The Final Battle

The Broken Oath Part 5

Star trembled in the shade of the tree despite the heat of high sun. Greatwing shuffled his wings beside the meer and glanced up the hollow trunk. He would not meet Star’s gaze. The Firstbloods had been meeting in this for countless moons, but this was unlike any other meeting that had come before. Star dug his claws into the sandy soil as they waited.

Moments later Star heard wingbeats and then a gray shape dove through the opening at the top of the trunk and landed on a ledge. Storm’s gaze was cold as she peered down at Star and Greatwing. Star shivered as icy foreboding gripped him. Something was wrong, he could feel it. No one spoke as the silence stretched.

“So,” Storm started with a hard edge in her voice. “Are you ready to accept responsibility for breaking the oath?” She glowered at Star.

Star’s fur stood on end as hot rage filled him. His logic along with his cold fear were buried beneath it and forgotten. When he blinked, he saw Comet behind his eyes, he watched as her littermates, Nova and Galaxy, lowered her lifeless body into the ground. Pure grief tore at him with the savage fangs of a hyena. He had never known such intense pain before, and it was Storm who had inflicted it upon him.

“Are you ready to admit that you murdered my daughter, an innocent meer?” Star barked and the words bounced off the trunk, mocking him.

Greatwing’s feathers ruffled as he glanced between the two with unease. “Let’s speak about this matter calmly.”

            Star’s head snapped to the side. “This matter,” he snarled with teeth bared, “is murder. My daughter was ripped away from me. Stolen from the whole family. Something must be done!”

            “And what would that something be, Star?” Storm cocked her head. “War?”

            Star’s mouth opened but no sound came out. He was at a loss for words. “Because you must know,” Storm continued in a silky tone, “That meer could never win a war with rainbirds. Unless” her eyes flickered to Greatwing, “you had help.”

            “This is nonsense!” Star growled. “There will be no war if you just admit that one of your brood went rogue. Punish the guilty party and this conflict will be resolved.”

            Storm’s narrowed eyes were still on Greatwing. “Do you deny that you and Star are in allegiance? An alliance that could directly affect the oath?”

            Greatwing took a deep breath and squared his shoulders. Star watched as a surge of determination lit his gaze. He clicked his beak. “I do not deny it.”

            Storm’s beak opened in a sneer. “Traitors! You are no longer Firstbloods. We ask that you step down for breaking the oath.”

            “We are not the traitors here-” Star hissed but Greatwing silenced him with an outstretched wing.

            “Who are ‘we’, Storm?” Greatwing’s tone was serious. “Did you get a majority vote? Where are the others? Listener, Claw, and Bringer?”

            The rainbird’s beak clacked as she spoke. “I made some allies of my own. Now, do you accept your punishment?”

            Star’s limbs trembled with barely suppressed anger. His tail arched over his back. “No. We are not the ones deserving of punishment.”

            “Fine.” There was an even hiss from the shadows of the far trunk. A pair of round green eyes flashed in the darkness. “We tried to be civil. Now we have no choice but to make you leave.” Then Claw leaped.

            Star felt her paws crash down on his shoulders, her claws digging into his fur as they searched for skin. He let out a yelp of shock as he recoiled from the predator’s grasp. Greatwing moved to help, his huge wings lifting him into the stagnant air, but before he could act Storm slammed into him. Star managed to wriggle out from under Claw’s paws. He saw an opening at her haunch and leapt onto her back. She let out a pained wail as his teeth tore into her shoulder. She bucked, trying to dislodge him, but he held fast.

            Above him Greatwing and Storm tussled in the branches. They grappled as they clung to each other’s talons, each trying to knock the other out of the air. He saw Greatwing lunge for the smaller raptor, but Storm fainted and raked her talons down his leg. Star watched the skin part and a great swell of dark blood gush over Greatwing’s foot. With a screech the greatwing ripped at Storm’s wing with his good leg. Storm managed to free herself, but her flight feathers were matted with blood.

            Star could taste the salty tang of Claw’s own blood as it seeped through his teeth and into his mouth. A sudden bolt of horror shook him, and the anger dissipated, allowing him to process the situation with a clear mind.

            What have we done? His eyes widened as he realized that he was hurting one of his closest friends. He started to loosen his jaws just as Claw rolled over with a grunt. Star tried to jump off her too late and the breath was driven from his body as Claw’s weight pinned him to the ground. His muzzle was buried in her fur and his lungs screamed for air. Just as he was about to lose consciousness Claw hauled herself up. She didn’t waste any time and slashed at him with her uninjured leg. Star felt her claws glide through his flesh. He cried out as blood dripped down his flank.

            “Stop, Claw!” He shouted; his voice was thick with desperation. “We can’t do this to each other.” She didn’t seem to hear him. Her long, brown striped tail lashed back and forth, and her eyes were wide with the thrill of the hunt. On instinct she crouched, her haunches swaying as she prepared to pounce. Fear lay like a stone in Star’s belly as he waited for the deathblow to come-

            Before she could strike Greatwing bore down on her, clawing at the cat with his talons. She hissed and flattened her ears. She swung a paw at his throat, her claws flashing in the now dying sunlight. Greatwing grasped a clump of her fur in his talons as he dodged and lifted her. Star saw the strain as his wings struggled to keep the feline aloft. He threw the cat and Claw hit the trunk with a sickening thud. Star forced himself to stand despite the pain and limped over to her. The clawbeast was completely still. Her face frozen with her lips pulled back from red soaked teeth. Her neck was broken.

            Star opened his mouth and looked back at Greatwing only to see that his friend had crumpled. He rushed to the raptor. There were two bright crimson puncture wounds in his neck. His breathing was ragged and uneven. Moisture welled in Star’s eyes as he nuzzled his friend.

            “I’m … sorry…” Greatwing rasped when he saw Star, his gaze flicking to the other side of the hollow. Then he went still. Star glanced past Greatwing, and the sight made him retch.

Storm’s twisted body sagged, hanging limp on a sturdy branch many tail spans above his head. Her stomach was slashed, and Star could see the pink flesh flapping in the breeze in strips. The branch was coated with slick liquid. It seemed that the whole hollow was bathed in blood.

“What have we done?” Star whispered as a sob built in his throat. Then he heard it. The sound of scales scraping against the ground. His whole body tensed as it dawned on him. Storm was telling the truth. A rainbird hadn’t killed Comet, a cobra had. A cunning and ambitious cobra. One of Star’s closest friends. Bringer. He knew just how to turn the Firstbloods against one another. Bringer knew exactly how to get him to turn on his friends. To start a war with the fellow Firstbloods. Now, as he remembered the scene of the crime, he recognized the grooves in the sand for what they were. The tracks of a snake.

Star turned just as he felt a prickle below his shoulder. A numbness spread beneath his pelt. Bringer’s head was raised high above his coils so that he was eye to eye with Star. His beady eyes blinked, and his tongue flickered in and out of his mouth. When he spoke, his fangs were coated scarlet.

“Now the desert is mine.” His tone was flat, emotionless.

A spark ignited in Star’s gut that he had never experienced before, yet he knew exactly what it was. Hatred. Star scowled at his former friend as his paws went numb and his heart slowed. Black spots danced in his vision. “The desert may be yours, Death Bringer.” His voice was barely audible. “But the afterlife never will be. Your kind will be swallowed by the same darkness that you have bred here today. The same darkness that chills your heart. They will never see the stars again.” By the time he was finished, Star couldn’t feel his haunches and he was forced to lay down.

One last heartbeat and then everything was dark.

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