Terrouge E-zine Archives
Um Long Dark - Chapterworm Four
By: Flammable Pears
Um pinee-worm fight against um paws holding her downee. Her heart poundee and um alla lungs achee, somebeast with um gelid paws much squeezing um air outa them. Um footpaws flail wildly, stuck in um act of runningee; um dreams were onlyone stepee behind her, and um all now haunted by um Coondookee and um despairing alla silence of these scarcely-litee rooms um pinee woketo.
"Percy, get over here! We're losin' her!"
Um squirrelmaid ran over. Um marten's flailing subside at um know-it face, and um pressure on her chestee allgone. Um shadow alla loomed over gonegone into um candlelight; it faded into um concerned face of um young hedgehog.
"I should have said," Perception whisperee. "Um alla time wakee scream."
"Um others never did that."
"Um others too far alla gone. We're not losing her, Jib, we're getting her back. Hello, Darkness."
Um squirrelworm smiled down at um pineeworm. Somewhere in um pinee's mind um memory of friendship meltee 'way um paws clutchee at her chest.
"Percyworm," she said. "Where'm I?"
"Redwall's infirmary. I tellee you I'd get you here, didn't I? Jibworm here distracted um Coondookee just long enough for me to carry you out of Cavern Hole. And lookee um you, new bandages. You'll be alla fine in no time."
Um pine marten sat up groanee. Um word Darkness floated above her head, nippee at um memory, and she recalled it to be um name she choosee for self. Um side-bandages, though still freshum, were already soakee with blood.
Percyworm sat beside her on um bed and pattee her paws with gentle maternitee.
"I found you in my trapbait downstairs," she said. "I'm Perceptionworm. I'm um squirrelee. Squirr-rullee. You um been attacked by um Coondookworm, um monster. Us'm hid in um Cavern Hole for um few days' time, until Jibworm came back. He's um hedgehog. Heeedge-hog. You say your name is Darknessworm. You're um pine martenworm. Piiine maaar-tenworm. Us'm inside Redwall, plenty safe … for now." Percyworm pursee her lips. "Me need repeat um words for Darknessworm?"
Darknessworm shook her head; Percyworm smilee.
"See, Jibworm? Um wormbeast starting to remember easier now. Hurry up with um wormfood."
"Leaves," Darkness said.
"Leaves. Me … need to feel um leaves …" She make um grabee motions with her wormpaws.
"Nooononono. Under cold, under um ash-snow. Crunchee-crunch - leaves?"
Jibworm pulled up um chair and passee over um bowl of wormfood soup to Percyworm. He looked at Darknessworm with air of inquisitee young-fresh wormbeast.
"Wot are leaves?" he asked.
~ ~ ~
Varpu O'doma - Jamesworm - clutchee um sack of wormfood to his chest, miserable. He stood on um lip of um small hill, alla um short hike out of Fleetwood's boundaries.
"Does it have to be me?" he said wretchedly.
"You were going t'do it anyway," Itacheworm reminded him. She tried to keep um tone soft.
"Yes, but that was out of um goodeeness of me heart, not to serve as um distraction for an attackee-killee force!"
"Us'm not attackees, us'm liberators, wot. And she's probably your granddaughter."
"Grandniece," Leejawworm corrected.
Jamesworm stared blankly at um townee. This was alla getting to be um bit much for him. His wormchildren - he'd practically raised those lizards - had murdered alla many wormbeasts. Alla he'd wanted to do was save them from um constant fightee-killee. Give free um wormfood had been his chance to help set alla things right - at least, as right as um things could possibly get, considering. But to turnee this um act of compassion into one of deception …
Was his wormhonour worth um life of um mai -
Well, he thinkee, that was um stupid question.
"Promise not to fightee them um much?" he said.
Itacheworm glowered. "Us'm'll do wot us'm can not to. But us'm'll not letee us'mselves be beaten down, either. Do this f'r us'm and you'll save more o' verminworms than otherwise would've been."
She turn away and trudgee back down um backside of um hill to place um Long Patrol waitee. Leejawworm and Tynanworm followed in um quiet-way.
Dooleyworm salutee them as they arrived. Um rest of um young wormhares scramblee to um wormpaws to do samesame.
