I have recovered from the wounds that I had sustained from my confrontation at the farm. Justin thought he was rid of me forever. He and the other rats thought that I would just lay there and rot away! But Sullivan's last dagger throw narrowly missed its mark.
And now I wish to commence with my operation -- I wish to seek revenge on those that had stopped me from taking over the rats of NIMH. Those would be Justin and those accursed Brisby's. They think that I am dead. They will find out otherwise very soon. I have acquired a great many followers over the past two years and have made a great kingdom with help of a new magic that I have found, even greater than the original amulet that Nicodemus hid so well from me.
My kingdom is well hidden -- from the humans' pitiful eyesight -- in the trees and grasses of these woods. This world does not realize that an army is massing up within its very crust, an army that will someday rise up to dominate it. Yes, we rats will take away the very thing the humans are destroying: the Earth. The animals once ruled the earth and they will do so once again!
But first things first.
Brisby... The bustling little busybody who ruined my plan to rule the rats. That little simpleton destroyed every chance that I had for a better life for the rats. Her long dead husband is the only thing that gives her any merit with them. That is why she is to be the object of the fist part of my revenge. When I have her, all of the other parts will fall naturally into place.
The Jenner sat back slowly in his chair, sneering quietly, his pearl white teeth gleaming in the candlelight. Uttering a quiet, sinister laugh, he placed the marker on the thin, fragile pages of the journal and closed the cover. He turned his chair and gazed at the diagram on the oaken wall next to him, quietly looking over the many parts to his plan. The bright red glow from his eyes helped to illuminate the precious paper and the aged, deeply-lined wall, creating a deep red-orange hue in the study chamber that made him feel all the more at home.
The chair in which he sat was large, and deep, and the thick cushions had long ago molded themselves to the shape of his body. The chair creaked at the change in weight as he rose, an angry protesting squall that hurt his ears in a way that had become comfortable. He could still feel the wound some days, where Sullivan had thrown that dagger, and today was one of those days. His footsteps trode heavy upon the thin rug as he came over to stare at the symbol he had drawn.
The standard he had designed for his dawning empire was elegant in its symbolism. The shield was a simple cross, thick-beamed, with the bottom knocked off, so that only three arms remained. From out of the angles formed by those thick beams protruded spearheads, the tips razor sharp. And down from the bottom extended a third spearhead, but one unlike the other two, for it was barbed and vicious.
He delighed in the symbolism of the thing -- the two upper spears representing military superiority and intellectual superiority, and the lower, more dominant spear representing their birthright to the land. It was beneath this symbol, with all of its beautiful meaning, that he intended to fashion his empire, an empire from which, under his leadership, future generations would someday be born to rule this world.
But before he could even think about such conquests, he must tend to Brisby. Opening the heavy oaken door, he came face to face with the two warrior rats that he had called for. Their bright florescent eyes looked at him intently as they snapped to attention, awaiting his orders.
"Thornbranch, Rotwood -- Go to the Fitzgibbon farm and find its vegetable garden, the one with a large stone on the north side of it. At that stone you will find a cement block on the lee side half-buried into the dirt. Go there and bring Mrs. Brisby to me. You will know her by the red shawl that she wears. Wait until she comes out alone before you take her."
"Yes, Sir," the two soldiers responded in unison.
"However," Jenner continued, "watch out for the farm cat Dragon. We do not want to attract any attention prematurely, especially from that beast. Whatever you do, take her alive. Simply immobilize her. Now go!"
The two grim-faced rats turned to carry out their orders when the Jenner interrupted their action by adding: "Whatever the consequences, do not let anyone see you."
They nodded to him and strode down the dim, torchlit hallway. Their darkly colored bodies and black plate armor became mere shadows in the wood as they rounded a corner. The rat king smiled to himself and stepped back into his study, closing the door.
Now, he thought confidently, my conquest begins! He sat down in his chair and laughed quietly. He stared out of his chamber window and began to ponder the possibilities
Crystaline droplets of rainwater from the previous evening's thunderstorm sparkled in the early morning sunshine. Slowly, they slid off of the dandelion petals and grass blades. The whispering sounds of the oaks and maples filled the air. Wrens and robins in their symphonies sang of the coming of a new day. Near the farm yard, fretting pigs squealed as they huddled their fat bodies together to protect themselves from the chilly air of the autumn morning. Over by the garden, by a large stone on the lee side, the Brisby home laid peacefully in the damp earth, protecting its occupants from the damp environment outside.
Mrs. Brisby awoke at sunrise feeling totally refreshed and ready to begin the day's work. Once again, it was time to make preparations for the winter. She was quite eager about the task as she set about the first stages. First thing to do, she thought, is to pull all of the winter blankets from the closets and get them laid out. Then, with the extra room, we can use the closets as spare pantries to store grain.
Quietly, she put on her red shawl and tip-toed across the bedroom floor into the family room. Once there, she lit the huge candle that was in the middle of the floor with two small pieces of flint which she clicked roughly together against the wick. She stopped after the first try for fear of the noise waking the children. She listened closely for several tense moments. When not a whisper could be heard, Mrs. Brisby continued until a small spark settled onto the fabric and slowly grew into a large yellow flame, illuminating and warming the cold, dark room.
She stepped soundlessly into the kitchen and began to prepare breakfast for the children. At first, she thought oatmeal would be nice, but they had been eating that for the past six days. And just yesterday she saw that the little ones were grimacing at the taste of the dish, no matter how she had tried to spice it up. It was obvious that they were growing tired of the stuff for breakfast.
Cornbread, to her, sounded like a nice change of pace. After all, she, too, had eaten oatmeal for a week, and had to admit she was getting tired of it as well. Besides, it was best to save it for the winter since it lasted the longest during the cold season. She went back to the pantry and pulled out a folded birch leaf pouch and poured the last of their cornmeal onto a small wooden table her late husband had made for her after they were married.
Actually, all of the furniture in the house was made by Johnathan. Thinking of him all of a sudden made her stop and wipe a tear from her eye. His death two years ago had been an enormous shock to her. However, looking back, she felt the big shock came to her a week later when she had first visited the Rats of NIMH in an attempt to save her son Timothy from the deadly plow, which she did under the advice of the Great Owl.
The Rats, the plow, the Great Owl -- looking back, sometimes she wondered how she could have done all those things, just little ol' Mrs. Brisby. And, on top of all that, was that Amulet. Justin and the other rats could talk magic to her all they wanted, but she was sure she'd never understand how she could move their cinder block home in time to save it and, more importantly, poor sick Timmy from the plow.
"Well," she sighed softly. "I can't dwell in the past." She got back to fixing the cornbread for her children's breakfast. It amazed her to think how much those children had grown. Back when she had been dealing with the Rats, they were just school children. Now, after so long, they were coming up on adulthood. She had to fight to stop herself from crying over their all-too-rapid progress through life. It became that much more difficult as they appeared, one by one, bleary-eyed and still half-sleeping, for breakfast.
With all the chores she had to do that day, it was no wonder that the sun was well above the trees when she finally stepped out into the cold, misty morning air. Her tiny feet sank slightly into the mud, making it all the more difficult to walk with the huge sack she held in her arms. Looking up she saw not a cloud in the deep blue sky. Looks like it's going to be a beautiful day, she thought, smiling broadly and trudging toward Farmer Fitzgibbon's corn and wheat fields.
Loud honking noises suddenly startled her, making her jump slightly. She looked up and saw a flock of geese flying by in their perfect, angular formations. Her heart quickly returned to it's normal pace, though, and she started moving thoughtfully through the brown grass, until she finally came to the eastern edge of Farmer Fitzgibbon's cornfield. Shaking the dew out of her light-brown fur and tattered red shawl, she hopped to higher, yet muddier ground and proceeded to climb up the nearest cornstalk.
With the bag in her teeth, she finally managed to make it up to the lowest corn husk. Winded from the effort, she slowly gnawed the tough fibers away from the seeds and began to pluck away the fresh golden kernels from the plant.
"Just right!" she whispered to herself, smiling. "The children will love this year's batch!"
After about fifteen minutes she had the bag filled, and began to climb down. At that moment, a black arrow arced through the air and sank into the stalk right above her head. Fear froze every muscle in her body. A loud crackling noise told her something was happening to the plant, and as she looked she could see that it was dying, an odd form of blackness spreading out rapidly from where the arrow had hit. The entire corn plant was withering away right under her paws. Dropping her bag, she leapt off he stalk just as the whole plant rotted away, falling into a pile of dust where the mud had already begun to absorb it.
Who could be trying to hurt her? No natural enemy could have done away with something as huge as a corn plant to get to her. Whoever it was that was trying to kill her and she had to get away, and fast. The mill! she thought to herself. I have to get to the old mill and hide until the danger's passed. Another arrow buried itself in the mud at her feet, putting action into her thoughts. She took off toward the mill, in the opposite direction from which the arrows had come.
After what seemed like an eternity of running, Mrs. Brisby finally made it to the mill. Stopping at the shoreline of the river that ran underneath, she began to search for a place to hide, but it was so hard to think. She was dizzy from her run, and it was difficult to catch her breath. With a laboring heart and blurred vision she could barely make out the two dark shapes moving in the cattails to her left. Could that be them? Not waiting to find out, she jumped into the slow but steady currents and swam underneath the mossy, rotting structure of wood and steel to the hidden earth at its base.
At last, she was safe from whoever it was that was chasing her. They couldn't have possibly have followed her under here. As far as they were concerned she could be anywhere in these labyrithine caverns under the mill. She breathed an enormous sigh of relief as she sat in the cool dry soil, hiding in the darkness. All she had to do now was wait here for a while, then go pick up her bag in the cornfield. No, she should go straight home. Then again, even that could prove disastrous, as she might endanger her children. Mrs. Brisby never felt so helpless in her life. Auntie Shrew, despite her fierce nature would not be able to help her. Mr. Ages! He might be able to give some assistance. But how could she get to his house without being seen?
The sounds of whistling air and the splintering of wood broke her concentration. Another black arrow had landed in the wall just to the right of her head. The wood behind her began to crack loudly as it rapidly became soft and mushy. Before she knew anything, she was laying half-covered in a pile of fine, pale, grey dust. A large, dark, armor-clad figure with a large thick longbow began to approach her. An arrow at the ready in the string. It wasn't the armor, the weapon, or the black fur on the rat that frightened her. It was those malicious eyes, those large glowing spheres with nothing in them but red light, signifying a fiery rage that went beyond any abhorrence she ever knew of. It was evil, and it was coming straight for her.
"Who are you?" Mrs. Brisby stammered, barely above a whisper. "What do you want from me?" The rat made no reply. He only raised his longbow and pulled the string back to fire.
"Rotwood, you fool!" a thin voice shouted out to it. "His Majesty told us to take her alive!"
The one called Rotwood was distracted for a moment, and Mrs. Brisby saw her chance to run. She darted off to hide in the darkness farther away but a huge black bat with the same red eyes and snarling teeth quickly blocked her way, its flapping wings pushing her into the dirt. The lean rat riding it thrust a spear in her wake.
"What-- what do you want," she asked again, fearing the answer.
"Why, Mrs. Brisby...," the lean rat said with mock surprise as he jumped out of his bat's saddle."...we want you!"
He then reached down for her and clasped her arms with hands' that felt like solid steel against her fur. He looked into her eyes and spoke. His chilling voice whispered strange words, making her quiver. then, the light in his eyes flared into a red-orange brilliance and afterwards was only a blank.
It was near dusk when Tereasa Brisby decided to go back home from the Fitzgibbon raspberry bushes. She had been there since late morning and had been picking berries all day. Mrs. Fitzgibbon had just finished her harvest for them and the good ripe berries that she had missed were hard to find. She didn't really want to go home just yet -- she wasn't anxious to listen as her younger siblings argued over trivial matters all night. Her thoughts wandered to her friends, and having fun near the old abandoned barn to the north -- out of Dragon's territory. The thought of taking care of her younger brothers and sister frustrated her. But her mother had given her the responsibility, so she had no choice.
I think I'll walk along the river, she thought happily, past Susie's house. She may be outside and I might be able to stop for a moment and talk with her.
It was a beautiful evening, and Teresa wanted to enjoy it as much as possible. The sky had darkened to a deep shade of purple that was mixed with the red and orange colors of sunset glowing on the horizon. The sun's fading light sparkled on the waves of the river as Tereasa sidled up to its edge and began to walk where she could watch the minnows frolic in the shallow waters near the shore.
The immensely dark form of the mill suddenly blocked out the last vestiges of the sunlight, making her slow down to look at it apprehensively. The mill, to her, had a sinister look to it in the dim light. An air of dreadful cold seemed to have surrounded it, no matter what season it was. It was, to her, dark eerie place that one could never return from once having entered. At least that's what she thought.
Gripping her jacket tighter around her, Teresa trudged onward through the thick bed of orange and gold leaves that laid wet and heavy in the soggy mud. Occasionally, one would tumble across her path, rolling on its thin brittle side into the river and making soft ripples as it floated away in the steady currents. The cold autumn air chilled the skin under her fur, leaving her no choice but to pick up her pace, but making sure not to become careless and trip. She didn't want to waste valuable time trying to pick up all of the berries she had gathered again. The nocturnal predators would be out soon as well, and she didn't want to expose herself as a consequence of her clumsiness.
While she was looking up at the moon that had risen just over the trees a strange sight on the ground by the mill caught her eye. In a patch of ground that was bare of life and speckled with a gray dust, a long black shaft protruded from the earth. She squinted, trying to inspect it as best she could from a distance. It looked like an arrow. She had never really seen one before but her father had once told her and her siblings about them in fairy tales.
Looking across at the mill now she saw movement in the deep shadows underneath. Three unrecognizable shapes moved slowly in the fading light. Could she be seeing things? No, they were there, she confirmed to herself. She could see glowing objects on two of their heads, and those two were carrying weapons.
Wait! one pair of objects just blinked out and back again, like the blinking of eyes! Spying a little closer to the shore from inside a cluster of cattails, she could make out exactly what they were. Black rats wearing metal armor! There were two rats on each side of a smaller figure. One was tall and thin with a long trident that ended in three crooked points. The other, much shorter and bulkier, had a large bow with an arrow ready in the string. The figure between them finally stepped into enough of the light for her to see. A mouse ... with a familiar red shawl .... The mouse was held in chains and turned her head in Tereasa's direction, confirming her worst fear. Sad, dim, rose colored eyes met hers. The moment was frozen in time as a chill surged through Teresa's body.
"Mother!" she screamed shrilly and then fell into the grasses as she realized her mistake. The two armored rats froze. Then the tall one pointed his trident at her, the other aiming his bow. Realizing that she had been found, Tereasa dropped her basket and ran. She heard the arrow whistle into the grasses and strike where she had just lain. Another whizzed past her ear as she dove into a patch of wild onion and into the woods.
While looking back for any sign of pursuit she had run right into Jeremy the crow. Tereasa fell over the bird's bony feet and was knocked senseless. He only yelped loudly and attempted to run away but he tripped over a long arched tree root half buried in the ground falling on his back with his usual grace.
When they had both snapped back to reality, Teresa called out to him. But he still struggled with the root, trying to get his foot free. His loud squakings terrified Tereasa as she remembered her pursuers. Frantically, she scampered over to him and yelled into his ear.
"Jeremy, you dope! It's me! Tereasa Brisby!"
"Wh-what? I don't have any string this time! Nothing! Honest!"
"Jeremy!!!" She slapped her hands to her sides.
"What? Who are you?" he yelled hoarsely.
"It's me, Tereasa Brisby. I just saw you yesterday!"
"Oh!" Jeremy shouted, freeing his foot. He strutted up to her. "I knew it was you all along! Couldn't fool me!"
"Jeremy, stop mouthing and let me get on your back! We need to get out of here fast! I'm--"
An arrow hit the tree where the crow had tripped, freezing Tereasa with fear. Jeremy, on the other hand, only laughed.
"Oh come on!" he chuckled. "What possible harm could that little thing do with me here?"
Immediately after he had spoken the question, the tree began to die and fall with a thunderous crash. It caused something of a change in heart in Jeremy.
"Well, what are we waiting for?" he shouted urgently. "Climb on! We haven't got all night."
Tereasa did so without a moment's hesitation and then Jeremy leapt into the air, soaring through the trees. After he rose above the roof of the forest Tereasa told him to fly low between the treetops.
"Who were you running from," he inquired after they had gotten a safe distance away from the mill.
"These two large rats have my mother! I have to get home and go for help!"
"Mrs. B's in trouble? Rats from the Rosebush! I thought they moved away!"
"These are different rats!" she snapped. "They wear armor and have glowing red eyes!"
"Armor?" the bird mumbled. "I didn't know rats wore armor. And what is it anyway?"
"Never mind! They're probably after us! Just take me home. Maybe Auntie Shrew will be there with Cynthia and my brothers."
"You got it, Tereasa!"
Then, they flew off as fast as they could into the dark starry sky to the Brisby home. Tereasa was quiet for the rest of he trip. She was trying to sort out what was going on and what she was going to do to save her mother. The evil rats would probably come back for the rest of her family and her. So she had to get help from somewhere, and fast.
Thorn valley had brought another long, hard day to Justin, now the leader of the Rats of NIMH. Taking charge of the Rats two years ago while moving away from the Rosebush to this new land had been a tall order to fulfill, and it still was. The construction of the underground chambers and schools had gone slow the first year that they had arrived, in spite of their unnatural intelligence. They were just now getting the finishing touches completed.
Controlling the illnesses of his workers had been equally difficult. But with all of them working, out in the in elements that were, at present, unpredictable, how could it be avoided? A few of his best carpenters had died of pneumonia because they refused to stay indoors when the colony needed to be rebuilt. Others had become so sick that they developed lung disorders and became so frail that they would never be able to do heavy manual labor again. Life had been so much less complicated when Nicodemus was alive and in command. Or, more to the point for Justin's line of thought, while he was only the Captain of the Guard.
"But that was two years ago," he whispered softly to himself, sighing. Now it was time for him to eat and rest a little before tonight's council meeting. He looked back at the waterfall on a small cliff face at the north edge of the valley. Its clear waters flowed off the cliff's edge into the small river bellow, sparkling brilliantly in the fading light of the sunset.
This is a wonderful place you have found for us Nicodemus he thought happily, yet longingly. I hope I become as wise as you were someday. Right now, though, I have to work at it.
Striding to the nearest exit at a quick pace, he lapsed into a trance of thought. First, after he presided the meeting, he would discus the problems of the bean growers on the western edge of the valley. Then, he would bring about the subject of winter preparations and the usage of spare homes as food and wood storage. It sounded like cold-heartedness but a few of the rats that had died last winter had no wives or children and the relatives had no real use for the homes. So what else could he do? He had the whole colony to think about. What was next, he asked himself silently. Ah, medical aid for the workers and sentry rats, and, of course, for the families. That would require the help of Dr. Ages, the Rats' former doctor. But he had decided to stay with he animals in the fields at the Fitzgibbon farm. Also, he wanted to look after the Great Owl, who was really in no need of any real medical assistance but Mr. Ages liked to feel important. Not that he wouldn't be here, Justin thought, smiling. But, perhaps he just wanted the quiet life. Still, it surprised Justin because the old mouse had also come from NIMH and he expected him to join them in their journey to the valley. But, nevertheless, he decided to stay.
Justin would also have to think about sending a messenger for Mr. Ages' help in future meetings. What next? There were so many problems he had to think about and conquer right now. How ever did Nicodemus do it? he wondered. His thoughts were suddenly broken as a heavy spear hit the ground in front of him, making him jump.
"Who goes there?" demanded a young, energetic voice.
"All right, whoever you are," Justin also demanded, placing his hands on his hips. "I think you know who it is. You surely saw me coming. Is that you making jokes again, Peter?"
"Eh? How did you know it was me?" asked a thin mouse walking out from behind a small bush.
"You do this kind of thing to me every day," Justin said. He was mildly amused, but he was trying not to show it. He didn't want the boy to think he was getting soft.
"I do?" the young mouse asked, mocking surprise.
"Yes," came Justin's flat reply.
"Aw, nuts! I was trying to surprise you ... again."
"That's what you said the last time. And the time before that," the rat said sternly. "By the way, where is Brutus?"
Peter ignored the question, saying: "You see, I'm trying to learn how to be sneaky. Y'know, covert stuff."
Justin felt the patience in him waning. "I say again: 'where's Brutus?'"
Peter laughed. "You see, he wasn't feeling well, so I told him that I'd take over for him." This excuse is not going to work, the young mouse thought nervously.
"Right," Justin spat in a tone that confirmed Peter's thoughts. "You're trying to find an easy way for you to get out of your studies again, aren't you?"
Peter brushed a small mass of hair out of his eyes and pretended to be hurt. "What? Me?"
"Yes, you!" Justin raised his voice to an authoritative pitch. He grabbed the mouse by the ear twisting a little, but not enough to really hurt. He only wanted to make sure he had the boy's attention. "Now tell the truth," he said. "I didn't teach you to be a liar."
"Okay, Okay!" Peter said, wincing and standing on his toes. "So I sent the big behemoth on a phony errand so I could take a break and have a gander at the sunset!"
Justin let go of the his ear, and you could almost hear it snapping back. "So you want to watch the sunset," he asked, cocking a skeptical eyebrow.
"Well ... it's just so beautiful ..."
"Get inside, Peter, and don't let me catch you avoiding your studies again! Understood?"
"Yes, sir," the boy grumbled. He pulled the spear out of the hard dirt and dragged it behind him as he moped back into the entrance, leaving Justin to finally crack a smile and shake his head.
The boy is as energetic and mischievous as I once was, the slightly somber rat thought, but that makes no difference. I can't let any members of the colony become careless like that. It could cost lives. Peter must learn discipline if he is going to be a member of the Guard. Peter was deeply saddened by his father's death. He became more fiery, hot tempered. It couldn't be because he hates me, Justin thought. I know he doesn't. He must still be harboring anger from his father's demise. He wants to prove that he can be just as good as his father was.
"I should talk to him sometime when I'm free," Justin muttered co himself. "Whenever that may be."
"Justin?" The voice snapped him out of the future and back to the present.
"Hmmm? Yes?" He turned to meet the concerned gaze of his most trusted advisor, Paul.
"Where're you going, Justin?" the tall, heavily built rat asked.
"I was going to my sleeping chambers, to rest and catch up on my journal writing before the meeting. Why?"
"I just ran into Peter through the hallway toward the dormitories a minute ago. He seemed kinda down."
"Oh, I just got onto him about wasting his study time."
"Became desperate enough to go on guard duty again, huh?" Paul asked.
"Look, I know you want him to be well educated when he grows up," Paul said, "but he's still a kid. You got to let him have some time off every now and then. I think you've been working him too hard. He needs to have a childhood, despite all that's been happening."
Justin thought about that for a breif moment. "You may be right," he finaly said. "But if I do let up, won't he become lazy and even more irresponsible?"
"Not if you teach him the right way," Paul said earnestly. "I should know. I've been raising two children of my own, and they're turning out to be very fine and well behaved rats. You have to tell them where their priorities are, though, before they can play. But you have to let them play too."
"Well you may be right, Paul, but I think most of the problem might be with his father."
"Still hurt about his dad after all this time?" Paul asked
"Yes," Justin replied. "And I think my nagging on him is only making the problem grow."
"Well, I don't know about that."
Justin only looked down at the earthen floor of the hallway.
"Hey! Lighten up on yourself. I've known you since we were at NIMH and I've never in all that time seen you look so down."
"I'm the leader of the Rats. I have to worry a lot."
"That's not true. I know its a big job, Justin, but it if you let them, all the small problems should correct themselves over time. And the big ones you just got to take care of as they come along. There's no way you can take them all on one at a time and by yourself. You'll make yourself go crazy if you try."
Justin had simply never thought of it that way. "Do you truly beleive it can work like that?"
"Sure!" Paul said enthusiastically. "I'm your chief handyman. I take care of these things all the time."
"Why don't you try being the leader of the Rats sometime. You seem to know more about common sense then I do." Justin cracked a weary smile to his friend.
He only laughed. "Uh-uh! No way, buddy! I'm just your cheering section, as the humans say. I couldn't do what you do, even if I had to! I don't think I could handle the whole colony depending on my every decision."
Justin only laughed and said nothing.
"Hey! C'mon! Let's go get something to eat. I hear the chef is making his specialty tonight."
"Beans and salad again?"
In better spirits, Justin walked with his friend down the stone braced, torchlit corridor. Thankful to have a good laugh as they walked to the main dining hall.
&&& Brad was studying quietly when Peter came fuming through the dormitory door, slamming it behind him. He threw his spear down and stomped over to his desk opposite of Brad's, falling into his chair. In the faint illumination of the candlelight, he could see his roommate's angry facial features and the pure frustration in his pale green eyes.
"Got caught skipping studies again, huh?" the older rat said after a long moment's silence.
"Yeah! And this time it was Justin who caught me!" he replied, gritting his teeth.
"You're never going to get away with it so you might as well give it up." Brad almost dared to grin in front of his disgruntled friend. "The Teacher's Council expects you to study a lot if you're going to be a member of the Guard."
"I just wish Justin would stop badgering me about my well being," Peter said loudly as he lit his own candle, causing the room to go a brighter shade of orange. "I know how to take care of myself!"
Brad muttered something unintelligibly.
"I was just saying that maybe he cares for you in some surrogate fatherly way."
"Hah!" Peter snorted. "He wants me to be just like him!"
"You don't know that."
"My dad was never so picky about how I ran my life!"
"Still upset about his death, aren't you?"
Peter's head slumped lower and his voice lowered somewhat. "Well, I guess I am. But even after two years it still hurts so much. He gave so much of what little he had for me and I never got the chance to give anything back. I was too young!"
"You may already have."
"Well, look at you. You're smart, self-reliant, strong, crafty, and an all-around pleasant mouse most of the time."
"Most of the time?" Peter looked back sternly at his friend. Well, you're not too amicable right now with the funk you're in."
"Peter chuckled and said: "You could be right, Brad." His expression hardened a little. "But I still think I should do something more. To honor his memory."
"I don't know. I'll think of something." He shook his head and turned back to his desk, staring down at the unopened book which lay in front of him. But then he turned around and said: "I wish I could meet his other family!"
"Maybe you will, someday. I'm sure you'll find something to repay him with, but right now you'd better get to work on your geometry or you won't have the chance to. Justin would ring your neck."
"Yeah. Guess I'd better," the small mouse smiled deviously. "Like to see him try that, though."
"How could you let her see you!" the Jenner stormed on his throne. His angry voice tore through the darkness like a knife. Directed solely at his two top officers.
"Rotwood and I did as you said, sire. We remained in hiding until sunset. the girl took us completely by surprise. She got away before we could give chase."
"I don't care, Thornbranch!" his master growled, eyes flaring to bright-red hue, further illuminating the darkness. "She still saw you. And it was Brisby's daughter, no less. No doubt she will go for help. And that help will possibly be the Rats of Thorn Valley. They must not be alerted of my existence just yet."
An uneasy silence fell on the throne room for many long moments. Rotwood began to fidget and shift his weight from foot to foot. Thornbranch stood rigid and calm, waiting for the his master to speak.
"Rotwood, bring in the rest of my high officers," Jenner ordered calmly. Thornbranch saw Rotwood's bulky form turn and hurry out of the chamber, glad to be out of his master's frightful presence. He, on the other hand, only waited.
"Thornbranch, I am going to tell you something that must be repeated to no one."
"Yes, my lord," Thornbranch said, nodding.
"Do you remember me telling you about the Stone of Brisby?"
".No, my lord."
"Mm. the Stone of Brisby is a source of ultimate power that taps into the very soul of it wearer. Not even the humans know of its existence. I saw Brisby use it the night I was nearly killed. She was able to move an entire cinder block and revive her family back to life. Nicodemus must have hidden it for years. He must have hidden it because of me. I must have that amulet, Thornbranch. With it I could finally rid this world of humans and take control from its ashes. The amount of power it must contain is endless!" "Yes, my lord," Thornbranch said flatly.
"You don't seem too overjoyed about this, Thornbranch. You
would be second only to me in my new empire. You could have power beyond your wildest dreams!"
"I need only security, my lord."
"Ah, yes." Jenner smiled as a knock resounded on his chamber door."You may enter!" he boomed.
Rotwood strode reluctantly into the chamber with four other rats behind him. The short but stout Lizard Riders Lightfoot and Bloodwart came first and at the same time being the twin brothers that they were. They even snapped to attention in unison. Then came the enormous General Blade and his wiry subordinate, Lt. Nightowl.
"You wished to see us, sire," Lightfoot inquired in his deep resonate voice.
"Yes, Lightfoot. I want you and Bloodwart to head to Thorn Valley and send a message to my dear friend, Justin. Tell him of Brisby's capture and tell him to surrender himself immediately or I will send him her body by the time the moon wanes to its three-quarter phase."
"Yes, my Lord." The chief Lizard Rider smiled anxiously, glad to finally be put to use.
"Good. Take a small troupe of your riders but be sure to be quiet and, above all, do not be seen! Dismissed!"
The two Lizard Riders bowed and left. The rat king then motioned for his two ground officers to come forward. Eager as well, they briskly stepped forward.
"General Blade. You and Nightowl go to the Brisby home at the Fitzgibbon farm. There you will kill the children of Brisby."
Blade made a slight face of distaste. "Kill children, my lord. Surely they could be much more useful alive."
The Jenner's eyes briefly flared with anger, sending a chill down even Thornbranch's spine. Then, they dimmed as he thought about what his subordinate suggested. "You take a great risk questioning my orders, Blade. But your concerns have merit."
"I wished no offense, my lord. They are mere children."
"Yes, but these mere children have seen us and will probably go for help. Very well. Do as you wish but I want them out of the way! Understood?"
"Yes, my lord." The enormous rat bowed.
The ground officers left, leaving only Thornbranch and Rotwood in his presence.
"Thornbranch. Rotwood. Go with a garrison of your Bat Flyers and gather as much news as you can about what the humans in the neighboring city are doing. Then report back to me at midnight. Dismissed!"
"Yes, my lord!" They bowed and left.
When he was certain that he was alone and would stay that way for some time, he reached down into his robes and pulled a small blue amulet from beneath the dark folds. It pulsated dimly as he rested it in the palm of his hand. He sighed in contentment as he felt its icy power rush through him. He caressed the gold casing that he fashioned himself, which he molded into the form of his German half cross symbol. A power all its own glittered tantalizingly as his exhales touched its surface. It glowed brighter against the red fiery glow of his eyes as if it fed off of the hate that consumed his evil soul.
