Is so intense
I want to tear out my insides
Purge myself of everything balled up
Regurgitate my hate
Scream that you might feel the same
Although I know it wouldn't change
The fact that you've forgotten me.
Is plunged so deeply
I pray to feel nothing
Become as gray and cold as December
Yet it pains me more to not remember
Because you were a part of me
A fact that I cannot forget.
Tightens around my throat
And I wonder if I'll fly like a kite
Somehow finally get above all this
And stop wondering if you feel this pain too
Although I know you don't, it's true
My fact is your fiction, I'm just a figment
You woke up, while I faded with the dream.
Tuesday, May 20, 2014
The wind howled in chorus to Night-hoof’s war bray, as his battle soul ignited in scorching rage. The venom of the Clawed Queen seemed to infect the very sky itself, as it clouded over in storm-green haze and began to weep hot, bitter tears. The summer storm hung heavy around them, stinking of hatred, despair, and bloodlust, and the Cleaved Lands pulsated with the beat of two enraged hearts.
Night-hoof lowered his head as he charged, intending to butt the Clawed Queen and disorient her, but she was faster than the old horse. Black scythe-claws raked across Night-hoof’s face, uprooting streams of ruby-red blood from his skin. The Shire whinnied, rearing back and landing a solid kick with his front hoof on the tigress’ nose. Crimson spurted from her nostrils as she screamed, as it was the first time in her life, having always been under Night-hoof’s protection, that she had been wounded so.
Her scream sent races of anguish through Night-hoof’s veins; how could he be hurting the one he cared for more than anything else? But he had to; she was no longer the cub that had come under his wing. She was of claw and fang, a predator, and she had killed. She was dangerous.
The Clawed Queen pounced at him again, this time wrapping her front paws around his thick neck and biting down on his throat. Night-hoof gasped, breaking into a run, and her grasp on him slipped just enough that she could not keep a good hold with her claws. He flung himself into a roll on the ground, and the unexpected move caused the tigress to let go. The Shire struggled to stand up again, but instantly she was on his back, claws digging into his flesh and teeth latched on to the back of his neck. Night-hoof bucked and reared, and readied to do another roll, but then the queen’s words were in his ears.
“Do not fight me,” she hissed. “You are old and slow; this can only end in your death. I do not want that. If you would only agree to be my king, and come with me right now, promise to be loyal to me for the rest of our lives, I will stop and never hurt you again.”
Night-hoof ceased his bucking, coming to stand still. His face and neck still burned from her attacks, but he spoke steadily. “You ask me to be your king, but why? Have you not shown me your strength, your ferocity? What need of you for a king when you need no one to tend to you?”
The tigress gritted her teeth. “Because my heart belongs to you, Night-hoof! It is only fair that you should give yours to me, and not your herd! They will never care for you as I do.”
“Love is not possessive, young one. You cannot demand that I give you my heart. It was your decision to give me yours. I did not ask for it.”
“Then I’ll take your heart from you, even if I have to rip it out of your chest!”
Before she could, however, Night-hoof flung his head back, smacking the tigress in the face. It momentarily dazed her, causing her to black out, which gave Night-hoof the chance to shake her off and send her sprawling on the ground. She looked up just as his great black hooves flailed over her and came plummeting down towards her skull.
The earth split as tremors racked the stone and soil, lightning ripples of cracks shooting out in all directions as the Shire’s hooves drove down like a moon colliding into the planet. The boom from his heavy strike made the thunder above no more than a weak grumble, and for a moment all creatures who witnessed the duel thought that the land would crumble and fall away into nothingness below. The world trembled for another long, resounding moment, until all became still and silent.
An inch from his hooves, the Clawed Queen lay unharmed, aside from a ringing in her ears. She was petrified, realizing the horse’s true strength, how quickly and completely he could have killed her. Her brawn in no way could match his; for as many scratches and bites she could deal him, he could withstand a thousand of her strikes and she would have been destroyed by just one from him.
