Everyone stood around trying not to look at the bodies of the mice. We’d managed to keep going on pure adrenalin during the fight, but now it all looked very real, and very much like a crime scene.
“Dudley, you know the washing line outside? Pull it down and bring it in here. Maurice, go get the sacks from the island. Claire, take Flossie to the pond and wash her eyes out, she looks like she’s still got some of the dust in there. I’ll take care of this.” I pointed at the bodies without looking at them.
They all stood still for a moment—I thought they were going to have a go at me for trying to boss them around—but they turned and went off as instructed. I didn’t particularly feel like giving orders, but they needed to stop dwelling on what we’d just done and I think they were glad to have something to do. The other reason for my sudden take-charge attitude was that I really needed to be alone.
As soon as they’d gone, I sat on the ground with a bump and burst into tears. I know, just when you think I couldn’t get any more manly. It wasn’t really crying, more shuddering sobs that lasted for about ten seconds and that was it. I think my body just needed to get it out.
Once it was over, I stood up feeling calm. No, not calm, numb. An emotion I welcomed.
Getting the spear out of the female mouse’s head was a nightmare. It wouldn’t come out the way it had entered, so I had to push it all the way through and pull it out the other end. Even more horrible than it sounds.
I put the bodies next to each other. Dudley came in carrying the rope with laundry still attached. I took the cloths and laid them over the mice, not out of respect, just so we wouldn’t have to looked at them.
The others arrived a few moments later. The atmosphere was pretty wretched and they were all waiting for me to tell them what to do. I took a torch out of the sack and lit it off the fire. It burnt quite well, although I could tell it wouldn’t last long. I had a look down the hole. It was deeper than I’d expected although wide enough to allow me down. Someone smaller would probably have an easier time, but I couldn’t see either or the girls volunteering.
Before I attempted it, I did a quick survey of the other rooms. They had been too dark to search before, but now I had the torch. I didn’t bother explaining what I was doing, the others just followed.
The rooms were all empty apart from straw bedding against each wall. There were also dark splotches on the floor and walls. I guessed they were blood splatters from when the mice were killed, but I didn’t say anything.
The last room we checked had a broken lantern in it. This was the source of the glass I had cut myself on. A lantern would be more useful than the torch (which was already spluttering its last). I stuck the torch inside the lantern as best I could and the wick caught light. I could feel liquid splosh around inside the base, but without glass the light wasn’t very bright. But bright enough.
I assumed it ran on oil, although where you got oil from I had no idea.
We returned to the hole. Dudley and Maurice held onto one end of the rope and lowered me down. I was relieved when I hit bottom—I had been worried the rope wouldn’t be long enough. There was a tunnel leading away but I had to get on my hand and knees to enter it. I’m not claustrophobic, but squeezing myself through made my scalp tingle and my heart palpitate. With all the craziness going on, I had forgotten what a wuss I was. I tried to calm myself and forced myself forward. The tunnel narrowed even more so I had to crawl on my stomach, pushing the lantern ahead of me. I could taste dirt in my mouth and feel the walls tighten around me.
I finally reached the end and it opened into a small cavern, large enough for me to sit up. In a corner there was a roll of parchment. What was it? A treasure map? A magic scroll? I unrolled it.
A piece of charcoal fell out. The page was covered in drawings. Quite realistic poses of the female mouse, on her back, legs open showing her privates. In detail. A lot of close-up detail.
After a few moments of trying to make sense of what I was looking at I started laughing. I felt such an idiot. I had come to a strange fantastical world and turned myself into someone prepared to kill for porn. The others could probably hear my maniacal laughter and must have thought I’d gone insane. Maybe I had.
I left the mouse porn in the little cave and made my way back out. Going up was a lot harder than coming down, but with Maurice and Dudley pulling me up I finally returned to the surface, panting and sweating, covered in dirt.
“Did you find anything?” asked Maurice.
“No, nothing. We should get back. And we’ll have to take them with us.” I pointed to the covered mice.
“Do we really have to?” asked Claire.
“Yes. I don’t know what they’re worth, but I’m not skinning them. We still need money though, unless you want to eat more turd-bunnies.”
That thought was enough to convince them to grit their teeth and just do it.
We bound the mice up in their cloth shrouds and grabbed an end each. The female turned out to be heavier than the male, so me and Dudley took her. The other three carried the male by pushing the spear through the rope bindings and lifting it, with Maurice at one end and the girls at the other.
It was later afternoon when we set off around the pond with two dead mice and a broken lantern. If that had been my reward for a quest in an RPG, I think I would have uninstalled the game. Sadly, I didn’t have that option.
It was only when we reached the clearing that I remembered the bunnicorns. The last thing we needed was to be attacked by them. I signalled the others to stop and crept forward to see if they were still about.
They were. The clearing was full of them, lying on their backs, snuggling with each other. Whatever disagreements they’d had, they seemed to have sorted them out.
Very quietly, we skirted the edge of the clearing and found our way out of the forest. Despite my concerns, it was fairly easy to recognise the way we’d come, the marks we’d left on the trees providing reassurance we were going in the right direction, but that was all.
Out in the open, with a gentle breeze cooling us off, I was able to relax a little. I hadn’t realised how tense I had become until then. We could have taken a break but no one wanted to stop.
By the time we reached Probet, the light was starting to fade. I headed for the shed. If Grayson was still there I had some questions to ask him, finally.