The Survivors

The Creation Part 2

The sky was alive with the creamy pink and purple swirls of dawn. Star was sunbathing atop a large stone with his stomach facing the light. While he was warming up, he took in every aspect of the desert that he could. The landscape before him was bursting with plant life due to the plentiful showers of the rainy season. Grasses and shrubs sprouted from the sand and green baobab, acacia, and matopi trees dotted the dunes. He could pick out the dark hides of a warthog family snuffling at the base of a dune and the tan pelts of gazelles as they frolicked through the long grass of the plains.

            The breeze was gentle and stroked his fur. It carried the scent of flowering acacia and ripe melon. The gruff sweep of scales over the rock made Star turn his head. Bringer was winding his way onto Star’s perch. His movements were slow and deliberate. The cobra’s eyes foggy from sleep. The reptile always had trouble moving in the morning. He needed to bask and collect his energy.

            “St…Star.” Bringer yawned by way of greeting as he curled next to the pup’s feet.

            “Bringer.” Star said as he sat back on his haunches.

            Star waited as the sun climbed higher. Bringer was half asleep as the dawn warmed his midnight scales. This was how they had spent every morning of the last two moons. The duo would travel until night, find a burrow or bush to shelter, and then awake at dawn for the snake to bask. Star was usually patient when allowing Bringer to soak up the heat but this morning his stomach grumbled with irritation.

            Star stood and shook himself. “I’m going foraging.” He announced.

            Bringer cracked one sleepy eye. “Do… Don’t go far.” He mumbled.

            “I won’t!” Star yipped and leapt down to the sand. He sniffed the ground and trotted farther into the open plains. He soon found a soft spot among the short, spikey grass to dig and set to work shoveling large pawfuls of dirt between his hindlegs.

            He was so focused on unearthing a delicious delicacy in the form of a millipede that he failed to keep an eye on the sky above him. A big, black eagle spotted the lone pup and circled. When Star did not raise his head, the eagle dived with talons outstretched.

            “Star!” He heard Bringer’s coarse yell from the rocky outcrop. “Star lookout!”

            Star whirled to see the bird almost upon him and froze. His pulse thundered in his head and his paws wouldn’t work. He stared at the glistening talons in horror-

            Until a dun and tawny blur struck the eagle from the side. A ferocious young eagle owl barreled into the eagle, who matched him in size. They tussled in the air for an intense heartbeat, their talons locked, and beaks open and screeching, before the eagle broke the owl’s hold. It shrieked its furry one last time and then winged into the distance.

            The eagle owl alighted on a twisted branch some paces from Star and cocked his head at the pup. Star, who was rigid with shock, stared with his mouth agape.

            “Well, little meer. Where’s your family?” The owl asked in the clipped unusual way that owls tend to speak.

            “I-I don’t-” Star started but was interrupted by a hissing wheeze.

            “I’m… I’m right here.” Bringer coughed as he arrived by Star’s side. He must have made a frantic dash for the pup once he realized the danger, but his cold-blooded body had slowed the journey.

            “A cobra!” The owl laughed with a good-natured twinkle in his fiery eyes. “Now I’ve seen everything.”

            “He’s helping me find my mother.” Star said.

            “I see.” The owl bobbed his head. “Well, I best be off.”

            “Wait!” Star called as the raptor lifted his wings and spread his tail feathers. “Why did you save me from the eagle?”

            The owl blinked as if it should have been obvious. “I don’t like seeing the defenseless taken advantage of.”

            Star wanted to protest that he wasn’t defenseless but decided that he could make his case later. “What’s your name?”

            “Greatwing.” The mighty bird answered with a flap of his powerful wings that lifted him off the branch.

            “I’m Star.” Star told him. “Will we meet again?”

            Greatwing hovered. “I’m a busy bird.”

            “Anyone willing to risk their life for Star is a friend.” Bringer hissed. “Why don’t we meet at the hollow tree on the ridge in one turn? Star and I are traveling that way.”

            Star smiled at the raptor in excitement. Would he take Bringer’s offer?

            Greatwing chuckled. “I suppose I can do that. See you then, little friend.” The owl curved his wings and rose.

Star watched as he flew into the sun.

* * * * *

Two days later Star and Bringer were searching for shelter as the night set in. Star’s belly was full of tasty grubs and Bringer had swallowed a mouse whole earlier that evening, though Star had declined to watch. Both wandered towards a low embankment in a relaxed haze. Their good mood vanished as they approached the bank. A rank musky scent clung to the sand there. Bringer noticed it first, he halted with his tongue flickering.

            “Star… there’s something here.” He hissed.

            Star stopped in front of him and snuffled a tussock of grass. There were two distinct scents. One feline and one canine. Star shuffled a step back. “We should go. This den is occupied…”

            There was a scuffling and then two pointed ears poked out of the den followed by a short muzzle. The wildcat curled her lip at Star and Bringer. “The pup is right. This den is taken. Find somewhere else to shelter.” Her ears, which each bore a split scar, flattened.

            Beside her a canine with large round-tipped ears and a lengthy snout wriggled out from underneath the overhang. His fur was a verdant midnight and his eyes ringed with purple. “Now, Claw.” The bat eared fox chided his companion. “There’s no reason to be rude.”

            The wildcat crawled out after him and flicked her gray and dun brown tail, her green eyes glowing in the dusk. “Rude?” She growled. “We can’t take in every stray we see, Listener.”

            “You took me in, didn’t you?” The fox asked.

            “That was hardly the same thing.” Claw licked her chest fur.  

            Listener sat and wrapped his bushy tail over his paws. “You helped me hunt even though you didn’t know me.”

            “I did.” Claw agreed, her fur bristling with pride.