"My pretty," he whispered loving as he caressed the crystal. "With you and the Stone of Brisby at my command, my army and I will become invincible!"
Then he burst out laughing. A terrible laughter that resounded through his throne room and into the halls beyond the thick double-doors.
Tereasa stormed through the front door of the Brisby household in blind confusion, surprising her brothers, Timothy and Martin, and her little sister Cynthia. Nearly falling on them in the middle of the living room as she ran down the stairs, she cried out frantically.
"Auntie Shrew! Auntie Shrew! Auntie, where are you?"
"She's not here," her youngest brother, Timothy, replied. Perplexed, he scratched his head with a thin frail hand. "What's wrong?"
"Mother's been kidnapped!" she gasped.
"Kidnapped?" Martin cried, quickly moving his pudgy form over to her.
"How?" Cynthia asked fearfully.
"I don't know." Tereasa threw her hands to her sides in frustration. "All I know is that two big ugly rats in black armor took her!"
"You're not making this up, are you, Tereasa," Timothy asked with disbelief and hoping he was right.
"No! I really saw them take her! They even shot arrows at me and Jeremy!"
"Jeremy?" Martin said with growing anger. "He was with you?"
"Yes, he's right outside,if you want to go and ask him."
"But what will we do without her." Cynthia asked, near sobbing.
"We can't just stay here!" Martin stated angrily. He picked up his slingshot and a large stick and turned to head out the door. "I'm going to go and get her!"
"Martin, stop!" Tereasa cried frantically. "You can't just go and get her! It's too dangerous! They'd kill you!"
"But--!" he began to protest but she cut him off.
"We're not going to just give up on her. We need help."
"Since when did you get to be boss?" Martin growled, stepping up to her.
She didn't budge. "Since I'm the oldest and mother's not here. That's when!" she retorted smoothly.
"So I'm going to have a little order around here, like it or not!" Martin mumbled under his breath but he only turned his back to her and sat down on a thimble chair nearby, sulking.
"Where are we going to find help," Timothy asked worriedly.
"I don't know. I'll have to get Auntie Shrew's advice on that one."
"Do you think she can do anything for us," Cynthia asked, wiping away her tears.
"I don't know but I'll try, Cynthia." With that she turned and began to march up the stairs again. But behind her back she said: "All of you stay here and don't open the door to anyone but me or Auntie!"
Then she was gone.
The full moon was up over the trees when Tereasa had finally made it to the natural path that led to Auntie Shrew's burrow. She had sent Jeremy home. He had a family of his own to fend for and she didn't want to keep them waiting for their father. He did make a good effort to protest, however. He had a long-standing friendship with her mother and he wanted to help her as much as he could. Tereasa finally shooed him away, promising that she would take care of the problem. At least she was hoping that she could.
Her progress along the path was practically effortless. With the moon being full she had a good light to see everything around her. But it also exposed her to predators so she must use caution and stick to the grassy edges of the path.
A thin veil of mist had lain itself just above the ground, making her shiver in fear. Even though it was chilly, she knew it wasn't the weather that made her shake. This was the time of night that all of the evil creatures in the world were lurking about. Hunting, feeding on the hapless, and scheming. She felt as if the stars above were twinkling in laughter at her and the searing red eyes of the black rats were throwing their malicious gazes upon her as they planned a horrible fate for her.
She quickened her pace somewhat when she saw the entrance to Auntie Shrew's burrow just ahead. By the time she reached the door, she was out of breath. Her legs pounded from her intense running. She didn't care, because all she wanted to do was get inside the shrew's house and be safe. She didn't like being out in the open.
She charged up to the door and began to pound desperately on its wooden surface. There was no answer so she pounded harder and began to yell. After a few moments of strenuous effort she rubbed her hand as it throbbed with pain. Finally, some scratching sounds could heard as Auntie was dragging herself to the door. The locks were unlatched and the door was flung open, revealing a quite sleepy and very perturbed Auntie Shrew, who stood glaring angrily at Teresa.
"Teresa Brisby. Whatever are you doing making such a racket on my front door at this hour?" she croaked.
"I'm sorry to wake you, Auntie; but--"
"This better be a very good excuse, Teresa!"
"I'm sorry but this is an emergency! Mother's been kidnapped!" She blinked at her with great disbelief. Then: "What did you say?
"I said: ' mother's been kidnapped'!" Tereasa stomped her foot in irritation.
"Brisby's been kidnapped? The shrew's expression began to turn from one of annoyance to growing concern. "By whom?"
"I don't know! I only saw these two large rats with dark fur, and black armor, and red eyes that glowed in the dark. One of them shot arrows at me and...." Suddenly, Tereasa began to speak in a rapid stream of incoherent gibberish that Auntie Shrew could all but understand.
"Settle down, child!" Auntie Shrew cried. "Come inside and tell me about it while you have something hot to drink. You look frozen to the bone!"
"Thank you, Auntie," Teresa mumbled near tears.
So the shrew led Teresa into her house, closing the door behind them.
"It's a good thing I live around my neighbors!" she muttered under her breath.
"Justin? You are Justin," a large-framed basso-voiced rat inquired from the shadows of a half constructed corridor. Justin whirled in surprise and saw two red eyes staring at him devilishly.
"Yes, I am," Justin replied, small uneasy feeling creeping into the pit of his stomach. "Who are you?"
"That's not important. What is important, I think, is the well being of your dear Mrs. Brisby."
The uneasy feeling turned abruptly to stark fear mixed with anger. Still, his voice remained even and calm, though with great effort. "What do you mean?"
"What do I mean?" The eyes widened in amusement as the rat silently laughed at him. "Here's what I mean. My leader, the king of all rats has ordered you to appear in front of his great throne."
"And if I don't?"
"The field mouse will be killed and her remains sent to you as a response to your insolence."
Justin took a step back, his face a mask of utter horror. Quickly recovering, he hardened his gaze and stepped toward the shadowy figure.
"How do I know you really have her. You could be lying!"
A gray hand exposed itself to the dim light and threw a red shawl on the floor in floor in front of his feet. The eyes became more serious as the figure stepped into the torchlight. The pitch black armor the stout rat wore blazed in the light.
"You will come with us," the rat demanded. Small scratches gave away his companions and five more of the dark rats stepped into the light.
Seeing that his choices were limited, Justin nodded. But he one last plan in mind.
"Listen, if this is to be so secret I have to log out first."
"Look, I have to do this or my colleagues will become suspicious and come looking for me immediately. This will maximize your chances of this succeeding."
The gray rat hesitated.
"Do you want to risk it?" he prodded.
The rat reluctantly nodded his consent.
Quickly, Justin went to his chambers and began to fill out his absence note. Then he tore off a small piece of paper and began to write in very small print.
"...So Jeremy and I flew into the trees. There we finally lost them."
Auntie Shrew sat back in her comfortable old chair, the deep, goose down cushioning sinking inward as her large body settled into it. She scratched her furry chin and stared at the ceiling, lost in thought, until she saw Tereasa shifting impatiently in her own smaller chair. The oldster looked at her, an inkling of skepticism in her eyes.
"You're actually telling me the truth about this?"
"Yes!" she pleaded. "They were coming... took mother and... I..."
"Calm down! Calm down, dear!" the shrew snapped, clutching the girl's shoulders and shaking her gently.
Teresa's tired gaze dropped to the floor.
"There, there, my pet! Drink up and we'll figure out what we need to do about this situation. It was probably those horrible rats from the Rosebush!"
"No! These rats were different! They wore black armor and their eyes .... Their eyes were horrible!" Teresa shuddered.
"Different or not, if it isn't those rats that moved your house then it looks like we may need your rat-friend's help."
"The Thorn Valley Rats?"
"It appears so." A note of disgust was apparent in the shrew's voice. But the way Teresa was sitting in the usually comfortable guest's chair, stiff and fidgeting nervously, the shrew could easily tell that this was no mere ruse. So, really, she didn't have much choice but to go to the Rats of NIMH.
"So what's first?"
Auntie paused for a moment to think, then: "We could be in great danger ourselves so we must get moving as soon as possible. But first, you need to rest. Come on, let's get you home. We can start off to Thorn Valley at dawn."
"How will we know where it is?" Teresa croaked, her fatigue becoming more and more noticeable with every moment.
"That bumbling crow should know where it is. If we can find him, he can take us there; unless his flying kills us first!"
Peter, squeezing the note within clenched fists, shut his eyes tightly.
"So now what? Why us?" Brad asked, still calm but showing a hint of worry.
"Why you?" Paul's gaze burned down on them. "You're the best students the colony has and we can't spare any of our seasoned Guardsman. So why not?"
"Oh." Brad muttered.
Peter slowly relaxed himself as Paul put a hand on his shoulder. He gave the note back to Paul and asked: "How can we find him, Paul?"
"Brutus!" Paul called out into the dark. "Call for Gali, we'll need to get to the farm as soon as possible!"
"Right, Paul!" came a distant voice.
"Paul?" the mouse asked more insistently.
"What about Justin?" Peter's distress was almost palpable.
"I'll do what I can for him, Peter. Just stay calm." Paul's voice was level, almost flat. The last thing the young mouse wanted to do was stay calm. The intense urge to hit something was foremost on his mind.
"What, Brad?" An edge came to Paul's voice that neither of them had ever heard before.
"Why are we going to ride on an owl? Don't they eat animals like us for fun or something like that?"
"Not this one. I was lieutenant in the Guard when I met Gali. She saved my life from the local wildcat."
"Why did she save your life," Brad asked, his heart thumping.
"She was a friend of the Great Owl, and when she got to know us, she became a friend to us."
"That's still not very comforting!" Brad swallowed hard.
Peter grumbled something under his breath.
"All the same...," Brad sighed, trying to calm down.
A heavy gust of wind threatened to brush them over as a huge bird floated to the dirt in front of them.
"Paul!" Gali greeted him affectionately. "What is it you need?"
"Justin and a friend of ours are in great peril. We need you to fly us to the Fitzgibbon farm. Will you help?"
"Justin! In trouble?" the owl cried, taken aback.
"I am at your service." She bowed to them, her wings spread out in a grandiose manner.
With that, Gali crouched down and the three rodents climbed onto her back. After the rats, mouse, and supply packs were settled, Gali took off for the Fitzgibbon farm.
The first rays of the rising sun began to peep over the dark horizon. Their light began to sparkle on the window by Teresa's bed. She woke to the scrapping sounds atop the roof of their cinder block house. They sounded like a set of claws walking across the top of the roof. The loud caw of a crow suddenly resonated, breaking the tense silence that was prevalent upon her waking. She sat up quickly and peered cautiously outside the window. Her nervousness subsiding somewhat, she got out of her top bunk, careful not to wake her younger sister and began to get dressed.
"Teresa...." She looked to her right in the brightening bedroom at the other set of bunk beds.
"Quiet, Timothy," she rasped. Martin, above her on the top, rolled over in his sleep.
"What's goin' on? What was that?"
"Probably nothing. Go back to sleep." Was it? she wondered. As she slipped on her jacket, she resolved to find out. A creepy sickly feeling knotted her stomach.
Out in the cold family room, Auntie Shrew lay snoring loudly on the sickbed that had been used for Timothy when he had pneumonia during the "Great Move" or so Teresa had called it after her mother moved their cinder block house two years ago. She was beginning to tip-toe outside when the loud call came again.
Calming herself down again, Teresa marched rapidly but quietly to the front door and flung the door open. Gently, so not to wake Auntie Shrew, she closed the door behind her. Now outside, she proceeded to speak her mind.
"Hey! Could you...... Her eyes widened and her throat clamped shut.
"Keep quiet?" the armored rat finished, blood-red eyes gleaming with pleasure.
Tereasa stepped back in stark terror, the nightmarish events of the past day flooding back to her. The warrior rat leapt off of the roof and began walking casually up to her, smiling. A cry for help shot up into her throat but the paralysis of fear stopped it short.
"The others are on their way," the rat smirked. "I was told to enchant you. Make you a slave. Frankly, I've been rather anxious to try out my new sword."
The rat chuckled as he drew his blade and charged.
"AUNTIE!" she screamed running out of the deadly wake of the sword's edge. A deep gash remained in the ground where she had stood seconds ago.
"Help, Auntie Shrew! Help!"
"Don't worry!" the rat soothed in an icy whisper. "This will only hurt for a moment ... or two ... or three...."
With that he lunged again. Teresa leapt up out of the way an ran toward the door. The rushing air of the near miss chilled her entire body as she grabbed desperately at the doorknob. The sword, appeared suddenly, slicing into the wood beside her head.
"Frightened?" the rat jeered, an insane lust in his blazing eyes. Laughing, he shoved her to the ground and dislodged his weapon from the door. "Hold still!" He raised the sword above his head.
With a loud click, the door flew open and Auntie Shrew came striding out with cane in hand. The rat froze, his eager glare turning to one of surprise.
"Who do you think you are, picking fights with young ladies?" she stormed, jabbing the rat squarely in the chin.
With an angry cry of pain, the offender flew backwards onto is rump. She went at him again, this time catching him in the side of his head. Now the wincing swordsman lay on his back, dazed.
"Had enough, brute?" the shrew spat bitterly.
"Very well," the rat croaked, pulling off his dented helm. "I'll just have to kill you both and then get the General and the others later."
"Over my dead rotting corpse!"
"That's the idea, wench!."
Madly, he pulled himself up off the dirt ready to swipe at her again when the cane hit him across the other side of his unprotected face and he was down once more. Quickly, he rolled onto his knees, into a defensive stance.
"I'll take care of him, Auntie!" Martin shouted, coming up behind her and pulling his old sling-shot back, ready to fire.
Momentarily confused, the rat charged again in a panic. This time a small pebble ricochetted off of his forehead and Auntie finished him with a blow to the same spot. The rat collapsed, unconscious.
"That takes care of him! Children, get inside and get your things together. We are going to Thorn Valley immediately!" She
walked over to Teresa. "Are you alright, child?"
"Yes," the girl whispered, taking the shrew's hand.
"Where's your crow friend?" Auntie said urgently.
"Jeremy? He should be here. I told him to meet us here before he left me last night."
"Well, he'd best get here soon. We'll need to leave as soon as possible"'
"I'm afraid you won't be going anywhere, old field creature!" They all turned toward the strong voice. "My name is General Blade and I think you will be coming with us!"
"And if we refuse?" the shrew spat defiantly.
"You will die," Blade answered calmly.
Six other rat troopers walked up behind him, their swords and bows drawn.
"Nightowl! Fernwell! Go pick Thorm up off of the ground." He looked upon the fallen warrior with disgust. The two marched over and picked Thorm up by the arms and dragged him over to their leader. The General pulled a small vial from the pouch at his waist, uncapped it and waved under Thorm's nose. The rat stirred slightly and then exploded into liveliness.
"What! Ahh! Come back and fi--. Oh! General Blade, sir! They were horrible! Monsters! They came from out of nowhere! First there was one... followed by twenty and thirty! I--!"
"Thorm, calm down," Blade said evenly, instantly quieting the battered trooper.
The General knelt down, leveling his eyes with Thorm's. The warrior tried to look away but Nightowl grabbed his chin and forced his face toward the General's gaze.
"Did this mighty army happen to consist of this old shrew, a young ladymouse, and three small children?"
"Yessir! It did, sir!" the rat shouted, breaking down with shame and fear.
"You are correct, sir!"
"As I thought." The General's tone remained as even and tempered as cold steel. "You were supposed to call me when you found the Brisby home. But instead of coming to me, you acted on
your own trying to wage war with an old shrew. I was not to have
them killed. Did I not command this?"
"Yes, sir. You did."
"Ah! So you know the penalty for disobeying orders?"
"Sir?" thorm's eyes widened with fright.
"Yes." Blade's voice lowered to an icy whisper. "You know
"No,sir! Thorm screamed in terror."The rat king would never allow this!"
"His word...," the General began, drawing his two-handed sword."...is hot necessarily my law, right now."
"Turn your heads, children!" Auntie Shrew cried.
A shrill cry vibrated loudly in their ears as the sword struck precisely at Thorm's head. The miserable rat clutched the bloody stub that was once his right ear as Nightowl and Fernwell dropped him to the ground.
"Next time it will be your head! Dress his wound, Fernwell! The rest. of you, pick up his sword and helm, and shackle these vermin!" I'm tired of these games!"
Peter stared out at the bright pink sky of the sunrise, thinking of Justin and wondering just what was going on. Who was attacking them? Justin was in the hands of some evil force. He clutched the feathers on the owl's back, hoping against all hope, that he would be able to save him. That way he would know why his father always kept his existence secret.
"So what about these mice?" Brad asked, shouting above the rushing wind and staring apprehensively at the distant fields and trees far below them.
"They are the family of mice Justin told us to go and protect," Paul stated simply.
"Why?" Paul snapped angrily. "We owe the Brisby's much more than you realize! If it weren't for them the humans would have killed us all at the Rosebush! This could be one of the ways we could pay them back!"
"There's something going on down below!" Gali interrupted. "There are a group of small creatures, some in chains, walking through a field. there are dark creatures surrounding the smaller ones in the middle."
"We're too late!" Peter shouted.
The trio followed her gaze and noticed the tiny specks walking in a perfect circular formation. Confirming Peter's fears. The ones on the outside sparkled briefly in the rising sunlight.
"That's right inside the farmer's gardens!" Brad calculated.
"Right near the Brisby home!" Paul finished. "Get your blades and bows ready, boys! Take us down, Gali!"
General Blade smiled at the prizes he had just won. The remaining Brisby's were in his hands and now he would fulfill the order that the Jenner had given him. Maybe he would even be honored, or even promoted to a higher rank than that bootlicking Thornbranch or that idiot Rotwood.
"The sun will be up within a half an hour and we will be clearly visible to any creature within miles, General," Nightowl informed him, breaking his train of thought. "It would be best if we went under some kind of cover immediately."
"Noted, Nightowl," the General replied, his mind far off in the distant future.
"The constant whining of these children are beginning to annoy me, sir.
"It won't be for much longer," the General muttered confidently.
Nightowl suddenly stopped and drew his weapon. "Sir, look ou--!" His warning was cut short by an arrow that penetrated his breastplate and burrowed into his chest. With a yelp, Nightowl fell onto his back and ceased to move.
"Ambush!" cried the General, drawing his giant sword. As the other troops unsheathed their own blades, a giant owl dove from the sky.
"There are rats on the back of that thing!" Thorm shouted.
"Fernwell! Carik! Guard the prisoners! The rest of you, follow me! Charge!"
"At an owl, sir?" one of them stammered.
"His majesty gave you powers to defeat such petty beasts"' the General snapped. "Charge!"
The owl swooped in and skimmed over the ground low enough and long enough for its occupants to jump off and land safely. Then, it ascended back into the sky.
"Brad!" Paul commanded. "Use your bow on the big one in front! Knife, follow me in and cover my back!"
"Right!" the two subordinates replied.
Brad fired a harried shot at Blade. The arrow nicked off of his shoulder plate and came to rest in Fernwell's helm. The rat panicked and leaped back into two of his cohorts.
Cursing, Paul dropped his strung but arrowless crossbow, drew his broadsword, and barely deflected the blows from Blade's much larger weapon.
"I think we're slightly outnumbered, Brad!" Peter breathed heavily.
"Now this is my kind of challenge!" Thorm smirked , swinging his weapon.
Peter ducked quickly as the sword swept high above his ears. He turned and jabbed his sword into Thorm's gut.
With a hoarse cry of pain, Thorm stumbled backwards into the tall grass as another soldier arced his sword toward Peter's skull which the mouse deflected with a parrying motion. Pushing his opponent away, Peter managed to catch the rat on the cheek with the flat of his sword. As the second opponent fell, two more came rushing behind him.
"Geez! Brad, I could use some help here!"
"Like I'm in a good situation myself!" the young rat complained, stringing his longbow.
He drew and fired and the arrow plunged into the back of one of Peter's attackers, the other spun on one heel and lunged for the unprepared archer. In one powerful bounding motion, the rat leaped up and tackled Brad, ramming his head into the youngster's midsection. Peter pulled out his dagger and began running when a pair of arms clutched him, pinning his arms to his sides.
"This is for almost breaking my nose!" the dark rat growled in his ear, squeezing hard. "And this is for killing Thorm!"
"This is for threatening me ... !" Peter coughed as his vision began to swirl. He flipped his dagger downward and stabbed the rat's thigh. The rat roared and grabbed at his bleeding leg. Peter broke free and slashed his neck with a backward swing of his sword.
"... and that's for just being you!"
Paul pressed his back against a large stone as General Blade continued his violent attack. His sword, now dented and scratched, threatened to break.
"You pitiful Thorn Valley rats don't have a chance against my troops!" Blade growled, pressing his blade's edge to Paul's face.
"What have you done with our leader?" Paul shouted in his face.
"You'll find out when you meet your maker!"
Blade elbowed him in the side, knocking the wind out of him, and another swing from Blade's huge two-handed sword and Paul's broadsword shattered. Broken pieces of metal flew in all directions, making them both shield their faces. When he looked again, Blade was above him, his weapon raised.
A loud howl broke the concentration of everyone as a huge pitch-black shadow fell over everything within a few feet. A powerful blast of wind drowned out the cries of the children and the screams of two of the remaining rat soldiers. When the darkness subsided, the rats named Fernwell and Carik were gone. As Blade saw the owl rise into the air with two of his men an arrow plunged itself into his shoulder.
Screaming, he grabbed the protruding shaft and backed away from Paul, nearly dropping his sword. The rat wrestling with Brad suddenly panicked and released his grip on the youngster running as fast as he could.
Blade, seeing his odds greatly reduced, imitated the maneuver.
The adrenaline now gone, Peter dropped the crossbow and collapsed to the ground. Grabbing his chest, the young mouse gasped for air. Brad groaned loudly as he grabbed his own sore midsection. Paul lay against the stone, dropping to his knees, and briefly contemplated about what had just happened.
"Excuse me!" an angry, aged voice called out to them. "But aren't you forgetting somebody?"
It was an old shrew had come out of hiding with the Brisby children following reluctantly behind her out of the weeds. She held up her chained hands expectantly. Paul snapped out of his trance and looked toward her.
"I'm sorry, my lady," he breathed, fatigued from the brief yet intense fight. "We're getting to that right now."
"Oh, the sense of relief just sweeps over me!" the shrew mocked irritably. "Now hurry up! The children are frightened enough as it is!"
Peter, now sitting up, glared at her.
"I don't believe this. We nearly get our butts pounded into the dust and she comes to us with this attitude!"
Brad managed to breathe out a short laugh but still shook his head.
"If you rats were trying to protect us or warn us of something you're late on both counts!"
"Madam, please!" Paul said sternly. "We got here as fast as we could and we did rescue you."
"Thank you," Teresa said, coming from behind the shrew. "My name is Teresa and don't mind Auntie. Considering this morning, she's very agitated.
Peter, staring at her got up but he quickly shook himself out of his daze. "You any of you hurt?"
Teresa looked at her siblings but they only shook their heads "No, we'd just like these chains off."
"Here they are, Paul," Brad called out. "Found them on the first guy you shot."
"Great," he said, standing up and catching the keys after Brad had tossed them. A brief gust of air blew around them as Gali landed, her taloned feet bleeding and raw.
"Peter, go help Brad unpack the supplies from her back while unshackle the Brisbys."
"Right," he said, forcing his gaze away from them.
"Those rats were terrible!" the owl stated with an unnatural look of surprise in the bright yellow eyes. "Look what they did to my legs!"
She held up one foot to show the them the teeth and claw marks.
"What did you do with them?" Brad wondered.
"I dropped them into the stream but they swam out!"
"Swam out?" Peter cocked one eyebrow.
"Yes!" she nearly yelled, as if she still wasn't convinced of what she saw. "The swam all the way to the shore despite all of the metal they were wearing!"
"Even the currents?" Brad tossed the last of the packs to the ground.
"Yes! It was unbelievable!"
"Peculiar!" Paul muttered, unlocking the last of the shackles.
"Those were the same rats that took my mother." Teresa stated.
"Makes sense." Paul tossed the chains away. "They were probably the same ones that took Justin."
"They have your leader and our mother?" Martin said, coming up to Paul, rubbing his wrists.
"I'm afraid so," Paul whispered
"Excuse me," Gali interrupted politely. "If you are done with me, I must go now. The daylight is beginning to hurt my eyes and I must rest."
"Yes, Gali, thanks for your help."
"It was my pleasure, Paul." She bowed in a dignified manner and took off, calling back to them as she rose: "Good luck!"
"Well!" Paul picked up two of the packs and began to walk. "We'd best get you all home and see if we can't find a way to get going."
"We have a friend of ours who is going to fly us to your village." Teresa informed. "I hope he can carry us all."
"I'm afraid we won't be going there." Paul shook his head. "We have to get to the city and get something very important."
"What's that," Timothy asked.
"You mean the one mother used to save our house?"
Cynthia's eyes brightened at the thought of the pretty jewel.
"Yes. I hope you don't mind if we wait at your home until this crow friend of yours arrives."
"Yes, we do mind," Auntie Shrew huffed.
"Auntie," Teresa said sternly. "They're hurt! And they saved our lives. We have to help them. It's what mother would do!"
Auntie stood, considering the option for a few moments as she massaged her tingling wrists.
"Very well!" she sighed. "I just know things will start getting very interesting from here on out!" Then, the small group trudged off through the thick undergrowth, making their way to the Fitzgibbon garden.
"It should be more interesting to know what she's gonna do on this little adventure!" Peter muttered as he slung two packs of food over his shoulder, making his way up behind Brad.
The young rat only smiled and shook his head.
General Blade marched up before the Jenner, rubbing his bandaged shoulder. He dropped to one knee and bowed his head, a sign of defeat in the new rat culture. Fernwell, Carik, and Dell came up behind.,him and also knelt down to the wooden floor. There they stared blankly downward, motionless.
He saw Thornbranch and Rotwood off to the side, against a pillar of wood. He scowled despite the pain of his wound and the gravity of his situation. Someday he would have to deal with that bootlicking Thornbrach. The batflyer was much younger than Blade but was already Jenner's second-in-command.
Air power is not the only power! Blade thought with contempt. I'll make sure he knows who elder is when I am done with him!
"Waiting for punishment?" The rat king smiled at the humbled warrior, breaking into his thoughts.
"My lord, we were ambushed," Blade said clearly and calmly as he looked up. "And we were overmatched by an owl."
"I know. I saw the entire incident." The robed figure stood up and stepped down from his throne toward the disgruntled but nervously expectant general.
"I lost three of my rats and my lieutenant."
"You were defeated by children!" the rat king said flatly.
"Sire, it was the owl! We--."
"What about the arrow that landed in your shoulder?" Jenner shouted at them, slapping the wound,and making Blade wince noticeably. "If it weren't for the odds of luck being for you that shaft would have been in your spine!"
He bent down and pointed a thick finger at the shaking general. "Never let the un-obvious escape you while you're thinking of the obvious!"
General Blade looked up at him apologetically.
"Stop grovelling, Blade!" he sighed. "I'm not going to kill you this time. Arise! All of you! Feast your eyes on the fruits of our latest victory! Bring him in!"
The throne room doors were thrown open and Lightfoot and Bloodwart marched in, shoving a blindfolded prisoner in front of them. They both stopped in front of their leader, holding the captive rat by the arms, and stood at attention.
"Justin, my dear friend! You look well!" The rat king's officers, even Thornbranch, looked upon their leader's sudden change in demeanor with surprise.
"I know your voice but I don't think I want to recall the name ." Justin began to tremble unconsciously. Waiting to see what he didn't want to. With a nod from the rat king, Lightfoot removed the blindfold.
"Jenner!" Justin whispered, a chill running up his spine at the shocking,new, and darker appearance of his old enemy. The murderer of Nicodemus.
"How wonderful it is to see you again. And it touches me that you still remember me," he beamed, stepping lightly back up to his throne. He sat down and stared at him knowingly. "So how is life in the great Thorn Valley?"
Justin continued to stare, frozen in his movements. Jenner sat and regained his composure erasing the dark "I told you so"
look from his scared face. Finally, Justin shuddered and looked upon Jenner with clear angry eyes.
"So you're behind this!" he shouted. "What have you done with Mrs. Brisby?"
Jenner laughed at Justin's angry demand and retorted: "You know it's rude to avoid a question, Justin. Did not anyone ever teach you etiquette?"
"What would you know of etiquette? You've never used any of it. Now answer my question!"
Jenner drew back and mocked an offended expression. "Why, Justin! How could you treat me so after all the pleasant treatment I told my rats to give you? The cost-free ride, the comfortable blindfold? How uncourteous can one get?"
"Enough, Jenner! Let me see Mrs. Brisby!" Justin dared as much as he could in losing his self-control. He wanted to know how far to take Jenner.
"Oh, very well!" he huffed as he motioned to the dark shadows-behind him. Dozens of pairs of the eerie, radiant eyes peered malignantly out of the darkness at him. Two of these pairs moved as they came closer. His legs trembled threatening to collapse as a familiar, light-brown mouse was led into the dim light by two of Jenner's troops.
"Mrs. Brisby...." he breathed instantly when he looked into her pink, glowing, and dazed eyes. A black cloak lay draped over her graying fur from the neck down to her knees. A dazed, openmouthed expression now deformed the beautiful delicate features he had seen two years ago.
He stared mutely at her for several tense moments, tears welling up in his eyes. Turning on one heel as best he could, his hands balling into fists, he glared up at Jenner, who sat nonchalantly on his throne, grinning mockingly. Finally, Justin found his voice,and, wrestling himself out of the grip of the two soldiers, stepped forward.
"What have you done to her?" he growled lowly, trying to control his rage.
"I had her enchanted," Jenner replied simply. His grin widened and Justin squinted his burning eyes.
"You had no right to do that to her!" he screamed. "If it was me you wanted than you should have come after me!"
He lunged toward Jenner. Mrs. Brisby's guard rammed the hilt of his sword into his gut and toppled him forward with a quick kick to his knees. The two rats behind him grabbed his shoulders and pulled him up.
"And it was right for you and Mrs. Brisby to make a fool of me in front of my very own colony?" Jenner stormed, clenching his teeth. "I needed her to get to you. You wouldn't have agreed to come without me having her. He stepped back down and whispered in Justin's face. "You thought I was dead, didn't you? Of course you did! However, you were wrong."
Justin rubbed his stomach as best he could, tightened his posture, and leveled his eyes with Jenner's fearsome gaze.
"Free her, Jenner!"
The rat king's squint widened into one of momentary surprise and then returned to a look of unbreakable placidity. He then sighed and lifted his hand, still smiling.
