Watership Down - Blueberry's Tale, Book 2, Chapter 23

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3 of Watership Down - Blueberry's Tale, Book 2


Chapter 23 - The Shadow Patrol of Darkclaw

Things were quiet under the pale moonlight of Inle, Captain Halgrass was moving back to his position again to settle within the scrape that he had made earlier that day when he stopped and looked up into the night sky and saw a huge dark cloud slowly drifting in the sky as it began to cover up the moon, sending the whole area into pitch blackness.

Slowly he settled down again in the damp scrape as the cloud drifted lazily, some moonlight came through some of the faint parts of the cloud, making the fog show up again faintly as though there were ghosts drifting about. Captain Halgrass yawned, half closing his eyes and through the fog he nearly cried out in shock.

There in the fog was a lone dark figure with bright coloured eyes staring back at him, twinkling in the moonlight that shone down when the clouds allowed it. Blinking slightly, Captain Halgrass slowly got up from where he was lying and walked forwards slowly until he was a few paces away from where his friends were lying. Feeling a cold shiver move up his spine, he watched as the rabbit seem to move slowly through the fog as though it was floating in the air.

Unknown to Halgrass was when a cloud moved over the moon the form of the rabbit vanished, so did the eyes but when the fog and moon returned the rabbit was in a different place, though slightly closer. Halgrass felt the cold shiver along his back move closer around his throat and chest, unable to say anything at all he was unable to hit out at the floor as he stared at the ghostly rabbit form a small way from him.

Slowly the other rabbits around the three rabbits were slowly edging their way forwards, being quiet as Captain Shadow stood there, staring back at Captain Halgrass, not moving since the moon had come back again and waited for the right moment when the fog was at the right thickness and slowly moved a hop or two closer and then sat down again on his hind legs, just moving his body slowly up and down as he closed his eyes and reopened them slowly.

Captain Halgrass couldn't move, he just kept staring at the form in front of him, though at the back of his mind he wondered why he couldn't hear any words from this dark rabbit and with a small flick of his ear, he was about to turn around. Captain Shadow noticed it and again with another thicker part of the fog rolling past hopped two more times quickly and returned to his bobbing stance and spoke quietly. "I've come for you..."

This had the desired effect that made Captain Halgrass put all his attention back on the dark rabbit in front of him. Swallowing slightly he felt his whole body tense up further than he was able to remember for a long time. "Me? What do you want with me?" Captain Halgrass replied back.

Captain Shadow smiled as he gave a soft reply to the question. "I am not who you think I am but I shall tell you this.." He saw Captain Halgrass look puzzled as Captain Shadow hopped forwards again. "You've entered the realm of Darkclaw's warren and under arrest by the Shadow Patrol."

Captain Halgrass tried to move as fast as he could but as he was about to hit home with the first thud of his hind leg, he was knocked over as something hard hit him on the side, sending him bowling over into the damp ground where he saw another dark rabbit standing over him before knocking him out with a swift kick to the head.

Birch and Bracken-Rah felt a weight on their backs as two rabbits jumped on them in their scrapes. Both scrambled about trying to get out as they saw another rabbit move in front of them and with a swift kick in the face with their hind legs, they were knocked out cold just as Captain Halgrass was.

Captain Shadow hopped over to where Captain Halgrass was and shook his head. "I can't believe that they still fall for that, mind you it's been a while since I had fog to make it look realistic."

Captain Ebony nodded as he checked over the rabbits in their scrapes with a paw poking them. "Good job, they're knocked out cold. We got to get them into the warren where we can keep them." Standing up on his hind legs he looked about. "Well, come on, I want these inside before anyone else comes about. We don't want to be discovered, now do we?" Looking to where the scrapes where, he frowned. "Someone get rid of those as well."

Moving as a controlled unit, the rabbits slowly began to lift up the unconscious rabbits by biting on the back of their necks while two larger bucks slid underneath them. Slowly they walked towards the copse, making sure that neither rabbit slid off back onto the ground as silently the whole field emptied out, each one disappearing into the cover that the copse gave. Two rabbits remained near the scrapes, making sure that the ground was once again flat before they to, headed into the copse a short time after.

***

Captain Halgrass woke up with a splitting headache, though he was still in the dark. Slowly he tried to lift his head but he felt it throbbing heavily inside of his skull and lowered it back down again. Using his other senses, he knew that he was inside a burrow, the way that the place smelled as well as the warmth and the soil under his paws had given that much. Sniffing the air and he could other rabbit scents, though he knew that he was alone. Closing his eyes again, Captain Halgrass didn't know where his friends were or if they were alive. All that he could remember was being knocked over on the ground and then feeling a kick to the head, nothing else.

Birch was also in a burrow all by himself though he was lying unconscious still on his side. Captain Halgrass was just getting up, lifting his head with a frown, feeling the deep throbbing pain in his head. Outside of the burrows, big rabbits stood guard silently just outside of each burrow, each of them twisted their ears in case they would hear anything differently. Slowly one of the rabbits moved and looked into two of the burrows, having heard their heartbeats had changed as well as some scraping on the floor since the two prisoners had moved about. Not saying a word, the rabbit moved down the run without saying a word.

It wasn't long before Captain Ebony had arrived in the run as he looked at the rabbits standing guard and they all gave him a nod as he looked at the two burrows that had two prisoners that were awake. He stood there for a few moments and then nodded his head. "Wake the other one and bring them, they're to meet Darkclaw-Rah and find out what their fate is."

Captain Halgrass and Bracken-Rah heard those words and felt a cold shiver of worry run through their bodies as they saw large rabbits in front of their burrow entrances, looking mean as they growled. "Come on, our Chief hasn't got all day for the likes of you."

Leaving their burrows, they could hear Birch cry out in pain from within his burrow as he was dragged out by two other rabbits by the ears, their teeth clamped down hard on them as they lifted his head up and pulled the buck onto his feet.

Bracken-Rah and Captain Halgrass were ready to jump right at them but he saw the look that his guards were giving him and he relented, turning around as he was shown with a paw on which way to go but both of them were fuming all the way as they were led through several runs.

Birch had his head down as he moved through the run, closely flanked by another rabbit by his side. His head was thumping deep inside as well as sharp pain from where his ears were bitten on and then dragged. He winced when he felt one of his ear tips brush agains the roof of the run and then lowered his body even more.

As they were passing another burrow which had a rabbit standing guard at it, Birch just had time to look in that direction and sniffed the air. He recoiled in horror as he could smell the terror that was held from within with the rabbit there. He moved his head back to the front again and wondered why someone who lived in a warren would be living in such fear or in such a bad condition.

Gradually they arrived at a sullen part of the warren where all three were pushed into a large burrow before being flanked with two rabbits each. There in the middle of the burrow was a boulder that was empty at the time. All three looked about and could see dark shadows in the edge of the burrow.

It wasn't long before they could hear something else moving at the far end of the burrow, entering it from another run and before their eyes, they could see another large rabbit climb up to the top of the boulder and laid down on it. Birch felt himself shrink back slightly as he saw the large buck look at him for a moment before feeling a tiny bit relieved as the gaze move to the other two.

Captain Ebony came out from within the shadows of the burrow and hopped in front of where the prisoners were held. To the other side, Captain Shadow came out of the shadows and Captain Halgrass flinched when he saw Captain Shadow, feeling guilty for falling for such a trick.

Darkclaw-Rah noticed the look and he gave a evil chuckle. "Ah, so you're the one that my Shadow has fooled." Captain Halgrass felt himself feeling embarrassed and angry at the same time, his front claws clenching, digging into the soil.

This only pleased Darkclaw-Rah even more as he looked at Captain Halgrass. "My, my. I see that these have a lot of fight left in them, at least this one does anyways." Pausing for a moment he looked at Captain Ebony and Captain Shadow. "Please give me your reports."

Captain Shadow spoke first. "One of my officers had noticed them earlier on today, approaching our warren, sir. As you know this was reported to you and Captain Ebony." He saw Darkclaw-Rah nod his head and continued to speak. "We spent all day in watching them, though they did not notice."

Bracken-Rah flinched there as he remembered the bad feeling that they had near to the copse that day but Darkclaw-Rah ignored it. Captain Shadow continued. "Unfortunately though, they did notice one being killed by the stoat." Captain Shadow turned his head to where Birch was backing away slightly but stopped when the two guards looked at him. "We thought that all was lost but they didn't go far and decided to stay out in the open, they made scrapes sir. They were destroyed."

"Good, good." Darkclaw-Rah spoke as he smiled at Captain Shadow and Captain Ebony. "You have both done well, you shall both be rewarded. You will not have to fight for two days." Looking about the burrow. "Make it known that no one in my owsla is to challenge these two for two whole days. Anyone that does, will face the consequences, understood?"

There was a approving murmur about the warren that told Darkclaw-Rah that they understood and he returned his gaze back onto Captain Halgrass. "Now, bold one..." He spoke slowly. "What is your name?"

Captain Halgrass didn't speak at first but was prodded as one of the rabbits growled. "Speak when our Chief asks you a question." Captain Halgrass growled back but he turned his head back to where Darkclaw-Rah was on the rock and spoke. "Captain Halgrass."

