Chapter 26 - The Second Fight
Work had finished in the warren for the night as most of the rabbits had been taken away, back to their burrows as they were cramped in together. Birch, Straw and Bracken were left alone, knowing that they wouldn't see Halgrass until work the next day. Rose was led back to another part of the warren to rejoin on where the does lived.
Which left Halgrass once again standing out in the open with another set of rabbits who were clearly not on duty at the time to watch the next match. Looking up to the sky, he could see clouds overcastting as it blocked off the moon's light and moved his head back down again, just barely able to make out the shapes in the subtle faint light.
Twisting his ear around, a faint sound of an owl could be heard in the air as he looked instinctively up into the air as did some of the other rabbits who formed the circle. Deep down within him, Halgrass wished that he could get this over and done with quickly and get back inside again. He didn't trust them to keep him out last to be taken away before any of their lot were.
Finally another buck was brought up as the bucks surrounding the area parted way to let him through to enter the fight arena. Halgrass looked at his opponent who looked a lot healthy than Bluebottle and he felt himself lowering down slightly in a defence posture.
Blackclaw-Rah smiled at the way Halgrass was acting as he stood up again on the log and held up a paw for silence, which his owsla quietened down. "My comrades..." Darkclaw-Rah spoke. "Another fight is held for you, we have a new champion who will have to prove himself before he can be given the option of challenging one of us." Halgrass's ears perked a bit on this news, this was new information for him. Darkclaw-Rah continued on. "We still prepare, waiting for our true leader to show up as it was foretold and now that we have arranged a more worthy foe for our newcomer, let us see just what he is really made of." Looking down to where Halgrass and the other buck was, he nodded his head. "Fight." There he sat down on the log again.
Halgrass had to quickly move out of the way as he saw the other buck rush right at him quickly, tearing across the grass as Halgrass kept his front to the other buck who came to a stop. "So, who are you then?" Halgrass asked as he moved around cautiously on all fours. Jumping back as he felt a paw swipe through the air, Halgrass growled. He wasn't going to get any talk from this one, he was in for a fight of his life.
Both bucks clashed together as Halgrass headbutted the other buck hard and felt the other rabbit's hind legs buckle for a moment before pushing away as it hopped backwards and to the side before coming back in again, knocking Halgrass to the ground. Just as the other buck was about to land, Halgrass had already rolled away as he scrambled to his feet. Breathing heavily he snorted. "My, you're the feisty one, aren't you?" Immediately afterwards, he lurched forwards as he and the other buck clashed together again with the joyful sounds of the other rabbits watching the fight.
Claws slashed at each other as Halgrass felt the other buck cut into his skin, under the fur. Growing angrier, Halgrass bit down on the top of the other bucks nose and ripped a bit of it off as he pushed the buck away from him. Breathing heavily, Halgrass spat something out onto the ground as he looked at the other buck who was pawing at his nose with his paws, pain in his eyes as Halgrass lunged forward again, anger in his heart that he was being forced to do this for the protection of his friends, hatred of Darkclaw-Rah and the whole warren.
The other buck backed away and got out of the way just in time before Halgrass arrived. Sneezing, droplets of blood flew out as it splattered over Halgrass as he spluttered, but jumped forwards, sinking his teeth into Halgrass's left ear, pulling it apart with his teeth. Halgrass pulled back and winced at the pain before turning around quickly and kicking out at the other buck with his strong rear legs.
Jumping up and away, the other buck had his front paws up which saved them from being broken by the strong kick but he wasn't able to get out of the way in time as he felt the force hit his chest, the sound of a rib cracked under his skin made the buck gasp out for breath as he landed back and walked backwards slowly with pain in his face.
Halgrass had already turned around, an angry look in his eyes as he ran forwards and started to bat the other buck's head hard with his front paws, his claws slashing into the fur as he felt some wetness of the blood as the other buck cried out when one of his eyes was slashed open.
Turning around, the other buck ran which brought a boo'ing cry from the rest of the crowd as Halgrass took after the other rabbit, thinking to himself. 'Why won't he let me just end this and get rid of the pain...?' But Halgrass knew, it was survivor instincts or much, much worse. Another owsla rabbit's honour.
Running away, the other buck twisted and turned around, trying to get around Halgrass so that he could get in another attack. With a sharp turn to the left, he back hopped quicky and as he watched Halgrass move to turn as well, the other buck used all the strength in his back legs to propel him at Halgrass's side.
Halgrass blinked as he saw what was coming but he couldn't stop it in time as he felt the other buck's head slam into his side, a sharp pain running through his body as he flew into the air and landed, rolling over.