The pink luminescence of Mrs Brisby's eyes faded to their normal whites and pupils. Her tiny body shuddered and she began to fall; but Justin, pulling away from his captors once again, caught her and held her in his arms.
"Mrs. Brisby!" he whispered gently.
She slowly opened her eyes and looked dazedly around her. Suddenly, she jumped, as if trying to run away from some unknown foe. Justin turned her toward him and gently shook her.
"Mrs. Brisby, please! It's me, Justin!" he said, raising his voice to overpower her frightened shouts. "It's me, Justin!"
She looked up at him and relaxed a little. He put his arms around her and pulled her close to him.
"We're in trouble," he whispered softly in her ear.
"How very touching!" Jenner intervened loudly.
Mrs. Brisby's tired gaze shot up in Jenner's direction. "You!" she breathed heavily, pressing closer to Justin.
"Yes!" he boomed.,"It is me here before you!" Jenner assumed a theatrical, arrogant pose.
"What do you want with us?" Her voice shook as she peered apprehensively around at Jenner's demonically clad troops. Slowly, Justin helped her stand up.
"You are here to witness the downfall of humanity. Your humiliation of me at the farm only increased my desire to do this! Plus, with you here, Justin, Thorn Valley will surely submit to my rule!"
Justin laughed shortly. "They won't even give you the time of day, Jenner. You killed Nicodemus. You killed him because you wanted to take over as leader of the rats of NIMH. You wanted us to stay at the Rosebush even though the very humans who once enslaved us came the very next day to kill us and study our remains!" Justin's anger began to seethe inside of him again. "The Rosebush is gone, Jenner and you have nothing left to take!"
"That is where you are wrong, Justin!" Jenner screamed, lunging at them and then stopping short. Justin could feel Mrs. Brisby's muscles tense up in her shoulders. He squeezed a little harder to let her know he would die before she came to harm. "I have come to power to take back what the humans have robbed us of so many times!"
"And what is that," Justin asked flatly.
"Freedom, a home to call our own, and the power to do as we will!"
"Like stealing and kidnapping?"
"As I have said before, 'Take what you can, when you can!'" Jenner's eyes were alight in a fiery maelstrom of bitterness and rage. Mrs. Brisby shuddered coldly as he gazed down at her and then back at Justin.
"And as I have said before, 'You've learned nothing!"' Jenner came up close to Justin with Mrs. Brisby trapped in between the two rivals. Justin leveled his own hard eyes at him.
"Don't you see, Justin?" he growled fiercely. "The human wretches have taken so much from us rats over the years, including you. Now we have the chance to take it all back and get rid of those giant pests forever!"
"You're insane, Jenner. It will never work." Surprised at his own calm voice, Justin shook his head and smiled. "This little escapade of yours will be for nothing!"
"On the contrary," Jenner said lowly. "My operation is larger than you think."
He walked away from them, reaching into his dark robes, a blue sphere radiated softly in his upturned palm.
"Is the sun up over the trees yet?"
"Yes, your majesty!" a distant voice called out.
A few strange words left his mouth in smooth whispers that flowed like the currents of a stream and the blue orb brightened. The thunderous sounds of creaking wood and the grinding of steel in cement surrounded them. A minute crack suddenly appeared in the roof high above them. Bright rays of the early morning sunlight streamed through the growing opening, stabbing at the prisoners' eyes. As their visions returned, they found themselves in the middle of an enormous dome-shaped chamber, A vast decorative chamber that dwarfed its occupants tenfold. Mrs. Brisby shivered and pulled her cloak tighter against her body as a chill breezed brushed against her. On the neatly polished surfaces of the wooded walls, huge gothic designs and symbols cluttered almost every inch of the walls with their dark, contrasting shades of brown and black.
Justin, wiping his watery eyes, gasped and took a step back, never taking his hands off of Mrs. Brisby, and his eyes revealed to him the large number of guards standing behind Jenner's ornate throne. Each one stood at perfect attention, their black and silver coats of armor shimmering in the natural light. The thin points of their long barbed spears glinted with a perfectly polished shine, giving the wicked weapons a magical appearance.
"This is merely my throne room!" Jenner gloated. "You should see the rest of my forest kingdom!"
Justin opened his mouth to speak, but no words were available to him at this intense moment.
"A millionaire owns this land," Jenner said, lowering his voice to sound as dark and menacing as he looked. "It will never be taken away from us. All of these rats that you see before you I have recruited and trained myself. You are inside of a huge oak tree Justin. The palace of my wooden kingdom. Look up at the branches above you. Outside, there are many of my batflyers who stand watch and keep any intruders away. This is where the extinction of the human race will begin. Each of my troops have powers that are beyond comprehension to the stupid beasts of the forest and enables them to defy the humans' special machines! They are not just warriors; but they are also scholars, diplomats, scientists, and artists as well. Trained by me and my high officers which also come from your Thorn Valley! You should recognize them. Here, we are the intelligent rules of the world! Just the way a rat of NIMH should be!"
"You're insane!" Mrs. Brisby rasped breathlessly.
Jenner looked over his shoulder and cocked a questioning eyebrow at her.
"Where did you get the colorful little gem, Jenner?" Justin swallowed hard, trying to maintain his composure.
"From your beloved Nicodemus, my friend." He turned toward them, grinning widely. "When all of the broken equipment collided with his frail little body, this blue amulet was thrown from his broken neck. While you, Mrs. Brisby, were saving your dear family, I managed to grab it and crawl away. That's why you couldn't find my 'body'!" He laughed softly.
"In the process I found this little 'gem', as you call it, in the mud. As soon as I touched it a strange power filled me, as you can see by the light in my eyes. After weeks of recovery, I became knowledgeable in a great many things. For instance, magic. He motioned up to the ceiling.
"Then, I decided to see how things were at Thorn Valley. The amulet showed me the way and I acquired my six officers that you see here."
"I think I only see five." Justin smirked, thinking: Way to go, Paul! He got my message!
"Details!" The rat-king shrugged."A grave and terrible loss it is but that's the way life is. I'm going to make it even worse for the humans! With my magical powers I have acquired over four hundred followers. Soon they will multiply and the real damage shall begin!"
"You are out of your mind!" Justin spat.
Jenner's grin lessened to a smirk but his confidant stature was maintained. "You keep saying that, Justin. You must be exhausted after your long trips, you and Mrs. Brisby. Your mind is not very sharp. I'll assign you to our finest accommodations! Lightfoot! Bloodwart! Escort our guests to our best dungeons!"
"Yes, your majesty!" The two lizard-riders snapped to attention. They grabbed the prisoners and left, having to fight a little with Justin along the way.
"You don't stand a chance, Jenner!" Justin shouted behind him before the doors cut him off.
"Yes, your majesty!" The large rat stepped forward and bowed.
"Who is the next highest ranking trooper?"
"He is now your second-in-command! Dismissed!"
Blade, taken somewhat aback with the lack of instructions, and the remainder of his party bowed and left.
"Rotwood, go to the Brisby home and finish where the General left off. I want the Thorn Valley party and the children of Brisby destroyed. I want no obstacles!"
"Yes, your majesty!" the stout bat-flyer complied, bowing and leaving.
"Take a full garrison of bat-flyers, if need be!" he said before his minion could exit the throne room.
Jenner then directed his gaze at the remaining high officer in his army. Thornbranch stood stiff-backed as his master looked at him intently.
"I have a special mission for you, Thornbranch!"
"Hey, people, what are we trying to do? Move out completely?
We just need a few necessities!" Peter stood in front of the hefty pile of sacks full of clothing and dried food.
"It is what we need to take with us to keep us as comfortable as possible in this dreadful situation!" Auntie Shrew answered with a self-assured tone.
Eyes alight with frustration, Peter simply groaned and joined his comrades sitting on the living room couch. The giant sponge felt soft and comfortable as he sat beside Paul. Teresa entered from the kitchen carrying a tray full of cups with Cynthia following, a tea kettle in her leaf-mittened hands. She set the tray down on the small table in front of the guests and Cynthia quickly filled them with a light-brown herbal tea.
"When did they take your mother, Teresa," Paul asked, wishing to break the grueling silence.
"Yesterday afternoon. At the Old Mill," she replied, seating herself in a chair in front of them. She folded her hands neatly across her lap.
"And they gave chase when you saw them?"
"Yes...." she shuddered slightly at the thought of her mother's entranced face and the rats' evil glares.
Paul sighed, frustrated. "And that same night they took our leader, Justin. Then, a group of them arrived here early this morning. They either must really be able to travel or they live very close."
"The Rosebush?" Martin speculated.
"No," Paul said, shaking his head. "It was destroyed when NIMH came the morning after your mother moved this house with the Stone. There's nothing but ruins there now."
Beside him, Peter coughed loudly as he fanned his mouth. "Whoa! What is this stuff!"
"It's my special herbal tea. My very own recipe," Auntie Shrew said proudly. "But you're supposed to sip it, not take huge gulps!"
"No ' kidding! I think I singed my throat with it!"
Teresa laughed softly, barely audible.
"Enough, Peter!" Paul motioned for him to get up."Check up on Brad and get my long sword from the equipment packs."
"Yessir!" He set his cup down. And on leaving, he winked at Teresa. But silently he thanked the maker that he was able to get away from such a formal, tedious activity.
"You'll have to forgive him,"'Paul apologized to the shrew and Teresa. "He's not very good with tact. I, myself, have a hard time putting up with him sometimes. Someday he'll start thinking."
"Why is he like that?" Teresa wondered. Auntie huffed and strode into the kitchen.
"He's had it a little rough. His father died tragically only two years ago. The farm cat."
"Like my father...." Teresa whispered sadly. Then, she said suddenly: "I thought only two mice escaped from NIMH."
"Peter's a...special case," Paul said calmly, as if he had rehearsed this before.
"This doesn't make any sense!" Martin blurted. "What would strange rats want with our mother!"
"Probably, to lure Justin away from Thorn Valley." Paul speculated. "To break down our chain of command. Justin's a very fine leader. Irreplaceable in many ways." He looked at the children gravely. "Maybe these rats want him for ransom."
"Who do you think they are," Timothy asked.
"I have my suspicions." Paul leaned forward and took another sip of his tea. "But I have to be sure."
"Could it be Jenner?" Peter said from the doorway, holding a small scroll of paper.
"What are you doing in here, Knife? I told you to go outside and help Brad!"
"I did. The crows are here. And I found this while getting your sword!" His eyes flashed with anger.
"Crows?" Teresa got up and headed toward the door. She shook her head in confusion. No one said anything about more than one crow!
"I didn't want you to see that yet, Peter." Paul said with a hint of regret in his voice.
"You know of our colony's hatred of that rat. It might've clouded your better judgement. I know how close you were to Nicodemus."
"Still, you should've showed us two notes instead of just one!" Peter's lower lip quivered briefly, his anger now plainly apparent in his voice.
"I was ordered not to show you. Justin only figured it was Jenner since we never found his body shortly after the move. We had no time to search the fields since we had to get away from NIMH. Beside, that's still just a guess! We have no proof that it really is Jenner."
"Well," Auntie interrupted. "Now that the transportation is here, shall we begin our journey?"
"Might as well." The young mouse shrugged but agreeing wholeheartedly. "But we're not taking all of these!'
He gestured toward the pile of sacks on the living room floor. Paul smiled at Auntie apologetically and nodded. "He's right. They're too much and would be too heavy."
"I won the race and the bet!" Jake the crow stated triumphantly.
"Did not!" Tula snapped.
Brad stared down at the ground in a sleepy stupor as the two young crows battled it out. Soon they were shouting, touching forehead to forehead. They began to push each other while trying to gain the upper hand.
"You cheated!" Tula yelled.
"Don't you wish!" Jake retorted and then quickly added. "You're just a sore loser!"
"Excuse us," Paul intervened. "But I would like to know who you are."
"Who we are?" Jake laughed, trying to feign a look of surprise and failing miserably. All he did was start laughing like a goon. "What kinda question is that?"
"A good one." Paul said sternly, folding his arms across his chest.
"We're your transportation," Tula answered, ignoring Jake's hysterical giggling. "And what's so funny, Jake!"
"Ah! 'Who we are?'," Oh, that's good!"
"You have to excuse him," Tula said appologetically. "He could laugh at a fly sneezing."
"What happened to Jeremy?" Teresa asked as she came out the door, hefting a large sack on her shoulder.
"Our dear old dad is off with mother trying to prepare for the winter. Jake answered, bowing dramatically. "He sent us, myself being the bravest and handsomest of my siblings, to take you where you need to go. Tula sighed and looked away, not wanting to see the embarrassment her brother was going to cause her."However, introductions are in order. My name is Jake and this is my ever-cranky sister, Tula."
Tula shot her twin a burning glare.
"Well ... "' Paul began but was interrupted when Auntie Shrew's voice overpowered his own.
"Well, then! I guess we can start with loading the sacks!"
"Sacks?" Tula and Jake said in unison. A look of dread crossed their faces and they looked worriedly at each other.
"Yes! there's a good number of them so I hope you're strong! Teresa! Martin! Help the rats get started! Your mother needs saving!"
With that said, the shrew escorted the two older Brisby children into the house. Paul walked to Peter and whispered: "You and Brad go help them but make sure she only takes the three most important sacks: Food and such."
"Yessir!" Peter complied, smiling broadly as he motioned for Brad to follow him.
"Now we can be on our way," Paul breathed relievedly.
Thornbranch waded as quietly as he could through the deep tufts of dead grass and leaves. He scanned his surroundings thoroughly before taking any real steps.
All right, Thornbranch thought. Just go to the nearest rat and ask to speak to someone in charge. You're a fugitive from NIMH.
Right! They'll be heavily suspicious of me. They have just had their leader disappear. They should be very agitated and tense. But they are also confused; or, should be. Which should make it easy for Jenner to take over. But first, he had to find and exploit the weaknesses of the colony as best as he could and be able to give the invasion force an opening when they arrived. That might take some time, but it shouldn't take long.
Thornbranch jumped, his thoughts interrupted. Reflexsively, his hand reached for a sword that was not there. He turned quickly to find a tall, lanky rat coming toward him, spear in hand and ready to use it. A sentry.
"What is your name and your business here!" the sentry barked. He stopped directly in front of Thornbranch but he held his spear level and with both hands, ready to thrust.
"My name is Thomas and I wish to speak to your leader." he replied smoothly.
"I come from the city and am weary from many nights of travel. I need a place to stay."
"This is not a colony open to just anyone. You wouldn't fit in here and I suggest you move on and tell no one of what you saw!"
Or you'll do what? Thornbranch thought amused. "I'm from NIMH. The last survivor of another group of experimental rats who fled from NIMH."
At the mention of NIMH, the sentry stiffened and his eyes grew harder. He pursed his lips and finally, after moments of careful thought, he said: "Follow me!"
Thornbranch nodded and did so, falling quickly into step behind the sentry. As they neared the colony, the rat motioned for a distant compatriot to come and assist him. The other came behind Thornbranch and fell into step.
He was right. They were very cautious but so far they showed no real change in tactics or weaponry since their time at the Rosebush. Thornbranch began to wonder what kind of ramshackle domains they were able to put up in the last two years. Probably pitiful compared to the Rosebush or his master's tree palace. No electricity. No humans to easily steal food and equipment from. No cover. It would be easy to take from the air.
The closer they got to the center of the colony, the more fields and rats he began to see. To his great surprise, he found that they had built many sturdy-looking but small buildings. They were built around small trees and bushes so not to be seen easily by air. And in the ground, Thornbranch saw that the earth had been pushed upward into mounds with small openings deep within their bases. So, he thought. These rats have taken to living above round as well as beneath it. Why? They must be far enough away from humans to not worry about the intense secrecy they once had to use. Also, Dragon, the farmer's cat was another enemy they didn't have to continually drug to even get out from underground. Here they seemed to be free.
I must get to their central governing chambers. or at least to Justin's private chambers, he thought. There I might be able to find a way to make an opening for our forces when they arrive. Thornbranch decided to bide his time and study his surroundings more before making any moves. He gazed upon the expansive bustle of activity, his genuine interest steadily rising. Countless numbers of small but fully grown gardens, ready for harvest, seemed to stretch on forever. Harvesters were strewn about them, climbing the plants and cutting off the fruits, husks,or vegetables with what seemed to be handmade tools. As they neared what seemed to be a potato patch, several groups of hardy-looking rats were pulling on long ropes with loops tied around the plants. Trying to see as best he could, for he was moving away from them now, they had finally uprooted the vegetable , cut off plant and began to roll it into a pile of the small potatoes.
"Keep it moving!" the sentry behind him snapped. "If your story is true, you'll have plenty of time to look around later!"
Thornbranch only nodded and continued on.
They came near one of the mounds and, by what Thornbranch saw, it was the largest of all of them. At last! he thought with satisfaction. Their governmental seat! Now he would find out their true strengths and weaknesses.
The sentry in front opened the door and he was motioned inside. Soon, he emerged in almost total darkness. At first he fumbled through the wide hallway, but then a row of torches sent their soft rays of light to Thornbranch's starved eyes. With the power of night sight that his master had given him he could easily have seen his way through these catacombs, but that would have endangered his position.
Finally, they stopped at what appeared to be a large set of double doors. And judging by the ornate designs it was a room of importance. Possibly a council room. Like the one where Jenner had spoken out against the Thorn Valley Plan at the Rosebush.
"Wait here!" his escort ordered "Nathan, you stay and watch him. If he does anything out of line, take him down. We cannot risk being exposed."
"Yes, sir!" Nathan nodded.
So, they still exercised secrecy to a degree, he mused.
The escort knocked loudly on one of the doors. A muffled "Enter" was heard and the rat pulled open the thick hefty door and a myriad of voices came flooding out. Voices that were frightened, agitated, or plainly angry. Thornbranch even managed to catch a question about the whereabouts of Justin. He refrained from smiling. The rats were definitely suspicious about the recent disappearances. However, being in the dark about the exact events that were taking place, these rats were definitely readying for some kind of trouble.
The voices suddenly ceased and moments later his escort returned with Brutus following behind. Thornbranch, even now, was slightly but briefly intimidated by this rat's presence. But Thornbranch knew that Brutus was not stupid. He might recognize him. Thornbranch hoped that his obscurity in the colony preceded him.
"Thomas?" Brutus spoke in his incredibly deep voice.
"Yes," Thornbranch said calmly.
"I hear you are from NIMH and need a place to stay. You seem to have the same mode of dress as we do."
"Well, the lab animals that remained from the first experiments told me all about you; or, at least as much as they knew. I was a part of the 'A' group."
"How did you escape?"
"Much the same way you did but we pried a hole in the exhaust vent on top of the building. We also had to carefully cut the screen in the air vent inside the lab. It took us twice as long for us to get out of NIMH as you did. Or so one of the experimental rabbits told us."
"They could talk like you?"
"Very crudely. This one was old but he was very sturdy. I think they were testing some kind of poison on him that wasn't very potent."
"How long ago did you escape?"
"A year ago."
"Where are the others?"
"Don't know. I was separated from them one night when the humans tried to track us down. I think most of our group were killed but I'm not sure."
"A likely story!" the escort sniffed. Brutus silenced him with an upraised hand.
"A lot of strange things have been happening around here lately so you'll quickly understand why we are all so cautious. But if you're telling the truth, we can let you stay. But do remember this, if you are going to stay,you're going to work. Winter is coming and already several of us are sick. So we need all the hands we can use."
"Tanner. Nathan. Show this new rat to an above ground house. Get him situated and get back to your posts. But leave a guard at his door. I don't want him going anywhere without an escort until I can find out if he truly is as he says."
"Yessir!" They replied and motioned Thornbranch back down tunnel. "Stay with us, Thomas, and do not deviate from between us or you will be detained underground."
"Thank you, sir," he said to Brutus.
"Thank me when I've come to you with confirmation of your story and allow you to walk freely through the colony."
"Very well." Thornbranch headed back outside with his escort and thought elatedly to himself: Perfect! That gives me time to do my searching! And no mere guard is going to keep me from doing so!
"This is your dwelling!" the escort told Thornbranch sternly Already an enormous blue and yellow garbed rat stood at attention by the door. "This sentry has orders to kill you if necessary. Others will be around on patrol and they will keep a careful eye on this place. If you try to leave this building withhout your escort, you will be incarcerated below!"
"Why am I being treated like a prisoner," Thornbranch asked, feigning offense.
"We don't know you and don't trust you. Now get inside. The Predators will be out for the night very soon. I don't want to
become vulnerable on your account!"
"As you wish," Thornbranch grumbled. He walked up the two and the sentry opened the door, never taking his gaze off of him. Once inside, he looked around at the meager accommodations. A table and chair for eating, a few candles, a tinder box, and a small bed. He turned back to his escort and asked: "Is there anything I can do while I'm here? May I have a book to read or something?"
The escort seemed mildly surprised by this question. "You can read now?"
"Obviously I can, or I wouldn't have asked."
"I'll send some one later to give you something to read." With that, the escort left and the click of a lock was heard. This left Thornbranch alone, finally, to begin his operation. Quickly, he opened the tinder box and lit a candle. The warm glow slightly illuminated the darkening room. He sat down at the table and pulled a small green crystal from his robes. He focussed his eyes on it and began to concentrate. After moments of meditation, images began to form in the small sphere and a voice could be heard in his mind.
The image was of a council chamber. One that was much smaller than the one at the Rosebush. Long rows of large candles burned vividly on the frontmost wall. A large darkly stained cross hung above them; its hues deepened by the dim lighting. So these rats have learned to worship a deity, Thornbranch thought with great surprise. Two small balconies flanked this symbol with two councilmen sitting uncomfortably in each of them. A larger one was positioned higher above the cross with a chairperson sitting uneasily in his seat. Tense at the general air of the room.
A small podium stood below the balconies, solitary against the plain backdrop of wood on the large vacant stage. Thornbranch surveyed the Other rats in the chamber with growing interest. The din quieted somewhat as Brutus entered the council chamber.
"Order!" the chairperson barked, slamming his gavel on the balcony edge. "Brutus has the floor!"
Brutus walked onto the stage with one great footstep, as if the small flight of steps were not there. He went up to the podium in all but a convincing manner of officiality. He stood for a moment, staring down at the minute block of wood that was dwarfed by his immense bulk.
He's not used to this kind of a leadership role, Thornbranch thought with amusement.
"As you all may well know," he boomed loudly. "Our leader is missing!"
Thornbranch cracked a smile as he saw Brutus' pupils dilate and his legs quaked, barely noticeable to the average NIMH rat.
"We still don't know where he is or what to do about it."
"What are we going to do, if anything?" someone asked.
"We have a search party out following a lead at this moment," Brutus stated.
"Yes, a party full of children!" another rat complained.
Brutus suddenly stopped his fidgeting and scanned through the assembly of rats, a vicious glare contorting his facial features.
"Paul is with them! He can make sure the young rat, Brad, and Peter get the job done! They will benefit from the experience. Besides, they were nearing the time of their Confidence Course anyway."
"You know how Peter is!" A rat stood up from his seat and waved his fist in the air. "Young Peter is impetuous, undisciplined, and highly unpredictable. He was bad enough before mbut after his father's death his attitude deteriorated beyond all hope of redemption! He has no family anymore and I think he doesn't belong with us, much less in the Guard'."
Brutus opened his mouth and raised his hands to pound them on the podium in protest, but he stopped and his gaze softened.
"You're right. He is impulsive, undisciplined, and unpredictable. However, he is our savior's son and his father was one of us; so, that makes Peter one of us, too! We can't just reject him because of a few of his faults."
There was a steady murmur from the assembled group. But then, someone else spoke out.
"What about the Amulet?"
Brutus raised his gaze at this and replied: "The Amulet remains safely hidden and only Justin and a select few know of its location."
"He's gone, so how do we get to it if we need it?"
"I believe Paul has a map with him as he is en route to acquiring it now."
Perfect! Thornbranch thought with elation. That was all I needed to know from this meeting!
Brutus relaxed his posture somewhat but the floor was alive with shouts and angry questions. And it began to inflame.
"Order! Order!" the chair person shouted, banging his gavel vigorously. "Lord Brutus has the floor!"
The giant rat almost scowled incomprehensively at the title given to him.
"I have no further information but I will get back to you as soon as I have more. I now leave the floor to Councilman Morray."
With great rapidity, Brutus left the platform and, thus, left the chamber.
Thornbranch broke his link and began to concentrate on another.
"Report, Thornbranch!" Jenner ordered eagerly.
"They are suspicious, Sire! They are readying themselves because of Justin's disappearance! They have many sentries about and I am kept here in this shack under guard."
"As expected. Do they suspect you?"
"Good! Cooperate with them. I want them to begin to trust you. Did they believe your story?"
"Not yet. But I'm sure they will soon. Your idea that there was actually a new group of rats taken to NIMH threw them off a little."
"Yes," Jenner chuckled. "But those died trying to escape."
A sudden clicking briefly broke Thornbranch's concentration. "I must go, sire! Someone is coming!"
"Keep me informed, Thornbranch. I will notify you before my attack!"
"Yes, sire!" Thornbranch said quickly and broke the link.
The door opened and a young girl rat came in with a small stack of books in her arms. When he focussed his gaze on her, something inside of him kindled to life. Only a brief flickering of a memory, but there nonetheless. The word sister came to his mind in a flash.
"Hello. My name is Bilee. I was told to bring books for you."
"Yes," Thornbranch said calmly. "Please set them down here n the table." He quickly stuffed the jewel down in his pocket.
"Your dinner will be along in an hour. So I'll be here again before the night is through."
"Come on out, Bilee!" the guard at the door ordered. The girl nodded once at him and then left, the lock clicking behind her.
Thornbranch, for some unknown reason, found himself staring at the closed door long after she left, her image haunting his mind. A feeling of wistful sadness began to well up within him. Quickly, he tried to push it down, but even after he opened one of the books to take his mind off of her, he could still feel a brief spark of emotion deep within him
Dank smells and the dark silence assailed Justin's senses. The absolute absence of sound enclosed and secluded him as he rubbed his shoulders. It was as if four unseen walls were threatening to close in on him.
Thoughts of the past two years gushed through his mind, keeping him on the tightrope between hope and utter despair. The image of Peter envelloped his mind's eye, causing a sharp pang of pity to well up in his chest. The young boy was now without anyone to look after him or to believe in him. He was hoping Paul would guide him. Since his father's widow was involved in this, Justin figured Peter would eventually want to be involved. However, he egan to wonder how the boy would be helping or hindering the rats of NIMH.
A soft smooth note pierced his solitude and ruptured the silence. It then rippled into an entire melody, bringing thoughts of youth and springtime to his wistful soul. The musty air was replaced by a fresh clean breeze with the various scents of flowers wafting through his nostrils. Bright ray of warm sunshine shone down comfortingly on his face and fields of green grasses and fruit plant blooms opened out widely around him.
"Justin...." the soft voice whispered to him and then he was back in darkness.
"Yes, Mrs. Brisby?"
"What do you think is happening right now?" He heard her shuffle up to the bars beside him.
"They're probably either looking for us or the Stone."
"How will they find us?" Her voice showed io sign of wavering to fear, only slight concern. She's very biave indeed, he thought.
He sat for a moment, deep in thought.
"I don't know. But I think they'll find a way. Maybe we could do something."
"Send a signal or escape."
"Do you think Jenner will try to find the Stone?" A hint of worry became more prominent in her voice.
"I know he will."
"Does anyone know where it is besides you?"
"Yes two others. Paul and Peter."
"Paul and Peter," she asked, sounding uncertain.
"Paul, my second-in command, knows the location by heart and where the Stone rests. Peter, a young orphan whoose father just died a couple of years ago, has a map hidden in the hilt of his sword. He doesn't know it yet but I think he'll find it in time. I just hope he doen't throw his sword away for any reason."
"It lifts my heart a little to know that." He imagined her smiling into the pitch blackness. But then she asked suddenly: "Who was his father?"
Justin closed his eyes tightly and cursed himself. There was no way to avoid it now.
"Justin, please talk to me. It's so cold here and I just need you to talk to me."
Justin paused, his heart thumping wildly as a lump of nausia creeped up into his throat. Finally, he forced his mouth to speak.
"Johnathan...." It came out as a hoarse whisper and was followed by an unsteady silence. "It was your husband."
"How can that be?" she gasped shakily. "Why didn't Johnathan tell me about him? Why didn't Nicodemus tell me about Peter when I saw him?"
"They both agreed several years ago, when you were first married, that he wouldn't tell you. They didn't want to run the risk of our colony being exposed."
"Even after all these years...," she sobbed. "I don't think I'll ever know everything about my husband!"
"Don't hate him......
"I don't hate him. I still love him and I always will." She paused and turned toward the sound of his voice as if she were staring into his eyes. "Who was she?"
"Tina was her name. She and Johnathan travelled with us for a while. They had three children. Peter was the youngest. They seemed happy for a while but after we made our temporary home in an abandoned library and we began to read and learn, she became frightened and, one evening, she left us. Peter had sneaked away from his mother and, somehow, rejoined his father and us, thirsting for adventure and learning.
Justin paused to catch his breath.
"After a while, we had to leave the library. The humans began to come around there and we were endangered. So we moved to the Rosebush. The rest you know. Except that when you and Johnathan were married, he had to choose between his young family and his son. That was when Peter became... fiery and insolant.
He's especially hard to deal with now after his father's death. His anger seemed to increase three-fold. They never really made peace with each other over that subject until the day Johnathan was assigned to drug Dragon"
Long moments passed with nothing said. Justin bowed his head, wondering how Mrs. Brisby was taking all of this. Tears began to well up in his eyes. Situations he could do nothing about began to rise up against him. The chill of fear clutched at his heart, threatening to break his courage.
Mrs. Brisby?" he gazed in the direction of her voice.
"Hold out your hand to me."
He reached out between the bars and groped aimlessly, their knuckles collided and, finally, the two grasped each others'
hands tightly. A ray of hope suddenly dawned within him.
"It'll be alright, Mrs. Brisby. Things will work out."
"I know." she said calmly.
A thunderous click stung their ears as a bolt slid out of its slot and the massive door opened. Bright light burned their eyes. Quickly, they released each other as the guard came in carrying a tray of food.
"I have a plan," he whispered to her, smiling slightly.
Teresa shivered as the powerful wind blew into her. The last rays of the setting sun slithered slowly beneath the horizon, casting a steadily darkening hue of blue over the world.
"Everybody alright up there?" Jake shouted above the din of the rushing air.
"All's well!" Paul shouted back.
