|Posted by||The Blue Rabbit: Pride Lore|
The Blue Rabbit 🐇
Echo G1 (#239709)
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Chapter 1: The Misfits
"Hey, look at that!" called Hornjack, a black maned, gray adolescent male. Hornjack was always seeing "interesting," things, which the other young males in the group had begun to shrug off. But something about the way the stony lion had called out drew Cloudborne's attention.
"Look at what?" grumbled Ivyreach, a creamy, darkly shrouded male that had more recently joined the small company of nine males than Cloudborne had. They both crested the top of the knoll together, the silver drenched Cloudborne shining in the Savannah sunlight, but a pace or two behind his newest wild brother.
"That," said Hornjack, nodding towards the thicket of thorns bordering the rise, just before the rolling, golden grass became the tangled, damp chaos of the jungle.
Cloudborne felt his breath catch in his throat when he saw it: a blue rabbit.
It was an ordinary size for a rabbit, but its coat glowed with the color of moonlight dancing across the nearby lake that the band of undesired young males often slept alongside at night. It was watching the adolescents as they came up over the hill, one by one, each joining Hornjack along the rise, staring with wonder, their tails slowly swaying and twitching behind them at the magical sight.
"Is it an omen?" asked Cloudborne, his earthy eyes glimmering with a hope and delight he had not felt since he had last tussled with his sisters in his birth pride. Something about the rabbit felt special; it was as if he had seen the rabbit before now, but that was most certainly not possible. There were no blue rabbits in the Savannah. Cloudborne had eaten his fair share of the tawny tufts, after all. Sometimes they were grey, other times as deep and ruddy as the red clay of the river banks, but they were never blue.
Bluepaw, the eldest and largest of the adolescents, laughed in response to the young lion, the steele marked male always self assured, having long ago left behind the childish bewilderment that many of his wild brothers' still carried in their hearts.
"What sort of foolish omen would that be?" he rumbled, turning his back on the rabbit, as if to make his way back down the knoll to the tattered remains of the small bands' few day old carcass, "the Ancestors wouldn't waste their time on a fluff-tail. Especially not for us."
His last words rippled through the collective of young males, each one seeming crestfallen or trapped in visions of the past as they recalled the homes they had been chased away from once their manes had begun to grow in. All except Bluepaw, who was stoic as always, returning back down the hill as if he were already an elder leaving his cubs to stare at the wonder of their first rain.
The sound of bones and sinew crunching filled the silence he left behind, the large lion taking his second fill for the day. Cloudborne glanced over his shoulder at the slightly older male with a disapproving frown, knowing that some of the others hadn't eaten once today, let alone twice. But a single glance at the scars and muscles that adorned Bluepaw kept his tongue silent, though a low growl did escape him as he returned his eyes to the strange rabbit, gazing at them like some ominous spirit from the thicket.
As the other males began to quietly converse about the rabbit, or disperse as their leader had, Cloudborne allowed his mind to wander, watching the wind move the world around the eerily still rabbit. If he were to be a true leader one day, he would not be like Bluepaw, Cloudborne quietly promised to himself. He would feed his family before he fed himself. He would spar his equals, not those who were too weak to defend themselves from his strength. But, most importantly...
He would never allow his heart to become bitter enough to not find magic in the sight of a blue rabbit.
The Blue Rabbit 🐇
Echo G1 (#239709)
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Chapter 2: The Decision
It had been several days since the blue rabbit had first started appearing from time to time in the local area that the misfits had chosen to reside. Though it had first been seen alongside the jungle thickets, they most often found it alongside the lake, or in the rocky crevices of the foothills of the nearby, ancient mountain. It was always watching; it never seemed to do normal rabbit things. It sat still as a stone, observing, with its hauntingly pale gaze, with only the slightest of twitches and the ebb and flow of its steady breath revealing that it was more than a very peculiar stone.
Cloudborne had taken to watching the rabbit, though most of the others had abandoned their interest in it. Bluepaw's general dismissal of the animal as being anything more than a nuisance and a distraction for the band had done a lot to ensure that this shift had come about quickly. His focus was, as usual, on training, and gathering food to feed the wandering band of ordinary males, both of which required the assistance of his brothers.
Slimsun, a long, lanky male with a patchy mane and bony physique, appeared alongside the silver cloaked Cloudborne, his golden coat as shiny as the plunder for which it was named. Of all his wild brothers, Slimsun was the one that the young, patient male felt the most close to. They had arrived to the band around the same time, and both of them were relatively low in the pecking order - mostly because they were gentle of spirit, though Slimsun certainly hadn't been blessed with strength or speed as Cloudborne had. The quiet lion sat down next to where Cloudborne lay in the grass, the afternoon lake sparkling behind them.
"I think the rabbit is meaningful, too," he quietly remarked, after some moments of silence, "I think the rabbit is watching us. But for what, I do not know."
"Speak quietly, brother," Cloudborne rumbled, "Bluepaw will not take kindly to contradictions of his word."
"You roar without sound while laying and watching it," Slimsun laughed, but his laugh was quiet, still. None of the band doubted the wrath of Bluepaw. "He says nothing to you of it."
"I hunt when needed. He has no need to bother me if I do my work," said Cloudborne, "but I know a spirit when I see it. He does too, though perhaps the thought of it makes his cold heart tremble."
"As ice slipping from spring warmed leaves, perhaps," Slimsun mused, "it is good to think even such a winter as dwells in that one cannot last forever."
