Mouse Guard: Fall 1152

Converted from Graphic Novel by J1NX3R

Part 1: Belly of the Beast

The mice struggle to live safely and prosper among all of the world's harsh conditions and predators. Thus the Mouse Guard was formed.

After persevering against a Weasel warlord in the Winter War of 1149, the territories are no longer troubled. True, the day to day dangers exist, but no longer are the Guard soldiers, instead the are escorts, pathfinders, weather-watchers, scouts, and bodyguards fo r the mice who live among the territories. Many skills are necessary to keep the borders safe. They must find new safeways and paths from village to village, lead shipments of goods from one town to another, and in case of attack, guard against all evil and harm to their territories.

"Hail all those who are able,

any mouse can,

any mouse will,

but the Guard prevail."

A lone, tan-furred mouse trudges along the forest floor, pulling a cart laden with grain.

"Let me tell ye about the Guard." He says, to no one in particular.

"We mice have little chance in this world, considering all the critters that eats us.

"We know to build our cities hidden and protected; deep within rock outcroppings, in tangled root, and beneath loamy soil, we survive."

The oldfur carefully works his cart down a stony slope, then continues.

"But how do live?" He muses. "Travel in the open between our towns is dangerous. The Guard has been in existence longer than our history. They are the trail blazers, the guides, escorts, and defenders of us."

He pulls his cart over roots and other obstacles while speaking.

"I sell grain from Rootwallow to Barkstone. I know the way and follow the paths I've known. The Guard is too necessary in other places to tour this oldfur around."

He sets the handles of his cart on the ground near a tree. "Just need to stop for a bit…" He says, and sits against the tree with a sigh, pulling his straw hat down over his eyes.

A short time later, a shadow falls across the resting mouse. "Eh, who's there?" He asks, lifting his hat.

He utters a surprised noise, and has no time for any other.

Some time later, three mice walk the same path.

"Gwendolyn said you would brief us once we were on the trail, Kenzie," Lieam, a young, redfurred guardmouse, pipes inquisitively, "So tell us, why have three of the Guard's finest been dispatched?"

"A mouse peddling grain took the path from Rootwallow to Barkstone alone." Kenzie, the tall, gray-furred leader of the patrol answers, "We need to find this missing grain mouse…Seems he never arrived at his destination."

Saxon, the third mouse in the party, snorts in contempt. "We won't at this rate," He complains, "It's still quite a ways to Barkstone and no sign of the lost fool yet."

Kenzie comes to a stop next to a large tree.

"We should be pressing on." Saxon urges.

"I agree," Kenzie replies, "But perhaps a view will tell us where to press, eh?"

In a flash, Lieam scurries up the tree, soon reaching a perch that commands a view of much of the path.

"See anything up there, Redfur?" Kenzie calls.

Lieam searches the forest ahead, then calls down, "I see a cart!"

Shortly afterwards, the patrol reaches the cart, which is damaged and overturned.

Saxon, his sword drawn, leaps atop the cart and looks around for enemies.

"Hmmm…" Kenzie says pensively, "The grain is still heree…But no merchant…"

Kenzie looks around. "Could be a carnivore," He says, "Yet the area is free of blood."

"We are losing daylight." Comments Lieam.

"Can't find him in the dark," Kenzie agrees.

"We'll camp here," Saxon decides, "Lieam, you have first watch."

Dawn breaks, and the glare of the sun wakes Lieam from his sleep. He stretches and yawns, then notices that he is alone.

"Saxon?" He calls, "Kenzie?" Drawing his sword, he hurries down the path, catching up with the two other mice.

Kenzie motions for silence. "Saxon found some grain this way." He says quietly.

"And a path leading that way." Saxon adds.

The trio heads out along the path, but freeze when a sinister hiss fills the air all around them.

In a split second, a milk snake slithers out of the underbrush and slides around the group.

As it rears back to strike, Saxon swings his sword, dislodging one of the snake's teeth.

"Ha!" Saxon shouts.

