Longtails: The Storms of Spring – Chapter One (READ FREE)

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The Future.

Humanity is Extinct.

Ruins of human civilization lay as the bedrock of a new world order governed by animals of all shapes and sizes.

Biological warfare and radiation during World War 4 have had surprising effects on the creatures of the world.  Some for the better.  Some for the worse.  Raccoons scour the countryside for motorbike parts.  Squirrels have taken to the sky aboard flying ships.  Danger lurks around every corner.

A large population of mice, small as they are, has migrated to the city of Verden.  There, they created a thriving society protected by a magic-casting, sword-wielding team of intrepid soldiers, adventurers and explorers—the Longtails.

This is their story.

CHAPTER ONE

The Not So Special Mouse

Del Hatherhorne was anything but a hero.  In fact, he was the epitome of a nobody as far as mice were concerned.  His short, coarse fur was the color of brown commonly referred to as mouse-brown.  Typical.  His whiskers were of perfectly average length.  Forgettable.  His tail was not too long—nor too short, and his belly was rounded in a way that suggested he didn’t get much exercise but also didn’t gorge himself on treats.  Ordinary.  Even his age was average.  He was six seasons old, making him no longer a youthful mouse, but also not elderly.  But it wasn’t just an amalgamation of his height, weight, age or appearance which made Del so unfathomably unmentionable.

Most mice grew up knowing exactly what they wanted to do with their lives.  His brother Jerrik, for example, knew that he was meant to build a farm where he could raise a family and help provide food to the Mouselands.  As soon as he was of age, approximately two seasons old, he marched south with his seeds and his books.  He built a thriving farm atop a Descimator Mk III, a human army tank.  Ever since he was a pup, Jerrik researched seeds, soil and weather patterns.  The day he managed to save each and every one of the various plants their mother had tried in vain to grow, his parents knew that he was going to make something of himself.  Jerrik had smiled wide, whiskers bristling, delighted to be working at the farm every day until their family was not just getting by but thriving.  Del’s mother shed a tear of pride, and his father proclaimed his son all grown up.

Del’s sister, Cassie, the oldest child, had known she would grow up to be a scholar, organizing and preserving tomes in the libraries of the Spectrum Halls, where young magically inclined mice were sent to train and study.  Named for the ‘spectrum’ of colors which delineated different classes of magical mice (Scarlets, Violets, Coals, etc.), it was a place full of wisdom from ages long past.  Hundreds of mice worked day and night to preserve the information of the old world in the books which were housed there, collecting dust by the day.

The first time Cassie visited the Halls, she knew that she was meant to be one of the purveyors of knowledge.  The elder mouse who ran the library had practically had to pull her away, kicking and screaming, from one of the books on ancient Egyptian mythology as Cassie had insisted that the book ought to be in a different section of the library than it was.  (She was, of course, right about this fact.  Ancient Egyptian Mythology had no place in a section marked “Chinese Military Tactics.”)

The elder had held her by her scruff and loudly proclaimed to the astonished patrons gathered in the library, “Please claim this mouse pup if she is yours.  She’s leaving paw prints on the books.”  In a strange sense of irony, Cassie was now up for the elder scholar’s job at the library in the next year or so.

Del was the middle child to Rosak and Melen Hatherhorne, and unlike his siblings, he did not have a calling or a purpose.  He had never made his mother cry—at least, not out of pride, anyway.  His father had never proclaimed him to be all grown up.  But what he lacked in useful skills and life-sustaining abilities, he more than made up for in obsessions, all of which he was an expert in, and all of which his mother called “incredible wastes of time and brain space.”

Unlike most other mice, Del did not care for the outdoors.  Things were always too unpredictable out in the world, and dirtier than he liked.  He preferred to stay inside and tend to his hobbies, of which there were plenty.  In fact, the one thing Del was quite skilled at was obsessing over the culture of a world long gone, chronicled by shut-ins like himself.

He was captivated by humanity, that dead species which haunted every corner of the world they’d left behind.  In particular, he was infatuated with the sub-culture which, if he understood correctly, was known as ‘Geek.’  Other terms included ‘Nerd’ and ‘Dork.’  These fantasy-reading, super-hero-worshipping, board-game-playing, anime-watching monoliths of old were his people.