Cloudborne nodded in agreement, a low rumble escaping his body. He did not actually agree, though. Even if Bluepaw were put on the sun itself, his heart would remain cold and hard as raw iron shining in the depths of northern caverns. The male was a walking fortress, his true spirit buried somewhere in the cold walls he had built around himself to avoid the wound that being forced from his birth pride had caused him. It would take more than a magic rabbit to get through that catacomb.
As if summoned by the young lion's thoughts of him, Bluepaw appeared among the two friends, a low growl escaping his lips. Cloudborne rose to his paws, though not too quickly.
"What sort of lion daydreams about a rabbit when it is right there in front of him?" haughtily snapped the large male, grinning a dark sort of grin that made Cloudborne's feel a sudden defensiveness, "if you want the rabbit, you catch it!"
With a sudden leap, Bluepaw was charging towards the moonglow beast. It did not move, despite the massive predator that thundered towards it, but instead seemed to look towards the two gentle males, a duplicitous look of both questioning and deep, intrinsic knowing crossing its face.
"No!" cried Cloudborne and Slimsun in unison, the two lions leaping out behind the large male without hesitation. They didn't share a glance or a sound beyond this: in a sudden crash of fur, claw, and difference of spirit, three lions became one furious ball of chaos and aggression.
The fight ended as quickly and suddenly as it had begun. Slimsun was quickly tossed aside, his body thudding with a disturbing sound on the grassy bank. Cloudborne was left in the battle alone, his heart thundering and blood rushing. An inner strength he did not know he possessed flooded him; with mighty roars and powerful swipes, he met Bluepaw in a justified conflict that had been brewing within Cloudborne's heart over the past few months of living in the shadow of the wicked male. He was fueled by the sound of his dear friend hitting the earth. He was empowered by the hungry growl's of his companion's bellies at night. He was driven by the desire to protect the small, sacred rabbit nestled in the bushes.
The next body to thud upon the ground was Bluepaw's, and Cloudborne stood over him, his maw full of steele tinted hair. But, unlike Slimsun, slowly coming to with groans of pain, the large lion lay still. Only the heaving of his sides and the slow flutter of his closed eyelids revealed he was still alive.
The blue rabbit was gone.
A mighty roar escaped Cloudborne, his tail thrashing, and blood slowly seeping from the wounds that Bluepaw had inflicted on him. The other young males were around, observing the aftermath in silence, wondering what this turn of events would mean for them. Cloudborne had never been overly social in the group; none truly knew him, or the nature of his spirit.
When Bluepaw began to wake, with groans of displeasure and small whines of pain, the silver cloaked male did not move. Instead, he held his ground, pushing his chest forward as he had seen his father do when he had defeated an invasive male, and a slow, warning growl escaped him.
"You are no longer the leader of this band," calmly intoned Cloudborne, his cream tufted tail swaying aggressively behind him.
The defeated male looked up at the victor with a dazed expression, but the frown that overtook his face told that he understood well enough. The others watching looked to one another nervously, and some whispers trickled among them like rain over leaves behind the creamy Cloudborne. He heard nothing they said. His focus was on steele tipped Bluepaw, who rose to his feet with grunts and wheezes, and met the brown gaze of the quiet but gentle male that had stolen his crown as prince of beggars.
"Dine on nothing, then," growled the proud Bluepaw, limping off towards the tangle of the nearby jungle, adding as he left, "be my guest."
Some of the adolescents followed the large male with their eyes, and others even stepped as if to follow him, but none of them actually chose to remain aligned with their former liege. Warily, every gaze turned to Cloudborne. Compassionately, Cloudborne's gaze moved to Slimsun, and his paws carried him after.
"Are you okay, brother?" he asked the doubloon male, who shook his sunshine mane and rose gingerly to his paws, clearly favoring one of his legs and ribs.
"I will live," replied Slimsun with a wincing smile, sharing a wink with his friend, "especially with our friend watching over us. Where did they go, anyway?"
Both the lions looked around them for the blue rabbit, but it was no where to be seen. With a shrug and a grin, Cloudborne turned back to his golden comrade.
"Not far, I'm sure," truthfully said the lion, "perhaps he'll turn up after we find something to eat?"
He looked to the others, and found them in agreement. Their wariness had softened at the mention of food, and the tender expression of friendship between the two males. Kindness was something that had been stolen in secret under the rule of Bluepaw, who had taken to bullying or simply chasing out those who sought true friendships among the small clan. Cloudborne had always thought it was because he was afraid of allegiances forming against him - something much like what had happened today.
And so they left, with Cloudborne at the fore, instead of taking up a space in the rear. Alongside him, Slimsun walked, and behind them, six adolescent males with a new hope for their future: some of them for the very first time since they had been sent into the Savannah to fend for themselves.
Edited on 06/11/21 @ 12:26:40 by The Blue Rabbit (#239709)
The Blue Rabbit 🐇
Echo G1 (#239709)
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Chapter 3: The Blue Rabbit
A gentle peace quickly overtook the darkness that had brooded among the band the day before. Together, they took down a zebra, even with Slimsun weakened, and unlike the leader before him, Cloudborne only ate an equal share. They laughed on their way back to the rocky foothills, and shared stories of the clans in which they were born before they fell asleep beneath the stars.
Cloudborne stayed awake beyond his companions. His mind was restless, and his heart was too full for sleep. Instead, he slowly climbed the stones up towards the slopes of the mountain, following a trail he had discovered earlier in the week, following the rabbit. There was no certainty in the path he chose. He did not even really pay much attention to how far he had gone, or how long he had been walking, but instead allowed the song and sounds of the evening mountainside to fill his ears and spirit.