"So where are we going?" Tula flew in close to her brother, flanking him as she regarded the rat intently.
"We're going to a place in the city! A place that is very dangerous to all animals,"
"And where is that," Peter asked apprehensively.
"I don't think I heard him correctly!" Brad looked worriedly over at Peter.
"I'm sorry, Brad," Paul stated flatly. "But we're going to a place where Jenner or whoever it is that's sending these rats after us will never think of going!"
"Uh boy!" Peter groaned. "I'm just so excited!"
"Speaking of hiding for the night. The children and I are not used to all this running around like you are. I think we should stop and rest for the night"'
"We can't rest until we get to the city, Miss Shrew," Peter stated matter-of-factly.
"Well, I'm saying that we must rest now!" the shrew insisted stubbornly.
"There they are! Take them now! Argrith! Trexx! Jaxim! Fervowith! Follow my lead!"
The group, startled, shot their gazes skyward as five bats dove, screaming, out of the reddened heavans. Armored riders brandished long deadly lances and bows as the rats sneered, feeling the thrill of battle rise within them.
"Go into a dive! Go into a dive!" Paul ordered to Jake.
Teresa's stomach dropped as the crows folded their wings and shot downward like two black arrows. She turned her head and saw the five ominous bats following them down. Their shapes growing larger every second.
"Fly in low! Through the trees!" Paul shouted.
"Paul, they're still getting closer!" she cried.
What dim light remained was instantly shrouded by the thick canopy of evergreens and shedding maples. Other protesting birds and the whisking of branches over head impaired Teresa's sense of perception, making her flaten down against Jake's back. Suddenly, just as they were adjsting to the dizzying conditions, a sharp whistle nipped at their ears.
"They're firing at us!" Brad exclaimed.
"Peter, hand me my crossbow! Brad, break out your longbow, and aim for the leader!"
Brad dove his hands into one of the packs at Tula's side. He began to fight as his bow became entangled in the straps.
"Careful!" Tula snapped. "You're shifting the weight!"
To his horror, Brad's pack split wide open, sending its contents plummeting into the leaves. He swung his hand out and grabed what he could. He found that he had clasped his hand around three arrows.
Paul fought diligently to steady his aim as Jake sporadically bobbed away from the deadly shots of their persuers. His arrow flew and, unwittingly, his shot struck a bat in the eye. Screaming, the beast carreened downward, it's rider quickly following suit, to the forest floor. One flyer broke from the group and followed in a vain rescue attempt, allowing himself to be exposed to Brad's fatally accurate aim.
"That's two!" Peter affirmed, smiling broadly.
"Brutes!" Auntie Shrew spat, pressing herself closer to Tula's back.
Peter glared at her woundedly. "Who? Us or them?"
"All of you!"
A sudden scream interrupted them as Tula strightened to a vertical position, zooming back past them and back past the batflyers.
"Tree!" Martin cried.
Jake immitated his sister's cry and maneuver. But his momentum kept him horizontal, continuing his inevitable course toward the monster trunk.
"Fold your wings!" Teresa screamed.
"This might sting a little!" Jake warned.
With a gut-wrenching thud, Jake slammed head-first into the rough oak trunk, wincing terribly. Paul, Peter, Martin, and Teresa howled in fright as they arched through the air and into the branches.
The sudden stop into the wood beat the air from Teresa's lungs, blurring her vision. Grunting, she tried to claw herself on to the top of the slick branch, but still she slipped to the sore edges of her fingertips.
"Hold on, sis!" Peter grabbed her wrist and yanked her up to her feet. He pulled his sword out of its sheath, saying: "Here comes another one!"
Gently, he pushed her aside, spreading his feet into a striking posture.
The massive form dropped down out of the sky, eyes gleaming wickedly. The bat emmited a scream that stabbed at Peter's ears. Suddenly, he began to sway as his world spun madly about.
Barely, he heard Teresa screaming at him through the high-pitched whine, a look of sheer panic crossing her face. An unseen force slammed into him and hurled him backwards, sending him falling to another branch. The red-hot pain sharpened his woozy senses and he gazed at his left arm. A stream of blood dribbled down his sleeve and through his fingers. The scream came again, clobbering him with a powerful hypnotic sensation.
"Oh no you don't!" he growled, getting up and raising his weapon. The red eyes of his opponent flared at him, almost putting him further in a daze as the batflyer came at him again. Gritting his teeth, Peter steadied his wobbling legs.
"Die, NIMH rodent!" the rat jeered.
"Not on your best day!" the mouse retorted, parrying the spear away. He swung his arms back again and caught the batflyer square in the nose. Howling, the rat fell from his mount. The passing wings of his bat sent Peter reeling back against the trunk of the tree. He shook his head, dazed.
"Rotwood! We're outnumbered!" Jax observed nervously.
"It makes no difference!" Rotwood sneered, stringing an arrow in his massive bow.
Jax cast a confused look at his superior.
"Just watch!" Rotwood pulled the string back and steadied his bow. He squinted his left eye, giving his right a good deal more of his concentration. His fingers parted and the deadly magical arrow flew, whistling throgh the air.
The tree, from the point the arrow struck and beyond, faded to a dull gray. Cracks began to spread themselves throughout the surface of the tree, leaving many wide open fissures everywhere. Gasses spewed forth around the group.
"They die now," Rotwood chuckled.
"This is it, everybody!" Peter warned. "This baby's gonna fall!"
"Head for Tula!" Paul shouted as he pulled at Jake's still inert form hanging on the branches above him.
Dying quickly, the tree's base shattered with a thunderous crack. The rest of the tortured oak plunged down to the forest floor, a column a dust taking its place.
Rotwood's maniacal laugh rippled through the trees as he watched the small party fall from the branches.
"You see, Jax!" he cackled. "Sometimes a complex strategy or sheer numbers is not what's needed to get the job done!"
With that, the two circled away to inform their master of their victory.
A soft moaning broke through the steady ringing in Peter's ears. Gazing around, a strange world greeted him and a dull, tingling sensation throbbed in his arms and feet.
Everywhere he looked there was nothing but twigs, branches, and leaves. No floor. No sky. He looked up at his numb feet and found them entwined in a mass of vines. In his arms, also partially entwined in the creepers, Teresa hung limply, half- conscious.
He looked down at her, smiling. She's beautiful, he thought. No wonder dad always thought of her and the other kids so much. I always wondered what they looked like and what they were like. Her bow had been pulled off, tangled in the twigs above, letting her long bangs hang over her eyes. She opened her eyes and suddenly tensed, paniking.
"Where are we?" she gasped. She began to kick and squirm.
"Calm down! We're in the trees and still alive. But we won't be....
A loud snap resounded from above.
"...if you keep squirming!" he finished as they fell a short way into a large mound of pale gray dust.
"Peter! Teresa! Where are you?" Paul shouted from afar.
"Knee deep in--'!" The mouse suddenly had to spit out a mouthful of soot. Peter fumbled for his sword. Feeling his hand close around the hilt, he cut the vines off of his ankles.
"Here they are everybody!" Paul pushed his way through the strange dust. Auntie Shrew exploded out from the underbrush, hurling Paul to the ground as she slammed through him.
"Teresa, my dear! Are you all right?" She hugged the girl, picking her up out of the pile. She turned abruptly to Peter and scowled. "Keep away from her, young fiend!"
"I saved her life!" he protested bitterly. "We rats saved all of your lives and it's your pitiful thanks we get for it!"
"If it weren't for you we wouldn't be in this mess in the first palce!" The shrew, proud of her retort, nodded gruffly and walked away, pushing Tereasa gently along with her.
"Old hag!" Peter mumbled angrily.
"Knife, stop," Paul said gently but firmly. He held out his hand to help Peter up. The boy took the hand and, still fuming, sheathed his sword.
"Just relax. We've got to get this group together and find a place to hide."
"Why? They must already think we're dead." Peter rubbed his sore rump as he began to walk stiff-leggedly away from the mound. He winced at the pain in his awakening feet.
"Where's Jake?" Paul shouted.
"Over here!" Teresa's soft voice rang out.
"The duo hopped quickly through the grasses and dust. A small thicket opened up before them. Jake was laying on his back, his sister gently shaking him.
"Jake! Brother, dear!" she coaxed persistently. "Wake up!"
"Five more minutes, mom.... Just five more minutes...." Tula stared appologetically at the rodents.
"Great!" Peter sighed. "Half of our transportation is unconscious!"
"That's nothing different!" Tula said. "He's really bad now. I think he hurt himself more than usual this time."
"And NIMH is still a good distance away." Brad reminded them.
The group stood in silence for several moments. Timothy began to shiver and Cynthia began to fidget.
"Well," Auntie Shrew spoke up. "We can't just loiter around here like fools. We'd best get inside before we attract any night wanderers."
"Good idea," Paul said agreeably. "I thought I saw a house just beyond the edge of the woods. We could stay there for the night."
"In a human place?" Brad took a step back.
"We have no choice, Brad! Let's get moving!"
The small troupe set off, picking up whatever they could find that had fallen from the battle. Tula shouldered her brother's weight and half-dragged him along as he muttered to himself in a low, groggy voice.
"I hate humans!" Brad growled almost audibly.
Peter simply lagged to the back of the group, hoping to avoid any conversation.
The moon was beginning to rise above the mountains as Thornbranch gazed out the window of his small shack. A pile of books lay on the table in front of him, one of them laying open in his lap. He gazed out at the nocturnal surrounding and intently studied other rats who were just coming home. Still, he found it hard to read or even focus on his mission. This had never happened before. He had always been cool and collected, never veering away from any goal that he could think of. Still, the image of that small girl rat, Bilee, haunted him so. A sour pang of sadness bubbled from within him.
There was a loud click at his door and it opened, shedding a series of bright rays of candlelight. He turned to see one large figure, along with two smaller ones, enter the shack. He could just make out Brutus' strong angular face. Bilee, with a tray of food, and his escort of earlier that day that shuffled up from behind the massive rat.
"We sent a messenger earlier today, after you were situated and pressing matters were attended to, and they confirm your story." He took a deep breath as he paused and motioned for Bilee to set the food down on the table. "New experiments were done at NIMH using wild rats. There were also signs of trouble but no definate signs of escape were found ... yet."
As Bilee came closer to him and set the food down in front of him, the pang increased along with new emotions. Anger and frustration. Thornbranch buried them as quickly and as thoroughly as possible. Brutus then motioned for her to leave, thanking her on the way out.
"So, after another quick meeting with the council, we've decided to let you walk the grounds and participate in a few activities. You're not in the colony yet. You've still got a lot of proving to do for us. That is why Clerence here will be escorting you during the day. He will be with you at all times and you must be visible to him at all times. If you try to sneak away or disobey any of his orders you will be exiled from the colony."
The, escort, Clerence, groaned but maintained his composure. Brutus shot the smaller rat a glance that made him back away a step.
"I thought I had to be a citizen first to be exiled," Thornbranch joked.
"This is serious, Thomas, if that is your real name, we plan to do some more checking on your background. I don't know when we'll get to it, with all that's going on around here, but we will. And when your story checks out we'll let you walk freely."
"Will I still have a guard at my door?"
"Why do,you treat me like a prisoner? I'm a NIMH rat! Just like you!" Thornbranch feigined anger.
"We don't know you and don't trust you" Clerence snapped. "I think it's pretty convenient that you show up just a day after our leader dissapears! Maybe you had something to do with it!"
"Or maybe it's just a coincidence," Thornbranch added smoothly. Genuine anger began to well in the pit of his stomach. He fought to keep it hidden. "It's actually beginning to look that way," Brutus added. "But I'm still going to have an eye on you until we can find Justin and this whole thing blows over."
"Maybe we'll just feed him to the local strays!" Clerence growled hotly.
"That's enough!" Brutus snapped, glaring at his subordinate. "You'll be expected to work as of tomorrow. Clerence here will take you to a woman named Isabella, she will be your supervisor. Now we'll let you eat and get some rest. Come on Clerence. I think I need to have a word with you!"
With that, the two rats left, leaving Thornbranch in semi,darkness. White-hot rage bubbled within him like a couldron boiling over. Feed me to a cat! he shouted in his mind. I will kill him first when the invasion force arrives! His stomach suddenly turned, erasing all want for food, and a queesy feeling overpowered him. His breathing increased and he clenched his fists. He stared blankly at the door, but only for a moment was his mind blank.
Thornbranch began to see a younger world. His father smiled at him as he handed him piece of bread. Mari, Shawn, and Tate; his brothers and sister hopped excitedly up to him, eagerly awaiting their own portion of the hard earned dinner. Thornbranch gazed down at Mari who was playing with his tail. Smiling, he handed her his crumb. She took it gratefully, kissing him gently on the cheek. His father patted him on the head and handed him another piece.
The sudden sounds of screaming shocked them all. They snapped their heads to their right, Shawn, who had only wandered A short distance away, hung limply in the pearl-white fangs of an alley cat. Blood trickled down from the crown of his head. Trash cans and garbage piles exploded furiously into numerous flurries of fur and claws. More screans throbbed in Thornbranch's ears and a single word raged in dominance throughout his mind.
"RUN!" he screamed.
He streaked away on all fours. Closing his eyes, he flew onward as fast as his legs could carry him almost feeling the cats' breath spread hotly over his back. Forever and longer he ran, Not looking behind him and never slowing. With his lungs threatening to burst, his legs buckled. Thornbranch's head dropped into the cement, the rest of his body following suit. He slid over the slick ground into a heap of dirt and splintered wood.
"Mom! Dad!" he rasped, barely conscious. Then, his head cleared somewhat. "Mom? Dad?"
"They're dead, my little morsel!"
Thornbranch whirled, terrified. The giant cat slinked casually over to him, his terrible gaze trained on him.
"You poor underdeveloped rodent! Barely even a mouthful! But you need not worry, this will only hurt for a second!"
Crying out, he scurried under the beast, his head throbbing. Darting through a hole, he found himself in an alleyway. A swarm of rats and mice engulfed him, threatening to pull him under and trample him. Forced to run with them, he followed, and abruptly, lights blazed around them and Thornbranch suddenly found himself entangled in a strange but strong, wiry material. Helpless, he cried out for his parents again just as his legs left the ground.
Thornbranch started. The air was still, but now it was a different place and a different time. Through the window, soft pale rays of moonlight draped to the floor, giving the a pleasnt look of peace and serenity to his shack, and giving the walls the natural opaque look of linen. A feeling of wistfulness and regret washed gently over him. Thoughts of cuddling next to the warm bodies of his parents and siblings hovered in his mind's eye like a specter just out of arm's length.
Stop it! he scolded himself silently. You're a part of Jenner's new army and soon to be the new earthly order!
Right! Sure! A lonely order where he is second-in- command of an army full of rats who hate him and long for his position! An army full of subordinates who despise him for the pleasures he is entitled to. Pleasures he found too extraneous to even partake in save for protocol alone. An empty position full of mistrust and intimidation.
But he was doing this for the good of all the rats of NIMH ... right?
All energy left him as he stared down at his plate of food. He picked at it and nibbled on a few crackers and fruit slices. For some reason, as he sat in the warm glow of the candlelight, he didn't really feel like going through with his master's plan. His nostalgia had left him spiritually energyless. The doubts he had long since held back about Jenner's plans of human genocide were now overpowering his mental dam, washing away his once rock-solid resolve. Leaving him empty and confused.
I was once an officer here. Obscure as my title was. I was here as a member of this colony. I thought I had finally found a home. But when Jenner killed Nicodemus and the humans had found us, my second home was gone. Am I doing that same thing to my countrimen? To rats, like myself, who had come from NIMH? Am I going to partake in the stealing of their new home just so I can revel in the glory of their subjugation to Jenner?
All I want is freedom for myself and others like me.
He shivered at a sudden fear. Jenner would kill me if he knew what I was thinking! But would we really be free fighting billions and billions of humans just so we can have our way? Was Sullivan right to betray jenner at the farm?
Silently, Thornbranch ate his dinner and then blew out the candle. He then laid himself out on the bed to begin his night's meditation so he could concentrate on what he was to do next. But this time he wondered why he should do it.
"Justin, I don't think this is going to work," Mrs. Brisby rasped, looking around nervously.
"Of course it will work." Justin's voice betrayed an ounce of uncertainty; but still, his eyes and stature showed his maintained confidence.
"One of us will get out of here alive." He continued to shove her foreward through the dark passagway. An officer passed by them and Justin saluted smartly. When the officer returned the salute and went about his way, Mrs. Brisby looked back at Justin, perplexed.
"Where did you learn to do that?" She tried not to sound too loud.
"Shut up, you!" He hit her as gently as he could in her back, then added: "I learned it when we were being taken to our cells. Their ranking of officers is easy to remember. The more ornate their breastplate, the higher the rank."
Mrs. Brisby stiffled a laugh but that urge was soon quelled as their nervousness increased. For long moments, both were silent as they travelled deeper into the myriads of tunnels and chambers of Jenner's palace. Their stomachs clenched horribly as the one called Blade rounded a corner and came toward them.
"Wait a minute ..., he said, stepping back.
WIth the new found speed of lightning, Justin drew his stolen blade and cut across the giant rat's throat. The rat wheezed as he suffocated, his windpipe severed. Another saw the incident, readied his own sword, and charged. Justin, now more afraid than he had ever been, parried the deadly arc and plunged his weapon into the rat's stomach. The trooper yelled and fell into a heap. Quickly, Justin ran through out through a gate and found themselves outside. He then pushed his legs as fast as they would allow. Mrs. Brisby was just ahead, running on all fours. Up above, the screams of the bats told him the others knew they were gone already and were searching for them.
"Don't stop until we reach the city!" he shouted up to her.
"They won't follow us there! Not even at night!"
"Justin, stop!" Mrs. Brisby gasped, her speed faltering. "I-... think they ve stopped following us!" She stopped and stood, bent over and fighting for breath.
"All right," he breathed, exausted himself.
As she regained some of her wind, Mrs. Brisby stared at him desperately. "What do we do now? Find the Stone?"
"Yes. We have to get to it before Jenner does."
"We use it against him, hopefully." Justin's gaze dropped to the ground and he whisper. Why did he call off the search for us? They must be more tenacious than this!" Jenner's just not that blind! Even without his powers!"
"Just speculating," he said, looking at her worriedly. He tried to smile reassuringly at her. But she saw that it was etched with fatigue. They hid underneath a small stump of a tree. A question knawed at her heart.
"What else is there that you didn't tell me about Johnathan?"
"A lot," Justin whispered. "He was a great friend and a good father to his first son. I think Peter was hurt the worst over his death. And Peter's bitterness only made it harder to deal with. Johnathan was planning for you and the kids to meet him because he thought you were ready for Peter. Now the boy is an orphan and I don't know what to do with him. I...."
His voice trailed off and he lowered his head. Mrs. Brisby slid over to him, sitting close to him on the cold ground. She put a comforting arm around him. She felt his dark mood lift as his muscles relaxed and he returned the gesture by putting his arm over her shoulders. She laid her head on his side; for that was the highest she could get since he was easily twice her size. The cold armor chilled her cheek but she ignored the minor discomfort.
Suddenly, a wave,of minute pinpricks of cold shook the drowsiness from both of them. Justin scanned the skies above and was blinded by a droplet of rain.
"The weather's getting bad," he muttered.
"I think I see a faint light up ahead!" Mrs. Brisby pointed. Out of the entrance of the stump and through the trees. "Did we get that far away from Jenner's palace?"
"I don't know. We were running for a long time, though. We'd better find a place to hide and quickly!" He peered up at the skies again and then looked back down at her, rubbing his sore neck.
"Let's get moving before they find Us." Mrs. Brisby urged. "I think that's a house up there through the trees."
They started off for the lights with great haste, hoping that it would be their temporary sanctuary.
Peter collapsed on the small pile of cotton, utterly drained of all energy. He sighed deeply, ending it in a groan and felt his entire body relax.
"Peter!" Paul rasped angrily. "Be quiet! Do you want the humans to hear us?"
"Now how are they gonna hear us?" Peter glanced up irritably at the large rat. "Besides, how are they gonna get to us? We're inside the wall!"
Paul just sighed and shook his head.
"I wonder where all this stuff came from," Brad inquired, looking around at all the bits and pieces of sponge, cloth, and newspaper lying strewn about the hollowed area.
"Probably from the other mice that were here before us," Timothy said wearily as he and the other children came shuffling in behind the young rat, followed by the panting shrew. One by one, they all dropped onto the soft piles of rags and sponge and fell asleep. Paul and Brad dropped the sacks of food and other neccessities where Peter had left his share that he had carried to the house. Opening his eyes, Peter found Teresa staring down at him. Through his dulled vision, he could see the highly expectant and confused look in her blue eyes.
"Well," she said evenly. "Why did you call me 'Sis'?"
Peter peered over to Paul who turned his head away from him. Then to Brad who only sat down and began to sharpen his sword.
And now, he knew that it was time to reveal the truth. And from there he was on his own.
"Can we talk somewhere else?" he stalled dumbly.
"Sure." Teresa's tone remained cold and even. She nodded to her left. "Over to that corner there."
Slowly and painfully, Peter pushed himself from the comfortable cotton and walked as casually as he could to the dim corner, sitting down heavily. A long uncomfortable silence followed. Peter found himself breathing heavily, his heart beginning to pound. She sat down in front of him, her back remaining stiff. He picked mindlessly at his feet, the adrenaline rush wiping away all traces of his former weariness.
Peter stared at her for a moment, huffed, and then looked right into her eyes.
"I'm your half-brother, Teresa."
"What?" She blinked in disbelief.
"We have the same father." He looked away, as if ashamed. "I mean, there must be a resemblance. Isn't there?"
"Well. . . .
"Look, I know it sounds suspicious but....,' He blinked, an idea forming in his head. "Wait! Here, I know! You were all born in September. You were born first. Then, after an hour, Martin was born. Then, Cynthia and Timothy a half-hour after that!"
Teresa stared at him, dumbfounded. There was no doubt that anyone else except one hearing from her father himself would know the long labor process their mother went through. Dad would never tell any of the other rats, she thought. Well, maybe a few but not all of them would remember it so clearly. Unless they were closely involved with her father.
Squinting a little, she began to see the resemblances of her father in the strange young mouse she had only just met earlier that day. His tiny nose, his narrow frame, and his bright, inquisitive eyes surrounded by a look of defiance on his boyish face.
Memories cascaded back to her of times when her father had played with her and the others. When he taught her to read and write. And when he read them stories to them when they went to bed. He also showed them about math and how to really use numbers. There didn't seem to be days when he was not with them, having fun or teaching them. Or even helping mother around the house. On some days, he went on his big gathering trips where he would be gone for days at a time. At first, she would be angry over his absence. But now she figured that he was at the Rosebush helping the Rats and seeing this lonely boy named Peter. It was there; or at the farmhouse, rather, that they had both lost a father.
She looked down at the floor. Then back up at his eyes which were beginning to fill with tears. He knew what she was thinking.
"After he died, I didn't have much of a family left at the colony. I had Nicodemus but he was assasinated by Jenner. My father was afraid to show me to the rest of you. He thought that it would cause too much of an uproar in the family, he figured, that would attract NIMH.
He coughed once and then continued, shaking.
"He was the only reason why I stayed at the Rosebush or went to Thorn Valley with the rest of the Rats. But I think it was the only mistake he ever really made with me, personally. I respected his wishes anyway."
He sighed heavily, tired in spirit. "It's so lonely there in Thorn Valley. I have no friends who can put up with me for long except for Brad over there."
Peter began to cry silently. Teresa, her own eyes filling with tears, saw the vulnerable side of her father in him like this when she had often spied on him at night before he went to bed. She reached out and put a hand on Peter's cheek.
"You're not alone anymore," she whispered, smiling weakly at him. "I'd like to hear more about father and you later. But first, while we have time, I think we'd better get some sleep."
They looked over at the sleeping group across the room. All were resting comfortably, as if oblivious of the danger their world was in, except for Brad, who was standing watch.
They got up and walked to the large pile where the rest were sleeping and laid down in two of the clear spots they could find. Before Peter nodded off, Brad whispered out: "Get as comfy as you can while you can, Knife. I'll be calling you at midnight."
Peter smiled and dozed off.
Jenner started as a voice broke through his meditative state Gazing in front of him, a sorestruck officer stood before his throne at attention, his muscles tense. Jenner noticed that the young rat was taking great efforts to calm his rapid, deep breaths.
"Yes, Fernwell, what is it," he asked, almost disinterested.
"The prisoners, majesty..."
"Justin and Mrs. Brisby?" his brows raised with interest, widening the bright luminescent eyes, and inquiry.
"They've escaped, my lord!" Fernwell's armor rattled as he quaked, awaiting his master's wrath.
"Very good. See that they're monitored closely. Have Captain Lightfoot and Bloodwart follow them."
Fernwell blinked at him, dumbfounded.
"Is that too much for you, Lieutenant?" Jenner took on a scolding tone, getting up. "Where's General Blade? Maybe he'll understand plain English!"
Fernwell's stance broke as he shrank away from his menacing master. His jaw began to quiver as he tried to speak.
"He-- he's a ... casualty, m-- my lord. Stabbed through the heart. His armor taken. one is unconscious and two others at the south gate are dead."
"Well, you're alive, aren't you?" Jenner exploded, glaring down at him. "Stop snivelling and carry out my orders, General Fernwell. Now go!"
The shocked officer hurriedly departed, whispering anxiously to himself. When he shut the door behind him, Jenner pulled out the blue amulet from his tunic. It pulsated rhythmically in his palm.
"Soon, my little gem," he whispered lovingly. "We shall begin our plans very soon!"
It flashed briefly in agreement.
Another knock shattered the fantasy his mind's eye had begun to create.
"Yes!" he bellowed with irritation.
The doors parted to reveal Rotwood and a subordinate. His chest out, Rotwood marched to the throne and bowed gracefully. The other did the same, only less so.
"Report, Rotwood!" Jenner demanded, trying to keep his tone even.
"It is as you have ordered, your majesty!" he gloated loudly. "The rats and the Brisby children are no more!"
Jenner stared at him, unimpressed. Rotwood stood at perfect attention, his eyes gleaming and his body shivering with pride.
"You know, Rotwood, you have an impeccable flair for the melodramatic."
The batflyer's eyes widened in surprise and his chest sunk somewhat. Beside him, the subordinate stifled a chuckle.
"Good work, however," Jenner said, breaking the uneasy silence and turned away. "This is just what I wanted to hear. We will begin all preparations for our conquest tomorrow. Have all key officers and sergeants report to the council chamber at 0900 hours. There I shall inform them of what is to take place. Dismissed."
The two disgruntled batflyers, Rotwood being the worst since no commendations were made, turned and left. Eagerly, Jenner clasped the amulet again and rubbed it soothingly. They're not at all as good as Thornbranch and they hate him for his professionalism, Jenner thought with amusement. I wonder how he is doing at this moment?
The amulet darkened with malice as if disapproving of Jenner's fondness toward the subordinate.
"Show me what he is doing ... now," he demanded.
A thunderous pounding roused Thornbranch from an uneasy sleep. Groggily, he pushed himself up out of his bed and shuffled to the door. It opened and the morning sunlight streamed through, stinging his eyes. Clarence was at the steps, still wielding his spear.
"Get dressed!" he said gruffly. "I have been authorized to take you to the cafeteria where our guard eats. And I hope you slept well because you're going to really work today!"
Thornbranch scowled and dressed himself slowly, his energy, however, was still low with his lingering doubt and oncoming depression.
"What kind of work will I be doing," he asked as he came down the steps.
"You'll be in the trees today, harvesting berries for the winter storage." Clarence then motioned him to the central mound f the colony.
The breakfast, Thornbranch decided despite his dark mood, was a rather wholesome one. Not as ripe-looking or as rich as the flood at Jenner's palace; yet, the environment was much more relaxed despite the suspicious glances he got from the other rats. For one thing, it was a good deal more quiet. There were no half-trained soldiers here to release their anxieties and rages for humankind in loud brash tones or destroy tables and chairs to help release some of their bloodlust. Also, the Valley dinning hall for its Guard had no real regimentation. The trainees and veterans alike sat where they will.
Here the Rats of Thorn Valley awoke from their slumbers to work and feed themselves not to achieve some great cause or a vengeful victory, but they did so out of sheer force of will and for the sake of survival. Yes, they wanted to thrive peacefully and, it seems, they sought to rid themselves of their dark and somber past.
Thornbranch lowered his head, staring down at his half empty plate. He owed so much to his master. Yet even the years he had been high in Jenner's ranks, his position or purpose never really helped him deal with his sorrow of the loss of his family or the horrors of NIMH. He, along with Jenner, spent nearly a decade consumed with malice and contempt. He had never had anyone to help him deal with his grief. So, instead of moving on he kept digging up the same bones of the past that were dead and rotting in his heart. That was why Jenner was so fond of him. Because they were so much alike and there were no emotions in Thornbranch's actions or his highly intelligent and tactical mind. And it was because of his position that his comrades despised him. Because they thought that he was trying to imitate Jenner. And to a point, it was true.
"C'mon, Thomas," Clarence said behind him thumping his spear on the floor to get his attention. "Hurry! They want you to get started by nine!"
"Yes...," he muttered and finished his meal.
He got up but then stopped, at a loss. "What do I do with the dishes?"
"Follow me!" Clarence groaned, shaking his head.
Thornbranch followed the slender rat who easily slinked his way through the crowded assembly of tables, their sporadically pushed out chairs, and the other shuffling masses of rats that were either getting their meals, eating and running, or were dispensing with their own dishes. It seemed as though Thornbranch had been weaving his way through the enormous cafeteria forever, just catching a glimpse of his escort every now and then. Clarence didn't seem to care about him keeping up just as long as he had an eye or two on the stranger. Finally, he managed to make it to a wall where a large window with three rats inside were taking plates, cups, and silverware and putting them into large barrels of water. Just as soon as he stepped up one of them took his dishes and gave them to a comrade. The rat eyed him once, curiously, then returned to his work.
Beside him, Clarence grabbed his arm and began to lead him along the wall toward the main entrance. Once outside, he let go and continued his walk at a more casual pace. Thornbranch flanked closely beside him.
"It seems as though all of the rats in the valley eat there!" he said lightly, trying to lighten his own mood to a manageable level.
"No," Clarence said evenly. "Only the Guard and a few of the unmarried workers. The rest eat with their families."
Married rats; Thornbranch mused silently, astonished, Families? How sophisticated could these rats have become in my absence?
"How many families are there?"
"Why do you want to know?" Clarence snapped.
"Because if I can live here I'd like to know a little about the colony."