She stared up into his shining black eyes as he glared down at her. With a snort, he spoke. “Go home.”
The Clawed Queen warily rolled up to her feet, a thousand seething thoughts aching to escape her tongue. This isn’t over! You are old, Night-hoof, you will only grow older and weaker. I am still young; I will only get stronger. When I am at my peak, I will come back and make you sorry! I will make your herd sorry! If you can’t love me, then I will have you hate me! I would rather be hated than forgotten. And you will never forget me. You won’t forget, and I won’t forgive!
But as she turned to him to say these things, the words disperse like mist on a lake after sunrise. She saw pain in his eyes, not hatred. She saw sorrow, not triumph. She saw all the things he felt for her, that she felt for him, and at that moment found she could not hate him. Even if she tried, she couldn’t.
“I’m sorry,” he said.
The tigress paused, as the fire inside her withered away. She turned away, her head low, her eyes downcast towards the cracked earth. Somewhere, to the north, her homeland awaited her, and she would have to go the distance alone.
As the Clawed Queen walked away, past the grove, past the river, through the forest, and up the Mountain that Pierced the Moon, a wind caressed her fur, carrying the scent of the great Shire from many, many miles away. And she found a little comfort, knowing that in this small way, he would be with her on her journey. As long as she could smell him on the wind, he was still alive, which always meant things could change…perhaps time would change his mind, or his heart…
And she wondered if, when the wind blew towards Night-hoof’s home, would he catch her scent someday…and would it make him happy too…
Friday, May 16, 2014
Night-hoof brayed at the top of his voice, kicking and slamming his hooves into the wall of the ravine. Rocks rained down the wall, clattering about him, but otherwise nothing responded to his cries, nothing was coming to help him.
The Shire raced back and forth along the ravine, desperately seeking a spot that would allow him to pull himself up and out, but any spot that looked promising proved to be deceitful. He placed one hoof on a low ledge, but the rocks were slippery, so his hoof could not catch on it. He skidded off and thudded back to the ravine floor.
The longer Night-hoof remained in the ravine, the more his panic swelled. It would take the Clawed Queen no time to return to the herd and do whatever it was she was planning to do, whether it was to drive them all off, or…
He closed his eyes, blocking out the sight of Spirit’s severed head and body not far from him. How could she have done such a thing? How could she have betrayed him, betrayed the herd?
How could he have betrayed her trust?
He rested his head against the cool rock of the ravine wall. Even if he could find his way out, it would be too late by now. He would never see his herd again. His family, his purpose, would be gone. It would be better to just stay down here, to waste away and never face his failure…
“Why do you give up, Night-hoof?” came a small, gentle voice.
Night-hoof opened his eyes and lifted his head. He could see no one at first, aside from the dead wolf, but he knew the voice did not belong to that of Spirit, even if it should be the wolf’s ghost. The Shire thought, perhaps, he had imagined it, until the voice spoke again.
“Do not despair. There is still time. There is always time to do the right thing.”
This time, Night-hoof focused on where the voice was coming from, and on the ravine wall he could see a tiny form dangling from a shimmering thread. It was a red and yellow spider with spiny black ridges, and she descended until she was in line with Night-hoof’s eyes.
“I am Micrathena,” the spider said, “and I have lived in this ravine for a very long time. The walls of this ravine are steep and hard to climb for one as large as you. But my spinning thread is strong, and I have many sisters. Together we can weave something to help you get out of here.”
Night-hoof thought on this. “Your spinning thread is sticky for catching prey. There is a spot along this wall that I could’ve climbed out, but the rocks are too slippery. If you and your sisters could weave a long web to lie over those rocks, then I would not slip and I believe I could climb out.”
