A children's book for grown-ups by Jon Evans

September 24, 2007

66. Victory

Patch was dizzy and bleeding from a dozen wounds, but none seemed vital. He downstumbled to the ground and into a moonlit chaos of milling cats and squirrels. The ground was wet with blood, littered with corpses of rats and squirrels and cats; the sighs and groans of the wounded accumulated into a near-roar; and he had to breathe through his mouth to avoid being overcome by the stabbing intensity of the blood and death and desperation that permeated the air. Patch raced to where he had last seen Silver and began to frantically search through the dead and wounded. But she was nowhere.

"Patch," a drained voice called, and Twitch limped over to join him. Twitch's right foreleg could barely support his weight, and a huge, bloody flap of fur hung loosely from his back, along the length of his spine. "We won."

It sounded more an epitaph than a cry of triumph.

"Have you seen Silver?" Patch demanded. "She was fighting Snout, I saw her."

Twitch shook his head.

A huge flapping shadow settled to the ground before Patch.

"Snout escaped," Karmerruk said in a grating voice.

He opened his claws and the ruined corpse of a small squirrel fell to the ground. Patch hesitated, squinted, and his eyes widened with recognition.

"Redeye," he said. "The false King."

Karmerruk shrugged as if all squirrels were the same to him.

"My mother, with the silver fur, Snout was fighting her, did you see her?" Patch asked.

"No." Karmerruk considered. "I saw rats dragging away dead squirrels, and perhaps one seemed to shine in the light, but none of those rats were Snout."

The hawk spread his wings and ascended. Patch stared after him, watched him disappear into the night sky, thinking furiously. He didn't want to think it, much less admit it - but in his heart he knew Silver was almost certainly dead, and the rats had taken her corpse. But why?

A new and feline voice interrupted his reverie: Alabast. The big white cat was scored with many fresh wounds, but still looked ready for battle. He said, "Patch, the Queen would speak with you."

Patch followed Alabast back to the oak. Twitch staggered along behind. Around them, clouds of crows had already begun to descend and feed on the dead. Most of the living were too tired or hurt to drive them away. Zelina stood in the midst of a reverent crowd of dozens of cats beneath the great oak. There was blood on her whiskers. Stardancer and Sharpclaw were outside the feline mob, and Patch paused briefly to speak with them.

"Have you seen Silver?" he asked.

Stardancer shook his head sadly.

"Redeye is dead."

"So is King Thorn."

Patch grunted. "I suppose that makes you King."

"I? But - the Center Kingdom has never had a Northern king -"

Patch shrugged carelessly and followed Alabast through the feline mob. Most of the cats looked at him suspiciously until they saw the way Zelina smiled at him.

"I dispatched envoys before I joined you here," she said. "There are many cats on this island, Patch son of Silver. Most live fat with their human attendants, but they were still born ready for battle, and I am still their Queen. When roused we are the mightiest army on all this island, save perhaps for the humans themselves."

"I'm very glad."

"Is your mother -"

"She's gone," Patch said, in a voice that was nearly a howl, "she's gone, she's dead and they took her away."

"Oh, Patch, oh, no," Zelina breathed. "Oh, I'm so sorry."

Patch collapsed trembling to the ground, and Zelina came over to comfort him, and the cats all around sighed with surprise to see the sorrow and tenderness with which she touched him.

"Sleep," she whispered. "I won't tell you things will be better when you wake, dear Patch, but sleep. Day will come. You will heal. It was her time."

Then a new voice said, "Wait."

Patch looked up forlornly at White, who had somehow slipped into the crowd of cats.

"They took her away?" the albino squirrel asked.

"Yes, I couldn't find her, Karmerruk said he saw rats dragging dead squirrels away, they must have taken her -"


"No what?"

"Not dead. They don't take the dead. They take the blackblood-bitten. They take them to be eaten alive by the King Beneath."

Patch came suddenly to his feet. "Then Silver's alive!"

Zelina shook her head. "By now she's gone, Patch. There are passages to the underworld all through this island. She's gone into the Kingdom Beneath."

Patch thought of the dog-thing with golden eyes that called itself Coyote.

"I know," he said. "I know where they're taking her."


Anonymous Rakie said...

gah, so patch has to go down into that scary underworld place now... eeeeeek. I really hope silver's okay tho! out o interest, how many chapters have we got left now? can't be too many now... gah, i don't want this story to end but i really want to find out what happens. Oh, the conflict. :D

btw, the 'next chapter' link on chapter 65 still seems to be saying 'to be continued'...

September 25, 2007 at 1:10 AM  

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Jon Evans is the award-winning author of the thrillers Invisible Armies, Dark Places (aka Trail of the Dead), and The Blood Price. See his web site rezendi.com.

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