Fight or Die
While writing Mega Burg I needed to take a short break from writing about rats, so I decided to write about With Tooth and Tail. It’s a rather grim setting, that one. Most animals have agreed to eat meat, and only the Swine are seen as not meat-eaters. It’s a bit Animal Farm-esque. I wanted to blur this story with a bit of history, you might be familiar with some of the ideas present here. It is rather grim.
In any case, enjoy!
Fight or Die
“When did it start? I think it all started with my mother, my dear, dear mother. When I was still young she always told me I would grow up to be an achiever. She did all she could for me and I loved her dearly. Then they took her away.
Then my sister, she was the same age as me, as I recall, we were both very young. I could not leave the house, the streets were too dangerous. My father feared for our lives and kept us locked in our apartment. She was the only other child I knew, for most of my years. We played all manner of games, those our father could bring us, and those we made up ourselves. She was my sister, and they took her away as well.
My Father was not the same after that. He was a shell of the man I once knew, sitting in our apartment, lifelessly in his chair. I did what I could for him, but he never got better, he never had the chance. They came for the third time, and they took him away.
I was all alone, the last one of my family. I stayed in our flat, and I waited. I waited for them to come and take me away as well. But they never did.
And that was their gravest mistake.
It all started anew when I shot him. I do not think I killed him, I lacked experience back then. Holding the pistol in my hand and firing at another living being shook me, until I remembered what they did. When I recalled the sobbing of my sister, and the pleads of my father, and their laughter, pulling the trigger came so much easier.
I was later called a traitor, rebel against the empire, a vile revolutionary. I suppose those are things you could call me, but I did not care for these titles, I only sought revenge. When I realized that I was not alone in this pain I did not want to just kill all of them, but to make the world better for all of us.”
“So you do not believe in the Republic?”
“I believe that anything in better than what we have now. I believe that the world will be better when we rid ourselves of these beasts. When our children will be free to roam the streets again, when we will die of old age and not in the Kitchens.
And now, as we find out, there is a revolution in the Empire. It is tearing itself apart, and their pantries are dry. So what do they do now? They turn to those they conquered, they turn to us to feed their armies and people. Like the swine, we are to give ourselves willingly for the good of the Empire, to be devoured by our masters.
Now is the time for action.”
Soldiers were running through the streets, trucks arriving and waiting to pick up the rabbit folk of Gobyn. The men to perform this grizzly duty, a squad of wolves, and a large host of squirrel conscripts. They shouted for all to leave their homes and leave their belongings behind. There was no illusion of what was happening. A few of the more complacent immediately left, others tried to lock their doors or barricade themselves in, but the troops began to force their way. Shots were fired. The dead were thrown onto the trucks, still edible after all.
The streets were soon full of disoriented rabbits and their escorts, ushered onto the trucks, soon to be taken to the trains for their lengthy passage to the Kitchens.
Private Vitaly of the 3rd Ushtlan Rifle Brigade, a proud wolf of the Empire hammered on the door of the next house, two squirrels on either side of him.
“By order of the Governor, you are to leave these premises immediately and-” the doors swung open. Loud bang. Private Vitaly is thrown back as buckshot rips through his uniform and chest, landing in a bloodied mess on the street. The squirrels look forth in shock unable to react in time as revolvers are fired and they soon join Vitaly on the sidewalk.
A cry is heard, “For the Republic!” and chaos erupts. Gunners in the windows, on the roofs, in the crowd. The revolt has begun.
The wolves and squirrels at first do not comprehend what is happening, but when firebombs are thrown at the parked trucks, and from the docile rabbit crowds even the women and children draw out knives and throw themselves at the soldiers, a retreat is called.
Many of those present do not know what is happening either. The rabbits cower in the trucks, on the sidewalks, as the soldiers and revolters exchange fire. Those who see the chance leap off the trucks and run back into their homes.
After a few moments, silence. The soldiers flee, their trucks speeding away. Many dead in the street. Shots in the distance, the city ablaze.
In his office the Military Governor rises up, an elderly badger with bloodshot eyes from all the acorn liquor he drunk and roars out, “What is happening?!”
The officers present cannot give him an answer. There is fighting throughout the city. Who is firing, how many? Nobody knows.
“Call the Garrison! Order them to get here this instant. We must stop this at once!” the Governor roars out again, hammering on his desk with his fists.
“S-Sir the wires are cut. We are cut off!” stammered one of the officers. The Governor was not pleased and he unleashed his anger upon all the clutter on the desk.
“Then do something! Anything! This is an order!”. Gunshots are heard outside the building, explosions. Something smashes into the office window and it is immediately engulfed in flames. The Governor runs over to it and gazes out, the gate has been forced, the enemy is in the building. He draws out his revolver and screams at his paralyzed staff. “I will do this myself!”
He storms through the door and runs down the wooden stairs to the entrance hall. The squirrels are nowhere to be seen, a few wolves remain, firing back those rabbits who have already entered the building. All the furniture turned over, offering scant protection for the defenders.
The Governor shouts, but he cannot be heard over the barrage of fire. He fires his own revolver into the rabbit crowd that is trying to pour into the building. A firebomb flies over the crowd and hits a flipped over table. Though he tries again the wolves cannot hear him, and he grabs one by his shoulder. He looks the terrified soldier in the eyes and roars out again, gesturing to the door. He demands the crowd be killed, he demands a way out be made.
