Fear The Dawn: Chapter 20

Banshee didn't wake up right away, even after they were back on board the ship. He couldn't just leave her lifeless body lying on the deck, so he brought her back down to the room where he found her before and laid her down on the couch. He put his paw on her neck and could feel that she was still breathing faintly, but she showed no signs of waking, she hadn't so much as stirred since they returned.
Now do you see?”, the dark-furred one said, “I was right all along. The strangers are nothing but ruthless killers, and the sooner we're rid of them, the better.”
She didn't respond, of course, she just laid there, lifeless and broken. Looking at her made him mad, so he left the room and returned to the deck.

There was a strong wind tonight, and it was quite cold on the deck. It was also very dark, thick clouds blotted out the sky, leaving only faint specks of light that appeared for a moment and were gone. Between the wind and the clouds, it almost felt like the darkness was wrapping around the ship, isolating them from the world beyond. “That suits me fine”, he thought, “there's nothing good out there anyway.”
The sail was fluttering too violently for him to climb up to his usual perch, so he simply stared out over the railing toward the ocean. With the stars hidden away it too was almost pitch black, if it wasn't for the little ripples made by the wind it would have been impossible to tell where the sky ended and the water began.

He glanced back towards the hatch leading below deck. It remained undisturbed, Banshee was probably still down there, what was left of her, anyway. It was really her own fault for drawing attention to herself and not being aware of her surroundings, she had no idea how easy of a target she was for any stranger with the slightest degree of sense. And she had been whining about Line of all things. If something had happened to him, it was his own fault for being a moron. She seemed totally convinced that he was gone, though, what was it she had said?
I can't hear, but when I put my tail in the water and close my eyes... I can feel the other ships in the sea.”
He was highly sceptical that could be possible, but he couldn't help but feel a bit curious. He looked down at the waves crashing into the side of the ship, and before he was fully conscious of it he was climbing down the ladder. At the bottom, he looked over his shoulder to check the water level and plunged the tip of his tail into the water. The water was frigidly cold and it sent a shiver all the way up his spine, as though he had been struck hard in the back. He quickly pulled his tail back out and held it in his paw, the fur sagged pathetically as the water dripped into the ocean below.
He snorted derisively at himself. “If Banshee is strong enough to do this, then obviously I can too”.
He gingerly dipped his tail back in the water, slow enough that the cold water didn't overwhelm him. After a few moments he was able to dip it most of the way in, which he judged was far enough, and he closed his eyes...
Nothing. His tail was rapidly going numb, but that was it. “I knew this was stupid”, he said, “There's no way this could work. Banshee was probably just pulling my leg. She's never been anything but a nuisance.”
He was going to climb back up, but something kept him down there. He closed his eyes and tried to empty his mind of all other thoughts. “Work, damn you”, he said under his breath, relaxing his muscles so he could barely feel his tail or his paws on the ladder anymore. Gradually the sensation of his body slipped away, until there was only the darkness and the wind all around him

Slowly the sound of the wind rustling through the trees drifted to his ears. He could faintly detect the smell of wet grass, and he felt something soft beneath his paws. Trees, bushes, and grass came together out of the darkness, and he could see his paws in front of him. He stomped about with his front paws in the damp grass, enjoying the funny squishing sound it made, then something nearly knocked him over. He turned to face the thing that had pushed him, and saw the face of a large black panther, much bigger than he was. It looked at him with large blue eyes, wordlessly telling him to be quiet. It cast its head upwards to the sky, and began to walk quietly along the grass. He followed, forced to run a bit to keep up with the bigger creature's longer legs, and making a fair bit more noise while doing so.

The big panther stopped suddenly, and he crashed into its hind feet. It stopped, sniffing the air, then got down low to the ground. He looked up towards the treetops, and he saw grey smoke rising into the sky. Then he heard the hushed voices of strangers, talking among themselves, but he couldn't make out what they were saying. Getting down on his belly, he crept forward for a closer look. The big panther made a kind of deep croaking noise, but didn't move. He continued to slink towards the source of the smoke, until finally he laid eyes on the giant crackling flame. Something about it was just so mesmerizing, perhaps it was the way the bright orange petals danced in the night and licked at the sky, or the way it lit up the grove in a pale orange glow, but he couldn't tear himself away. There was another pained grunt from the other panther, who was quite some distance behind him now.
What was that?”, he heard one of the strangers say. Suddenly there were moving footsteps nearby, and he quickly dove inside a nearby bush. The branches scratched and pulled at his fur, but at least he was out of sight. He tried to fight his way through the bush to get a better look, but the footing was bad and the branches kept getting in the way.
It came from over there!” another stranger said, though he couldn't see him clearly from where he was. Out of the corner of his eye he saw the large panther start to run.
There it is!”, said one of the strangers, “I see it! It's a big one!”
The big panther dove for cover behind a bush, but there was a deafening blast, and the great beast fell.
Got him!”, one of the strangers cried out. The dark-furred one abandoned his hiding spot and darted towards the fallen creature. It was slumped over on its stomach, dark blood pouring out of a gaping hole in its side and forming a little pool below. It made a weak moan and gave him a sad look, its blue eyes glazing over.
The strangers did this”, he thought, uncontrollable anger building up inside his tiny body. He looked back towards the fire, and he spotted their feet near the bushes off to the right. “I'll kill them all.” He arched his back and started to creep towards them.
I think there's another one!”, one of them said, lifting his gun into position again. “A little one! Make sure you get that one, too!”
He felt something dig into his back. The big panther grabbed him with its teeth and tossed him aside as another shot rang out and tore through its shoulder, spraying blood over the grass. It made a weak, coughing noise and pleaded with him with its bloodshot eyes.
It was right. There was no way. They were too many, and too strong. The only thing he could do was escape. He ran as fast as his little legs would carry him, darting and swerving as shots rang out through the night, back to the safety of the ship.
I won't forget”, he promised himself. “Someday I'll make them pay.”

