"Ithe! Look out!" Lieutenant Ash bellowed, leaping to his feet and jumping in a protective stance between Jamie and his dazed companions. His fellow survivors, also having recovered from their coughing and splattering, hearing the Owsla buck's words, were instantly on their feet, all staring at Jamie with expressions of utmost fear. The boy slowly approached them, weary of scaring them even more.
"Take it easy, I am not going to hurt you," he said, trying to sound as friendly as possible, hoping the dangerous glare Ash was giving him wasn't a sign of an imminent attack. For an instant, he expected the grey-furred buck with the magnificent mane circling his neck, to tackle him like Captain Broom had done back at Thinial. But it didn't happen. Instead, Ash managed to maintain his self-control and, still remaining cautious and vigilant, stared back at Jamie with a mixture of amazement and disbelief.
"Who in Frith's name are you ithe and what do you want? Are you that fellow Sunflower I was talking to?" Although frustrated at the unnecessary amount of distrust every rabbit in this world seemed to place towards humans, Jamie was relieved that at least Ash didn't seem to see him as an immediate threat and attack him…not so far anyway. Unable to think up any good story that might appease them, Jamie spilled the truth.
"Yes, I am Sunflower; I didn't think revealing myself to you earlier would have been a very good idea. My real name is Jamie. I came looking for my father who was here and found you guys instead…"
"Your father was here before you?" interrupted another rabbit standing beside Ash, "So you are another of those miserable, talking ithel scum that destroyed our warren! I knew it!" he shouted, "Heartless, evil murderers, the lot of you! You are no better than your normal counterpart, killing and destroying everything in your path for sport…" At this Jamie lost his temper and rounded on the rabbit, who was insulting his father.
"Don't you talk about my Dad like that! He would never hurt anyone for sport! In case you haven't noticed pal, his own men perished alongside your people!" he snapped, pointing at the two graves of his father's dead crewmembers nearby, "And yet he took the risk to put out the fire before it could reduce the surrounding forest to ashes!"
"And he saved me from being eaten alive by a hawk! Not to mention having saved my blind friend from drowning!" snapped Hannah, also coming to Jamie's defence, "You dumb rabbits have just had a narrow escape from a horrible death and this is how you express your gratitude?"
Unfortunately, this only seemed to infuriate the incredulous rabbit even more as he starting advancing on Hannah as if about to strike her, "Why, you insolent little…!" But Lieutenant Ash, who had been listening intently to Jamie's explanation, as if trying to figure him out, held the advancing rabbit back.
"Sergeant Willow, you are out of line! Fall back in and hold your tongue!" The rabbit Willow, seemingly recognizing Ash's authority, drew back, yet continued to glare at Jamie. Lieutenant Ash turned back to the strange human that had exhumed them from their living tomb and spoke in a firm, yet calm voice.
"Young ithe, while we are all grateful for getting us out of that death trap, you must understand my companions' distrust of humans. Like Sergeant Willow has already said, a recent visitation of others like you resulted in the destruction of our warren. Don't get me wrong; I am not saying it was an act of aggression or that your father was responsible…"
"No offence taken," Jamie replied, cutting him off, seeing that they were getting nowhere, "It doesn't matter anyway. If you could just tell me what happened to my father, I'll be on my way." Finally understanding what Jamie wanted of them and realising they owed him a life debt, human or not, Ash decided to get to the bottom of this.
"I believe it would be easier if I told you the whole story about what happened here; then you'll know exactly as much as we do." In spite of the group's uneasiness in the boy's presence, not to mention Snitter's, whom Jamie held firmly by his lead to keep him away from the scared rabbits, Ash settled down and launched into his story of the calamity that had befallen Sandleford several days ago.
Lieutenant Ash and Sergeant Willow of the Sandleford Owsla had just returned from their afternoon patrol. Ash was Deputy to Captain Holly and Willow was his personal aid, a privilege only entitled to the highest-ranking Owsla officers, namely the Captain and Lieutenant. Holly also had his own personal aid, a clowning Owsla Scout called Bluebell.