The escort sighed. "About a hundred, give or take a few. Our pastor just married a young couple last week."
Pastor? Thornbranch shook his head. Suddenly remembering the same things, or almost all of them, being at the Rosebush. He smiled at the remembrance of those easy-living yet politically tumultuous times.
The sun was high up in the sky now, well above the groves of aspens and maples that surrounded the valley. Yet, the breezes that came washing through the clamorous branches were dry and icy. Their speed was matched only by their sharpness. That same sharpness that made Thornbranch rub his arms briefly.
There were many rats already up and working. With a few very few small children playing in the browning fields just beyond the vegetable patches. Hand pushed tills were scattered sparsely about with their operators exerting extreme effort to move them out from the fields and into storage for the winter.
He looked at Clarence who was nodding to a few passersby. Thornbranch found himself becoming unnerved at all the stares he was receiving. Quickly, he pushed his feelings aside and tried to concentrate on his work. But the feelings of uneasiness came back and all he could do was keep his mind focussed on what was around him.
Since last night, after he had seen the young girl Bilee, something inside of him had begun to change. And he wasn't sure if it was all for the better. It made him breathe somewhat easier but he still felt a certain stress as the purpose he had relished for so long started to fade and be replaced by something he had not known in a long time. But what was it?
They had passed through the enormous expanse of fields and finally made their way to a small cherry orchard.
"Wait here," Clarence ordered. "I'll see if they need help here."
As he walked over to meet a young, rather attractive female rat, Thornbranch scanned the treetops above him. There were many rats climbing and pulling the oversized cherries from their shedding twigs. The rats were more industrious than he had figured using straps and spikes to get to the fruits and dropping them into large baskets. It appeared that Jenner was wrong about Nicodemus's Plan. These rats were no-where near to starving to death, a little humbled by the elements maybe; but, in no danger of dying out. He shook his head in disappointment of himself.
"Excuse me, Thomas?" Thornbranch blinked and looked up. "Yes?" he said flatly. "I am...." His voice broke off as he looked straight into the young female rat's eyes. Visions of his mother broke through his mental barrier and invaded the last remnants of his cool, calculating mind. The weights of sorrow, loneliness, and hate suddenly shattered as a warm, excited feeling enveloped his heart.
"Thomas!" Clarence called. "Hey, Thomas, wake up! The lady's talking to you!
Thornbranch looked at them lamely.
Clarence just shook his head as the female rat looked at the escort questioningly. "Thomas, this is Isabella. She'll be giving you work this morning. She's in charge of the orchard so if she tells you to do something you'd best do it."
"Ah, sure.... " he mumbled.
Isabella shook her head and smiled in amusement. "Don't listen to him. He's always over-dramatic. Besides, I'm not that strict of a disciplinarian!"
He grinned at her like a goon and she only smiled back. I wish something would happen, he thought desperately. Anything at all.
"Mother!" Heads turned to find a small figure running up to them. Thornbranch recognized her instantly. "This is the one I told you about last night. I served him food earlier but Clarence wouldn't let me talk to him."
"Really?" Isabella cocked an eyebrow.
"Wouldn't he make a great father?" She smiled up at him.
On no! he thought desperately to himself. Not here a day and already I have an unforeseen moral dilemma! Jenner would certainly expect me to enslave her and maybe kill the mother!
"I'm sorry," Isabella said, embarrassed. "This is my daughter Bilee. She tends to speak her mind too often."
"I see," Thornbranch muttered, feeling his face get hot with shame at his real task in the valley, More and more, the feeling of indecision was clouding his once steadfast resolve. He looked at Isabella. "Father?"
She sighed with exasperation. "Bilee, I told you not go around asking others to marry me!" Isabella looked at Thornbranch as she began to push her daughter along. "I'm a widow!"
"I didn't ask him to marry you." Bilee said, looking wounded. "I just thought it was a good idea to mention it!"
"I hate to break up this lovely conversation," Clarence said, stifling a laugh. "But he needs to get working. Just pick a tree for him, Isabella, so I can watch him."
"No need to get huffy," Isabella scolded. "I can get him working before ten!"
"Uh, how will I know when--," Thornbranch began but a distant bell interrupted his question.
"There you go!" Isabella pointed, smiling. Thornbranch saw a small tower over behind the underground cafeteria with a tiny triangular roof. Two rats occupied it, one of them ringing a bell.
"We call it the Valley Tower," she stated. "It helps us to tell the time when we're outside and warns us of danger. Don't worry about the bell. We're far enough away from humans for it not to attract them."
"Impressive," Thornbranch whispered, nodding.
"Now,"she said. He turned to find her still looking at him. and smiling the whole time. "Let's see about putting you to work."
Thornbranch tugged doggedly at the stubborn cherry stem. He let go, simply resting for a minute in the harness that kept him suspended beneath the branch. As he hung in mid-air, he pondered heavily on what to do next. I'd better get this thing picked, he thought. Or I'll miss noon meal just figuring out how! Loud groaning from above broke his train of thought. Peering above him, half-concealed by the blazing red and violet leaves, was a brown and white rat who was having the same problem. After long moments of struggle, the rat stretched out the twig as far as it would go and bit into the tough stem. With a minute snap, it drooped slightly. Finally pulling off the rest of the fibers as he spat, the rat dropped the cherry. It plunged past Thornbranch, bouncing off of several leaves and twigs as it went into a basket on the ground far below.
Thornbranch, impressed by the tactic, pulled his own twig down and opened his mouth to bite when his ears caught a sharp, light ringing off to his side. A cool rush of wind brushed his side where the leather strap had been. Feeling himself begin to slip, his mind raced as he sought out something to grab a hold on to and get the harness back on. The cherry stem he was going to chew off. But it soon snapped under his weight and his heart shrivelled with fear as he began a rapid descent.
He quickly whispered a series of magical words and his fall stopped just centimeters away from a fragile underlying branch that would have easily have broken a few ribs. Throwing his gaze back and forth as he floated in the air, he saw that no one was watching and he dove down at the branch, clinging onto it with his arms and legs. Down below, Clarence was watching some of his comrades work at moving the full baskets of fruits.
Sighing with relief he began to squirm backwards toward the tree's trunk when a scream came from below.
"Cat! cat! Stray cat in the orchard!"
The rats in the trees froze. The female rats on the ground picked up their children and ran for cover while the males picked up what sharp tools they could and did the same. Clarence looked up at where Thornbranch was and ran off to fetch help, growling in frustration. The air was now deathly silent. No sound was made as the gargantuan yellow feline padded its way through the natural isles of trees, sniffing the ground below.
A frigid chill swept across Thornbranch's body, bristling
his fur. Old horrors and nightmares flooded back to him. The alley cats, in a matter of seconds, killed every member of his family, chased him through the streets, and would have caught him if it hadn't been for the trucks from NIMH.
The Valley Tower's bell rang in alarm. Other excited voices could now be heard from far away as the other rats mobilized a war party. They will never get here in time before someone dies,Thornbranch thought fearfully, surprised at his sudden concern for the rats of Thorn Valley. He felt himself quaking violently. A muffled whimper caught his attention and he looked down as the cat stopped, hearing the noise. Isabella and Bilee were huddled together behind a wagon. The cat,ears back and eyes gleaming, sneered as it inched forward ready to pounce.
As he saw Isabella and her daughter shivering helplessly, his mind's eye played back the last time he saw his mother. Her beautiful face being twisted in sheer terror.
Instantly,,if not miraculously, Thornbranch's fear melted away and he felt the magical red glow returning to his eyes along with the unbearable and all-but-forgotten hatred. He stood up on the small branch, the brittle wood creaking in protest. The cat was directly beneath him now, its body pressed inward and down, its tail lashing back and forth.
He screamed at the top of his lungs and he plunged downward, the world rushing past in gleaming eyes. He landed squarely on top of the cat's head and dug his claws and teeth into the cat's scalp and ear.
The cat, taken completely by surprise, yowled angrily as it clawed at its head. Thornbranch ignored the searing pain of the *claws raking through his fur, skin, and shredded tunic. Finally,
as the cat bucked and shook, he was thrown off of the feline and into the dirt. Enraged, the cat growled and glared at him maliciously; as if nothing had really happened to it. Thornbranch got up and grabbed a hoe from the tool wagon. Quickly, he assumed a battle ready stance.
"All right, my friend," he whispered icily. "Let us see how well you do against a more able opponent!"
The cat continued to growl and flex its tense muscles. Thornbranch stood as rigid as a statue as he watched the blood trickle down the stray's face and around its eyes. They stood staring at each other for several long moments. As he risked a look over at Isabella, the cat sprang.
Instantly, he stepped to one side and swung the edge of the hoe into the stray's face as it landed, catching its nose. He pulled back and rammed the blunt side of the hoe into its mouth, the snapping of a tooth followed.
"What are you all waiting for?" he shouted parrying the onrush of claws. "Fight!"
The rats in the orchard all stood staring at him, aghast at the sight.
The stray clutched onto the metal end of the hoe in its teeth and jerked on it. With a lorn snap that stung his hands the shaft and metal broke, leaving the garden tool useless: yet, with a wickedly sharp point.
"I said fight!" Thornbranch screamed with insane rage and he threw the broken stick with every ounce of his ebbing strength.
The airborne spear plunged into the cat's neck and sunk
deeply into its windpipe. Choking, the stray fell onto its side, kicking and swatting. Its furious roaring bubbling into a low gurgle as it began to drown on its own blood. The stray began to still eventually, but in its last death throes a forelimb caught Thornbranch squarely in the chin, sending him reeling head first into the tool wagon.
The angry red that once shrouded his vision rapidly dimmed to a dark violet as he saw the dark silhouettes of several rats standing above him. Then, the violet faded to black....
"Which way did they go? Which way did they go?" Jake shouted, sitting up suddenly. "Oh!" He suddenly clutched his head. "What happened to me?"
"You flew into a tree!" Tula stated, her concern for brother slowly dimmed to its usual stoicism as she began to see that her brother was alright. "I'm glad that you're feeling better, anyway." she said quickly. "I was ... worried."
"YOU!" Jake grinned widely, his eyes as big as saucers. "You, Tula worried about me?"
"Yes ... "'Tula mumbled, hunching down in embarrassment.
"WOW!!!" he leapt up and began to dance, but then, winced, and grabbed his head again.
"What hit me?"
"You hit a tree!" Tula's eyes flared, her irritation rising. "Now why don't you just do as you normally do and sit in a half-conscious state and drool or something like that!"
"'kay!" He squirmed closer to the side of the building. On the ledge above them, the cold rain pattered noisily. It flowed in small currents from the roof into the storm drain. Tula stared out glumly at the thick heavy skies that casted a gray light over the cluttered cityscape. A pair of voices fizzled her depression.
"Who do you think will be able to use the Amulet?" It was Tereasa Brisby.
"I don't know," Peter Brisby answered. "If we can find your mother, she can."
"Oh." Her voice lowered.
"Don't worry,"he said comfortingly to her. "We'll get to her somehow."
After several moments of silence, the two finally emerged from a wide crack in,the wall. Tula smiled slightly and stepped over to greet them.
"Hey, guys!" She tried somewhat unsuccessfully to lighten her voice and mood.
"Hi!" tereasa waved once but then frowned. "What's wrong, Tula? Miss your home?fl
Darn! Tula cursed herself silently. They saw right through me! ."Yes," was all she said out loud.
"No problem!" peter continued his optimistic air. "This thing, hopefully, should be over soon."
He walked over to Jake who was roosting silently at the edge of his perch.
"How're you feeling?" peter repeatedly watched his footing, his heart thumping wildly as his gaze fell on the city streets far below.
"Fine," Jake said evenly. "I can't talk now. I was told to sit here and act half-conscious or something like that!"
"Who told you to do so?"
"Guess!" Jake motioned with his wing, the edginess in his voice being matched only by the angry wrinkle in his brow.
"You two don't get along very well, do you?" Peter observed.
"Like pigs fly!" Jake's voice remained despairing and hurt.
"How come?" Peter began to wonder if he was prodding a bit too far; but, for some reason, he wanted to know what made two siblings like these tick so asynchronously.
"I like to be funny but she likes to be so...," he paused, trying to search for the fitting word."...serious! I think she hates me!"
"Ah!" peter sniffed. "She's your sister! She can't hate you!"
Jake threw a sideways glance at his sister, his eyes squinting in annoyance. "Hmpf!"
Tula and Tereasa quietly; yet, inconspicuously observed the boys' conversation with considerable curiosity.
"What's gotten into the mouse?" Tula whispered with surprise. "Yesterday he was snapping at anything and everything. And now...."
"Well, my brother is just happier now that he knows he is not alone anymore."
Tula's eyes widened. "Your brother?"
"Yes." Tereasa smiled at the disbelief in the crow's voice. "My half- brother."
"Hey!" They turned to look at Peter who was peering over the ledge, a curious look on his face. "Who's this below?"
The girls went over to his and followed his gaze. Two figures were creeping stealthily between the thin, but adequately concealing, bushes below. Both of them were dressed in black. one of them had the characteristic armor of the evil rats, brandishing a sword behind the smaller figure.
"Jake!" Peter suddenly whispered. "Fly me down there but stay out of their line of sight!"
"How should I do that?" The crow shuffled on his feet nervously.
"I don't know." He thought for a moment. "Aha! Fly high above hem and then drop to the ground straight behind them!"
"By the street?" Jake crouched down as Peter climbed onto *is feathery back.
"Yeah! That way I can really surprise them!"
"Shouldn't you get Paul or Brad first," Tereasa asked, concerned.
"No. Not enough time. I'll signal you when things clear up!"' He drew his sword, his hand quivering somewhat.
"Don't worry, Sis. I will." Jake then took off, rising slowly into the cloudy sky. Just as Jake faded through the low cloud ceiling, 'he dipped almost straight down. Awkwardly, the young and still quite dazed crow grabbed at the soggy ground. With a loud rustle, he and Peter skidded into the bushes, being quite audible to the girls above as well as the pair of mysterious strangers only inches away from them.
"Great!" Peter hissed, exasperated. "Now the whole block knows we're here!"
"Sorry!" the crow rasped back, also quite irritated. "My head still hurts!"
Peter was about to retort when he heard a voice gruffly call out to him.
"Who's there?" the familiar voice called out. Peter saw the gleam of a sword being raised through the leaves. He raised his own weapon and charged through the thin yellow leaves.
"Okay, deadbeat! Get ready to--!" He fell flat on his face as he left Jake's back and was caught by surprise by the sight he saw.
"Knife?" Justin exclaimed, his eyes widened with shock.
"Peter?" Mrs. Brisby peered out from behind Justin's protecting body.
"Who--?" Peter's own eyes went wide as he fought to pick himself up off of the ground. Jake ambled up behind him, seeing that there was no danger here.
"What are you doing here, " Justin asked sternly. "I thought you and Paul would've gotten the Stone by now."
Peter simply stared at Mrs. Brisby, flabbergasted.
"Mother!" They heard Tereasa shout as Tula landed not a yard away from them. She slid off of Tula's back and ran to her mother excitedly.
Before Peter could explain or say anything. Justin spoke again. "Where's Paul?"
"Inside...." He pointed to the building behind them.
"I'll show you," Tereasa offered. "This is a nice little house. We haven't seen the humans who live here yet but...." Her voice faded with the distance as she led Justin over to Tula. They mounted themselves on her back and she took off. Behind him, Peter heard Jake come out from hiding. Slowly, Peter sheathed his sword.
"You must be Peter," Mrs. Brisby ventured, recognizing his resemblance to his father. Peter just stood numbly, staring at her. No words would come to his mind."
"Wow! Mrs. Brisby!" Jake sauntered up to her and offered a wing. She took it in her small hand, as much as a mouse could, and he shook it roughly. "My dad's told me everything about you!"
"Yes ... she whispered as she began to walk over to Peter. She took the young mouse's hand and stared straight into her eyes.
"We have a lot to catch up on."
"Uh, yeah. I guess so." He scratched his head. "But how's about we get out of the rain?"
Behind him, Jake nodded with approval. He crouched down as they climbed onto his back.
"Yes, I'm rather tired of it myself," she said as the crow took off. She put his arms around his waist and squeezed tightly, feeling her stomach drop as the ground receded from them. "I guess you could say I'm your step-mother!" she cried trying to calm herself of her acrophobia.
"You could say that," Peter said smiling.
"So it was as you had thought before," Paul stated matter-of-factly. "It has been Jenner all this time. But how did he survive two stab wounds and a fall off of a cliff?"
"He had a magical amulet, like the Stone of Brisby. But this he had found where Nicodemus had first fallen, in the wreckage. And ever since, he's been using its magic to build his empire and acquire his followers."
Justin paused to take a sip of water from a cup Auntie Shrew handed to him..
"His fortress is huge. Made out of an old tree that he transformed with his magic. Heavily guarded by rats on bats and lizards.
"We know about the bat flyers, " Paul stated. "And we definitely know about the ground troops!'But we've never seen the ones that ride on the lizards."
"How many encounters have you had with his troops?" Justin rubbed his forehead tiredly.
"Two," Paul said. First with a scouting party that had tried to capture Mrs. Brisby's children at the Fitzgibbon Farm and the other was the fight in the trees with the batflyers. Which is how we got here." He gestured around him.
"He may like the easy life," Peter said, slightly sardonic. "But when he gets down to business, he sure means it. His troops are nothing to laugh at unless you want your head chopped off'."
"Jenner is nothing to laugh at either." Justin pointed out. "He means to exterminate the human race."
"That's crazy!" Martin cried, holding his mother's arm protectively. Cynthia, Timothy, and Tereasa were all huddled around her, pressing close to her body. "Even magic couldn't kill every human. No one can but themselves. There's just too many of them."
"I don't know any more." Justin shook his head.
There was a long silence. Justin looked over at Peter who eyed him seriously. He had a hand on Mrs. Brisby's shoulder, the other at his sword's hilt. His posture was stiff and military-like, as if he were standing guard over her.
"Well," Paul began unnecessarily. "I think Justin and Mrs. Brisby need to rest. They've had it a lot harder than the rest of us."
"There's no time, Paul," Justin mumbled.
"I don't think so, fearless leader," Paul shot back calmly.
"Jenner's men don't even know we're here or alive for that matter, and they won't dare come to the city with all these humans around.
He got up and pulled Justin with him. "We were followed." Justin protested. "They could be here tonight!"
"Then you have the day to rest. "C'mon. You too Mrs. Brisby. We can't have you both fighting fatigue when so much is at stake."
"I think Mrs. Brisby will be sleeping alone, if you don't mind!",Auntie Shrew huffed, pushing her off in the other direction, her children following to help. "I think she's had enough to do with you rats for a while!"
"It really doesn't matter to me, Auntie Shrew," Mrs. Brisby said weakly.
"It does where I'm concerned!"
"Have a nice nap, fearless leader!" Peter smiled waving him off and then making a half-hearted salute.
"Peter." Mrs. Brisby stopped and pushed Auntie Shrew aside gently and for the moment. "I want to thank you for protecting my children."
"Well, Paul and Brad were in on it too...," Peter stammered, beginning to fidget. "I was assigned the job."
"No." She shook her head. "I think it was something else that made you want to go through this besides Justin. Just like your father. More than meets the eye."
She kissed him on the cheek, gave him a quick hug, and then left. The children started to follow but Peter held out a restraining arm and kept them back.
"Hey, c'mon! I know you guys are glad to see her but she needs to rest."
"When did you get to become the pushy big brother?" Martin demanded, his brow furrowing.
"About six years before you were born!" Peter snapped, returning his own glare. Martin took a step back, his anger fizzling quickly.
"He's right, Martin," Tereasa agreed. "Let's let her sleep."
"Tell me about dad," Timothy asked eagerly. "I mean, from what you knew of him."
"And more about the rats!" Cynthia added hastily.
"Sure!" Peter smiled at them. "You can listen while I get the gear all back together and hand out the food for this morning."
Brad ducked into the shadows and watched the group split up and go their own ways. Fine by me, he thought pleasantly. Peter was finally in a better mood. Justin and Paul would be off his back for a while so this would be an opportune time to do some serious exploring while watching out for intruders.
Being as quiet as possible, he tip-toed lightly from the room. At last! He smiled. I'm alone and free to do as.I wish! He relaxed his walk somewhat and let his hungry eyes take in the strange new sights around him. It was interesting, even for a human dwelling.
A tiny flicker of light off to his right caught his eye. As We walked slowly onward, deftly through and around power outlet and water pipes. More beams of light seeped through@the numerous holes at the base of the wall. Brad followed them eagerly, wondering where they might lead to. Gradually, as he walked further, the holes grew in size until, finally, a larger opening yawned in front of him.
Cautiously, he poked his head out and scanned the outside floor for any kind of threat. Especially a human threat. Finding none, he pushed his torso through the opening and then fell flat on his face.
"Great!" he muttered softly, straining his arms. I@ he could pull them out from between his body and the wood, he could easily lift himself up. After several minutes of being stuck in a hole he thought was big enough for him, he gave up struggling, panting heavily. His fear began to increase.
"I'm stuck," he moaned. Pressure built up in his hands and fingers as they began to go numb.
"I'm in a real pretty situation now!" Thoughts@of Paul and Justin scolding him and inflicting a punishment began to control his brain.
"The tools are in the kitchen, grandpa!" A young but very loud voice stated. Staring, wide-eyed to his left, a hollow wooden door opened slowly. Brad cried out as it swung, no less painfully, on his forehead.
Dazed, he drooped his body.
"What's this?" A small human girl knelt down in front of him, her enormous body dropping a dark shadow over him. He was trapped and knew it even through@. the haze in his mind.,Too weak to fight and wedged in between a crack in the wall, he braced himself for a gruesome death.
"Poor little guy!" she frowned sympathetically. "Must've hit you with the door!"
Gently, she reached down, using one hand to restrain his head to keep him from biting her and the other to swivel his body in the crack.
"There!" She smiled satisfactorily as she pulled him from the hole. "I think now I'll put you in a safer place, my little friend."
Her grip was careful but her fingers remained closed around him like steel clamps. This must be how it felt for his father to be manhandled at NIMH. Wherever she was going to take him, he had no real vote in the matter. Brad relaxed himself.
Besides, he thought, trying to reassure himself. Biting her would only make her angry and she'd squash me flat.
Thornbranch rapped gently on the door of Isabella's small house. He bounced nervously on his heels as he waited for her to come to the door. Behind him, the sun had just sank completely behind the treeline of the surrounding pine and oak forest. Absently, he rubbed the bandage that had been wrapped around his throbbing head and winced. Knocking again, he peered up at the waxing gibbous that was brightening in the dark sky overhead. Minute twinkles of the first stars of the evening peeped down Warmly at him.
A muffled shuffling of feet quickly drew Thornbranch's attention back to the door. With a loud clank, the door opened, sending the soft orange rays of a firelight into his eyes.
"Thomas!" Isabella blinked in mild surprise. "I'm glad to see that you are feeling better. And they even took your escort away! Won't you come in?"
"Uh, yes!" Thornbranch coughed, stepping constrictedly into the doorway.
"Bilee and I were just about to eat," she said, closing the door behind him. "Are you hungry?"
"Ummmm .... Well...." His words trailed off but he simply nodded.
She smiled warmly at him but as he locked his gaze onto hers, the same uncertain feeling that had plagued him all day and last night returned. Something in her brown eyes prodded at his curiosity; but, yet, activated his cautious animal instincts as well. The urge to bring about his uncertainty in a question surged tenaciously at him, but using his military discipline he thrust it back down deeper into his innards.
"Bilee!" Isabella called down a short dark hallway. "Wash up, hon. It's almost time for dinner!"
"Coming!" a small voice complied from the darkness.
"Would you like to have a seat,"Thomas?" she offered, gesturing is to a small couch in her living room.
"Thank you," he whispered, feeling his face flush. Thornbranch went over and sat down on the soft cushions. He sat up stiffly.
"I have to finish up supper. So...." she placed a gentle hand on his shoulder and pressed it down. "...relax."You can get acquainted with Bilee while I'm:'busy."
With that she was off to the kitchen. As she left, Thornbranch slowly let his eyes adjust to the soft firelight that bathed the inside of the house in a soft orange. In front of him, a good-sized fireplace blazed hotly, warming his nose uncomfortably as he leaned over to stare at the burning logs. His mind began to wander. He had to make a decision soon.but how would he let the secret out? And to whom?
He continued to scan the small living room with growing interest. Numerous paintings and woodcarvings hung on the walls and sat on small tables around him.
One carving attracted his gaze and held it strongly. On top of the fireplace, bathed in shadow and highlighted by the firelight, a figurine of two lovers touching noses and sitting on a heart produced a feeling of longing for Thornbranch. The wooden features were smooth and remarkably exact. To his surprise, one of them looked like Isabella ....
"The other one's my daddy."
Thornbranch half-whirled on the cushions and came face to face with Bilee. She smiled at him genuinely, her coppery colored fur shined in the firelight. Her eyes; however, as he looked into them, reflected his own of the past.
"Who made that?" Thornbranch's curiosity began to grow.
"My daddy did." She went over and sat in one of the two small chairs in front of him. He turned to meet her gaze. Then, Thornbranch looked back up at the carving and noticed a glass jewel sparkling above the pair. Bilee followed his gaze and stared at it with him for a while.
"It's supposed to represent the eternity and power of love," she finally said, swallowing slightly. "Mommy always tells me that its the greatest gift ever granted to creatures by God."
Thornbranch stared at her in surprise, but he soon feigned a questioning gaze to find out more.
"A human religion. Mommy and Daddy always said that faith and love are two things humans take for granted. Sometimes they're even abused so they can get material gain."
"True." Thornbranch nodded. "They do it well. But tell me, do you have any brothers or sisters?"
Bilee shook her head. "No. I was an only child because of NIMH."
Thornbranch suddenly remembered after a short time at the Rosebush the colony's females began to produce smaller liters until every couple produced only one or two children. Just like the humans! he thought sourly.
"Where did you come from," Bilee asked suddenly.
He choked, feeling his heart pounding. Him mind raced for the answers he used yesterday with Brutus and the sentries but nothing came to him. She stared at him expectantly.
"Everyone ready?" Isabella's question sparked an answer that would buy him some time.
"I came from the city!" he said quickly and got up. Bilee hopped out of her chair and followed close behind him.
They followed Isabella into the small kitchen/dinning room. Just diagonally of the entrance was a large wood-burning stove, and near that was a rectangular table with three chairs. Its spacious top was covered with small dishes of food and three small plates and cups and silverware. All arranged neatly and in order.
Isabella and Bilee sat down first, Isabella sitting down at the end. Bilee sat to her mother's right while Thornbranch took the remaining seat.
"Hold hands for the blessing," Isabella said, and they made a ring around the table. She spoke softly as she prayed. Her voice entranced him and, yet, the deity they spoke of in their prayer was unfamiliar to him. Was he a man? A rat? Or ...
The praying had suddenly stopped. He opened his eyes to find them both gazing at him.
"Ready to eat?" Isabella smiled at him and, to Thornbranch's surprise, still retained the warmth and sincerity she had shown him earlier that day when she had met him.
"Yes," he coughed, stumbling over his thoughts.
The rest of the meal was silent. Though he felt it wise to remain silent, Thornbranch began to feel hot and he began to shift uncomfortably in his seat. frequently, he glanced up to see if they were looking at him suspiciously but they simply ate, as if waiting for him to start off the conversation. or maybe they are just being polite at my diminished condition, he reassured himself.
"May I be excused?" Bilee began to get up, picking up her plate and glass.
"Yes, you may." Isabella looked at the crude clock above the stove. "It's time for your bath."
"Aw, mom!" Bilee huffed, frowning darkly. "I just washed yesterday!"
"No you didn't, young lady. Now off with you!" Seeing that she had no chance against her mother's impervious authority, the girl stalked quietly away, fuming in silence.
When she left, Isabella winked at Thornbranch and said: "She took it two days ago. And do you know what?"
"I don't think any child has ever, or ever will, appreciate the value of being clean!"
"The dinner was wonderful."
"Thank you." Isabella sat lightly down beside him on the couch. "Besides, it was only part of what I would like to do for you in return for saving me and my daughter's lives."
"Part? What else could you do?" Thornbranch, trying to think through the throbbing in his head, looked at her, confused.
"I could do this, too!" She grabbed him and pulled him close, pressing her lips to his for many long, tense moments.
Finally, she released her embrace to find him staring at nothing, eyes wide and mouth agape. Suddenly, his body shook.
"Sorry," she breathed. "I haven't had a companion in a year and a half. It's been very lonely."
"I've never been kissed by a female before!" Thornbranch mumbled dumbly. "Why me?"
"C'mon! I saw the way you were looking at me today! I also noticed that you were a good worker. But when you fought that stray today, I saw qualities in you that sort of reminded me of an old crush of mine."
"Our leader, Justin."
"Why him?" Thornbranch's brow wrinkled in confusion. I'm nothing like him! he thought. I'm his enemy. Aren't I?
"He's strong. Brave. Good-looking. And he knows how to take charge. Yet, he's also humble and loving. He's even a bit playful!
"You saw all of those in me?" Could the way he had been acting and thinking all of these years been a lie?
"Yes, only more so in some ways."
His head sank into his shoulders and Thornbranch gritted his teeth. The pang of guilt that had been tormenting him ever since he laid eyes on her and her daughter intensified to an unbearable degree. In only a day he had fallen in love and in anther day's time an upsurge of evil was going to rise up@and take it away from him. The evil he was working for.
She had laid her head up against his chest. And finally, he could take no more of this guilt that was cutting at him.
"Come with me!" he said hastily, pulling himself and her up off of the couch.
"What's wrong? Was it the kiss?" Isabella began to chatter uncontrollably as she was completely dumbfounded. She became incoherent and panic-stricken as Thornbranch swung open her front door and sprinted outside, pulling Isabella helplessly along with him.
"Thomas stop! Where are we going?" She panted heavily.
"My true name is Thomas, Isabella; but, my military code name is Thornbranch. I am Jenner's second-in-command. Or was, anyway! I am also the wing commander of his batflying forces!" He paused to gasp in a breath. "I was originally sent to assess your defensive and offensive capabilities. However, I have found out more than I want even Jenner to know!"
"What? You're with that traitor who killed Nicodemus? How can that be? He's dead!" Her facial features began to darken and she looked around for a sentry.
"No, he isn't. He's back and more powerful than ever! And I'm not with him anymore, as of tonight! I'm doing this now to save Thorn Valley. Especially you and Bilee!"
