looks like things really ‘heated up’ here.”
“Yes, indeed. Dragon won’t be bothering any of us ever again.” Rose said. Upon hearing Dragon’s name, all the crows pulled back from the skeleton.
“Who gave Dragon the hot foot over his entire body?” Jeremy asked.
“That would be me.” Jonathan said. They all turned to see Justin, carrying Jonathan, Jonathan looked even more exhausted than he had minutes before. Jeremy pointed to Justin.
“Hey, it looks like you’re Justin time.” Jeremy said as he and his family practically fell over laughing. Justin could only roll his eyes at that joke, the same one the crow used every time he visited the valley. Rose went over to Jonathan and hugged him.
“Hey, Mrs. B, who’s your new friend?”
“Jeremy. Let me introduce you to Mr. B. Jonathan Brisby.” Jeremy swept them both up into his wings.
“Hey, Mr. B. I hope you know your wife is the best friend a crow could have. She saved my life when Dragon was going to eat me. Treat her right, she’s as good as gold...” He said, again becoming distracted by the stone.
“Really, I’m touched that you were all willing to come to our aid.” Rose said, covering the stone with her hands.
“Well, we would have been here sooner...” Cecil said and was interrupted by Winston.
“But we got lost.” He said sheepishly.
“I guess its to late to help.” Jeremy said.
“Actually there are two things you could help us with. I have dealt with Dr. Schultz, now there is one last thing that must be done to cover our tracks. If you are still willing, I need a ride. And second, the enemy army is in retreat, can you tell us which way they went?” Jonathan asked. They all saluted.
“Yes, sir. Mr. B.” Jeremy said. A short time later, with Mr. and Mrs. Brisby securely tied to his back, he took off and Wanda and the boys took off in search of the retreating enemy.
After the crows were gone Justin noticed that Killian was still standing near the site where his father had fallen. Thinking that he might be mourning, Justin walked over to him and placed a hand on his shoulder.
“Killian, I’m sorry it had to come to this.” Justin said comfortingly. Killian turned, he had tears in his eyes but a smile on his face. Justin gasped when he saw the small child Killian held in his arms.
“There’s nothing to be sorry for, Justin. Thanks to Mrs. Brisby, I haven’t lost a father, I’ve gained a son.” He said.
“Everyone on your feet!” A large rat shouted, Mercy instantly recognized him as the rat that had brutally executed the treacherous Captain Owen. Mercy and the seven prisoners who could still walk were marched at bow point to a large set of open doors that were set into the cliff face, the ten injured were being treated by the arriving medical staff. Through the large doors was an enormous empty room that appeared to have been used for grain storage.
“You!” Lieutenant Snap shouted at Mercy. She jumped with surprise. “Over there!” He shouted, pointing to the farthest corner of the room. She meekly walked to the corner and sat on the cold stone floor. Soon he was joined by a gigantic, terrifying rat. They approached her.
“Brutus! If she so much as twitches a whisker, kill her!” He shouted. Brutus stood in front of her and looked down at her with his cold, unemotional gaze. He placed the point of his spear at her feet, its wide serrated blade was almost as large as she was. She cowered in fear at his presence. I always knew this day would come, I have no one to blame but myself. I have made my bed and the time has come to sleep in it. I have faithful served both of their greatest enemies and now with Dr. Schultz, Jenner, General Jabez, One, Two, Four and Five dead and Three fleeing for his life, I alone am left to answer for and to be judged for all that has occurred here today. I, who not less than twenty four hours ago threatened this community and the very lives of Justin’s children. Justin, in whose hands my life now rests. She looked at her frightened, huddled fellow prisoners on the far side of the large chamber. They are the lucky ones, whatever their fate, it will be merciful compared to what he has in store for me. She thought sadly. For several hours she simply huddled in the corner, while Brutus, virtually immobile the whole time just glared at her. She heard activity taking place near the sealed doors. She was concerned about the wounded but did not dare to speak in Brutus’ presence. Then the doors burst open and Lieutenant Snap appeared.
“Prisoners, on your feet!” He shouted. All the prisoners, including Mercy jumped to their feet. Lieutenant Snap glared at her.
“You! On the floor!” He shouted. She quickly sank back to the floor.
“Outside!” He shouted. The frightened group of prisoners were marched out the door, unable to guess what fate awaited them. After a short time she could hear sounds of struggle and soon she could hear a fire burning. She could only imagine what terrible things were happening. After a while the sounds of struggle ceased, then Lieutenant Snap appeared again at the door. He pointed to Mercy.
“You, now!” He shouted. She quickly rose to her feet and trembling with fear she followed him outside. Two tents had been set up near the entrance. A large blazing fire was near by. In the distance she could see about twenty rats, all dressed from head to toe in white full body suits with goggles, each carrying a large sack, spreading a light green powder over the various parts of the battlefield. Milling around the one tent were several male rats also dressed the same way.
“Inside, now!” Lieutenant Snap shouted, pointing to the one tent. She timidly entered. Inside she found two female rats, also dressed head to toe in white standing next to a large tub of soapy water.
“Remove your robe.” A rat commanded. Mercy meekly did so, one of the rats took a long pole with a hook on the end and speared the robe, then holding it as far from herself as possible, as though it were the most vile thing on the plant, she quickly took it outside, assumedly to be burned. The remaining rat just picked Mercy up and tossed her into the water and when the other rat returned they both picked up long handled brushes and approached the tub. Mercy sputtered and struggled as they proceeded to roughly scrub her fur from head to toe. When they had finished she was quickly pulled from the tub and had several buckets of cold water dumped on her. One of the rats threw her a new robe.
“Why are you doing this?” Mercy asked weakly as she donned the robe. One rat just glared at her through her goggles.
“You people are disgusting. You’re just crawling with lice and fleas.” She said in disgust. Mercy would have protested under different circumstances. She always kept herself impeccably groomed and scrupulously clean. Then, still dripping wet she exited the tent. Brutus was standing there waiting for her. She saw several rats in protective clothing, each with a sack of powder enter the storeroom that she and the other prisoners had been in. Brutus, with the flat of his spear point prodded her in the direction of another storeroom farther along the base of the wall. To her surprise she was directed past that storeroom, but she managed to get a glimpse inside, she saw her soggy fellow prisoners also wrapped in clean robes, again sitting in a huddled group. She was brought to a small door in the rock face, outside it a pile of tools lay on the ground. A guard standing at the door opened it. Inside was a small dimly lit room, Brutus nearly shoved her inside with his spear. The door was slammed shut and locked. She looked at her tiny cell. On the floor had been placed a blanket, a loaf of bread and jug of water. She quickly picked up the blanket and wrapped it around herself. She then sat in a corner and looked out the tiny window near the top of the door that provided the only illumination in the room. She saw that Brutus now stood guard at the door. What’s to become of the others? She wondered. Her mind could only think of what would have happened if their situations had been reversed. She had no doubt that all the defenders would have been killed horribly by now. What’s to become of me? She asked herself, unfortunately, none of her answers were very comforting.
Justin paced the floor of recovery ward Three of the hospital as quietly as he could. He looked at the occupied beds. Conscious, but exhausted was Jonathan Brisby, at his bedside sat Rose, holding his good hand and talking quietly, his other hand was heavily bandaged. Dante lay on the bed next to his, he was out, almost comatose. Sitting by the window was Killian, cradling the small sleeping child tightly in his arms. He stopped pacing and stood and looked out the window. Here he was in a room where, in the few hours since the battle ended, the two greatest enemies his people had ever known had both been, now one had died here, the other with his life beginning anew. He looked down at Killian and the baby. He was genuinely glad that Killian was so happy, but he couldn’t get over the idea that the child was still Jenner. His thoughts were interrupted by Rose. She came up beside him and joined him in looking out the window.
“I don’t need any magical powers to know what your thinking.” She said.
“How do we know he won’t just grow up to be Jenner again?” He asked.
She briefly explained to them what had happened and what she had done while in Jenner’s mind.
“I remembered what you told me the other night, how that Jenner had always been unstable. When Killian and I were in his head I found and removed the cause of his madness, in doing so I restored his conscience. Whatever he does or becomes will be of his own free will, what was there, the memories, the deeds and the madness have all been swept away. That child’s mind is now a blank slate. Killian, the cause of his evil was unique to him, it was not something that he could pass on to you or that you could pass to your children.” She said with more than a little satisfaction.
“How did you know the way I felt about my mother, the dreams and things like that?” Killian asked.
“My children lost their father when they were very small, their dreams of what might have been were all they really had of Jonathan. I just figured you would have felt the same way.” Rose replied.
“Thank you, Mrs. Brisby. From the bottom of my heart.” Killian said.
“What will people say when as he grows up to become the very image of Jenner?” Justin asked.
“I have already taken care of that as well. Not only will he behave differently than Jenner, he will also look differently than him. I wanted him to be able to have a truly fresh start.” She replied.
“You’ve thought of everything.” Justin said. Killian cleared his throat.
“Justin, I will do my absolute best to be a good father. I’ll be the father to him that he couldn’t be to me. Justin, mark my words, you’ll even be proud of him someday.” Killian said.
“We’ll see. The big question right now is how are we going to explain where the baby came from?” Justin asked.
“We’ll tell them the truth, mostly. The full truth must never leave this room. Killian found an abandoned baby on the battlefield, he instantly fell in love with him and will raise him as his own son. End of story. Don’t forget that Jenner’s army was composed of male and female soldiers, so he could be considered a war orphan.” Rose said.
“And if someone asks what a baby was doing on the battlefield?” Justin asked.