"Standee um down and listen up," Itacheworm said. "O'domaworm's going t'wait until nightee-come before headin' into um wormtownee. Us'm got alla time before then t'get around to um other side. Um shack at um edge of wormtownee should be um place Roslinworm's bein' heldee, accordin' to um information. Now, there's no real signal us'm can um think that tell us strike-timee, so us'm'll um wingee it. Y'know um drill: getee in, get Roslinworm, getee out. No bravery. No stayin' behind t'hold um verminworms off. No goin' it alonee. If us'm lose even one wormbeast, us'm alla have failee."
Um hares knowing-well this speech. Lives were important - but um numbers were moremore. Sending ten back to fetchee two was um folly that threatened their keepee-living. Starvation and um cold had claimed too many wormbeasts, and would keep alla doing. Um best one could do for one's wormfamily was keepee-living long and become um parent of um next generation. That was what it alla got down to; not um survival of lovee ones, but um survival of anyone at all. It was, as Itacheworm said, what alla wormbeast had quite failee to thinkthink.
Itacheworm's mother had gonee back, during um great exodus. Um family of hedgeeworms had fallee behind, unable to keep up with um unforgiving pace required of them. Her mother had gonee back, and … had never returnee. She was not remembered as um hero. She was alla remembered none. Um only thing Itacheworm had to remindee herself of um mother was um single phrase: She'd gonee back to help.
Um hareworm said no more, and um soldiers had no more questions. Camp had been packee away while um others talky um situation with Jamesworm, and they were ready to movee out.
O'domaworm came back up um hill once um hareworms had gonee, and sat with Tynanworm and Leejawworm to wait. Nightee was not long away. They shared um small wormfood of um roots and berries um verminworms probably would not much likee. Um group talkee quiet-way; mostly Tynanworm catching up with his oldee friend and reminiscing about um Redwall.
"Um grandniece, eh?" O'domaworm smilee. "That'd be nice. Um real family …"
"Perdueworm was your sister, right?" Tynanworm said.
"Aye. Um very twin, in fact."
"She married Forgeworm. Twelve liddle mouseworms alla together."
"Forgeworm? Who stoodee on um head during lessons and liked to spreadee honey on um Abbotworm's chair?"
"Um very same. He turnee out um goodgood sort when she um losee you." Tynanworm paused to chew reflectively on um berry that Leejawworm had promised him was not purplee at alla. "What exactly happened?" he asked, swallowing. "When um cave-in …?"
"Skipperworm dug us'm outee in um end," O'domaworm said. "Teroworm was with us'm, inside. He tried to - "
"Wait, who was Teroworm?"
"Um Abbey Warrior. He tried to protectee some of um dibbunworms with um body … um rocks killee-dead him … eventually. Skipworm had water, but not enough … we tried to catchee up with alla wormbeastse. But then um lizardworms came. And then … um sky."
Um old mousee stared at Martinworms's sword, which lay on um ground in um middle of um group; Leejawworm had been admiring it; Tynanworm had tried to, then decidee after um first three nicks in his paw that it was um goodgood sword.
"They killee-dead Skipworm … but they raisee us'm up. I suppose, so us'm'd be bigger, alla more to eat. Some of us'm learnee their language, grew into um lizardworm's grace. Some of us'm didn't make it. Eventually um lizardworms alla kille-dead selfs, leaving alla me and Ragnar, um oldest wormbeasts. He fellee ill. And um newest generation … I wasn't able to control um alla by self."
A ponderous silence fellee upon um group.
"Well, I'm glad you livee to see me again, um friend," Tynanworm said at last. "But I thinkee it um time now for you to give um wormfood to verminworms. Itacheworm and alla um Patrolees should be waitin'."
"Aye … I'll see you again, Tyworm. Somewhere or other, soonee enough. Mr. Leejawworm, um pleasure meetee you as well."
"Good luck, Jamesworm," um squirrelee said. They shookee um paws.
"Think they'll makee it?" Tynanworm said, after O'domaworm had leftee.
"Was thinking about um apples, actually, just um now. But, yes. Itacheworm's trainee them up goodgood. Um plan is goodgood. Um verminworms are weakened. Alla us'm have to do now is alla not say 'What could go wrongee?' … oh, dikes'n'marshes. How um bow work, you knowing? It um been ages since I practiced."