Sitting down, the other buck felt his head spin, he tried to get up but felt the world around him swim round and round as he swaggered over slowly to where Halgrass was panting on the ground, his whole body lying there as though he couldn't get up.
Darkclaw-Rah looked on with a frown on his face as Captain Shadow smiled. "Well, he didn't last long did he? Shortest champion that we had.." He went quiet as he heard the dead bark under Darkclaw-Rah's paws snap as his claws cut through it.
Halgrass stayed still, breathing as he caught his breath, the pain on his side came with each breath in and out, making him wince as he could see the other buck slowly make his way over to him in the corner of his eye. Halgrass just waited, he laid there as he judged for the right distance which came.
The other buck blinked in shock as Halgrass came up from nowhere and rammed his head upwards as it slammed into the underside of the other rabbits, the sound of teeth broke in the other bucks mouth. Before the other buck had time to spit them out, he felt another pain on the side of his body, making his crack rib ring out in pain.
Halgrass slashed away at the other buck's side before knocking him over onto his side. Darkclaw-Rah smiled at the look that Captain Shadow was giving at that moment in time as he spoke back. "Hmm, looks like he knows a few tricks himself, eh Shadow?" Darkclaw-Rah chuckled as he could here his captain growl, gripping the bark under his claws.
Halgrass moved his body over onto the other buck who couldn't move now as he felt Halgrass's breath on his neck and staring up into the night sky, felt the sharp pain in his neck as he began to choke on blood which gushed into his windpipe. Slowly the other buck closed his eyes as with a final gurgle, he didn't breathe again.
Standing up, Halgrass looked about him, with fierce angry eyes as he looked directly at Shadow, those eyes which never blinked as Halgrass forgot about the pain he was in at the moment as he saw that Shadow was looking right back at him, a unspoken conversation was going on before Shadow nodded his head slowly. Unknown to everyone else, Halgrass had just challenged Shadow for when the time would come.
Deep down below the ground, unknown on what had been happening in the fight, the blood that had been spolled that night. Bracken was being quiet thinking to himself, as Birch and Straw were walking quietly to themselves.
"So what did she tell you about that burrow then?" Straw asked as he kept on looking outside of the burrow, keeping his voice down since there was on duty officers outside. Neither of them wanted a officer to come in and punish them for talking too loudly when they weren't really allowed tonight.
Birch replied back. "She said that she liked it, was a good burrow." Birch replied back as he paused from time to time as he licked his front paw clean with a tongue, trying to keep his fur clean from all the digging that he had been doing since he arrived here.
"Anything else?" Straw asked as he saw Bracken's head lift up from his paws and turned his head to where Straw was and before Birch could reply back, he spoke. "Why not tell us why you were in that burrow alone with her for a short while, what was going on in there?" Straw swallowed as he turned his head away from the looks of both Birch and Bracken, replying back quietly. "She just wanted to talk that's all." Bracken frowned. "Well, must've been important, I mean after all the fuss that the guards made about her being safe and all, it's funny that they didn't go into that burrow immediately. So..?"
Straw looked up again slowly before turning his head back towards Bracken. "We just talked, about you newcomers really, she was interested in who you were and all." He could see that Bracken was still staring back at him like one of the captains in the owsla that guarded them here and he swallowed again. "Come on, aren't you going to say anything? Is that alright, I only mentioned a few things that you were talking about freely, didn't know it wasn't allowed or anything."
Birch was now looking back and forth between Bracken and Straw but Bracken was keeping quietly, all he was doing was staring back at Straw. Birch blinked and uttered a few words. "Could someone please tell me what is going on here?" However, he didn't get a reply at all while Straw slowly moved his eyes away from Bracken's stare.
"Okay, okay." Straw said as he looked away and down to the ground. "I was put in with you to spy. Darkclaw-Rah wanted to know if you were up to anything. He doesn't trust newcomers, he always splits them up if he can. Put one on the fights while the others work with threats that they be hurt if you don't do it."
Bracken growled softly. "We knew about the threats that were made, Darkclaw told Halgrass those already." Looking at Birch. "Move, get over me so I can take your place." Birch just stared at Bracken and shook his head. Bracken glared back. "Do as I say now."
Birch was about to say something else but he stopped and nodded his head, getting up quietly as he started to climb over Bracken while he shuffled over so that he was now next to Straw himself.
Feeling a bit scared now, Straw could feel Bracken move closer to where he was and then felt the warm breath against his neck but as he was closing his eyes tightly, waiting for the killer bite he only heard words. "Did they threaten you?" Bracken asked quietly.
Straw didn't respond at first as he was busy trying to work out that he was dead but he heard Bracken ask the question again. "Who threatened you?" Bracken didn't move away from where Straw was lying as he could hear the other buck breath in and out.
