"The darkness drops again; but now I know
That twenty centuries of stony sleep
Were vexed to nightmare by a rocking cradle"
—The Second Coming, W. B. Yeats
Saturday night, on the road
Lena was driving well over the speed limit, trees flickering ghost-like past the window and fat droplets of rain slamming into the windscreen with cracking force. She stared intently at the road with paws gripping the wheel, and the hackles on the back of her neck rose at each pothole and lurch. Their speed was dangerous, but what was behind them was worse.
Anon had checked and double-checked both weapons. He was now going through his backpack and ensuring the contents were intact and packed well. They still had a long walk ahead of them.
The soft gleam of the town's streetlights and homes shone through arching tree branches in the sky ahead of them, and Lena slowed down. At maybe quarter of a mile away, she turned off the main road onto a dim agricultural track, then cut the engine.
"Hope she's okay," said Anon.
"Violet? I left her with a friend, the great-aunt of one of those partisans. We grab her, meet up with them on the other side of town, and they'll escort us through the mountains out of here."
He hefted his heavy pack and passed Lena her carbine. Slippery mud was just visible in the reflected halo of light from the town, and each footstep was uncertain. His ankles twisted around in his boots at every squelch, and raising them up produced a wet sucking resistance.
"So, I guess I missed a lot," said Anon.
Lena filled in the gaps for him. She'd met an old acquaintance on the road—a rail-thin greying heron lady named Gladys—and hitched a ride into town, during which she was briefed on how things stood in the local area. While haggling with the local mechanic to come fix their van, she saw the Colonel drop Violet off at the local orphanage. Her acquaintance turned out to be something of a firebrand, with a nephew in a partisan group that launched raids out of the very mountains she and Anon were hoping to cross to escape the Anthrostate.
Events got out of control, and the partisans first rescued Violet from the innocent orphanage staff at gunpoint, then launched a raid against the Colonel's forces in an attempt to free the prisoners held at her forestry camp. Lena had saved Anon and killed the notorious bloodhound, and was now making her way into town to retrieve Violet.
"You're a big damn hero, then," smiled Anon.
"So are you—Anon, rescuer and adopter of tiny little wolf cubs, procurer of travel documents." She smiled, and then her face grew a little more serious. "And slayer of tigresses."
"Glad we're both out of there, honey."
They trudged on. The town was small and cosy, and they passed through the outskirts and reached the main street in no time at all. It was thankfully cleared of pedestrians by the rain.
"This way," Lena pointed to a wooden cottage with a slate roof.
As she opened the door, a croaking voice called out. "There you are, dearie. Oh, and this must be Anon! I'm Gladys, young man." She stuck out her hand, and he clasped it, feeling the greying and patchy feathers under his palm.
"It's a pleasure to meet you. If I understand correctly, you helped Lena get me out of there. I don't know if thanks are enough, but thank you."
"Well, we could hardly have refused to help you, could we? Seeing you're both here, I'm guessing it went well?"
"We killed the Colonel, and last time I saw your friends they were busy freeing prisoners from that camp. I'm extremely grateful and don't take this the wrong way, but won't moving so openly bring the state down on your town?"
"Bah, I'm not so old I can't still jump the border. We used to cross in the dead of night with backpacks full of vodka, and come back with wads of cash. Some of my knitting circle still do." She arched her long neck closer and winked at him.
Lena coughed. "May we come in?"
"Oh, sorry dear! Of course! I'll get Violet."
Gladys bustled off. A few seconds later, she returned with the sleeping baby girl.
"We always wanted one ourselves, my husband and I, but it's not always that easy. I hear they've got treatments now, but he's been dead the past seven years and it would be far too late for me anyway."
"Well, if you can find us once we get out, we'd love to see you again, and I'm sure Violet would too. She's an absent friend's kid, but we're going to be taking care of her, and I'm sure she'd benefit from a grandma," Anon said.
"That's very kind of you, dearie." Gladys' non-committal smile was an unreadable blend of emotions.
The front door slammed open, revealing a gangly young human rifleman with buckteeth. "Aunt Gladys! The Army is coming!" He did a double-take as he saw Lena and Anon. "Oh, you're here too! I can lead all three of you out. Follow me!"
They all filed out after him, Gladys handing Violet to Anon and lifting a small bag of her own. Evidently she had prepared to leave.
"Where are you going, Jem?" asked the old heron.
"The rest of them are already heading into the mountains," replied Jem. "They sent myself and a few others into town to collect the old—I mean, the civillians—and we're all going to cross the border now. Should be maybe three miles to the mountains, another four to the border. They say the rain should make it difficult to get planes in the air, and stop the Army from bringing cars or tanks in." His voice for the last part was a monotonous recital.
