The Wandering Feather
Written by: Kevin (KS) Sharbaugh

Chapter Three

Foxglove was just about finished hunting for the night and looking forward to being in Dale's presence once again when her activities caught the attention of a couple local bats. The fact that her ultrasonic signature was unfamiliar was itself intriguing, but noticing that she was cute was irresistible to the two young and available males. Introductions were in order.

"Hi!" one of the two opened as they swooped up beside Foxglove, "You're new around here, aren't you?"

"Hello," Foxglove responded politely, "Yes, I'm new here... me and my friends are here on vacation."

"My name's Brett," introduced one of the males.

"And I'm Bernie," the other joined in.

"My name's Foxglove," the young lady replied.

"Why don't we grab a branch and talk," Brett suggested.

"Um, ‘grab a branch'?" Foxglove inquired, "Oh, you mean perch in a tree, right?"

"Yeah," both males nodded.

Foxglove made it a point to be the first to head for a tree, she wanted to make sure she controlled as much of this meeting as possible... at least until she got to know her two new acquaintances better. She was certain to perch in a tree within shouting distance of the mill making sure there was little room for another to perch between her and the structure. Brett and Bernie took up spots closer to the trunk.

"So, where are you and your friends staying?" Bernie asked.

"At the mill here," Foxglove answered as she motioned behind her, "with Doohickey Hawkfeather."

Both of the young males laughed at what they assumed had to be a joke. Seeing Foxglove's expression of surprise, they both ceased their chortling. "You can't be staying with Hawkfeather," Brett pointed out, "She hates bats."

Foxglove looked at them for a little while, a bit at a loss for words. "You mean because of that incident a few years ago..."

"When she wiped out half a colony," Brett finished seriously.

"She explained to me that the colony in question had tried to kill her when she wouldn't move out of the mill," Foxglove pointed out.

Brett and Bernie looked at each other, this time, they were the ones at a temporary loss for words. "You talked to her?" Bernie eventually asked.

"Of course!" Foxglove giggled.

"Maybe we should try to talk with her," Bernie asked his companion quietly.

"What, are you crazy?" was Brett's response.

"I could go ask her if she'd be willing to talk to you," Foxglove offered. Brett and Bernie just looked at each other, back at Foxglove and then back to each other. Fed up with the constant silent, not to mention uninformative, back and forth, she piped up with, "I'll go ask her."

Both males watched Foxglove flutter off, not entirely certain she'd return or not. Added to that uncertainty was what to do if she did return and say they could meet. Should they take the chance? Neither was quite sure if they had the strength to back out and risk looking like cowards in front of this adorable and, for all they knew, available female. Foxglove did eventually return, for which both were relieved, if for no other reason than she was pleasing to the senses.

"Sure," Foxglove opened up cheerfully, "you can meet with her... C'mon!"

Brett and Bernie looked at her blankly for a moment. They still weren't sure they could go through with it. They looked at each other again, each thinking ‘If he says no, I'll say no.' Then Brett ventured a hesitant, "Okay." Much to Bernie's dismay, there was no turning back now, he didn't want to be the one to look like a wimp. Both followed the lady as she led them to the open hanger door. Inside, they discovered several rodents and a fly waiting for them.

Foxglove immediately began with introductions. She started motioning towards the Ranger Plane, "Over there is Gadget," the mouse in question looking up from her work long enough to wave, after which Foxglove motioned to her other side, naming each in turn, "This is Chip, Dale, Monterey Jack, Zipper," she stopped and quickly pointed out in a frequency only the two other bats could hear, "Don't eat him," then continued, "They're the Rescue Rangers." Finally, she motioned to the mouse wearing the black jumpsuit and short black hair, "And this is our hostess, Doohickey... but we all call her Dee." There was a short exchange of obligatory greetings from all sides.

"I suppose I should explain what happened," Dee opened up, "just so you don't think I'm some kind of genocidal sociopath."

"Ok," Brett shrugged.

"Shortly after I'd moved in here and began to set things up," she proceeded to recount, "a group of bats approached me and basically just told me to leave, that they wanted to set up their colony here. I had been here a few times before so I knew there were no pre-existing bat colonies, just a group of elderly owls. Once they left I staked my claim. I pointed out to these bats that I was willing to share the mill with them, after all I'd already agreed to let the wolves set up a permanent den down below. They told me they weren't about to share this place with any ‘ground walking losers'. I stated quite plainly that this was now my home and I had no intention of leaving. One of them, apparently the leader, said that I could either leave or they'd ‘leave my corpse on the roof for a passing owl to eat'.