Trees began to stand alongside him, tall and silent, but somehow full of wisdom. He occasionally brushed against one, and it was the third or fourth time this happened that the male paused to wonder where he was. The star draped sky gleamed overhead, the only familiar aspect of the landscape in which he found himself.
He sighed, a deep, emotional sort of sound that spoke of much more than just frustration. His mother's voice chided him in his head, as she always had: "You should daydream less. You'll get lost in that mind of yours, and we won't be able to find you."
Missing her made him feel like a cub, not a mighty young warrior with his own band to look after, but he missed her none the less. She had been soft and concerned, and she had always listened to his stories about the animals and beings he spotted in the clouds and patterns of the stars.
"She would have known what you were," he said to the blue rabbit that was not there, looking at the constellations overhead.
The sound of stones tumbling nearby drew his attention, and with caution he edged towards a nearby rock face. Hoping it was the rabbit, but wary enough of the dangers of the wilderness to prepare for any sort of challenger, he crept through the sparse trees in the steep shadows of the moonlit night.
A gentle slope led along the sheer face of the mountain, and he followed it. At the top of the slope, the wild path became a flat space of ground of some considerable size, which overlooked the lake below. Small ferns and immature banana plants grew among a few scrubby herbs, at least where there not large slats of limestone and small, crumbling boulders. Though he could not see them, his slumbering companions were just below him, hidden by the rise of the mountain. Behind him, while he overlooked this spectacular view of what had become his second home, a wide cavern yawned, and the sound of slowly dripping water revealed the presence of some sort of hidden body of water within.
This time, the sound that drew his notice was that of bells. A gentle, soft sound, quite ethereal and magical in a world of lions, and like the wonder-filled cub that he had once been, Cloudborne looked towards the cave from which the delightful jangle had emanated.
He knew the dangers of dark places and strange sounds. His clan had been well versed in the art of spirits and Ancestors, too, and so he also knew that it was foolish to follow the chime of bells without expecting something mystical (for better or worse) to take place. He especially should have been wary of such a sound on such a day as today, in such a month that there was a magical rabbit following him like a ghost.
A belief in magic and the good of the universe makes one a bit of a fool, however, and so Cloudborne did not remember the wisdom of his clan. He simply followed the single, haunting chime into the dark mouth of the cavern, his thoughts entranced by the wonder of what sort of miracle it could be.
A shallow and small pool filled one side of the large cavern, and stone stalagmites and their counterparts reached up like the teeth of dragons and rustic pillars around its edges and throughout its heart. It was damp, and cool, and soft emerald moss grew across its floor and along most of the walls. Several smaller, easily accessible caverns branched off from the main one, and though they were too dark to hope to explore, beaming glands reflecting the moonlight within them promised some sort of gems or metal within the stone, which he was not sure.
After an investigation, he determined that, by some miracle, this cave was uninhabited, perhaps because of its hard to find location. Why some wild beast had not claimed it was beyond him, but Cloudborne was not going to second guess his luck.
He decided then that he would spend the night here, in the mountain cave, and return in the dawn when the light would allow him to see the trail he marked for himself on the way back home to the band. While it was a good distance from the herds, it was safe, and secure. They would probably have luck hunting okapi and other prey in the jungles alongside the mountain, too.
Making a bed of the moss, the tired lion laid down, so that he could look outside the cavern to watch the night sky, and hopefully so the sun would wake him early enough that the others wouldn't miss him too greatly. Besides, Slimsun knew Cloudborne took to wandering - it was often during those times that they had been able to talk, without the hateful judgement of Bluepaw being placed on them. Surely he would speak up...
The sound of the mountain jungle and the dreams of his new life lulled him quickly into near-sleep. The gentle sound of the bells again drew his eyes open, but he could not fight the bonds of sleep, tugging him into slumber. He did, however, see the rabbit, framed in the entrance to the cave, and blinked slowly in awe of what he was seeing.
His eyes fought him to remain closed, but he managed to wrestle them open once again. Perhaps it was a trick of the hour, but the rabbit was singing, and its voice was that of the bell, its fur softly rippling like waves on the water, emanating silvery moonlight.
And then he was stolen by sleep.
Edited on 06/11/21 @ 13:14:56 by The Blue Rabbit (#239709)
The Blue Rabbit 🐇
Echo G1 (#239709)
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Chapter 4: Awaken, Young Prince
He dreamed of mountains, and rain drenched leaves. He dreamed of rainbows blooming in the cloudy skies, heralding angelic blues and golds, and delicate white blankets of cloud. He dreamed of wide, open skies, speckled with so many stars that they become one, rippling band of diamonds dancing through the night, and nights dark with only the white hot flashes of lightning to guide his way. Rabbits played in the grass, and birds sang in the branches, whether the sky wept or rejoiced. The largest herds of antelope, gazelle, wildebeest, and zebra he had ever seen danced and bounded across knolls and valleys, and the elephants hung shining trinkets in the trees.
A serenity hummed through this dream world, and it rang through him, as he moved with strength and speed he did not possess in real life through the heavenly Savannah. The antelope did not fear his approach; the zebra remained still and placid as he moved through their ranks. Many even nodded in greeting to him as he passed, and some even called out to him, as if they were old friends.
Cloudborne found himself at the foot of the Ancestral Tree, it's branches alive with the sound of cowrie shells, bones, and stones. Lion skulls, flowers, and herbs were delicate entwined among them, and placed about its reaching roots.