The spiders immediately went to work, spinning and weaving along the rocks until there was a thick layering of webbing on the spot where Night-hoof intended to climb. This time, when he placed his hoof on the ledge, the webbing held his foot in place while he trudged upwards to the next foothold. Struggling with all his strength to hoist himself up, the Shire finally managed to climb, the stickiness of the webbing preventing him from sliding back down. With a final grunt, he leapt up over the edge of the ravine, back into the fresh air and sunlight of the forest.
He didn’t bother to rest; with a quick thank you to Micrathena and her sisters, Night-hoof sped away, his hooves pounding with thunderous determination on the ground, to save his herd from the Clawed Queen.
The peace-shattering roar ripped through the air like a banshee wail of impending doom.
The herd was jarred awake by the roar, as fear seized them with hands of cold dread. They looked around; where was Night-hoof? All they could see was the white tigress—not so white now, as blood stains soaked her face and chest pink—barreling towards them, eyes afire with bloodlust, teeth bared with ravenous hunger.
Immediately, the herd members took flight, all except Nelumbo the fishing cat and Shiba the dhole. They were hunters of tooth and claw; they stood their ground, ready to confront the Clawed Queen, despite her being much larger than either of them. It took no time for the queen to advance on them, claws raised, ready to slice them both.
A barrage of thick green walnuts smacked the Clawed Queen from above. Shaka the Monkey and Ursu the Koala were high up in a tree above, tearing the walnuts off the branches and pelting the tigress, chortling as she shook them off and hissed in anger. With her distracted, Argus the pheasant and Rayo Azul the peacock rushed up on her, pecking at her paws and face, darting out of the path of her lashing paws before she could catch them. Meanwhile Nelumbo and Shiba got behind the Clawed Queen and grabbed her long tail in their teeth, yanking backwards and throwing the queen off her feet.
Despite Night-hoof protecting them all these years, the herd had learned to defend themselves when necessary, and all of them against the tigress proved effective. However, the Clawed Queen would not be taken down so easily. She spun around, smacking Shiba and Nelumbo with her massive paws, sending the two tumbling. She pounced at the pheasant and the peacock, catching chucks of their tail feathers as the two scurried away. She threw her whole weight against the tree that Shaka and Ursu were in, uprooting the tree and sending it crashing over to the ground. The monkey and the koala leapt from the falling tree and landed heavily on the ground, but instantly the tigress’ claws were on them, piercing their skins.
“All of you must leave this place!” the Clawed Queen ordered. “You are no longer welcomed to be in this herd. Night-hoof must be freed from you parasites. Go now, or I will shred every last one of you!”
A raging rush of wind swept over them, accentuated by a deep, bellowing bray. A twinge of unease fell over the Clawed Queen as she turned to look. Night-hoof glared at her, the red of his scars blazing like fire against his black hide, and his storm-gray mane whipping like hurricane fury.
“No, you will not,” Night-hoof said. “You will have to kill me before I let you harm them.”
The Clawed Queen stepped off of Ursu and Shaka, but the hate in her eyes was as radiant as ever. “I am trying to free you from this burden. But you are too foolish and stubborn to accept the better choice. If I must prove to you that I am the stronger one, in order for you to submit to my wishes, then so be it.”
“It grieves me that you would fight me, my dearest friend, but I cannot let you hurt my family. Your family.”
The tigress scoffed. “This is no family of mine. I am a queen! What need I for a bunch of pathetic outcasts? I want my king, and I will have him, even if I must force him to bow to me first!”
Night-hoof could see that her broken heart seeped toxic blood, that she was no longer the young tigress he had come to care for. While it pained him deeply, more so than any physical wound he had ever received, he charged her with his bone-crushing hooves prepared to battle, while she returned his charge with claws and fangs eager for the fight.
To be concluded…
Thursday, May 15, 2014
A burning sting ripped through Night-hoof’s veins, both hot as fire and cold as frost, at the sight of the once pure-as-snow tigress, now death-tainted and feral, staring at him with hatred-filled eyes.
