Bill grabbed the hood of the blue garment the small, fuzzy critter wore, which finally gained their notice. The short animal turned her head toward the much taller weasel, knitting her brows.
“What on Earth do you think you’re doing?” she demanded in a wheezy voice.
The target the weasels had acquired seemed to be an elder woman, judging by her voice, the wrinkles on her face, and how slowly she moved. Yep, she was certainly getting up there in age. She had large, round ears, brown fur, a twitchy little nose, a round snout, and chubby cheeks. With her age and her chubby little body, it was unusual to think she’d be venturing underground where boiling lava waited right underneath her. Yet, here she was, ripe for the taking and ready to be brought to the Panther King.
“Your presence is required at the castle, Madame.” Bill replied with a grin. “We’ll need you to come with us right away.”
“Am I expected to be playing dress up with you two strange young men right now?” asked the woman, cocking a brow. “I’m in a hurry!”
“We won’t tolerate resistance, Ma’am. Help me, Bob!”
Bob trudged over, reaching for the old woman’s left arm that she’d tucked under her poncho, grabbing it. Once Bill let go of her hood and took her arm instead, they began to carry her off. However, before they could get up the stairway, Bob felt a rather big foot kick into his side and knock him away from the woman. As he rolled into the dirt, carefully catching himself so he wouldn’t tumble off the edge, he let off a growl toward the old woman.
“Yeh rowdy ol’ hag! Why, if we didn’t need yer legs, I’d… I’d…” he groaned, picking himself up.
“Oh, really? But my feet aren’t lucky.” The woman said meekly as she dug into her big pocket on the front of her poncho. She hung by Bill’s grasp, who squinted his eyes when he was presented with a celery stick. “You young boys are awfully rough. Here’s a snack to share while you wait for somebody else to play with you.”
“We’re men, Ma’am, and we’re not playing games.” Bill hissed, lifting the woman closer to his face. “…And, uh, we don’t eat vegetables either.”
“Well, that’s no good.” Said the old woman with concern. “Young men need greens to stay healthy. Let me give you some more.”
Bob grabbed the woman’s free arm again, trying to disregard the celery stalk that was now in his face.
“At least now we know ‘er legs are strong.” Bob uttered. “Ah was startin’ ta think this squirrel might not of been worth it.”
“Squirrel?” The old woman raised her brows. “Now hold on a minute, you boys! You’re even more confused than I thought!”
Bill was about to lead Bob up the stairs with the haul they got when the woman’s words made him freeze. She wasn’t what they were looking for after all? Well, she did look short enough but… If she wasn’t what the professor said to look for, it probably wouldn’t do? But how wouldn’t it? Was the Panther King any wiser than them? Maybe not, but if he was…
“Ma’am, what are you?” Bill asked.
“I’m a pika, young man.” Replied the old woman.
At that moment, Bob released the woman’s arm and snapped a squinted-eyed gazed at her. Bill sighed and gently set the women down in front of him, then setting his free hand on his hip.
“A pika.” He said, annoyed. “I’ve never heard of a pika in my life.”
“It appears as though you two have never heard of a squirrel in your lives either.” Replied the woman. “Squirrels have big, bushy tails and I don’t. You two really should start eating your greens. It might help.”
“Really?” Bill asked. “And what else?”
“A squirrel will have a twitchy nose-“
“You have a twitchy nose, Ma’am.”
“But I don’t have a bushy tail!”
Bob couldn’t help but cock a brow, setting himself next to Bill and nudging his elbow.
“Bill, how do we know we could trust ‘er?” he whispered as Bill leaned a little closer to him. “She’s kind of… Y’know…”
“I know, but the professor wasn’t kind enough to tell us anything.” Bill whispered back.
For someone who was in a hurry, the pika didn’t seem to have any issue standing there while the guardsmen came to their conclusion. In the meantime, she began to dig in her poncho’s pocket again, pull out more vegetables, and shove them into Bob’s arms before he even noticed.
“I’d like you to have a little more greens to help get you boys into shape. I thought maybe it’d make you feel a little better. You both seem so down.” She said.
“Ma’am, could you tell us more about red squirrels?” asked Bill.
“Oh, red squirrels? Well, they’re red!” replied the elder pika. “They have shiny, bright red fur. They’re very pretty if I do say so! Don’t mix ‘em up with those common gray squirrels, though.”
“Red fur… Big bushy tail…” Bill uttered to himself to get himself to remember. “…And they’re short, too?”
“Most of ‘em, I think.” The pika replied. “Well, it’s been so nice to meet you both, but I have to go. I’m seeing my granddaughter at her new job! She’s a dancer, y’know. Oh, but if you see her, don’t tell her I’m comin’! It’s a surprise!”
Before either of them could question the woman further, she had turned away and began crossing the bridge to what looked to be the next underground realm. They had to assume that wherever the little old pika was going was safe enough, for what kind of theater would be built somewhere inaccessible and dangerous? Then again, they both could hear roaring in the distance. Maybe that was just part of the production.
“Damn… We should’ve asked her where we could find a squirrel…” muttered Bill. “You don’t suppose one would be nearby, would you?”
“….Ah wouldn’t know.” Bob shrugged, one of the vegetables falling from his arms and rolling into the lava. “We ‘aven’t seen much of this place. Ah didn’t even know you could go underground.”
“Some royal guardsmen we are. All the information we ‘ave about this place is from stories my mum used to tell us and whatever the professor could be arsed to tell us.” Sighed Bill, brushing his hand under his helmet.
“And whatever we observe from every time we go to milk one of ‘em uptight cows up there.” Added Bob, who started to nibble on a celery stalk. Let’s see… There’s a mountain of bull shit where dung beetles live, who keep cows captive to make more bull shit. Next to the poo ‘ill is an abandoned barn that some objects had taken up residence in, along with bats, bees, and th’ most annoying mouse! There are no other places of residence in sight. Add on what yer mum used to tell us.”
“Weasels, who used to run the land, have mostly scattered. And the rest of the population? One panther.” Bill had been observing their surroundings as he spoke, looking into the u-bend’s entrance behind them. “How is there only one of him, anyway? If there supposedly used to be so many of us…”
“Ah don’t know. Like you said, all we know is what she was allowed to tell us. Have somethin’ to eat, Bill. Yer getting’ skinnier every day.”
Bob poked Bill with another celery stalk. Bill turned away from the u-bend for a moment to cock a brow at the gesture.
“….Do you really think I’m going to eat that?” Bill asked.
“Ye might as well.” Replied Bob. “It’s going to be a long day.”
“I won’t touch anything that’s not meaty.”
Bob then threw a carrot at Bill’s face.
Bill picked up the carrot and took the celery stalk, then started to nibble on it as well. They hadn’t really had a proper breakfast that morning, so it at least gave them their nourishment for the day. Bill hated the way it felt on his teeth, how it crunched and shed this tasteless juice. Bob couldn’t complain; it was a horrible waste not to utilize something given out for free, after all. It wasn’t like they’d ever get to sit down and eat something they’d really want any time soon, anyway.
“….Hey, Bob? Do you remember how I was talking about running away earlier?” Bill asked, quickly met with a groan from Bob.
“We talked about this, Bill. That’d be impossible. As much as I’d like to, we ‘ave no place to go and we don’t got any money.”
“Actually, about the money… I was thinking we could scam whoever comes through here!” Bill then gestured toward the strip of land that stood between the two bridges. “Look, we could stand there, block the bridge the lady just crossed with our spears, then demand money for them to get passed. We’ll act like the king requires us to demand money for their passage, since that woman did notice our attire after all. Anyone will be able to tell we’re royal mercenaries.”
“Really?” asked Bob, setting his right hand on his hip. “And who’s going to come through ‘ere? Y’think anyone’s really going t’find that secret entrance? Or go through that bluidy u-bend that’s filled up with blades?”
“Why not? That old pika came through that secret entrance.” Bill started to peer down the u-bend, inching closer to its edge. “And now that I look… This u-bend is made so people to pass through! There’s a ladder someone could climb up to ‘ere, and a rope, too!”
“It’s probably just a complicated trap someone built a long time ago. Maybe even castle guards before us built it to keep anyone else out.” Bob started to peer down the u-bend, too, while grabbing Bill’s sleeve and pulling him away from the edge. “No one could come through there. They’d get their arses sliced to bits in seconds!”
“You think so?” Bill asked as he tugged himself away from Bob’s grasp. “I don’t know. I think they might have a chance.”
“A chance. Don’t be bluidy ridiculous.” Bob knitted his brows as he looked away from the taller weasel and toward the direction the old pika walked into. Gripping onto the spear he held, he rubbed the sweat off his temple with his free hand. God, it was hot here. “Maybe you should try it out yerself, see ‘ow well that works out for yeh.”
“….What a great idea!”
The spear Bill held gave a “clunk!” as it hit the ground right behind where Bob stood. Bob turned to face it again, only to find that Bill was now longer standing there. His eyes went wide as he ran toward the top of the u-bend to look over it.
Bill had already made it all the way down the rope that hung there and swung into the hole in its wall to make his way to the other side of the u-bend. Much to Bob’s horror, it seemed he really was meaning to face the rotating blades that awaited him there.
“Bill! No, no! You… Y-you stupid bloke! Ah didn’t mean to-I… Oh, no…”
Bob dropped his spear, beginning to shudder at the sheer thought of what was going to happen to Bill down there. He grabbed his own ears, covering them as he shut his eyes tightly. If Bill got sliced in half down there, he didn’t want to hear it. He didn’t want to hear what would mark his being all alone again. He could just stand there forever, not hearing or seeing a thing until the Panther King himself came to collect him and put an end to his life.
Not long later, there came a gentle tap on Bob’s shoulder. Here he is now, about to yell my ears off right before he ends me! Bob thought. There came two gentle taps. That’s just how it was. There was a calm before the storm. He was always elegant before he was monstrous. Always with his slow movements and way of speech, peering down with his bright amber eyes right before he roared and tore into one’s body.
Though at the moment, his claws seemed awfully small. Not to mention…wet?
Bob’s eyes snapped open, much to Bill’s relief.
“Are you alright?” Bill asked, backing away slightly.
“I-I… Ah’m fine.” Bob shook the worry off himself right away, almost as though he’d never shut down in the first place. He then gave Bill a hard elbow to the side. “Don’t yeh ever do that again! Stupid bloke…”
“Ow! Alright, well I’m glad you’re okay because we need to get into place.” Bill picked his spear up with his dripping hands and started for the small strip of land in between the two bridges. “There’s a squirrel coming!”
“…A what?!” Bob followed as soon as he picked his own spear up, cocking a brow. “Don’t tell me you saw a real squirrel down there.”
“I did!” Bill replied, giving a grin. “A red one, too!”
“And yeh expect it’s gonna make it all th’ way up ‘ere?”
“Why not? I did!”
“And joost ‘ow in th’ ‘ell did yeh manage to do that?”
“I’m a good swimmer. I thought you’d have noticed by now.”
As the two continued their banter as they got into position, another had since taken notice. Someone stood far behind them, taking cover where the dinosaurs roamed as he listened to the duo, studying how they spoke and what they did. They were trying to scam a squirrel? Amateurs. Easy pickings for a professional like him.