Author's note: Some objectional words were 'bleeped' while others were replaced altogether.

The Wandering Feather
Written by: Kevin (KS) Sharbaugh

Chapter Four

Foxglove had everyone's attention during breakfast as she recounted the details of her night out with the local bats. Throughout the presentation she kept searching for some indication as to whether or not Dale appeared jealous about all the attention she had been getting by some of the males. However, his attention continually shifted between her and the early morning cartoons he had found on tv... even though his interest in cartoons was usually something she considered cute and endearing, his only being half aware of her story made it impossible to gauge his reaction.

With breakfast and Foxy's story complete, everyone began to divide into two parties. Dale, Foxglove, Monty and Zipper prepared to take the Ranger Wing into town for some sightseeing while Chip, Dee, Gadget, Raven and Fangs prepared to make the rounds to Dee's relatives in the Ranger Plane. Raven had asked about the possibility of taking Dee's jet, the Banshee, into town, but her mother explained that the amount of effort needed to ready it for take off after each stop made it too much of a hassle. Then, seeing her daughter's disappointed expression, Dee promised to take her up in it later, just for kicks.

After Dale had taken the Ranger Wing out, Gadget prepared to take off with the other plane, but there was something she had to take care of first. "Now I can see if the Balloon Retraction System works!" she declared excitedly as she pulled a lever. Before everyone knew it, they were pinned to their seats by the Ranger Plane's red sausage-like balloon.

"Is it supposed to do that?" Chip asked.

"Golly, no," Gadget initially replied, "Well, yes, but not that suddenly." Pulling the lever back to it's original position, the balloon shot back up towards the ceiling. "It was supposed to lower in a more controlled manner," Gadget explained, completely oblivious to the fact that the her hair was pulled straight up by a little static electricity. "Let's try this again," she stated as she gently lowered the lever slowly. As intended, the balloon descended just as slowly. With the height of the hanger entrance no longer an impediment to it's departure, Gadget piloted her craft out of the mill.

"Y'know, when I think of New York State," Raven mentioned as she looked out at the expanse of forested hills, "this isn't exactly what I picture."

Cresting a hill, the Allegany River valley spread out before the travelers. Hugging the base of the hills to the south was the Southern Tier Expressway. A vast open field to the west sat like a depression among the trees, in the center of which was a large yellow barn. "Fangs," Dee stated, drawing the vampire's attention, "That's the dairy farm I was talking about, plenty of cows to feed off of."

"Ok," Fangs replied, "Where do we meet up when I'm done?"

"See that large concrete monolith just past those buildings downtown?" Dee began to answer, "My workshop is in the field just north of it, you'll be able to see the landing strip from above."

"Gotcha," the hungry blood drinker acknowledged before diving towards the beefy bovines below.

Gadget guided the Ranger Plane over downtown Salamanca towards the abandoned rail yards where her sister had set up shop. In the shadow of the concrete coal bunkers she set down beside the landing strip. As the passengers disembarked, Dee's assistant, William, emerged from the small wood and brick structure beside the small clearing.

"We were all beginning to wonder if you were going to return at all," William greeted the arrivals in his distinctive British accent. "Apparently not all of you made it," the red squirrel added noticing Dee's substantially shortened hair.

"I encountered some unexpected situations," Dee pointed out, "How have things been while I was gone?"

"Nothing out of the ordinary for the most part," William answered, "I repaired a few broken down contraptions that you had made for others, but nothing serious." There was a slight pause before he asked the inevitable, "And how was your holiday, if I might ask?"

"Well, first, I'd like you to meet my daughter, Raven," Dee proceeded, motioning to her child, "She's most of the reason I was gone so long."

William exchanged polite greetings with the young mouse before replying, "I'd heard rumors about your having had children, but got the feeling it was a matter not to be spoken of."

"I'd had her when I was only thirteen," Dee explained, "I asked my godparents to raise her as their own, our family made it known that we didn't want the fact that she was adopted to get out."

