Chapter 2

"Looks like da storm's finally stoppin'. Bout time." Dorita said as she sniffed the air before continuing their scurrying in the undergrowth. Shoogy has been following the rat, hoping the rodent knew where she was going. But she's a very trusting critter and had a great deal of faith in her new companion, who seemed to know this place like the back of her paw. "So..." the larger animal started as they went. "Where ya from?"

"Terry's house..." Shoogy said, her ears lowering just a bit at the mention of her best friend.

"What's a Terry?" Dorita asked in confusion and the glider looked at her for a moment before answering.

"My human... She had to leave my sister and I alone and-" Dorita interrupted her with a hint of disdain.

"Ah, been abandoned, huh? Typical human." Shoogy looked at her in shock before shaking her head desperately.

"No, mate. She didn't abandon us... She wanted to take us, but her oldies wouldn't let her..." At least that's what she thought was the situation. Thinking back to the moment, she could see the anguish her human had when she was forced out the room. There was no way she would intentionally abandon them. "She loved us very much..."

"If ya say so." Dorita said with a bit of doubt and the glider instantly had curiosity on one subject, having noted the rat's obvious hostility towards humans.

"You didn't love your human?"

At this, Dorita stopped in her tracks and Shoogy stopped beside her. The rodent looked at her, whiskers twitching in what seemed to be disgust and her muzzle forming into a kind of grimace. This confused Shoogy even more. What kind of loving pet was this rat? As if she read her mind, Dorita answered with an even stronger note of disdain. "I'm not a pet, pal. I'm a wild rat, a brown rat. Not one of those brainwashed idiot rats those humans take hostage. We sometimes live with humans, but not as their friends. We would never be friends with creatures that try to kill us."

Hearing that last part, Shoogy couldn't keep in a peep of surprise. Kill? Humans don't kill. They're one of the nicest creatures she's ever known. They gave her a nice, comfy cage. They gave her treats and toys. They petted her and played with her and taught her all kinds of things. They could never do anything to harm them. Dorita sensed the astonishment in the glider and changed directions.

"Follow me, I'll show ya sometin', kid." Hesitant for only a second, Shoogy followed her. Right by a human house torn up by the storm, Dorita went in search of something, circling the house and sniffing over corners before turning them. The marsupial wasn't sure what she was looking for, but she didn't have to wait long to see. Crouching on her hind legs, Dorita turned her head towards Shoogy, who stared in shock.

A dead mouse....Its neck snapped by some contraption that looked like it was made by....

"No..." she whispered. Dorita nodded.

"Yeah. They're called mouse traps and da humans have a larger one to kill us rats with. One of my cousins learned dat da hard way. Now c'mon, there's sometin' else..."

Shoogy wasn't sure if she wanted to see more, but she knew she didn't have much of a choice. Crabbing just a little bit, she stayed by the rat, who kept her nose close to the ground as if foraging for food. The smaller mammal was just about to question her when Dorita found what she was looking for. In her paws, she picked up a strange smelling pill. Shoogy couldn't help it. "What is that?"

"Poison, kid." Dorita answered as she nibbled on it. "Killed a couple of my older sisters. Most of my colony has stopped eatin' it." She smiled good-naturedly. "Though it does taste good wit crackers."

Shoogy perked her ears in panic. "Why are you eating it, sheila?" Dorita laughed between nibbles.

"I'm immune to this stuff. Sometimes makes me a bit queesy, but dat's a side effect I can live wit." She finished the pill before standing tall on her hind legs to get her bearings before resuming their journey. "This way."

Shoogy was glad that was over. She didn't want to know how much more she can take and she felt her trust in humans start to falter a bit now that she knew a darker side to them. But that brief deterioration in faith faded away as she remembered Terry and all the nice things she and other humans have done for her. Her thoughts were interrupted as Dorita spoke again.

"Youse said ya had a sister?" she asked. "Where's she?"

Shoogy's ears pinned down against her head and she lowered her gaze to the ground as she walked. "She......she's gone......We were gliding...trying to get away from the storm and find Terry...But I've made a blue and....ended up in the wrong wind... She saved me but got eaten by the storm."

