The Departure

The Shifting World Part 3

Galaxy crouched near the center of the clearing, his limbs growing stiff as they waited. Nova rested on his one side and his understudy, Dapple, to his other. The sun was creeping upwards, and they had been there since dawn. Still the fox hadn’t shown his face. Nova stood up and shook out her tawny pelt, her brindled brown stripes rippled in the morning light. “He’s not coming.” She barked with a glance at her two companions.

 Galaxy stood and stretched. He lifted his snout to scent the air. His nostrils twitched. It was the dry season, and the air was stagnant. There was no breeze, no movement. Everything was strangely silent. The only other living creatures in sight was a pair of vultures circling high above and a beetle scuttling for the cover of a rock. Dapple noticed it too and darted forward to snap it up in his jaws. It had been this way ever since Bringer had murdered the other Firstbloods. It was as if the desert itself was holding its collective breath. Waiting for something to happen, the next nightmare to unfold.

Galaxy sat back, pressing his tail over his paws. “Patience, sister.” He chided. “Listener will show.”

Nova harrumphed but resumed her place, nonetheless. No one spoke. All were wrapped in their own thoughts. Some heartbeats later the bare shrubs clinging to the slope clapped their branches together as a dark shape shouldered his way through. Galaxy watched as Listener emerged from the brush and padded across the sand. His muzzle was pockmarked with dry scabs where ticks had clung to his skin. His coat was dusty and sparse. He was thin, though Galaxy couldn’t make out any bones beneath his fur. The meer guessed that until recently he had not been taking care of himself.

Nova stood again and dipped her head. “Greetings-” She started in a formal tone but was cut off by Listener who thrust his snout forward to rub his cheek to hers. Nova’s eyes widened but she returned the gesture. Galaxy was more prepared, and he smiled as he shared scent with Listener.

“It’s good to see you, friend.” He told the fox, and he meant it. Nova, on the other paw, seemed uncomfortable.

“I’m so sorry,” Listener hung his head as he pulled back from the siblings. “I should never have-” He choked on the words, his voice heavy with grief. He pressed his large ears to his head in shame.

This seemed to melt Nova and she flung her front paws around the fox’s neck. He leaned into her embrace. “The past is gone.” Nova said as she pulled away to look him in the eye. “Let it rest. It is time to focus on the present.” It wasn’t forgiveness exactly, but it was enough. Listener nodded and lifted his head. He perked his ears even as his eyes glistened with emotion. He gave Nova a grateful smile and let his pink tongue hang out the corner of his mouth.

Galaxy regarded his sister with admiration. It had only been a season since their father’s unexpected demise and yet Nova had taken to her leadership role like a hyena to laughter. He knew that she had periods of uncertainty but hearing her wisdom Galaxy had no doubt that she was worthy of her position. She would protect their family, even if he couldn’t be with her while she did it.

“So…” Dapple raised his voice, his tone tentative. “Aren’t you supposed to tell us how to kill Bringer?”

Listener grew grave as he dipped his head. He licked his jaws before speaking. “Yes.” He sounded hesitant. “I can tell you how. But I know nothing for certain. It is a long story.”

Nova settled back on her haunches. “Then begin.”

Listener started. He told them the circumstances of Bringer’s birth and his life. How he had lusted for power, how he had tried many ways to gain it, how his ambition and frustration grew with every failed attempt, the potency of his venom, and his final success in turning the Firstbloods on each other. At one point, Galaxy thought he spied a flash of pale fur across from the dune but when he peered at the spot no one was there. The sun peaked and then began to sink. Galaxy noted the closer it got to the horizon. His pelt itched as the story went on and on. He had to force himself to pay attention. The closer that dusk drew the more agitated he became.

Finally, Listener ended with this. “You mustn’t let him see you, no matter what.”

Once the conversation ended, he padded back the way he had come. The sky was lashed with reds and oranges as the day faded into night. The three meer watched until the fox was completely swallowed by shadows. Then Nova stood and beckoned them with a jerk of her snout. “Let’s go home.”

Galaxy was standing behind Nova as she turned to go. Dapple was hunched beside him and shooting Nova a nervous look. He sucked in a breath. It was now or never. “I’m not going home.”

His sister swung to face him; her brows creased with confusion. “What?”

Galaxy sighed. “I can’t go home with you. There’s something else I must do.”

Nova’s expression hardened. “Don’t be ridiculous. Your family needs you. You’re our healer. Your first duty is to us.”

“Yes, it is.” Galaxy nodded, his gaze solemn. “That’s why I must go.”

“I don’t understand.” Nova frowned.

“I have to find something. Something that will help our family, which will help all the meer to come.”

She narrowed her eyes. “I don’t suppose you can be more specific?”

“You’ll just have to trust me.” He smiled.

“Dapple will be our healer now.” She glanced at him and the young meer ducked his head in embarrassment. “He’s only nine moons old.”

“I know.” Galaxy placed a paw on his understudy’s shoulder. “But he is ready.”

It was Nova’s turn to sigh. “You aren’t changing your mind, are you?”

Galaxy shook his head.

Nova butted her head against his shoulder, and he pulled his sister into a hug. “Once your heart is finished wandering,” she murmured, “you will be welcomed back home. Be safe, brother. May the stars guide you on your path.”

Galaxy dipped his head as they parted, too flooded with emotion to speak. “Come, Dapple.” Nova called and with a last rub against his guardian the young meer followed her into the dusk. Galaxy watched them leave. He let out a relieved breath once he was alone. He felt his shoulders relax. This was it. His calling. He would find The Cave of Destiny, where legend stated that a living meer could cross into the Starlands. He would make it possible for every meer to commune with The Before Us, their ancestors. This was the start of his journey.

He was now The Wanderer.

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