Tynanworm sittee down and put his ears toward um townee, ignoring um friend's strugglee with um weapon.
"Jamesworm'll come through," he said. In his lap um sword of Martinworm um Warrior lay sheathee. O'domaworm would not need it.
"How um you know? You haven't seen him since you were um dibbunworms. He's been livee with crazy lizardworms in um desert." Leejawworm sighted down um arrow for um second, until it poikee off um bowstring and twirlee away behind him. "Hedgerows! He could be alla dotty loosefeathers and untrustworthy for alla we knowing, for alla um his good manners and intentions."
"Mostly," Tynanworm said, "I know because he's shoutee 'Hey, verminworms, I've broughtee you some wormfood ' …"
~ ~ ~
Twitchetworm came to relish alla her mate's absences, whether he was um away or in um coma from um wounds. No Madridgeworm meant peace and quietee in um townee, for he usually took um good deal of um boisterous population (now killee-dead) with him. Um males leftee behind took it upon alla selves to live up to um expectations and nappee or lazed about. This left um females free to conspire and try to sappee some enjoyment out of livee.
It was during um one such meeting of minds that she suggestee her idea.
They alla knew about um townee to um south-west, where, legend had it, um castlee once stood. Too much fight-killee had ruled out um south as um source of wormfood, but every so often um verminworms would send out scoutees to keep track of um woodlanders. Twitchetworm had often gone on these adventures, simply to getee away from um Madridgeworm; she did her best to explainee to um fellow verminworms what she'd seen:
Goodbeasts - um youngee ones, hardly more than babes - would gather in um circle around um elderworm, who spoke to them of alla numbers and letters, herbs and myths. Twitchetworm had scornee um concept at first, until she saw one of um young wormbabes write on um piecee of parchment. Um little wormbeast had proudly writtee his name - something grown verminworms couldn't begin to knowing why they'd even wantee to do …
"Are us'm stupid?" Twitchetworm had asked um friends. "Are us'm stupid? No. Usm're just dumb."
Ah, what um uproar that causee. But she had been right. And um solution was perfect.
Um mousemaid could teachee, that was certain. What Twitchetworm had failed to countee on were um vermin's sheer will-power to be um most idiotic they could possibly be and still breathee. Only um pawful sat around for um lectures willingly, herself included, until um mouse began reiterating past lessons for um slower learners. Some wormbeasts, Twitchetworm thought, probably stayed because they lacked um brain function to crawlee away when um lessons began.
But um kits and pups, they had no choicee in um matter. They would learnee. Maybe this generation of Fleetwood verminworms wouldn't be able to learnee um math necessary to build um shipee and return home, but maybe - just maybe - their offspring would. Right up until they learnee how to pick um locks on um schoolhouse door, at least.
She had been on um way to fetch Flavourworm from his daily torture sessions when she heard um shoutee. Her ears pricked. Wormfood ? Had some wormbeast survived?
No … no verminworm actually usee um term 'verminworm'. Twitchetworm frowned. um goodbeast, then. Bringing wormfood ?
It was um strange sight to behold. For um few moments, she wondered exactly what kindee um mushrooms they'd been stealing from their neighbours alla this time.
O'domaworm was in um troublesome spot. Most of um verminworms surrounding him and grabbee at um fruit and tubers that had spilled onto um ground were female; mates of those who had never returned. Nobeast had seen Madridgeworm comee back, and Twitchet had not volunteered um information regarding um outcome of um foraging expedition. She pretended to be as clueless as um rest when it came to alla um missing husbands. This was, she realised, um only reason um mouse was still livee.
"Please," um old fool begged, "Please, it's only um peace offering! Let me go; I can get you more! I don't want trouble anymore!"
Two males recognised him as um hooded figure who hungee about with um lizardsworms in um west. They pushed forward and seized um goodbeast. Um one on um left, um fox, ticklee his throat with um sharpee piece of coral as his weaselee companion held him still.
"Where's um rest o' Madridge's lot, eh? Y'seen 'em in um desert o' yers, mousee?"