“Spirit did not come here to kill you,” Night-hoof said, venturing a tentative step towards the Clawed Queen.
She stood up, her lips curling back to bare her prey-shredding teeth. “You always told us, the half-faced wolf was death. You promised to protect us all from him. But you brought him here! I awoke in the night, seeing you weren’t with the herd, so I went out and looked for you. I spotted you by the river, talking to him. You knew I always go to the river before the others every morning. You had him lying in wait for me.”
“You know I would have gone with you to the river—“
“To lower my guard, having me believe I was safe as long as you were there. But then you’d have galloped away while the wolf attacked me from behind!” The Clawed Queen slunk down from the rock, her claws flexed out in sharp black scythes.
Night-hoof stood his ground, his breath growing heavy. “How can you believe I would do such a thing? I brought Spirit here because you wanted a king to bring with you to your homeland. Spirit was going to offer to be that king for you, since you both are of claw and fang.”
The Clawed Queen paused, her lips closing over her teeth as she narrowed her eyes at the horse. “I have never known you to lie, Night-hoof, but there is no way that I can believe such a claim.”
“Yet you believe I would ask Spirit to kill you? You are my dearest friend. You know me better than that.”
She tilted her head at him, and then her eyes welled up with tears. “So you were planning to pass me off to the wolf? After I offered you everything you could want, you would force another king on me? Without my consent?”
Night-hoof was quickly realizing how foolish he had been, even if his intentions had been good. How could he have thought her heart would turn so quickly to accept Spirit and forget him? Now he could see this was more than the Clawed Queen needing to return home with a king. She had just wanted to return home with him, whether he would be king or not.
“I did not understand,” Night-hoof insisted. “It made more sense for you to take a king of claw and fang then one of the hoof—”
The tigress roared, her pupils thinning to splinters. “No, you just want to stay with your precious herd! They are the only reasons you will not come with me. Then I will make you agree to be my king, because I will get rid of all your reasons to refuse!”
She lunged at him, claws extended, jaws open and ready to snap on his throat. Night-hoof instinctively reared back, front hooves kicking, but he reeled backwards too far on his hind legs. The ledge of the ravine behind him broke away, and he tumbled and slid down the side of the ravine, down to the bottom where the headless corpse of Spirit lay. Night-hoof's body was bruised and aching, but no bones were broken. He struggled to his feet, looking back up the side of the ravine. It was too steep for him to climb up and out.
The Clawed Queen peered down at him from above. “I know you will find your way out of there. By then, it will be just us two. There will be nothing left for you here. You will be my king, and you will come to my homeland with me.”
Then she was gone.
Tuesday, May 13, 2014
The dawn crept up upon them with disturbing silence, without the pomp of early birds singing or the whistling of a morning wind. The noise of the waking world has been slain, which could only mean that death had proclaimed its presence.
Night-hoof had barely slept, but what little sleep he did get had been plagued by worry and anxiety. So when dawn’s first rays opened his eyes, and he heard the lifeless silence, fear rattled throughout him as he knew something was wrong.
Immediately he turned to count his herd, all still sleeping in unaware contentment. Shiba, Shaka, Nelumbo, Rayo Azul, the pheasant Argus, Ursu the koala…they were all there, safe and sound. But where was the Clawed Queen? It was common for her to awaken before the others, but she never went anywhere until Night-hoof woke up and went with her to the river for a morning drink.
Had she gone by herself to the river already? With Spirit waiting there? The tigress wouldn’t understand why the wolf was there, and Spirit could be tempted to ambush the unsuspecting queen, just to hurt one of Night-hoof’s herd. Or would she attack him first? While Night-hoof would have preferred the latter to the former, neither option was good. He galloped as fast as his hooves would carry him towards the river.