The smell of countless lions emanated from the earth around the mighty tree, and it's bark was well worn with the carvings of those who had come here to pay homage to the ancient and powerful totem over the many years it had grown and weathered in the wild world. He drug the smell deep into himself, and felt it turn through him like the rumbling purr of an arcane God, too old to know the difference between a lion or a lioness.
The elephants here were old, so very old that they were nearly indistinguishable from an ancient, crumbling mountain face, but for that they moved, and their bodies and faces were painted with white mud, delicately drawn into intricate patterns. The earth trembled when they moved, though they did not move often; their focus was on decorating the branches of the tree above. Curiously, they did not procure the decorations from their pouches, but rather the open, yawning hole that adorned the front of the tree, itself. Each item shimmered with a strange, mystical light as it was drawn forth, before becoming mostly normal again - at least as normal as anything is in a dream.
Unlike the others he had met along his way here, these elephants paid him no mind. The cream maned lion moved cautiously among them, slowly approaching the irresistible allure of the Ancestral Tree. The roots he stepped along were warm and made his paws tingle with an ancient magic, and the closer he came to the tree, the more powerful this sensation became.
He had almost reached the tree when a sudden flash and sparkle amidst the song chiming of bells at the foot of the tree stopped him in his tracks. The blue rabbit formed in the blinding shimmer, and he blinked with surprise at it's swift and sorceress arrival, though it remained placid and plain in behavior as it always had in the real world.
"What do you want of me?" he asked it, his voice very loud in the quiet holiness of the grove.
The elephants turned their milky eyes towards him. They swirled like the storm about to break up beneath the heat of the summer sun, shrouded in thin white clouds.
"What would you have for yourself, little Cloud?" the elephants and rabbit asked in unison. The elephants' voices boomed like thunder, but the rabbit's was the same soft bell that had lured him into this strange dream. A strange, sonorous wind drifted through the spacious grove, making the branches of the Ancestral Tree chime and ring through the air.
Cloudborne fell silent, an expression of disbelief and fleeting pain crossing his expression as the dream spirits conjured the name his family had once called to him so often with. In the dream world, the ache was inescapable: soft rain began to fall around them, and a mist rose from the warm earth. He looked down at his plain paws.
What did he want, after all, if it wasn't them?
His aunts and mother, and the other tired women who had wandered in from the Savannah and stayed, or been procured in one of his father's deals with the surrounded prides. The countless cubs that had come and gone, even in the short time Cloudborne had been there, each one of them full of hope and wonder for the cruel world into which they had been born. The seasons there had been too much food, and they had been able to feed others, and welcome in the gaunt, hardened lionesses who lived on their own in the wild.
The times there had not been enough, and you and them were sent away.
The elephants and the moon-glow rabbit were all still patiently staring at him, and though he had not said a word or glanced up from his thoughts, Cloudborne felt as if every watching being saw with omnipotence into his soul, and like he did, each memory and face slowly crossed their thoughts. Unlike him, they felt nothing, though. He alone carried the weight of his sorrows and nostalgic longings for a past that was no where near as perfect as memory would deceive one into believing.
He met the rabbit's gaze, and his eyes were brimmed with tears, though the little Cloud did not allow the rain to fall. The gentle rain hushed. The fog remained.
"I want a family," he answered, "but in a world like this one. A world where there is always enough, and there is too much beauty to forget the blessing of where and who we are. Where no cub must go into a grim world, with only his shame and sadness as an armor."
"You would make this so?" they asked him, the blue rabbit again glowing in the ethereal way it had back in the cave. Like the rabbit, the strange eyes of the elephants, too, took on a moonlight aura. The fog began to move, and seemed to occasionally take on the indistinct shape of lionesses and cubs. They too seemed to watch him.
"I..." Cloudborne hesitated, feeling a sudden doubt overtake him - could he? He was the unwanted cub of a well-intentioned king. He was plain, and weak in comparison to the mighty Lords that he and the band had watched take down the majority of the scant herds, leaving the strongest and swiftest for the weakened rest to find. He had spent nights hungry, wet, and miserable, mocked by those he called comrades for not quietly settling into the discomfort like they did. Could he truly become more than that?
The blue rabbit patiently waited for his answer. He met their eyes, and felt a warm spark of hope bloom in his chest. The rabbit believed in him. They had to - why else would he be here? Other memories and thoughts began to illuminate the shadows that the former ones had. He remembered the women of his clan, and how they enjoyed his tales. He remembered his mothers words: "You are strong, little Cloud, especially of heart. The Savannah respects such men." Lastly, he remembered defeating Bluepaw, and the successful hunt with his new band the very same night. The memory of their shared joy emboldened him, and he spoke the binding words of the magical spell he had found himself tied to:
"And so it will be," spoke the great elephants and the ethereal rabbit. As if born from the booming, strange sound, one of the lioness shapes in the fog solidified, becoming an ancient lioness, and the rest thickened, hiding all but the strange glow of the elephant's eyes, and the undeniable light of the blue rabbit.
She stepped towards him, her once splendid ivory coat haggard and without luster, but for the golden flecks that dappled her form. She wore the same markings as the elephants, but that hers were gold and blue, which drew to focus the crystalline, pale blue of her gaze, and she was covered in the jewelry and dressings of a seer and healer. Despite her age, she moved with grace and age, and though Cloudborne had never seen her in his life, he knew exactly who she was.
As the progenitor mother of his clan approached, the song of the rabbit filled the dream world, and the Ancestral Tree faded from focus, as if it had disappeared entirely. Cloudborne opened his mouth to speak to her, but no sound came forth. She smiled, stopped before him, and pressed her forehead to his with the warm nuzzle of a doting grandmother, before stepping back, as if waiting for something.