They stopped in front of his residential shack and he jumped p the steps to his door, trailing her along in the hope that she wouldn't call the sentries. Not at least until he spoke his piece. Through the moonlight he saw the bitter frown contort her beautiful face. She's hurt now, he thought, gritting his teeth.
"You lied to me!" she spat.
"Correction!" He pushed open the door and grabbed her mouth and nose, forcing them shut. "I did come from the city. I did come from NIMH. My name is Thomas and I was even a member of this colony once! But I haven't told you everything yet!"
He threw her inside and closed the door behind him. Then, as gently as possible, he pushed her onto his bed where she sat tensely.
"What are you going to do to me?" She began to shake with fear. Tears ran down her soft gray cheeks. "I'm going to get the guards unless you kill me!"
"I want you to get the guards and I don't want to kill you! I just want you to know who I truly am first"'
He closed his eyes and whispered inaudibly. When they opened again, his pupils and whites were gone. Replaced by a smooth red light that glared as if his eyes were made of rubies that were imbedded into the sockets. Isabella drew back in horror, her watery eyes wide.
"This is all part of his evil magic, Isabella." Thornbranch's voice was cool, yet, it still held a tinge of desperation. "All part of his propaganda. His lies. You and Bilee helped me to see that."
"Me?" She relaxed somewhat, as if daring herself to believe him.
"Yes." Thornbranch knelt down in front of her. He took one of her hands into his..She held it there limply, not knowing what to do. "Because for the first time in many years I can feel again. Love, as it may be. And they're quick, but deep feelings for you! I want to continue this but we can't if we're all dead'."
"You mean that?" she whispered.
"I swear it!" He reached to kiss her when a voice stopped him.
"Thornbranch, answer your master now! Report your status!"
"Jenner!" Isabella gasped.
Thornbranch rose, his demeanor calm. His gaze was even and intent.
"I said answer me!" the voice roared.
He reached into his pocket and slowly pulled the small, glowing, green crystal that pulsated in the dark room. Isabella stared at it in fascination.
"If you want proof of my allegiance and love for you, then here it is!"
He flung the crystal at the door with all of his strength. There it exploded into billions of fiery shards that quickly burned out of existence. The green light died instantaneously.
Isabella's face was a mask of pure shock and confusion. Thornbranch went back over to her and put his hands on her shoulders. She softened her gaze somewhat but the confusion was still plain.
"Go wake Brutus and whoever else is in charge! Jenner knows how to get to this valley, so we'll have to be ready for him when he comes!"
As he let her go, she grabbed his arms and held them fast. "I will be back!"
She then left him alone, running into the night. Thornbranch stood in the middle of the room for a long time after that, wondering about how complicated his life was about to become.
Jenner's thunderous roar shook his dark study room. The blue amulet hanging around his neck brightened visibly.
"I’ve been betrayed, what do you think!" Jenner fumed."And by my best officer!"
"it is of no concern to us."
"What do you mean 'no concern'? we've been exposed and now the Rats will be trying to find us!"
"they will do no such thing. we shall soon take over thorn valley and we'll have their leader once again along with their most knowledgable search party. plus, we will have the only children and wife of brisby that will be compatable enough to wear and use my red counterpart."
"The Stone of Brisby?"
"yes. it is the only thing that can thwart our plans."
"What shall we do about the Rats of Thorn Valley now?"
"we shall attack their very homestead. as we origionally planned."
"You can't be serious! They know about us and will be--." A sudden sharp pain racked Jenner's huge scarred body. Groaning loudly, he fell out of his chair and to his knees.
"i gave you your powers and your mighty army. you will obey me or I will take it all away from you and you will die! you will attack thorn valley on thursday of this week, at dusk!"
The throbbing increased. "Yes, I will obey!" Jenner moaned between clenched teeth. "What about their search party and Justin?"
"you will personally lead an attack on them at their sanctuary."
"In the city?"
"yes. the humans will never find you because the attack will be quick and silent."
The pain subsided. "I shall call my senior officers.""Jenner strightened himself and stood. "Guard!"
His study door cracked and creaked open and a thin helmeted rat came in. He stopped at the door and stood rigidly at attention. "Yes, your majesty!"
"Wake Commander Rotwood and the other senior officers and et my personal mount ready. We have a mission to perform!"
"Yes, your majesty!"
The guard left, closing the door gently behind him.
"very good jenner. now we will finally begin our attack on the humans. let us go. we have a conquest to fulfill!"
Jenner simply nodded.
The quiet folding of little bits of newspaper was all that kept Brad from going completely insane in his little cage. Numerous small projects of his oragamy excercises lay strewn about the floor all around him. Sighing, he tossed his paper rose aside and ripped off some more newspaper.
He squinted at the paper trying to figure out what to do with it next. Trying,hard to concentrate in the darkness of the twilight, Brad begun to fold. But the memories of earlier that afternoon pushed at his stone-hard resolve. The human child, the kind of creature that he had come to hate so much over his childhood, had saved him from death. The illusion of evil humans, in their entirity, was slowly being chopped away by this thing called guilt.
She had not killed him; obviously not, since he was here now. But she rescued him and after Brad had been told so many times by his father and mother that humans were nothing but barbarous animals. Why did they tell him that if it wasn't true? r was it that the human was just saving him to be killed later? Oighly unlikely since humans don't eat mice or rats.
A muffled whisper broke his thoughts and he quickly ran to the edge of the cage. Peter and the Brisby children were below, walking cautiously.
"Knife!" he rasped. Peter's head jerked up in mild surprise. He suddenly smiled up at his friend.
"Brad! We've been looking everywhere for you!" Peter's tried to wrinkle his brow in anger but couldn't keep from laughing. "What's the big idea running off like that?"
"Curiosity! Now just get me down from here!"
"Okay! Okay!" Peter hissed. "Just give me a moment!"
Peter scanned around him for a moment, looking for some yarn
or string to throw up to Brad. Flanking the window behind the cage,
a pair of delicate curtains drapped down to the floor.
"Hmmm...." Peter put a hand to his jaw.
"What is it?" Tereasa said quietly.
"Hang on." Peter bounded up to the curtains and, using his claws, he climbed quickly up the smooth fabric. As he clung to them high up in the air, Peter looked behind him to gauge the distance between himself and the cage's edge.
After a moment's uncertainty, he jumped, just catching his right hand on the edge. Panic-stricken, he briefly pulled himself upward and gripped to the metal bars tightly.
Great! he thought desperately. Now what? Oh, yeah. Open the oor.
Carefully, he edged his way around to the side and to the ront. As he neared the door, he studied the lock with intrest. Oulling out his dagger, Peter began to cut away at the piece of wire.
"Hurry"' Brad began to fidget nervously.
Finally, the wire broke and fell to the floor with a soft clatter. They swung the door open slowly, its hinges squeaking with an uncomfortable loudness. Brad was about to question his friend on how to get down when he saw Peter freeze.
"What's wrong?" He looked around uncomfortably.
"Get ready to jump!" Peter whispered and pointed behind him. Brad turned to find numerous spots of red glimmering in the darkness outside the window. Straining his sensitive eyes a little more he made out the dark figures of the armored rats sitting atop their lizard mounts. Their fiery eyes and gleaming arrow points were trained directly on them.
"Jump!" Peter shouted and the pair leaped off of the cage as A large volley of arrows shattered the window. The countless missiles raked their way through the cage, snapping its cord and sending it mass of wire careening noisily to the floor. As peter felt his feet touch water, he heard Tereasa scream.
"Run!" She led the children quickly away, Martin following reluctantly behind them. Peter swam up to the surface of the water as the goldfish darted out from under him, trying to find a place to hide. Brad was already at the edge, waiting for him.
"I think we landed in a fish bowl." The rat smiled.
"That's exactly what you did, you miserable fuzzballs!" the iwoldfish growled beligerently and with one swift movement, it came out of its hiding place, turned, and smacked the surprised pair stright out of the water. Arcing through the air, they narrowly avoided hitting a cactus plant;yet, their fall was broken by the host of armored rat troopers charging through the window.
Shaking off the dizziness, Peter gazed at the bad situations cropping up all around them.
"Hey, Toto!" he said mildly.
"Yes, Dorothy?" the other replied.
"I don't think we're in Kansas anymore!"
"We're not! We're somewhere between bad and worse!"
"I thought it was Chicago with the wonderful greeting we're getting!"
With that, the two sprinted off, slipping out from between the gaps in the troopers' ranks and dodged the deadly sweeps and jabs of the numerous swords.
"At all costs, take them alive!" a monsterous voice boomed behind them.
Looking back as they ran, the pair observed a looming silouette-of darkness spreading out behind the masses of troops. Their eyes glowed fiercely at them, making the youths' spines shiver, The figure became illuminated by a nearby nightlight and Brad immediately recognized the features.
"Jenner!" he squealed with a tight throat.
"Oh great!" Peter growled. Suddenly, turning a corner, he ran tright into Tereasa. Brad smacked him from behind, sending all ehree of them reeling to the floor.
"Ow!" tereasa cried as the boys wrestled on top of her chest and head, trying to pull apart from each other "Get off of mel."
"Here they are, my lord!"
All of them stopped to stare at the trooper, who was motioning to his comrades and pointing at them with his sword. "Halt, in the name of the rat king!"
"Get real and get lost!" Peter got up first and, drawing his own weapon, charged. Afetr a brief exchange of clashing steel, Peter managed to catch the rat in the throat.
As he fell gurgling to the floor, two more troopers came in behind his dying form, their teeth clenched in anger.
"Uh .... We'll be leaving now!" Peter smiled and waved.
"Yeah, bye!',' Brad mimiced Peter's look and picked up a shocked Tereasa. Peter maintained a battle-ready pose as the two took off
"Okay, fellas!" he challenged dryly. "Who s next?"
The armored pair hesitated for a moment and then sneered wickedly as five more of their comrades came stalking up at him from behind. They all started ttharge at him at once when a large door opened, sending a virtual ataract of light pouring into the room. Completely illuminating everything.
I'Who's out there?" an aged human male shouted and then stopped. Peter saw his face contort into a mask of confusion, then anger.
"You little wretches are tearing my house apart!" Eyes glitterloing with rage, the human brought his massive shotgun up to bear and took aim stright at Peter. The terrified mouse dropped and curled into a defensless little ball. As if the entire world were in sync at that very moment, all of the rats in the room screamed as the twin barrels errupted in a fiery burst of white-
Daring to open his eyes, Peter found himself staring at a torn carpet that was littered with mottled bits of metal and pieces of fur. The very spot where the five rats once stood. Not wanting to see what happened next, he picked himself up off of the ground and ran as fast as his small legs would carry him.
Around him, everywhere, Jenner's troops and lizard riders panicked. They ran in all directions. A few of them being obliterated by the shotgun that was now blazing wildly through the room, destroying anything in its line of fire.
Peter dove stright into the mouse hole that was hidden underneath a high-leged hutch. In the safety of the darkness, he managed to glance out but found that Jenner was nowhere to be seen. The human had stopped firing and a little girl was shouting and tugging at his robe.
"The little girl's nice but the old mants a pisychopath!" Brad observed tensely beside him
Peter started and, noticing that it was his friend and Tereasa with him, relaxed somewhat and nodded. "Yeah! It must be a puberty thing!"
"Right! Let's get back to Justin!" Brad grabbed his shoulder and tugged him along.
"I hope Jenner's boys haven't found them.' Peter said as he ent. Then , he almost stopped. "Where's Martin, Cynthia, and Simothy?"
"I think they went back for my mother," Tereasa offered, pushing Peter foreward.
"Then let,'s get everyone together and get the heck out of here."
Justin grabbed the hilt of the loose sword and yanked it out of its scabbard. Mrs. Brisby was running frantically through the inner structure of the wall, searching for her children. Auntie Shrew was also calling for the children. Justin then noticed that Brad's bow and quiver of arrows were gone. Suddenly, Cynthia came bursting through the entrance to their hideout crying: "It's the bad rats! It's the bad rats!" She was sobbing heavily as Timothy and Martin followed her inside.
"They're all over the place!" Martin exclaimed breathlessly.
Mrs. Brisby scooped up the two smallest ones in her arms and pushed Martin along with her side.
"Come,children!" she urged desperately. "We must leave!"
"Where's Tereasa and the boys?" Auntie Shrew tugged Mrs.
Brisby s shawl, stopping her in her tracks. "We must find them!"
"Brad and Peter can take care of her!" Justin offered hopefully, yet, with great impatience.
"I think not!" the shrew stormed. "Those juvenille delinquents -- If --"
"We don't have time to argue!" Paul's booming voice cut her off abruptly, leaving her silently vexed. He pushed her roughly toward the exit hole from which they had come through)the night before.
Soon they were all outside and running down toward the streets; hoping that Jenner's troops would not follow them further into the city. Their hopes were soon dashed by a gruff, authoritative voice.
"Stop in the name of Jenner!" A large hellish-looking lizard came bounding up to the group, its rider's lance trained on Justin's chest. Justin lept foreward, truly tired of running. Shouting as he went, he ducked quickly underneath the bladed shaft and swung his sword like a bat, sweeping out from his body, and catching the rider squarely in the mid-section. With a gurgling scream, the rat fell from his instantly petrified mount, Justin's blade jutting out from between two of the armor plates. A lucky shot at best.
Desperately, he tugged at the weapon which refused to budge. Out of the corner of his eye, three armored rats dove at him, one swinging a mace and the other two jabbing with their swords.
Justin stumbled backwards, completely helpless.
"You will surrender or die!" the rat with mace growled fiercly, raising his weapon. A well planned arrow shot made the threat a hollow one. The crossbow arrow drilled neatly through the rat's armor and dug-&t, into his chest. The mace that was held above his head fell from a lifeless hand, landing on the helm of one of his comrades and knocking him out cold.
"Back off right now!" Paul leveled the reloaded crossbow at the remaining swordsrat. "Come on, Justin! We're leaving!"
"Not so fast!" Bloodwart brought his mount up to Paul and brought his mace down on his back. He held it there as Paul collapsed. "My mace can drain every ounce of blood from his body, Justin! You will give up this fiasco or he will die!"
Justin gazed at the inert form of his friend ... and held out his hands.
"Very good, Bloodwart!" Jenner beamed, bringing his odd-looking, horned, nightbird down. Rotwood landed his bat beside him and Lightfoot brought his lizard up to:;Jenner's right side. All around the helpless group Jenner's dark troops closed a tight circle. Their bows and spears were trained stright at their faces.
"Thus, the chase ends." Jenner sighed mockingly through his helm. "And my legacy begins."
He smiled down on them confidently, folding his arms across his chest. '!You thought you had escaped?" he whispered tauntingly. "I knew it was you who bumped into me in the hallway at my fortress!"
Justin's face remained stone-cold and hard.
"You see, all of my rats never do anything without my knowing it. You honestly never figured that I would have you tracked down." His smile broadened. "You've unwittingly helped me come closer to finding the Stone of Brisby!"
Suddenly, from far away, a patrol watch called out as a Wessanger flew in toward them on his bat. The airborne mammal circled above them several times before descending neatly dowli, onto the sidewalk behind his master, who turned to meet his subordinate.
"Report!" Jenner commanded happily.
"The location of attack and the plans for the invasion of Thorn Valley have been modifed and prepared for as you have commanded, sire" The batfl@er handed him a scroll and sali;ted. Jenner unrolled it and studied it thoroughly. Then, with a br4ef nod, he handed it back to the batflyer.
"I approve of the attack plan, airman. Rotwood!" Jenner's new second-in-command brought his bat foreward. "You will lead the invasion. Follow the messenger back to the fortress!"
"Yes, your majesty!" The young commanded fought to supress his eager smile. With the order done, the two rats saluted and flew off.
"You'll never find the Stone, Jenner!" Justin stated icily.
Jenner turned his helmeted head away from his officers and eyed his opponent casualy. "It can wait, like finding the useless children from your party. My lizard riders will catch them eventually. Right now, I'm going to take you to a future monument in history."
"Where is that?" Justin's tone remained flat.
"Where the beginning of the end shall occur.""His voice was hick and venomous. "And you shall all witness it......
He eyed the children from his mount. "...right before you are excuted!"
"Now what do we do?" Tereasa gazed helplessly at her captured family and friends, who were now being shackled and led away.
"Did you hear that?" Brad whispered beside her, glowering."They're going to be executed. I wonder where they're going to take them."
Peter's eyes wandered off into the sky as if he were contemplating something.
"Where are the crows?" His voice and stature were relaxed, yet, the look in his eyes was heavy with anger and dread.
"I think they're still on the roof." Brad began to raise his voice somewhat, "What about Justin and the others?"
"The Stone can help us. We need to get to it first. It should be able to give us answers as to stopping Jenner. Let's get to NIMH and find it. Then, we'll have a fighting chance. Let's get going.
"I don't think we have much of a choice on that!" Brad pointed behind them. Several lizard riders and a batflyer had spotted them and were heading toward them, their weapons drawn.
"Run!" Peter shouted, pulling out his own sword once again. "Head farther into the streets! Maybe we can hitch a ride!"
"Maybe we won't have to!" Brad whistled shrilly for the crows.
Looking again at their adversaries, Peter saw the patrol oming nearer. The three lead lizard riders and strung their Wows and took aim.
"There's no time!" Peter breathed each word between pants as his feet pounded at the ground as he propelled himself foreward. "The crows are safe up there! They can either follow us or find us later!"
An arrow suddenly whisked past Tereasa's ear. She yelped and tripped over a groove in the sidewalk. Peter stopped just long enough to grab her and pick her up with his free hand.
"This isn't going to work!" Brad stated hopelessly.
"There!" Thereasa pointed toward a brightly-colored skateboard that was lying diagonally off the cement and into the busy street.
"Go for it!" Peter yelled at the top of his lungs and the trio leaped with all of their might into the air. As they landed on top of the rough, plastic surface, the force of their impact jarred it loose from its position and freed the front wheels. It sent them into the car-filled streets, sailing rapidly downhill.
The deadly group behind them shrank greatly with the distance. Numerous roars assailed their ears with deafening force as the giant, man-made vehicles rushed past them. Peter winced as a large cold drop of rain slapped painfully into his nose. A moment later, more drops of the ice cold water began to pelt the three rodents as the rain began to fall lightly to the dirty streets.
"Great! It's starting to rain again!" Brad grumbled.
Forget that!" Peter nodded, gesturing ahead of them. "That's what we have to worry about!"
Several yards in front of them, a busy intersection with its countless arrays of deadly human cars and trucks loomed dangerously before them.
"This could be close!" the mouse cautioned his companions, suddenly thinking of something. He flattened himself and motioned for Tereasa and Brad to do the same. The move proved quite timely as several arrows zipped over their heads. Up above, they saw the pursuing batflyer prepare for a dive.
"When I give the signal...... Peter shouted above the thunderous din. "...pull your weight to the right side of the board!"
Tereasa's heart pounded in her chest as the menacing intersection came closer and closer. She closed her eyes wishing she were at her cinder block house in the country. Safe and comfortable. Beside her, Brad began to pray.
Within a split-second's time, the trio yanked the wayward skateboard hard to the right. The wheels skidded dully on the slick asphalt, making the turning angle precariously obtuse. Their board jerked as a car grazed its side as it passed by. A wave of rainwater from a nearby puddle sprayed them thoroughly.
Through the deafening rushes of air, the screams of several rats could be heard as the lizard rider attempted to halt their mounts but a speeding semi-truck caught them. The force of the impact tossed their mutilated remains in all directions. The batflyer, now on his attack dive, stared in mute horror as his comrades were smashed to pieces amidst the thoughtless human devices. He never saw the car door open directly in his path. His bat slammed into the door, cracking the glass. And with a brief cry, he flew from his mount and into the windshield of a car rushing toward him.
"Everybody jump!" Peter cried as the shocking realization came to him. "We're going the wrong way down a one-way street!"
All at once they rolled off of the skateboard just as a massive wheel crushed its plastic parts and exploded as it passed over the sharp screws and bits of the wheels. The blast threw their bodies up in mid-air, landing them several feet away from the street and into the deep, wet grasses. Through hazy eyes, they tried to get up. But an overpowering wave of dizziness sent them back to the ground and into unconsciousness.
When Peter awoke, the skies above him were thick with blankets of dark grey clouds. The violet tints told his groggy mind that it was morning and that he had very little time left to save his newfound family.
"Where are we?" Tereasa moaned beside him, rubbing her aching head.
Peter looked around and then upward. His eyes widened in iw ecognition as a wave of adrenaline cleared his cloudy vision.
The sign directly above them was as large and noticable as they read the words that would be a nightmare to any creature.
NATIONAL INSTITUE OF MENTAL HEALTH. NO TRESSPASSING!
"Jenner's been behind all of this!" Brutus shouted with disbelief.
"Yes." Thornbranch's voice stayed at a low, even pitch. His
posture was relaxed, yet, his face held a look of urgency mixed with annoyance.
"But he's dead! Sullivan, his own personal lackey, killed
him near the Brisby house two years ago! How could he have survived?"
The explanation would take more time than we have. Jenner ows that I have betrayed him and I am sure he is mobilizing an tttack force against this valley!"
"Why should we trust you?" the enormous rat growled, slapping his massive hands on the neatly polished desk and pulling himself clumsily up out of his chair.
Beside Thornbranch's irresolute and sitting form, Isabella flinched. The air commander smiled inwardly. Many times had he seen his former master's outbursts of rage. They make this foolish buffoon's tantrums seem like that of a small boy, he thought with great amusement.
"You have no choice, do you?" He decided not to offend the ill-tempered "leader" any further.
"We can't have a war here!" Brutus stormed. "That would surely attract the humans!"
"Not if it was well-planned and quick!" Thornbranch gritted his teeth. Angry words began to seethe in his throat. Isabella squeezed his shoulder, noticing his irritation.
"Well planned?" Brutus said sarcastically. "You think we're going to believe you? The one who captured our leader, a trusted friend, and who has been spying on us!"
"You have to trust me."
"He saved me and my daughter's lives!" Isabella put in helpfully.
Thornbranch nodded to her and went on.
"As I have said, you have no choice!" He crossed his legs, his foot bobbing up and down restlessly. "Besides, like yourself, I'm a rat from NIMH. Two years ago, Jenner followed our trek to Thorn Valley. As we stopped in the woods for the night, he came to us on a strange creature. A bird of some kind. He calls it a nightbird.
He cleared his throat and continued.
"Jenner watched us closely and after everyone was asleep, he infiltrated the camp using his new magic."
"Magic?" Brutus' brow furrowed in bewilderment. "When did he get that?"
"I don't know," Thornbranch admitted. "He trusted me but he never showed me where his powers came from."
"What happened next?"
"Jenner came to me and five others who knew were opposed he to the Thorn Valley Plan. We didn't trust him after what he did two days prior. With the murder of Nicodemus, Sullivan, and nearly destroying Mrs. Brisby's house. What really made us not trust him was his eyes. They glowed blood-red like mine do now, except they were much angrier. He put us under some kind of spell."
"A spell?" Brutus sat back down.
"Yes. As I looked at him, I could see visions. The world seemed to dance about me. Sights of us freezing to death and starving at Thorn Valley plagued our thoughts. From somewhere, a bitter, fresh hatred for humans creeped up in our hearts and after that, all is history. We, the six of us, walked away from you rats and became the first officers of his new army. He charmed hundreds rats and animals along the way. And finally, we came to a grove dying oak trees. There, with his special magic, fashioned an ormous castle. And inside, we used books an@bservations of human military organizations to train ourselv s and organize into a fighting force. Some of us read books on swordsmanship and combat while others dreamed of flying, like myself.. All of us, with Jenneris help, know some tricks of magic. our army's only purpose is to eliminate all humankind and to make the world safe for all rodent-kind."
"Elimination of all humankind." Brutus blinked. A disbelieving half-smile curved his lip.
"Yes. I was a councilman at the meeting two years ago when Mrs. Brisby came to us for help. Jenner hated the idea of moving to Thorn Valley and I agreed with him. Yet, he instilled his nearly,irreversable hatred of humans in us the night we left and he's been using us to meet his ends all this time. I know he will try this insane genocide. He said it himself: 'Not if we get them firstl'. Jenner is power-mad but he has the capability to do great damage. I have.seen it. I was barely able to break his spell."
"How did you do that?" Brutus sat back in his chair and eyed him carefully.
Thornbranch took Isabella's hand. "With this widow, her daughter, and memories of my own compassion and moral sense. I was wrong. We can survive here but not if we sit here and waste time talking!"
Brutus leaned back up against his desk, scratching his chin eervously. "I don't know if we really have the ability to fight off a danger like this anymore," he whispered. "If he's as strong as you say....
"Brutus, what are you afraid of?" Isabella spoke up, her irritation now apparent.
His thought was cut off by a muffled ringing from the Valley Tower outside. The huge rat leaped from his chair and ran to the double-doors of Justin's office in two great strides. He yanked the birchwood doors open with his massive arms.
The ring increased to a clamorous pitch and the garbled masses of shouts and screams flooded freely into the office.
"What'sr.going on?" Brutus demanded, his own voice thunderously loud.
Panicked, Clerence stopped just outside the doors in midstride and said.- "Faemor the Falcon is attacking the valley!" He swallowed hard,:fighting to catch his breath. "He came overi the south ridge and has already killed two of our people!"
"Break out the weapons at once and get everyone under cover immediately!"
"Yessir!" With that, Clerence sprinted away. Brutus turned to Thornbranch and Isabella. "You two stay here! I'm going to try to lead the falcon away!"
"Lead him away?" Thornbranch stared at him with amazement. "You're not going to fight back against this creature?"
"Yes!" he replied angrily. "How do you suppose we can fight gainst such a menace?"
"You're going to run from the danger?" Thornbranch mumbled trnace-like.
"Oh my lord!" Isabella slapped her hands to her cheeks, her eyes wide with terror. "Bilee! I left her in the courtyard with the other first-graders!"
She started to run off but Thornbranch caught her arm.
"Isabella stop! You'll get yourself killed!
"I lost my husband to that bird! I'll be damned if I'm going to lose my daughter as well!"
"Isabella jerked her arm free and charged off into the courtyard. Thornbranch followed after her but stopped as, out of the corner of his right eye, he caught sight of the avian menace. Faemor was directly on top of him. With a chill of fear racking his entire body, he bounded ot of the way just as the deadly sharp talons scratched deeply into the earth. As Faemor slowly ascended, he wrapped the talons around an abandonded wagon and crushed it into a broken mass of splintered wood.
"Isabella!" he screamed above the noise of alarms and panicing rats.
"Thomas!" she shouted, waving underneath the entrance of a nearby ground-hole. Her harried waving quickly turned to a tense pointing gesture and Bilee beside her shouted in fright. "Thomas, look out!"
Thornbranch cried out in surprise as he dodged the massive talons once again, the freshly-made gash in his arm burning hotly. Behind him, a young worker rat cried out as Faemor caught the juvenille rat squarely in the chest.
Thornbranch ran to the inert teenager and felt his neck. The light pulsing beneath the fur and skin reassured him somewhat but the blood spilling from the@:open wounds told him that the reassurance would be a short-lived one unless something was done quickly.
He placed his hands atop the chest and concentrated, forcing all distractions out of his mind. His lips moved slowly as the words Jenner had once taught him flowed from his mouth and into the wounds. He just hoped they still worked because of his betrayal. His mind focussing on this one task, all noises from the outside world dissolved. He became surrounded in an uneasy hush. Completeing the magical phrase, Thornbranch opened his eyes and everything happening around him hit him at once, staggering him backwards. Faemor had dove again. This time leaving two more wounded in his wake.
"I've had enough!" he growled, pulling the unconscious boy over to Isabella. She took him and gazed at Thornbranch questioningly.
"Take him!" he told her. "I'm going to get rid of this heartless murderer!"
He dissapeared from her sight and as she helped carry the unconscious form into the groundhole, Isabella wondered if she was oing to see Thomas alive again.
Thornbranch ran hard, pushing his well-muscled legs to their limit. The chilly morning air rushed past his ears and his heart pounded, threatening to burst. All the frustrations and malice that had once controlled his life he now pinpointed into this one deed: saving Thorn Valley, Isabella, and the R@ts of NIMH from its enemies. The answers to his life's problems were right under his nose all the time and he just now found them out.
As he neared the edge of the pine forest, in front of a patch of tall grasses and weeds, he ripped off h@s tunic with an unnnatural strength and roared: "Delgoth, awake(O.1
Delgoth, his bat, screamed in acknowledgement.
Thornbranch dove through the undergrowth and, with all of the speed and energy he could muster, he grabbed his chainmail.armor and breastplate. Within moments, he was fully dressed and was pulling on his large black riding helm.
"Come, Delgoth!" he said to his mount, grabbing his fighting sword and spear. "We have a job to do'."
Delgoth screeched in agreement but cast a questioning glance at his rider.
"We no longer serve Jennr," Thornbranch corrected, connecting his sword scabbard to his belt. "We have a greater cause to fight for!"
He climbed into his saddle and thrust his spear into the air.
"Take to the air, Delgoth!"
Faemor was indulging himself this morning, enjoying it. Look at them run! he mused. They must really feel energetic today! He was jsut about to dive again when a dark blur' streaked above his head. A white-hot pain suddenly tore at his back.
He screeched in fury, whirling around in the air. "Who-who dares!" He landed quickly.
"I do, Faemor!" The falcon turned to find a large, dark, armor-clad rat saddled atop a very strange looking bat facing him down,and landing a few feet away from him. The rat's spearpoint was leveled at his face. "You've troubled these people for the last time!" the rat challenged cooly.
"And you've sealed your own fate, rodent!" Faemor snarled viciously, spreading his wings.
Thornbranch's face remained stone-cold as he kicked his bat's flanks. His mount surged foreward, flapping vigorously. Faemor met his challenge fiercely. The wickedly curved talons scraped noisily against Thornbranch's armor and spear. Gritting his teeth at the grinding noise, Thornbranch pulled Delgoth's head upward. The bat's teeth gnashed at the falcon's legs and pulled out many feathers. Faemor hopped away, his lightning gaze locked firmly on his strange opponent.
"What are you?" Faemor whispered vehemently.
"As far as you're concerned, Faemor, I'm a demon from the *very bowels of hell!"
Thornbranch lunged, swinging his spear at the falcon's head. Faemor dropped down, avoiding the deadly blade. He flapped his wings and ascended into the sky. His confident air began to break like the clouds of an ending storm. Thornbranch flew after his as his long tamed bloodlust exploded into a battle scream.
"Yes, Faemor, run! Run like the coward you are!" He let the hate control him just at this very moment. I have to get him away from here, he thought frantically. The longer he stays here the more risk I put this colony under. But where should I go?