"Obviously this is no longer the case?" William assumed.

"Right," Dee conceded, "I had told the Rangers about it and requested that they also keep the matter secret, but Dale, the one with the red nose, spilled the beans right in front her. She didn't take the revelation well, but nearly giving my life for her convinced her that I really did care about her."

"I imagine this ties in with the loss of your hair," William broke in.

"Yeah," the inventor acknowledged, "I managed to get her out of a condemned building just before it was imploded. I covered her just as the detonations went off and got a splinter right through the chest... the hair came off for the surgery. I spent the next three weeks in a coma."

"Seems you could use a holiday from your holiday," the squirrel observed.

"That's what I'm hoping I can get now," Dee replied, "That's part of the reason I brought the Rangers back with me... Plus, to inform everyone that Gadget here is really my half sister," then, placing an arm around Chip and displaying her engagement ring, "and that I'm getting married!"

"Congratulations!" William offered to the chipmunk, extending his paw, "And I imagine you won't have to worry about people making rude remarks about your bride-to-be's past at the wedding, since everyone there will likely be terrified of her."

"Terrified of you?" Raven asked of her mother.

"Sure," Dee answered, "Where do you think you got that short and vicious temper of yours?"

"Oh, there was one thing I need to tell you about," William interjected, "Several people from your tribe had stopped by after you were late with your return asking me if I had any knowledge of when you would return."

"Well, it's nice to know I was missed," the Seneca mouse commented. The small group of rodents continued to talk until Fangs arrived. Then there was another exchange of pleasantries before they could depart. "Now I have to get going," Dee stated as she prepared to leave, "I've gotta let others know I'm back."

"Of course," the English rodent nodded, "And don't feel you need to get right back to work, I can keep things going a while longer... you have apparently earned some time off after all."

"Y'know, an English accent was probably one of the last things I expected to hear on this trip," Raven commented after they were airborne once more.

"Won't be the last strange accent you hear," her mother pointed out.

The next stop brought the Ranger Plane to a dilapidated two-story carriage house tucked away behind a row of well kept homes in the suburbs (which actually constituted most of the city). With the amount of trees that had been allowed to grow within the conjoined backyards of the properties it was difficult to notice the structure at all unless one was searching for it specifically. Leaving their conveyance in amongst the wild shrubs growing along the rotted walls, Chip, Gadget, Raven and Fangs followed Dee as she looked for the entrance used by the resident rodents.

"Hello?" a young grey female mouse with wavy blond hair called out as she emerged from between some boards.

"Terry?" Dee called back.

"Dee, is that you? It's about time you got back!" Terry responded with a hint of annoyance in her voice, "Where'f you been? In a coma?"

"For three weeks," Dee answered.

"Seriously?" her friend inquired, more curious now than annoyed.

"I got impaled shielding my daughter from a debris cloud when a building came down beside us," Dee explained.

"Your daughter?" Terry asked. She quickly looked at the group and then pointed at Raven as she looked back to Dee.

"Yep," the mother nodded, "This is my daughter, Raven."

"What happened to the Southmonts?" Terry asked concerning Raven's adopted parents, "Are they ok?"

"They're fine," Dee revealed, "They didn't die or anything, it's just that after the Rangers and I rescued Raven and her friend from some kidnapers one of them accidentally mentioned that I was her mother. Couldn't keep the secret after that."

"I wouldn't let them," Raven pointed out.

"Yeah, she practically strangled the one that mentioned it until we agreed to tell her everything," Dee elaborated.

"Well, I guess she takes after her mother," Terry commented.

"Oh, also," Dee added excitedly, motioning to her sister, "This is my older half-sister, Gadget!"

"Half-sister?" Terry asked.

"Yeah, you remember how my mother was gone for a year before I was born?" Dee began to explain.

"No, I don't remember," Terry smirked, "I wasn't born until after you were."