Without truly knowing why he did so, the silver-draped lion roared, pouring himself into the cry. The sound echoed through the dream void among the song of the rabbit, and the ancient lioness met his voice with her own. All around them, the fog-shapes became lions and lionesses, one by one, who joined in, and the more who entered the chorus, the more full Cloudborne's heart felt, until he was most certain it would burst.
"Awaken, young Prince," spoke the rabbit.
And he did.
The Blue Rabbit 🐇
Echo G1 (#239709)
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Chapter 5: Great Trinity Valley
The sound of rain falling heavily outside greeted him as he woke.
It was on the verge of being chilly in the cave, which Cloudborne immediately found strange. It was the height of summer, a season of heat and humidity, and though he was on a mountainside, he didn't think he was that far up. Stretching and yawning, the lion blinked away the strange dreams that still clung to him, and made his way towards the entrance of the cave, peering out through the ribbons of water streaming down its face and streaking towards the drop off.
A frown crossed his face no sooner than he looked out into the downpour.
Where sky had opened into the Savannah the night before, a jungle-encrusted, ancient mountain face leaned with rounded peaks into the sky. He could see waterfalls pouring from them at this distance, breaking into pools far below, the collision casting massive, foggy plumes from where they made their mighty drop.
It was slightly warmer in the threshold of the cave, where the humid air of the rain cooled jungle whorled in with a soft croon to fight the chilly darkness inside. The smells beyond the doorway indicated it was autumn, but Cloudborne wasn't sure how that could be, not anymore than he could determine how the cave had seemed to be in an entirely different realm, let alone the same mountainside.
A tremble not related to the cool rain rippled through him, and his brain moved from confusion to concern over his companions, from elation to despair. He paced back into cavern, searching it for any detail that had changed, like the outside world, but the cavern was the same as it was. The additional caverns were faintly illuminated, and he glanced in them to find them each veined with metals and stones as he had suspected, but found no other sign or clue as to what had happened here. They were empty, and smelled of limestone, moss, and dust, exactly as they had the night before.
By the time he had finished his investigation, the rain had let up, at least enough to wander in it. With a frustrated growl, the silver-coated male moved to leave the cave, but his reflection in the shallow pool in the cave caused him to come to a sudden stop.
Standing over the mirror-surface of the water, Cloudborne saw himself. But he was not the same as he had been! His creamy coat had darkened with rich ebonies and warm browns, and was flecked with starry white. Spots had appeared along his flanks, and his face had darkened as if detailed by some ash-wielding spirit. His mane was no longer the lackluster tufts of an adolescent, but thick and full as any adult's. The markings he had been born with, those of his beloved mother, were amplified, adding depth and beauty to his natural pelt, but his silvery back had taken on more stormy, sky-like tones. Most bewildering of all, his eyes had become those of the elephants in the dream grove: pale, sky-like, and shrouded in cloud.
He stumbled away from his reflection, feeling suddenly dizzy. It had been a dream! What was happening to him?
Truly wary of what sort of strange thing would await him next, Cloudborne gathered himself together and made his way out of the cave. His ears back, and his tail swept low behind him as he made his way to the edge of the clearing outside the cavern. It also seemed much the same, though perhaps the plants were more mature, and the stones that much more weathered and mossy, but the view that met him was so very, very different than the one that had awaited him the evening before.
He was much higher up the mountainside than he possibly could have been. So much so, in fact, that he found himself to be very near the top of the peak on which the cave was. Three massive and elder slopes, including the one he stood on, swept miles down to a wide, green valley, riddled with creeks, streams, and small lakes. To reach this bottom, however, it seemed like he would have to make his way down a tangled, rocky slope, checkered with drop offs and waterfalls. He grumbled a grumpy sort of sigh, his low tail twitching behind him.
"Looks like you were right, mom," he groaned aloud, "no one's going to be able to find me here."
If it is fall, he thought to himself, than it was his birth season. That would truly make him two years old, which would explain the mane, at least. It didn't explain why he was here, or who he had become, though he didn't feel different from who he was before on the inside.
He found the path that had led him to the cave the night before, and began to warily follow it down. Occasionally, though the path was relatively clear and easy to follow, he stopped to gouge marks into the trunks of trees and fallen logs, or dig recognizable ruts in the muddy earth where the rocky ground would allow. All he had in this new world that was certain and similar was the cave. He would be a baboon's uncle before he get lost enough to not at least be able to find his way back to it.
Though he hadn't abandoned hope entirely of finding his companions and Slimsun, Cloudborne wasn't stupid or foolish enough to not doubt that he would. He stopped from time to time, usually when the downpours picked back up, and called for them, pausing and listening hopefully, before he continued to follow the trail of the rainwater down the mountain.
It was well into the afternoon by the time he made it down to the green valley below, though it had been early in the morning when he had first set off. The rain was coming down in a slow and steady drizzle, but the wet wasn't enough to deter the already sodden lion. Though the path that had led down the mountain had an occasional branch, he soon found himself at a point that moved off into three new directions, winding through the rocky slopes and hills that were shaped around the myriad streams and rivers.
His clan would be very close if they were here at all. Looking over his shoulder at the mountain, he could just make out the outcropping of the cave, which was almost directly overhead, just like it had been in his home valley. There was no lake here, though, and there was also no sign of a band of bachelors, let alone any lion at all but himself.