“Change the subject.” She replied, her gaze returning to the activity outside the window. Justin smirked, his gaze fell on Dante. When Dante woke it would probably fall to him to have to tell Dante that his father had died. Jonathan had shrunk Dr. Schultz to rat size so he could be brought inside and Mr. Ages had tried valiantly to save him, but it was to late. Justin had mixed feelings about the death of Dr. Schultz, on the one hand the greatest human threat to his people was forever gone, but that human threat was also the father of the man who had saved his life and had in a way saved the entire community. For Dante’s sake he had decreed that the body of Dr. Schultz was to be treated with respect and he had ordered that it be cremated, in accordance with Thorn Valley tradition. A short time later the Brisby children burst into the room and rushed up to Jonathan and Rose. For the first time Jonathan had a chance to meet Jenny. She was a young, pretty mouse with very light brown fur, aside from being quite pregnant she also had one very extraordinary feature. In addition to her fur she also had a head full of long blond hair which she had braided into a ponytail that reached down to her tail. They were all amazed and overjoyed to see the transformation that had occurred in Rose. Rose immediately hugged Martin and kissed his cheek. He smiled, though he had no idea what warranted this unexpected burst of affection. Justin smiled also, but there was a hint of sadness in his smile, he turned away and looked out the window again. He peered into the distance at where the prisoners were being kept. What’s to become of them? He asked himself.
“Tim, has there been a tally of the casualties?” Justin asked. Timothy reluctantly left his family to stand before Justin.
“Yes, the count for the defenders is fifteen wounded” He replied.
“And?” Justin asked.
“And what?” Timothy asked.
“How many defenders dead?” Justin asked.
“None.” Timothy replied. Justin just stared at him. He had been at the front, he had seen defenders fall with terrible wounds.
“Did I hear you correctly? No deaths?” He asked with skepticism.
“No, not one. Ranger Carl was apparently the closest call, but Mr. Ages says he’ll be fine.” Timothy replied. Justin turned back to the window, so Timothy continued.
“As for enemy losses, we still haven’t been able to come up with a number yet, since the battle between Jenner and Dr. Schultz was so violent and so intense it reduced every living thing within thirty feet of the entrance to ashes, so it may ultimately be impossible to come up with an exact number, but I think the enemy losses total well over three hundred. The total number of prisoners has risen to twenty, as a search party has captured two wounded that had been abandoned by the fleeing enemy. The enemy wounded are twelve.” Timothy replied. Justin was appalled by the thought of anyone just abandoning their wounded.
“The community of Thorn Valley, no, not even the Rosebush community would have existed if the 22 had abandoned their wounded during the wandering days.” Justin said with conviction.
“That’s because you had Nicodemus for a leader, this other community only had Jenner for its leader, so they probably placed as little value on life as he did.” Timothy replied. Killian looked very uncomfortable, but didn’t interrupt the conversation. Justin realized that Timothy’s observation was dead on. He was thinking about that when the door opened, Justin’s heart leaped with joy. It was Isabella, pushing the twins on a double stroller. He raced into her arms and kissed her.
“I was so worried about you.” She said with tears in her eyes.
“You and the children were in my thoughts always.” He said with equal emotion, then he took her and the children to where Jonathan and his family were.
“Mr. Brisby!” Isabella exclaimed in astonishment.
“Its good to see you again, Izzy.” Jonathan replied weakly.
“We heard rumors while in the Sanctuary that you had returned. But I don’t think anyone believed it. How can you be alive?” She asked.
“That is a long story that must wait for another time.” He said. Justin picked up his children. His smile was so wide it went practically from ear to ear.
“Jonathan, I want you to meet the twins.” Justin said. Jonathan suddenly looked startled.
“Justin, Isabella. I didn’t even realize you were married. I’m sorry, my belated congratulations to the both of you on your marriage and children.” Jonathan said.
“Thank you. Mr. Brisby.” Isabella replied happily.
“Please Isabella, your not a child anymore. Call me Jonathan.” He replied with a smile. Justin then held the babies close to Jonathan.
“Jonathan, may I very proudly introduce our daughter Gwen and our son...Jonathan.” Jonathan looked at the infant, moved beyond words. “He’ll have a lot to live up to with that name, but he’ll do fine, he is my son after all.” Justin said playfully.
“Justin, Isabella. I don’t know what to say. I’m touched.” Jonathan replied humbly.
“Jonathan, you’ve always been like a brother to me, so can I count on you being ‘Uncle Jonathan’ to my kids?” Justin asked.
“Justin, I would be honored.” He replied with a smile.
“I hate to interrupt this touching scene, but this is recovery ward and I do have patients here.” a frowning Mr. Ages said upon entering the ward. Jonathan noticed that Cynthia had moved from his bedside to Dante’s. He just smiled.
“How is Dante?” Cynthia asked.
“He’s exhausted, just like your father. Right now rest, meaning peace and quiet, will do the both of them a world of good. So shoo!” Mr. Ages said and ushered everyone out of the room so that Jonathan and Dante could rest.
On their way back to their apartment Justin told Isabella the details of the battle. She shook her head.
“Its amazing, two days ago the people of Thorn Valley didn’t have a care in the world, then suddenly we were facing complete annihilation and now its all over.” She said in amazement. Justin put his arm around his wife and kissed her again.
“If there must be war, the shorter the better.” He replied. When they got back to their home, Justin practically collapsed into the large chair at his desk. He unlocked the large drawer and removed the box that the stone was kept in. He set it on his desk and opened it. He drew the stone out of his pocket, to his surprise it was still slightly warm to the touch. He gently placed it inside and closed the lid, he involuntarily patted the lid of the box and was about to return it to the drawer when he noticed the letter still in there. His thoughts had been so focused on the crisis that he had completely forgotten about it. He put it in his pocket and promised himself to give it to Dante as soon as he regained consciousness. Justin felt he could trust those he put in charge of the clean up to do a good job without him looking over their shoulder. He wearily lifted himself out of his chair and made his way to his bed. They knew where he could be found if they needed him, for now though he couldn’t resist the siren’s call of long overdue sleep.
“This should do the trick.” Jonathan said. Mr. Ages, Justin and Rose stood by silently, watching with skepticism. Jonathan felt like a million bucks after a good night’s sleep, but he was alarmed to see that Dante still had not regained consciousness. Jonathan was nothing if not resourceful. He had something sent up from the kitchen that might be just what the doctor ordered. He moved the large mug of steaming hot coffee back and forth under Dante’s nose. Slowly Dante’s head began following the cup from left to right.
“Joe.” Dante whispered faintly.
“Joe? Who’s Joe?” Rose asked.
“Joe is one of the many names of coffee.” Jonathan replied. “That’s right Dante, there’s a big steaming cup o’ Joe with your name on it if you just wake up.” He said. Dante slowly opened his eyes and saw his friends standing there around him. He smiled weakly.
“I guess we won.” He said and slowly moved himself up to a sitting position.
“Yes, my friend. We did, thanks to you. Thorn Valley and everyone in it owes you a debt of gratitude.” Justin said sincerely. Dante smiled and took the cup of coffee from Jonathan, he noticed that Jonathan hadn’t exaggerated, the cup did indeed have his name on it in large block letters.
“How do you feel?” Mr. Ages asked.
“I hurt in parts of my body that didn’t even exist a few days ago. But I think I’ll live.” He replied. Dante suddenly looked alarmed.
“Dad!” He exclaimed. Everyone looked away nervously. Dante closed his eyes and sighed.
“He’s dead, isn’t he?” He asked. Justin stepped forward.
“I’m afraid so. He survived the battle, Jonathan shrunk him to our size so that he could be brought here to the hospital, but he just grew weaker and weaker and he passed away a few hours later without having regained consciousness. I’m sorry.” Justin said.
“Dante, I did everything in my power to save him, please believe me. But your father had in fact been dying for several years. He was using his powers to keep death at bay. It would even appear that he had been feeding off the life-force of those around him to keep himself alive. When you confronted him, I guess he just decided that it was time to stop trying to fight the inevitable.” Mr. Ages said.
“I know your right, I could feel it when he drove me from his mind.” Dante said sadly.
“Would you like to be alone?” Rose asked sympathetically.
“No! Sorry...no, I’ve spent far to much of my life alone and now with him gone I’ve never felt so alone in my life, so please stay. Now that the war is over and Jonathan is back, what is my fate?” Dante asked, taking a sip of coffee. The others looked confused.
“What do you mean?” Justin asked.
“I am after all the enemy, I am human. Sort of.” He replied.
“Dante, if you have any fears or worries, let me put them to rest right now. You are welcome here in Thorn Valley. This community owes you a deep debt of thanks. You freed Jonathan which allowed him to warn us of Jenner’s plans, you came here and risked your life in battle to protect us. You have been one of us every since your father operated on you. You have shared our good times and bad. Now you don’t have to see our world through our eyes, now you can be a part of this world. If you want.” Justin said. Dante smiled.
“I would like that more than you can imagine.” He replied.
“Well, that settles it. Dante, welcome to your new home and now that you’re home, I’d like to shut down those telepathic connections I mentioned. We’d like our privacy.” Jonathan said with a smile. Justin reached into his pocket and withdrew a letter and handed it to Dante.
“Dante, this letter was left for you by our late leader Nicodemus.” Everyone in the room looked at Justin in surprise. Dante opened the letter.