"I don't tolerate people threatening me in my own home and I do not back down from a fight so, when they left, we all knew there would be trouble. They waited till I had laid down for the night- I wasn't sleeping, I'd done that during the day- and stormed the place. My mechanical defenses wounded a couple and I'd cut a few in paw to wing combat, but there were more than I'd expected and had to retreat to the wolves' den. Romulus and the others made a horrible racket until the invaders left." As Dee spoke, Chip noticed she began to speak less emotionally, almost coldly, about what had happened. "They had already tried to kill me once, and I had no reason to believe they wouldn't keep trying until I was dead. I was outnumbered and didn't have the means to keep repairing my defenses after successive attacks. Allowing them to keep the initiative was suicide, so the next day I tracked them down to where they were based. They apparently weren't expecting me to come looking for them because they didn't have anyone keeping watch... I took account of their numbers, found to my relief that there were no children with them, and raced back to prepare for a counterattack. Upon carrying out the strike I didn't wait around to see how many I'd taken out, I returned to the wolves' den and waited to see if there would be another attack that night. When there was no attack, I returned to their base to investigate and found roughly half of them were dead and the rest had evacuated. They never returned."

The two male bats digested the information for a moment. "I don't remember hearing about that happening to any of the local colonies," Brett mentioned to his colleague.

"Then how did you hear about it?" Dee asked, slightly confused.

"Word of mouth from others," Brett pointed out, "Passed from one colony to another, but no one ever gave details about what colony you attacked. We just assumed it happened somewhere else, before you moved here."

"Could have been a group of rejects," Bernie suggested to his companion.

"Rejects?" Chip asked.

"Troublemakers kicked out of their colonies," Brett clarified, "Sometimes we hear about them hooking up with other colonies, but they usually get themselves ousted from their adopted homes too. Maybe several of them got together and decided to create a colony of their own... It would explain why there weren't any children with them, I don't recall ever hearing of a colony kicking out kids before they were even old enough to cause trouble in the first place."

"That would also explain their attitude, too," Bernie added, "Assuming this all happened the way you said, then they definitely weren't the types you'd want in your colony."

"I guess that makes you feel a little better," Chip mentioned quietly to Dee, "knowing that those weren't the salt of the earth you... went to war with."

"I'd rather not have had to do it in the first place," Dee responded just as quietly, though the regret in her voice made it seem quieter than it was intended. Chip realized her pain and put a paw on her shoulder to comfort her. Though most of the other persons present in the hanger couldn't hear the exchange, the two chiropteran guests had and it helped lend credibility to what they'd been told. Brett and Bernie began to understand that the rumors they'd heard of a bat hating sociopath didn't hold as much water as they'd thought.

"I guess we could let others know you're not out to get any of us," Brett mentioned, "so we don't have to be so concerned about flying in eggshells around the mill."

"Hey, Foxglove, maybe you could come with us!" Bernie piped up excitedly, "Y'know, kind of like an ambassador... And we could show you around while we're at it!"

"Well, I don't know," Foxglove initially responded, then asked, turning to the Rangers and Dee, "Is it ok with all of you?"

"Golly, Foxglove, you don't need to ask our permission to go out," Gadget answered, having joined the group after finishing her modifications to the Ranger Plane.

"Yeah, it's not like we're your parents or anything," Dale added. Foxglove was a little disappointed that Dale hadn't shown at least some concern about her going off with a couple males, but she couldn't think of a way to let him know that without either embarrassing him or looking too clingy on her part.

"Go and have yourself a good time, luv!" Monty suggested as he walked up and gave her a chummy nudge. He then turned to their new acquaintances. "Now we may not be her parents," he stated seriously as he towered over the two young male bats, "But we'd still be quite upset if anything bad happened to her while she was out with you."

"Sure, we understand," Brett responded as he and his companion unconsciously retreated a couple steps. With an exchange of farewells, Foxglove and her two escorts were on their way.

"Seems like this vacation is getting off to a good start," Chip stated as everyone wandered back to the livingroom, "Romulus and Honker got back safely after their travels among the humans, Foxglove got to make some new friends and helped Dee make peace with the local bats in the process."

Up from the den Romulus shouted, "Dale! Monster movie! Channel 27!"

"Hot-doggies!" the chipmunk declared as he hurriedly changed the channel and plunked himself down before the television.

Hearing Chip groan his disapproval, Dee pulled him aside. "Don't worry, this'll give us some time to work on our itinerary for tomorrow."

"Well, where do we start, then?" he asked.

"I'd like to check in with Bill, at my workshop in town, let him know I'm back," his fiancé started, "I figure you, Raven and Gadget may as well come along, because after that we can meet with my Clan Mother to let her know about our engagement and that there are officially two new members of the tribe." Her buoyant attitude slipped a little as she added, "I'd also like to take Gadget to visit our mother's grave... well, memorial actually, you understand."