Lena ran her paws down her face and flicked the water off them. It didn't do much to dry her sopping fur. Helpful rain was still rain, and she looked like a bedraggled puppy in the downpour.
Onward they slumped. They soon left the town behind, and with it the rain began to clear. Dripping water fell from the dim moonlit trees onto unguarded necks and faces. Behind them, car headlights approached the town. Evidently either survivors from the forestry camp had finally responded, or the rest of the Army had started to arrive.
"Bit damp," Anon said to Lena.
"Oh shut up, you don't even have fur."
He pulled a beanie out of his pack and handed it to her. She sneezed miserably and pulled it on, fabric bulging over her ears as she hugged her jacket tight around her body.
They began climbing into the foothills around the mountain. Lights flickered below them. Powerful beams from cars crawled over the mountain, and smaller ones from search parties were visible as pursuers fanned out from the town. It had been maybe three-quarters of an hour.
Up a slope and nearly to the base of the mountain proper, Jem motioned downward with a frantic arm. They fell to their bellies, Gladys' grimacing as her joints crackled audibly with age. Feet crashed through the forest as the first search party arrived on the scene.
Anon and Lena had dropped behind a tree trunk, with Violet to the side, thankfully asleep. She reached a hand out to his and squeezed it. He squeezed back, then drew his pistol, and she did likewise with her carbine. Gladys was near them, and Jem was further ahead, somewhat exposed in a small dip.
Heart in his mouth, he heard the pursuers stop.
"That branch—see?" an unfamiliar voice said.
"Lily, with me," said a very familiar voice, and he had to stop himself gasping. One of the lionesses who'd found him the first time!
Jem burst to his feet in a fluid rush, and bolted downhill from them. A lithe shape tackled him, and another bounded towards the tussle. Within seconds he was bound and lying on his back with two rifles pointed at him.
"Major!" called the second lioness, "Eva and I have one of them!"
A short dishevelled vixen walked into the clearing, oozing sleaze. She slammed her rifle butt into Jem's stomach and he writhed on the ground. "Must have strong abs. Looks like you got the pick of the litter, girls. Mind if I go first?" Without waiting, the Major reached for Jem's belt.
Lena tapped Anon's shoulder, then pushed the safety of her off with an exaggerated gesture of one fuzzy thumb. He nodded and mouthed "with you" at her.
The second lioness, evidently Lily, sneered at the Major behind her back and flipped her rifle onto her back. She made eye contact with the other lioness, Eva, who raised an eyebrow and jerked her head first at the vixen, then up the mountain.
The Major had finally fumbled Jem's belt free. Her hand dipped inside the waistband of his pants, and she was grabbing for something. They were out of time and this was rapidly becoming a disaster. Lena began rising to her feet and Anon followed, time seeming to crawl along in slow motion, when Lily pulled out a twelve inch knife and sunk it into the back of the Major's neck with a paw over her mouth.
Eva reached out a paw to Jem and hauled him upright. The vixen's body twitched as it died, spinal cord cleanly severed. The whole thing had barely made a sound.
"You are safe now. We are...not hurt you. We go with you?" Her accent was thick.
"Please?" added Lily, wiping her knife off on the vixen's uniform and sliding it away.
"You want to go with us?" asked Jem, shakily.
"We are needing good time for leave and good place for going," replied Eva.
"Time may never be good as this," added Eva.
Jem breathed out and shivered. "Yes. Just to warn you, there are more of us out in the forest. You can come out now!" he said, the last in a raised voice.
Anon and Lena walked out then, weapons pointed down to avoid alarming their apparent allies, but safeties off. Eva flinched, but kept her rifle down. Lily's was still on her back.
"Look after your aunt, Jem," said Anon. The boy toddled off. He caught Lena's eye. "These two are from the camp. They brought me in, and they treated me well," he said in an undertone.
She grimaced and bit her lip. "Fine. I don't like it, but we don't have the time to argue and I'm not damn well going to shoot them in cold blood."
"I'll get Violet."
The last few miles were steep, but they were uninterrupted by their pursuers. The lionesses took their packs, Lena stayed behind them with her carbine out and tried not to be too obvious about what she was doing, Anon carried Violet, and Jem helped Gladys over the rocks. They crossed the border over the saddle of a ridge, though there was nothing to mark it.
A short time after, Jem and Gladys melted away into the forest, and a patrol picked them up suspiciously soon afterwards. The five of them were taken first to a border post for paperwork, then to a refugee camp.
Sitting around a fire, Anon and Lena ceremonially burnt his collar, then embraced. For the first time in years, Anon slept like a log, even though he was lying on a wooden floor with a blanket on it. They had finally escaped.
Might write an epilogue to this where Anon and Lena finally get married and fug virginiously, we learn what happened to Arnold, and Violet grows up a bit. Let me know if you want to read something like that.