Far away from Redwall, but not too far from Mossflower, there happened to be a not-so-peculiar mousemaid who thirsted for adventure, much to her family's protest, and after enough short quarrels with her family about these awful delusions of grandeur—because the world outside their village was a dangerous place, infested with vermin and starvation besides blackberry scones and swimming holes, and couldn't she see that?—the mousemaid, much like many other not-so-peculiar heroes, packed up a rucksack of rations in secret and snuck away from her family, off to see the world.
She only encountered a problem when she fell into a very peculiar hole.
"Oof! What was that?" the mousemaid said, coughing as she rolled up onto her knees. Her elbows and side burned from hitting the hard stone floor and bouncing down a hard, rocky incline. She blindly groped for her rucksack, whiskers twitching. She was unable to find it. The darkness of the cave had swallowed everything up, and the only thing she could feel was the cold rock beneath her and her burning scrapes.
Everything had been going well on her expedition to see the world until she tried taking a shortcut through a rugged but well-traveled clump of woods, and then everything had gone downhill, no pun intended. The mousemaid had been clambering over a fallen tree branch—marveling at the jagged terrain and trees around her and wondering how the nearby village the otters had pointed her towards managed to exist here—but when she had fell over the other side, she had kept falling. Inky black had swallowed her vision, bottomless air greeted her face and paws, and then bumpy rock after bumpy rock had banged into her back and legs and sides on the way down until she curled up into a ball to lessen the pain. By the time the motion stopped and she dizzily uncurled, she wasn't sure whether she had blacked out on the way down, or where she was.
The sound of soft scrabbling came from behind her, and the mousemaid's fur stood on end. She staggered around, disorientated, trying to find the origin of the noise. The mousemaid held her breath, feeling the stillness. What was that? It had been the faintest patter, a few gentle steps across dry leaves or a bug scratching across the floor… she couldn't place where it had come from, and the gaping expanse of the boundless darkness around her lent no help.
She held her breath for another minute, making sure she wasn't going to hear the quiet scrabbling sounds again. When none came, after making sure her legs weren't going to give out, the mousemaid wobbled to her feet. That had probably just been her imagination, she decided. In someplace this silent, her ears were pulling tricks to convince herself she wasn't alone. She caught herself on a nearby boulder, taking in a deep breath before she steadied herself. With darkness this blinding, it was going to be impossible to find her way to the surface, or get anything done. Find light, she told herself. That was the most important thing right now.
Another clicking noise brushed against her ear, and the mousemaid froze. That one had been louder. Were there bugs down here? Bats, maybe? The floor felt barren and worn down, even for a cave, and though she was cautious where she stepped, she was feeling nothing more than a few pebbles at worst. She didn't know how anything could live down here, even bats. And if there were bats, they were being awfully silent. The mousemaid bit her lip and snuck further forward, trying to stay quiet. She could smell a pip of fresh air in the cave, despite the cool and suppressing darkness, and it was her best bet to head towards it, light or no light to guide her.
She headed towards the smell of fresh air, hurrying when she swore she saw a pinprick of light, when she heard the rustling behind her. The mousemaid lurched to a stop, whirling around. Her tiny claws and the sweep of her tail sounded loud against the rock floor. There was another round of rustling and clicking.
"Who's there?" she called, voice loud and echoing and alone in the expanse of the cave.
Something slithered around her, dragging whispers with it, and she squeezed her eyes shut when a ball of light flared up further down the cave. The mousemaid blinked several times, making sure she wasn't imagining anything. The tap of footsteps and claws approached, and she squinted her eyes and leaned forward as she made out the form of the light: a covered lantern. Pink paws and glimmers of whiskers and dark little eyes gleamed in the shielded light.
"Who are you?" the mousemaid forced out.
A small rat raised the lantern in front of him, revealing his face.
"Someone," he said. "But that's not too important. Are you okay? We heard you falling into the cave. That sounded like it kinda hurt. You're not injured, are you?" he said pleasantly, brow furrowing in concern. "I have bandages, if you need any."
The mousemaid warily eyed the rat in front of her, keeping her distance. He was barely bigger than her, and far younger, but he seemed as nonchalant as anything to be standing in the bottom of a pit. He kept the lantern cradled close to his chest, even though he had lifted it, illuminating bunches of his agouti fur. She couldn't see anything but the glowing rat's face.
"'We'?" she said, narrowing her eyes.