Now that he thought about it, he hadn't seen a sign of anyone while coming down the mountain. There had been monkeys, bonobos, and birds, even the distant and frightening call of a tiger, but no lions. Cloudborne began to wonder if he had been transported into a world all his own as some sort of cruel, magical joke. It would be a world with no one in it at all that would have peace and plenty. He thought to himself, looking down the paths, wondering if he would bother exploring them, or how they had even come to be at all, with no travelers to walk them.
"Oh, look, it's a male," came a feminine voice from the distance. Cloudborne looked behind him to find three young lionesses making their way down the mountain, along the same trail he had just come from. Two of them were blue, and the other was a shimmering orange and yellow, and all three of them had enchantingly blue eyes.
"Must be the one marking all the trees," mirthfully intoned one of them, her golden pelt marked with dark, zebra-like stripes.
"He's a bit plain, isn't he?" remarked the third, her voice charming and sweet as honey. Her blue coat streaked with white, shimmering webs.
Cloudborne had never seen a blue lion before. He stood and silently observed them in wonder, taking in the strange, colorful ladies as if he had never seen a lioness in all his days. He had most certainly never seen any like these. The women noticed the strange stare of the stranger, and paused, the one who had spoken first raising her voice and calling out through the drizzle. The eldest of the females, she moved with a self-composed grace that made the young male's heart skip a beat, and smelled strongly of feminine perfumes, signalling she was soon to be in heat, if not already so.
"You're out early for one walking, sir," she said with a grin, though she also took a step out in front of her comrades defensively, wary of the strange, silent stare of the unknown lion.
Realizing he was staring and acting like a bit of a moonstruck fool, Cloudborne cleared his throat and shook away the distractions of their strange beauty and intoxicating smells. He wasn't anyone to be afraid of, and he fleetingly grinned somewhat sheepishly in apology for having made them feel that he was.
"It is the afternoon, is it not?" he remarked, somewhat confused, and all three of them laughed, sharing coy glances with one another, their banded tails swaying.
"You rise with the sun, then, dawn boy?" again spoke the smudged blue, eldest female, the other blue lioness chiming her playful laugh again. He would have protested being called boy were it any other time or place. Besides, the feline marked eldest did seem slightly older than him. He wished they would stop teasing him, all the same; he was overwhelmed enough without having to tend to his ego at the same time.
"I do when I wake in a strange land, milady," answered Cloudborne truthfully enough. The women narrowed their eyes, however.
"We are to believe you are new to the Great Trinity Valley?" suspiciously questioned the golden female, "what did you do? Swim in on the ocean tides like some sort of fish? No one new comes here unless the menfolk bring them. And no men folk live on Earth Peak, which is where you came from, isn't it?"
Cloudborne focused on remembering the names of the places she had said, and fully intended to respond to her other demanding questions, but the lioness spoke again before he could, glancing around at her companions with an air of aggression.
"He thinks we're idiots, my sisters," she nearly growled. The gentle voiced female looked at him with an expression of sadness, while the graceful one narrowed her eyes distastefully.
"I think no such thing!" he quickly responded, "I have never heard of or been to such a place as the Great Trinity Valley in all my life until today. Is it an island of some sort?"
The three women fell very silent, studying him for a long time. Feeling discouraged and not really having the time to waste on the judgments of three strangers (albeit truly beautiful ones), the lion growled a frustrated sigh.
"Look, believe me or don't. It's not like it would bring me back to where I was," he looked back at the paths ahead of him, but the ambition to explore further that he had felt when he'd first discovered them had withered. So, he just stared down the paths, wondering if some sort of answers lay down them, or if he would continue to find nothing but exotic and peculiar lionesses who would doubt and tease him.
Thanks, rabbit, he internally grumbled, his shoulders slumping in defeat,
He heard whispering behind him for some time, and when it stopped and they moved forward, he assumed that they had begun to carry on to whatever they had been doing before they had discovered him, to leave him to his brooding.
They soon stood in front of him, however, and the eldest lioness studied him, a doubtful expression still lingering on her face. The smell and presence of them so suddenly near to him was somewhat overwhelming. Not only were they tempting and beautiful, they were also clearly much stronger as individuals than he was as, let alone in a group. He did his best to seem unaffected, but women always seemed to know better.
"Where are you from, then, that isn't here?" she asked, concern detailing her question.
"No where grand enough to have been named. A simple Savannah, with a lakeside and my friends," he answered.
"A simple man like you, from somewhere too ordinary for a name?" she grinned, her rich blue eyes sparkling, "that I might believe."
The Blue Rabbit 🐇
Echo G1 (#239709)
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Chapter 6: Soft Snow Shines
Cloud met with the women every afternoon for many afternoons after his first day in the Valley. They spent the days hunting, adventuring, and teaching the new arrival to the Great Trinity Valley about all that could be seen and done in their wonderful home. It did not take long before they were accompanying him home to his gemstone caverns, either, or he them, to their equally unique and interesting pride lands. It also did not take long before he met their fathers: each proud, handsome and strong kings, though none of them were exactly alike, that was for sure.
Of his new lady friends, two had fathers that followed the same life path that Cloudborne was called to. The golden tigress, Sun, was the daughter of a Ferus Deathlord, who, honestly, frightened Cloud much more than he admitted aloud to his friends. Snowfall never seemed fazed or bothered by the blood-covered, wicked eyed King and his Queens, well fed, favored with trinkets, surrounded by the bones of prey and lion alike. She greeted the gluttonous as warmly as she did those who had clearly not eaten in days, which the gentle lion found both inspiring and confusing. He rarely found himself able to speak to the favored Queens, and most often forced himself to speak to Sun's dark minded father.