The riverside was quiet as Night-hoof approached, and he could see neither Spirit or of the Clawed Queen. There seemed to be no evidence of a skirmish, no torn-up ground or blood-stained earth. But Night-hoof could smell the two scents, the one of the wolf and the one of the tigress. They had been here…perhaps they had become acquainted on their own and gone off; perhaps Spirit had already offered himself to be her king and she accepted, and the two of them were on their way back to her homeland right now.
Even though this was exactly the tapestry that Night-hoof had woven, the very thought made him bray in anger, and the wind hissed through his mane with the fury of feral cats. He had thought convincing the Clawed Queen to accept Spirit would have been a challenge, one that Night-hoof would have had to coax and coerce her to oblige. For her to be so readily willing to leave, to leave Night-hoof behind without even a goodbye, burned him with the hell-hot iron of betrayal.
There were paw prints in the soft mud near the river’s edge, so he followed them, his pace quickening as the prints led away from the river and up into the forest. Soon he was charging along without thought, other than to find the Clawed Queen—or if he spotted Spirit first, he would make certain that the wolf never left the mountain again.
The ground became petrified, as rock replaced earth and grass. This was where the abandoned ravine was, a dried-up crevice where a vein of the main river once flowed that was thrice as deep as Night-hoof was tall. This was an odd place for them to have wandered; no animals ever came here, since there was no water or vegetation, and it was not even a decent hunting ground. But their scents were even stronger here.
Night-hoof brayed, announcing his presence, but no one revealed themselves. Then he smelled something else, as well, a smell he was all too familiar with from his days of war…
He stepped up to the edge of the ravine—with caution, since some of the slate cracked beneath his hooves—and peered down into it. It was frightfully dark down there, as no sunlight reached the bottom of the ravine. The smell was stronger than ever, and as Night-hoof strained to see down below, he could make out two shapes in the shadows. One was much larger than the other, but they both appeared mossy, or hairy… and then Night-hoof caught the yellow reflection glancing off of the smaller shape, and he knew it was Spirit’s eye.
His eye, in his decapitated head, about two feet from his blood-matted body.
A chill rippled throughout Night-hoof’s body. Even though the dead wolf below had been no friend to him, such a grisly demise could only have been dealt by one member of his herd, and to know she had been capable of such brutality made the Shire’s heart shatter. But…maybe it hadn’t been her…a small glint of hope made him believe some other animal he did not know of had done this…
The Shire’s hope was stamped out, as dandelion fluff is crushed underfoot, as he turned as saw the Clawed Queen sitting nearby on a rock, her white fur stained pink all around her muzzle and down her front.
“Do you hate me so much, Night-hoof?” she growled, her claws clacking on the rock. “Do you hate me so much as to have sent that assassin to kill me?”
Friday, May 9, 2014
“What do I owe the pleasure of a visit from the mighty Night-hoof?” the wolf snarled, as he gnawed on the leg bone of the unfortunate prey that had attracted his appetite.
Night-hoof has no love for Spirit, or his death-reeking den of bones and decaying meat. The wolf, much like the great Shire horse himself, bared the wounds of survival—in Spirit’s case, almost half of his face had been singed away by a brush-fire, leaving nothing but knotted, hairless, burnt-purple flesh and exposing all of his flesh-tearing teeth on the right side of his muzzle. It created the illusion that Spirit was always smiling on that side of his face, while his unmarred left side, with onyx fur and a permanent scowl, indicated he was anything but happy.
“There is one in my herd, the young tigress, who has come of age and must return to her home to claim her place as queen,” Night-hoof told him. “But she is determined to return with a king at her side. She needs someone like herself, someone strong and fearless, but one who will also show her patience and kindness. You prefer to keep to yourself, but I know you are an honorable wolf, and would be a good king for her.”
Spirit chuckled deeply as he spat out his dinner. “You cannot fool me, Night-hoof. Often on the hunt, I have passed by your herd and I have seen the way she favors you. I am sure she would have you as her king, but you have no love for her so wish to pass her off to me.”