"Me; all of the one," the little rat said. He tilted his head. "What's your name? Are you a little rat? I mean, it's fine if you aren't, because we can't all be rats even though the whole is, but I get them confused sometimes," he said, abruptly preening down his fluffed fur with embarrassment.
The mousemaid cast him an odd look, but his embarrassment deflated some of her tension, and she relaxed. So she had just ran into a strange cave dweller. Things could've been worse. "Oh, no; I'm a mouse," she said, gesturing at herself, and the rat's face fell momentarily. "Sorry to disappoint. My name is…"
She blinked, noticing a flit of movement in the space around the rat. Had that been a stray moth wing? A flit of whiskers? It was gone now, and the rat was still cradling the lantern close to him. She tore her eyes from the void behind him and looked back at his curious face.
"...not important right now," she said. She cleared her throat. There was an odd, musky smell in the air now, tasting like an entire family of damp mice crammed into a tiny cottage together. "Anyway! Introductions aside, what are you doing down here?"
"I live down here," the little rat said. The mousemaid stared in surprise as he pulled one bare paw off the lantern and waved at the cave in general. She felt an uncomfortable tingle crawl up her spine as something tickled her ears. "All of the one does, too, not just a one. It's a bit dark, but it's nice when you get used to it. Visitors don't always like it, though. We try to make them comfortable as we can."
His claws pressed against the lantern, momentarily glowing like delicate orange sickles.
"But everyone gets used to it. Speaking of visitors, I'm sorry for being so rude! You're one of our visitors now, and I didn't even offer you biscuits or tea or anything." He fidgeted in his distress, and the lantern wavered; the mousemaid caught sight of more slithers and patches of movement behind him. Had that been a ring? "Are you hungry? Do you like biscuits? We have plenty of biscuits; three fourths of the whole likes biscuits but I love them. Especially ones with fruit pieces in them. And we have tea." He crept a step closer to her. "It would be really nice if you came and sat down for tea. There hasn't been a mouse visitor here in a while."
The mousemaid waved him off, trying not to get distracted by the flashes of… something… behind him. The mouse-family-crammed-into-a-tiny-house smell was stronger now, but more rank and musky, and she could pick up faint sounds of clicking and whispering that set her teeth on edge.
"No thank you," she said. The mousemaid tried to focus. "Look, could you just tell me the way out of here?" she said, and her eye was drawn to a glimmer a few feet above the little rat's head. That had been something sharp. More than one glimmer of something sharp. "I'd love to stay, but I have to go now. Adventuring things."
"Are you sure you can't stay?" the little rat said. He was standing still, but the sounds of footsteps, scraping claws, and slithering, whispering rustling was increasing behind him. The mousemaid caught glimpses of shifting fur in the edge of the lantern light. "All of the one would love to hear about your adventuring. We don't get out much. It's not a hassle when there's one of us but with all of us it is. And you can't go adventuring without your bag!" he proclaimed.
The bag shifted out of the darkness, levitating in the lantern light three feet about the little rat's head. The mousemaid gawked. He was still holding his lantern and looking at her with, pleased at her reaction.
"We're sure your bag has important things, so we made sure to catch it so you didn't lose it! Sorry that some of the food fell out, though," the little rat said, raising her lantern to better show the mousemaid her bag.
He uncovered the top of the lantern. A firefly field of glowing eyes came into view.
The shining eyes writhed in and out of sight, burrowing beneath or above another piled body in their moving to give another squirming rat sight. Their gleaming expanse wrapped around both cave walls, almost curving behind her, and the mousemaid stared at the grotesquely whispering and shifting mass of rats that filled the space behind the little one, a humungous, twisting ball of intertwined limbs and bodies that heaved and pulsed like a ball of worms.
"We would very much like it if you had tea with us, if you don't mind," all of them said, speaking simultaneously in a choir of varying pitches and tones. Slick backs slid beneath slick bellies and wormed up into different positions in the condensed mass. Their long incisors flashed when they spoke, and the mousemaid realized that those were the shiny glimmers she had been glimpsing. Faint black rings flashed along the surface of tied-together tails, sliding over the surface of the rat ball like revealed tendons.
"We would, really," the littlest rat said, piping up after them, and the mousemaid stared as she noticed his tail trailing into the mass, a string attaching him to the constantly churning mob. It seemed unnaturally long. Then she realized his tail was tied to another rat's tail, the latter which vanished into the ball. "We all get lonely together."