As they made their way down to the officers' assembly burrow, eager to be dismissed and go out for evening silflay, they were stopped by Holly, who suddenly came dashing in, in a state of alarm. Something was up. Clearing his throat to get everyone's attention, he addressed all of the Owsla present, "Attention you lot! Evening silflay had been temporary suspended. There has been some trouble in the outsider's neighbourhood. The Threarah has ordered us to investigate and detain any suspects. I will be leading a squad with Toadflax, Scabious, Pimpernel and Bluebell. Lieutenant Ash, you and your orderly will be in change of a backup squad, in case things get drastic."
"Drastic, sir?" asked Ash suspiciously, "What's the trouble anyway, an enemy invasion?" Holly, annoyed at being interrupted during an alert situation, rounded on his deputy and spoke in a calm, yet stern tone.
"I will debrief you all once everyone is assembled! In the meantime, I need you to assemble another group of four rabbits you can fully trust, and get them ready. On the double!" Not wanting to irritate his short-tempered commanding officer any further, Ash obeyed and soon had his aid, as well as three other trusty scouts called Nose-in-the-Air, Pine Needles and Butterbur assembled and ready for further instructions. Once Holly had finished assembling his own rabbits, he launched into the debriefing.
"This afternoon, officers Toadflax and Scabious reported having overheard a secret meeting in the outskirters' neighbourhood; it seems like those rascals have finally done it. According to the information overheard, it seems those reckless fools have found and are currently sheltering a…a strange talking ithe, with whom they are plotting a rebellion against our Chief." There was instant muttering of surprise and disbelief. Ash, knowing Holly to be the last rabbit in the world to believe something so absurd, let alone crack a joke while on active duty, was struck dumb. As if reading the minds of his Owsla, Holly went on speaking, never dropping his stern tone.
"Although I agree it sounds rather absurd, the possibility still remains that those outskirters are plotting trouble. As loyal Owsla rabbits, it is our sworn duty to deal with such problems. Therefore, our task is to follow those traitors and apprehend those mysterious intruders they are aiding and abating. Move out!"
Although still sceptical, given Toadflax's reputation as a chronic liar, not to mention a bully towards outskirters and anyone lower than him in general, Ash called his rabbits together and they set off. They soon came to the outskirters' neighbourhood, a dingy place with only a few scattered, cramped burrows, in contrast to the spacious accommodations reserved for the elite. It didn't take them long to find the outskirters, currently out on silflay in the meadow on the edge of the boundaries. They could see several rabbits having a heated conversation, yet couldn't make any sense out of it from so far away.
Signalling to the Owsla to stay out of sight, they took cover nearby, watching the outskirters' every move. As they sat waiting, Holly pointed out Hazel and Fiver, the two outskirters which Toadflax had named as the prime suspects, as well as Silver, another Owsla Scout and the Threarah's nephew, who was also suspected of being in it with them. Holly frowned in furious disapproval; he could expect the outskirters to turn traitorous, given how disrespectful they were towards authority, but one of his own rabbits to turn coat was an enormous stab to his pride, making Ash glad he wouldn't be in Silver's place when Holly confronted him.
Silver's 'betrayal' however didn't even come close to the surprise awaiting the entire Sandleford Owsla when yet another member of this secret 'plot' showed up: a big, burly rabbit called Thlayli, or Bigwig among his friends, another Owsla officer, who had been mysteriously unavailable when Holly had summoned everyone to order earlier. For an instant, Ash thought Bigwig had also realised the treachery and had come to investigate on his own; to everyone's surprise however, instead, he launched into, what appeared to be, a friendly conversation with the outskirters, causing Holly to realise that one of his most trusted officers was also in league with those traitors!
Soon, the outskirters, accompanied by Silver and Bigwig, headed off into the woods, on their way to meet the intruders they were concealing, just like Toadflax and Scabious had said. Making sure they remained at a safe distance, as not to draw attention until the right moment, the Owsla literally followed the bees to the honey. Soon, they came to another clearing, where they encountered a sight so unbelievable, it almost made their heads spin on their shoulders.
