Well, it’s time for another chapter, chapter 4 this time, and also time to introduce the final of the three primary protagonists. I also went with a different style in this chapter. I focused a lot more on dialogue, as I wanted a condensed characterisation. Let me know what you think and if you’d like to see more of this style in the future.
The group continued their march through the forest.
“The Naked Devils will never catch us. They’re so loud when they move you could hear them from hundreds of strides away.”
“Yeah. Unlike them we Howlers are born to the forest. We know how to move through the forest: like the stars in the night sky.”
Migal only rolled his eyes.
‘Aren’t you being noisy now?’ he thought.
“Don’t you agree, Migal?”
“Don’t bother. He’s even quieter than us. I’ve only heard him make a sound twice since he joined us, and both times it was a fart!”
The rest burst out in laughter.
“Migal the Mute isn’t called that for nothing, I guess.”
“Quiet down. You’re worse than the devils,” the leader silenced them.
Dawn was the leader of this hunting party; a tall, brawny howler. He was named for his fur coat, which was like the dawn: a soft yellow-orange that darkened as it descended from his head to his tail, the tip of which ended in a flash of crimson.
“Yes boss!” the rest answered, and nothing could be heard from them for quite some time.
The group moved non-stop for several hours, only stopping once the nightsun was high in the sky.
“We’ll stop here for the night,” Dawn said when they reached a small patch of thinned forest.
The group immediately found small spots for themselves to rest. Each claimed a tree and curled up next to it. It wasn’t long before the majority were snoring away. Migal didn’t fall asleep, however. He waited until he was sure everyone was out cold, and snuck off. He crept up the hillside until he found himself above the treeline, in a clearing at the top of the hill.
Above was a canopy of stars. They were bright, shining like diamonds in the dark of the night. Each had its own hue, its own shimmer. He found himself a spot where the ground looked softer, and the grass a little greener, and lay down. With his hands beneath his head he lay, gazing up at the sky.
Slowly, a lonely, solemn voice drifted from the hill-top. It flowed down the hill and into the forest, weaving its way through the trees. It found its way to a stream, where it drifted with the current, away into the unknown.
No matter how much I draw, it doesn’t become beautiful
The paints that I chose are not at fault
That shooting star I saw last midnight
I can still remember it
I was waiting for you
Hello shooting star, Hello shooting star
I’ve been waiting for you
That girl who dreams
Is still right here, ah ah
Just like that day, ah ah
Hello shooting star, Hello shooting star
I’m waiting for you
Please don’t stop dreaming
Even if you’re crying, ah ah
Even if you’re smiling, ah ah
Shine again and dispel
The darkness in my heart
The shadow in my soul (1)
The night, which was quiet already before, was completely silent when the voice faded away at last. A shadow emerged from the forest, ascended the hill-top, and came to a sit next to Migal.
“It’s a sad song.”
“Ah,” Migal answered.
“Where did you hear it? It’s not a song I know.”
“It drifts around in my dreams.”
“You hear songs in your dreams?” Dawn asked, “I thought all howlers dreamt of only two things.”
“And what would those two things be?”
“Hunting and howling at the nightsun, of course,” Dawn looked at Migal, slightly baffled, “It seems what they say is true.”
“They say many things; you’ll have to be more specific than that.”
“You really aren’t very good at being a howler, are you? You don’t dream of hunting or howling. You don’t howl at the nightsun, but instead you hymn to the stars. You’re not big or brawny, and you refuse to hunt deer or any other animal for that matter. I’ve heard all you eat are roots and plants, is that true?”
“I do hunt,” Migal answered.
“Oh? What do you hunt?”
Migal’s lips curled into a snarl as he spat out the two words like so many pieces of rotten meat.
“So that’s true as well.”
“You have a deeper hatred for the naked devils than most. I wonder why that is. As far as I know you haven’t had any noteworthy encounters with them. None of your family have been killed-“
“I don’t need to have lost someone to that filth to hate them.”
Silence descended on the hill-top for a few minutes before Dawn spoke again.
“So tell me, why did you come on this hunt?”
“You really do talk a lot, you know that?”
“I do, now tell me.”
“Ah… You’re supposed to pass at least one hunt to become an adult, right?”
“That’s true, but only if you want to be allowed to leave the pack on missions, or if you want to join another pack. You can live a good life within the pack even if you don’t pass a hunt.”
“I need to pass the hunt. I have naked devils to kill, and they won’t be polite enough to come to the pack for their deaths.”
“Ugh, there you go again. Why exactly do you hate the naked devils so much?”
“I have my reasons.”
“Humph. Kid, let me tell you this: it would be best if you stayed at the back of the group for now. Your slim body doesn’t have much strength in it, you’d only get hurt if you tried to do more than you’re capable of.”
“I don’t need lecturing. I might not be as strong as any of you, or look as intimidating, but I kill just fine.”
“Don’t say I didn’t warn you.”
Dawn said as he stood up. He descended the hill, heading back into the forest. His voice echoed from the treeline.
“Don’t fall asleep up here, you’ll catch a cold. I don’t want to have to carry you around for the rest of the hunt!”
Migal drew his knees against his chest and stared at the mountains in the distance.