Del adored everything ‘Geek’ he could get his paws on.  movies, books, games, artwork.  But his favorite things to collect, by far, were ancient tomes crafted on thin paper, illustrated with beautifully painted pictures.  He not only loved these artistic creations known as ‘comic books,’ he craved them.

His sister, when they’d still lived together, had scoffed at these relics filled with flimsy paper and more pictures than words.  “They’re the artistic equivalent of garbage,” she’d said with her nose held high in the air, as if smelling something unsavory.  She simply didn’t understand them, that was all.

It was as if the creators of these books had spoken a language that had been all but forgotten until Del came along.  He loved reading about heroes fighting villains across sprawling splash pages; knights battling monsters through panels that cascaded down the page like waterfalls; and samurai vanquishing yokai, oftentimes in black and white images, with hundreds of lines delineating fast-paced action.  He simply couldn’t get enough of the stories held within the pages of these comic books, and like any addiction, once he finished one book, he simply had to have another.

It was because of this addiction to consuming and collecting comic books that his parents had finally asked him to leave the nest—forcefully so.  “If you’re going to continue to bring home rubbish like this, then you’re going to have to find a new place to store them,” said his mother one evening, holding a copy of Green Lantern #48, by a corner between her two fingers, like it was a filthy rag.  (It was the issue where Kyle Rayner was introduced.  Many men had held the mantle of ‘The Green Lantern,’ but Kyle was Del’s favorite.  He liked that the man had once been an artist, which seemed to say to Del that greatness could indeed come from anywhere.)  “And while you’re at it, you can store yourself there as well,” his mother added, her way of not-so-subtly saying give up or get out.  Del got out.

He came to live in an abandoned apartment room in the northern part of the great mouse city of Verden.  His new home was on the third floor of a complex, located at the corner of 14th Street and Larimer—according to their corresponding rusted green street signs at least.  While not all mice lived in the city, protected by a massive wooden wall around its perimeter, most did.  Safety was a big part of the reason for this, but the fact that every mouse family could have a whole human-sized apartment to themselves didn’t hurt either.  The humans had conveniently built their housing upwards instead of outwards, making plenty of room for any and all mice to live comfortably alongside their fellow kind.

He’d fallen in love with the vacant studio apartment the moment he’d laid eyes on it.  Shelves adorning pale blue walls were filled floor to ceiling with everything from manga (Japanese comics which read right to left), to comics (mostly published by DC but with a spattering of Marvel, Image and Darkhorse), to video games (a wide assortment with role-playing games and puzzlers making up the bulk of it), and even old movies (names like Spielberg, Lucas and Ridley Scott were embossed along the spines of the shimmering boxes.)  There was a large window overlooking the street below, though most of it had been covered by green vines which snaked up the exterior brick wall.  More books were stored in molded boxes under the bed, which Del had chewed through in a fit of true mousiness in order to discover the hidden treasures within.   And even more books were piled high in the bathtub, located through a door at the south side of the single room.

All of these books, movies, comics and board games (stashed in a closet in tall towers which leaned precariously to one side) had compelled Del to take the apartment instantly.  He’d used his entire savings of chez—mouse money in the form of small bronze coins—to buy the apartment outright from the city’s treasury, which handled all matters of mouse real estate.

Del never really worked for the money he earned.  It was simply a by-product of his need to collect all things ‘Nerd.’  While rummaging through nearby trash heaps and buildings, too run-down to be lived in, for geeky items to add to his collection, he’d come upon odds and ends like gears and tools and such.  He often sold these at the market, a sprawling street filled with mouse merchants.  Until his parents had forced him out, he’d just been saving the chez he’d earned from his sales.  Those savings were what had allowed him to buy a home, pre-stocked with items he would have otherwise had to dig, search and hunt for.  For all the disdain his parents held for his hobby, it was what served as a lifeline in his time of need.

Del didn’t know much about humans.  Not really.  To him, they were a fallen race from long ago—not as long gone as dinosaurs but gone nonetheless.  All he knew about them was what he found in books and movies.  And if you asked him, humans might have been powerful once, but they had also been overly dramatic and emotional.  Still, he couldn’t help but love their stories.