Kenzie leaps atop the snake's head and drives the end of his staff into the serpent's skull, stunning it momentarily.

"I can't hold it!" He shouts, "We need to retreat!"

"There!" Shouts Lieam, pointing at a nearby tree, "Run!"

The three mice scurry across the open ground with the snake just behind them, and manage to slip into a knothole near the base of the tree.

Being too large to fit in the knothole, the snake slithers around the tree, hissing angrily.

"We'll wait for it to leave, and get the drop on it later." Kenzie says calmly.

"We could have killed it then." Growls Saxon.

"Have you lost your mind?" Lieam shouts, "There is no way we could have defeated that beast. Not now, or later…"

Kenzie holds up a calming paw. "You forget," He says, "In Lockhaven there is a saying carved into the wall: It matters not what you fight, but what you fight for."

Saxon, who had crawled out to the opening of the knothole, returns at this moment.

"Is it still there, Sax?" Kenzie asks.

"No sign of it anymore." Saxon reports.

"Aye, and we have a grain merchant to find." Lieam says, his mind still filled with Kenzie's words.

The mice climb out of the knothole, and Kenzie points out towards the open ground, where the snake had caught them.

"Those holes are where the path and grain led." He announces.

They hurry across the open ground with more care, and reach the first hole. Kenzie and Saxon peer into the hole while Lieam stands guard with drawn sword.

"The missing mouse?" he asks the other two, edging closer to the pit.

"No…" Saxon replies, "Offspring!!"

Saxon dives into the pit, swinging his sword.

"No Saxon, wait for me…" Kenzie shouts. "Lieam, keep lookout." He orders, then follows Saxon into the pit.

The sounds of slashing weapons and shrieking snake offspring fill the air as Lieam stands alone on the edge of the pit.

Casting about for danger, Lieam notices a scrap of a straw hat half-buried in the sand near another pit. He walks closer to investigate, and reaches the hole before he hears the soft "Hissssss" emanating from the hole. He peeks into the dark hole, then jumps back in surprise as the milk snake emerges angrily from its burrow to tower over the diminutive mouse.

Lieam's face sets in grim determination as the snake prepares to strike. All he can think of is the phrase Kenzie had told him.

The snake strikes, its open mouth flying at Lieam with blinding speed.

Lieam takes the best action he can. With a shout, he jumps at the snake, and, using its one remaining tooth as a handhold, stands in its mouth and drives his sword into the roof of its mouth, piercing its brain.

The snake dies instantly, and collapses onto the ground with a thud.

In the pit, Kenzie and Saxon suddenly stop hacking at the dead viper offspring around them. "Did you hear something?" Kenzie asks.

"Hang on, Lieam!" Saxon shouts as they climb out of the pit and run to the dead snake.

Working together, the two older mice work the snake's mouth open and pull on Lieam's legs.

"We turn around, and you're inside a snake." Saxon comments as they pull him free.

Lieam, fatigued from his fight, just sighs.

Next, the trio cuts the belly of the snake open.

"We found our missing merchant." Kenzie says gravely.

They bury the remains under a pile of stones, and place the merchant's straw hat on a stick as a grave marker, before continuing on their journey, with Lieam pulling the dead merchant mouse's cart.

"Did Rand ever kill a snake?" Saxon asks as they walk.

"No," Kenzie replies, "But he has saved your life more than once."

"Shouldn't we have buried him elsewhere?" Lieam wonders aloud, "What of his widow? Are we not headed to inform her?"

No-We are headed to Barkstone." Kenzie says quietly.

"Why?" asks Lieam.

"Our missing mouse was a traitor." Kenzie answers, holding up a parchment, "I found proof while searching the grain.

"I didn't tell you about it because I knew Saxon would have killed him if we found him alive."

Saxon's face darkens, and he grips the hilt of his sword until his paws go white.

Kenzie opens the parchment, revealing a detailed map of Lockhaven. "And I want to find out who he was giving our secrets to." He finishes solemnly.

End Part 1.

Coming soon: Part 2: Shadows Within