CHAPTER 7: EXIT RUNNING
AUTHOR'S NOTE: This is the last chapter. I had some trouble writing it, I hope it makes sense. The character of Prake comes from TFWD. The brief mention of the Ilips is also a reference to TFWD.
"The truth will set you free, but first it will piss you off."
The General was slowly waking up. He groaned in pain; his limbs felt week. The ground under him felt unusually hard, as if he was lying on a rock. He opened his eyes and saw that it was not an ordinary rock, but a weird arrangement of square stones placed one next to each other like a grid. He wanted to scratch his ear, but strangely, his hind legs couldn't reach it. He took a look at one of his front paws, and saw with horror that it did not have any fur on it (it did, however, have unusually long toes with dirty nails). Barely muffling a scream, he stood up on his hind legs, and realized to his horror that he was inside a human burrow. There were many things he had never seen before in his life, and there was a gun right next to where he was lying. What he noticed next was the worst of all: his entire body was changed. It was covered with large, dirty, colourful pieces of fur that didn't even feel like fur, and he was much larger than before. He had turned into a human.
In a state of terror, he grabbed the gun and ran out of the building screaming. He stepped inside a snare and fell to the ground. He shook it off and got back up. He was determined to capture Silverweed and force him to give him his rabbit body back. It was only then that he saw it, lying in the grass further away. And a voice came from it:
-"No! Please don't kill me! Please! If you let me have my body back, I swear I'll never trap any more rabbits! I swear to God I won't!"
-"Who are you?" shouted the General's human body. "What are you doing in my body? And who in Frith's name is God?"
-"You mean...we had our bodies switched? YOU are the rabbit whose body I am in now?"
-"I guess you're right, human! It's the fault of that embleer rabbit Silverweed! Do you know where I can find him? Speak up! Do you want a little black stone inside you?"
-"I...I heard him leave...with all the others...he was saying something about Prince Rainbow's warren...whatever that means..."
-"All right! I'll get him back, and I swear, by Frith and the Black Rabbit of Inlé, that I will have revenge against him, once I get my body back!"
-"You mean...you're not going to kill me?"
The General paused for a moment. He always wanted to kill as many elil as possible, and now he had the opportunity to kill the most dangerous one of all: a human. But he brushed away the idea.
-"No, I won't. Don't misunderstand me, I would love to, but if I want to get my body back, I don't want to get it back with a black stone inside it! So STAY HERE, DON'T MOVE, KEEP MY BODY ALIVE, AND I'LL BE BACK BEFORE YOU CAN COUNT TO HRAIR!"
He then dropped his gun and started running towards the warren of Prince Rainbow. It was much harder than expected, as the human body he was trapped in was not very good at smelling, preventing him from identifying any familiar scents. Also, he saw the world from a much higher perspective than ever before, rendering all visual clues he knew useless.
The farmer in Woundwort's body, meanwhile, was completely tharn. Slowly walking across the grass, not thinking about where he was going, he got trapped in one of the snares he himself had placed there. Since there were no other rabbits nearby to dig out the peg, he slowly suffocated to death.
Meanwhile at Prince Rainbow's warren, the rabbits were worried about the sudden absence of Cowslip and Woundwort. They also had another, much bigger problem to worry about: Fiver and Vilthuril had been gone for a long time. What if something bad had happened to them? Just as Hazel was about to leave to search for them, a human arrived. His worst fears were dismissed when he realized that the human wasn't carrying the bodies of Fiver and Vilthuril, but he was still a threat to the warren, especially since he had a gun. Hazel stamped and went back underground.
-"I'm afraid that this will be your final challenge," explained Prince Rainbow. "The Black Rabbit is unable to continue his work and Frith ordered him to go on vacation. And he chose me to replace Inlé-rah in his absence. It's quite a nuisance, but I am forced to obey."
-"Oh, yes, and I suppose the Black Rabbit also sent this human here to allow you to practice with a few of us?" joked Bluebell.
-"No, the human came of his own free will. Apparently those fireballs I threw yesterday attracted his attention."