The wolf’s words stung Night-hoof, and he was tempted to retort how wrong Spirit was, but the stallion restrained his anger. “I have the herd to protect. She refused to bring the others along to her homeland, thus I have chosen to stay with the herd and find her another…more suitable…companion.”
Spirit yawned, stretching his long lanky limbs. “I have no need to be a tigress’ king. I have plenty of hunting ground, plenty of food, a fine den, and my own watering hole. There is nothing your Clawed Queen could offer me that I would desire. And I do not wish to be your cub-sitter.”
The Shire thought a moment. “You have no pack, Spirit. Do you never ache for companionship?”
“Hardly. If I wished to have a pack, I could easily find one and battle their alpha for dominance. I am alone because I wish it so. ”
Night-hoof thought again. “You have no friendly feelings towards me.”
“You are of the hoof, and I am claw and fang. We will always be enemies. You also keep me from the delectable morsels in your herd. No, I do not like you. I would enjoy more than anything to see you miserable and broken.”
“Then understand this. If you go to the Clawed Queen and tell her you would be her king, and she accepts you…then you will be taking from me the one I care for more than anything else in this world.”
Spirit’s ears perked forwards at this. He stared at Night-hoof with his moon-yellow eyes, and could see that the Shire was not lying. “I smell your sadness. Your heart is as soft and weak as I always thought. Very well, then. I shall go to your Clawed Queen and offer to be her king. She will then realize how foolish she was to adore you, when she should be with one of claw and fang, not hoof. If anything, it will please me to take from you that which you care for so dearly.”
While the weight of those words hung on Night-hoof’s heart like a thousand stones, he guided Spirit down the mountain, through the forest and to the river, but told Spirit to wait by the river bank so as not to reveal to the wolf where the herd slept.
“In the morning, I will bring her here to drink, and introduce her to you,” Night-hoof said.
“You do not worry that I may try to hurt your tigress, just to spite you?” Spirit asked.
Night-hoof grinned. “I have no worries about that, my old friend. You misjudge her ferocity and strength.”
Spirit smirked. “As do you, my old friend.”
It was one of the few nights, perhaps the only night in Night-hoof’s life, that he wished that the sun would never rise.
Thursday, May 8, 2014
It's been a long time since a story has stalked the Imaginalchemist's home. A new fable brings us a cast of animal characters, as they are torn between love and their more feral urges...
They had welcomed death into their herd the day their guardian had brought home the queen. But back then, how could any of them have known what danger she carried? After all, Night-hoof had protected them all ever since the beginning, and no one had loved him more fiercely than the Clawed Queen.
Night-hoof the Shire was the iron-footed colossus whose shadow alone sent the evil wild things of the forest scattering. He was an old stallion, his black hide crisscrossed with battle scars that were still as vibrant red as if freshly gouged. His storm-gray mane whipped carefree in the wind, although it was rumored that it was his flowing mane that stirred the winds themselves. His hooves, each as big around as lion skulls, cause the earth to tremble with each step, and the ground to crack open in violent quakes when he pounded his feet in fury.
But even a fearsome giant gets lonely when out in the dreary cold world, and perhaps some ingrained sense of duty—for he may have been a war horse, trained to protect—spurned him to gather the outcasts of the world into the guardianship of his herd, out in the vacant broken hills of the Cleaved Lands.
Then one day, he came upon the Clawed Queen. Although, at the time, she was not queen yet. She had been small, unassuming, a scraggly ball of dirtied ivory and silver-striped fur that was shivering in the rain by the riverside. Night-hoof had been suspicious, of course—tiger, he thought with skin-prickling tension—but she was little more than a cub. One of his hooves could have crushed her out of existence in one stomp. But the little striped princess was not afraid of him; she nuzzled up to his leg, letting Night-hoof’s imposing form shield her from the rain. Pity overtook Night-hoof’s heart, and so he brought her back to the herd, and little did he know that quickly the tiny tiger would become his favorite companion.
