So, Henry was about to stab Ripred in his sleep, but Ripred wakes up right on time.
In the split second Henry drove the blade down, Ripred flipped onto his back and slashed his terrible claws. The sword cut across the rat’s chest as Ripred tore a deep gash along Henry’s arm.
Awake for two seconds and Ripred is already a bad ass.
At this point the rest of the group wakes up and Gregor has to explain to them that Henry was trying to kill Ripred in his sleep. Henry is totally unabashed and admits that that is what he was trying to do. Interestingly, he didn’t attack with Ares, the bat he’s bonded to. It appears that Ares didn’t know about the plan. Hm.
Gregor manages to break up the fight and get everyone to calm down. Sort of.
Gregor narrowed his eyes at Henry. “You know, where I come from, we don’t think much of someone who sneaks up and stabs a person in their sleep.”
So… you don’t think much of murderers where you come from? I think that applies everywhere?
“He is not a person, he is a rat,” said Henry. “If you cannot make the distinction, you may surely count yourself among the dead.”
Cool. Good talk, Henry.
Gregor and Luxa get to work patching everyone up.
While Gregor patted extra layers of silk onto Ripred’s matter fur, the rat muttered, “I suppose I ought to thank you.”
“Forget about it,” said Gregor. “I only did it because I need you.” He didn’t want Ripred thinking they were friends or anything.
“Did you? I’m glad,” said Ripred. “I thought I detected a sense of fair play. Most dangerous in the Underland, boy.”
Gregor wished everybody would shut up about what was dangerous to him in the Underland. The whole place was one big minefield.
Meanwhile, Luxa and Henry are having a discussion about what happened. Luxa says that Henry can’t attempt something like this again. For the time being, they need Ripred. It’s a short discussion, but it underlines the differences between Luxa and Henry. Throughout this book we’ve seen that Luxa, while stubborn, is a bit more willing to open her mind and learn. Perhaps this is because of her responsibilities as future queen of Regalia, but in any case she shows a lot more maturity and wisdom than Henry despite being younger than him.
Obviously no one can go back to sleep after this, so they start moving again. Boots is sick and in too much pain to be carried in the backpack, so they strap her to Temp’s back instead.
They come to a bridge where enemy rats are waiting for them. They cross the bridge quickly and then immediately begin to cut the ropes securing it to let the enemy rats fall into the river below. Just one problem: Temp and Tick move too slowly and are still on the bridge when they start to cut the ropes.
The roaches were within ten feet of the bank when the rats caught up with them. There was no discussion between them; it was as if the bugs had worked out this whole scenario long ago. Temp put on a burst of speed for the end of the bridge, and Tick turned to face down the army of rats alone.
As they bounded at her, Tick flew directly into the face of the lead rat, causing it to startle back in surprise. Until that moment, Gregor hadn’t even realized the roaches had wings. Maybe the rats didn’t know, either. But it didn’t take them long to recover. The lead rat sprang forward and crushed Tick’s head in its jaws.
Temp collapsed on the bank just as the bridge gave way. Twenty rats, the leader still holding Tick in its teeth, plunged into the river below. As if this wasn’t horrific enough, the waters churned as enormous piranha-like fish surfaced and fed on the screaming rats.
I like that “As if this wasn’t horrific enough”. It’s almost meta. Like I can just imagine Suzanne Collins writing this scene and thinking, “Tick’s head being crushed and the rats falling to their deaths isn’t horrific enough… HOW ABOUT I ADD PIRANHAS TOO.”
Another member of the quest is dead.
Well, again, I can’t pretend I was very attached to Tick. My first time reading this, I wasn’t particularly attached to anyone yet at this point, and Tick had only spoken a few times. But I did feel sad about her death, partially because of the way she died and because of what her death meant.
The “questers” (a term Gregor coined) catch their breath as soon as it’s safe for them to do so. Gregor sits with Temp, away from most of the group, as he believes that they would have let Boots fall into the river.
And then there was Tick. Brave little Tick, who had flown into the face of the army of rats to save his baby sister. Tick – who never spoke much. Tick – who shared her food. Tick – who was after all just a roach. Just a roach who had given all the time she had left so that Boots could have more.
I love that last line. It’s very matter-of-fact, but there’s a nice sound to it and it highlights the weight and importance of Tick’s sacrifice.
Gregor starts to cry, the first time he’s cried since being in the Underland. Tick’s sacrifice was enough to break whatever resolve he had. Because of what she did, what she and Temp were both willing to do, Gregor feels an allegiance to the roaches, and he vows never to take a roaches life even in the Overland. A bit dramatic maybe, but it’s still a good moment. It means a lot to Gregor that the roaches were ready to risk their lives to save his sister, that there’s someone aside from him down here that will protect her.
Temp, whose antennas had drooped down over his head, reached out and touched Gregor with a feeler. “Thank you. To weep when Tick has lost time.”
The fact that Temp thanks Gregor for grieving Tick is telling. Everyone in the Underland thinks so little of the roaches, probably very few have ever cared about the death of a roach except other roaches. Gregor’s grief is a sign of respect and compassion that they’re not used to.
Luxa comes over to Gregor and tells him that of course, they would have caught Temp and Boots if they had fallen. They would have caught Tick too if there had been any reason to. Of course in all of the chaos Gregor forgot that the bats could have caught any quester that fell when the bridge was cut, and there wasn’t really time to remind him in the moment.