From Spider-Man’s troubled youth to Kenshin’s search for redemption, to Batman’s vengeance for his parents’ death, Del was hard-pressed to ever take his furry face away from the pages of a book.  But at night, he would finally take a break from reading, only to use an old fuel generator to power up the computer.  He’d set himself up on the desk, which was one of the only other pieces of furniture in the apartment besides a bed, a small couch and a chair. The computer was loaded with ROMs of old games that he quite enjoyed. He would run, jump and climb as the bird/bear team called Banjo-Kazooie, then switch over to hide behind large crates while infiltrating military bases as Solid SnakeHe only allowed himself an hour at most on the computer each night, in hopes that he wouldn’t burn out the generator that was starting to sputter and cough with age.  But he relished every minute of it.  His life was filled with stories, other people’s to be sure, but stories nonetheless.  When exhaustion finally overcame him, he would curl up under the moth-eaten navy-blue comforter atop the twin size bed in the center of the room and fall into a deep restful sleep.

Every so often, he considered striking out on his own to create his own adventure, like the ones he read about.  But at the end of the day, he knew that it was far too dangerous outside the walls of his home, let alone outside the walls of the city, where most adventures were had.

The furthest he ever traveled was to the market, laid out in an alleyway between two large skyscrapers bordering Lawrence and Arapahoe Streets.  It provided good shelter from the sun, which in the summer months could cause a mouse’s tail to burn to a deep red hue.  And it was only a few short blocks away from his home.  Del’s ideal adventure was one where you could leave and be home within the hour.

He would browse different stalls, selling any scrap he’d found on his expeditions, and purchase food—grain, grapes and corn—as well as whatever fizzy drink Marbel Beaks was selling.  The old shopkeeper had a knack for finding all sorts of odd beverages, preserved from the old world.  “They don’t start to go sour until you open ‘em up,” he’d say to Del with a crooked smile and a lazy eye which never could stay focused on Del’s face.  Sometimes these drinks filled Del with energy, so he could read his books all night.  Other days, they made him woozy and unable to walk in a straight line.  Either way, the ‘surprise’ was what made trying the beverages fun.  And this beverage taste testing was the extent of Del’s appetite for risk-taking.

It wasn’t all business at the market though.  Del also enjoyed overhearing stories of the brave members of the Longtails, a mouse-made military force commanded by the Council of Five.  The Council was the ruling body of the Mouselands that decided all things in the way of mouse livelihood.  From magic-wielding members of the Spectrum Halls, who fought off an infestation of horned beetles; to brave fighters and sharp-shots defending the Mouselands from foxes and roaming raccoons just past the borders of mouse territories; Del found these stories almost as exciting as those involving Harry, Ron and Hermione as they fought to stop the rising evil of Voldemort alongside their rising piles of Potions homework.

Though the Mouselands were spread out over miles of land, the epicenter was within Verden’s high walls.  Mice with special talents had taken over large buildings, turning them into guilds or halls—hubs where mice with similar talents could train and master their craft.  Perhaps you were a fledgling fighter needing a place to train with a sword or axe—one of the many fighter’s guilds would suit you just fine.  Or maybe you were a mouse with fine culinary tastes, in search of like-minded mice to share recipes with—you’d be right at home at the Fork, a building with a permanently darkened neon sign reading Benihana above its doorway.  If a mouse had a skill, chances were that he could find a place to hone it in Verden.

The Canticle, a place where mice specializing in the healing arts were sent to perfect their skills, could be found in The Field, which had once been used by humans to play a game that Del had seen in some of his books, called baseball.  In the center of the enormous field was a shrine to the great mouse Ganafeila, who many mice believed had been the founder of the city and of the Longtails.  It was said that a spirit had spoken to her and told her to send out her best warriors to seek a new home for the mice.  In olden days, it was believed that mice with the longest tails were destined to live the longest, luckiest lives.  In actuality, mice with big tails were typically just bigger in general, making them tougher and hardier.  Their tail size was irrelevant.