“I’m not as weak as you think I am,” he whispered.
The morning was slow to come. Migal spent most of the night gazing up at the stars as they marched across the sky.
‘How marvellous would it be if people were like that? Just always walking the right path. Marching to their destiny, never swayed by temptation or greed.’
He stood up slowly, and left the hill-top as the sky began to brighten and the stars fade. He arrived back at the resting place of the group just as Dawn was kicking everyone awake.
“Come on, get up! It’s time to get moving you bunch of bastards!” He laughed as kick after kick landed on the howlers, rousing them from their slumber.
“Oh, damn boss. Why do you always have to kick us awake? Can’t you nibble my ear or something instead?” Kor protested.
“Shit Kor, I didn’t know your tail curled!” Dawn rebutted.
Everyone burst out in laughter. Some even rolled on the floor.
“Dick, you’ll have to be careful. Next time you might want to pick a tree further away from Kor!”
“Stop it! You guys know I didn’t mean it like that!”
The teasing continued for several minutes, and by the time everyone had calmed down, the rude wake-up call was all but forgotten.
“Right, enough playing around. We’re heading out. We should be reaching the hunting grounds soon, so stay alert and keep an eye out for good pray!” Dawn shouted as he started heading off into the forest.
Everyone followed and soon the group had already travelled several thousand strides.
The forest was lush. Every possible paw of ground was covered with one kind of foliage or another. From his time spent in the forest, Migal could identify most of the plants, and those he couldn’t he knew he didn’t have to pay any attention to. He knew every one of the important plants, the poisonous and the edible, everything else was useless and didn’t pose any threat to him.
The group was immersed in their banter the whole time, but Migal didn’t participate. He remained as silent as the night. Only his breathing, and the gentle swoosh of his tail kept Dawn aware of his presence.
“He’s quite silent that guy. Not just doesn’t he talk, but his movements all seam deliberately made to be as quiet as possible. I can’t hear any unnecessary sound coming from him. If not for his weak physique, he would make a pretty decent hunter. Ah, all the talent is wasted on the weak.’
Dawn could do nothing but lament nature’s twisted sense of humour. Why was it that those with the brightest minds, or the greatest talent, always had the worst bodies? His own elder brother was one such person: blessed with great tracking skills, but born without a tail. Whilst this didn’t impede his normal day-to-day life, it prevented him from hunting. The tail was essential to maintaining balance and performing fast and tight manoeuvres. Without it there was no way one could catch anything faster or more agile than a tortoise. As a result, his brother was relegated to teaching the concepts of tracking, whilst Dawn himself had to take the groups of youngsters out to practice their knowledge in the field.
‘Oh well, we each do what we can,’ Dawn thought.
He shook his head lightly and didn’t pay it any more heed. He had a job to do after all.
The group slinked through the forest. The sun slowly climbed up into the sky where it seared a golden hole in the azure blanket.
“Migal, come over here,” Dawn called.
“Ooo, seems Migal is in trouble,” one of the group teased.
“Doesn’t it seem like the boss has been far chattier with him since this morning?”
“You can’t really call that chatting, can you? He’s the only one talking. All Migal does is grunt or nod or shake his head from time to time.”
“That’s about as chatty as he’s likely ever to be, and it’s far more than he’s ever been before, wouldn’t you say?” Kor interjected.
“Of course, curl-tail Kor would know a lot more about how other males act, wouldn’t he?”
“Come on, drop it already. I told you guys it’s nothing like that!”
Migal glanced at them over his shoulder for a moment before merely shaking his head.
“Bunch of useless brats.”
“Ah, you shouldn’t be so self-deprecating, Migal. You’re not completely useless,” Dawn answered sarcastically.
Migal only shot him an irritated glance before falling into silence once more. A few minutes passed in such partial silence.
Suddenly, Migal stopped dead in his tracks.
“What’s the mat-” Dawn only uttered half his sentence before shutting up immediately as well.
“Hey, shut up back there! Get down!” he yelled at the group behind him.
He turned back to Migal, observing him quietly. Migal’s nose twitched several times, and his ears moved from side to side, scanning his surroundings. A fire ignited in his eyes, and his lips curled into a demented, devilish smile.
The words had barely left his mouth before he vanished into the trees. Dawn felt a cold spark run up and down his spine.
‘So much hatred,’ he thought, ‘What exactly birthed such a loathing, such a thirst for vengeance in that kid? Nevermind that, where did he go? I can’t hear anything. Is his stealth that good?’
Dawn was puzzled for half a moment before his eyes widened.
“The fucker! He’s a complete idiot. What can he do against a group of eight or more naked devils?”
He turned to the rest of the group.
“Listen up you bastards! That idiot Migal rushed ahead at a bunch of naked devils like an idiot! We better move and save him!”
“Oh come on! It was bad enough that he was dead weight on the trip so far, but now he’s even sinking and dragging us with him? I’m going to beat him up when I get my hands on him!” someone protested.
No one disobeyed, however, and the group dashed forward, trying to catch up to the shadow that slowly disappeared in the canopy amongst the branches and leaves.
- Lyrics adapted from Hello shooting star