Hobbled somewhat by the blisters of the previous day’s exertions, Derek was making fairly hard work of his foray south. The Bunnies had been cutting The Stream’s meanders as per Derek’s original plan, but progress through The Forest was more difficult that he’d anticipated.
They made it down as far as Derek had been the day before quite a bit before lunchtime. And though they’d cut in and followed roughly the path of the Pyre in the sky that Derek had seen, by his own estimations, they hadn’t gone nearly far enough to make it to wherever it was the Pyre had gone to ground.
It didn’t help matters much that Derek had to try and remember to keep an eye on his egg timer so that he could turn it over when the sands ran out. He’d turned it late quite a few times now, so was debating whether or not to add another one onto the current running total of 139.
Duncan, though, was proving to be an excellent partner for this mission. His reticence the previous night and, indeed, that morning, had been replaced with boundless enthusiasm.
Derek knew they’d have to turn and head northish soon, but Duncan’s high spirits refused to let him get downhearted. If the mission proved fruitless and Derek stuck to his promise to Duncan, Derek Derekson would be the last in a very long line of explorers. As the two Bunnies made their way through The Forest they chatted freely. It was always thus, Derek couldn’t remember when the two friends had last argued.
“So, what do you think Warren is like?” asked Duncan.
“What do you mean?” asked Derek genuinely perplexed.
The legend of Warren was taught to all The Village kittens from the moment they could be taught anything, it was as integral to The Village as the very Forest itself. Village Law decreed that when a Bunny’s time is up he be placed in The Basket and on The Sacrifice with that day’s Sacrificial Doe and the two then proceed directly to paradise.
Each Bunny is attended to in Warren for all eternity by the countless Sacrificial Does of all Bunny time. Nuts and berries grow freely, with no need for foraging and, obviously, no need for The Sacrifice. A river of Bea runs through Warren from which all the Bunnies are free to quaff.
“Well,” said Duncan, “do you really think we’ll be able to take our pick of the Sacrificial Does?”
“I don’t see why not. ‘Tis written in the ancient scripts of The Hutch.”
“Well, what if you aren’t interested in the Sacrificial Does?”
“What on Nob are you talking about?” asked Derek, the memory of Darylena still fresh in his mind.
“Well, you know, what if you aren’t really interested in that sort of thing?”
Derek stopped dead in his tracks, though it took Duncan a couple more paces to register before he too stopped. The Bunnies faced one another.
“Duncan, don’t start this again,” said Derek.
“Start what again?” said Duncan, his voice rising in time with his eyebrows.
“Duncan, you know Bummies aren’t allowed in The Village,” said Derek.
“I’m not a Bummy,” protested Duncan.
“Bummies aren’t allowed in The Village and so they can’t go to Warren,” pointed out Derek, slightly unnecessarily.
“I’m not a Bummy, it’s just, y’know, I’m not really that interested in Does.”
“If you’re not interested in Does, then you must be interested in Bunnies, and that makes you a Bummy.”
“..But.,” started Duncan.
“No buts,” interrupted Derek.
Before Duncan could raise any further points a piercing screech high above canopy level made both Bunnies cower down, covering their ears they looked upwards just in time to see the tail end of a bright flaming skybound Sacrifice. Then, almost immediately afterwards, another one shot through along almost exactly the same trajectory.
The second time both Bunnies witnessed the entire scene, although the projectile was moving with such incredible speed that it was still difficult to make out its true form. It resembled an elongated silver Basket with it’s own Pyre at the rear. Although, even at the height it was, the Bunnies could see it was somewhat larger than The Village Basket. The noise defied belief, and both Bunnies felt the flame’s heat warm up their furry snouts.
Derek looked to Duncan, “it’s Dragon Dragonson, it’s Dragon Dragonson. I told you, I told you. Now do you believe me?” he shouted. But Duncan was stupefied, struck dumb by what he’d just seen. “Come on, come on,” insisted Derek tugging on Duncan’s arm. But Duncan was rooted to the spot.
“What’s wrong?” asked Derek.
Duncan shook his head, “we’re not foraging Derek, we’re exploring. The spirits are after us. Maybe Dave Daveson was right, maybe we should go back. If it’s Dragon Dragonson, then why were there two flying Baskets?”
Derek didn’t have any kind of convincing answers. Even in his advanced state of excitement he knew immediately that Duncan was going to need more than “because” before he’d buy into the Dragon Dragonson has come to lead the Bunnies to salvation theory. That said, even though Derek knew this, all he could come up with was, “because”.
“Because isn’t good enough,” pointed out Duncan predictably.
Derek knew, “I know,” he said knowingly.
“I don’t like it,” said Duncan, “I don’t like it all.”
“But we can’t turn back, not now. Not now we’re so close,” pleaded Derek.
“So close to what?” said Duncan, “so close to a grizzly death at the hands of The Forest spirits.”
“It’s Dragon. I know it,” said Derek. He looked down at the egg timer in his hand. Duncan noticing the glance said: “We don’t even know what time it is, I think we should head back, I really do.”
“OK,” said Derek, “you head back. I’m going on. You go back to The Village you stupid bloody Bummy. Get back, although I don’t know why you’re bothering, you can’t even go to Warren.”
For the second time in a matter of minutes Duncan Duncanson was stupefied. He stared at his best friend, tears welling up in his eyes.
“That’s right, turn the waterworks on, bloody Bummy,” said Derek. “Hop off back to The Village, I don’t need you now anyway.”