“It’s okay,” he said. “I know.” When Luxa sat beside him, he didn’t move away. “I guess you think it’s pretty stupid, me crying over a roach.”
“You do not yet know the Underlanders if you think we lack tears,” said Luxa. “We weep. We weep, and not just for ourselves.”
“Not for Tick, though,” said Gregor with a trace of bitterness.
“I have not wept since the death of my parents,” said Luxa quietly. “But I am thought to be unnatural in this respect.”
Gregor felt more tears slipping down his cheeks when he thought of how badly you had to be hurt to lose the ability to cry. He forgave Luxa everything at that moment. He even forgot why he needed to forgive her.
As someone who cries almost daily over the tiniest things, I’ve never really understood people who just… don’t cry. Like, it’s unreal to me. And the idea that Luxa could have been so hurt that she’s lost the ability to cry is incredibly sad.
It’s time for the questers to get a move on again, and Ripred tells Gregor, in a nicer tone than usual, that his father is nearby. He’s only an hour’s walk away. It’s a good thing their quest is almost over, because Gregor’s almost out of flashlights and Luxa is running out of fuel for their one torch. The bats can navigate in the dark, of course, so as long as the light lasts them until it’s time to return to Regalia, it should be fine.
They make their way around the ridge of a wide chasm to the tunnel that leads to Gregor’s father. Ripred kills the two rats keeping guard there in the blink of an eye. When everyone is stunned by this, Ripred tells them, “It’s all right. Remember, I’m on your side.” One thing I like about Ripred is that he’s obviously aware of his abilities, but he’s not overtly a show off or even all that arrogant about them. He knows he’s amazing and he knows he intimidates everyone, and he’ll definitely use either of those to his advantage when he can, but otherwise he’s actually pretty chill.
They finally leave the chasm behind them and find a circular pit. Inside it is an emaciated figure with long white hair and beard. Gregor’s father.
The bats get his dad out of the pit, but his dad is weak and disoriented and not at all how Gregor thought he would be. It’s hard for Gregor, because he’s been looking forward to having another parent again, but his dad is in no condition to be that for him right now, at least not in the way Gregor was hoping for. And of course being held captive by the rats for more than two years would take a toll on Gregor’s dad, but I don’t think Gregor anticipated just how bad it would be. His dad is nothing like he remembers him and that’s scary to Gregor.
Here’s where things get weird.
While Luxa tries to say that they need to fly back to Regalia immediately, Henry stands slightly apart from the group, apparently in no hurry to leave. Then he whistles, giving away their position. Henry had made some kind of deal with the rats.
“Sorry, cousin,” said Henry urgently to Luxa. “But I had no choice. We were headed for disaster under Vikus. He would ally us to the weakest, when our only real chance of survival is to ally ourselves with those who are most powerful. We will join forces with the rats and rule together, you and I.”
This didn’t make sense to me the first time I read these books and it still makes no sense to me. Why is Henry allying with the rats if he hates them so much?
“I am tired of having cowards and weaklings as allies,” said Henry. “The rats, at least, are not guilty of that. Together, we will protect each other. Together, we will rule. Together, we will be safe. It has been decided.”
I’m not surprised that Henry is enough of an asshole to betray everyone, but I’m really confused by his motivation here. He just wants to get rid of all of the “weak” creatures in the Underland? By allying with their enemies? And is he really naive enough to think that he can trust King Gorger, who we’ve been told wants to destroy all of the humans in the Underland?
Allying with the rats wouldn’t even necessarily be a bad thing. It would put an end to their fighting. But why do they have to go after the more peaceful creatures? Spinners provide them with things that they can’t produce themselves (as far as we’ve been told), so killing off the spinners would only hurt them. And what would they get out of killing off the crawlers? The crawlers aren’t particularly useful to the humans but there’s nothing to be gained from killing them. The crawlers basically just mind their own business and their land is really only good land for crawlers, so there would be no use in trying to take it from them.
Sigh. Well, Henry has sided with the rats for unclear reasons. Luxa hasn’t, and neither have the bats, Temp, or Gox. So what about Ripred?
He looked at Ripred, and the rat gave him a slow wink. “Remember, Gregor, the prophecy calls for only four of the twelve to die. Think we can take them, you and I?”
Okay, he also had one amazing rat on his side.
Henry tripped and fell into place beside King Gorger, steping on his tail. The other rats laughed, but not the king who whipped his tail out from under Henry and slashed poor Gox in half.
Yep, Gox’s death happens that quickly. Gox spoke like twice and the most memorable thing she did was eat another spider right in front of everyone. Her death sounds like a pretty awful way to go out, but I can’t say I cared much.
With three questers dead, Gregor thinks about the last stanza of the prophecy, about the last one to die. The prophecy says that the last to die has to decide where he stands, and the fate of the living members of the quest will depend on his choice. Gregor realizes that it must mean him, since he’s the one that the rats really want. So he runs.
Most of the rats chase after Gregor, which is what he wanted. Except that there isn’t very far to run, as the chasm that they had to cross is very nearby and Gregor is heading right towards it. He does the only thing that makes sense to him. He jumps right into it.
I don’t much like this chapter. I don’t understand Henry’s motivations, everything happens too fast, and it’s all just really confusing. It’s too bad because this is basically the book’s climax, this and the next chapter, and it just doesn’t work for me at all.
There’s only three chapters left in the book, and I think that the book wraps itself up nicely enough in the end, but this chapter and the reveal in it bring it down for me. But, more on that next time.