Ganafeila had thus created a band of five mice, those with the longest tails among her followers, and sent them out to find a new home for her followers.  This was the very first ‘band’ of Longtails, which was what teams of Longtails were still referred to.  The five brave mice had marched south and founded Verden, creating the very first Council of Five: themselves.

Other magically-inclined mice, the Scarlets, Violets and Coals for example, took up residence in a large center in the southwest part of the city.  The building had enormous passageways and gigantic rooms filled with nothing at all.  The most captivating thing about the building was its exterior.  Standing just outside its large glass windows was the sculpture of a gigantic blue bear, which stood forever frozen as it peered into the second story hallways.

Just west of this, across the Splattered River, were several buildings which stood next to each other, making up the multiple small guilds for melee fighters: the Eagle’s Guild, which trained mice adept with long-ranged bow weapons, not actual eagles; the Blade’s Guild, which specialized in mice who were trained in swords and daggers; and the Woodcutter’s Guild, made up of fighters who wielded axes of varying sizes, just to name a few.

But Del knew that the best stories came from beyond Verden and the Mouselands surrounding it.  There were lands governed and inhabited by all manner of other animals.  To the north, tall clusters of trees created a dense forest.  While many animals called it home, the mighty Allegiance of Blue Jays was the main governing force.  The Allegiance resided in a massive tree at the center of the forest, known as Nesavary, and they kept the peace for the birds, excommunicating any flocks who weren’t willing to follow the laws put into place.

To the west could be found a quaint, wooded area, still populated by many old homes and broken-down cars.  The long-vacated suburb was overgrown with endless blades of grass and weeds which snaked their way into any crack or crevice they could find.  This green land was known as Lakewood. North of this was a land of golden fields of wheat and barley, watched over by the Democracy of Raccoons, in a territory known as the Ridge of Wheat.  Further west were the Rocky Mountains which stretched high into the sky, obscuring the horizon with their massive forms.  Their snowy peaks could be seen no matter where in the city you were standing.  No mouse dared to venture there.  It was much too cold and far too dangerous.

South of the Mouselands, plants didn’t grow quite as well, and smoke seemed to permanently permeate the air.  Streets were cluttered with rusted cars, left behind by humans who had fled with only what they could carry.  Large homes, once symbols of a family’s wealth, now lay crushed by time and the elements.  Engelwood, as the area was called, was home to animals like skunks and weasels, porcupines and opossums, all fighting over every little bit of land and possession they could get their greedy paws on.

Further south still was the region known as the Highlands.  Larger animals roamed there—elk and deer.  There had even been claims of bear sightings, though most of these giant creatures had been wiped out when one of the last human reactors had exploded, destroying all the land around it.  Nowadays, grizzlies were mostly used for scary stories to frighten baby mice into doing their chores: “Finish cleaning the dishes, or a bear will come and take you in the night!”

To the east was prairie land as far as the eye could see: Aurora, the ‘cursed land.’  Much of the fields were flat, untamed and scorched black by the human war from so many years ago.  Some mice believed that radiation had warped the creatures here to a point of being more monster than animal.  The Longtails had once been sent into the prairies on recon missions, but few had returned.  For the safety of mouse-kind, Aurora had been abandoned by the mice.

Del had no intention of seeing any of these wild places.  He rarely chose to leave his home, and for those times when he had to, he made short work of it.  Days like today, he was content to stay inside from dusk until dawn, barely even knowing the weather outside his own window, let alone the business of beasts which roamed the outer territories.

A light pattering of rain was falling outside, which meant it was a good day to stay in and read.  Then again, any day was a good day to stay in and read, if you asked Del.  He had been saving a dark graphic novel series called Locke and Key for a day just like this one.  It was written by an author he adored named Joe Hill, and it chronicled the story of a family of humans who moved into a house which was full of horrors, all revolving around several mysterious keys which each unlocked a magical secret within the house.  Del was just as interested in the stories he read as he was in seeing what the world had looked like before the last great war before the humans went extinct.

After sleeping in past the time that a respectable mouse would wake up, he ate a quick breakfast/lunch, if that’s what you could call several peanuts, a strawberry and a slice of pumpkin from his brother’s farm.  He preferred to take his meals at the end of the twin-sized bed, sitting them on a wooden cutting board which he had hefted there through great effort.  When he was finished, he leaped down to the hardwood floor of the apartment using the bed’s comforter which hung over the bed and onto the floor, to break his fall.  It was like landing atop a fluffy cloud.