"Only my own life..." Straw said quietly. "You don't understand..." He went quiet again as he heard an even lower voice come from Bracken. "Try me..." Straw thought for a moment and then slowly he began to talk about everything. "It's this place, I told you that it changes you. I was under the command of Captain Bluebottle when we were on a search for a killer who had killed one of our chief's kits."
Birch listened and looked shocked at that news but Bracken kept quiet as he listened on. "We didn't find any tracks on our culprit. He was a really nasty piece of work. Our chief was outraged and wanted to go himself but Bluebottle said it was too risky to go after Entri." Pausing for a moment, Straw sighed. "I think Bluebottle blamed himself for allowing Entri a chance to cause harm to his chief."
Bracken gave a frown as he pulled away from where Straw was and nodded. "I can understand that one, so how come you ended up here then?" Bracken's voice still had that uncertainty that he didn't trust Straw yet as he listened on to the story.
"I think Bluebottle wanted revenge and he went about quickly around the warren to find anyone that could help in tracking down Entri and killing him. He was such a bad thing to keep alive was what I was told. Eventually he found a small group and we headed out of the warren under the watchful eyes of our Chief."
Birch sighed softly as he looked away from Straw as Bracken said. "Get to the point where you ended up here?" Straw nodded. "Well, we managed to catch up with Entri at a farm. He was already injured slightly by a pfeffa, pleaded with us to help him." Straw paused for a moment as he closed his eyes. "Bluebottle just said... 'Goodbye, Entri' And he ordered us around and we left Entri to face his fate there."
Before Bracken or Birch could say another word, Straw continued. "That's when we were caught on the way home, we came by this copse that just didn't feel right at all." Bracken gave a frown. "Aye, we had the same feeling ourselves, they were watching you right?"
Straw nodded his head. "So we learnt after we were caught and placed in this cursed place." Looking about. "Our party eventually died out, being killed in the fights. They even had this great idea once where they made Bluebottle fight two of his own officers and then they made me betray one who wanted to escape..."
Bracken swallowed, trying to get rid of the growl that was trying to escape from his throat. "What did you do?" Straw spoke very sadly as he looked away from them all, staring at the burrow wall as those he was looking at events again on it. "They wanted to know anything that was happening. Somehow they knew that one of us wanted to escape, they said that it was always the case when new rabbits arrived. Darkclaw-Rah ordered me to tell me who it was that had the idea or that I would have to face the consequences of being killed if a escape happened." He paused for a moment and shuddered slightly. "Darkclaw-Rah was on that boulder and he just laughed at me. I was willing to die, no one should betray another of their warren. But it was when he said, 'Unless it's you but I doubt it. However, we will follow whoever does escape and find your warren and we shall go and kill everyone in it. No one shall know where this place is, no one.' And that's when I betrayed one of my friends."
Bracken's anger had subsided as he spoke softly. "And that's what you were talking about with Rose earlier on today?" He saw Straw nod and he growled, not at him but at the whole situation that they were in. "You were right, this place does change you."
Birch looked down as he kept quiet while Straw turned to face them. "I feel guilty about the whole thing since it had happened. But I couldn't take the chance that they would find my warren. However, they are doing what they did with me but if I can't find anything then they will start to use you against each other. I ain't sure if your warren is actually destroyed."
Shuddering now, Birch looked at Bracken. "What if they make us fight Halgrass, I don't know if I can do that. I mean, you two are much better at fighting than me." Bracken turned his head around to face Birch and frowned. "Don't talk like that, at least you should listen to Straw's words on not showing weakness." Bracken turned his head around to where Straw was and asked another question. "And what are you going to do now? Betray us, help us? What?"
There was a short pause before Straw replied back. "Help, I don't want to stay in this place anymore." He turned his head around to look at Bracken and stared at the other buck's eyes. Bracken stared back as Straw spoke. "Please, I don't want to do this anymore, following their orders, betraying anyone else. I want to fix it by helping, maybe I will repay my debt..."
Bracken looked into Straw's eyes for a short while and then nodded his head slowly. "I believe you." He turned to where Birch was and nodded his head. "Okay, I suggest that we get some rest for tomorrow and hope that Halgrass has survived the next fight." Lowering his head down onto his paws, he sighed. "No doubt what happened won't have put him in a good frame of mind." Straw looked at Birch for a moment, none of them said a word but they followed suit and slowly all three of them ended up asleep.
Elsewhere in the warren, Halgrass hadn't been lucky to go and rest yet as after the fight he was led back down to the burrow where Darkclaw-Rah was sitting on top of the boulder and looking down at him with a smile. "My, you do seem to keep impressing me, though you didn't do what I wanted as such, so again tomorrow you will fight better and make sure you really get into it."