"You know what I mean," Dee smiled, "Anyhow, she met Gadget's father while she was away and... along came Gadget."

"Being named Gadget, you'd haf to be Doohickey and Thingamabob's sister," Terry remarked as she gave her new acquaintance a hug.

"And she's going to be getting a brother-in-law!" Dee proclaimed as she brandished her engagement ring.

"Holy cow!" the young mouse declared upon seeing the sparkler, "Who's the fictim?"

"Right here," Dee answered as she pulled Chip over.

"Hey, looks like the adfenturous type," Terry noted as she looked Chip over like a large hunk of cheese, "Right up your alley!"

"That's also why we're here," Dee added, "We want to get your grandmother's blessing before we get hitched."

"Oh," the blond's expression fell suddenly, "That's why we'fe been trying to get in touch with you after you didn't get back when you said you would... She passed away about, what, sefen days after you left."

"I'm sorry to hear about that," Dee offered as she embraced her friend, "You don't have to go into details if you don't want to."

"That's ok," Terry replied, "But there is something I haf to tell you..."

"What?" Dee asked.

"Well, with my grandmother gone," she proceeded, "we needed a new Clan Mother, and, well, you're it."

"What?" Dee asked again.

"Before she died my gramma let people know that she wanted you to succeed her," Terry pointed out, "and no one in the Clan objected to the idea, so... you're the new head of the Wolf Clan."

Dee stared at her friend for a moment, her mouth almost hanging open. Then, she finally found her voice. "But... I can't be a Clan Mother," she proclaimed, then, after a substantial pause, continued, "I'm only twenty-six!"

Terry just shrugged, "So?"

"Don't you think that's a little young?" Dee asked.

"I'm sure we've had Clan Mothers that young before," the blond mouse presumed.

"Didn't you tell us that the only real prerequisite for being a Clan Mother was being the most respected female?" Raven asked her mother.

"Well, yeah, but," Dee began to answer with some hesitance, "There... there has to be a certain amount of common sense to it too, logically speaking someone isn't experienced enough for something like this at my age... I mean, I wasn't ready to be a mother at thirteen, so how can I be ready to be a Clan Mother at twenty-six?!"

"My gramma thought you were ready," Terry answered, "And apparently efryone else in the Clan's ok with it."

"Dee," Chip intervened, "Maybe this can wait until after we've gotten the rest of our stops out of the way." His fiancé agreed and after bidding esgöge:ae' to Dee's friend, they were off to check in with Thingamabob.

"Esgöge:ae'?" Fangs asked, mimicking the pronunciation perfectly.

"Literally translated it's ‘I'll see you again'," Dee explained, "It's our equivalent of ‘good-bye'." There was a pause while a thought ran about through Dee's mind. "Does anyone know what ‘bye' actually means? Like where it comes from," she eventually asked, "Is there such a thing as a ‘bad-bye', or a ‘somewhat-bye'? I'm gonna hafta find a dictionary, this is gonna bother me."

"Actually," Chip proceeded to answer in a calm and analytical manner, "Goodbye is a contraction of the phrase ‘God be with ye'."

Dee just stared at him for a moment. "How the heck do you know that?!" she eventually blurted out.

"Dale and I got into an argument about what ‘goodbye' meant a couple months ago," Chip pointed out, "I think it was the first time Dale ever spent any real time in a library... After getting done with the dictionary we all perused subjects of personal interest, and Dale eventually came up to me complaining about there not being any comic books. I was about to direct him to the children's section when I thought to ask him to see if he could find a book about the history of comics."

"Did he find one?" Dee asked.

"Yeah," Chip replied, "and he spent the next few weeks referring to me as Dick Tracy."

By the time Chip finished relating the story of Dale's attempts to create a wristwatch radio, ala Dick Tracy, the Ranger Plane had arrived at the residence of Thingamabob "Bob" Hawfeather, his wife and his sister-in-law. As the passengers disembarked, a large brown mouse wearing a black jacket emerged from the collection of abandoned boxes and containers stacked against the back wall of a human's house.

