Part 2: Shadows Within

While Kenzie, Saxon, & Lieam were tracking the path of the grain merchant, Gwendolyn, head of the Mouse Guard, has sent word to Sadie.

Sadie, who once watched a shoreline region of the Mouse Territories, has been asked to make contact with another missing mouse, Guard member Conrad.

There has been no outgoing communication with his dwelling "Calogero" and the Guard fear the worst…

"Send any mouse to do the job,

it may or may not be done.

Ask the Guard to do the task,

even death cannot prevent

it from completion."

Sadie, a brown-furred mouse in a plum colored cloak walks along the edge of a stream among the towering reeds, reading a message that was sent to her by Gwendolyn, the Matriarch of the Guard.

"Sadie," It reads, "Please travel to the northern shore post "Calogero.

Stationed there is Conrad, but we have received no communication from him for over a season.

G."

Sadie follows the stream until she reaches a tiny leaf boat tied to a reed on shore.

Paddling the tiny vessel into the stream, she deftly maneuvers it through the quick waters, eventually reaching the mouth of the stream, where it opens into a large body of water.

"The Northern Shore." Sadie says to herself. In short order she drags her leaf boat to shore, hiding it among the tall grass.

She then makes her way across the sandy ground to a large stump surrounded by tall beach grass, where she uses her boat paddle as a lever to uncover a sealed knothole-The Guard's message drop for Calogero.

Peering inside, Sadie finds a pile of parchment scrolls bearing the Guard seal.

"All of the Guard's messages," Sadie muses, "Unread."

Closing the message drop, Sadie walks up the beach, and comes upon a set of pawprints.

She crouches down to look closer.

"These can't be Conrad's…No peg leg." She realizes. She follows the tracks along the beach, until she reaches a stand of tall grass. Pushing through the grass, she notices the tracks more clearly. "And they're leading away from…Calogero."

Sadie pushes through to the other side of the grass, and sees Calogero.

It is a round, three-level house made of stone, with a straw roof and windows all around.

The door hangs off its hinges.

Sadie carefully goes inside.

"Looks abandoned…" She mutters.

The inside is dark and unfurnished, but a map of the Mouse Territories is hung on the wall near the door. Sadie taps the point on the map labeled "Calogero" with her dagger.

"This is the right place." She says to herself.

There is a thump on the wooden floor behind her, and Sadie freezes as the point of a fishhook appears at her throat, held by an old grayfur.

"Speak, if yeh wish to keep yer life," A raspy voice behind her commands.

"I am Sadie, of the Guard. Gwendolyn sent me to find you." Sadie replies indignantly, "I order you to stand down!"

The hook drops, and the older mouse thumps over to the door, pulling it closed on damaged hinges. Conrad is an old mouse, his fur thin and gray, and he carries a fishhook both as a weapon and as a crutch to support his peg leg.

"Gwendolyn, eh? She must already know about the traitor." The oldfur rasps.

"Traitor?" Sadie says in surprise.

"I would recognize the voice." Conrad says woozily, "I had to make sure yeh weren't the…" Conrad collapses, wheezing out, "Traitor…"

It is much later, and dark, when Conrad wakes. He sits up and sees Sadie working at the fireplace, stacking wood on the crackling fire under a bubbling pot of soup.

"You were out for a few hours." Sadie says as he stirs. She scavenges a bowl from somewhere, and scoops it full. "Some soup will be good for you."

She hands Conrad the bowl, and he quickly begins devouring it. "Then you can tell me about this 'Traitor.'" She adds.

Conrad finishes his soup, and takes a glance around the dark room, lit only by the flames from the fireplace.

"About a season ago, I began to suspect somethin'-like somemouse was here when I wasn't…" He begins.

"I tucked myself away in the rafters up above." He points up at the high ceiling.

"Two mice came to Calogero: A small old merchant mouse with a straw hat, who pledged his services to the other, who I could never see, as he was always in the shadows." Conrad sighs. "They spoke of the dead."

"I wanted to know more about their plans before I abandoned my hiding spot, so I tied myself to a rafter and waited."