So far, Ash had expected at most to find some wild humans that might have followed the outskirters back to the warren and were now prowling about the boundaries in search of easy prey. Instead, what he saw was beyond imagination, like a dream: The outskirters were meeting with some humans all right; only they were unlike any humans Ash, or any of his comrades, had ever seen before.
They were amazingly small compared to their wild counterpart, hardly bigger than a rabbit, with an appearance unlike any living creature Ash had ever seen before. Their bodies, which were clean and groomed, were covered in some strange multi-coloured, loose layers of 'fur', giving them a most alien appearance indeed. To add to their surprise, these humans were also talking; although not Lapine, the obsolete Hedgerow, still spoken by most rabbits, was unmistakable. Nearby, they saw a strange bird-shaped hrududu, which resembled a hawk in size, yet its purpose was completely beyond comprehension.
Meanwhile, the outskirters, with Hazel and Fiver in the lead, had gathered round and seemed to be engaging in friendly interactions with these strange humans. They could hear laughter and peaceful talking going on between them and Ash was seriously beginning to question if these strangers actually meant any harm at all, let alone be conspirators in a revolt. Captain Holly however, had entirely different ideas on how to handle this.
Signalling to his Owsla to circle the clearing, to prevent any attempted escapes, he suddenly emerged from the clearing, revealing himself to the outskirters. In an instant, they had both the outskirters and the strange humans within their grasp, "Nobody is going anywhere. You are all under arrest!"
The outskirters, caught by surprise, seemed to realise they were in trouble, yet made no attempt to resist. Bigwig tried reasoning with Holly, only to be rebuffed and chastised for 'conspiracy to mutiny and aiding and abating an enemy.' When the runt outskirter, Fiver tried pleading with him instead, the short-tempered Captain of Owsla roughly pushed him back, snarling, "Learn not to speak out of line, you insolent little runt! Your overactive imagination has gotten you into enough trouble already."
Ash, feeling more sympathetic than his master, was about to intervene, when Fiver's brother Hazel, with an expression of fury on his face, stepped forward and threatened Holly, who, equally infuriated at being spoken back to by an outskirter in such a disrespectful manner, seemed about to strike. To everyone's surprise however, one of the humans stepped forward and broke up the argument before it could lead to a scuffle, promising no further trouble as long as he got to talk with the Threarah. Giving him a look implying that he still saw him as a thorn in his paw, not to mention a threat to their warren, Holly relented and ordered the Owsla to escort the prisoners into custody, leaving Ash and his orderly behind to guard the hrududu.
Although under orders not to touch anything, uncertain of what this alien contraption was capable of, Ash couldn't help but feel fascinated by the unfamiliar craftsmanship of the hrududu. By now he had come to realise it wasn't a living being at all as he had thought, but some sort of artificial device these strange humans apparently used. As he gently proceeded to sniff and nudge it with his paw, feeling the unfamiliar texture of the shiny material it was contrived of, the likes of which he had never seen before, he suddenly heard a voice that made him jump, "Ash, what in Frith's name are you doing there?"
Turning round in alarm, expecting to see Holly, who would probably chew his ears off for disobeying orders, he saw a doe standing nearby, looking horrified of him inspecting the alien contraption with such intimacy. Ash smiled as he recognised his sweetheart, Celandine.
The doe, one of the precious few in the warren, was of outskirter blood, whose family had perished from the White Blindness, leaving her in the care of Ash's aristocratic family. Upon reaching adulthood, their brother-sister relationship had blossomed into romance and they hoped to mate someday. Unfortunately, Ash's dedication to his Owsla duties, as well as the possibility of scandal of mating with a 'lowly outskirter', made it difficult. Nonetheless, their love for each other remained unchanged, as demonstrated from her coming to check on him after hearing of his escapade this evening.
"Celandine! By Frith, you nearly gave me a fright there!" Ash said, rushing over to nuzzle her in greeting. The doe returned the nuzzling with equal fondness before her expression turned concerned.
"I heard what happened," she said, her eyes darting from her beloved one to the hrududu Ash had been examining, almost as if fearful he had picked up something bad from it, "Are you alright?"