Del had always assumed that the human who had amassed the collection in the apartment was just as much of a shut-in as he was.  A Nerd.  A Geek.  Del wore these titles like badges of honor.  While most mice were proud of their work or their families, Del was proud of the things that made him seem more like the apartment’s previous human occupant.  He was proud to have read every issue of Ultimate Spider-Man.  He was proud to have beaten every Final Fantasy video game.  He was proud to know that Han shot first.

Del scurried across the floor and up the nearby black bookshelf to the third shelf up where sat all seven volumes of Locke and Key.  He used a combination of paws and buck teeth to pull the first volume from the shelf.  He would never have done this with other mice around, as it was considered uncouth to use a mouse’s teeth in such a way.  The thin book fell to the floor with a thud. He then raced back down to the floor and grabbed the book by one corner, maneuvering it into a small cart he had made from the wheels of a toy truck and a small wooden plank.

Del had the mind of a puzzle solver and was good at discovering uses for thing that may have otherwise been useless.  He imagined this was why he was so good at games like The Legend of Zelda and Metroid, which were loaded with puzzles and mysteries just waiting to be cracked.  He pushed the cart around the bed, placing it just below the window, where he had built a pulley system to act as a small elevator.  He moved the book from the cart to the lift, then ran up the brick wall and used a crank—built of pencils, a can lid and glue—to steadily lift the book up to the deep windowsill.  There he could read while peering out at the rain-soaked world beyond—not that he really ever looked outside once he was engrossed in a good book.

He pulled the book onto the sill and over to a large plush pillow in the shape of a panda.  He grabbed a match from a stack near the corner of the sill and lit a round red candle, which already had long strands of wax pouring down its sides.  He crushed the flaming tip of the match down on the sill, putting out the fire.  Safety first.  He then jumped onto the panda pillow, nestled himself into it, and propped open the book.

“Just our luck it would rain,” came a female voice from down on the street outside.  Her voice was audible but muffled by the window.

Del’s large ears twitched with surprise.  A smaller-eared animal might not have even heard the voice over the rain.  The street he lived on, though within the city limits, was especially overgrown with plant-life.  Moss and vine-like weeds coated the outer walls of every single building.  Even the road was broken up by roots twisting up to devour the pavement, causing the asphalt to jut out at strange angles.  Because of this, carts and buggies and any other mouse transportation with wheels could not traverse the street, and thus it was rarely traveled.  Even the other mice who lived in his building preferred to come in through holes in the foundation on the opposite side of the structure.  The quiet was something Del adored about the studio.  The fact that anyone would walk on this side of the building, his side of the building, was enough to pique his curiosity.  He peered out the window at the street below, which was slick and glossy from the rain.  Three mice walked side by side, their tiny footfalls sloshing the water that was quickly turning from a light sheen to a puddle.

Unlike himself, the three mice were all dressed very impressively.  Del wore very little, even by mouse standards.   His only article of clothing was a knit scarf wrapped around his neck, striped aquamarine and navy blue.  It had been a gift from his mother upon being unceremoniously asked to leave and find a new home.  Happy Move Out of Your Parent’s House Day.  Here’s a parting gift!  Despite the pretense, he loved the scarf, finding that the colors made him look quite dashing.  The long ends also helped to hide his slightly large belly, provided that he wore it a certain way.

The mice on the street below looked like adventurers.  Longtails, Del thought.  In the lead was a male mouse with dark steel armor.  A large battle-axe was strapped to his back, and though he wasn’t much bigger than the other mice, his attire and dark chocolate-colored fur made him seem far more imposing than his comrades.

Next to him on the left was a mouse dressed in a fancy blood-red coat with white trim on the collar.  He wore leather boots and wrapped his white gloved paws around the hilt of a rapier, whose sheath hung from a large black belt.  He had white fur and a red fedora with a white feather pluming out of it.