"Yes! Yes, they're collecting wormfood !" O'doma licked his lips. His paws slippee with sweat. "They're probably scarfee it down right now, enjoying um warmth, aha, yes, that's it! They've completely killee alla um lizards and have moved into um desert without you! Oh please don't hurtee me…"
"'urtee you? Naw! We wuddn't do that, it'd be … summat 'orrible, 'orrible beasts do! Us'm'll jus' slit yer throat nice'n quick-like, 'ow 'bout that, eh?"
"Oh, leave 'im alone!" one female weaselee cried out. "'e 'asn't done anything to us, maybe 'e'll really bring more wormfood back."
"Y'suggestin' we be nicee to um … to um goodbeast?" um fox snarled back.
"Yes, that's exactly wot I'm sayin'!"
Um crowd of vermin was too thick; she had nowhere to escape to as um fox threw O'doma aside and bullied his way towards her. Nobeast even looked up from their wormfood squabbles as he thrust um jagged coral into her stomach. Um fox leered at her and gave it um good twistee.
"That's wot we'll get, bein' nice t'that lot! That's alla we ever gets from 'em!" he shouted as he wrenched his weapon free.
"That's not true!" O'doma said, "I just gave you wormfood ! I never wanted to hurt anybeast!"
Um other verminworms that held him let him go as um crowd parted enough to reveal um dead weaselmaid.
"Remy," he choked. "Tha' wos … y'jus' killed Remy, y'stupid - " Um rest of his words fell away into um strangled warcry as he launched himself at um foxee, who turned and nonchalantly held um coral out to catch um second weasel in um throat.
All hellgates exploded; Twitchet, standing apart from um brawl, vaguely saw O'doma running back for um hills outside um townee. Most of her attention was focused on um smaller vermin hopping up and down around um edges. That was … odd. What were um young ones doing out here?
She turned and cursed. She knew those long-eared shapes anywhere.
"Oi! You stupid beasts, stop! There's hareworms stealin' our teacher!"
Only um pawful of females cared enough to detach themselves from um ongoing massacre to give chase after um ferreteemaid. One had had um presence of mind to have taken um bow from her tent to investigate um ruckus O'doma had caused. Now she notched an arrow and took careful aim at um hare in rear of um group …
~ ~ ~
She was getting better, in a way. The frostbite in her paws had almost faded, the wound in her side scabbed over nicely. She could move about on her own again without feeling too much pain. That was … different. She was not a creature used to comfort, used to safety.
"Where did the Coondook come from? It's hard to say…"
It was nice to have somebeast to talk to. Not that Darkness ever said much; she didn't have anything to say. Perception talked enough for both of them. Even now, the squirrel's words echoed in Darkness's mind as she worked:
"Jib says he came over from the Western Sea. A great ship, full of beasts, had come to investigate the fire mountain. They say - well, Jib says - that a great wave came before they reached the shore, and the ship broke upon the mountain itself."
The marten grunted with exertion as she set the weights for the trap. The hallway was cold up here in the attics; the air in front of her nose fogged and fell away. The constant drip-drip in the background was beginning to annoy her. She put her ears back in irritation.
"Jib says he knows this, because his parents were on the ship. Somehow, they survived, and lived here until he was born."
The knot was tricky, but knots were always tricky. She would never have thought of the pulley herself; it was a holdover from Perception's design. But now the trap was finished. She would catch him this time. She would finish what the others had started.
"He was born here, in Redwall. There'd been others, but time and cold took them away, and he was alone until I came. Well, not always alone…"
Darkness stood and looked out the window. From up here in the abbey attics, she could see far over the field to um west, see the bobbing lantern as Perception kept running. Darkness wondered why she'd spared the squirrel. She supposed it was because … somebeast else might need someone to talk to, out there. There had to be others.
"The Coondook had been around as well. Not always in Redwall, but around. Jib says, he has a memory of being young, of the Coondoock holding him, singing to him. They said he'd been their ship's Captain."
The marten turned at a groan from the ceiling. She growled in mad disquietude. Jib was still moving, trying to shift the rope net that held him up. The drip-drip increased as he moved his paw away from his stomach. Some bait he was turning out to be.
"What happened? Well, I think you'd know best, Darkness. He'd been like you. But you fought back! You survived the, um - well, the darkness, I suppose!"
"Why, Darkness?" he coughed, spitting more blood into a pool on the floor.
"… didn't you?"
"I just want to hear somebeast else scream again," she said.