"I'm ba-ack!" Dee called over to her eldest sibling.

"Dee?" he called back, slightly confused by her lack of long hair. The two trotted up to each other and embraced, Bob lifting his sister off the ground as they did. "What happened? We thought maybe you and Chip had eloped to some tropical island or something."

"Close," Dee replied, "We are engaged."

As Chip walked up, Bob grabbed his paw and yanked him over to wrap his other arm around his brother-in-law-to-be and with a few hearty slaps on the back sent the chipmunk's fedora flying... which Dee caught for him. When Bob released him from his unnecessarily enthusiastic embrace, Chip retrieved his hat from his fiancé.

"Welcome to the family!" Bob declared.

"Thanks," Chip replied, trying to get his fedora in just the right place atop his head.

"And while we're on the subject of family," Dee added, "While I was gone I discovered that Gadget is actually our half-sister!"

"Well that explains a lot," Bob mentioned, then, after a little thought, added, "How did that happen? Like, when was she born?"

"Remember when Mom was gone and left you with Gramma?" Dee asked rhetorically, "Well now we know what she was up to." Bob gave his ‘new' sister a hug, during which Dee motioned Raven over. "And since she's changed so much since you saw her last," she stated to her brother, "this is your niece, Raven."

Not entirely wanting to be hugged, Raven merely held out a paw. Giving her paw a firm shake, he needlessly pointed out, "You look exactly like your mother did at your age." After a few moments he asked, "You don't have any kids yet, yourself, do you?"

"No," the girl replied, shaking her head, "My love life is a lot more conservative than hers. In fact, I only have one boyfriend." Standing aside to point him out, she added, "This is Darkfire, but we all call him Fangs." As the two males shook (as best they could since one had wings), she prefaced the next part of the introductions with a warning, "And if you react badly to his I'll have to hurt you badly, but he's a vampire bat."

After observing his niece with an amused expression, Bob replied, "Why would I react badly?" Then he added lightly, "You'd haf to hurt me?"

"That's no idle threat," Dee replied, "She attacked Romulus over his reaction."

"So the wolves found you?" Bob asked, "Romulus demanded I help him figure out how to get where you were going, had to call in quite a few fafors. I was thinking of going after you myself there for awhile, after you were chosen as our new Clan Mother."

"And you were ok with that?" De asked pointedly.

"About you being a Clan Mother? H*** yes!" Bob answered, "You got yourself adopted into a wolf pack, so why shouldn't you lead the Wolf Clan?"

Dee mumbled something the others couldn't quite decipher as she shook her head disapprovingly. "Listen, do you still have the Mom's feather?" she eventually asked with obvious irritation.

"Sure, c'mon," Bob replied as he motioned everyone inside. Once inside, as Bob departed to retrieve the feather, Dee introduced her party to her sisters-in-law.

"I guess you and Bob still haven't found a new place to live," Chip mentioned, remembering that Dee's brother and his wife had been driven from their home by a cat the year before.

"We're a little choosy about where to moof in," his wife replied, "I'd like to get a family started so I don't want some place we'll haf to moof out of when the kids arrife."

"Whose kids are you getting?" Dale asked. Bob's wife just stared at him while her sister started laughing.

As Bob's sister-in-law laughed ever harder as she replayed the exchange in her mind, Dee pulled Gadget aside. "Y'know how I told you that our family was named after our Great-great- and-so-on-grandmother Asani's lucky feather? Well it was passed down through the family from mother to eldest daughter, and, since we now know you're the eldest daughter, I think you should have it."

Gadget was a little surprised by the offer. "Thanks, I guess," she replied, "Would ‘thanks' be appropriate in a situation like this? I've never inherited a family heirloom before."

