Some time later…
The ground beneath Dahj’s limp body shook violently. Small crags split through the dry, yellow rock, sprawling from the lifeless Guardian. Small ripples scattered throughout the pool of blood that silhouetted him, bouncing and splashing in response to the geographical reverberation as if trying to leap from the dry, dusty soil to the sky above. Dahj’s corpse had been abandoned by friend and foe. The only thing that accompanied him now, atop the treacherous ridgeline, beneath the expansive, deep blue sky, was the sopping-wet bear pelt that had once provided warmth and comfort.
Festelda broke away from Brenloru and Reblex, whom had both been immediately pursued by the blood-thirsty queen of predators. The raccoon’s tiny heart raced in her chest while planting her left heel into the ground before taking a hard-right turn. Dust of chalky soil was kicked up, momentarily shrouding her frame as she turned to see a less-than-fit moose flee on awkward legs from two long fangs that would easily pierce his thin hide, just as they had Dahj’s.
If Maurlynn had called on any further assistance to aide her pursuit, all three remaining Guardians would have been easily chased down to become a lite summer snack. Luckily, it had been her, and her alone to pounce on the investigating herbivores. The pack of predators spotted approaching the lake would not be able to assist any time soon.
Instinct told the group of Guardians to split up. Wordlessly, they communicated their evasive maneuvers in an instant. Brenloru had turned to his right, quickly running towards the precarious pathway that descended from the feral cave – recently confirmed to be Maurlynn’s lair. Reblex shot left, alternating power between each of his legs to take heavy strides across the rocky terrain before leaping onto the rocks that would quickly grant him higher ground. As if magnetized, Festelda had scurried towards a pine tree, covered in bark that provided a generous amount of grip to cling to.
Don’t get cornered… Don’t get cornered. Break vision. Get to higher ground. Cover your scent. Her own teachings rang through her head at a deafening volume as she intentionally kicked up dust, zig-zagged through tall grass, and weaved around the first two trees she reached to eliminate predictability. The moment her thin claws punctured fragrant bark, she desperately pulled upwards to scale the tree as quickly as possible.
Brenloru let out a painful howl about thirty yards away. More out of fright than injury, Maurlynn’s claw had caught the back of his leg just as he took a daring leap from a raised boulder that crested the pathway leading to her cave’s threshold. The ground continued to rumble. Maurlynn was lucky to connect even a single claw, as her reckless pursuit had cost her dearly. The boulder Brenloru had leapt from popped upwards, disturbed from the increasingly agitated earth. Seemingly becoming much lighter in an instant, the boulder caught Maurlynn in the bottom of her chin.
Severely disoriented, she fell to her side. Blood trickled from her mouth, caused by the self-inflicted injury of biting her own tongue in the upper-cut of stone to her lower jaw. She shook her masked head and used the back of her heavy paw to wipe the blood from the corner of her mouth. The ground continued to shake as she whipped around to relocate her easiest target – the injured moose.
Festelda locked eyes on Dahj’s corpse. Please get up. Please get up, she thought, though Dahj’s blatant prognosis urged her to leave. The pool of blood seeping from his wounds had only grown larger around his body. Two gaping punctures had easily drained even a beast of his size in seconds. Festelda knew Dahj’s tale had ended – it was what he carried with him that she was now concerned about. She kept an unwavering stare on his corpse from her shrouded vantage point as the feline monstrosity in her peripheral vision began to sniff the air. Still quite dazed, Maurlynn was attempting to catch a whiff of her prey to resume her pursuit.
Reblex hadn’t been spotted since the initial commotion. Festelda trusted that if it came to scaling a cliff face, he would be literal leaps-and-bounds ahead of the titan-like carnivore, and likely be long gone by now. The tree Festelda had retreated to swayed greatly in the wind-less air. Tightening her grip around the frail branch she had perched upon, she desperately hoped that the earth’s quake would subside before the shifting land claimed her tree. Unfortunately, the swaying of the tree had yet to grant her any suitable angles that would provide vision of Reblex’s curved horns or red markings.
Instead, Festelda turned back to Maurlynn, who had seemingly hesitated. Had she caught Brenloru’s scent – now easily identifiable by a trail of blood he had left on the air during his escape? The cat was clearly struggling. The impact from a boulder of that size had justifiably stripped her of her confidence in the surrounding terrain. Digressing from her hot pursuit, she now assumed a prowl-like advance. Staying as close to the ground as possible, her ears twitched and her head whipped back and forth as she nervously analyzed the next move of the land itself. After only four steps forward, it shifted again.
Festelda could feel Maurlynn’s fear as the hill face closest to her left shoulder crumbled and popped on command. With a cone-shaped spray, it burst. A loud explosion of grinding stone and shattering rubble pummeled the cat’s side, throwing her down once again. The crest of the pathway where Dahj’s corpse had been left reacted in a complying manner. Thin gaps in the earth beneath the bison’s body grew wider, and reached further like stone tendrils hastily seeking moisture.