Dorita was silent for a while. "Sorry. If it makes ya feel better, I know how ya feel. My brothers and sisters dat were in my brood, yeah, they died when we were just lil pups, before our fur even grew. Luckily, my mom managed to save me..."

"Saved you? From what?" She hoped it wasn't humans as she didn't wanna be on that subject again. Thankfully, it wasn't and the rat practically hissed out the words with greater malevolence than when they were talking about the humans.

"Slither. He got 'em." Dorita sped up her strides and Shoogy tried to keep up.

"Who's 'Slither'?" she asked, the name making her fur stand up a bit and she knew this was gonna be an unpleasant conversation. But she needed to know everything she can about this new outside world, especially of who she needed to steer clear of.

The rat made an angry squeak. "He's a rattlesnake. Western diamondback to be exact." Shoogy knew what a snake was as they had those in the pet store too. She didn't know much of them, but Gliga told her they were mammal-eaters that squeezed the breath out of their prey until they suffocated and died. She was scared of them. But she's never heard of a 'rattlesnake' before and was gonna ask what that was, but Dorita's already assumed that she wouldn't know and took time to explain. "A rattlesnake is a horrible snake. They use venom, kinda like da pill I showed ya, but different. They bite yas and then, you only have seconds to live before ya croak. But Slither.....He's different than da other rattlesnakes.... He doesn't kill quickly."

"Whaddya mean?" Shoogy asked, her great uneasiness increasing even more.

"He's notorious in our colony. Snakes can control how much venom they put in ya and I heard he gives ya just enough to kill ya, but not enough to make it quick. Apparently, his screwy mind likes watchin' us little mammals suffer... He's a monster even by snake-standards."

Shoogy gulped and was just about to muster the courage to ask more questions when the grass nearby started rustling. Shoogy jumped and Dorita stood before her, tail thudding against the ground angrily as she tried to sniff out the intruder. The wind was not with her and she didn't like it.

"It's Slither, I know it, mate! Don't let the dingo get me!" Shoogy yelled in fright, now growing paranoid from Dorita's story. The rat tensed, eyes steely.

"Well, if it is him, I say: Bring it, buddy!"

The adversary stepped out of the grass and although the rat couldn't see too well, she could get the basic outline of the creature and immediately made it out to be a-

"Rabbit!" She lunged and bit, angry that such a harmless creature was causing such tension. But the moment she sank her teeth into the fur, she jumped back in shock as the 'rabbit' backed away a bit in startlement at the surprise attack. Shoogy looked at it and instantly relaxed, as she too recognized this species from the pet store.

"The bloke's a chinchilla, not a rabbit." Very friendly critters back at the store, and she heard nothing bad of them as they were peaceful rodents that always seemed so laid back in their tanks. She looked at Dorita, who was grooming her muzzle busily, still in some sort of shock before exclaiming:

"Dat's a lot of fur!!" She couldn't even get her teeth close to the skin, that's how thick it was and she was amazed if anything. The chinchilla, quickly recovering and determining the two as not being a true threat, smiled a bit in a somewhat proud manner.

"Thank you. I groom and take a dust bath as often as I can." It was a male chinchilla and he seemed to enjoy the admiration to his coat. Not that Shoogy blaimed him, she knew it took a lot of maintaining to have a normal amount of fur. She couldn't imagine how much hard work this rodent had to put in to have pelt that thick and luxurious. She tried immediately to be friendly, as if to make up for the initial first impression.

"G'day, mate. I'm Shoogy. And the sheila that bit ya was Dorita." she introduced for her companion, who was still grooming intensely.

The chinchilla shifted a bit, still smiling kindly. "I'm Fudge."

---

"What?" Shadow questioned, not sure he heard things right. Did this mysterious creature just threatened him? The scaley Unknown paused a brief second, still making its rattling noise before speaking again, voice still soft and hissing.

"Get out of these tunnels....Or I'll strike...." Yup, that's definitely a threat.