"Of course," Chip answered simply.

The rest of the night passed fairly uneventfully. Raven and Fangs returned from their ‘date' outside, after which Dee had the opportunity to discuss the comings day's rounds with both her daughter and sister. The need for sleep began to set in, and when Dale's movie wrapped up preparations were made for bed. Fortunately, here were enough beds left in storage from the previous visit by the Rangers to accommodate everyone with Raven taking the bed left vacant by Chip (who was rooming with Dee per her request). It was agreed that both Fangs and Foxglove could easily hang from the numerous structural beams along the ceiling.

"But Foxy isn't back yet," Dale noted as Dee began to close the hanger door for the night.

"I know, I'm not closing it completely," the mouse replied, "I'm just not comfortable leaving a giant gaping hole in my home when I go to sleep... G'nite."

"Uh, yeah," Dale responded, "G'nite." For well over half an hour after the lights went out he lay awake. Dale couldn't quite pinpoint why it bothered him so much that Foxglove hadn't returned yet. He didn't consider their relationship to be anywhere near as serious as Dee and Chip's, even before their engagement. Periodically Dale would peer over towards the narrow opening of the hanger door, the faint light of the waning moon making the outside a dark yet oddly radiant blue. That looks like it'd be kind of a tight fit, he thought to himself, Maybe I should see if I can open it a little more, just in case. But, as he thought the matter over, a shadow flashed along the narrow rectangle of lunar illumination, coming to a stop a few inches from the near end.

As Foxglove pulled herself in to the hanger she wondered if she should wake anyone to let them know she was back, but was a little worried the others would be upset that she was gone so long. She quickly located the acoustic silhouettes of everyone but Dee and Chip. Oh no, she thought, They're out looking for me, aren't they? As her worry grew, her attention was drawn to the fact that one of the sleeping forms was sitting upright... upon further inspection, se realized it was Dale staring at her, his heart besting a mile a minute.

Dale stared at the stranger that had crawled into the hanger. Normally there would be enough ambient light coming through the livingroom windows in the distance for him to get a clear view of the person's outline with some detail, but the light entering through the hanger door behind made only the lower half visible and only in silhouette. Both the monster movie he'd just watched and Dee's story of how she'd been attacked after moving in gave rise to all sorts of terrible possibilities. The fact that the individual seemed to be walking directly towards him didn't help.

"Hi, Cutie," Foxglove opened up quietly, "Were you waiting up for me?"

Dale let out a long sigh of relief. "Well, um, kinda," he replied.

"Where are Dee and Chip?" the latecomer asked.

"They're in Dee's room," Dale answered simply.

"I hope no one's upset that I was out so long," Foxy mentioned as she walked up beside Dale's bed.

"Nah," the chipmunk replied, dismissing her unwarranted worry, "Did you have a good time?"

"Oh, I had a great time!" Foxglove chirped, almost forgetting that others were sleeping nearby, "I was treated like I was some kind of celebrity!" The young lady proceeded to regale her cutie with her experiences that night, though after observing several yawns she realized it had gotten quite late, even by Dale's standard. "Well, I guess I better let you get some sleep," she conceded. Pointing up towards the ceiling with a wingtip Foxglove added, "I'll be right up there, ok?"

"Yup," Dale replied sleepily before laying down. Taking up a roosting place just above Dale, Foxglove prepared to get some sleep herself.

"Sounds like you had a great time," Fangs mentioned to his neighbor, making sure to use a chiropteran-only frequency so as not to disturb anyone.

"Oh, I didn't know you were still awake," Foxglove replied similarly.

"I'm still not entirely adjusted to sleeping at night," he pointed out. "I bet you got hit on a lot," he jabbed playfully.

"Well, not really," she responded modestly.

"Oh, c'mon," Fangs teased, "I can feel you blushing all the way over here."

"Ok," Foxy relented, "It was kind of hard to talk seriously with some of the younger males." She then added with a laugh, "It didn't help that Brett and Bernie kept arguing with others about which of them ‘found me first'." After a moment of reflection she wondered aloud, "I hope neither of them got the impression I was interested in either of them, beyond friendship that is."

"I wouldn't think so," Fangs wondered aloud back, "Technically you're a complete stranger and they must know you're not going to be staying. But then again, what do I know, I've never lived in a colony before, they may view things differently."

"I've never really lived in a colony either," Foxglove replied, "But I think I know enough about young males to be concerned about their getting the wrong impression."

"Well, if they ever notice how you behave around Dale I'm pretty sure they'd realize you're ‘off the market'," Fangs reassured her.

"I hope so," she responded. I also hope Dale doesn't get the wrong impression, either.

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