Halgrass glared up at where Darkclaw-Rah was and snorted, his body was still on edge from the fight. "And what if I don't?" Halgrass got his reply right away as Darkclaw-Rah smiled. "Then Birch dies first time the next day under Frith's view." Hopping down from the boulder, the large rabbit looked directly into Halgrass's eyes. "You know, when he changed our friends to be our enemies."
The two guards beside Halgrass, had to trip him up as he lunged right for Darkclaw-Rah right there and then, before placing their weight on top of the buck as the Chief laughed. "Hmm, I seemed to have hit a raw nerve with you?" Turning around, Darkclaw-Rah hopped back up onto the boulder and turned around. "I shall forgive your action this once since you would still be angered with fight flowing through your veins but I shall do this though." He paused with a smile on his face. "I saw the look you gave Captain Shadow and he's already accepted your challenge, so if you win a fight against one of my officers tomorrow night, you will fight Captain Shadow next. However, to give you some chance of winning, you're not to work at all from now on." Darkclaw-Rah watched as they dragged Halgrass up. "However, I don't think even that will get you to defeat my officer never mind my captain. Take him away."
Halgrass was dragged away from the burrow as Darkclaw-Rah turned around to look in a dark shadow of the burrow. "So, you think you can beat him?" There came a voice from out of nowhere as Shadow replied back. "I make him look like a fool before I take his life, don't worry sir. I won't fail you."
Blackclaw-Rah nodded his head. "I know you won't Shadow." He turned around and spoke again. "And what say you?" There was silence for a moment as a weird voice spoke. "Everything is going to plan, I feel it... You must allow things to play out no matter what happens..."
Darkclaw-Rah turned back to look at where Halgrass was before and nodded his head. "So be it, soon we will get our true leader and let him bring our warren to conquer the world of El-Ahrairah..."
Shadow came up onto the boulder and whispered into Darkclaw-Rah's ear and he nodded his head. "You have permission." Feeling Shadow leave, Darkclaw laid down on the boulder with a smile on his face.
The next morning, Bracken, Birch and Straw didn't get to see Halgrass at all when they turned up for work. The guard smiled at them as they passed into the run. "Shame about your friend, he died last night, screamed like a coward that he was."
Bracken looked sick to his stomach as he moved on through the run as he looked at Birch with a frown. "Looks like we're on our own then?" He could see Birch looking worried and no doubt he knew that he would be seeing the same look on his own face if he could see it.
Straw on the other hand was looking even more depressed than he was the night before when he told everything to the other two rabbits. He kept himself to himself and excused into the half dug out burrow that he and Birch had made before, just sitting inside for a moment and sighed.
Birch looked at Bracken before heading into the burrow as he entered it slowly, he barely fitted into it as he placed a paw on Straw's back. "Look, it isn't your fault. We don't blame you at all, it's this place remember."
Straw sighed again. "It's not that, I thought that you were really the ones to really help and maybe I get out of this place. You know they will pick one of you eventually to fight. It all depends on how long the next champion lives."
"We get through this, just let us know anything that they tell us." Birch spoke softly. "We need to know what they're up to so we can fight it, okay?" Birch saw Straw nod his head and got up onto all fours. "We best get back to work. You helping here or with Bracken?"
Birch nodded and turned around as best as he could. "I go and check." Moving out of the burrow he blinked and saw that Bracken was already with Rose and turned his head back again. "It's okay, Rose is with him so we can work together and get this burrow dug out." Straw smiled as he began to work alongside Birch. "Thanks, not really sure if I wanted to be on my own anyways."
Pulling at the soil, Birch replied. "Yeah I know, I'm just annoyed that we're in this situation and I can't do a thing about it or know who did kill Halgrass." Straw jumped back alongside Birch who had pulled down a lot of soil as Straw blinked. "Whoa, remind me never to annoy you." Birch however, didn't say a word back.
Outside of the burrow, Rose was helping Bracken to take away some more of the roots as she talked quietly. "So you heard about the fight last night?" She saw Bracken tense up as he tugged on a root which snapped, hitting him in the face, slightly cutting it. Dropping it to the ground, he winced and nodded. "Yeah I heard. Not that it does Halgrass any good mind you."
Rose looked behind her and saw that the guards were once again taking no notice of them as she turned her head back around again. "Oh, really. Well, as far as I can tell I saw him on my way past his burrow here and he's sleeping right about n.."
She didn't have much more to say as Bracken was looking at her in shock. "Are you sure? He's alive?" He saw Rose nod her head and he nodded back at her. "Right, best keep this quiet for the time being. So it looks like someone is playing games then? I wonder what they're up to..."