Conrad polishes off a second bowl of soup, and continues.

"One day, the merchant mouse was given a map, and the mouse in the shadow said: 'Lockhaven.'"

I tried to follow, but when you arrived, I didn't know if you might be the unseen mouse, so I had yeh speak," Conrad finishes his story, "See if I could recognize the voice."

Satisfied that the story is over, Sadie looks at the glowing embers that remain of the cooking fire.

She pulls her plum-colored cloak over herself and lays on the floor.

"We will leave for Lockhaven at first light." She decides. Conrad nods in assent, and lays down also, wrapping up in his own cloak.

Sadie wakes the next morning to a sliver of light shining on her face. Sitting up in surprise, she quickly move to Conrad's side and wakes him up.

"Conrad," She says, "It's mid-morning, and Clogero is still dark…"

The pair of mice move to the door, and push on it, but it refuses to move!

Sadie hurries to a window, but is unable to open that either.

"Something is blocking the window!" Sadie whispers.

"And the door." Conrad agrees. They hurry to another window, and are nearly blinded when the object blocking the window moves, allowing light to stream in.

Sadie and Conrad gaze out in surprise.

Crabs are crawling all over Calogero! The great crustacean beasts are skittering around and on top of the house, and are tearing at the door with their big claws.

With a crunch, the front door is torn free, and the crabs crowd closer, as if hoping that the mice would come out willingly.

"There is another way out." Conrad says, and points up the stairs. Sadie runs up the stairs, her knives drawn, and Conrad follows, his hook at the ready.

From the upper floor, Conrad breaks a hole in the straw roof, and boosts Sadie out before climbing out himself.

"We need to get to Lockhaven!" Sadie urges as they jump to the ground.

From all sides, the crabs close in, as if magnetically drawn to the mice.

"I don't think they will let us." Conrad says, nodding towards the crabs.

The crabs move in, and Conrad jumps forward to meet them, moving with a speed that belies his age and wooden leg. He drives the point of his hook into the soft tissue of the first crab's mouth,

dodging the snapping claws, and continues running under the crab to another. With an ease that displays years of experience, Conrad ties the end of his fishline to the second crab's back leg.

The second crab, which is scuttling after Sadie, pulls the line taut, flipping the first crab shell over claws onto its back.

Sadie charges another crab, throwing one of her knives and striking it on the hard shell between its eyes.

The crab, being a very dull, reflexive creature, turns and grabs at the knife as it falls to the ground.

Sadie appears suddenly underneath the crab and drives her knife up through a chink in the crab's shell. "Tricked ya!" She cheers.

However, her knife becomes trapped in the shell. "Grr, it's stuck!"

She notices her other knife caught in the crab's claw, and reaches for that one, but gets swept up as the crab thrashes around.

"Wha?" Sadie mutters, as she tries to recover the knife from the crab's claw. The crab snatches at her with its other claw, forcing her to dance around while hanging on for dear life.

Suddenly, the knife comes free, and begins to fall to the ground. "No!" Sadie shouts, whipping her tail out. She catches the knife with the tip of her tail, but in the process loses her grip, and is thrown clear of the crabs.

"I've got 'em Sadie!" Conrad yells. He is atop the crab that had held Sadie, and is wrenching on its eye stalks.

"Run!" He yells again as the crabs crawl over each other to reach him. He avoids the first few swipes, but is finally caught in the great, sharp claw of a crab.

"Take what you know to Lockhaven!" He shouts.

Sadie lies stunned on the ground where she landed, but sits up as Conrad shouts.

"Sadie, run! Tell Gwendolyn…" The rest of his words are cut off by a ragged Crack! as the crabs crush him in their claws, before fighting among themselves for the prize.

Sadie turns and flees, tears streaming from her face, leaving the crabs while they are occupied.

There is a Traitor, and she must warn Lockhaven!

While she runs, she looks back over her shoulder and murmurs, "Goodbye, brave friend."

Then she hurries along the paths deeper into the Mouse Territories.

TBC