The stoat exhaled sharply. In these tunnels, somewhere, was his prey and instincts told him that he should never give up on hunting a particular individual rabbit. Leaving the burrow was the same as giving up and he would not do such a thing. Puffing his tail up a bit, he shook his head. "No. I want my rabbit."

Again, the thing paused, as if trying to understand and make sense of his words, which confused him a bit. Was it possible this thing didn't know the animal language too well? He doubted it, after all, it spoke to him quite fluently. Maybe it just couldn't hear very well, he couldn't make out ears on the silhouette and it seemed reasonable. But before he could put in much more thought, the Unknown spoke again.

"'Your' rabbit is lost....Seek another and get out...."

Now Shadow was getting a bit less annoyed and a bit more angry. "I said no. I want my rabbit and I'm gonna sniff it out through all these tunnels if I have to." He waited the quick second for the Unknown to comprehend his words of defiance before turning around to track that rabbit. It couldn't have gotten far...

Suddenly, the Unknown struck at such great speed to for it to be a blur. Luckily, it was a closed-mouth strike and the Unknown merely hit him with its muzzle. The weasel-like mammal jumped and hit the ceiling before tumbling to the ground and instantly righting himself, staring at the Unknown in shock as it retreated back to its previous coiled position, tail still rattling and the voice still soft. "That was a warning....Now I insist you leave...."

Shadow took the words into a bit more of a consideration. That was a quick blow, though he wasn't sure what he was scared of. He'll get bitten, yes, but what's a bite to him anyways? It's not like it'll kill him... With that in mind, he shook his head again, a bit softer than before. "I still want my rabbit...." His predatory instincts were persistent.

After a long moment, the rattling sound began to ease and the stoat spotted a quick flicker of movement near the Unknown's mouth. Soon, silence fell on them as the thing stared at him unfalteringly, as if finally starting to give in to his words. But that was far from the case.

"You can't have it....It's too late...."

Shadow narrowed his eyes. "And what is that supposed to mean?" Another quick flicker of movement near its mouth and it started to uncoil a bit as it slid closer and the stoat stiffened, ready to snap. But the Unknown's approach wasn't threatening and in fact, it was moving right past him.

"I'll show you, little mammal..." He was obviously meant to follow it and he paused before doing so, keeping his whiskers in close contact with the strange end of its tail to keep himself from losing his 'guide'. The Unknown seemed to be tracking something, following the tunnels in some strange pre-determined path. Was it smelling out where they were going? Shadow wasn't sure, he couldn't hear any sniffing noises, just the occasional flicker of what he assumed was the creature's tongue.

Finally, at one of the tunnel exits, the Unknown coiled up and the mustelid had to climb a bit onto the creature to get past. The Unknown made a short rattle noise at the climbing, but little else, focused on something in front of it. Shadow took a moment to look a bit more closely at the Unknown before turning his dark eyes on the object of interest.

It was the rabbit he's been hunting, but it seemed to be dying already. Not just dying, it was in some kind of unknown agony. He didn't understand why, nothing was hurting it. It only had a few bite marks from himself and-

He looked back at the Unknown, who gave a dark chuckle. Shadow shifted his tail a bit and asked softly. "What did you do to it?"

"Envenomed it...." the Unknown answered after its usual pause. "I bite.....it dies..." It moved out of its coil and Shadow was forced off as the scaley creature paused on the opposite side of the rabbit and the weasel finally had a clear view of it.

A dark colored thing with diamond-shaped darker markings all along its back. He could just make out black and white stripes near the end of its tail and at the very end was strange segments that must've been the source of the strange rattling. He's never seen anything like this thing, never seen anything that didn't have fur....At least the humans had a small patch of fur on their heads. This thing, whatever it was, was completely alien to him. He narrowed his eyes once more, black tail tip flicking a bit.

"Who are you?"

The Unknown returned its unblinking gaze to him with another soft snicker as the rabbit answered the question with extreme weakness, using its very last breath to do so.

"Slither..."