None of that happens, for as he looks back to the crowd of rabbits who no longer fearful of the beasts would rather die than be eaten swarm the hall. One of them stands out. A scrawny hare with brown fur, like so many of his kind, with a rifle in his hand, aiming through the window directly at the Governor. There is something in his eyes, a hatred and anger that the Governor seems familiar with, it’s the same feelings he has toward the rabbit-folk. He would had killed them all long ago, destroyed their homes. But they were too weak, too complacent, they should had never given them the chance.
The lone hare pulls the trigger of his rifle. The bullet flies through the already broken window and ends the Governor’s term.
Gobyn is liberated, Gobyn is free, its people cheer in the streets. The rabbits are free from the Kitchens, free from the eastern beasts.
At the train station the panicked soldiers soon arrive, informing the Captain of the situation at Gobyn. The wolf scratches his chin, assessing the situation.
“If the city has fallen we are too few to take it back. We will send this haul to the Kitchens and inform the garrison of the situation. Tomorrow it will all be over.”
The swine carriages, filled now with rabbits, are opened. Those unfortunate to not have fled off the trucks when there was still time are thrown inside. There is little room, and the carriages reek of death. The corpses too are added, and the already distraught rabbits, unaware of what is happening, quietly accept their fates.
The Captain moves to the head of the train and yells to the train operator, “This is it! Depart immediately and do not stop until you reach the safety of the next station!”
The clanking of closing carriage doors. Muffled cries. The gasp of a train engine, puffs of smoke, the grinding of wheels against the tracks. The train gains speed, leaving the station, operator gazing forward, shouting for more coal to be added. Due haste home.
Bright light in the distance, the earth shakes, sound of an explosion. The brakes are pulled and the train screeches to a halt, as rabbits fall over in their squalid interiors, and the operator’s aids caught off guard tumble over. The train comes to a halt, the tracks are destroyed. From the brushes and tall grass emerge the saboteurs, rabbits with grim faces. They open the carriages and let the prisoners out, the train operator and his helpers are kept at gunpoint.
The sound of the explosion, feint as it were, reaches the station. The captain’s ears perk up and he looks down the tracks. A soldier runs over.
“Sir! We cannot reach the Garrison! The cables might be cut!” The day was taking a dark turn indeed.
“Fortify the station. We will hold-out here and wait for help to arrive. Send a pigeon immediately.”
Soon the messenger is dispatched. Due haste to the Garrison, but by the time he arrives the news have already reached them. A revolt at Gobyn, in need of being crushed. News sent to High Command, awaiting further orders. The orders never reach anybody. The Empire is in turmoil, only the KSR receives the information but is unable to assist. In turn, orders are sent to head back deeper into the Empire. The revolution is getting out of hand, and every loyal soldier is to assist in pacifying the uprising.
The Garrison heads east, failing to inform all those soldiers left behind of the marching orders. Soon the rabbits overrun the lone pockets of resistance.
“But nobody will tell you what happens next. No they will not. Nobody wants to hear of it, or remember it. Those who oppressed us in turn become oppressed. Hanging off the street lamps by their necks, burnt alive in barns, buried in mass graves. The road to freedom was bloody, what followed was even worse.
The Eastern Beasts taught me an important lesson, they told me how to become one of them. For you see, we were seen as prey, but it takes a beast to kill another beast. When normally we would flee they pushed us into a corner, they forced us into a place nobody would want to be.
And when you have no choice of fleeing you can only fight. You must fight if you want to survive. We learned that lesson over the years. They gave us no other choice, and I am happy for it.
All the suffering and death they caused, all their hunger and greed, it lead to this. It lead to prey forgetting what it was and to turn against the hunter.”
“So, you say we became monsters.”
“Yes, my friend. We became monsters in a world filled with monsters. If you fail to become one you will be destroyed by them.
But tell me, after all the blood we shed and lost, was it not worth it? Was the price of freedom too high? Was the price for your republic not sufficiently paid for? Our people are free.”
“Yet you do not sound sincere.”
“… I am not. For you see, I want all the monsters to be dead. Them, and us. I want to leave this world for people who will never have to do what I had to. And the only way to do that is to kill them all.”
“You do realize how impossible that sounds?”
“Yes. I fear that for all my talking and actions, for all the freedom we won, and all the monsters we killed, we failed. Some day this will happen again. Until the day all the monsters are dead this will happen again.”
A revolt turns into a war. Rabbit volunteers, the citizen army, the brave, the many. Though the Empire is weakened there are still some who cling to old ideals. The battle for Gobyn turns into a war for the Republic. As news spread each next town and city revolts. The Empire’s Garrisons now too few and too weak to hold back the surge.
Every inch of land is paid for in blood. Every death noted down, to be avenged. The memories of those taken to the Kitchens stuck in the minds of many. What started as a hunger for freedom turns into a lust for blood. Eastward, eastward! To the heartland of the beasts, like a bayonet we will reach its putrid heart and pierce it!
The drive is barely contained. What little has been gained must be held. To march east would mean death, suicide. Those who were in the Kitchens cannot be saved, cannot be freed. But some will try.
Where for some the goal was reached, a Republic inaugurated and formed, signed on paper, announced to the cheering crowds, for others the war was not over. It would be never over.
Some do march east, blind with anger and hatred. They hunt, seeking revenge or justice. Some would return one day, many would not.
Some would remain, and hope to sway the nation into action once more. To wage war against the beasts, no matter where they were. To save others, like themselves, to make the world a better place.
And I? The soldier with no name, with no family and no home. I will wait. For though you strike at one beast another will step forward. There will always be a need for men like me. The nameless who will die in the fields, buried under poppies. There is nothing left for me but this.