The mousemaid regained her voice after the little rat lowered his lantern and covered it, displaying only himself, her bag, and flashes of the flesh sea behind him.
"What are you?" she whispered.
"We're not sure," the rat king answered, all of them as mild as a spring day. "We are A One made of lots of a ones. Half of the whole thinks they know, and the other half of the whole doesn't, but we don't like to argue with us, so we don't discuss that. Arguing leads to hurt feelings. But we all got used to us."
The slim, scratched paws holding her bag out of the mass waved it.
"Now are you going to sit down at the tea table or not? We would prefer you did; you look dead on your feet! We don't want you to collapse," they said. "But we could catch you. Or carry you, if you're tired."
Hundreds of disembodied arms sprouted from the mass of the rat ball, waving like filthy pink branches of a sentient, hand-gifted anemone. They lurched out to fill the space around them with surprising speed and a rustle of bodies pouring over the floor.
"...I would rather walk to the tea table," the mousemaid said.
The arms recoiled, larvae pulling back into their honeycombed dens, and the little rat smiled.
"This way," he said, waving forward, and the mousemaid hesitated at the portions of the writhing rats she could see around him before she crept forward to follow him.
Once the mousemaid moved, the bulk of the rat king promptly reoriented itself behind her. She swallowed, speeding up to join the little rat's side and glancing at the bobbing miniature torches of eyeshine behind her.
"The tea table is right back here," the little rat explained, taking them by a few shells of unlit lanterns and scattered trinkets on the floor. They wound further and further back into the cave. "It has to be a bit further back so rain doesn't soak it whenever there's a flood." He wrinkled his nose. "It's never fun, getting wet; a third of the whole likes it but I don't—oh!"
He squeaked in surprise when the mousemaid tripped, sending something hard and spiky clattering across the floor, and in her haste to stay in front of the blob of rats, grabbed the little rat's paw to haul herself forward. She was trying not to shake as she heard the wave of skittering bodies behind her, and her paw tightened around his like a vice. The quietest cacophony of whispers and clicking teeth bombarded her ears and the faintest breaths of hundreds brushed against the hairs on the back of her neck and traced up her vertebrae.
"You might want to watch your step," the little rat burst out, and his wrung his paw around the lantern handle as his ears flushed and he looked anywhere but his and the mousemaid's clasped paws. "T-there's a shift in the floor. Before the tea table. We're there!" he proclaimed, and the mousemaid wasn't sure whether she was imaging the relief in his voice when they approached a small, round tea table set with two chairs.
At any rate, she understood the relief when the sea of the rat king passed by her after pulling back a chair for her in their wake. They left to join their side of the tea table, ceasing their breathing and staring down her back. She eased out a long exhale and slumped in her chair. Across from her, the little rat settled in his own chair after putting the lantern down in the middle of the table, and the humming mass of the rat king found a seat in their own space. They spoke up, conversing in bunches and dropping the unison in their voices.
"Get the tea."
"And the biscuits."
"We should give her back her bag first, you know."
"We're getting on that; if I were her I'd want food before my bag."
"You're younger, of course you would. But return it to her already. She's not like you who has me and all of the fourth older and the whole to look after you."
The bag popped free of the mass again, and an overreaching wave of rat offered it to the mousemaid. She shrank back before she could help herself, and the rats quickly retracted with some murmurs before three paws passed the bag to the littlest rat, and he offered it to her instead.
"What would you like to drink?" he said, gesturing at her empty cup once she had cradled her bag to her chest. The table was set with two well-used saucers and chipped tea cups, and a wrinkled and slightly stained lacy tablecloth was spread over it, a few tears in the sides. "We have more than one type of tea. Do you like blackberry, strawberry, mint, or plain?"
"Mint is fine," the mousemaid said. The lantern had been uncapped, and now the mousemaid had a near full view of the rat king's shifting figure again. They churned with particular enthusiasm as they moved to fix the tea, conferring in undertone with each other in an effort not to speak above the littlest rat.
There was a clatter as several paws lowered a plate of dry biscuits onto the table and the rat king began passing plates around in their mass, the chipped surfaces gleaming in the space between dark fur like lost pieces of bone.
"Might we ask where you're from?" the rat king said. "Tea is done," added the littlest rat, and in the back of the cave, five shrill whistles that had been building in pitch reached their climax. The metal kettle with the mint tea was passed up to the table, and the other four tea pots were distributed amongst the rat king.