It became clear over the years, however, that the Clawed Queen bonded with Night-hoof in a way even he was not aware of. For the day came when she led him a ways off from the rest of the herd and told him of her greatest wish.
“When I was young, I was sent out into the world to grow strong and brave,” she told him. “But now I have come of age, and I must return home to claim my place as queen. Come with me, Night-hoof, and be my king. My home is a land of trees that grow the reddest, sweetest apples, and has the lushest of grasses. The streams are clean and clear as diamond, and the valleys go on forever, free for running to your heart’s content. You will be king of my realm, and I would spend all my days to make you happy.”
The thought was enticing, and Night-hoof was sure his herd would love such a place as well—
“No, only you,” the Clawed Queen said. “The rest of the herd is too weak and fragile to live in my homeland. You must come with me, and leave the others.”
Now that, he could not think of doing. He had to protect his herd, but when Night-hoof tried to explain this to her, she playfully pawed his nose or rubbed her head against his legs, and Night-hoof could feel his resolve wither. For, in his heart, he loved the Clawed Queen most and wanted to make her happy—but how could he choose?
After some thinking, Night-hoof realized that if he could make the queen love his herd as much as he did, then she would be willing to bring them as well. Maybe he could convince her through someone like herself, a feline. So he went to one of the herd, the fishing cat Nelumbo, and asked her to take the Clawed Queen fishing and befriend her. Nelumbo was a cheerful cat, and more than happy to oblige, but the Clawed Queen was not as enthusiastic. She had no desire to fish, and merely swatted the smaller cat into the river. Being a fishing cat, Nelumbo could swim back perfectly well, but no longer wanted to venture near the Clawed Queen.
Perhaps, Night-hoof thought, the queen needed someone to make her laugh—someone to open her up a bit more. So he asked Shaka the monkey to try and play with the tigress. Shaka liked to make the members of the herd laugh and play, so he plucked a feather from Rayo Azul the Peacock and started to tickle the Clawed Queen—since such a long feather also gave him plenty of space between him and her. The Clawed Queen indeed smiled and chuckled, but then grew irritated. She pounced and grasped Shaka’s tail in her teeth and flung him into the brush.
Night-hoof decided to make one more attempt, this time with Shiba the Dhole. Shiba was smart, energetic, and she was on good terms with the Clawed Queen despite being of canine persuasion. Shiba was also a good hunter; surely the queen would enjoy going on a hunt with her. But when the Clawed Queen returned some time later without Shiba, Night-hoof ordered her to tell him where the dhole was. Shiba was stranded high up in a tree, for the Clawed Queen had dragged her up the tree and left her there before going back to Night-hoof. As usual, the Clawed Queen chuffed an apology, nuzzling her head against Night-hoof’s shoulder and neck, but this time he would not be appeased.
This was too much. It was clear that the Clawed Queen would never accept his herd. It also worried Night-hoof that the tigress was becoming so hostile to the others; she wouldn’t honestly consider driving them all away so that she could have Night-hoof all to herself, would she? Now more than ever, Night-hoof needed to protect his herd, but it saddened him that he needed to protect them from the Clawed Queen. After a long time of painful debate with himself, he decided that he must let the Clawed Queen go home, without him.
However, he still cared for her, and knew she had a gentle loving side; the fact was, he did not want to lose her entirely. But her love for him had to be dowsed; once the stars were out of her eyes, then they could be friends and she would not endanger the others. She needed a king that could keep an eye on her and give her company, and one that would allow Night-hoof to visit her every now and then to check on her. There were few others in the Cleaved Lands that he knew about, but he knew of one who might be willing.
After making sure his herd was safe for the night, nestled away in the quiet grove of trees where they always slept, Night-hoof began a long trek through the Cleaved Lands, past the river, past the forest, up towards the Mountain that Pierced the Moon. This was the home of the half-faced lone wolf, Spirit…