He gazed at the blurred trees rushing past him. The forest! He veered away from his puruit, calling after the falcon.
t;'I don't know what game you're playing, rodent," he spat "But I'm not going to let you finish it!" Faemor circled around and dove after the winged freak and its insolent rider.
Thornbranch ducked down low as the elm and stinging pine branches scraped at his exposed face and hands. Delgoth wheezed in protest at his rider's unorthadoxly chosen course. The batflyer quickly scanned around through the trees. Faemor was nowhere to be seen. He strained his ears to hear through the roaring air. Nothing.
In an instant, Delgoth screeched in warning. Thornbranch whirled foreward and Faemor's taloned feet slammed stright into is chest. His hand shot to his emergency snap-glider and he lvcurled his feet in the stirrups to keep himself from falling out of his saddle and plummeting to the forest floor far below.. Delgoth screamed angrily and automatically turned himself around. Faemor had already landed on a branch several meters away.
Delgoth placed himself paralel to Faemor's perch and waited eagerly for his rider's orders.
Thornbranch raised his arm to toss his spear when he noticed its absence.
"Uh oh!" He looked wildly around and found it imbedded deeply into a treetrunk just behind Faemor. Great! His best weapon was now vacant from his hands and his opponent was facing him! Fighting down the surge of panic, he pulled his riding sword from his saddle's sheath. Its silvery blade glinted briliantly in the bright sunlight.
"Now, Faemor," Thornbranch said evenly. "This battle ends!" With a low-pitched swipe, Thornbranch leveled his swordpoint at Faemor's eye and kicked Delgoth's flanks. The falcon screamed as he met the batflyer's attack. Even as they raced at each other, Thornbranch kept his ;7 ,M rigi 'd. The talons and beak streftched out before him and --twordarm remained steady.
Thornbranch's arm jerked back painfully as steel met bone. Faemor cried briefly before his body spiralled down through@the
branches, breaking ma w@y down. After a moment's silence, Thornbranch heard his nto the forest floor.
Brutus and Isabella, who were waiting tensely in the Valley ourtyard, started when a terrible cry broke the chilly silence.
"I hope that wasn't Thomas!" She whispered. Her body was tense with fear and worry.
"I don't think it was," Brutus mumbled, half-conscious of the world around him as he squinted his eyes at the vast treescape far away. A tiny speck suddenly appeared, growing larger as each second passed. Finally, Brutus could make out the shape of a bat flying tiredly toward them."Its rider was slumped on its hairy back. More rats gathered in the courtyard around Brutus and Isabella when Thornbranch's mount circled directly above them and slowly begin to descend.
"What is all this?" Brutus stared at the errie creature in awe.
"Exactly what I was trying to warn you beforehand!" Thornbranch spat as Delgoth landed lightly on his feet. He threw his spear into the soil by his feet. Brutus lept back in response. "In less than a day's time, many more like myself are going to invade this valley and take it from you! Now, will you let me help you so you can stop retreating from your fears?'l
Brutus' grim expression softened into a slight smilea enti the frown on his mouth. The giant rat stretched out a hand to the new ally to Thorn Valley. Thornbranch took the hand and let Brutus help him down from Delgoth's back. once he was on the ground, Isabella stepped up to his and wrapped her arms around him tightly. Not-even hesitating despite his glowing eyes.
"Thank you!" he whispered in her ear. "I'm glad that you were here to open my eyes!"
"It's the least I can do for you for what you have done for us today," she said in response.
Thornbranch's gaze turned back to Brutus. "We've got a lot of work to do so we'd better get started."
Brutus simply nodded and followed him into Justin's office.
"So how are we supposed to find this Stone?" Brad grumbled, pressing closer to the slick wet brick, seeking the protection of the outside vent. He scanned the weather above them with growing disgust.
"First off," Peter suggested, drawing his sword. "We should get inside."
He inserted the swordpoint into the groove of the upper left screw. As he began to turn, an unusual rattling sound emmanated from his sword.
"Wha--?" The mouse jerked his arm back to free his blade when he nearly fell onto his rump. The hilt had slid completely free of the blade.
"Look!" Tereeasa pointed. A small scroll of paper was stuffed into the hollow handle of the hilt. Peter pulled it out and unrolled it. He began to examine it in earnest. He then looked back up at his sister and best friend, his face a mask of shock. He turned around to show them.
"It's a map to the Stone!" he whispered.
"Hand it to Justin to do something this tricky!" Brad smiled and shook his head.
"So where does it say to go," Tereasa asked.
"Well...." Peter snapped out of his trance. "It says to go through the building's ventalation system and into the main furnace room."
"Yeah, but where do we start?" Brad began to sound annoyed.
"We can start at any vent," the mouse replied.
"Great!" Brad pulled out his knife and began to unscrew the vent grill. Tereasa began to slowly turn herself around, staring fixedly at the skies. She could see in her mind's eyes a deadly batflyer swooping down at them, it rider lunging at-them with its terrible lance. or a large fierce army of lizard riders scurrying all around them in the shadows of the many condemned buildings and trees. A sudden light punch in her arm snapped Tereasa out of her trance.
"Hey, sis, snap out of it and give us a hand!" Peter and rad were at both sides of the vent grill, pushing vigorously. 4pereasa grabbed a hold of the mesh and began to pull. A harsh squeaking set their teeth chattering as, slowly, the massive metal barrier slid out of the weathered stone. Finally, the cacaphony stopped and the grill wobbled uneasily.
"Watch it! Watch it!" Peter warned loudly. The grill's precarious balance finally gave way. Tereasa skipped hurriedly backwards as it landed dully on the wet grass. Its very edge was only a few centimeters from her.
"Well, that's done," Brad, kicking away a loose screw. "How do we see inside?"
"Easy," Peter answered dryly. "We use our natural night sight." He slid his blade into his sheath and stuffed the hilt into his belt.
"But it's daytime'."
"Who cares? Let's go!"
Brad threw Tereasa a look that basically said "We've got nothing to lose." Teresa simply shrugged and followed her brother inside.
Long dark tunnels laid out tightly before them. A low rumble shook the metal underneath their feet and brief echoes of whistling air bounced wildly around them as large gusts of air blew into them. Brad reached quickly back for his bow. Finding that it was not there, he dropped his arm back to his side. Tereasa could hear their shuffling feet in front of her but the tunnels around her remained absolutely black.
"What's happeneing to my family? she wondered silently to Oerself. She began to wish once again that she was back home picking fruit and getting ready for the winter with her family. Instead of running from an insane-laboratory rat and his blood-crazed army. A sudden thought occured to her. "...right before you are executed!". Jenner's words pumped a fresh surge of adrenaline into her weary aching body. She began to walk faster
"Hey! Watch out!" Brad growled irritably as4"5@epped into him. They both slumped to the walls of the vibrating vent shaft, stopping their falls.
"Sorry." she groaned as she pulled the rat up on his feet."I can't see a thing!"
"I can't either," the irked rat consceeded. "Knife, our theoretical 'night vision' isn't kicking in. What's the deal?"
In front of them, Peter stopped. "Look guys...... There was a hint of appology in his voice. "I guess I should have told you earlier...."
"About what?" Brad's annoyance began to grow. Peter turned to them, revealing to them a pair of bright green eyes that glowed softly in the darkness. In their luminesance, the looks of shock and confusion were made more apparent to the young mouse.,
"Look, I'm sorry." He held out his arms. "It's a side effect of the treatment my dad recieved here eight years ago. I guess it didn't really affect him."
He looked back at Tereasa then at his map. "Anyway, we have lot farther to go so let's keep moving."
As he turned his optical flashlights foreward again, the etunned pair was left in darkness and in utter silence.
"Uh...... Brad cleared his throat. "Would you mind telling me why I never saw you do that before and why none of the other rats have been able to do that?"
"I don't know why the other rats don't have my kind of eyes. And Ilve never had them open in total darkness before. I didn't want you to know about them for fear of what you'd think of me.11 "Oh! I don't think it would have caused a problem,, though."
Tereasa was about to ask a question herself, one about her father, when a sudden overpowering blast of hot musty air propelled them all off of their feet. Peter quickly grabbed a hold of the corner of an intersecting vent shaft and reached out with his free hand for his sister or his friend. He felt Tereasais hand snag onto his belt and then the increased strain as Brad grabbed her ankle.
"Hold onto me!" Peter shouted above the din.
"Like I'm planning to go somewhere"' Brad shot back to him.
Bending his arms slowly, the mouse began to lift his back over the corner's edge and was then blown back into the intersecting shaft. Behind him, Brad and Tereasa screamed as they pinballed roughly through the terrifying darkness. They all groaned at once as their bodies slammed into a wire screen. Behind it, an enormous fan roared with painful deafening force. And just s abruptly as the wind had started, it stopped. The fan sqeaked oundly as it slowly spun to a halt.
They were never there to see it stop. Just as soon as the rush of air had died down, the pressure on their bodies was released and they slid off of the screen.
"They never trained us for this at Thorn Valley!" Brad stated with little amusement as possible. He put a hand to his mouth but then remembered that there was nothing down there for him to throw up.
Their fall was a brief one. The trio hit another weakly restrained wire screen which fell out with the force of their impact. There was a rapid succession of soft plops as they all landed in a pile of rags.
"Where are we now," Tereasa asked, blowing a clump of dust from her mouth. She began to brush her hair and face in earnest with her hands.
Peter shook his head and peered around His eyes were now their natural color in the dim orange light. "I think weire in the furnace room," he said dazedly.
Scanning the huge human room more intently, he finally made out the huge rectangular shape of the furnace. A bright fiery orange glow emantated from the gaps in its structure. Its dull rumble thrummed in their ears. Its noise was almost matched by the electrical generator's buzzing as it operated the fans of the ventalation system. The rest of the vast room was cluttered with brooms, pans, mops, and buckets of every shape. Numerous shelves and tool sheds lined the brown rusty walls. And as Tereasa walked closer to the nearest bucket, the stench of ancient bleach and dirtied, murky mop-water assailed her nose, churning her stomach. he overall color of the dimly-lit room, save for the minute rays of yellow and orange from the furnace, left a stuffy oppressive air surrounding them. Not a likely place to hide the Stone, Peter thought dryly. Humans came in here all the time. But with Justin's adventurous imagination....
"Spread out, everybody!" he whispered softly. "Try and look for it!"
The other two nodded and fanned out, walking slowly with their eyes wide and intent.
Alright, Justin, Peter thought petulantly. Where did you hide it? Where would you hide it? He scanned the walls and floor, not really knowing what to look for. Brad began to climb a tool shelf while Tereasa walked around the furnace. After long moments of useless searching, the irritation within Peter began to grow into a bubbling surge of anger. He pulled out the map again to see if it showed the place where it was hidden when a startled yelp smoldered his frustration. He looked over at the furnace. Tereasa was gone.
"Tereasa?" he rasped, jogging toward her former location.
"What happened?" Brad whispered nervously above him from one of the shelves. Peter gazed quickly back up at him.
"I don't know." His own voice was even, yet, thick with brooding. "Let's try and find out!"
As Brad slid down from the shelf's leg, Peter reluctantly laced his hand on the hot metal. A sudden knocking startled him.
"Tereasa?" He went as close as he could to the surface.
Or-where are you?"
"I'm in a secret room!" came her muffled reply. "And I think I've found the Stone,."
A chilly shockwave rushed quickly up their backs and into their heads. "How did you get in," Brad asked.
"I don't know. I knelt down on the floor and leaned my back up against the corner, and then I fell in here."
"Hmmm...." Peter rubbed his hand over the corner. A distinctive crease in the metal strangly tingled his fingers. When it didn't budge he pressed his entire body into it. With a loud click, the rusted metal in front of him dissapeared. Shouting, he reached out to stop his fall. Brad grabbed his shoulder but slipped on the edge of the entrance. Then afetr a loud clang, all was black.
They opened their eyes to a soft pink light. It was a very small chamber, specifically built for a single purpose. The walls around them were a smooth white stone, with the floor consisting of dirty grey cement. The floor felt hard and cold as an uncomfortable pressure pinned him closer to it. A low moaning told him that Brad was on top of him, dazed.
"Are you guys alright?" Tereasa lauged with amusement.
"Yeah!" Peter growled, rolling the bigger, half-conscious rat off of his back. He sat up and gazed at her questioningly. "Where's the Stone?"
"I think it's in this box." She stepped aside and just at
At her feet was a small cedar box with a sparkling gold "N" on the front of it, just between the rim and the lid. The three stared t it dumbly, all courses of action lost amidst their awe. Then, Brad spoke up.
"I think we oughta open it," he suggested quietly.
Peter turned his head over to meet his friend's gaze. A look of mock disgust and annoyance creased his brow. "What a bright idea!" he mused in an even more quiet tone of voice.
Disgusted at the both of them, Teresa knelt down and slowly opened the lid. And there, lying inert in the soft velvet cloth was the object that Nicodemus had given to her mother two years ago. The polished crystal bathed them in a gentle wash of pink light.
The Stone of Brisby.
"So what do we do with it," Brad asked quietly. The Stone gleamed beautifully in the furnace's firelight, immersing them in a wash of sleepy pink.
A long silence followed.
Peter sighed, shrugging his shoulders. "I don't really know." His reply came lower than Brad's.
"Somebody will have to touch it or something," Tereasa suggested.
"I will!" Peter volunteered and reached out his hand. An electric surge zipped through his fingers and arm, vaulting him back to the door of the small room. The Stone flared brightly and rose into the air, pulsating as it hovered in front of them.
"intruders, state your business!" a familiar voice demanded.
"Nicodemus?" Brad remained frozen with awe.
Tereasa shuffled quickly back and picked her groaning brother up off of the floor.
"intruders, state your business!" the voice repeated, ignoring its name.
"We came to you for help," Tereasa answered helpfully. "There has been some trouble."
"i know, eldest daughter of brisby. i have been watching and waiting. the danger jenner poses to rats and humans alike is far greater than anyone realizes."
"How do we stop him?"
"to answer that, my dear, i must tell you about jenner and his plans."
They sat down as a cloudy bubble formed in front of the Stone. Nicodemus' frail form appeared in front of them within the cloud, gazing upon them like a teacher with his students.
"immediately after the rats of nimh had moved to the rosebush, i began to notice jenner's growing hatred of humans. stealing from them only fed his vehemence. even at nimh he talked of getting revenge.
As Nicodemus' voice went on, pictures replaced the frail old rat. It started with Jenner on the council floor at the Rosebush, peaking loudly and shaking his fists.
"at the rosebush, he proposed several times that we should rise up against the humans. start a war with them. some, like his associate sullivan, listened and agreed, while others ignored him. that was a mistake. in ignoring him, we never saw the danger coming. the danger that he might become insane because of his deep-rooted hatred and his lust for power."
As the images in the cloud began to shift again,,Tereasa cocked a wary eyebrow.
"it was the hatred and malice that came with our excelled knowledge that drove him mad. you see, my dear whether we wish to believe it or not, we are very much like the humans. the rats and mice of nimh have their intellect and understanding of the world around them. before, it was just survival but with the knowledge of a human we also acquire the evils of the beast. jenner is so much like the evil of the humans' past. dictatorial and manipulative to the masses, and now, with his blue stone, he's even worse.
"How did he get the blue Stone," Peter asked, still awestruck by the visions in front of his eyes. Those visions clouded now and began to swirl ponderously. After a moment of whirling monotony, the round-about motion ceased and sharpened into a dark candlelit room. A large table lay in its center, its flat wooden surface was cluttered with items that gave the youngsters the impression of an alchemist's laboratory.
"i must tell you how it was created first." A younger and much healthier Nicodemus entered the scene almost as if on cue for a play. The well-postured and muscular rat began to delve into the books stacked on top of his table.
"i was very fond of the magical arts when we moved to the Rosebush. i wanted to create my first magical experiment, one that even humans would not dare try."
The young Nicodemus stepped over to a bookshelf and pulled out another enormous text, dropped it onto the leftmost side of the table and opened it.
"i read about creating a magical instrument that would aid our progress in life and protect us from our enemies. i chose an amulet."
The vision of Nicodemus held up a transparent crystal and silently began to recite a magical phrase. "the creation process called for the right state of mind and the utmost concentration. however, my own mind was clouded with hatred and thoughts of revenge. and, in a sense, i reaped what i sowed."
Bright flares of blue teared their eyes.
"the result was a disastrous explosion that shattered my health and destroyed my study. i created a terrible image of myself, or my essence you might say, within the stone. it rose up to destroy me."
Another figure, burst into the room. One that turned Peter's and Tereasa's tears of strain to those of longing. Johnathan Brisby dove in front of Nicodemus' body.
"johnathan, your father, peter and tereasa, saved my life. i used what little strength was left in me to guide him in making another countering essence for my deranged clone. he made another stone. a red one. the one i gave to your mother two years ago before my untimely death."
He paused, letting them take in the shocking images before them.
"johnathan's stone cancelled the other's attack. johnathan had dealt with his own malices long before I had. and the blue stone was silenced. i kept it with me all those years because I had learned some valuable lessons. and with those lessons I had learned to control the blue stone. The one that jenner has now."
The cloud became opaque once again and then cleared to a picture that froze their muscles. Giant rats the size of small humans marched down the cracked and blackened streets. Their dark armors glinted devilishly in the hellish light of numerous torches with several of the firesticks sitting atop the ruins of city buildings. Above the endless sea of marchers, enormous banners wafted in the burning air with the strange symbols that the youths had seen on the breastplates of their numerous attackers last night.
"Looks like some of the pictures I saw when I read my history at the library before the Rosebush. This is a lot like how Nazi Germany looked like before the Humans' World War II." He froze, a sudden realization hitting him.
"What?" Tereasa asked.
"You mean he's going to win?" Peter stared in horror at the cloud.
"no, peter. he won't unless he finds and uses this stone. you see, these stones are very sensitive to the feelings of the wearer. if one hates, like jenner does, it will feed off of the hatred and augment it. this one fed off of the courage of your mother and father, Tereasa. and since it is affected by the feelings in one's heart, this one can become evil as well."
"So.... " Tereasa whispered. "To stop Jenner and his growing hate we must use courage and love."
"Then we have to do it now!" With that, Tereasa lunged forward and grabbed the Stone. A shockwave of light burst before the boys' eyes, blinding them. A yellow fire surrounded Tereasa's body as she cried out. And then, as suddenly as it had started, all went dark.
With a clang, the door behind them opened, bathing them in the gentle furnace light. Tereasa stepped up to them, her demeanor regal and calm.
"An now, my young warriors," she stated in a voice not her own. A deeper, older feminine voice. "We must stop the evil essence and correct the problems that it has caused."
"Stop Jenner?" Brad stammered, wide-eyed. "With what? We're outnumbered and we have no weapons!"
She smiled down at them as they got up from the floor.
"They shall be provided for you."
Loose materials that had once lay strewn about the floor began to levitate and spin around, filled with a life of their own.
"Peter, give me your sword."
Mutely, he gave her the blade and the useless hilt. She took them and placed them together. In a flash of brilliance, it was whole and she was already handing it back to him. He hefted it in his hand as if it felt just like new.
"How do we get there," Peter asked softly. "We don't even know where they are going."
Tereasa, the Stone now hanging from her neck, shook her head. "You need not worry, Peter. I have called for the crows and I know exactly where Jenner would go to cause as much damage as he could on this city."
Martin growled as the dark rat shoved him forward into Cynthia. Below him, the low gurgling rumble of the water through the enormous flood gates shook the hard muddy ground. Timothy yelped as a thorn plunged into his descending foot. The rat trooper grabbed him roughly, pushing him fore ward. He looked over at his own escort and scowled. Where was Tereasa, Peter, and that other rat. Peter, his very own father's son. His half-brother was off protecting his sister somewhere. Somehow, Martin knew that they would be back with help. He didn't know how, though.
A verbal salute broke his thoughts and the positive input the youngster was trying to instill in himself.
"All hail his majesty, Jenner! King of all humans and rats!" Captain Lightfoot cried out, his lizard crawling silently in front of the small convoy. Bloodwart raised his mace and swung it around three times. "Company, halt!" he croaked loudly.
As a dark shadow passed above them, all heads snapped upward. The armored rats saluted while the prisoners simply glared. Cynthia and Timothy pressed closer to their mother, whimpering. Mrs. Brisby placed a hand on both of them, rubbing their shoulders soothingly. And,as Jenner and his four escorts landed on the stonework of the dam, Auntie Shrew screamed a curse. Behind him, Martin heard Paul whisper an obscenity between clenched teeth at the impetuous grumpy old shrew. Luckily, it was ignored and the group relaxed somewhat.
"Now, my loyal followers!" Jenner boomed, standing up in his saddle and assuming his "speech-maker's" pose. "We now stand at the pinnacle of our fight against the humans. Tonight they will pay for their crimes against rats and all of the other animals of the earth! They've never taken us seriously before! They've persecuted us and tried several times to exterminate us! They will take us seriously after tonight after their homes and lives are destroyed!"
"Just like they did ours!" Lightfoot seconded. The other rats cheered loudly, raising and waving their swords.
"Yes, you majesty!" Lightfoot reined his lizard closer to *is master.
"Take your lizard-riders and proceed toward the dam. Set the explosives and get back here."
"Yes, your majesty!" Captain Lightfoot and his six riders slithered toward the wide stone top of the dam. Several of them pulled covered wagons on tethers connected to their mounts. Judiciously, they climbed down the steep stone surface, their lizards' claws keeping them suspended high above the roaring waters far below. Three riders behind the wagons held on to the backs with their lizards' teeth. Captain Lightfoot's mount held solely onto one with great ease.
Jenner turned his back to them, grinning widely at Justin.
"Now, Justin my friend, you will see how much I truly have learned!"
"All you've shown me is how crazy you are, Jenner!" Justin never flinched when Jenner leaned down at him, glaring and shaking his fist.
"Don't you see yet, Justin? The Rats of NIMH cannot coexist with the humans! They must be destroyed in order for us to survive!"
"Your wrong, Jenner. We don't have to coexist but we can avoid each other!"
Jenner smiled ironically, shaking his head. "You know as well as I do that they would not want to do that. They fear us and after tonight we will show them how they have every right to!"
"You're going to start a war you can't possibly win," Justin warned, his voice thick with irritation. "Your foolishness is going to destroy us all!"
"Kill him now!" Jenner crouched down in his saddle, groaning. "Why?" he rasped, barely audible.
"They have insulted us! They are insolent! Destroy them!" A sudden overpowering surge of pain racked his entire body. He clutched the reins of his nightbird to keep from falling out of his saddle. As the pain subsided he saw that the sun was lowering just below the cityscape. He quickly regained his composure and motioned to Fernwell. The small rat jogged quickly up to his master's side. Jenner held out a hand and Ferwell helped him out of his saddle. The other batflyers dismounted and stood at rigid attention.
"Fernwell, line the prisoners up and have your rats ready their firebows. After we blow the dam and witness our first victory, we shall kill our enemies by firing squad."
"Yes, your majesty!" Fernwell ran off to implement his master's orders, his oversized armor plates clanking loudly against each other. Mrs. Brisby gasped in mute horror as she pressed her children closer to her. Justin and Paul stared at him, stonefaced. While Auntie Shrew muttered some more quiet curses.
The guards behind the prisoners pulled them roughly apart and into a straight line in the tall wet grasses. Then, pulling heir bows out of their back sheaths, the rat troopers lined *p in front of the haggard group. With their strings tightened, each one pulled out an arrow. And as the tips left their quivers, they flared like matches that had just been struck.
"My rats are ready, your majesty!" Fernwell stated eagerly. Behind him, the rats raised their bows and took aim.
Jenner held up a hand. "Hold!" As calmly as he could, he looked over his shoulder as Captain Lightfoot and his riders came climbing back up the side of the dam.
"All is ready, your majesty!" Lightfoot called out.
"Excellent!" Jenner turned his gaze to one of his flanking batflyers. "Bring the remote control!"
The officer saluted and, motioning two of his lower-ranking cohorts, dashed off to another nearby wagon. They uncovered it and began to drag out the modified radio car controller.
"Isn't it wonderful what one can do when one exploits the lame-minded?" Jenner beamed. He smiled wickedly as he first noticed the prisoners holding hands and some of them, mainly the children, were crying.
"Don't be sad, young ones," he continued to taunt. "You will soon have no need to cry!"
His Stone glowed visibly and Jenner clenched his teeth. He quickly turned his attention back to his batflyers. They now had the control sitting beside him, one of them still pulling out the antenna.
"Will this work, Bloodwart?" Jenner demanded.
"Yes, your majesty!" the other replied.
"All reports ready, sire!" the remaining batflyer said, *jumping off of the top of the plastic box.
"Excellent!" Jenner forced an arrogant smile, trying to forget the imposing jewel that he had once depended on. For the first time in many years, he felt like shrinking down and running off in panic. Instead, he pulled the collar out of his undertunic and tugged at the strap holding his cape as the heat rose in his body.
"Now, my followers!" he shouted, spreading his arms wide "We shall now exterminate those who would seek to destroy us! In doing this, we shall create a perfect world! Perfect for the Rats of NIMH."
His last words were drowned out by the thunderous shouts of his troops. Justin braced himself as Jenner turned and,putting his weight completely into the effort, pressed the button....
Fiery shades of red and violet stretched out wide behind the treetops as the sun began to dip beneath the shadowy horizon. A shiver went up Thornbranch's spine as he gazed at the desolate courtyard with its deepening shadows.
We are so much like the humans, he thought sadly. We steal, we govern, we love, we hate, we live in small communities, and now we have learned to dictate over others and destroy them if they disagree.
Delgoth stirred, wriggling an itch out,of an ear. He patted his loyal bat's head. Jenner told him once that his mount would take on the traits of its owner. He stared down at the swaying seas of grasses and crops on the ground, sighing.
I hope everyone's ready, he continued, hefting his spear. I can't believe what has been happening to me these last three days. I once believed in and shared Jenner's vision. He's an intelligent rat who wishes for the genocide of all human beings' for a perfect rat society'. And those who would oppose him would be destroyed. Like the rats of Thorn Valley. A cause that I actually participated in.
A brief flash of light and a loud call from below snapped him out of his self-pity. Taking out his telescopic glass, he looked out upon the horizon at the growing storm of dust and dirt. Up above the towering trees, formations of leathery winged bats flapped vigorously. The long spears and lances of their riders shined in the last glimmering rays of dusk.
Putting away his glass, Thornbranch shoved his hand into his belt and pulled out a small yellow stone. He pulled back his arm, ready to throw. He heard the rumblings of many lizards' feet and the hideous screams of the bats. Their red eyes looked like swarms of glowing insects from so far away as they advanced on Thorn Valley. Closer! They need to get as close as we can let them so we can take out as many of them as we can on the first strike.
"Wait for my signal, everyone!" he yelled into the trees around him. Then, he let the rock fly. After a moment it hist the round, exploding into a cataclysm of sparks. Following the earsplitting boom, the desolate flats of the courtyard and outlying fields opened to reveal hosts of rat-packed trenches. Just as the army reached the edges of those very fields, the Rats of Thorn Valley let their first arrows fly.
Volley after volley of the missiles drilled into the masses of lizard riders and running troops, creating several piles of carnage and stumbling lizards.
The batflyers above dove in response to the unexpected threat on their ground-based comrades. Thornbranch waved his arm and screamed: "Charge!" He stretched the word out as Delgoth leaped from his perch. Hoards of rat-mounted robins, sparrows, and even a few owls soared into the shocked group of batflyers. He plunged his spear's jagged edge into the nearest and brought the pointed end of the shaft into the face of another. Crying out in agony, the two fell from their saddles and, before they could activate their snap-gliders, careened into two others which in turn caused a chain reaction of several mid-air collisions.
"I'm going to kill you. traitor!" Thornbranch snapped his head upward and found Rotwood bearing down on him, a deadly magical arrow trained on his head. He ducked as the arrow whistled past his helm and buried itself into the chest of his wingman. The rapidly rotting bodies plunged helplessly to the ground. Shoving his spear into another opponent, Thornbranch reined his bat around to face his former second-in-command. The battle was joined and he hoped that Jenner was enjoying it. It was either going to the his costliest victory or his most disastrous loss.
Jenner reeled backwards as he found himself immersed in a shower of sparks.
"we are under attack from the air!" his stone screamed in his ears. Around him, Jenner's rats shouted in alarm. Troops shot fire arrows up in all directions. The lizard riders dashed all over the ground in offensive formations, shouting madly.
"Intercept who is attacking us!" he fumed to his batflyers, who were already rushing to their mounts and thrusting them into the air.
As the panic cleared from his mind, a sudden concern came to him. Justin and the Brisbys. He whirled in the direction he last saw them. With his troops firing at nothing, the prisoners took advantage of the distraction and began to run for the safety of the bushes.
"Get them, you fools!" He pointed, drawing his lightning sword. Fernwell and his men looked at him, the utter confusion plain in their flickering eyes. Then, he knew what was happening. With his free hand he reached into his undertunic.
"What are you doing?" he snarled. "They are my rats. I must have control over them!"
"no! I control them now. you are reacting ponderously and have become incompetent. you have lost your most trusted advisor and most able warrior. and you haven't even looked above you!
Jenner did so and saw two crows circling in the star-speckled sky. Two mice and a rat rode on the youthful birds. The male crow swooped down and as the other went down low, he noticed a slight glimmer on the chest of one of the mice. A red glimmer.
The Stone! Brisby's daughter had the Stone! It could only be a Brisby that wears the Stone! The rat on the male crow drew a strange looking crossbow and rained fire down on the disheveled firing squad below. Several fell with Fernwell and the rest of them diving for cover.
"i will control your troops and your body. then, I will
destroy my arch enemy!"
"Nooo..." he whispered, clutching the blue Stone. "I must have my revenge ... Must..."
Jenner's vision suddenly blurred and his legs buckled. His tired limbs fell, trying to support him on his hands and knees. Lungs fighting for air, the old stab wounds in his back and belly began to throb once again.
"your goals are meaningless to me. for years, i have been kept at a low point in my power because of my cursed maker. now that your anger has filled me adequately, i shall use your very own efforts to further my own cause. and now ... you shall meet your maker.
Justin was right. This madness was going to destroy them all. once again, he had learned nothing. Absolutely nothing. He cursed himself as the world blackened around him.
Another explosion from the bombarding attacks of the diving robins flung more of Jenner's floundering forces. More of the small alcohol bombs obliterated whole groups of riders and troops. What was happening to them? Brutus stepped back from the groaning group of opponents he had moments ago charged at and drove them back from the family shelters. The confusion was happening all.-. around them. Armored troops were falling in rows, clutching their heads or,:chests. Their screams of bloodlust lowered to cries of pure anguish.