"Of course love, never better," he said in reassurance, while Willow watched the tenderness between the two with a slight expression of jealousy, "I daresay those strangers mean us no harm. I do hope the Threarah thinks along those lines too…"
Despite being a dedicated Owsla officer who was expected to trust the judgement of his superiors as well as carry out their orders without question or hesitation, deep down Ash resented the biased authority he served under. These humans hadn't acted hostile in any way as to warrant an arrest; yet, Holly had proceeded to take them and the outskirters into custody as if they were confirmed enemies. Unfortunately, Ash had little authority over this matter and any protest would only get on Holly's nerves, not to mention the Threarah's, who regularly threatened complainers with demotion.
Later that evening, after Holly had returned and informed him the prisoners were secure, Ash returned to his burrow. There he met Nightshade, the Threarah's personal aid and bodyguard, who was a good friend of Ash's on the Council. Inviting him in for a bite of flayrah, his friend informed him of the news. The humans had been questioned by the Threarah and then safely locked up, while the outskirters that had been concealing them had been placed under house arrest, awaiting punishment. Bigwig and Silver, as well as Hazel and Fiver, who had been identified as the ringleaders of the 'revolt', had also been taken into custody.
"Those strange ithel have been detained, fortunately without a struggle," Nightshade said, taking a bite out of a cowslip, "Such a cheek that leader of theirs; I overheard him arguing with the Threarah that our warren is in danger of being destroyed…" Ash looked at his friend with a frown.
"Danger of being destroyed? By what? Did he say anything?" he asked, feeling rather alarmed at the warning; although these strangers so far hadn't acted hostile in any way, or so Ash had heard, Holly hadn't excluded the possibility of trouble arising later on. Nightshade however showed little concern.
"Come on Ash, whatever he was babbling about, it was no doubt hraka talk," he said, rolling his eyes, "Most likely they were trying to cook up a story, to worm their way out of trouble. Never you mind; the Threarah will deal with them properly when the time comes. Shame though; it would have been quite a story to share with visiting hlessil: how we once had a bunch of talking humans as our guests!"
After Nightshade departed, to return to his duties of tending to his master before turning in for the night, Ash lay awake thinking of what had happened today and that warning these strange humans had given the Threarah. Despite everyone's reassurance that it was nothing to be concerned about, he couldn't help but feel that they should take the arrival of these humans more seriously. What if they were indeed on to something?
His mind flashed to the outskirters that had only taken the initiative to try and get to know these strangers better and were now going to be punished for simply ignoring a superior authority that they knew wouldn't care. Ash cursed himself for not giving in to his feelings back in the woods and arguing with Captain Holly to listen to the outskirters' explanation first. So far, nobody had been able to find where these humans had come from, and, as far as Ash could tell, the Threarah had little interest in finding out, instead choosing to cover up the issue quickly and quietly before it attracted too much attention. The news of Toadflax and Scabious' upcoming promotions, to replace Bigwig and Silver, who had been axed from the Owsla for 'treason', had spread quickly, further adding to his disapproval.
In spite of his uneasy thoughts, Ash felt exhausted and settled down to get some shut-eye, planning to do something about it in the morning. Perhaps he could take Holly aside at morning silflay and insist he demanded that Toadflax and Scabious recite their story and also have the outskirters give their own side of the story as well, before any further judgement was passed. Maybe he could go to the Threarah personally and ask to see the humans and listen to their story for himself…
He didn't know how long he slept, when he was suddenly awoken by an ear-splitting sound from somewhere above ground. Before he knew what was happening, a violent vibration, unlike anything he had ever experienced before, shook the burrow. Loose earth and other debris fell from the ceiling as the entire warren began disintegrating by the shock. In an instant, Ash was on his feet, running for the nearest exit.
"Run for it! This place is falling apart!" he shouted, running past several rabbits, petrified with fear, and joining the mob struggling to reach the exit run. Suddenly, the ceiling split apart and came down over their heads like a waterfall of soil. Ash watched in horror, as the burrow started to shrink all around him from the rapidly spreading cave-in, as well as from the pilling-up bodies of rabbits crushed under the falling debris.