To the right of the armored mouse was the ladymouse who had spoken, and Del could see that she was stunning, despite a scowl which sat firmly on her face.  She had golden-blond fur and wore a simple red traveling cloak with the hood over her head, delicately tied under her chin, with pre-cut holes that allowed her ears to pop out.  The cloak fell over her shoulders, covering the top half of a dark leather tunic.  Del immediately noticed the old mouse-sized book which was strapped onto her back like a backpack, hanging just above her long slender tail.

Del kept an eye on them as they passed, walking calmly through the center of the street below.  He longed to get back to his book, but it wasn’t every day that a band of Longtails traveled along the very street he lived on.

“Come now, Denya,” said the white mouse in all red.  “Must you always be so negative?  The rain can be quite refreshing.”

“Easy for you to say,” remarked Denya, the ladymouse.  “It’ll be the first bath you’ve had in weeks.”

“How rude!”

“Quiet down, you two,” said the armored mouse in front.  “You’ll call unwanted attention to us.”

“And what are you so worried about?” asked the white mouse.  “This is a residential street.  At worst, we’ll distract some old ladymouse from her laundry.  Then again, we wouldn’t want to be the culprit in the case of the overly-soapy knickers.”

“A mouse reported seeing a slender on this street,” said the leader.

“Bah!  Probably saw her own shadow.  These mice are always looking for a bit of excitement in their tragically boring lives.  Face it, Roderick, this mission is just an excuse to get you out of the Council chambers, so the Council doesn’t have to listen to your-”

“To my what, Arthur?” Roderick interrupted.

Arthur suddenly quailed.  “To your much better ideas on how the Council should be run, of course.”

“Of course,” mocked Roderick.  He eyed their surroundings, seeming not to mind the rain wetting his fur.  “Still, this street seems fairly unused.  If there were trouble, this would be as good a place as any to hide it in plain sight.”

Del saw something out of the corner of his eye.  It was like a shadow, moving so quickly he almost missed it.  His eyes darted around in the rain, trying to make out the shape which had appeared behind the mouse trio, trying to catch its movement once more.  Perhaps it was another mouse, or something washed away by the rain.  But as the shadow bolted once more and his eyes caught a glimpse of it, nothing could prepare him for what he saw.  He let out a little squeak, but quickly covered his mouth, as if the thing down on the street might hear him.

Creeping from behind an overgrown car onto the backside of a toppled truck with a bed of marigolds blooming from it was a slender, dark-brown creature, three times the height of the mice it stalked.  On its head, it wore a pair of leather goggles, and strapped to its back was a pair of menacing curved blades.

“A mink,” whispered Del to himself.  The creature looked like a hunter, stalking its prey in the night.  His mind flashed to images of assassins he’d read about, trying to pinpoint which of them this mink reminded him of.  Deadshot?  Deathstroke?  The Terminator?  He gave his head a quick shake.  This is no time to be daydreaming.

The mink followed the three armored mice, who seemed completely unaware of its presence.  The rain and wind were the perfect cover for its approach.  But how was a mink even here? On this very street?  His street?  Verden was like a fortress, impenetrable to outside animals.  That was why few mice ever left.  It was the safest place in the world.  Or so Del thought.

He was suddenly overcome with something he had never once in his life felt before: the need to do something for someone else.  It was beyond comprehension.  He hoped that the trio of mice would notice the oncoming attack before it was too late, but the mink was edging closer, and the mice were still arguing among themselves, completely oblivious.

“We won’t be able to spot anything useful until the rain lets up,” offered Denya.  “And if the drops get any bigger they’ll wash us away.  Perhaps a local mouse would let us take shelter, just until the storm passes.”

“I’d rather be washed away then continue this pointless mission,” said Arthur.  “Honestly, what’s next, taking mouse pups for a walk?  Folding underwear?  This is beneath us.  All of us.”

“Oh, shut it, Arthur,” snapped Denya.  “All you ever do is complain.  It is our job to do as the Council asks.  Not the other way around.  Honestly, you Scarlets just want everything you do to be so dramatic, waving your fancy sword and magic around like you’re putting on a show all the time.”

“I take offense to that comment.  We may be overly dramatic, but Concoctors like you are essentially glorified chefs.”