It was Captain Ebony that had turned around and slashed Captain Halgrass on the face as he snarled. "Halgrass, sir. You hold no owsla rank in this warren." Captain Halgrass growled under his breath but looked right up at where Captain Ebony was but was then distracted as Blackclaw-Rah chuckled. "Yes, he'll do... You shall be the first one to fight tonight."

The looks on all three rabbits was enough to make Darkclaw-Rah smile even more if he could manage it and he hopped down from the boulder and looked at each of the newcomers carefully. "It's quite simple, to survive in this warren you will have to work for us. Your life belongs to me now." Darkclaw-Rah said with some malice in his voice. "And you will entertain us by fighting to the death." Darkclaw-Rah moved up and down the line, pausing to look at each rabbit in turn as he turned back to face Captain Halgrass. "Since you are the most vocal, you shall fight for us tonight, against someone else. It will be to the death."

Bracken-Rah spoke now with surprise and shock in his voice. "You can't be serious, rabbits don't fight each other like that!" He felt himself being pulled down to the ground by the two rabbits guarding him as Darkclaw-Rah looked at him with distasteful look on his face. "And you are?" He said slowly.

Bracken-Rah sighed as he tried to look up with his head but felt two paws forcing it down to the ground. "Bracken.... Sir..." He replied, knowing that he couldn't tell them on what he really was, he would surely die. Darkclaw-Rah looked at Bracken and smiled slyly. "And who do you think you are to tell me if fighting is wrong or not?" Lowering his head, the buck laid down in front of Bracken and stared into the buck's eyes. "Hmmm, perhaps you think of yourself as a higher authority person? You also a Captain...?"

Bracken nodded his head slightly but found that he couldn't move it much at all. "Yes I am sir.." Darkclaw-Rah didn't speak for a moment as he looked into Bracken's eyes for several minutes and then slowly rose up again onto his feet. "Hmmm, I believe you for now..." Turning around, the large buck hopped back onto the boulder and turned around, lying down on it again as his front paws hung over the edge slightly. "There are some other things that you should know of. You will do what you are ordered, no matter what the order is. None of you three are allowed to hold a position in my owsla..." Darkclaw-Rah chuckled. "Not unless you impress me..."

All three felt sick to the stomach as they wondered just what had to be done to impress this Chief. Birch didn't speak or move at all and he felt even worse as he heard the other words leave Darkclaw-Rah. "Now if you become troublesome or refuse to work, well you will share the same fate as for the other you saw the day before with the stoat." Grinning at Birch who had tried to back away again, shaking he chuckled. "So I would suggest you forget any thoughts of escaping or anything that displeases me... The last Chief didn't like elil at all and neither do I but I rather let them catch you lazy lot than my own, so to speak."

Closing his eyes, Darkclaw-Rah nodded his head which meant to the two Captains that he had indeed finished with them for the time being and Birch, Halgrass and Bracken were pushed to head down another run where Captain Ebony was the only one leading the way. When they were away from the burrow, he spoke. "I would think really hard about our Chief has said, you will survive longer, that's if you win your fights that is."

Birch felt a shudder run up his spine as a sick feeling came from within his belly while they were being led to another part of the warren. Soon they were passing through other rabbits who were under guard as they were busy digging away for new runs while some who had stopped to rest were immediately beaten on by a larger rabbit. Bracken frowned alongside Halgrass as Birch looked on in horror as one very weak buck had one of his ears torn as he screamed.

Captain Ebony smiled at the sound as he spoke to the three. "You may be wondering why we are doing this, well I shall tell you. Our warren is preparing for the time when it is time for war, when the dark shadow shall spread to control all rabbits. We're preparing for someone to return."

Halgrass frowned as he looked at another buck who was just skin and bones, working weakly at a half dug out burrow, under the gaze of a stronger buck shouting orders for him to hurry up. Snapping his head back to where Captain Ebony was, he growled. "And who would that be?"

Stopping, Captain Ebony turned to face Halgrass as he replied. "We do not speak his name, we're under the command of Darkclaw-Rah for the time being but someone else has been foreseen in coming to lead us to a new era of control, bringing death and destruction to other warrens. For the time being we wait in secret. Only the one that can get past our guards and enter the warren is the chosen one." Snorting he looked a the three prisoners. "You three however aren't the chosen one, you were too easily found out and fooled."

Halgrass saw Captain Ebony turn around and felt his anger rising again, he wanted to fight now but he didn't know if he would be fighting one of them but as he turned his head around again before they started to move forwards, his anger subsided as he thought that one of these would be facing him tonight, slowly his anger built up again to new levels as he growled quietly to himself.