I wish I could be here to welcome you to Thorn Valley personally, but obviously circumstances have conspired to prevent that. I can only imagine what
strange circumstances would bring your world and ours together, but I can only guess that they were terrible indeed, but I am sure that Justin did
his job as leader admirably. But now the crisis is no doubt past. If Justin has not already done so, which I think unlikely, but I will just in case. I welcome you to Thorn Valley, your home for as long as you wish. I know all about you. I know you have been with us. I could feel your presence with us almost from the beginning. I know that your being part of us has made your life one of misery and unhappiness. But hopefully, being here as one of us will help fill the
void that you have felt for so long. If Thorn Valley is half of what we planned, it must be wondrous indeed and hopefully all are here, even Jonathan and his very charming wife and their children, Mr. Ages and dare I imagine even Justin to be settled down with a family of his own, Isabella perhaps? I digress. I apologize for the rambling nature of this letter, there is so much I wish to say and so little time left to say it. Our enemies may have attempted to imprecate an evil upon us, but we have again triumphed. I am sure we have you to thank in some fashion. So again I say welcome, my friend.
Dante read the letter in amazement. Then he hesitantly read it aloud to those present, they listened with equal amazement. Jonathan and Justin exchanged shocked glances when the word “Imprecate” was said, for that was the word that filled the boxes of seven down on the crossword puzzle that Jonathan had filled in.
“Justin, when exactly did Nicodemus write that letter? I met him only a few hours before his death. Did he know that Jonathan would return?” Rose asked nervously.
“I don’t know when it was written. I didn’t notice it until we got here to Thorn Valley and I was going through his papers.” He replied.
“Creepy.” Jonathan said. No one disagreed.
Cynthia and the others all waited on the field. Lieutenant Snap soon appeared.
“Rangers, fall in!” Lieutenant Snap shouted. The rangers quickly fell in line.
“Excellent work on your first mission. Excellent work yesterday. It is my duty, no, my honor to now award all rangers the silver star of valor!” He shouted as he slowly moved down the line, pinning the medals on them and shaking their hands. He stopped when he got to Cynthia, he leaned over and was again almost nose to nose with her.
“All rangers that is, except ranger Brisby!” He shouted. Cynthia’s mouth fell open and a hurt look came over her face. Lieutenant Snap smiled.
“Ranger Brisby, for your service far and above the call of duty. For your willingness to place yourself in mortal danger to draw out a sniper so that your report could be sent to base, for saving the life of Ranger Carl, for helping to thwart the assassination of President Justin, for your willingness to stay on the field of battle against overwhelming odds to render support to a fellow defender. You are hereby awarded the gold star of valor.” He said proudly. She gasped, the others cheered. Lieutenant Snap fumbled for a few moments with the tiny mouse-scale medal, eventually, with an embarrassed look on his face he just handed it to her so she could pin it on herself.
“Exemplary work, Brisby! You are a credit to the Rangers and a credit to your kind!” Then to her astonishment, he saluted her. She quickly saluted back.
“Thank you, sir.” She replied.
“Rangers dismissed!” He shouted.
Mercy didn’t sleep much that night. In her dreams she found herself back again in a cold metal cage and when she would wake from her nightmares she would find herself trapped in her small, cramped cell. Having nothing to occupy her time she had spent the entire morning and afternoon contemplating her fate, which certainly did nothing to lift her spirits. She heard the door being unlocked, she looked up and saw to her horror that it was Lieutenant Snap, with difficulty he squeezed into the room. Mercy curled up in the corner, staring up at him with wide eyed fear. Then from behind the rat appeared a thin, somewhat undersized gray mouse with a stack of papers under his left arm. He stepped in front of the rat. He looked at her panic stricken face and then looked to Lieutenant Snap.
“Lieutenant Snap, I think this would be much easier on her if you weren’t present. Please, wait outside.” the mouse said.
“Yes, Mr. Brisby, sir!” he shouted and left the room. Timothy saw that Brutus was standing at the doorway looking in.
“You to, Brutus.” He commanded, Brutus furrowed his brow in a look of concern.
“Your concern is appreciated, but I’ll handle this.” Brutus nodded and disappeared from view. Now she looked at Timothy with a look of astonishment.
“The rats obey you. The one even called you ‘Sir’.” she said in awe.
“I would hope they do, in the last election Justin and I were unanimously elected as president and vice president by the all the rats and mice of Thorn Valley. Including Lieutenant Snap and Brutus.” Timothy replied.
“You, a mouse and one of impure blood even are considered their equal?” She asked in astonishment. A look of anger quickly flashed across his features and his voice took on a threatening tone.
“Yes, that is how life is here at Thorn Valley and I think you should bear in mind that when you are speaking about ‘impure blood’ you are referring to my mother, whom I love dearly and is a loved and respected member of this community and who has twice now brought about the downfall of Jenner, your late master.” He said.
“Please forgive me, sir. I meant no disrespect.” She replied meekly. Timothy looked down at the frightened, disheveled mouse cowering in the corner, his anger faded.
“You look terrible, did you get any sleep last night?” He asked.
“Very little.” She replied. He looked at her eyes, they were terribly bloodshot.
“What is your name?” He asked.
“Mercy, sir.” She replied.
“Mercy, would you like to see your fellow prisoners?” He asked.
“Yes, sir.” She said and to her surprise he held out his hand to her. She took it and he pulled her to her feet. She noticed that he was surprisingly strong for his size, he only came up her chin. He led her outside, with Brutus’ heavy footsteps following not far behind.
“I would have done this earlier, but we spent most of the day so far interrogating your fellow prisoners.” He said as they walked. She stopped cold.
“Interrogating?” She asked in horror. Timothy stopped and looked at her, the expression on her face was one of terror.
“Not interrogating in the sense that your obviously thinking, we don’t do things that way here, perhaps ‘interviewing’ would be a better word. In fact the prisoners have been very cooperative.” He replied and motioned for her to follow him. When they got past the guards at the door to the large storeroom Mercy could see that the wounded were on cots, being attended by Thorn Valley medical staff, the other prisoners still had only their blankets. She found them in remarkable good spirits when she spoke to them and the wounded had been very well cared for, but even so they all carried the terrible uncertainty of what was to happen to them. There were some new prisoners and she also noticed that some of the ones that had been captured with her were absent.
“Sir, there were others here before. Have they died?” She asked.
“No, they were more seriously wounded and it was decided that they should be taken to the hospital for better treatment. Don’t worry, no harm will come to them.” He assured her.
“Thank you, thank you for caring for our wounded.” She replied and then after a long pause. “Sir, what is to become of us?” She asked. He looked intently at her.
“That has not been decided yet. I will report to Justin the results of the interviews shortly and tomorrow morning you will give an account of yourself to him and his council of advisors. What happens then I have no idea.” He replied seriously. She shuddered at the thought of having to stand before Justin again. Timothy allowed her to stay with the prisoners a little while longer and then led her back to her cell. At the door she saw that more bread and water had been brought for her. She looked fearfully at the small dark room. After she stepped into the cell Timothy spoke.
“Mercy, I have some questions to ask you.” He said seriously.
“Yes, sir.” she replied. He began asking her about Jenner’s community, its location, population, technology level and quality of life. He made notes as she spoke.
But to her surprise he asked no questions about herself. When he finished he smiled.
“Is there anything you need?” He asked. She smiled faintly.
“A brush would be most kind.” She replied.
“I’ll have one sent to you.” He replied. Then the door was shut and locked again.
She again returned to the corner and wrapped the blanket around herself tightly and tried to get some sleep.
When Timothy arrived to deliver his report he found Justin sitting at his desk in front of a
mountain of paperwork. He looked up and smiled when he saw Tim.
“Justin, I have finished with the interrogations.”
“Excellent. What have you to report?” Justin asked. Timothy put his report on Justin’s desk and pulled up a chair and sat.
“Many interesting things I assure you. Now that Jenner is dead his followers were very cooperative, frankly it would appear that the treatment they are receiving as prisoners is in fact better treatment than that they received as soldiers in Jenner’s army.”
Justin looked surprised. “When they were being deloused it was reported to me that many of them had lash marks on their backs, apparently violence was a major part of their lives, each also has a brand on their arm, to indicate just how ‘impure’ they are, a diamond shape, whole or cut in half or quarters. Since the night the two of you fought at the cinderblock he has been planning to invade Thorn Valley. So his entire community has been created for the sole purpose of war. They survived by stealing, most of them live in squalor. They have been told time and again that they were expendable because they were of ‘impure blood’, they knew going into battle that they were just cannon fodder and if injured they would receive no medical treatment. To Jenner their lives were worthless, all he cared about was the capture and control of the ‘pure blood’ residents of Thorn Valley, except for we Brisby’s obviously, we were specifically marked for death, that’s why Owen put Cynthia in the most danger out in the field.” Timothy said.
“Were you able to get the location of their colony or the number of citizens?” Justin asked.
“Not from the regular soldiers, not because they wouldn’t cooperate but simply because they can’t count and don’t know enough about their environment to direct us. It would appear that Jenner was actively against the education of the ‘impure’, frankly if you gave one of them a broom they wouldn’t know which end to put to the floor. They were born for one purpose and one alone, to attack us and it seems that they weren’t even really trained well for that. It appears that Killian guessed right yesterday. Jenner sent this army against us just to wear us down. He didn’t care if every single one of them died, as long as it accomplished his goal. Right now the survivors are confused and frightened, they had expected to be paraded before the community and then slowly tortured to death by now. So now they are faced with great uncertainty, they think you might be planning something truly terrible for them.” Timothy said.
“Whatever we do with them it wouldn’t come to that. We’re not barbarians.”
“They were taught by Jenner how to think, its the only thing they can imagine, because it is what he would have done to us if he had won.” Timothy replied.
“What about the mouse?” Justin asked.
“Her name is Mercy, she has given me the real details about the community, the center where the elite of this community live is in Bolair, in an abandoned building next to ‘Emmits feed and farm’ and the area where most of the impure are kept is on the Jacob’s farm which was right next door to the Fitzgibbons farm. The population without the army is less than a hundred, mostly natural’s and children to young to fight. There remained behind a small group of elite that Jenner didn’t want to risk in the field.” Then he drew several sheets of paper out from the stack he had placed on the desk and handed them to Justin. “As for Mercy, I have told her that she will address you tomorrow morning.”