Bob eventually emerged from a neighboring room carrying a light brown hawk's feather. "I guess this belongs to you now," he commented as he reached out to hand it to his half-sister. But, as Gadget reached out, herself, to receive the feather a gust of wind pushed in the improvised window. The loud thud of the dislodged fixture hitting the floor caused everyone to jump, and Bob, in particular, to drop the feather. Before anyone could grab the errant heirloom the wind slammed shut the front door, drawing away everyone's attention. The whirling of the wind lifted the feather and swept it towards the hole where the window had once been.

"AAH!" Bob's wife yelped as she spotted the feather and leapt for it. However, the wind was too swift, she was too short and the feather departed for the out of doors. Everyone soon piled outside in hopes of retrieving the feather. Fangs, being the only one capable of flight, took wing and immediately checked above the rodents' residence and then in an ever widening circle in the immediate vicinity.

"You dumb-a**!" Bob's sister-in-law shouted as she smacked him upside the head, "How could you let this happen?!" Hitting him some more, she continued berating the muscular mouse, "What's wrong with you?! That was in your family for generations! Don't you haf any coordination at all?!"

"Hey-hey-HEY!" Dee shouted up as she pushed her enraged sister-in-law back. "Like you said, that feather was in our family for generations," she stated, motioning in the general direction of herself and her siblings, "not yours, so if anyone is going to get upset about this it should be us, not you!" As Dee turned her back, she heard her sister- in-law smack Bob one last time. "By the way," she began calmly, turning back around, "since this is your house, wouldn't a faulty window be your responsibility? Excuse me... your fault?" Dee's sister-in-law crossed her arms and snorted defiantly.

"Couldn't find it," Fangs stated as he landed.

"Then I supposed we might as well move on then," Dee concluded.

"Will your friends be coming to the Powwow tomorrow?" her sister-in-law asked.

"Tomorrow?" Dee asked, as much to herself as to her in-law, then finished without waiting for an answer, "Being in a coma can really mess up your internal calender... Yeah, we'll be there."

Airborne once more, the Ranger Plane winged it's way towards the Allegany River. Fangs, as he had since reuniting with the others, chose to fly along side rather than try to squeeze into one of the seats.

"See where the river narrows up there?" Dee asked Gadget as she leaned forward between the two front seats.

"Isn't that where we crossed last night?" Gadget replied.

"Yep, we're going to land on that small clearing at the top of the retaining wall by the river," Dee pointed out, "just before that land juts out into it."

"Whoa, you got a brick road here?" Raven asked as she spotted the street that ran parallel to the river, just atop the steep fifteen foot embankment that sloped down to their destination.

"That's the most picturesque strip in the city," Dee explained, "The rest of the brick streets were either replaced or paved over." As the passengers of the vehicle began to disembark, having landed well back from the edge of the wall, Dee proceeded to point out the significance of the site. "Back during the logging boom this stretch of land supported a rail line that came up out of what's now the State Park. The logs would be dumped into the river upstream near where the Main Street Bridge is and the current would push them to the opposite side of the river... right across from where we are, where workers hauled them out of the water onto conveyors to the mill."

"And they piled the finished wood boards right onto rail cars on that track we came in on," Chip concluded.

"That's why they built their mill on the far side of the river from their timber tracts," Dee explained, "Otherwise they would have had to pay through the nose to use the Western New York & Pennsylvania Railroad's line that went through the south of town."

"Wouldn't they have to pay to get their stuff across their lines anyway to come up from the Park?" Raven asked.

"They originally offered to pay for ‘right of way' across the line," Dee recounted, "But when the WNYPR refused to permit it and put guards along their line to prevent the construction of an intersecting line, the owner of the logging company provoked one of the guards to make a verbal threat against him at which point he filed an injunction against the WNYPR and had his men hack a way across their line before they could get the injunction lifted." After a small pause, she added, "It's one of those rare cases of local yokels screwing a large rail company rather than the other way around."