He found that, while he feared them, what kept his tongue so still was that he abhorred their way of life. A lion such as Cloudborne could only look at so many heaps of dead cubs, discarded mothers, and slat ribbed adolescents, layered with flies and beetles, without feeling some measure of disgust for those who could kill and starve out their own children. Even though he himself had never had the opportunity to have cubs, he delighted in playing with Snowfall's younger siblings, and the young new additions to the pride that had trickled in from other kingdoms in the Valley. He desired to be surrounded by their laughter and antics so deeply that he could not imagine silencing the bells of their joy. He knew to deeply how precious each spark of life was; such a thing could not be so callously quenched.
He was dwelling on such thoughts on a return from Sun's home pride with Snow and Snowfall one evening. As usual, they bid farewell to Snowfall first, as her home was nearer the foot of Earth Peak than Snow's. They made the entire stretch from Sun to Snow's without a word, but as soon as they left the wild sound of Snowfall's siblings welcoming her home behind, the white crackled blue lioness striding easily alongside the brooding, plain male began to speak.
"You do not like the Dark Ones, do you?" she asked bluntly.
The question surprised Cloud enough that he stopped in his tracks, looking at her with a mixed expression of faux confusion, guilt, and a need to be honest, especially if he thought she might understand. He searched her expression and stance, finding nothing that was not always present in her warm and welcoming character. To be honest, he thought to himself, she probably just wants to talk. Snow can't help but chatter away like a brook, after all. He continued towards Snow's pride as he answered her, a slow shrug rippling his shoulder as he moved on.
"I don't, no, but I don't suppose that really matters," he grumbled, "I like Sun. I would like to take her somewhere that she never has to see her siblings treated like... like old bones, ever again."
"I do too," agreed Snow quickly and cheerfully, wincing slightly at the mention of the cubs in a way Snowfall and Sun never did. It made Cloudborne glad he was talking about this with sweet and cheerful Snow, and not the mysterious and eloquent Snowfall, or the often cold and sarcastic Sun. Snowfall wouldn't understand, and worse, Sun would probably just mock and belittle him. "I don't like the dying either."
Her bubbly voice trailed away into solemn silence, and Cloudborne allowed that silence to continue. It, of course, did not take very long for Snow to be chiming in again, though. She also bounded ahead a few paces, cutting off the creamy lion in his tracks, and meeting his gaze with her stark blues.
"But the Deathlords aren't so bad, Cloud. Even if they do a lot of the killing," she said, pausing when Cloudborne's snarl and pushing on passed her cut her thought short. The blue lioness hurried after him, her voice (oddly cheerful, considering the topic) still chattering on.
"Look, I know that we have many means here in the Valley for misfit lions to be provided for, as we've been taking you to see," she hurriedly explained, having to jog to keep up alongside the taller male's anger sped steps, "but there are only so many opportunities. The Dark Ones help make sure there is always room for someone to find home. And, besides, the Gods would never bless them if they were truly wrong. And they get blessings all the time! Especially the truly evil ones."
The simple lion came to a sudden and aggressive stop, causing Snow to pause and take a quick few paces away from him. Her ears were tucked back into her blue ruff, but her eyes met his with a desire to have him hear her out. His own face was pained and lined with anger born from that muddied emotional place, and his mind move through memories of a world that had been real before he had come here, entwining them with Snow's words, and what he had seen in the dark dens.
"We kill the prey, Cloud," Snow continued warily, "lions kill things. It's who we are, even when we seek a path of goodness. We cannot cast shame and hate on those who tend to their darkness as much as we take mind of our light. And even the night has stars, bud."
She giggled, and the cream lion blinked slowly at her in disbelief.
"Look, King Diesel plays with his cubs, I promise," she giggled again, carrying on down the trail, "he just doesn't do it when you're there. Manliness, bravado, all that good stuff..."
"It's not funny, Snow," grumbled Cloudborne, following moodily along behind her.
"But it is! Just think about him, all buff and tough, trying to stuff himself into a bush to play hide and seek," her grin shone in the descending sun as she glanced back at him, "won't fit though. Bush would be too full of bones."
"Snow, please!" loudly plead Cloud, and Snow's resounding laughter shook a few birds loose from their roosts with loud complaints and shouts.
But as she continued ahead of him, poking fun at the idea of a Deathlord in the middle of a paw-painting party and laughing at her own jokes, the young lion did find himself recalling a few things he'd been too focused on the doom and darkness to really take note of before. The sound of tiny growling giggles and paws scampering away as Cloudborne approached the King, small shadows, giggles, and whispers plotting and watching, and, once, a mysterious pile of feathers that seemed to have been roughly and unceremonious removed from where they'd been shoved wildly into a scruffy, Ferus mane...
Stars, huh? thought the male to himself, smiling softly as Snow moved into a new bit about late night cuddle piles and stories about murder and demonic rituals. Maybe, sometimes, even an aurora and full moon.
The Blue Rabbit 🐇
Echo G1 (#239709)
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Chapter 7: Sunlit Heart
The lioness draped in the pelt of a golden tigress had no name, and so Cloudborne began to call her Sun, for the color of her fur, and the bright heat of her temper. Her blue friends had exchanged some sort of mysterious, feminine look when he gave her the name that spoke of some secret contract he had unknowingly signed in the act, and shared a second, even more confusing exchange when Sun accepted the nickname.