"I'm… from further up north than here," the mousemaid said, trying to focus as the littlest rat poured her a cup of tea and then one for himself, gently pushing the tray of biscuits towards her. She automatically took a biscuit. Behind the littlest rat, a whirlwind of levitating tea cups, saucers, biscuit trays, and biscuit trays clattered and floated their way through the mire of limbs and tails, making sure everyone got a share, and the cracking of sharp teeth finding the surface of tea biscuits echoed throughout the cave like so many soft fireworks being set off. "Outside of Mossflower."
"Really?" the little rat said, dishing himself out a biscuit, but politely leaving it on his saucer after a few nibbles when he saw their guest wasn't eating. Most of the rat king was attempting to stay quiet with their snacking. "Three fifths of the whole come from Mossflower, but the two fifths that don't always love to hear about it," the rat king said. "That's where most of our guests come from, aside from a few wanderers. Did you come adventuring through it?"
"I was just starting out on my adventure, actually," the mousemaid said, glancing at the few stray beads, buttons, and varied scraps of cloth scattered around the room and that were visible in the uncovered lantern light. There were things she couldn't make out around the feet of the rat king. "I didn't get to to go far. Where are the… two fifths from?"
"One fifth is from the coast, and the other fifth is from the north or the forests around there," the rat king said. "But they're nice; they're not pirates," the little rat said, brushing some crumbs from his whiskers. "Or mean hordebeasts. Not anymore. They weren't that mean to start with; we don't like mean guests. It might be cruel to say this, but… we're rather relieved when they're gone. Do you like the biscuits?" the littlest rat said.
"I see," the mousemaid said. Her foot bumped against something hard and curved under the table, and she bit her lip to keep silent as a few emptied shells of tea cups were spat out of the conglomerate of bodies and neatly shoved aside onto a shelf. She forced herself to take a bite of the biscuit. The sweet cracker went to pieces in her mouth. "It's very good. Thank you."
"Really? You think so?" The littlest rat said, beaming. He rubbed his head, resorting to all manners of preening and busying himself to try and look composed. "I made them myself. I'm glad you think they're good. Everyone else says that, but I can't tell if they're just trying to be nice or not."
The mousemaid blinked, staring at him.
"Wait, you made these?" She didn't know which everyone else he was referring to, because if it wasn't the rest of the rat king, it brought up plenty of questions with unpleasant answers.
"Well, I got all the things together and started it," the little rat said, dipping his head and snuggling his muzzle down into his chest. "Everyone else helped me. We make biscuits together. It's really fun! Maybe you could try and make some with us sometime?" he offered, ears flushing again.
"Maybe," the mousemaid said, trying to ignore how the lantern light glowed through the ragged ears of all the rats moving behind him, lighting up their red veins and pale pink cups of ears among the squirm of fur and legs. The littlest rat abruptly had trouble sitting still and looking at her.
"Do you have any family?" the rat king asked, picking up the slack for him when nothing was said in a minute. "Honey with your tea?" the littlest rat offered, recovering once he saw the mousemaid hadn't touched her drink.
"No thank you," the mousemaid lied, already seeing part of the rat mass twitching towards a honey bowl on a shelf, and she was relieved when they stopped. She made herself take a drink of the warm mint tea. "I have five siblings; three sisters and two brothers. I'm the middle one. Living with a big family is… difficult," she said, watching the rat king shuffle positions again.
"It is, sometimes."
"Your mobility can be limited."
"You have to arrange everything or you get stuck somewhere-like in this cave. But we like our home."
"It's a good thing we're many in one instead of being just ones again. That'd be dreadful."
"I'm sure your family is lovely," began one rat, "but we like being a whole instead of many pretending to be a whole," the rat king finished, their voices joining together in unison, a thrumming chorus. "Your family must be proud of you. You're brave, to go out and leave them to adventure, all on your own."
"Not quite," the mousemaid said. "I think I upset them by leaving. I wasn't the prettiest or most talented out of my siblings either—my oldest sister and younger brother had that in the bag—but I don't think they'll miss me too much, since they have enough siblings and children to make up for it."