Evnetually they arrived at a run that was short as Captain Ebony turned to face another rabbit who was standing there with a few others. "Ah, Inlo, I have three new workers for you, make sure that they get this new run and burrows dug out will you before they're killed or something."

Coming to attention, Inlo nodded his head back at Captain Ebony. "Aye sir, I'll make sure that they work hard." Turning to face the three rabbits. "You three in there now and start digging." He gave a pause and then shouted. "NOW!"

Moving past the guards, Birch, Halgrass and Bracken slipped into the run where it was unfinished as Birch stopped to where there was a small hole in the wall and began to dig out a burrow while both Halgrass and Bracken started to work on the run itself.

While the officers were busy talking to each other, Captain Ebony was nodding his head as he listened to what Inlo was talking about, Halgrass turned his head around but saw that the exit to the run was blocked by hrair rabbits at the moment and moved his head back to where Bracken was pulling away some more of the earth. "I wonder where the does are..?" Bracken said as he scraped at the hard soil wall in front of them. Halgrass muttered something. "Come on, they be used for them to make sure they can keep their owsla numbers up, force mating and all."

"Actually..." Captain Ebony said behind them which made them both jump. "They're happy to provide that service, helping the warren grow strong but you won't see any of them though." Smiling at them softly. "In fact I don't think you will ever mate again, you're not one of us at all. To be honest if you did have any does with you, they would've been killed immediately, we don't let outsiders dirty us, you know."

Halgrass started to turn around but Bracken stopped him, muttering angrily under his breath. "Don't fall for it, he wants you to do something." Captain Ebony smiled. "I'd listen to your friend there. You survive longer... But I was here to tell you that we have found your opponent for tonight. It will be held in the middle of the copse in the open. Do not think to escape, there will be plenty out there to stop you." Turning around he headed back out of the run and looked at Inlo. "Work them hard..." Without saying another word, Captain Ebony disappeared out from view.

Birch was left alone for much of the day as he worked hard to clear away the soil, slowly making the form of a new burrow, under the eyes of another officer who was standing just outside. "Remember, if this place isn't to the satisfactory of a doe, you're going to lose an ear." Birch felt himself shudder as he corrected something, trying to remember what the burrow used to feel like at his old place and making corrections that way.

Halgrass made some conversation with Bracken when he was allowed to, sometimes a rabbit was standing over them, watching them work or hitting their backs with his front paw when they weren't working fast enough. Neither of them knew what time it was being down below as they lost all track of time, the only thing that they did know that they were tired from the force work that they were being put through.

When they did have some time alone, the officer had moved to look at what Birch was up to with the other officer, Bracken whispered. "You sure you be okay for this fight?" Turning his head to face the other buck who had ducked slightly with some dirt fell from the top, landing on his head.

Halgrass shook his head as his nose moved about a bit when some of the dirt fell against his whiskers. "Nothing else has been on my mind all day." Halgrass whispered back to Bracken. "I can't believe such a place exists, are you sure that this isn't Efrafa?"

"It can't be, they didn't name the warren that did they? It's properly named after their Chief but I wonder if this place had another name at one point." Bracken paused for a moment and shook his head. "I can't believe I am rambling on. I am sorry my friend." Bracken said as he looked at Halgrass. "I don't envy the task you have to do tonight."

Halgrass grumbled softly. "Oh I wouldn't worry about that, I am sure they will get around to you and Birch eventually, we're new so I am sure that they want to see us kill a few off that they can't give to elil." Halgrass's claws dug into the soil as he snarled. "I won't lie down though, one day I am going to help get rid of this place if it's the last thing that I do. You with me?"

Bracken smiled softly at his friend and nodded his head, still whispering in the quiet conversation. "Since we're now on even turns I will be with you, yes. But we have to think of something though, I don't think just us three will be able to do it."

They didn't have time to say anything else as Halgrass turned his head around to see that the guards were coming back and stopped working when Inlo called. "Right, you can stop working for now. You..." Inlo looked at Bracken. "Are to go with that other one where you will be taken to your own burrow." Turning to face Halgrass. "As for you, you're to go up on top, it is time for your fight. Let's hope you're as good as your mouth is."

Halgrass gave Bracken a look before slowly moving off and leaving him behind with Birch as he walked to the end of the run where he saw Captain Shadow standing there. "Well, well. Let's hope you do better than you did last night. Come, follow me." Halgrass saw two other rabbits waiting for him and nodded his head as he slowly vanished from sight.

Bracken came up next to Birch as they saw Halgrass vanish from sight and giving the younger buck a look, they moved forwards under the guidance of Inlo as they moved elsewhere in the warren.