Within a few days of becoming Sun, she began to have Cloud and the girls accompany her home. Snowfall explained quietly that she had never allowed this before, either, which gave the young lion a bit more insight into the silent female communication that had gone on some days before. Still not sure why a name was such a big deal, Cloudborne did his best to not think about the nuances he had missed, or what sort of consequences he may have initiated for himself.
His first day in Sun's pride resolved the young lion to work to earn enough to save Sun. He had no idea how to go about the courting process in the Valley, however, and also didn't feel much like discussing prices with a King that made his stomach turn. But as the weeks went on, Cloud learned more and more, both about the culture of the Valley, and what sort of hidden contract he had signed.
Sun's pride did not name their daughters and sons, and they did not name those who were temporary or destined for the kill pile. A name was an initiation rite: validation of membership, and acceptance. A promise of permanence in the pride - or at least as much permanence as one might have in such a kingdom.
Her father knew Sun had been given a name, and that she had also accepted it. Though the elder King was not immediately impressed with the simple, small male, he watched him with his golden daughter. He watched him interact with his Queens, and with his serfs. He took note of the small gifts and numerous carcasses that the young male began to bring with him, and how those gifts always seemed to be for those who needed them the most.
It was enough to make a dark King sick. But Sun seemed fond of him, despite his generous heart, and so the King allowed Cloudborne to come and go with his skulking but beautiful daughter, observing quietly as her suitor gained strength and stature in the Valley.
One evening, not long before dark, as usual, the four young ones arrived at the edge of his territory, nestled in the foothills of Earth Peak. The Deathlord watched them arrive, stepping down from his rocky observation post and barking an order at one of his nearby lionesses that the young male was to come to him immediately.
The wicked Lady approached the quartet with her hips swaying and eyes narrowed, annoyed that she was doing something so tedious as gathering up children for the King. Sun narrowed her eyes suspiciously at the female as she approached, glancing quickly at Cloud with barely perceivable nerves as the dark-coated woman grumpily demanded that both Sun and Cloud follow her.
"Not you," commanded the dark Queen, glaring at the blue lionesses as they moved to come along, "you're not needed for this."
Leaving their anxious companions behind, the golden lioness and her cloudy suitor followed the dark mother to the King's place at the center of the pride. Cloudborne felt his heart thud loudly in his chest, but he did his best to look composed and unafraid as they entered the small clearing, ringed with bones and flesh. The large Ferus male was lounging in the center of the clearing on a pile of furs, a variety of well-kept lionesses lounging not far behind him. The dark woman shared a nefarious grin as she slipped back by the young pair on her way to rejoin the other ladies, her tail brushing annoyingly under Cloud's chin, and dark, wicked chuckle escaping her.
His eyes met Sun's, strangely alive with emotion that was not normally present in her, and he swallowed his fear down.
"You wanted to speak with us?" began Cloud.
"Yes, and I would like to hope my daughter is not foolish enough to have accepted a fool," the King's dark voice rumbled across the space between them, drawing goosebumps down the creamy lion's spine, "you know why, don't you boy?"
Cloud's brows furrowed, his mind numbed by nerves, the gears moving much more slowly than he would like them to. Sun, as was common in the past few weeks, saved him from himself.
"He has already provided boons in my honor, that should suffice," coldly answered the golden lioness, "I was not to be named, anyway. I have no value to you. No more than my mother did."
"He brought boons so I wouldn't kill him, because he's not stupid," barked the Ferus, his massive teeth glinting and eyes flashing a dark warning, ""and if you're not stupid, too, Sun, you will shut your mouth."
A chorus of growls born from the Deathlord and his Ladies trembled into silence, and though Sun narrowed her eyes and tensed her entire being, she allowed the silence to continue.
"All that is here holds value to me," continued the King with a satisfied smirk, "I do away with what does not. And while I appreciate your... boons, no one pays for gifts, especially those given to fodder."
Cloudborne's forced neutral expression became an aggressive frown, and his tail curled behind him ever so slightly. The dark King's smirk became exceptionally wicked, a dare for the young male to actually try and attack him or display obvious aggression sparkling in his gaze.
"What would be equitable, then?" curtly asked Cloud.
"Beetles, of course," warmly answered the Ferus, seeming truly friendly for the first time in Cloud's memory at the mention of money, "her mother who she thinks is so valueless to me possessed certain charms, which Sun here was fortunate enough to be blessed with, as well. Such a fine female must be fairly compensated for. Her cubs could benefit my pride greatly."
The smell of the pile of cubs nearby met Cloud's nose. He felt his stomach flip, and his heart clench in anger. Sun's tail wrapped around his hind legs momentarily, easing the turmoil rolling through him.
"I will come tomorrow with what I believe is fair," the young lion answered, envisioning shoving the silver beetles into the elder lion's mouth until he choked, "but she will come with me tonight."
"Then you will leave what you have, now," glowered the King, many of his women's low growls filling the air behind him.
"Fine," quickly and proudly answered Cloudborne, a snarl revealing his white teeth as he reached for his silver pouch, hanging in the well groomed mass of his mane, and chucked it at the paws of the wicked Ferus, "that's a little over half. We'll be back tomorrow."
As he chucked them at the elder male, he hoped that whatever he spent the beetles on killed him or caused him misery. Dwelling on just what terrible things those might be fueled him as he turned his back on the lounging, evil King and left without another word, Sun quietly following behind him several paces with disbelief shining in her pretty blue eyes.
She was free.
She was leaving hell, and going home.
Edited on 10/01/22 @ 12:57:38 by The Blue Rabbit 🐇 Echo G1 (#239709)