She kicked away the hard thing under the table. It felt curved, smooth, and brittle. The light shifted, the barest waft of air pushing it, and the mousemaid noticed the piles of dried, broken bones heaped around the cave and table. Gnawed apart ribs, skulls, limbs, and vertebrae of all species, woodlander and vermin, lay spread across the floor like beads from a snapped necklace, small snowdrifts of marrow that compensated for a lack of dust. The mousemaid's heart bumped up in her throat, where it had been the whole conversation.
"Don't say that," the rat king said, and it leaned towards the table, filled with comforting reassurance. "Of course they're very proud of you. You're their daughter and sister, after all. And I think you're very pretty," the little rat added shyly, and suddenly, he was busied with drinking his tea.
"But no matter," the rat king said, clinking their tea tableware as they drank and preened with satisfaction, speaking up while the littlest rat tried to hide his bashfulness in a cup. "You don't have to tell us everything now. We're going to have plenty of time to hear about your family and the adventures you were planning to have while you're here. There's no rush for you to go anywhere, after all. As if you are."
The mousemaid let out a breath and sat down her tea cup. The mire of dark in the cave flickered.
"So you're not going to let me out?"
"Well of course not," the rat king said, all of them clicking their teeth in chastisement. It was the sound of twenty tiny steel jaws going off one by one, and their clusters of beady eyes glowed. The little rat they had sent out as a representative and sat down in the chair at the stocked tea table turned his head with them, his tail hanging behind him. It vibrated from the movement sent through it by the other tail tied to it, a fishing line of blood and bone that kept him tethered to the rat king mass.
"It gets lonely down here, you see, what with only one of us, and very busy when there's all of us, and we need someone to talk to while the half is bored and the fourth isn't hungry," the rat king said. "Guests don't come often. Are you comfortable?" the littlest rat in the chair said, helpfully raising a paw. "I could go get a cushion, if you're not."
The entire writhing mass of rats and slick bodies behind him churned in preparation to go retrieve a cushion, hundreds of legs skittering like so many dying millipedes tied into a clump.
"I'd rather you didn't," the mousemaid said swiftly.
"Oh," the littlest rat said. "Okay."
The ball behind him went back to rolling over each other with their tied tails sliding over the surface of the whispering rat ball now and then. The mousemaid glanced at the barren walls of the cave and the scratch marks coating the surface, and scattered slivers of bone.
"…what happens when the fourth gets hungry?"
"We eat you," the rat king said plainly, each voice speaking in unison. "All of us. Or, well, the fourth of us that is hungry; sometimes it's a fifth, but if that's so, we try to at least fit in the sponge cake for desert for the guest first. It's rude to cut tea time short for the minority. We don't always get enough food down here to feed all of us, and you can't live off sweets alone, you know. Special biscuit with your tea?" the littlest rat at the table offered, raising a cracker. "They've got strawberry pieces in them."
One of the dried ribs lying on the floor cracked beneath a rat's foot.
The mousemaid swallowed.
"I'd rather not," she said. "But thank you for the offer." She rose out of her chair, swiftly pushing it in and throwing her bag over her shoulder. "I think that it's best I go now."
"But we haven't even talked about you joining yet!" the little rat said, crestfallen, and an heaving tide of murmurs accelerated the pace of the rat king's churning. Darker, more concentrated whispers spilled from their center.
"We invite all of our rat guests to join. We can't invite in any of the others, but they're not rats, so well, nothing we can do about that. They're very nice to talk to before we get hungry, though."
"Most of the rats say yes."
"If they don't, well, we eat them or send them on their way. But none of them who have joined regret it." The rat king swelled.
"We're very happy to be one. We were scared, before, but you get to used it. You'll wonder how you ever got along without being part of the whole."
"But she's a mouse," a nasal voice interjected, and the rat king spread out along the walls, curling around and behind the mousemaid like an inky cloud, and she kept backing up. The little rat sat up, the daydreaming look on his voice immediately gone.
"She's close enough to a rat!" he protested as he was slowly swallowed up. "She has the tail for it; we could still tie her in!"
"A fourth of this doesn't think this is a good plan," part of the rat king said, voices more matured and deeper or huskier, "and that has just turned into a third. We need time to consider this; a sixth is reminding you that we've never done this with any mice before."
"But there's a first time for everything, isn't there?" another group trilled, the vanished littlest rat speaking with them.
