Chapter 69. Back to Life
There was a being and he lived on his own
He had no one to talk to
And nothing to do
He drew up the plans
Learnt to work with his hands
And then his work was done
Death in the pond, cresting over tail feathers. Choices made.
"Viv!" Kapler stared at the just-turbulent waters, ripples smoothing away all incident. Something boiled up his throat, unwelcome and wet. Before he could talk himself out of it, before he could think, he ran forward. The water winked eagerly, inviting him in. He breathed deep.
"Hang on, mate!" Strong paws yanked him back.
"Let go! Leggo!" Kapler's voice squeaked as he twisted and squirmed, trying to slip free.
"Too cold." Buttonbrush leaned in close, whiskers scratchy against Kapler's fur. All grace, several otters dove past and into the water. "Don't want t' go saving you, too. Leave it t' us." He clapped him on the back and followed after the others.
Frustrated action roiled inside Kapler like a whirlpool without outlet. He chewed his lip, rubbed his nape, stomped away from the edge. He glanced around, brow furrowed. Everybeast clustered close, ignoring him. How could they act so calm? Just standing there, as if this happened every day. He growled and gripped his sword. He wanted to help. But there was no…
A chill hopstepped upwards, freezing his breath in his lungs. David!
Across the water and broken ice, slinking towards the side gate – Cromley, pushing David ahead of him. Caught up in the excitement of Vivienne's heroic dive, enthralled by the rescue, everybeast seemed to have forgotten about them.
His fingers thrummed the sword hilt. Willing wings to his feet, he skirted around the pond and pounded towards the wildcat. If he could catch him in time, if he could get in one good swing…
"You're a fool, cat." An angry hiss, barely in control. "Just give up—"
Cromley dug his claws into the hedgepig's shoulder, cutting off further pleading. "Don't be stupid, David." He'd get through the side gate, then be rid of this burden. One more parting gift for this wretched abbey. Son gone to meet father.
Gasping snarls from behind, louder than Moonshot's snoring, betrayed the approaching attacker. Cromley jerked down and around, dragging David after. A sword bit into snow and Kapler stumbled past, putting himself between Cromley and the side gate. The brave, stupid idiot – always where he shouldn't be. Cromley sneered. "Didn't expect you, Kapler."
Kapler turned, a green recruit with arms straight and shaking. "L-let David go."
"Are you trying to kill him?" Cromley smirked and slid his blade closer around his captive's throat. He purred when David tensed.
"No, you can…" The vole swallowed. His gaze flicked between Cromley and David. "I'll let you go. Just…let him go, too."
David squirmed. "No, don't—"
"And what's to stop you running me through?"
"What about…" Kapler hesitated. His brow furrowed. "Just take me instead."
Growling a warning to David, Cromley raised his brow. These woodlanders were so oblivious. What better way to settle this score? "Very well, Kapler. Drop your sword and David's free."
Kapler wavered, his sword tip dipped, but he didn't let go. The vole squeezed his eyes shut, then opened them. Cromley could see the conflict, the indecision. "I…" He licked his lips, not once meeting David's gaze. He glanced behind Cromley, towards the pond, at Cromley, his sword, the pond behind, the knife at David's neck, the pond…
Cromley twisted around in time to see that thrice-blasted vixen rushing forward, paw flicked forward. His arm whipped upwards to protect his face, and pain blossomed. The blade buried itself to the hilt, sticking out like some obscene bracelet. He staggered back, yowling, tail bottlebrushed.
His grip on David faltered, and the hedgehog surged away. "No!" Cromley lashed out with his sword, the satisfaction of a successful strike echoing down the hilt.
David gurgled and collapsed.
A scream, a primal snarl, wrenched itself from Kapler. Weapon above his head, he swung – an arc of coruscating death.
Only one way to dodge. Crouched, Cromley leapt towards the vole, kicking at his side. He could feel the crunch, the bones giving way. And then he was out the side gate, feet pounding as he ran into Mossflower, Vidya not ten paces behind.
White. Cold against his fur – welcome relief to the throbbing…somewhere. Kapler blinked heavily and started to lift himself out of the snow. Sharp pain lanced through his left side and he collapsed, breathless. Needles radiated out from his ribs, melting into a terrible ache through the rest of his body. It felt as if he had been hit with Russel's ballista. He cried.
David! Head jerking up, Kapler did his best to ignore the pain as he tried to find the hedgehog. It wasn't hard. He lay several paces away, a curled ball of drooping spines. The snow glistened scarlet.
"David." Kapler stared at the blood, a terrible weight settling. "You all right?"
He didn't answer right away, as if he was asking himself the same question. A shudder rippled through his spikes. "I don't know."
"Just…just wait." Kapler bit his lip, collecting himself, preparing for the effort. His whole body protested as he lifted himself out of the snow, nearly toppling over. Leaned over in a half crouch, he stumble walked over. "David." He touched a quivering spike. "David, let me…I need to take a look."
Slowly, like an herb in his father's teapot, David unfurled. A muddy stain spread across his tunic, darkest at the slashed, pulsing shoulder.
Kapler slumped to his knees and stifled a cry, sinking several inches into the slushy snow. Fingers gingerly pressing, he inspected the wound. It was warm and wet and told him nothing. What was he supposed to do?
"Need to…" David stopped, breathed deep, and tried again. "Need to stop the bleeding."
"Oh, ah, yes." Kapler slipped off his jacket with its many pockets and hidden treasures. A moment of hesitation, then coat to shoulder. It hurt his ribs to lean forward, his paw to push down, but it didn't matter. He had given up before, had run away. Teeth gnashed together, Kapler growled and pushed harder. Not again. Wouldn't let him down…
Paws tugged him from where he'd collapsed onto David. A calm voice murmured reassurances. Kapler blinked and peered at the surrounding woodlanders as he was set down in a clean patch of snow.
Both draped in heavy blankets, Jinck led Vivienne over. The mother bird looked sodden and skinny, down feathers soaked through. She sneezed. Jinck gave a damp smile.
Twoflower crouched down and inspected Kapler's bandaged paw. She glanced up. "How're you feeling, Mister Kapler?"
Kapler looked away, over to the healers tending to David. "Did he make it?"
"Well, he's still alive." Twoflower opened her bag and began pulling out jars and wraps. Kapler yelped and jerked away as she prodded his side. "Broken ribs. Nothing I can't fix."
Vidya stomped through the gate with a dour expression. Her fur was mussed and she looked as tired as Kapler felt. Seeing the questioning looks, she sighed and shook her head. "'e gave me th' slip in th' woods. Too many tracks t'make out 'is." An ear scratch and a settling onto haunches. "Doubt we'll ever see 'is 'ide again."
"I could have done more. Maybe…maybe if I had—"
Jinck bapped him on the shoulder with a paw. "Stop it. You did good."
Kapler tittered, then winced. They were exhausted, mangled, bruised – but alive.
Things were going to be all right.