The forest faded back into nothingness, and all was still again. “I remember”, he thought, opening his eyes. “That was a long time ago.”
The wind had died down. He turned to look up at the sky, and he saw her standing there, looking out over the railing. She must have woken up while he was out of it.
I suppose you probably think this is pretty hilarious”, he said, looking up at her. “All right, you got me with your silly trick, I'm getting out now.”
He reached up for the next rung, but he found that his arms had grown very stiff after holding on for such a long time. He squeezed his forearm and flexed his shoulder, trying to loosen up his muscles.
She turned her head to look at him, silently observing but revealing nothing. He felt ridiculous, but he couldn't help but feel a little relieved that she had gotten up again. It seemed he wouldn't be rid of her quite that easily after all.
Behind him, a single drop of rain landed in the water, and something pulsed through the ocean, almost causing him to lose his balance. He grabbed onto the ladder to steady himself, then he saw her topple forward over the edge. She landed face first in the water below with a splash.
What are you doing?!”, he demanded, twisting his body to face her. He expected her to splash about and struggle, but she didn't even move, her body quickly sank below the water's surface and started to disappear from view. He noticed out of the corner of his eye that the sun was starting to come up.
Don't tell me you expect me to come get you? Is this another stupid joke?!”
But there was no reply. She just kept sinking into the water.
All right!”, he shouted angrily, diving into the water. He dove beneath the surface, reaching for her, but his arms were still terribly stiff, and he couldn't swim very fast. The water was getting lighter all the time as the sun rose higher in the sky, and he was also quickly running out of air. He reached out to grab her leg, but it was too late, he felt himself being pulled away as the water turned white before his eyes.

He coughed and sputtered, taking in the deepest breath of fresh air he could. He was sprawled out all fours on what felt like grass, and was immensely relived to be on solid ground again. He tried to open his eyes, but they were full of water and his vision was blurred. He reached out feebly with his tired paws, but he couldn't bring himself to stand, so he just flopped down where he was and waited until he caught his breath. Gradually his vision returned, and he found himself lying in a clearing in the woods, surrounded by broken branches and moss-covered rocks.
Banshee...”, he thought, “where is she?”
He scrambled to his feet and looked around for her, but he was alone in the little grove.
I'm back here again”, he thought, stretching his giant black paws in front of him. “It's time to finish this.”

He crept slowly through the darkened forest, sniffing at every tree and bush, but there was no sign of anyone about but himself. He looked up to the sky, expecting to see smoke, but the sky was clear, and entirely devoid of stars. “They must be hiding from me. They know I'm coming. Or perhaps it's a trap.”
He continued to quietly pace along the ground, passing unseen through the night.

Finally, he came upon something that looked suspicious, a clearing that had a lot of broken sticks in it. Someone had been here. He hid behind a bush, watching carefully, but the coast seemed to be clear. He slunk towards the middle of the clearing, sniffing the ground, and realized to his immense annoyance that this was the same clearing that he had started from.
This is ridiculous”, he thought to himself. “I don't have all this time to waste searching blindly”.
He lifted his right paw, then stepped back down into the grass, then did the same with his left paw. Squish squish squish. Still the grove remained silent. He laid down on his stomach and and let out a low growl. There was no response from anyone. He stood up and raised his head to the sky and roared as loud as he could. The sound echoed through the trees, but that was all.
I don't get it”, he thought. “Why am I here?”
There was no more time to think about it. He was wasting time here, and Banshee was probably in trouble, he just had to get back to the ship. He started walking quickly away from the grove, going neither the way he had gone at first, nor the way he had returned. “One of these paths must lead back to my ship”.
Still the forest seemed uninhabited. He broke into a run, blazing through the trees and leaping over bushes as the forest rushed by alongside him. Suddenly his foot caught on something and he was falling, face first into the soft ground below. He slid along the wet ground for a short distance before skidding to a stop in an undignified heap. He picked himself up and looked back at the object he had tripped over, it was a bunch of sticks arranged in a pile. His heart started racing. That was not natural, someone had set them that way.
He went back to hiding among the trees, listening carefully. Eventually, he heard a faint rumbling sound. The hunter carefully picked his way through the foliage, where he spotted a small tent. The flap was open, and a couple of strangers were lying down inside. He crept up upon them carefully, but they were not keeping any watch, they were just sprawled out on a black mat, making a low rumbling noise but otherwise appearing inert. He drew closer, poking his head inside the tent flap, and still they remained oblivious to his presence. Could it really be this easy?
His paw brushed against the ground covering below. It was smooth and coarse, and had a familiar scent. It was fur, black as the night itself, just like his own. He barred his teeth menacingly, overcome by rage. They were right here in front of him, the strangers who killed the other panther. He leaned in, his jaws around the first man's neck, ready to take revenge.
I'm sorry”, a small voice said. He toppled onto his backside, looking about for whomever might have spoken. His eyes went wide as he spied the source – It was not one of the strangers seeking to apologize, a head had appeared on the panther rug, and it was speaking to him.
I'm sorry”, it said again, and then it faded away, leaving only a black rug in a tent full of sleeping strangers. No one would get in his way now.

Yet somehow, his appetite for revenge had faded. They were lying right there, helpless, but he just wasn't interested in killing them anymore. He had to get back, he had been away too long. He ducked out of the tent flap, and broke into a run again, heading back towards his ship as fast as he could.

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