Leading the others towards the large wall of bushes and vines that bordered one end of the clearing, Dee continued the local history lesson, "When the logging company went out of business early in the 1900's and the lines here were pulled up, some entrepreneurial rodents borrowed out a series of connecting tunnels behind the concrete slabs that make up the retaining wall and rented them out as river-front apartments."

After passing through a tunnel of arching vines and roots, the party emerged into a fairly expansive courtyard. It was concealed from human sight by the trees and shrubs that formed a leafy dome overhead. Various rodents, some of them, judging by their demeanor, being young lovers, strolled along paths lined by small shade-loving flowers. In the center of one of the intersections was a stone pillar on which was situated a plaque. Dee led the others up to monument. "This is why we're here," she stated, motioning to the plaque.

Gadget proceeded to read the inscription aloud, "Dedicated in memory of those who were lost rescuing trapped residents during heavy flooding." Beneath the dedication, Gadget read the names of those it referred to, "Michael Burrows, Timothy Bearclaw, ‘Black-paw'," her voice caught for a second as she read the next name, "Amanda Hawkfeather, Terrence Lane."

"What happened?" Chip asked.

"We get some pretty heavy snows around here, being downwind of Lake Erie and all," an older male mouse declared as he walked up to the group, "And four years ago Winter decided to go out with a roar and gave us several days worth. Then, overnight, Spring moved in with a torrential downpour... So not only were we dealing with all that rain, we were dealing with all that snow the rain was melting. The people that built these apartments didn't take that kind of punishment into account when they hollowed out those tunnels. Soon enough the lower tunnels were flooding and residents were moving for higher ground... some were smart enough to clear out of the tunnels entirely, but others stayed behind, not wanting to go out in the rain. They realized their mistake when the exit tunnels collapsed.

"Some tried to start digging through the obstructions right away," the elder continued, "but when their new tunnels began to collapse right on top of them they thought better of it! Some of the trapped just climbed out their windows and up the vines that hang down over most of the wall here, but over there, at the clearing, there are no vines... so they were stuck, the tunnels between there and here having collapsed as well. I heard one boy fell into the river trying to scale the wall over towards the vines, but with all the rain coming down he couldn't keep his grip. Hawkfeather got together a rig, like those used by window washers on tall buildings, to lower down to bring people up. She and the others got just about everyone out down there that were stuck.

"Burrows and Bearclaw were on the platform itself while Hawkfeather, Lane and Black- paw stayed up top to make sure the supports were secure and to haul the platform up themselves if the pulleys snagged. The platform was headed back down when a branch up there," here the elder mouse pointed towards the ‘ceiling' of the courtyard with his cane, "Well, you can't see it from here, bad angle... But a branch came down and landed right on the supports. Lane and Black-paw were killed with the impact and Hawkfeather was knocked over the edge into the river while Burrows and Bearclaw went down with the platform."

"They found Bearclaw's body a few days later," Dee added, "tangled in the shrubs in the wooded area we passed through last night. They were never able to find Lane or Mom."

"Oh, you're Hawkfeather's girl!" the elder mouse realized, "I didn't recognize you at first. Are these friends of yours?"

"Friends and family," Dee clarified, "They're here on vacation."

"These wouldn't be the Rescue Rangers I've heard about, that were here last year?" the elder asked.

"Some of them," Dee answered, "Including my long lost half-sister, Gadget."

"Long lost half-sister," the elder repeated, "Sounds like something from a soap opera."

"We found some of her father's old things and discovered that he had wanted to tell her about her real mother but died before he had the chance," Dee explained, "Since then I've been wondering if Mom had intended to tell me and Bob about Gadget... but that this happened before she could."

"I'm sure she did," Chip mentioned, putting his arm around his fiancé tenderly.

"I'm sure she did, too," the elder joined in, "Now, I've got to get on with my walk... It's been a pleasure to meet all of you!"

As the elder mouse hobbled off, Chip turned back to the memorial. "I guess heroics run in the family," he commented. Dee laid her head on Chip's shoulder as Gadget ran her delicate fingers over her mother's name.

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