“How dare you!  We are vital in making potions and poultices and remedies and . . . and . . .”

“As if that takes any skill.  It’s no wonder you like these city missions.  Maybe next week the Council will have us baking cupcakes.”

“Why you little—”

The mink was almost upon them now.  Every part of Del which told him to stay inside, to not get involved, to leave dangerous tasks to others, suddenly turned off.  It was like a light switch had been flicked by some invisible force.  And even though he was completely aware of it happening, he was powerless to stop it.  He took off, moving faster than he’d ever moved before.  He pulled himself up to the latch on the window and frantically spun the handle to create a small crack.  Rain blew into the room, and onto his book, drenching the pages of his beloved comic.  He reached out a paw in desperation, as if the water on the book was actually causing him pain.  But looking down at the mink, he knew there was no time to save the graphic novel.  Feeling like he was leaving a wounded soldier on a battlefield, Del forced himself to abandon his comic.  He jumped through the cracked window out into the cold, wrapping his scarf tightly around his neck as its tails whipped in the wind, trying his best to resist looking back.

There was a wooden electrical post leaning up next to the building where it had fallen long ago.  Electricity no longer pulsed through its wires, and probably hadn’t for some time.  Del ran on all fours, heading for the post, hoping to traverse its wires to make his way down and warn the mice.  But for every single step he took, the mink seemed to take five.  It moved like a viper, slithering from one shadow to the next.  The assassin’s paws reached behind, unsheathing the two sharp daggers.

Del pounced from the building’s awning to the electrical post and then, throwing one end of his scarf over the wire and catching it in his other paw, he leapt from the awning, swinging from the wire as gravity pulled him haphazardly towards the earth below.  Adrenaline raced through him.  His mind focused on one pressing thought: Warn the mice.  You must warn the mice.  You’re swinging from these wires like Spider-man . . . I mean . . . warn the mice!  Just above the mice, he released his grip on one end of the scarf and fell.  The mink was already upon them.  It raised its daggers, ready to strike.  A crack of thunder bellowed through the heavens as Del landed between the mink and the mice, splattering a small puddle of water in all directions.  For a brief moment, he imagined he was Batman, leaping into the scene with lightning at his back, like he had seen on the cover of The Dark Knight Returns.

“Stop!” He held out his paws as if he could literally stop the attack.  It was foolish.  So foolish.  He knew this for a fact.  He was neither Batman nor Spider-man.  He was Del.  A no one.  A nobody.  With his paws outstretched and the blades stabbing for him as if in slow motion, he closed his eyes and awaited the end.

But the end never came.

“What the—” gasped Arthur, spinning around.

“How…” exclaimed Denya.

Del peeked his eyes open, the way he had when marathoning his apartment’s collection of horror films.  He was terrified of what he might see, but some sick part of him wanted to see it anyway.  He felt light-headed, as if his strength was being leached away.  His whole body was growing weaker by the second.  The water from the rain had stopped between himself and the mink and, to Del’s great surprise, had become a wall of solid ice, encasing the daggers and freezing them in place.

“W-what devilry is this?!” screeched the mink in a high-pitched snarl.

Roderick, never one to miss an opportunity, unleashed the axe from his back and lunged over the ice wall.  He gave a mighty swing and then plunged the axe squarely into the confused mink’s head.  Hot red blood sprayed against the ice wall, splattering across its pristine surface.

Del tried to catch his breath as the mink’s lifeless body fell to the ground in front of him.  Everything was spinning.  The ice wall collapsed, becoming water once more, soaking his already damp fur.  It was as if the cold water was swallowing him.  His body felt heavy as his vision began to blur.

“He doesn’t look so good,” said Arthur.  Del couldn’t tell which direction the voice was coming from.  It sounded far away, and then Del felt his legs give out.  As he fell, his final thought was of his book, left open and rain-soaked back in the studio apartment.  It was such a shame, because he had really been looking forward to reading it.  He thought he might be dying, but what hurt the most was knowing that his book would probably be too damaged to read.  And wherever was he going to find another copy of Locke and Key Volume One?  The world fell in on itself as he toppled to the ground and everything went dark.

Read more in Longtails: The Storms of Spring

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