With his mind set on escaping, Ash abandoned all attempts to help those that couldn't be saved and bolted for his life. Breaking into a run, he run down the collapsing passages, furiously searching for a way out. But it was already too late; before he knew what was happening, he found himself trapped in a side burrow with several other rabbits that had made it there with him, including Willow, Nose-in-the-Air, Nightshade, Pine Needles, Butterbur and Celandine. Holly, the Threarah, Toadflax, Scabious, and the others were never seen again, presumably perished.
Finding themselves buried alive in this underground air pocket, their first attempt was to try and tunnel out but found the damaged ground was too unstable for burrowing, making them realise that there was no escape without outside help. Finally, they settled down, listening for any signs of movement above ground, to try and attract attention. For a while, they held onto the hope that someone else had survived the destruction and would hear them. But no one had responded to their cries for help, forcing them to conclude that they were the only survivors.
Left on their own, with nothing short of a miracle to save them, they soon gave themselves up for lost. While waiting to succumb to starvation or asphyxiation, they slowly came to the bitter realisation that those strange humans had been right all along. Although Ash had insisted that the fault had been on their part, given that the Threarah had chosen to ignore the warning, his companions, on the other hand, were convinced it had been those strange talking humans behind this calamity from the start. Apparently, there had been others like them out there and, in an act of brutal retaliation, had destroyed the warren by means of that mysterious force that had struck them. It was only until several days later when they finally heard the first voice outside and were able to attract attention…
"And the rest of the story you know," Ash said, turning back to Jamie, "Now you understand why I was so cautious when I saw what you were…"
"And that is why the likes of you are not welcome here," spat Nose-in-the-Air, glaring at Jamie with hate and distrust, "I don't care if you've saved us; the blood of our friends and comrades is on your father's hands, accident or not, and we can never forgive that!"
"I agree," shouted the rabbit called Butterbur, "This young ithe has got his questions answered as requested; now, he must either leave here immediately or be driven out, by force if necessary, just like we should have done with those other humans the instant we laid eyes upon them!"
"Drive him out?" cut in Nightshade incredulously, "It isn't as if we have a warren left to drive him out of, to begin with!" Although he shared the Owsla Scout's wish of seeing the last of this human as soon as possible, being a more level-minded fellow, he was the first to realise the real problem at hand: with Sandleford destroyed, they were stranded out in the open, a very vulnerable situation for any rabbit. They would have to get moving soon, to find a new warren somewhere, before they attracted elil. As if reading his mind, Ash turned to his companions, for which he was now in charge, being the highest-ranking surviving officer.
"Quiet down, everybody! If I can have your full attention please? As you all know, we have a crisis; we need to find a new home as soon as possible. Now, if memory serves me, the nearest friendly warren in these parts is Thinial." Some of his companions exchanged worried looks, remembering the stories of the White Blindness that had wiped out the original population long ago, "Although I remember the danger of the White Blindness, I also happen to know that the disease dies with the victims; Thinial has been deserted from hrair seasons now, since the last of the sick died out, so the wind and rain will have cleansed the place of the threat. I am sure that will make a temporary home for us until we can rebuild…"
"Excuse me," interrupted Jamie, diverting Ash's attention back to him, "I don't think anybody should go there. I have just come from Thinial myself; there are rabbits still there, living under quarantine. Several of them said they were former members of your warren, driven out when they got infected…" At this, the rabbits all turned to stare at him in shock, rather than hate as before. For all they knew, the victims of the White Blindness had long since perished, shortly after they had been driven out to die. To hear that some of them were still alive after all this time met with great surprise…and disbelief.
"Thinial is still populated?" gasped Celandine, speaking for the first time. So far she had remained silent, unsure of how to treat this strange human. But after hearing of some plague survivors still living, possibly including her own parents, she could no longer restrain her curiosity. The others too had suddenly redirected their full attention back to Jamie, who launched into his own story. He told them everything; how he had sneaked out of his house in the middle of the night in search of his father, how he had flown through the Aurora, only to find a changed world on the other side, how he met Hannah and the rabbits of Thinial and his departure to pick up his father's trail, which had eventually brought him here to Sandleford.