“Mercy? Dr. Schultz mentioned someone named Mercy. How on earth could she have been connected with Dr. Schultz and Jenner?” Justin asked.
“I don’t know, the prisoners I spoke to only had good things to say about her, even though she was one of Jenner’s elite she was the only one they didn’t hate and during the battle they were amazed that she was giving medical aid to them. Mr. Ages described her medical ability as ‘crude, but remarkably inventive.” That’s apparently why she had remained behind.” Timothy said. Justin leaned back in his chair and put his hands behind his head.
“Well, we will have our answers tomorrow.” He said. Timothy paused, his manner grew very serious.
“Justin, the community was founded by Jenner, Sullivan and Patrick of the 22. Owen, Lenny, Harrison and Samuel of the second generation. Patrick and Samuel still reside there.” He said. Justin sat bolt upright.
“Patrick and Samuel? They died in Dr. Schultz’s gassing of the Rosebush community, Brutus and I nearly died with them.” Justin said.
“From what Mercy said they killed two Naturals and left those bodies where Dr. Schultz would easily find them, they faked their deaths so they could go to other colony.” Tim said.
“How could so many betray us like this? Three of the twenty two and four of the second generation.” Justin said sadly.
“Jenner was very charismatic leader, he swayed the council and almost all but you and a few others. But you have beaten them a second time, don’t worry about them.” Timothy said.
“Have the crows reported yet?”
“Yes, the enemy is still headed northwest toward the city, moving as fast as they can go.” Timothy replied.
“You realize, something must be done about that colony, for our sake and for theirs we can’t let it continue.” Justin said.
“Yes, I know, but what’s to be done?” Timothy asked.
“Its not something that must be decided spur of the moment. But it is something that we must begin thinking about.” Justin said. Justin buzzed the infirmary.
“Ages here.” He heard over the speaker.
“Mr. Ages, could you come to my office, I have a tremendous favor to ask.” Justin said.
Timothy and Jonathan both sat on edge of the bed next to Dante’s.
“Dante, tonight there is going to be a community meeting, Justin wants you there so that you can be introduced. By now everyone has heard what you did during the battle and is eager to finally get to meet you. But Justin wants to know how much he should tell the people. He would prefer to tell them everything about you. But he didn’t want to do that without your approval. We could make up something to tell them, but we would rather not.” Timothy said.
“If we tell them everything, do you think they would reject me when they learn who and what I am?” Dante asked. Timothy thought for a few moments.
“No, I don’t think they would do that. It may be very uncomfortable for you and for some of them, but they will not reject you. You have already gained the friendship and respect of Justin and my mother and father and many others, that’s half the battle right there. If they have accepted you then the others will as well.” Timothy assured him.
“He’s right Dante, don’t worry.” Jonathan said.
“Tell Justin that we will tell them everything and hope for the best.” He replied.
“He’ll be glad to hear it. Are you sure your going to be strong enough for the meeting and for the celebration afterward?” Timothy asked.
“I’ll be there, wild horses couldn’t keep me away.” Dante replied.
“Dante, I wanted to thank you for what you have done for us. I mean, if all you ask in return is to be able to live here with us, then that is the least we can do for you.” Timothy said with appreciation.
“That is much appreciated, Timothy.” Dante replied. Timothy smiled.
“Call me Tim, all my friends do.” He replied and extended his hand to Dante. Dante returned the smile and shook his hand firmly.
“Dante, there is something I wanted to discuss with you before the meeting.”
“What’s that?” Dante asked with concern.
“I realize now that I was a bit unfair about something.”
“Well, your form. I should have given you the choice of what form you would have, I certainly have the power to make you look like a mouse or rat. If you want me to change you over I will and I can change your color if you like.” Jonathan said apologetically. Dante looked to Jonathan, then to Tim and smiled.
“This look is fine, I even like the color.” He replied.
“Good, I’m glad you like it. Now, there is the business of the links you share with us. If I may, I would like to turn them off.” He asked. Dante looked hesitantly at Jonathan.
“I’ve had them most of my life, is it going to do anything to my brain?” He asked nervously.
“It will be a lot quieter in your head, you should sleep better without seeing and hearing what we’re doing and it should improve you concentration. It will probably take some getting use to, being alone with your thoughts.” Jonathan replied.
“I’m here to start a new life, so I might as well get it over with.” Dante said.
“This won’t hurt a bit.” Jonathan said as he placed his hand on Dante’s head.
Justin stepped from behind the curtains and approached the podium at the front of the massive amphitheater, the entire community sat before him, the feeling of excitement was palpable. He tapped on the microphone to get everyone’s attention. When the crowd fell silent he spoke.
“Ladies and Gentlemen of Thorn Valley. We again have faced and overcome a crisis, but this was no ordinary crisis. It brought together the best and worst of human kind and our kind.” He said, a questioning murmur went through the crowd. “I will explain that shortly. Jenner and Dr. Schultz are no more.” He said. The crowd erupted in applause. He raised his hands to silence them. “We are safer now than ever before and though there are many who we have to thank for that, there are two whom most of you are not aware of, one of them had been thought lost to us a long time ago but has at last returned.” Justin said, applause and cheers had already started before he had finished speaking. “May I proudly introduce Jonathan Brisby.” He said and the entire crowd rose to its feet and continued with its jubilation. From behind the curtain Jonathan stepped forward. He waited for the jubilation to die down. Justin handed the mike to Jonathan.
“Thank you, my friends. I have missed you all so much. I am glad I was able to arrive in time to help. I am sure you would all like to know how I escaped Dragon.” There was a rumble of agreement from the crowd. “I have an interesting tale to tell, but this tale isn’t just about me, it involves another. His name is Dante.” There was more cheering from the audience. “He has asked me to tell his story before he joins us here before you.” Jonathan then proceeded to tell the strange tale of what had happened from the time of his encounter with Dragon to the end of the battle and he then proceeded to explain to them about Dante and his origins and his connection to them and detailed all that he had done for them. The crowd was silent the entire time, looks of shock and amazement on their faces.
“As you can see, Dante has sacrificed a great deal to come to our aid and we believe he has earned the right to be here. So I ask that you join Justin, my family and myself in welcoming him to Thorn Valley.” Then Jonathan turned to the curtains. “Dante.” He said. The curtains parted and Dante slowly walked forward, his eyes downcast, for fear of the community rejecting him. He joined them at the front. The applause started slowly, then it grew louder and louder and many even rose to their feet. Dante looked up at the crowd and smiled. Jonathan handed the mike to him. Dante looked alarmed at the idea of addressing the crowd. He walked hesitantly to the front. The noise died down.
“Thank you, I am honored and humbled that you are willing to let me share in what you have built here. As a citizen of Thorn Valley I will do my very best to prove myself worthy of your trust and friendship.” He said and the crowd cheered again. He quickly handed the mike back to Jonathan, who then handed it back to Justin. Justin then proceeded to give a detailed account of the events leading up to the battle and then of the battle itself, giving great praise to Captain Killian and most especially Rose. Justin then asked them to join him on stage. Justin noticed that Rose, in keeping with her transformation had traded in her simple red cloak for a long red dress. When they joined him on stage the crowd erupted in applause again. Each addressed the crowd and spoke of the battle. When they had finished the crowd cheered again. Justin held up his hands to silence the crowd.
“My friends, Thank you and let the celebration begin!” Justin said and the crowd rose to its feet and cheered and moments later the crowd began to disperse. Killian patted Dante on the back.
“Congratulations, citizen Dante.” He said warmly. Rose hugged Dante.
“Indeed, welcome.” She said.
“Well done, heroes of Thorn Valley. I think the public awaits its chance to thank you all in person. Have fun.” Justin said and turned to leave.
“Aren’t you coming?” Jonathan asked in surprise.
“I have just a little more business to take care of, then I’ll join you.” He replied.
Dante and Jonathan were mobbed everywhere they went. It took them both over half an hour to get outside to where the festivities were being held at the lake side, where there was much food, music (provided by Thorn Valley’s premier musical group, the Rat-Tones) and dancing. The food immediately drew Dante, in particular a strange and wondrous smell, it was something being barbecued. He followed his nose to where several very large, long heavily laden spits were being turned over open fires, it appeared to be ribs of some kind. Dante approached. A large rat with very bright orange fur, dressed as a cook appeared. He grabbed Dante’s hand and shook it vigorously.
“Dante, I’m ‘Salsa’ Bob. Its great to finally get to meet you. I don’t know what you think of the food here, but I’m cooking up something here that might be more in line with your pallet.” He said and went to the ribs and cut off a big chunk and put it on a plate that he then offered to Dante. Dante was hesitant.
“What kind of ribs are these, if I may ask?” Dante asked suspiciously.
“Rattlesnake, the barbecue sauce is my own secret recipe. This disagreeable fellow came in over the side of the valley and caused all sorts of trouble, but Brutus, by himself killed it. I am told it was an amazing battle to behold.” He replied. As Dante looked closer he noticed that Bob was not entirely orange, around his eyes there was what seemed like a mask of black fur with a line of similar color that circled his head, like an outline of a pair of goggles with a strap. When Bob noticed his stare, he smiled.
“About the orange. I am a chemist by trade, recently I had a little accident in the lab and ended up looking like this. Its not permanent, luckily.” He said and laughed.
Dante took a bite of rib, they were quite good.
A short time later after he had explored the buffet, he made his way to where the majority of the people were dancing and sitting on the grass listening to the music. He soon found where some of the Brisby family sat. He saw Tim, Jenny and Mr. and Mrs.. Brisby. When Rose saw him she waved for him to join them.