-"You mean humans actually think?" asked Hyzenthlay.
-"They have the ability to think, but unfortunately they don't use it often enough. Anyway, your last challenge is to get rid of him. It can't be done by fighting of fair words. You will have to trick him. The one who succeeds in getting him away wins the entire competition."
The three remaining rabbits looked at each other.
-"I have no idea how we're going to do this..."
-"Maybe we could use the dog at the farm?"
-"How about digging under his feet so he will collapse?"
-"No, it's tied with a chain, now."
-"Let's just stay here until he goes away."
-"Maybe get Bigwig to fight him?"
-"No, humans never hurry. They are so embleer slow!"
They kept arguing until suddenly, they heard squealing coming from above ground. Hazel peaked out of a tunnel and saw Cowslip running blindly across the field. The human aimed at him and a shot rang out. The bullet found its way in Cowslip's side, making him squeal in agony and collapse. This was followed by loud rumbling from the sky. Hazel immediately ran back underground.
-"Nobody go above ground," he said. "The Black Rabbit is coming."
-"Which one of us will stop running?" asked Bluebell.
At that moment, they heard a few voices coming from outside.
-"No! Please, don't take me just yet!" begged Cowslip.
-"I'm afraid it's time," said the Black Rabbit emotionlessly. "You have led a bad life, but you still have a chance. Come with me on my vacation."
-"But...where are we going?"
-"Do you realize what you just did? You asked me where. You never would have been able to do this before. It's time, now. Let it go and run with me."
Cowslip's spirit then left his body and followed the Black Rabbit, passing right through the feet of another human, who had arrived just moments before.
-"Oh, my friend, you have no idea what just happened!" said the first human, all shaken up. "A black rabbit dropped from the sky and left with the soul of this rabbit I just shot."
-"WHERE'S SILVERWEED?" shouted the second human.
-"Silverwhat? What are you talk..."
-"SHUT UP AND GIVE ME THAT GUN! HOW DOES THAT THING WORK?"
As Woundwort ripped the gun out of the farmer's hands and started touching the various parts of it, trying to figure out how to fire it, Fiver and Vilthuril arrived. After staring with horror at the two humans, they bolted underground. Despite everything he had just witnessed, the farmer still saw the rabbits as a threat to his garden. He recognized them as the same two he thought he had killed back at the farm, and he was ready to try again.
-"They're over there!" he shouted. "Shoot 'em!"
After roughly handling the gun for a few moments, Woundwort finally placed his finger on the trigger, firing a bullet straight upwards. However, the recoil knocked him down. While on the ground, he fired several more bullets in random directions, none of them hitting any rabbits, until he ran out of ammunition.
-"There's more!" said the farmer, pointing to a large crowd of rabbits who had just arrived. Silverweed had successfully lead all his friends to the warren.
Ignoring the farmer, Woundwort tried to get up, only to receive a fireball in the face, knocking him back down.
-"General, now don't you think you've already caused enough trouble already?" said Prince Rainbow, throwing several more fireballs, until Woundwort finally fell unconscious. "You already incapacitated the Black Rabbit, and now you're shooting me! How do you expect the world to keep going if there's nobody left to ferry the souls to the land beyond life?"
At the moment, another group of rabbits arrived at the outskirts of the woods. Blackberry and the rest of the the patrol from Watership Down had reached their destination. Bluebell, who had been spying on the scene from the end of Vilthuril's tunnel, went back underground to notify the other four rabbits of the rescuers' arrival. All five immediately ran above ground.
-"Friends, this experiment has served its purpose," declared Prince Rainbow. "It is now official that it is not a good idea to release tame rabbits into the wilderness."
-"Except that this was already a known fact," said Blackberry. "I remember that spring back at Sandleford warren. Many hlessil arrived, saying they had been released by humans. Every day, several did not come back from silflay. Elil must have killed them all..."
-"Well, let's just consider this another proof of this sad truth."
-"I really don't see what all this has to do with these challenges we went through," said Hazel.
-"That's because we all know that this was not the real purpose of this experiment," said Fiver.
-"Are you calling me a liar?" shouted Prince Rainbow. "How dare you, you impudent runt!"
-"Don't you dare talk about Fiver like that!" said Vilthuril. "But since you're not going to tell us why you did this, I will. You thought we were getting too heroic and too famous. We were staining your reputation."
-"Long ago," continued Fiver, "there was a human who learned about our adventures. How he found out, I have no idea, but he decided to share our adventures with other humans. He wanted to show humanity what rabbits are really like, to replace all the stereotypes humans had invented."
-"And so he told our story using something humans call a "book". The book retelling our adventures became really popular. Other humans even re-enacted the story several times, with some changes each time. Hrair humans, all over the world, even on the other side of the Big Water, learned about our lives. They also learned of a few of the heroic exploits of our legendary hero El-ahrairah in the process, which were also retold in the book."
-"But what they learned wasn't positive," said Fiver with a sigh. "They heard all about how you kept El-ahrairah prisoner in the Marshes of Kelfazin, and how you sent Hufsa to spy on him, Prince Rainbow. Many years later, humans learned of your good deeds, such as how you gave El-ahrairah the charmed collar that kept him safe from the Ilips, but by that point it was too late, your reputation was irreversibly damaged."
-"By Frith, they're right," whispered Hyzenthlay.
-"You blamed us for all this," continued Vilthuril, "since humans learned about it because of our adventures, so you decided to have revenge on us. However, you seem to overlook the fact that this is all your fault, since you're the one who acted wickedly in the first place. You absolutely deserve your negative reputation."
-"And that is the real reason behind these challenges. It is true that tame bunnies can't survive in the wilderness, but that's not the reason behind all this."
Prince Rainbow remained silent for a few moments, before throwing a fireball in the middle of the crowd of rabbits. Everyone bolted out of the way just in time.
-"You realize," said Threar, "that by doing that just now you essentially confessed to the whole thing?"
-"Uh, I have to go now," said Prince Rainbow rather awkwardly. "You are all free to go back to your respective warrens. Former rabbits of Cowslip's, you may take this warren as your own: I have no need for it anymore, now that this experiment is finished. So, uh...farewell!"
As he finished talking, Prince Rainbow dissolved into a single beam of bright light, which then vanished into the sky. The rabbits were free.
-"Wh...what just happened?" asked Hazel in disbelief. "What was all that talk of stories and reputations?"
-"I'll explain everything once we're back at Watership Down," said Hyzenthlay as she nuzzled him.
At that moment, Campion, Nelthilta and most of the Efrafran owsla arrived. It had taken Campion a long time to convince the council that they had no choice but to invade Prince Rainbow's warren, and a long time to get there, since nobody had a clear idea of the warren's location.
-"What happened?" said Nelthilta. "I just saw a bright..."
-"Prince Rainbow is gone, Nelthilta," said Hazel. "I don't know exactly what happened, but he's gone now."
-"You see what I mean?" screamed the rebel councillor. "That fool Campion dragged us all the way here for nothing! Efrafa needs a better chief than him!"
-"I've had just about enough of your constant accusations!" shouted Campion.
-"You're trying to censor me! My complaints are legitimate, but you don't like them, so you abuse your power to keep me silent."
While the two rabbits were in the middle of a fierce argument, the farmer sat down in the grass and placed his head between his hands.
-"I'm going mad..." he mumbled. "I see a huge rainbow, talking rabbits, one of whom has a soul...it's just like in that TV show young Lucy watches sometimes, I forget the title...something about boats, ships..."
-"Mr Cane, you know too much about this!" shouted Prince Rainbow as he dropped from the sky. "You must forget!" He shot a rainbow at his forehead, knocking him unconscious and erasing his memories of the day.
-"Hey, Prince, while you're here, do you mind throwing one last fireball at this troublemaker over there?" said Nelthilta, gesturing at the rebel councillor. Prince Rainbow promptly obliged, but the fireball knocked both the councillor and Campion unconscious. "No you idiot, not Campion, just the other one! Don't you ever do anything right?"
-"Don't worry, they will both wake up tonight. Farewell forever!" With that, he vanished upwards again, for the last time.
The rabbits remained silent for a few moments, trying to make sense of what had just happened.
They could have -"Well, since there's clearly nothing left for us to do here, we'll be going back to Efrafa, I guess," said Nelthilta. "We'll have to carry Campion back, since he's in no state to walk right now."
-"What about this other fellow?" an officer asked.
-"I think I know just what you should do with him. Something that would prevent him from ever doing any more damage..." said Bluebell.
The ground was uncomfortably cold. The buck slowly woke up and realized that he was underground. However, the burrow looked nothing like those in Efrafa.
He wandered through the runs, searching for an exit, before finally making it above ground. It was fu Inlé, and a few rabbits were out at a late silflay. His fears were realized: he really was not in Efrafa, but in another warren. What was he doing there?
-"Hiya!" came the voice of another rabbit. He turned around and saw a large doe, as large as him, approach. "I'm glad you're finally awake. How are you liking it, here at Thinial?"
-"Thinial? So that's what this place is called? Would you mind telling me how I got here?"
-"A large group of rabbits brought you here earlier this evening, and told us you were going to live here. Their leader was called Nelthilta, I think."
The former councillor cursed under his breath about how the Efrafans had kicked him out of his warren.
-"Would you mind taking me to your Chief Rabbit? I would like to talk to him."
-"You're talking to her right now. My name is Prake."
-"You? Chief Rabbit? But...but you're a doe!"
-"When Thinial was established, it was decided that this warren would be ruled by does. My former partner as Chief was also a doe, and our owsla is made up entirely of does. But I'm sure you will like it here. We do our best to make sure all rabbits here, does and bucks alike, lead positive and enjoyable lives."
The buck's ears drooped to the sides of his head. Not only had the Efrafans kicked him out, but now he was doomed to live in a place where he would never be able to hold a position of power again. What supreme humiliation!
That evening at Watership Down, nearly all the rabbits in the warren were together in the Honeycomb, as they listened to Fiver and Hyzenthlay tell the story of their imprisonment in Prince Rainbow's warren, with the others adding occasional details.
-"It really sounds like you all went through a lot," said Thethuthinnang once they had finished. "I'm glad you all made it out of there alive."
-"It's nice to see the former rabbits of Cowslip's warren managed to start a new life," said Sandwort. "They were a really nasty lot, from what I heard, hopefully they will change now."
-"There's just one thing I don't understand," wondered Blackberry. "What happened to General Woundwort? From what you've said, he was still there yesterday, but he mysteriously vanished overnight. Shouldn't we be worried that he might launch another assault on us?"
-"I hope he won't be causing more problems," said Clover. "Especially after what Prince Rainbow made all of us go through..."
-"Actually, we do know what happened," explained Fiver. "I had a talk with Silverweed before leaving the warren, and he said that he put Woundwort's mind in the body of the second human who arrived at the warren. Not the one from Nuthanger Farm, the other one."
-"But won't that make him even more dangerous?" said Nyreem, horrified. "Not only does he retain his ancient hatred and desire for conquest and destruction, but now he also has all human weapons and machines at his disposal."
-"I don't think you have anything to worry about, Nyreem," said Hyzenthlay reassuringly. "None of the other humans will take him seriously when he claims to be a rabbit warrior who wants to destroy a warren of rabbits on Watership Down. They will think he's insane."
-"They might even send him to an asylum, just like in Pipkin's story," joked Bluebell.
-"That's probably exactly what's going to happen," said Vilthuril.
A while later, Hazel went above ground. He approached Hyzenthlay, who was lying on the edge of the Down, feeling the soft breeze through her fur, with Thethuthinnang, Vilthuril and Fiver by her side. He lied down next to them and started to nibble the clover.
-"I'm still wondering what happened with Prince Rainbow," he said, "why he brought us to his warren for the challenges. I don't understand Fiver and Vilthuril's explanation at all."
-"I had trouble with it at first," said Fiver. "It's a good thing Vilthuril is very patient, or I never would have understood it either."
-"You're too hard on yourself, Fiver," said Vilthuril. "But once you understand it, Hazel, you will see just how amazing it is."
-"It's something about how humans know about our identities, but think we don't exist. I'm having some trouble with it too," confessed Thethuthinnang.
-"Hyzenthlay, you said you would explain it all to me once we were back home," reminded Hazel. "Could you please do it now?"
-"I'll do my best to explain it. What's really amazing is that so far, none of the humans actually managed to figure out the truth. Nobody figured out we are real, they all think we don't really exist, like Thethuthinnang said. That's because..."
-"Look out!" shouted Fiver as he bolted away from the rest of the group. Before anyone else could react, they found themselves tackled by Clover's four kittens, who started tickling their ears.
-"I forgot how rough kittens can be," moaned Hazel. "It's been so long since our litter grew up."
-"We should have another one at some point," said Hyzenthlay.
Fiver looked at his friends as they were being tickled. After a few moments, he hopped over to Vilthuril and pushed the kitten off her back. After nuzzling her, he took the kitten in his mouth and hopped away.
-"Hey! What about the rest of us?" shouted Thethuthinnang.
-"Don't worry, I'll come back with help," said Fiver, dropping the kitten in the process. She ran away and entered the warren through a nearby tunnel.
Further away, two other rabbits were looking at the scene.
-"Looks like we'll have to chase your kittens again," one of them said.
-"You're right about that, Blackberry," replied the other one. "But chasing kittens all day is so much better than being kept prisoner by Prince Rainbow. Or in a hutch."
-"That's true. But honestly, Clover...I'm just glad you're alive. Most hutch rabbits who end up in the wilderness don't live very long. It's great you haven't fallen victim to elil over the past set of seasons."
-"Prince Rainbow really is evil, isn't he? Leading me far from Watership Down where elil could kill me more easily..."
It was at that moment that Fiver arrived, followed by Vilthuril.
-"So...you see what they're up against," he said, pointing towards the spot where Hyzenthlay, Thethuthinnang and Hazel were still being tickled. "Help?"
-"We're coming," said Blackberry as he ran towards the group, with Clover, Vilthuril and Fiver following closely. Life at Watership Down had some challenges, but it also brought freedom, equality and, most of all, happiness, for all rabbits living there. Things none of them would ever want to give up.
-"No, you don't understand! I don't need any specialists! I just need that embleer runt Silverweed to give me my body back! Before that stupid human trapped inside it kills it."
Woundwort was struggling violently, but he was unable to escape from the straitjacket.
-"A clear case of grandiose persecutory delusion, I'm afraid," the manager of the asylum said, as she adjusted her glasses. "Convinced he's a fictional character, a dangerous rabbit villain, currently oppressed by us humans. I suggest that you get a VHS or a DVD of that movie he thinks he is a character of, and play it over and over again until he snaps out of it. If by morning, he's not back to normal, I'll see him again."
-"Silflay hraka, embleer marli! May the curse of the Black Rabbit of Inlé be upon you!"
I wish to thank Acacia Heartstrings, Bright Side, florapaw, Fox Teen, Leo-rah, Sharks Potter and Vesper for their reviews.
I wish to thank all those who provided inspiration (sorted alphabetically): Acacia Heartstrings, Tyrethali Ansrath, Christopher Auk, Dave Borgman, Bright Side, David "Loganberry" Buttery, Darkling Nocturnal, Susan E. Davis, Margo DeMello, Entai-rah, florapaw, Russell Flowers, Fox Teen, Marinell Harriman, Josh Lee, kamikazitwinkie, Marco, Minty-Thee-Cat, Tom Patten, RogueFanKC, Sharks Potter, Strifer, Tyler Sontag, Christian Ståhl, Sam Taylor, Bill Welch, my brothers, and my sister.
Thank you for reading, and please review!