As the rat king's voices splintered into factions and bounced between debating groups and a single entity, the mousemaid snatched the lantern from the table, clutched her bag strap to her, and turned tail and ran. She heard the shout from the littlest rat, joined by the protesting harmony of the rat king, and the wave of scrambling footsteps and claws on floor that rolled after her, but she didn't look back.
The mousemaid ran through the cave, feet pounding on the rock and lantern bobbing in front of her, crazily illuminating the scarred rocks and piles of bones and torn belongings before her arm jarred the light elsewhere. She could hear her own frantic breathing and heartbeat overlaid with the scrambled noises of the rat king behind her. Her bag bounced up and down against her back, urging her to run faster, and she wove around the twisted curves and boulders in the cave, desperately searching for a way out.
Her attempts at escaping were woefully cut short.
In one surge, the rat king flooded around her. They flowed in front of her, blocking her passage in a living wall of interlocked flesh and frames, and she staggered back as they hissed, tossing her to and fro between their currents as they tried to come to a stop, a raging wave crashing against a wall. She backed away once she had regained her balance, watching them rise up to their full height, a pile of stacked, churning carcasses and gleaming eyes and teeth.
"That wasn't very polite," the rat king said. The littlest rat had been swallowed up inside of them, and there wasn't a singular body in sight. All were one and none were one. "But since most of our guests try this, we'll let it pass. Not all of them are so considerate while we're having tea."
The mousemaid stared up at the thing in front of her, transfixed by its ever shifting movements. She managed to choke out, "Let me go."
The rat king snipped its teeth in disapproval, beginning the displeased clatter of incisors again. "'Let you go'? You act like we dragged you into this hole. Please don't act like that. Come on, now, you have to understand our reasoning," they whispered, half apologetic as they stretched their jaws. "We have many to feed and keep entertained, and as fond of you as we are already, well, we can't let every guest go, can we?"
We can't let every guest go. She remembered the pinprick of light and smell of fresh air, and something clicked in the mousemaid's brain.
"You're only stopping me because there's an exit, aren't you?" she said. The mousemaid steadied herself, rising up to her full short height—something still dwarfed by the rat king—as she stared up at its astronomical pool of beady eyes.
"Let's play a game," she said. The rat king cocked its ears, one pink gnawed ear after another turning.
"Oh? Are we playing the 'if I win at three riddles you'll let me out' game? Or the 'I'm going to try to trick you into telling me where the way out is' game? Or the 'give me a certain amount of time to escape and if I lose you get my life' game? You don't seem mean or rude enough for the 'we're going to attack you to try and get the directions out of you' game. That one isn't very fun. We don't like that one. And we always, always win at that one and the first two," the rat king said, their chorus splintering, and the mousemaid heard the voices and accents of rats of all ages and places. "But..."
The surface of the rat king slowly turned with sliding, tied-together tails.
"We would like to see you go on an adventure. Even though we need to eat. And telling a guest they can't leave without any playing any game at all or not giving them a chance to do so is rude. So we'll make you a deal," the rat king said. Ten arms pushed free from the mass, cupping their palms and turning them upwards. "Right now, a sixth is hungry. We'll let you look for the way out with that lantern until the whole is hungry. If that happens and you're not out, we'll eat you. But, if you've found the exit, we'll let you go."
The ten arms pulled back into the rat king, and a single one emerged, reaching beseechingly towards her in an offer for a shake.
The mousemaid looked up at the tower of gleaming eyes, squashed bodies, and curved claws and ropey tails in front of her.
She and the singular paw shook. She glimpsed the melancholy eyes of the little rat inside the tangled web of fur before he pulled back and disappeared.
The rat king shifted aside, pouring back down the cave and allowing the mousemaid access to the tunnel. She felt the air from their movement brush against her face, sweet as tea biscuits and sour as rotting flesh.
"Let's start the game, then," the rat king said. "Better hurry. The hungry sixth is going to be a hungry fifth soon."
The mousemaid glanced back at the many eyes watching her before took a deep breath. She raised her lantern, casting a pool of yellow light on the nearby scratched boulder, and started down the dark passage before her with the rat king trailing behind.
A.N.: Ah, yes! Hello, Redwall archive! It's been a while. I've been a bit busy, but I had to drop in to leave an idea that had been growing with me for a while. I'm rather busy at the moment—and I'm two chapters away from finishing the rough draft of my original novel story, which is exiting!—but this brief little tale is one that has to be told. Apologies for it being a little rough and in need of some editing. But I hope you enjoy. —MS