“Is everyone making you feel at home?” She asked as he sat down.
“See, even at the beginning I told you they’d love you.” Jonathan said.
“So, where are the others?” Dante asked.
“Martin and Teresa are dancing their hearts out with their future spouses, I haven’t seen Cynthia yet and for that matter where is Justin?” Rose wondered.
Justin sat at his desk looking over the reports Tim had given him. He found it hard to imagine the life that the prisoners had endured. The violence, the suffering. When they had been captured they expected to be killed because they were impure. They expected the people of Thorn Valley to treat them the way Jenner had treated them. Would he be able to convince the citizens of Thorn Valley that the other colony needed their help? It was one thing to ask the citizens to risk their lives to protect their own people, but could he ask them to risk their lives to free this other colony from its bondage. It was indeed fortunate that no defenders had been killed, if there had then there would have been cries of blood for blood and the prisoners might have been in a worse position than they were in now. It wasn’t fortune that no one was killed, it was impossible. Nicodemus, somehow you had something to do with this, you’re still alive aren’t you? You cheated death just like Jonathan, Jenner and Dr. Schultz. I don’t know how you survived. I helped free your body from the rubble, you were dead and so was Jenner and believe me I made sure of that. Where are you old friend? He asked himself, suddenly there was a knock on the door. He looked up in alarm as the door opened. He let out a sigh of relief when he saw that it was Cynthia Brisby and not Nicodemus. Cynthia had traded in her fatigues for a long white gown with a wide blue ribbon near the top that was tied into a huge bow behind her back. She walked up to his desk, which was shoulder height to her, she folded her arms on top of the desk and rested her chin on her hands and looked up at him with a big smile.
“Why haven’t you joined the party yet?” She asked.
“There were just some things I had to take care of. By the way, congratulations on winning the gold star.” He said. She smiled.
“Thank you.” She said and then after a moment’s pause. “You wouldn’t have had anything to do with that would you?” She asked.
“Absolutely not, you earned it. We both know it.” He assured her with a big smile. She beamed with pride.
“Enough with work, this is the time to celebrate. We’ve all gotten happy endings. We won, Dante got a new home and now I even have my father back, isn’t that wonderful?” She said. Just for an instant she saw a flash of pain in Justin’s eyes.
“Yes, it is. I wasn’t exaggerating when I said that he was like a brother to me. By the time we had escaped from NIMH all our families were long gone, so all we had were each other. Your father and I were the youngest of the escapee’s and the most similar in personality. I was devastated by his death, don’t forget, I saw it happen. That image haunted my dreams for years. But now that he’s back I’m overjoyed that you and your family can all be together again.” He said, but she could hear the hint of strong emotion in his voice. She smiled sweetly, walked around to him and to his great surprise she climbed onto his lap, the way she did when she would sneak into his office to keep him company when she was little.
“Cynthia!” He said in embarrassment. She looked up into his eyes.
“Justin, I want you to remember something always.” She said.
“What is that?”
“Jonathan Brisby is my father, but you Justin will always be ‘daddy’ to me.” she said and hugged him tightly. He sighed happily and wrapped his arms around her.
“My little angel.” He whispered, a tear running down his cheek. After a long while they broke their embrace.
“I’m sure their wondering where we are.” Justin said as he lifted Cynthia up and placed her gently on the ground. When he stood she reached up and took his arm and together they left to join the celebration.
Dante sat and watched the festivities in silence. What now? He asked himself. His thoughts were interrupted when Cynthia stepped in front of him, she held out her hand.
“I dare to dance with the little white mouse.” She said boldly. He looked up at her in stunned silence for a few moments, seeing her for the first time without the grime and grease paint, she looked...beautiful. He nervously looked to Jonathan and Rose, they just smiled. He rose to his feet and Cynthia grabbed his hand and drew him amongst the dancers. She took his other hand and put it on her waist and together they slowly began to dance. Dante could feel his heart rate skyrocket. Why do I feel this way? Do I actually feel that strongly about her? I’ve known her less than three days. Love at first sight? What am I saying, she’s a rodent! But...so am I. I want to stay here in Thorn Valley, but how deeply do I want to be one of them? If this is really how I feel about her then there is no turning back. He thought desperately to himself. She giggled.
“Dante, are you nervous?” She asked coyly.
“Uh...What makes you say that?” He asked nervously.
“Your ears have turned bright red, that’s something else you’ll have to get used to. They give away your emotions every time.” She said. He looked embarrassed.
“I saw you stand alone against an entire army. You stared death in the face and made it blink with not the least bit of fear or uncertainty. Yet, here with me, my hand in yours, your heart is racing...I’m very flattered.” She said. He looked into her big brown eyes. Could she actually feel the same way about me? He asked himself and as if in answer to his question he saw to his astonishment that her ears began to turn deep red.
From her cell Mercy could hear the sounds of music and merriment. The smell of food even found its way into her cell. She glanced at the bread and water that had been left for her. She listened sadly to the joy of the defenders as they celebrated their victory.
I could have been one of you. She again lamented. A short time later the guards opened the door. Timothy Brisby entered, in his hand he held a basket of food.
“I bring this, compliments of Justin.” He said and put it at her feet.
“Thank you, sir.” She responded, he left moments later. Eager to return to celebrating our defeat, to deliver this, so that Justin could rub my face in his victory. She thought. She sat looking at it for quite a while, but eventually the enticing smell made her lean forward. What if its poisoned? No, Justin would not do anything so subtle, what he has in store for me will not be behind closed doors. She thought. She hesitantly tasted the many strange and exotic foods, they were all very good. I suppose that for a last meal it might as well be something better than bread and water. she thought.
Rose was happy. She had her entire family together and she was even young enough now to enjoy them, in fact she now looked and felt as young as she did the day she had first met Jonathan, who himself still looked as young as he did the first day they met. She hugged him tightly.
“Would you care to dance, my love?” He asked. Rose was on her feet in an instant. She helped him to his feet and they held each other closely as they danced. They had been apart far longer than they had been together. Each had secretly worried that the other’s feelings might have faded over time, but to their relief, if anything they were stronger than when they had been together before. All was right with the world, Rose saw that even Killian, who had only days before lamented his loneliness and isolation now had his hands full in the company of several attractive young ladies, all vying for his attention and she smiled as she saw Justin and Isabella blissfully dancing in each others arms.
The festivities lasted well into the night and into the early morning. For most of the residents of Thorn Valley the day started considerably later than it would normally have. The interview with Mercy that Justin had planned for that morning had been postponed to the afternoon. Mercy found herself strangely calm. She spent part of the morning brushing her fur and brushing the dust off her robe so that she could at least face her fate with a little dignity. A short time later the door was opened and again Timothy Brisby appeared. The expression on his face was a deadly serious one.
“Are you ready?” He asked.
“I am ready.” She replied and followed him out the door. A short distance away she heard noise coming from the cell, she glanced back and saw that the contents of the room that had been removed to make room for her were being put back inside. Mercy felt a lump in her throat. As a prisoner I came into this world and so shall I leave it as one.
She thought sadly. She followed Timothy nervously as he led her to the main entrance. Brutus followed in step behind them. She was awed by what she saw. What little she had seen of the community through her master’s magical viewer had impressed her, but to actually be here to see it in person was truly overwhelming, especially compared to the squalor and privation of the majority of the citizens of Jenner’s community. As they neared Justin’s office Mercy watched with silent horror as they walked along the carpet that was still stained with the blood of the traitorous Captain Owen. At last he led her past several guards, through a large door, into a reception area with a small desk and filing cabinets.
“A word of advice, if you do find it necessary to make a reference to someone without the NIMH genes, whatever you do, do not call them feral, lower or lesser creature, dumb animal or impure. The term we use is ‘Natural’ and it is spoken with respect, as my mother has proved to all that blood is not the measure of a persons worth.” Timothy said.
“Yes, sir.” She replied. Timothy opened another large door that led into Justin’s office. She timidly stepped into the large room and saw that behind a large desk sat Justin, looking at her gravely, around the room sat Captain Killian, Dante, an amazingly rejuvenated Rose Brisby and Jonathan Brisby and Mr. Ages. Timothy sat near his parents and Brutus stood in front of the now locked door. Mercy stepped to the center of the room, her face downcast.
“Mercy, you are here to give an account of yourself and to stand judgment. Who are you and where do you come from?” Justin asked. She composed herself, took a deep breath and still keeping her eyes down, she spoke.