            “Shouldn’t we give these strangers the same chance you gave me?”

            During their exchange Star had backed into Bringer who had his coils wrapped over the pup protectively. Now Star’s ears perked.

            Claw grumbled as she studied the meer pup and the cobra. “Fine.” She agreed grudgingly and turned to reenter the den.

            “I apologize on behalf of my friend.” Listener panted. “She’s really a good cat when you get to know her. My name is Listener.”

            “I… I am Death Bringer. This is Star.” Bringer responded and poked Star’s ear with his chin.

            “Good to meet you!” Listener rose and invited them into the den with a sweep of his tail. “Come in!”

            Star glanced up at Bringer who nodded his head. Together the pair made their way inside the den beneath the embankment. It was dark and cozy inside. Claw was sprawled in one corner, so Bringer and Star settled in the opposite side. Listener followed.

            Star laid against Bringer’s scales and watched Claw and Listener warily. Bringer must have sensed his nervousness and wrapped his tail over Star’s paws. Star kept a close eye on Claw especially. Bringer told him that cats sometimes preyed on meer, though foxes favored insects.

            It turned out that Star had nothing to worry about. By morning, the four were getting on as if they’d known each other their whole lives. Listener and Claw agreed to meet them at the hollow tree in five days. With that agreement the friends separated, and Star and Bringer continued their journey.

* * * * *

Cold rain pelted Star’s fur like large pebbles. He darted after Bringer’s shadowy form as the snake weaved toward a rocky overhang. By the time the pair reached the dry ground beneath the shelf they were soaked to the bone. The desert was immersed in darkness and the rain beat the sand ruthlessly. The wet season monsoons had arrived.

            Star sneezed and gave a mighty shake, twisting his head and neck. Droplets went flying and Bringer flattened himself to avoid another drenching. “Sorry.”

            “It’s… alright.” Bringer flicked his tongue and lifted his head. There was a tremor in Bringer’s voice and his scales vibrated.

            Star ruffled his pelt and climbed over Bringer’s trailing coils. He curled up and Bringer looped his viny body around him. The cobra sighed and rested his head on Star’s shoulder, gaining warmth from the pup. Star studied the kinks between his friend’s scales. He noticed for the first time that pinkish scar tissue was stretched over the skin on the back of his neck. “Bringer,” he queried. “What’s that scar?”

            “I was attacked.” The cobra hissed without looking at Star. “When I was young, barely out of the egg.”

            Star shuddered. “By what?”

            “A meer.”

            “A meer!” Star repeated in outrage. “What meer would attack a hatchling?”

            “An honorless one.” Bringer’s tone was hard and scratching, inviting no more questions. Star fell into a pensive silence. Eventually the two began to doze off.

            A thump and angry shriek roused Star. He raised his chin and squinted into the downpour. Rough flapping and then another thud had Bringer tightening his coils. A jagged silhouette appeared in the entrance to the overhang. A yellow beak poked through the sheet of rain. Followed by a mottled gray head and neck. “Oh!” The raptor shrieked and tumbled backwards at the sight of the meer pup and cobra.

            Star hopped to the edge of the dry. “Come back!” He called. “Are you alight?”

            “What are you doing?” Bringer hissed.

            Star glanced over his shoulder. “You heard her flailing about out there. She could be injured.”

            “Well, I’d hardly call it ‘flailing’.” Star jumped as the raptor bundled herself under the overhang. Her feathers were plastered to her wings and streamed water onto the ground. Bringer shifted so that none would touch his scales. Her taloned feet were dark and flakey. She held one wing close to her stomach while the other was dragging.

            She scrutinized the two through river-blue eyes. “I’m Storm.” She announced.

            “Star and Bringer.” Star indicated himself and then the cobra with a sweep of his tail. “What happened to your wing?”

            “I’m not sure.” The goshawk clicked her beak. “A strong wind blew me off course, fighting it’s tow made me pull out my wing.”

            “Serves you right for flying in a downpour.” Bringer scoffed and slithered to the bird. He flicked his tongue along her wing’s frame. “You’ve pulled your joint right out of the socket. It’s been displaced. Lucky for you I’ve seen this happen to other animals. Star, come here. We must put her wing back.”

            As Star approached, Storm shifted from foot to foot. “Will it hurt?”

            Bringer nudged Star’s paws into place on the goshawk’s wing. Star braced his hind paws and hooked his claws beneath her flight feathers.

            The cobra did not mince his words. “Yes.” Then without warning he gave Star the signal to push, a sharp prod to the flank. Star gave a quick, strong shove and Storm gave a squawk. She jerked her wing from Star’s grip, causing him to stumble. She folded the wing at her side and gazed at it in wonder.

            “How does it feel?” Star asked.

            “Sore, but I can move it.” She looked from Star to Bringer, eyes wide with astonishment. “You cured me.”

            “You’re welcome.” Bringer murmured.

            Storm cocked her head. “Why?”

            Star shrugged and moved to cuddle with Bringer again. A chill from the downpour had wormed its way under his pelt. “Why not?”

            By the time the rain receded, and the clouds abated the three were getting on as well as any friends would. Bringer and Storm had even taken to teasing one another. As they emerged from beneath the overhang to a bright midday Star explained their rendezvous point to Storm.

            “We’re meeting at a hollow tree on a ridge.” He told her.

            “I know the spot.” She spoke. “Who’s the ‘we’ you’re referring to? Just you and Bringer?”

            Star shook his head and thought for a moment. “No. Our other friends will be there.” When Storm cast him a curious glance he explained. “They’re fellow survivors. Like us.”

            Storm shuffled her wings. “Survivors.” She mused. “I like it. I’ll see you and these other survivors in two days’ time.” Then she caught a current and drifted away.

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