The Shifting World Part 4
Patch shivered in the early dawn shadows. He was creeping from rock to rock, ducking every time he heard the scrape of scales on stone. The air was dusty, and the soil was gritty beneath his paw pads. His heart thundered in his ears and his tail quivered. He huddled with his back pressed against a sandy colored boulder twice his size. He struggled to keep his breaths quiet as he listened to Bringer hauling his coils onto the rock.
What am I doing here? Patch thought to himself not for the first time. He was a nine-moon-old meer and he planned on killing the most fearsome Firstblood in the desert. The realization was ludicrous, and it almost made him laugh. Almost.
Some days ago, Patch had been roused from sleep by his litterbrother preparing to leave with Galaxy and Nova for a ‘secret mission’. Patch wasn’t stupid, he had assumed that the mission had to do with Bringer. So, he had snuck out after Dapple and followed them. He eavesdropped with great care, only slipping when Galaxy had almost caught him, on what Listener had to say. And as soon as the fox told the leader of First Family how to kill the traitorous snake Patch had felt a spike in his gut.
This is it, he had thought, this is my chance to avenge Comet.
Comet, Star’s daughter and Bringer’s first victim, had been Patch’s guardian before she died. She couldn’t have pups, so she treated her understudies like family. Patch considered her kin and could not allow her murderer to get away with it. So, that morning before dawn Patch had set out to the spot Listener spoke of. The rocky slope near Leopard Ridge where Bringer liked to sun himself. Today was the day that he got justice for Comet and Star.
As Bringer shifted into a comfortable position above him, Patch’s fur bristled. All the confidence that he had built leading up to this moment waned. Did he really have what it takes to kill a Firstblood? Even one as evil as Bringer?
He was going to find out.
Patch waited until Death Bringer had been silent for many heartbeats before he dared to lift his head. He rose like a sapling unfurling in the sun onto his back legs and using his tail to keep him steady peeked over the edge of the rock. There, lying flat along the light baked surface, was the long body of the snake. He was at least twice Patch’s length, and his ebony scales shined as if stars were caught on their hinges. Not a whisker of movement discharged from the reptilian form. The cobra’s head was twisted and facing away from Patch. His tail was the closest to him. Patch ducked back down and sucked in a clammy breath. This was it. Now or never. He would kill the betrayer, the one who broke the oath, the one who killed Comet in cold blood. He would kill the bringer of death, or he would die trying. Either way, it would end today.
Patch’s thoughts cleared and his trembling ceased. He glanced at the edge of the rock smothered in shadows and listened. Silence. He gathered his haunches beneath him and leapt.
Patch’s one paw landed on Bringer’s tail and as soon as the cobra felt the pressure he whipped around. But Patch had caught the basking snake by surprise and before Bringer could bite him, he slammed his other paw half a tail span below his head. The snake’s neck was yanked back as his reach was shortened. Bringer let out a frustrated hiss and wiggled his strong coils. Patch’s claws scratched the rock as he fought to keep his hold on the snake. Bringer swung his head towards Patch’s muzzle, trying to get a lock on his target so that he would know where to aim his next strike. He remained calculating even in the heat of a surprise attack.
Listener’s warning rang in his ears, like the urgent alarm call of a family member. Do not let him see you. Before Bringer could meet his gaze, Patch lunged forward. He lifted his paws from Bringer’s body and used all his momentum to latch onto the snake’s neck, just below his hood. He locked his jaws, biting as hard as he could. He thrashed his head from side to side. A haze of red descended before his eyes until he was blind to everything but his fury.
He waited until his tongue was washed with blood and the snake’s body only stirred with the slight twinges of death. Patch suddenly realized what he had done and dropped the cobra. He stepped back from Bringer’s body, his cedar eyes wide and shocked. Dark, viscous blood seeped from the jagged punctures that his teeth had made. Bringer’s beady, black eyes were cold and lifeless. Patch could see the pink flesh beneath his thin layer of scales and the sight made him lean over the rock and retch. When he couldn’t stand the view of it anymore, he jumped down and started the trudge home.
A deep swash of shame stung his pelt. As he walked alone, in the rising heat, he vowed never to tell anyone of his deed. