A/N: It's been a long, long time since I've posted here, and an even longer time since I saw a movie that instantly warranted a fanfic written about it. (Cough Finding Nemo Cough) So here I am with what could possibly be one of the first (movie-based, anyway) Over the Hedge fanfic. Cue the fanfare now.
A little note before I begin... The characters of Ruby (AKA Luby) and Velma are actually from the original comics and are not mine. Having not read the comics, my take on their characters is merely from what I've read about them elsewhere (and there really isn't much on Velma personality-wise, so I had to improvise and take liberties). I changed Luby's name to "Ruby" for the sake of this fanfic because the name Luby bothers me, and besides... What's a consonant sound between friends, huh? While I know her history is definitely not what it should be, I had to take even more liberties to make an interesting plot. It's probably no more or less what Dreamworks would do. Bear with me here, aside from violence that could not be used in a children's movie and references that probably shouldn't be referenced, I'm trying to keep in mind, "What would Dreamworks do?" And by Dreamworks, I mean anyone involved with the original Over the Hedge who would be dedicated to making a sequel as witty, intelligent, and grand as the first.
As another note, I know how a lot of people feel about OC romances, so I avoided it with a blind passion for the sake of this story and while there may scenarios that warrant what amounts to an OC romance, I promise you that nothing will really develop unless a vast majority out there demands it. You can interpret Luby/Ruby and Velma anyway you want, but they're pretty much what I'd imagine Dreamworks to do with the characters if they should ever appear in a sequel or something, so technically they're supposed to be with RJ and Verne, but that doesn't mean it's going to be all "OMG! L-O-V-E" just as soon as the characters meet. I believe that romance should develop naturally over the course of a story, and I try to do that as best I can.
Disclaimer: The characters used in this story are copyrighted to Dreamworks Pictures, Michael Fry and T. Lewis, and not me. I own this plot, and the characters of Xylia, Tristan, Sadie, Doyle, Amity, Cyril, Dorian, Val,and various other invented characters that may make appearances. I am making no profit off of this operation. It's just my way of dealing with overactive plot bunnies.
Rating: PG (Possibly PG-13 later)
Summary: When their home is compromised in favor of urban expansion, RJ, Verne, and the other animals are forced to seek out another place to live, and their search leads them to what amounts to a woodland valley utopia, but there's trouble in this beautiful paradise... Nothing is what it seems in this valley, and danger lurks at every turn...
Into the Woods
She had lived in this valley for a long time, but unlike most of the poor animals who had lived their whole lives here, she knew that there was something better and this was not how life was supposed to be lived. There were no queens out beyond the valley who ruled with an iron paw, and food was available for all and not given out as a reward for following rules and even then only in meager amounts. Even so, everyone who lived in the valley believed it to be a paradise, and there was no convincing them otherwise. The queen kept them protected from any and all predators... Or at least that's what they were lead to believe. No one ever paid a second thought to the ones who vanished in the night, never to be seen again. They drew their own naive conclusions and left it at that.
"Ruby, are we going the right way?"
Except for her. She was the reason why they vanished.
"It's not much farther, Harold."
The large hedgehog lumbered after her as they continued up the mountain. "I hope not."
"You won't regret it, I promise."
"Yeah," a smile crossed Harold's lips. "I can't believe the queen is letting me into her private gardens. My children have been so hungry lately. The food Tristan and the others bring just isn't enough, you know? They're growing boys. I bet they'll be so proud of their old dad. Imagine! Being hand-selected from all those animals to have this honor!"
Ruby laughed nervously, a pained look on her face. "Sure, Harold... They'll be real proud of you."
They continued on in silence, working their way up the steep, stony passageway through the mountains. Ruby knew full well that this path didn't lead into the grove of fruit and nut-bearing trees that Queen Xylia had tightly guarded at all hours to keep the "ignorant masses" from it, and it wouldn't be long before Harold realized it too... But by then it would be too late.
And it would be all her fault.
She thought about telling him to run away and get out as she had thought to do many times when she was forced to complete this common mission, but she knew that the queen's henchmen would only find him before he got too far, and then kill both him and his family. Sometimes it was better for all involved if she just did her job properly and lived with the guilt that was constantly piled onto her already fragile heart each time she did the queen's bidding.
Soon it won't hurt anymore, my dear Ruby. Soon you'll actually enjoy it.
Xylia's voice echoed in the back of her mind and she shook her head, trying to dislodge that hateful, lilting voice. It was a lie. It was all a horrible lie. She would never enjoy doing this to good animals who deserved better than... Well this. And by this it didn't just mean the situation that Harold and many before him had been led to by her, but also the entirety of this horrible utopian illusion that Xylia had created.
She tried not to think too much, andled Harold up onto a ledge that overlooked the entire valley, the mouth of a large cave gaping wide-mouthed behind it. For a moment, Harold just stood on the ledge looking out over the trees and made a whistling noise. "My, what a view this is!" He said, utterly amazed. "Look at it, Ruby."
"I've seen it," Ruby said, looking away.
Harold turned to face her, cocking his head to the side. "Ruby, you okay? You seem a little distracted and upset for some reason."
"Yeah, Harold," she whispered, biting back a small growl of frustration. "I'm fine."
He took a step towards her, realization dawning on his face. "You aren't taking me to the queen's garden, are you?"
She looked at him, her dark blue eyes welling up with tears that she tried hard to not let fall. Harold had a family! He had three wonderful boys and a loving wife! This wouldn't be the first time she'd taken a father or a mother away from their family, however, and she knew it wouldn't be the last... And yet it always hurt her and it always would, no matter what the queen said. She shook her head and Harold, with no expression on his face, turned to face the beautiful view of the valley below them.
"It really is a beautiful view," he said. "I couldn't think of a better thing tosee before I go." There was a long pause, and then, "Ruby..."
Ruby choked back a small sob. They always made this so hard on her! "Yes, Harold?"
"Watch over Sara and my boys, will you?"
"Can you really trust me with your family?" Ruby said sullenly. It was a request that was often asked of her, and yet she never understood why anyone bothered. If any of them had the slightest clue that she was the one who led all those who had vanished to the queen's quarters and to their deaths they would never allow her to live among them as she did. And yet these poor saps continued to ask her to look after their families when they were gone even after they had discovered she'd betrayed the trust they'd placed in her.
She froze suddenly as Harold placed his paws on her shoulders. She struggled to force herself not to meet his gaze, shuddering slightly, but he pulled her chin towards him, forcing their eyes to meet. "I forgive you," he whispered.
She broke down crying, unable to hold it in anymore. This was the first time in a long time that she'd cried in the process of doing her job, and she hated herself for it, but this was just too much for her to bear. Harold removed his paws from her face and shoulders and looked at her, his face showing the genuine acceptance of his fate as well as sympathy for the sobbing she-raccoon. "Where should I go now?"
Without looking at him and still sobbing, she jerked her arm towards the cave. Harold cast one last smiling glance at the valley below him and made his way into the cave. A few moments later there was the sound of loud growling and squabbling and a few pained screams that might have come from Harold, but also might have come from a wolf who had gotten hit by his spikes by getting too cocky,and then there was suddenly nothing but the horrible noises of something being grotesquely devoured, meaning Harold had completely given up and was gone now. Ruby sank to the ground, covering her masked face with her paws.
"I can't do this anymore," she whispered.
"But you will," a cold voice whispered in her ear. She suddenly jumped up, her tears forgotten as she whirled to face the owner of the voice.
"Tristan," she breathed, her blue eyes meeting the calculating green ones of the small red fox that now sat at the entrance to the cave. He swished his long, bushy tail as he grinned smugly at her.
"Ruby," he replied. "Long time, no see."
"Not long enough," Ruby scowled. "I expected you to be out scavenging around the campgrounds by now. 'Tis the season, you know."
"And miss the fun?" Tristan smirked. "You seem oddly sassy for someone who just killed a poor sap who believed you to be their friend."
Ruby looked away. "I didn't kill him."
"You caused the circumstances leading to his death," Tristan laughed, standing up and walking past her, allowing his tail to carress her underneath her chin. "That means you killed him," he whispered in her ear as he circled back around her.
"The queen caused the circumstances by making me do this!" She snapped back.
"You could refuse her."
Ruby opened her mouth to reply, but shook her head and sat down at the end of the ledge, staring into the valley as Harold had done, trying to soak in its beauty like he had, and seeing nothing but pain and death out there.
And she was one of the bringers of that pain and death.
Tristan laughed coldly at her stotic silence and casually sidled up to her, wrapping his tail around her as he plopped down beside her, his gaunt body pressing into hers. "Of course you can't refuse her, Ruby. After all, she saved your miserible life." Ruby looked away and Tristan snatched her chin in his paws, roughly jerking her face to meet his in a much more violent mimic of what Harold did earlier. "She holds your life in her claws, Rubes. You can't do anything to deny her."
"Shut up!" Ruby snapped, pushing him away and backing towards the cave. The sounds had all but died down now. Silently, she hoped Harold's death had been quick and painless before she focused her attentions completely on Tristan. "You don't know me!"
"I know enough about you to know that you're not the top of the food chain, sister," Tristan smirked, sauntering past her. "It's time that you learned where your place was in the grand scheme of things and settled into it." He paused as a large, shadowy figure emerged from the cave. A scrawny wolf that looked as if he'd been gnawed on many times during his existence in the world stopped just beside Tristan and looked down at Ruby, his fangs glistening with fresh blood and bits of meat still stuck to them. Ruby quickly looked away, knowing where the blood and meat had come from.
"Dorian," Tristan said bemusedly, "it's nice to see you out and about."
The wolf, called Dorian, flashed Tristan a look of annoyance and then turned back to Ruby. "Mother wants to see you," he said in a nasally voice.
"Touche," Tristan smirked. "And what would mother dearest want with our darling Ruby? Does she want her to bring you dessert, perhaps? I hear Harold's wife is plesantly plump. Or maybe one of his little ones? They'd make a great midnight snack. You get past the quills and hedgehog is an excellent delicacy, I hear... Of course, you'd probably know that by now, aye Dorian?"
"Tristan, shut up!" Ruby snapped.
Dorian seemed to agree with her sentiments and snapped viciously at the red fox, who didn't flinch as the wolf's teeth snapped close inches away from his muzzle. "I wasn't talking to you."
"Of course you weren't," Tristan replied, unable to hide his annoyance. "No one ever does speak to me around here unless they want something from me. Well, it's been lovely chatting, but I have some campground foraging to do." He started over towards the pathway that led down the mountain, but stopped briefly and turned to look at Dorian. "By the way, Dorian, you have some Harold in your teeth."
Dorian responded by snarling at Tristan until he laughed sardonically and trotted down the path. Only when he had completely vanished did Dorian use his tongue to clean his teeth as best he could. Ruby winced and looked away until the scrawny wolf was finished and motioned for her to follow him into the cave. It was dark inside, but her night vision picked up the dim shapes of Queen Xylia's henchmen, her fellow wolves- many of them, like Dorian, her own children. They all eyed her with a hungry look in their eyes- obviously Harold had only been sport for a few of them, and the rest were still very much hungry and getting hungrier every second they smelled the freshly spilt blood in the air. She swallowed hard, trying to push the negative thoughts out of her head and kept her face straight ahead as she was led to the very back of the cave where a large outcropping had been cut into the stone wall. This was the throne of Xylia, and the queen, herself, lay upon it, sprawled like a contented cat.
She was an old wolf, solid white and still large with muscle that was only now starting to wear thin. Although she rarely hunted herself, she was physically capable of running with the best of her pack even to this day. However, as a queen, she felt it beneath her dignity to participate in group hunts and preferred to hunt alone when she felt willing to do so. Otherwise she was simply brought her meals.
In the prescence of his mother, Dorian's demeanor suddenly changed from cool killer to overzealous puppy in an instant. "I brought her like you asked, Mother. See? See?" He suddenly picked Ruby up by the scruff of her neck and waved her about a little bit roughly in front of the queen, despite the small raccoon's squeaks of protest.
"Put her down, Dorian. You'll hurt her," Xylia said coldly. Dorian obeyed instantly and Ruby hit the stone floorhard, groaning a little in pain. "You may leave," the queen addressed her son and he quickly scampered off to join his breathern, leaving Ruby alone with the old she-wolf. "You did well, my dear."
"Thank you," Ruby said sullenly.
"Why so sad? You're earning your keep, Ruby."
"I just don't think it's right to do this to them. Keep them here in this valley, forcing them to rely on you for food and protection just so you can pick them off whenever you and the others get bored with your hunting grounds."
"It's a way of life, but why should you worry about it? You're not like them... As long as you act as my 'representative' among them and bring me what I want when I want it, you have no need to worry about anything as long as you live. Deny me, and you'll be the next one my boys tear apart. You understand?"
Ruby grimaced, knowing that she didn't want to go out as a meal for these wolves even though agreeing meant that she'd once again have to betray a friend another day. Still, she whispered. "Yes, my queen."
"That's my girl," Xylia laughed. "You're dismissed."
Ruby gave a small bow and moved to leave, but once again Xylia spoke. "Never forget that I'm the one who raised you, Ruby. I'm the one who protects you from those miserible humans. You'd be dead without me, and you'll die if you ever forsake me. You will remember that, won't you?"
"There's not a day that goes by that I don't," Ruby replied. It wasn't a lie either. She had nightmares about her life before Xylia found her and taken pity on her. She knew better than to bite the hand that fed her, but that didn't make it right.
It would never make it right, and it would never wash the stench of blood from her paws.
(A/N: Relatively short prologue with none of the original cast, sadly. ;; They'll be in the next chapter, don't worry. I wouldn't want anyone to think this was an OC-driven piece, because it's really not unless you count Ruby/Luby as being an OC, and then it kinda is. But it's mostly about everyone's favorite Hedgies. Anyway... Please review! Feed a starving writer!)