By the time he was done, the rabbits were staring at him with a greater level of sympathy than before; with the presence of Hannah to confirm his story down to the last word, they now realised that not only did the newcomer mean no harm, but also shared a similar misfortune with them. Ash and Nightshade stood stone-faced, while Celandine was on the verge of tears after hearing that her parents Honey and Pebble were not among the Thinial rabbits. Some of them however still had different, and more biased, opinions.
"Some survivors of the Great Sickness are still alive? Balderdash! You think we are likely to buy any more of your lies, ithe?" sneered Nose-in-the-Air, "No rabbit can possibly survive so long blind and without his sense of smell! You are just trying to trick us…"
"Trick you, am I?" snapped Jamie, losing patience, as he took out his cell phone and showed them the photographs he had taken back at Thinial to show his mother, "Is this proof enough for you? Or is your nose still as high in the air as your name suggests?"
The rabbits gasped as they saw the pictures of the blind and sickly-looking rabbits on the screen, many of which they recognised as former friends and acquaintances that they had known as children. Nose-in-the-Air however, hearing Jamie's insult, was paying no attention to the proof before his eyes.
"How dare you, you insolent little miscreant! I'll teach you a lesson in manners…!" He was about to strike Jamie, but Ash, now realising that it would be suicide leading his friends to Thinial, held him back, "You hold your silence soldier! That's an order!" He turned back to Jamie, "So what do you suggest, ithe?"
"Well…" Jamie said, feeling uncertain; at best, he had expected each of them to go their own ways without coming to blows. To have them ask him for advice felt a bit too much of a responsibility for him. "I know my father is still alive and apparently trying to make his way home. I intend to try and catch up with him and make my way back as well. I suggest we stick together and help each other find our way to safety. Judging from all the tracks we saw in the woods, he is joined by a group, probably other survivors from your warren…"
"So that's where everyone else has gone?" asked Willow, realising for the first time, the curious absence of other survivors. Although they expected the majority of the Sandlefordians to have perished in the catastrophe, it struck him odd that there weren't any other groups of survivors around. Sure enough, sniffing the ground around the warren, they noticed a good number of fading rabbit tracks, as well as four sets of human footprints, heading away towards the south. There was no doubt that others had made it out alive, regrouped and departed in search of a new home, accompanied by the some of the same humans that had unintentionally destroyed their warren.
"So that's that then; we are all fit to travel, so we have to pick up the trail at once. They can't have gotten too far already. Our young friend can also help us find our way…" Although still rather uncomfortable of letting this strange human accompany them, Ash was right that it was their best bet to try and follow the rest of their fellow Sandlefordians out there, rather than risk seeking shelter at a plague warren. Unfortunately, some of his companions still thought otherwise.
"If this ithe thinks he can lead us anywhere, he's got another thing coming!" snarled Nose-in-the-Air incredulously, "Can't you see, they're headed straight towards the Dark Territory! How do we know the others haven't been taken away as prisoners? Can't you bloody fools see that this ithe is trying to trick us? No, by Frith, I refuse to follow him! I am going to make for Thinial; anyone who wishes to come with me, feel welcome." Beside him, his two friends Butterbur and Pine Needles muttered in firm agreement to his alternate plan.
"If you go there, you'll die or else become one of them!" Jamie retorted, shocked by the rabbit's blind stubbornness to see season, "You don't have to walk straight into another death trap to prove me wrong!" Ash seemed to be thinking along the same lines as well and found the perfect moment to step in and rounded on Nose-in-the-Air.