Delgoth writhed uncontrollably even as Thornbranch yanked at he reins. After several moments he finally gave up and directed lithe poor confused creature to land. Thornbranch scanned steadily around him, his perplexity growing. Jenner's troops and riders could fight much better than this. Something was wrong. Terribly wrong. Then, as Delgoth landed, he found out what it was. The shimmering red in their eyes suddenly palled and deepened to an icy blue. Strange how he didn't feel confused or changed. How could that be? Jenner's jewel must've backfired on him.
Delgoth suddenly shrieked and began to buck wildly. Like a monster out of a mad scientists control. He felt his rear leave the saddle. To his horror, while in freefall, he felt his spear slip from his grip. With a painful thud, he landed straight onto his back.
Get up! he screamed inside his own head, ignoring the sharp pains in his back while he lifted himself up off of the ground. With a ring of steel, his sword was ready.
He looked at the swarm of advancing mad-rats and decided to run instead. A large ground of troopers and lizard riders went after him, screaming: "Kill the traitor! Kill the traitor!"
Madly, he ran as fast as he could toward the protective trenches, dodging the frenzied volleys of both Jenner's forces and the Thorn Valley rats.
Up in the skies, the batflyers had ceased their mindless circling and pressed down, not at the trenches or the fields ut at the very heart of Thorn Valley itself. Toward the houses and shelters.
He waved his arm to a ground of sparrow-flyers overhead. Seeing him point to the bats breaking through the front lines, they veered off and began drilling their wedge-shaped attack straight through the formation. The tumultuous flurry soon dissipated into various small dogfights. But one had broken through' the counter-attack, taking down a sparrow-rider with his huge bow. The decaying bodies of both the rat and the bird plunged to the ground and soon blew away in a cloud of grayish dust.
A swift near-miss past his face told his distracted mind that he was still being chased. Before the blue-eyed aggressor could raise his morning star for another blow, the massive blade of Brutus' spear plunged through the rat's chest. He flung the lifeless body away from Thornbranch.
"Get going!" he shouted. "I'll cover your back! We've got to stop that guy before he gets to our families!"
With that, Brutus turned to two lizard-riders and four ground troopers that had managed to slip past the trenches.
Using all of his massive strength, he plunged his spear point into the gut of one rider and swung the shaft into the neck of the other. The four ground troops stepped back a pace. But Brutus charged, not giving them an inch. A moment later, four more of the black armored rats lay dead at his feet. Brutus then inched back, following Thornbranch to the shelters.
"Hey, Tereasa!" Peter inquired nervously as Tula swooped toward another small group of Jenner's rats while dodging their fiery arrow shots. "How do I work this crossbow of yours without an arrow?"
"Just point and pull the trigger," she replied in her calm and unnatural voice.
Peter levelled the crossbow on his arm and squeezed the trigger. A powerful bolt of lightning (energy of what ever) exploded from the make-shift weapon. It crackled through the night air and sizzled through the chest of another rat trooper.
"Sheesh!" he exclaimed,rubbing his shoulder.
Fernwell ducked behind the useless and charred remains of the controller. Slipping a red-hot arrow into his bow, he fired at the insolent crows and their riders. The shot grazed Jake's wing. Crying out in pain, his precarious wobble deteriorated into a stomach-churning tumble to the cold earth.
"Oh, this just isn't my week!" he groaned. He leveled himself as best as he could, spiralling horizontally. He then slammed into another tree.
"I don't think there will be another week!" Brad grunted, rubbing his head.
"I hate trees!" Jake moaned. Then, he slumped back into unconsciousness.
"Jake and Brad has gone down!" Tula stared at her brother own in the bushes. Peter felt Tereasa's arms stiffen painfully *around his waist.
"Jenner is dead!" she told him in her woman-like voice.
"So what's so bad about that?" Peter dared a brief glance back at her.
"His Stone's essence has taken over his body and his troops. If it remains free all is lost!"
"Always the same cliche!" Peter snickered. "Tula, take us ... where?"
"Take us to the dam, Tula," Tereasa finished for him.
"You got it!" Tula cupped her wings, gliding effortlessly down to the towering stone plateau. Jenner's body lay next to his petrified beast. A dim blue luminescence flickered beneath his shadowy breastplate. Peter hopped down from the crow's back, his crossbow at the ready. Slowly, he inched his way toward the deceased dictator. The bloodthirsty shouts made him whirl on his heel ... and turned to find the five remaining rat troops of Jenner's convoy racing straight for them. But he froze in fear as their cold blue gazes pierced straight through his own.
"Tereasa!" he screamed, panic-stricken. Calmly, she raised and faced her demonic opponents. The Stone at her chest blazed with an eye-stinging brilliance and a giant yellow shockwave roared forth from her body. It slammed straight into the frenzied group. The flailing bodies arched high up into the air, contrasting against the moonlit sky. They disappeared into the trees a mile away.
Peter remained rigid, still petrified. The crossbow dangled rom one finger on his right hand. Tereasa, smiling somewhat, *napped her fingers in front of his face. He blinked and then stared at her in shock.
"And I thought they were bad enough before!" he muttered in a whispering voice. "What's going on?"
"They are now possessed by the epitome of hatred and vengeance. We have to find the source and destroy it!"
"Great!" he sighed, shaking off his discomfort. "Let's hope that they,'re are no more obstacles!" A painfully strong hand locked its steel grip on his shoulder and spun him around. Another yanked the crossbow out of his hand and crushed it into splinters. Peter locked eyes with Jenner's ice-cold gaze,his devilish grin revealing rows of wickedly sharp teeth. Except this was not Jenner. It was something else entirely.
"I wouldn't bet on that, my young naive!" he rumbled in a throaty demonic growl. The violent demon then picked the young mouse up and threw him backwards. It turned toward Tereasa and reached out for her.
"No! You will stop now!" She lifted her hands and fire sprang forth from her fingertips. The flames enveloped the undead body of Jenner. Screeching in pain and rage, Nicodemus' demon transformed into a blinding bolt of lightning and sizzled away, screaming: "I'll destroy all of you! Humans! Rats! Mice and every other despicable creature that ever lived!"
"He's heading for the dam's control center!" she warned her brother while picking his dazed form up off of the stone surface. With the explosives now useless the demon is going to open the floodgates with its magic!"
"We have to get down there and stop it!" Peter jerked out his sword.
"Hold on to me," she said calmly. He grabbed a hold of her as she jumped off of the dam and floated above the roaring Waters.
"How do we stop it," Peter asked as she landed gently on the roof of the power station.
"It is a creature that thrives on hate alone. Its power source must be destroyed."
"What is its power source?"
"The jewel from which it was housed."
"Great!" he groaned, shrugging his shoulders. "Now all we have to do is to find it!"
Peter gazed around the vast expanse of roofing around them. This was going to take a while.
Trying hard to keep her own sanity, Isabella cradled Bilee in her shaking arms. The violent sounds of the battle outside rang in her ears. Thomas came to her teetering mind. Only knowing him for a day or two and she had fallen in love with him. But two years as a widow and raising a child without help was pure misery. She actually feared for his safety after he was to tell her and Brutus of his true purpose at Thorn Valley. She feared he would've had to be executed. But how can one love one another so quickly? And why? She just had a feeling about him.
Another explosion, louder this time, rocked the shelter. Its wooden frame threatened to buckle as it creaked and groaned from the pressure. Several of the maids and,wives and young children cried out in terror. A high-pitched grating sounded above their heads.
"Someone's landed on the roof!" someone whispered. Another hissed at the girl, urging her to be quiet. Every rat in the crowded shelter stiffened, their ears perked and intent.
"Mommy?" Bilee tugged at her mother's sleeve.
"Hush!" Isabella put a hand over her mouth and continued to listen.
There was nothing but the faint scratching for numerous tense moments, periodically being drowned out by the clamor of the dying battle outside. What was happening? Did they win?
A loud thunk snapped her out of her trance.. More creaking resounded, intensifying to loud crackling, and finally a gigantic torrent of pale-gray dust upon her and the other occupants as the roof caved in on them. Coughing and spitting, Isabella reflexively looked up and found two pairs of frigid blue eyes starring directly at her. The large bulk rat smiled in deadly anticipation.
"Well! Well! Well!" Rotwood laughed, bringing his bow down to eye-level with her. "My new master has told me a lot about you, and in a slip second, too! And it says I must kill you because you turned his best agent against it. So you will see whether or not there is a life after death!"
Rotwood pulled his bowstring back.... ... and out of nowhere, the dark blur of a spear flashed past his head, slicing his pride and joy neatly in half. The arrow arched into a nearby wall which son disintegrated.
"You've ruined my bow!" he roared, whirling to face the towering Brutus and his former superior.
"Thornbranch!" he whispered vehemently., pulling his fighting sword out of its,-scabbard. Thornbranch unlatched his riding helm and threw.,it aside and raised his own blade. "I'm going to kill you, you traitorous bastard!"
"Still the impetuous one, Rotwood, no matter what powers you are given!" Thornbranch retorted calmly. "Now, as the humans say, "put your money where your mouth is"."
"He's outnumbered!" Brutus smiled.
"I'll fix that! Garrik, attack!" Rotwood's bat surged forward, baring his teeth at Brutus. The large rat picked up a discarded board and flung it at Garrik's face.
"No!" Rotwood's snicker widened into a broad grin. "Come, save your fair lady in distress!"
Thornbranch remained frozen, yet, he was ready. Rotwood, screaming a hoarse battle cry, charged at him. Their flashing swords met with a powerful ring. Rotwood's ferocious attacks drove him backwards and downhill.
"You see, Thornbranch," Rotwood taunted, his breath and blows unwavering. "You can't stop me!"
"And I say again... you're still the impetuous one!" He ducked as Rotwood swung his sword at neck-level and pushed his own sword tip into his gut. Rotwood roared in pain, stumbling backwards, rolling further downhill.
"It's over, Rotwood. Jenner is no longer in control of his precious Stone, and your forces are being pushed back. Surrender or retreat now!"
"Jenner is dead!" Rotwood snarled. "We are now more powerful than ever! It is you who will surrender!"
The cold fire alight in his insanely wide eyes, Rotwood charged at Thornbranch. Their swords met with a deafening clamor. The force of Rotwood's unnatural blows pushed Thornbranch quickly back up the frosting ground and onto the shaky remnants of the shelter's roof.
An elbow impacted with Thornbranch's cheek, blurring his vision. He yelped as his legs tilted into the air. A sharp, painful sensation racked his back as he fell to the floor. Several female rats cried out, startled, as Rotwood leaped down in front of his fallen opponent. Thornbranch brought his arm up to find his sword blade shattered to a small jagged point. Rotwood stepped up to his and raised his weapon above his head.
"Not again!" Isabella screamed and she plunged her head into Rotwood's side. Shocked by the attack that came out of nowhere, he stumbled, off balance and tripping sideways,over a piece of rotted wood. He fell squarely onto a giant protruding nail. Crying out, he clutched the steel rod that impaled his body.
"Damn you ... Thornbranch... !" Rotwood rasped from between bloodied lips. Then, the cold light faded from his dying eyes.
"Thomas!" Isabella sobbed, throwing herself to him. "Are you alright? I thought you were going to die!"
He sat up and mimicked her strong hug. "Never in a million years!" he whispered into her shoulder.
"Hey!" They looked up to find Brutus standing above them outside. "This rat's bat just fell dead. The rest of his troops are pulling back! I think we've won!"
"Keep an eye on them!" Thornbranch ordered. "They might be trying to regroup for another attack!"
"There's not very many of them left," Brutus informed. "I think we really surprised them. Thanks to you."
Thornbranch only shrugged.
But the oppressive, bleak atmosphere exploded into a hundred cheers. Thornbranch kissed his new love anyway as Bilee came rushing up to them. Thorn Valley seemed to be safe. He would know in a few minutes anyway.
"Look out, Martin!" Timothy cried, pointing up as the batflyer swooped down to fire of another fire arrow. Brad ended the attack with his own electrical bow shot. The blast struck the stomach of the rider. With him dead and his bat inert, they both fell headfirst into a nearby tree.
"That's it with the batflyers!" Brad stated.
"Yes, but not those lizard-riders!" Paul corrected matter of-factly. The large rat bounded up to the bodies and grabbed the sword.
"Not to worry about two of them!" Justin breathed heavily as he ran up to them."But five more are right behind me!"
"Everyone get ready!" Paul ordered. "Brad grab that rope on one end and go to the bushes opposite of me! And have your crossbow ready!"
The children and Justin ducked behind the foliage while Brad threw one end of the rope to Paul. He grabbed the other end and they both crouched down and waited.
The loud thumping grew in intensity as the lizard-riders came nearer. The shimmering sets of eyes bounced into view.
"Now!" Paul shouted and he and Brad pulled line taut.
The snapping line caught Captain Lightfoot squarely in the chest, yanking him off of his speeding mount.,Before he could get up, Brad rose and squeezed an electrical round into his chest. With a grunt, Lightfoot fell before he could even draw his weapon. Justin ran quickly onto the path and dragged the dead rat into the bushes. Brad pushed the now petrified lizard off of the path with one foot.
"Captain Lightfoot!" Bloodwart shouted, coming up over the hill. His three subordinates hopped up behind his. All weapons were drawn. Their cold eyes glowered suspiciously into the darkness. They slowed their lizards to a crawling pace.
Paul met Justin's gaze in the undergrowth across from him. They both knew what had to be done. It was now or never. Justin leapt from his protective cover and threw a discarded dagger into the neck of the leftmost rider. As his left flank became vulnerable, Bloodwart swung his mace at Justin's skull. He ducked and pulled his arm back to throw a punch.
"No! This one is mine!" Paul growled and charged.
"I gladly accept your invitation to dance!" Bloodwart mussed, veering toward Paul's attack. Justin switched his gaze to the rider just behind the preoccupied Bloodwart. He picked up a sword and began his attack. The rider parried his usually well-placed strikes with the skill that Justin had never seen. The rider on Bloodwart's right moved in to join his comrade. Brad evened the odds with a shot to the rider's back and out of nowhere, a small stone went hurling at Justin's opponent. The stone ricochetted off of the'@rider's helm, giving Justin the time he needed for a quick thrust to the rider's belly.
The agonized scream of the rider told Bloodwart that he was now alone. No matter. He could easily crush these useless vermin by himself. Laughing, he elbowed Justin away as if the strong lean rat were nothing but a gnat. With his other arm, he swung his mace at Paul@'º face. The sweep caught the very tip of his nose which began to bleed freely. Bloodwart's mount, Gavvoe, squealed as he lashed out violently, trying frantically to bite and whip all of the aggressors at once. Martin leapt out in front of him. Mrs. Brisby shouted for him to come back.
Sneering, the child raised his slingshot and released a jagged pebble into his forehead. His helm rang loudly with the impact. Panicked, Gavvoe reared upward, throwing Bloodwart from his saddle. He landed squarely on his back and never saw his mount's foot plunge into his face.
All heads suddenly turned away from the gory scene as Mrs. Brisby rushed out of the bushes. She led Martin away, trying to keep her own eyes averted.
"Mommy?" Cynthia poked her head out. Timothy followed her cautious action a little more slowly.
"It's all right, honey," she soothed uneasily. "Don't come out on the path. You wouldn't want to see this!"
The rats followed her away from the petrified lizards and their dead riders.
"Are there anymore?" Timothy said softly.
"No, I don't think so. Brad answered, sighing with great relief. "It look's like that's all of them."
came "Are you sure?" Auntie Shrew, who had been pleasantly quiet, out from hiding, rubbing her aching head.
"Finally wake up from your faint?" Paul grinned at her.
"Keep your comments to yourself, scoundrel!" she spat, hissing.
Brad growled lowly to himself. Auntie began to walk haughtily away when Justin dropped his sword and heaved his own sigh of relief. "I saw Jenner fall," he said. "He must be dead. So I guess it's over!"
But the unnatural crackling of lightning and thunder from the dam put his words to shame very quickly.
"you'll never catch me, you pitiful mortals!" the high-pitched voice of Nicodemus' demon in Jenner's body screamed, reverberating rapidly through.the enormous room of the dam's control center. Peter shook his head, dazed. He gazed down at his sister, surprised. For someone who had just survived a near-miss from,a lightning bolt, she was almost deathly calm as well as unscathed.
"I was shielding us, my brother." She smiled knowingly at him, as if she were reading his thoughts. He lifted himself up off of her. She might have been reading his thoughts. With the Stone controlling her and all .... The crashing of a coffee mug falling to the floor snapped him back to attention.
"Where is he?" he whispered, trying to peer through the clearing smoke. The darkness in the room sure didn't help much either. Out of the darkness, another searing lightning bolt flashed between them, narrowly missing both of their heads.
"Up in front of us," she said, pointing. "Behind all of the human controls."
"Thanks!" Peter grunted. Off in the shadowy distance, a glowing blue bounced in mid-air.
"There he is!" Peter squinted, dimming the green luminescence of his own eyes while Tereasa simply ambled out into the open, her glowing red Stone completely exposed. He crept slowly out beside her, slowly pulling his sword from its scabbard.
"Yes, that's it!" the demon taunted. "Come and get me, children!"
Peter's blade silently burst into flame.
"Wha!" he exclaimed. He almost dropped it when Tereasa grabbed his arm.
"Use it to fight him," she instructed. "But don't drop it!" The flames illuminated a great deal of the massive room. Desks and terminals towered all around them. Rising up as if they were meant to touch the sky itself even though the mice knew that they were only a few feet tall by human standards. A rapid series of thumping broke him out of his mesmerized state.
"Peter, look out!" He looked just in time to:'see the demon's raging blue eyes and shimmering blade come straight for them.
"if you will not come to me, i will come to you!"
Smiling insanely, the demon slashed his sword at them. Peter dropped to one knee and raised his sword arm. His hand ached as their blades met. The shock of which nearly dropped him on his back. Tereasa moved to assist but the demon slapped her up against a desk leg. Her head slammed into the hard wood. Moaning, she sagged to the carpeted floor, the light in the Stone fading somewhat.
"You ugly bastard!" Peter screamed, charging madly toward the demon. Laughing, the demon parried the fuming youngster's blows.
"this is quite fun, little one!" the demon snickered, falling back just to humor the mouse. It swiped the sword away from his face and clutched Peter's hair. With a strength that was unnatural for any animal this size to possess, he tossed Peter up at the ceiling, yanking his hair painfully. Instead, the mouse arced just beneath it, his weapon leaving a tall arch of flame to mark his flight path. A hot flash of pain stabbed through the boy as his skull cracked into the thick glass window in front of the large desk. Ponderously and nauseated, he slid noisily down the window and onto the desktop.
"hah! some warrior!" the demon chuckled. He gazed down at Tereasa. She moaned softly as she regained consciousness. The Stone flickered to life in response. "well, i think just to be fair, i shall take you up there to watch me destroy him. right before i kill you!"
He grabbed her collar and launched into the air. They rose high over the gigantic human furniture and machines. Through her hazy mind,Tereasa felt her stomach lurch as her feet left the carpeted floor. She hung limply in his steel grip as they hovered over to the office's front window, at the bottom of which lay Peter's inert body. She let the Stone take control of her again and concentrated on his life force.
She felt some of her tension slip away as she felt the warmth of Peter's soul, which, thankfully, was still present in his body. The demon released his its grip on her and she tumbled to the hard polished wood. The demon descended deftly onto his feet, a moderate rush of whispering air billowed the giant cape behind his back. It fell back across it like a specter trying desperately to hang onto an elusive host body.
"Now, Peter Brisby, awaken so you can face your death and join your accursed father!" It raised its sizzling white blade of energy.
"Stop!" Tereasa cried out and stretched out her palm. A bright orange ball of energy streaked out from her hand and enveloped its hands and solidified itself into a lead gauntlet that was too heavy for even the Stone demon to hold up.
"Curse you, you filthy little pest!" it spat. Its glacial blue eyes flashed at her furiously.
"You will fight the boy, Her tone remained steady. "but on equal terms."
"That pitiful fool, Jenner, didn't know what force he was dealing with! You think this boy will be able to defeat me?"
Peter sat up, moaning. A small trickle of blood dribbled down the side of his head.
"I will destroy not only the humans but all life on this planet. I will grow stronger as I drink in the suffering of others!"
Peter's eyes widened as he became acutely aware of what was going on. He sat up and whirled on one knee and clutched his sword. But another lead ball formed around his hands. He glared up at his half-sister, uncomprehending.
"It is all around us!" the demon smirked, continuing his taunt. "Racism, ethnic hatred, crime, poverty, hunger, drugs, greed, and delicious sadness. My creator had once thought of these things and because of that, I exist. I am the strongest and quickest of all emotions: hate."
Tereasa, or the red Stone being, intensified her stern gaze on that of the demon's. "I am love and courage. The hardest state of feeling to obtain and keep; yet, I am the strongest and most rewarding. Hate has no power over them."We shall see who will win, Hate. Peter give me your sword."
"What?" Peter's eyes widened into a look of fear. "But, sis, I can beat him--"'
"Now!" She glared at him. "You must learn, Peter, to fight hate with strength. Your mind and heart is still clouded by the tragedies of your past. If you fight him with more hate, he will only grow stronger."
"So what?" He returned her look of anger with one of his own. "So my dad is dead because of a stupid farm cat! I'm sick of people keeping me from actually making a difference just because I have an attitude they don't like! So I'm angry! Big deal! Everybody is angry at some time or another!"
Her gaze softened as she listened.
"You want me to do something good? You want me to show you that I am responsible even though I have a short temper? Let me take this guy on so we can save ourselves. Let me fight this hate with its own medicine'."
She nodded and the lead spheres around their hands disappeared. Peter and Hate rose. He held his flaming sword and inch away from the demon's jagged electrical blade.
"Okay, pal! I'm sending you back where you belong! Straight back to Hell!
Peter lashed out furiously, grunting and shouting as he went. Masses of sparks showered around them as the two combatants clashed violently. The demon's stance wavered and he fell back from the relentless onslaught, its own weapon crackling. The room that was once dark was now illuminated by the chaotic battle. The blue-eyed demon suddenly regained his confidence and dealt some of his own vicious attacks.
Peter ducked just as the lightning sword swayed above his head. The hair on his head and the fur on his neck rose as he felt the last tingles of electricity in his body. The blade dug into the thick glass, piercing it all the way through. With a blood-curdling scream, Hate continued to hack at the glass. Long cracks and holes flowered over the once smooth surface until, finally, the pane gave way and shattered.
Bits of jagged sharp glass of all sizes rained down their deadly points down on the trio. Peter and Hate leapt over the window's edge. As he fell from the deadly height, Peter used both hands and dug his sword deeply into the cement. But the fire surrounding his blade melted it like butter. He continued to fall slowly to the top of the dam. Hate had fallen straight down, landing headfirst into the man-made ledge. Peter hoped that it was now over but his bowels clenched when he saw it rise up, unhurt.
Tereasa, still in the control center, watched Peter pull his sword from the building and dive straight for Hate. She ignored the last of the falling pieces of glass that fell harmlessly against the protective energy done around her.
Hate sneered as he pushed Peter away. The mouse felt his heart stop for a beat when he stopped his roll and found himself teetering over the edge of the monstrous dam. His vision blurred as he stared down at the seemingly nonexistent bottom. Who knew what was down there beneath the clouds of low-drifting fog and spraying water. Shuddering, he rolled away from the edge, narrowly avoiding the sword thrust by Hate. The cement 'ground' exploded as the destructive energy sawed through the hard surface where Peter had just lain. They brought their swords together just as Peter rose. He found his gaze locked with Hate's own pale but malicious glower.
"I will destroy this city! Hundreds of humans, weak and stupid as they are, will drown before the night is through!" He pressed the youngster back, their swords crackling. The double glow of their powers produced wicked shadows over what was once the face of Jenner. "I will watch with glee as these humans use my powers to destroy one another! They will blame each other for the disasters I create. They will feed me and I will use that power to burn this planet dry."
Peter could feel the heat of Hate's foul breath on his face, his anger rising to a height it had never known.
"You know something, Hate?" he tauntingly mimicked the demon smirk and quickly backed away. "You talk too much!"
Hate, who had been using most of its strength to keep the youngster at bay, found himself off balance. He pitched forward....
.... straight onto Peter's red-hot point. The sword bore straight through the Stone, armor, tunic, flesh, and bone. Hate screamed as he felt his heart being skewered by the searing hot steel.
With the Stone and heart destroyed there was no other outlet for it to escape to or take control of. The boy had let go of the sword and backed away. But Hate's feet would not budge. Flames consumed the body that had once been Jenner's and Hate's at once. It writhed in agony as it was consumed by the white-hot fire.
Peter watched in horror as the glowing flames ate the body away. Billows of smoke plumed from the ears, eyes, and mouth. And after several tense moments, the blazing skeletal remains tipped over the edge of the dam, bouncing over the surface like a bouncing ball of rock, and plunged into the hazy waters. The explosion of the body threw Peter back against the building as the evil energies dispersed and disappeared.
"Well done, Peter." Tereasa smiled as she hovered down beside her half-brother, "My job is now done."
"But the dynamite! Tereasa ... !"
She shook her head and pointed. "Look!"
Two massive flowers of fire lit the night sky, drowning out the presences of the moon and stars. The destruction of the dynamite marked the joyous beginning for the Rats and Mice of NIMH and the end of their dark origins.
"Mommy! Daddy! Look!" Bilee pointed excitedly as the decimated forces of Jenner's army fell. Their eyes faded to normal hues and their armor suits fell away from their bodies as the evil magic faded away. Flocks of normal bats and hoards of lizards and rats ran of flew away. The animal who had fallen earlier shook the arrows and unwanted clothing away, their wounds nonexistent. Hundreds of cheers went up as the previously terrible army retreated into the surrounding woods.
"Thomas!" Isabella exclaimed, her quivering lips bending into a smile."Your eyes! The red is gone from your eyes!"
Thomas dropped his broken sword as she embraced him, her lips touching his. Their lips finally parted but she continued to hug him. With his free hand, he pulled Bilee closer. She gladly accepted his affections.
It was finally over. Thorn Valley was safe once again.
He looked up at the moon that shined its silvery rays triumphantly on the courageous colony.
Thomas thanked the powers that be and let the tears stream his relaxing face.
Tereasa threatened to topple over as the Stone of Brisby faded once again into sleep. Peter quickly caught her, sat down, and rested her in his lap.
"Peter... she whispered weakly. "We've won...
"Yes." He rubbed her forehead gently. "The bad guys have lost another round!" She began to pull herself up. "Don't, sis. You're exhausted. Just lay still."
"What was that?" Mrs. Brisby exclaimed as she, Justin, and the rest of the group sprinted toward them.
"That was the end of Jenner and his Stone" He breathed a heavy sigh of relief.
Mrs. Brisby lovingly embraced her step-son and sleeping daughter, the other children following not far behind.
"This is all great," Paul said gently and carefully. "But we need to get out of here before the humans arrive." He pointed out the sea of lights where the red twinkling of light and the distant wails of numerous sirens flew through the dark streets. Coming closer.
"Right!" Peter seconded. And with that the haggard band rushed off into the forest. Peter was carrying Tereasa all the way.
Somewhere off in a vast desolate forest, various species of animals scurried away in terror as the enormous and evil-looking oak palace collapsed and fell into a great heap of rotted wood. The last death throes of a dead empire.
Mr. Ages began to pace the muddy earth with growing irritation. His legs and hips ached from the hours of standing and walking, then sitting, and then doing the same thing all over again.
"Blasted Brisbys!" he muttered angrily. "They wanted me to give this allergy medicine to Timothy today and its just like them, to go skipping off into the forest. Leaving me to stand here for hours on end!"
As the sun began to ascend above the tree line, Mr. Ages brought a hand up to his eyes. Blast it all! Now I'm going to go blind rom the sun as well! he thought, frustrated.
Just as he was about to turn and leave, a distant cawing broke through the whistling wind. The sun's brilliance winked out twice as the feathery silhouettes soared above him, a chilly rush of air following each of them.
Two young crows, one landing perfectly while the other fell flat on his face,, set down in the clearing by the cinder block. The Brisbys, a young mouse in the Rat's military tunic, and the wretched old shrew slid off of their backs. Mr. Ages began to stalk up to them, trying to draw himself up as much as he could to an authoritative manner.
"Thanks again!" Mrs. Brisby waved gratefully to the young crows.
"Glad we could help!" Tula smiled and she spread her wings, ready to fly off once again.
"I'm glad it's over!" Jake sighed thankfully.
"Oh, shut up, ingrate!" Tula spat with annoyance.
"You shut up, you idiotic inked-over parrot!"
"I am not a parrot!"
And with that, brother and sister, the brood of Jeremy the crow, ascended into the blue sky, squabbling all the way.
"Where have you been?" Mr. Ages thundered, showing more anger than was actually there. "I've been waiting here for hours!"
"We've been at Thorn Valley!" Martin answered excitedly.
"Wait till we tell you all about it!" Timothy leaped energetically past him and to the Brisbys' front door.
"I hope we see them again!" Cynthia sighed wistfully.
"Hopefully under much better circumstances!" the shrew put in sourly.
"Mr. Ages! The young robust mouse picked him up and twirled him around a couple of times. "You're still the same old butterball!"
Mr. Ages sat down as the world caved in all around him, his anger fizzling quickly and confusion replacing it just as fast.
"Oh Mr. Ages!" Mrs. Brisby squeezed him tightly. "We have so much to tell you!" He got up and she began to lead him to their home, picking up his bag along the way. "This is my step-son, Peter. He'll be visiting with us for a while."
"Peter!" He cocked his head in confusion. Then his face tightened with recognition. "Peter Brisby! So this is what's become of you!"
"Hi!" The young mouse smiled mischievously at him.
"If you all don't mind!" Auntie Shrew interrupted loudly."I shall go ho,e and sleep this little adventure off for the next week of two!"
And without a second thought, the old shrew marched off into the dewy grasses to her burrow.
After they had watched her go, the children skipped merrily into their cinder block house. Peter and Teresa ambled not far behind
We have so much to tell you, Mr. Ages," Mrs. Brisby said as she led him gently through the door.
"Yes, I'm sure you do," he muttered, clearly dumbfounded.
With a soft click, the door closed and once again the sun shined brightly over the desolate clearing. Nothing was out on this blustery day. Nothing but a few dry elm leaves dancing playfully in the late Autumn breeze.