“I was born at NIMH, my mother’s name was Mercedes and father was named Hale. They along with four others had become lost in the ventilation system during the escape. They were recaptured and returned to captivity the next day. Dr. Schultz, now with his funding cut and his creations on the loose, developed a plan, He took the survivors and paired them off in the hopes of their reproducing. Eventually each couple produced offspring. I was the first born into captivity. All the offspring were given a series of injections by Dr. Schultz, but for the most part that was all he did to us. There was no testing, no further experiments, nothing. But that changed, at least for me early in my childhood. Late one night he entered the lab, but his eyes had a frightening glow and he held his hand us as he walked along the line of cages, then he returned to the one that contained my family, then he opened our cage and took me away from my mother and father, he gave me an injection and I lost consciousness. When I woke later I found myself in a cage in a strange, dark, cold place. I sat alone and hungry in my cage in the dark room for the next two day. Dr. Schultz then appeared. He asked me my name. Mother and father had always told me to play dumb around the humans, but I was to frightened to disobey, so I told him. He smiled and fed me. He then made me an offer which I dare not refuse. He told me that I could serve him willingly or unwillingly. He said that if I refused he would destroy my mind and train me like an animal for his purposes or I could serve him willingly, in which case I would be allowed to live outside of the cage, outside of a laboratory and I would be taught to read and to learn and would have a small measure of freedom. Up until that point in my short life my universe consisted of a cage in a windowless lab at NIMH and nature to me was a small potted plant that had sat on a filing cabinet. He asked for an answer. So, terrified, helpless and completely alone I exchanged my steel cage for a gilded cage, I agreed to serve him. He opened my cage and put me in the palm of his hand and we left the lab and went outside.” At this point Mercy’s voice choked with emotion. “And then for the first time in my life I saw the sky, sunlight, I saw trees and I heard birds sing. It was the most wonderful thing in the world.” She said and smiled, but the smile instantly faded away. “But there was a terrible price to pay for that. The purpose he wanted to train me for was simple. Track down the rats and mice that had escaped from NIMH. As he trained me and developed my powers he also taught me like a student. I learned many things under his tutelage, I saw that I had a gift for medicine, but my grim purpose left little opportunity to develop that gift. I spent the rest of my childhood hunting you. It was not easy, the trail had been long cold. My powers were pushed to the limit time and again to find you, following your every step. The grocery stores in the city, the farms in the country, then to the Boniface estate, where you stayed an inordinate amount of time. As we neared our goal, Dr. Schultz pushed my abilities to the limit of my endurance. After more than two years of searching we finally tracked you down to the Fitzgibbons farm, by that time I was physically and mentally exhausted, I was unconscious for most of what happened at the farm, but my next memory was of waking in the presence of a terrible creature, Jenner, covered in blood and dirt. Some how he had learned of my existence and had stolen me from Dr. Schultz. He wrapped his hands around my throat and for the second time in my life I was given a terrible choice to make. The choice was to serve him or die. I agreed to serve him. After all, if you’ve already sold your soul, what difference does it make which devil you serve? I treated his terrible injuries and nursed him back to health. He took me to his colony. I delivered the babies of its prisoners, I treated the sick and dying. I turned a blind eye to the suffering of the lo...natural...animals that were kept as slaves and did everything possible to make our colony prosper and to help prepare for war.” She said softly.
“Those threats you delivered, were they your words or his?” Justin asked in icy tones. There was a long pause from her.
“He gave me the knowledge about you, but they were my words.” She replied meekly. There was now a long pause from Justin.
“What did you do during and after the battle?” He asked.
“I waited in the back with Three, I had been instructed to care for any of the full blood wounded of Thorn Valley. However when the battle went against us Three fled with the remains of the army. I wanted to flee as well but I couldn’t bring myself to leave the wounded behind and that was my undoing.” She said sadly and then fell silent.
After a short time Justin spoke.
“Is that all you have to say for yourself?” He asked.
“Yes, sir.” She replied.
“Brutus, take her into the other room.” Justin said as he got up and handed a note to Brutus. Mercy walked out of the office and into the other room under the unfailing glare of Brutus, who handed the note to another guard. That guard quickly ran off.
The moment the door was closed Rose began sobbing.
“So much guilt, so much shame, so much pain.” She said with tears in her eyes.
“Was she telling the truth?” Justin asked. Rose was so overwhelmed she could only nod. Jonathan held his wife close. Justin looked to Mr. Ages.
“Have you made a decision about what we discussed yesterday?” He asked.
Mr. Ages looked thoughtful for a few moments.
“Yes, I will do as you ask.” He replied.
“Thank you, Mr. Ages.” Justin replied with a smile.
“I have always wondered how Dr. Schultz tracked us to the farm.” Killian said.
“Fiendish, using one of our own kind against us.” Timothy said.
Dante stood silently, he didn’t want to feel this way, but he couldn’t help it, a part of him actually felt envious of Mercy, she had been raised by his father had spent more time with and had learned more from him than he ever had and in a sense he had treated her better than he ever treated his own son. Thanks a lot dad, one last painful reminder of what you did. He thought ruefully. Rose regained her composure and began to speak.
“She has spent almost her entire life hunting you down, serving those who would rob you of your freedom, all the while despising herself for it and wishing she could have shared in that same freedom. Now that the hunter has become the hunted, she stands before us condemned in her own heart for her deeds, she now waits patiently, with her head on the block waiting for you Justin to swing the axe.” Rose said sadly.
“What are you going to do?” Jonathan asked.
“Wait and see.” He responded. “Brutus, bring her inside!” Justin shouted. Moments later the door opened and Mercy was marched to the center of the room. She looked at Justin’s grim expression.
“Mercy, do you have any final words in your defense before I pass judgment on you?” He asked gravely. In response she closed her eyes and hung her head in shame.
“No, sir. It is to late for words, to late for apologies...” her voice trailed off. “And to late for Mercy, in every way.” She said in despair. She heard Justin get out of his chair and stand before her.
“Mercy, look at me.” He said gently. She looked up. Justin could see tears forming in her eyes. “I have given these matters much thought and I have considered many punishments appropriate for your actions so that justice might be served.” He said. The tears began running down her cheeks, then to her astonishment he smiled.
“After much thought, I decided that nothing would be gained by satisfying justice. So Mercy,...” He said and crouched down so he was nearer to her eye level.
“You are forgiven.” He said gently. Her mouth fell open, she tried to speak but she could find no words.
“One condition though, you must spend the rest of your life living up to your name, I have discussed this with Mr. Ages, our head of medicine, he has agreed to become your mentor and to help you develop your gift. Welcome to Thorn Valley, Mercy.” Justin said. She desperately wanted to believe what he was saying, but it had to be a cruel joke. She gazed at his earnest face and sincere smile and it began to sink in that he was serious.
“What of the others?” She whispered. Justin stood.
“Like you, they have been prisoners and slaves all their lives, they have known nothing but violence and cruelty, it is now far past time that they know what mercy and compassion feel like.” He replied. She still couldn’t believe this was real, she expected at any moment to wake up back in her cell. “And we will go to Jenner’s colony, we will end its legacy of evil, we will free the prisoners and end their suffering. We will bring them here to Thorn Valley, not as our prisoners and not as our slaves, but as our brothers and sisters. So that at last all the children of NIMH may be gathered together, without fear or oppression, to live in peace and with dignity.” He said. Mercy found herself so overcome she again couldn’t speak. Looking into Justin’s eyes she suddenly realized that she didn’t hate rats anymore. She heard the door open behind her.
“Perfect timing. Mercy, your welcoming committee is here.” Justin said.
“Mercy!” She heard a male and female cry out simultaneously, almost in anguish. Mercy turned and stumbled back against Justin. At the door she saw two mice, male and female, surrounded by several small children.
“Mother? Father?” She gasped. They all ran to her and embraced. Mercy looked up to Justin.
“But how can they be here?” She asked in astonishment.
“You have Timothy Brisby to thank for that, he returned to NIMH and freed his captive brother and those that had been recaptured after the escape.” He replied. Mercy looked to Timothy, he just smiled. Justin and the others left the room, leaving Mercy to be reunited with her parents and to be introduced to her brothers and sisters.
Mr. Ages returned to the hospital and the rest went to Justin’s study.
“That was magnificent, Justin.” Jonathan said. Justin smiled.
“Thank you, Thorn Valley was created to be a place for second chances and new beginnings.” He said. Killian sat silently, lost in his thoughts.
“What’s wrong, Killian?” Justin asked.
“Knowing how the other colony was created and knowing that the army we faced was filled with the children of Jenner and the others, how many of my brothers and sisters did I slay during the battle?” He asked sadly.
“Not a single one.” Timothy replied. Killian looked up in surprise.
“How can you be sure?” Killian asked.
“I asked Mercy that very question during her interview. It seems that Jenner produced only one offspring at his colony, a son named Oscar. Mercy was adamant that he was left behind at the colony.” Tim replied. Killian looked stunned at first and then smiled.
“I have a brother.” He said in astonishment.
Rose could feel great sadness from Dante, greater now than the time in Justin’s office when Tim and Jonathan had spoken.
“Dante, are you all right?” She asked.
“No, I am not. In the last couple days it seems everyone has been reunited with loved ones, you Jonathan and Rose, you have your children and each other, Justin you got your best friend back, Killian got a brother and a son. Mercy, she was actually raised by my father and meant more to him than I ever did and she gets her entire family back, but for me, mom’s dead, dad’s dead and their not coming back. No brothers or sisters, all I have left is Uncle George, who is not an uncle but a friend of the family and Aunt Rita who raised me but never loved me. That is all I have now.” He said sadly and got out of his chair. “If you’ll excuse me, I think now I really do want to be alone for a while.” He said.
“I am sorry Dante, I wish I could have done something for your father, but he was beyond mortal help.” Rose said sadly.
“I know, you did give me a little bit, I did learn that his dad experimented on him too and he did love me and mom at one time, but he lost that as he lost his mind” Dante said and left the room.
Dante wandered the community for several hours, he tried to avoid people as much as possible, he went to the dark and out of the way places. Eventually hunger drew him back to civilization. He waited till after meal time to sneak in and load up on what was left over. While he was eating, Tim appeared.
“Dante, I’ve been looking for you for ages, I have something to show you.” Tim said with a smile. Dante quickly finished eating and followed. He lead Dante to a door in a residential wing of the community.
“What is this?” Dante asked.
“This is your place.” He replied and opened the door. Inside it was four furnished rooms, the total floor space was about the size and shape of three shoeboxes, but the room was rat height.
“This place should be good for you.” Tim said.
“This is great, thank you. I think its actually bigger than my dorm at college.” Dante said as he looked over the place. In the bedroom, sitting on his nightstand was a metal urn and next to it was a gold ring.
“Is that what I think it is?” Dante asked. Tim looked uncomfortable.
“Yes, those are his ashes.” He replied. Dante looked around and saw that his duffelbag had been brought here. The shotgun and bandoleers were resting on a chair and to his surprise the garbage can with the weapons was sitting in the corner.
“How did that get here? That was in the car.” Dante asked.
“Dad brought your car here, if you had just left it in the park it would have been discovered and traced back to your father and we didn’t want anything with your father’s name attached to it anywhere near Thorn Valley.” Then Tim paused. “Sorry.” He said.
“No problem, I understand perfectly. So the car is here?” Dante asked.
“Yes, its really neat to be able to get a close look at it now that its our size, all your gear is here as well. Except your computer, the science people commandeered it as soon as they laid eyes on it, if you want I can get it back right away.” Tim said. Dante smiled.
“That won’t be necessary, consider the computer my gift to Thorn Valley.”
“The science people will be glad to hear that, I think it would have required Brutus with all his strength to pry their hands off it. They have already built a signal booster/receiver to surf the Net.” Tim said.
“Hey, I wonder if I got any e-mail?” Dante asked.
“Let’s stop by and see, I’m sure the people in the lab will be interested in meeting you.” Tim said and led Dante out the door.
Justin was in his office doing paper work when Tim and Chief of Science Lilandra, carrying a laptop computer under her arm burst into his office. Mouse and rat both had looks of alarm.
“Justin, we’ve got a problem.” Tim said gravely.
“A big problem.” Lilandra said.
“What’s wrong?” Justin asked with concern.
“The problem is Dante, he was reading an e-mail he received, then he slammed his fists on the table and fled the room. I haven’t been able to find him, the guards at the front gate said he stormed past them and disappeared into the valley.” Tim said.
“What does the message say?” Justin asked.
“I only read a little bit of it but I think you should take a look at this. Its from Dr. George.” Tim said. Lilandra put it on the desk and quickly showed Justin how to use the program. It didn’t feel right to Justin to read someone’s personal correspondence, especially if that correspondence was from Dr. George. But they seemed to think it was important enough to warrant the intrusion into Dante’s private affairs.
Dante, I don’t know if your even alive now. After what happened at the lab, I can only hope that you have escaped the clutches of those vermin. Words cannot describe how sorry I am that you have become involved in our personal hell. I hope you can forgive me for revealing the truth to you. I should have just destroyed everything and left you in the dark. You probably would have hated me for that, but in the end I think we all would have been better off. The legacy of this project is like Frankenstein’s monster, not simply content on destroying its creator, it first destroyed all that he held dear and only then came after him. I have watched as all that I valued has been destroyed. Now only Julie and myself remain, how long till its our turn? The project destroyed everyone even remotely connected to it. I am sorry to have to tell you this and add to your grief and your problems but I regret to inform you that your Aunt Rita passed away two days ago. She died in her sleep. It was during a very strange night, Julie and I were in the lab when we both had the strangest dream. Your dad was there, you were there, Rita was there and there was a weird giant rodent with a red cape and a glowing red stone and we were watching your dad’s life in flashback. When the dream ended we found ourselves back at the lab. Julie got up and she walked out and I haven’t seen or heard from her since. Please let me know if your still alive. You were the hope for all of us, we all wanted you to rise above our fate and escape the curse that we brought on ourselves for what we did. You deserved a better life than the one you got. Again I ask you to let me know if you are safe.
Justin looked up from the screen.
“Tim, drop everything. We must find Dante.” He said urgently.
The sun was setting when they found Dante, Mercy had even been asked to use her tracking ability to help in finding him. He was sitting on the edge of the cliffs that surround the valley, a perilous twenty foot drop beneath his dangling feet. Those present stayed cautiously back, Justin asked Cynthia to speak to him. She slowly walked toward him.
“Dante.” she said softly. He turned to look at her. She saw that in one hand he clutched a metal urn and in the other he held a small photograph. He smiled faintly.
“Hello.” He said and turned back to the valley. She went up to the edge and sat next to him. He held up the urn for her to see.
“Dad, I’d like you to meet Cynthia Brisby, Cynthia meet Dr. Erhard Schultz.” He said. She looked at him strangely, not sure if he was serious or not. Luckily, he then lowered the urn and looked to the picture, she could see that it was of three humans, a man, a woman and a small boy. “This is the only picture I have of the three of us together. It was taken at the beach a few months before mom died. That was the only time I ever remember us being a family.” He held up the urn and photo again. “This is all I have left in the world to remember them by.” He said sadly. “I miss them both so much...I want to be with them again.” He said and to her surprise he began sobbing. She moved closer and put her arm across his shoulders.
“Dante, I’m sorry.” She said sympathetically.
“Everything in my life is gone, my entire family is gone, there is nothing left. I am completely alone. I thought I knew what it felt like to be alone, but I had no idea until now just how terrifying it really is.” He said as he cried.
“Dante, you’re not alone now and you never will be again. We all need each other here. The community here is alone, alone in the universe. Outside this valley we have no allies to turn to in times of need and enemies beyond counting. We are like family here, because there is no one else. You are now part of that family, because, as someone once said ‘Friends are the family you make for yourself.’ You have a large family here, a family that will always be there for you.” She held him closer as he cried.
“Dante, please come back with us.” She said gently. He looked into her eyes for a few moments, then he looked to the valley, he sighed.
“Yes, lets go home.” He said finally, she helped him to his feet. He turned toward the valley and opened the urn and poured the ashes out over valley, they watched as the breeze carried and dispersed the ashes.
“Dad, I’ll try to forgive you.” He said sadly.
He then carefully placed the photo back in his pocket. Cynthia took his hand and together they joined the very relieved onlookers who had waited anxiously nearby. Little was said as they returned to the community.
They went to Justin’s office and Tim arrived shortly with a cup of coffee for Dante. Even though the crisis had passed everyone still looked slightly alarmed. Dante noticed their expressions. He smiled.
“I am sorry for that overly dramatic show of emotion, but this week has been a bit to much for me. I have faced to much death, fear, change and loss. It just got the better of me. I’m fine now.” He said.
“I know that all this has been tough for you to deal with. If you want to go back to the human world, just say the word. I have been saving enough power to do that before I shut it down to rest.” Jonathan said.
“That won’t be necessary, the human world holds nothing for me now. I throw my lot in with all of you. Your destiny is now mine and your fate is mine as well.” He said.
“Dante, as I said before, your welcome here. You have chosen to be one of us and we will not take your deeds and sacrifice for granted.” Justin said.
Dante looked at Justin and noticed the computer on his desk.
“Did you read the letter from Uncle George?” He asked. Justin looked embarrassed.
“Yes, I did, but only because we wanted to know what upset you so much.” He said apologetically. Dante smiled.
“No offense taken. I’m glad you came looking for me.” He said. Dante thought about the letter for awhile. He turned to Jonathan.
“I should contact Uncle George to let him know I’m okay, but an e-mail doesn’t seem adequate. Jonathan, you were able to go to Justin in a dream, could you connect me with Uncle George the same way?” Dante asked. The room fell silent and everyone just stared at Dante. “I know what he did to you and I know you want nothing more to do with him, but please, he is the closest thing to family I have left in the world. I would like to say goodbye to him in person and assure him that you’re not plotting to kill him.” Dante said. Everyone in the room remained silent. Then Justin leaned forward on his desk.
“We owe you a great deal Dante, for your sake I will agree to this under the provision that you give him no clue as to where we are.” Justin said gravely.
“Dante, you saved my life so I also owe you a great deal. Since Justin does approve I will do as you ask. You know how we feel about him, but I know from painful experience what it feels like to be taken away from those you love and having those left behind think you are dead.” Jonathan said sadly. “Its still fairly early yet, we’ll wait till around midnight to make contact.” Jonathan said. They stayed and talked late into the night, Dante remembered something that had been bothering him a little.
“There is something I have been meaning to ask. Now that I’m a citizen here, what am I going to do for a living?” Dante asked.
“Tim has already taken care of that.” Justin said with a smile.
“I spoke to Captain Killian, with the death of Captain Owen and his minions, the new captain is in need of another lieutenant, it shouldn’t take you long to get used to the laws and rules of Thorn Valley, we could have you up and running in a week or so. He said the job is yours, if you want it.” Tim said.
“I’d like that very much, thank you.” Dante replied.
Around midnight Dante and Jonathan headed for Dante’s apartment, once there Jonathan locked the door and set two chairs facing each other, he sat in one and Dante in the other.
“Dante, close your eyes and lean forward.” Jonathan commanded. When Dante had done so, Jonathan also leaned forward and rested his head against Dante’s. Suddenly Dante felt like he was flying. He was traveling so fast he couldn’t make out any details of his environment. Eventually they slowed down and in the distance he could see his Uncle George’s lab. When he stopped moving he was in the office in his human form. George was sleeping with his head on folded hands at his desk, the only illumination in the room being a small lamp on his desk. Several bottles of booze and a revolver sat close at hand.
“Uncle George?” Dante asked. George woke instantly and picked up the revolver and pointed it at Dante, then when he saw it was Dante he lowered it.
“Dante, I was so worried about you.” He said in relief and got out of his chair and hugged Dante.
“I’ve been worried about you also, how are you?” Dante asked.
“I’ve been better, I was really worried when you fought those creatures in the parking lot, Julie and I had a devil of a time getting the bodies behind the lab, we burned them to get rid of the evidence. After that we went to the burning remains of your dad’s lab and made sure that everything was destroyed. We had even stopped at a gas station and bought several gallon containers of gas and threw them into the fire and then gathered every piece of wood we could find to also throw on the fire. There was nothing left when it was over. But something weird happened the next night...Dante, something happened at your dad’s grave. It looks like there is a crater there.” He said.
“Dad wasn’t really dead, he was playing possum. He came after my friends and I. We had to stop him and a rat named Jenner from destroying us all.” Dante replied. George looked very alarmed.
“Who is ‘us’?” He asked.
“I found those that escaped from NIMH. I’m with them now. I’m one of them now. In fact, its one of them that’s making it possible for me to be here, because I’m not really here now. This is a dream, you’re asleep at your desk this very moment.” Dante said.
“What do you mean your one of them?” George asked with growing alarm.
“You better sit down for this.” Dante said. George did so with a look of apprehension. Dante climbed on the desk and transformed into his rodent form. In response George just put his head in his hands.
“Dante, I’m so sorry.” He said sadly.
“Don’t be, Uncle George. I’m happy here with them and when was the last time you heard me use that word to describe myself?” Dante asked. George looked down at Dante sadly.
“I have never heard you describe yourself as happy, even so, I am sorry that it took something this drastic to make you happy.” He replied. Dante then went on to explain briefly the experiments that his father had done to him and how it connected him to the lab animals and how Dr. Schultz had been feeding on George and the others. George leaned back in his chair.
“I think we all suspected he did something to you when you started having the nightmares and hallucinations. Dante, I’m sorry about Rita, I took care of the arrangements. It was a nice service.” George said sadly.
“Thank you, I wish I could have been there. I wanted to also let you know that father is really gone now and I want to tell you that rats and mice that escaped are not hunting you down, they in fact just want to be left alone. They are building a society and would like to do it in peace. Its a place second chances and new beginnings.”
George looked aghast.
“A society?” He asked.
“Yes, a civilization of their own.” Dante responded.
“I need a drink, care to join me?” George asked and began drinking straight from a bottle of vodka.
“No thanks, the main reason I’m here is to say goodbye. This will probably be the last time we’ll ever see each other again.” Dante said sadly. George frowned.
“As I said before you left, you’re like a son to me Dante. Go and be happy.”
“Dante, we need to go.” Jonathan’s disembodied voice called out of the darkness.
“Who is that?” George asked and picked up the revolver again.
“Relax, Uncle George that’s my friend Jonathan, he’s using his powers to let me talk to you now. You might remember him. His number was G-7” Dante said.
“G-7? Light gray with dark spots.” He said, then
“That’s him. I guess his strength is about run out and he can’t maintain the link.” Dante said. George sat for a few moments and then suddenly looked very alarmed.
“Are you saying that the original escapee’s are still alive? All these years later, their still alive?” George asked in astonishment.
“Yes and those that have died, died of unnatural causes.” Dante replied. George sighed and picked up bottle and made a toast to the direction the voice came from.
“My thanks, Jonathan, for letting me see Dante one last time.” He said and chugged the rest of the bottle.
“Goodbye, Uncle George. If you see Julie again tell her I said goodbye.” Dante said as he vanished out of sight.
Dr. George woke violently from his dream. He found himself sitting in his office at his desk. He got out of his chair and looked around the room. Only a dream. He thought until he saw the empty vodka bottle sitting on his desk.
As Mercy walked to the main library she reflected on her first month in Thorn Valley and how every day seemed like heaven, it was so wondrous that every morning when she woke she expected to be back in a cage or in Jenner’s colony. But now she had things she had never had before, hope, family, friends and freedom. It was almost to much to believe. Her time with Mr. Ages was proving to be very fruitful. He was a stern but fair teacher and he had even commented that she had a definite gift for medicine. She had thrown herself whole heatedly into her studies. Justin had given her and the other prisoners a second chance when they had expected only death and she would rather die than risk wasting it. As for the other prisoners, who had no education, they were working on the farm and getting a great deal of remedial education. She was also overjoyed that those who were still at Jenner’s colony would one day soon be set free. The day after her pardon Justin had called another community meeting to explain to them the plight of the other colony. To her amazement the people of Thorn Valley had agreed with Justin that something had to be done and plans were even now being prepared to rescue the other colony so that they could be in the valley before winter. She didn’t believe such people or such a place as this could exist. She found it hard to believe that these strangers that she had attacked had pardoned her and her fellow prisoners and had opened their hearts to them and were willing to free others like her and then to be willing to share their world with them, the Brisby family in particular had been especially kind to her. She thanked God every day for these things.
Rose Brisby had practically moved into the library over the last month, now that she could read she spent almost every waking moment making up for lost time. At the moment she had the whole place to herself as the librarian had gone on break. As she was reading she looked up and saw Killian with his son in his arms. He quickly walked over to her.
“Good day, Rose.” He said with a smile.
“Good day to you, Killian. How is little Jeffrey today?” She asked.
“As good as gold.” He said and offered the baby to her. She took the large baby rat in her arms. The baby looked at her, smiled and grabbed her nose. She could sense only joy from the baby, it was a wondrous feeling knowing that this was coming from the being that had once been the loathsome Jenner.
“Thank you for everything, I don’t know how I can possibly repay you for all that you have done for us.” Killian said.
“If you want to repay me, just be a good father to your son.” She replied happily as she looked at the baby. As they were speaking Mercy entered the library.
“Hello, Mercy.” Rose called out.
Mercy approached, she saw that Rose was holding a baby rat. She had heard that Killian found a baby on the battlefield, she couldn’t imagine where the baby came from. To her knowledge all the children born at Jenner’s colony had been left there when the soldiers left. As she approached and got a good look at the baby she suddenly recognized his familiar presence, she gasped in alarm and took a step back.
“Its...its...” Is all she could say. Rose and Killian each looked to the other and then to her. Killian leaned close to her.
“Its a secret that you will take with you to the grave, do I make myself perfectly clear?” He said in a very serious tone. Mercy nodded vigorously.
“Like you, Jenner is being given a second chance here also and its best that the fewer who know, the better.” Rose said and handed the baby to her. Mercy took him hesitantly. How can this be? I thought she had killed him. In my arms was the cruel and vicious master I had served and now after all that he had done to them, even he was being allowed to start over here with the son that he had abandoned. She thought to herself. As she held the baby, she smiled down at him, he looked up at her, giggled and reached for her nose.
Justin sat in his office studying the document before him. When I sign this document the weaponry of Thorn Valley makes the quantum leap from the fifteenth century to the twentieth century. He thought. He heard a knock on the door.
“Come in.” He said.
He looked up and saw Jonathan Brisby enter the room and walk up to his desk.
“I hope I’m not interrupting.” Jonathan said.
“Not at all, I needed a little break, what can I do for you?” He asked.
“Justin, there is something I need to say to you.” Jonathan said and walked to the window, his tone was sad.
“Jonathan, is something wrong?” Justin asked with great concern.
“No, not at all. What I want to say is...Thank you. Thank you for caring for my wife and especially for my children in my absence. As I have gotten to know them again your name comes up very often when they all talk about the time I missed.” He said seriously. Justin was glad Jonathan was facing the window when he said the part about caring for his wife, that way Jonathan couldn’t see the look of extreme anxiety on his face, he only hoped Jonathan didn’t know just how much he really cared about her. Jonathan, had things gone differently you might have returned to find Rose to be my wife. The thought of that scene made Justin shudder.
“You’re welcome, Jon. I looked after them as I hope you would look after my family if something ever happened to me.” Justin said earnestly.
“That is true, I should have said this earlier but I am ashamed to say I resented you for being so close to them, I was jealous, but as I thought about it, I instead realized how lucky I was to have a true friend who cared enough to share his life with them.” Jonathan said. Justin was touched by Jonathan’s confession. Justin had been secretly dreading this inevitable conversation. He wasn’t sure if Jonathan would be angry or bitter about his caring for Rose and the kids. Yes, he did care deeply about Rose, but he did what he did not just for her but out of respect and friendship for Jonathan, he cared deeply for them all, the Brisby’s were like family to him. Jonathan’s words were like a great weight being lifted off his shoulders. He rose from his chair and joined Jonathan at the window.
“Now that you’re back, you can share your life with them, I’m sorry that you missed being their father as they grew up, but its not to late to still be there for them.” Justin said.
“Your right of course, I look forward to being their father again and any day now a grandfather.” Jonathan said with a little sadness in his voice. He paused a moment then he spoke again with a noticeable cheerfulness in his voice. “As you said Justin, Thorn Valley is a place for second chances and new beginnings and that’s just what I got.” The way Jonathan said that made Justin believe he was missing something.
“In what sense?” Justin asked. Jonathan looked up at Justin and smiled broadly.
“We just got confirmation today. Rose is going to have a baby!” Jonathan exclaimed. Justin grabbed Jonathan and lifted him into the air so that they could look eye to eye.
“Congratulations! Lets go find Rose, this is a moment to celebrate.” Justin said happily.
Dante sat at the desk in his living room, filling out his daily report. Over the last few weeks his apartment had begun to feel more like home every day. He had traded in his human clothes for a guard uniform. His new sword sat nearby, an amazing piece of metal work, courtesy of Martin Brisby. His once empty life was now full to bursting. He had made more friends in the last month than he had made in his entire life up to that point. He had a real home, a purpose and a sense of place that had eluded him for so long. He had even managed to find something he had never even dared to look for before. His thoughts were interrupted by a knock on his door. He opened it to reveal the smiling face of Cynthia Brisby.
“Hi, Dante. Are you ready? The play will be starting soon.” She said. He quickly joined her in the hall and he felt his pulse increase dramatically the moment she took his hand. They made there way to the amphitheater and waited for the show to begin.
The play was quite good. About halfway through the play Cynthia rested her head against his shoulder and he noticed her crying at a few parts. The leading rat in the play was particularly good. Dante had learned during his brief time in the guard that Brutus was not mute as some thought. He spoke sparingly and he chose to use silence to intimidate the way that Lieutenant Snap used volume. However, while Brutus was a very reserved rat under normal circumstances, put him on a stage and he comes to life.
“STELLA!” Brutus cried out in anguish.