"Bucko, you are still under my command and I forbid you to take such a foolish initiative!" he spoke in a calm, yet firm voice, "I understand your reluctance in putting any faith in the help of a human but the prospect of running foul of White Blindness is too dangerous to risk…"
"How would you know that, sir?" spat Pine Needles, backing up his friend, "No one has actually inspected Thinial to confirm this ithe's stupid story! Survivors indeed… The only evidence he has is a well-rehearsed story, a handful of familiar names, and some likenesses on that…that strange gadget of his! Frankly, that is the dumbest reason to go traipsing into hostile territory with an untrustworthy ithe to lead the way! For all we know, he could lead us straight into a trap or else turn on us when it's in his best interests…"
"That's enough, soldier!" barked Ash, losing patience, "As the commanding officer in charge here, it is my decision that we should accept our new acquaintance's help to find the rest of our friends. Thinial is not an option…" Despite his authority however, Nose-in-the-Air and his friends were far from swayed.
"If you want to go and fall victim to another of this ithe's vile tricks like the Threarah did sir, you go right ahead! But I am taking this bunch to Thinial where it is safe. Come on lads, we should get there before nightfall." They turned to leave but Ash, now truly infuriated at being disobeyed in such a disrespectful manner, stepped in front of them, blocking their path, his bushy fur bristling with rage.
"Soldier, maybe you didn't understand me? I said nobody is going to Thinial! I absolutely forbid you to endanger your life and that of your friends. Now hold your tongue and get back in line!" But Nose-in-the-Air only sneered.
"What are you going to do about it Ash? Report me? Have me demoted? In case you haven't noticed sir, your rank died when Sandleford was destroyed! You are no longer in any position to give orders to anyone. Now it's every rabbit for himself!" He turned to Butterbur and Pine Needles, "We've wasted enough time talking about this. Let's go!" Without another word, the trio turned and walked away without a backward glance, Nose-in-the-Air giving Jamie a rather rough shove on the shoulder as he passed him. Ash's eyes narrowed with fury.
"Why, those miserable, mutinous…" he snarled, about to strike and probably give the three disobedient scouts a sound beating but was held back by Celandine and, surprisingly, Jamie. The doe nuzzled her mate trying to soothe his fiery temper before he could explode, "Don't Ash, it's not worth it. They are leaving by their own choice. It would be wrong to force them to stay."
"And just let them walk straight into a death trap?" Ash snapped incredulously, "If this ithe is telling the truth, then they won't be coming back. I can't just let them go!" However, Nose-in-the-Air and his two companions were already past the boundaries, into the woods and out of sight, undoubtedly eager to get as far away as possible from the strange human their companions had chosen to place their trust in. Finally giving in to the lost battle, Ash turned to Jamie and spoke in a calm, yet stern voice.
"I guess our destination is up to you Sunflower…Jamie," he said, using Jamie's real name for the first time, "We trust you to reunite us safely with our companions that left us for dead. However, I give you fair warning, if you try and double-cross us or bring any harm upon anyone under my protection, you will live to regret it! That's a promise."
"Then I guess I have nothing to fear," Jamie replied sheepishly, slightly alarmed at Ash's harsh warning. He was relieved when Nightshade stepped in.
"So, how do we find the others? They've already got a few days start on us; the wind and rain will have probably washed away most of the tracks and scent by now. And we have no idea where exactly they are headed…"
"Well, I guess we should start walking and hope they haven't gotten too far…" Ash suggested, also uncertain of how to track down the rest of the Sandleford refugees, but Jamie had a better idea.
"I have a better idea," he said, remembering the Cessna he had seen heading south, "What we need to catch up with the others is a faster means of transportation. And I know just where we can find it…"
After outlining his plan to his companions, they started salvaging any useful components and tools they could find from the debris field, according to Jamie's specifications. Once they had salvaged everything necessary for an improvised aircraft salvage operation, as well as anything they might need for a long journey, Jamie led the way back to the site where his glider had crash-landed the other day.
Author's note: Jamie's true journey now begins in earnest! For those of you that have read my first story, you already know that he doesn't find Alan's group, although he will pass certain places also found in the previous story. Also, Jamie's nickname Sunflower is borrowed from another fanfic called Prince Rainbow's Blessing by kamikaziwinkie. His journey will feature new characters, as well as a few old ones, all set in a new plotline, yet preserving the continuity of the first story. Enjoy and please review! Until next time then!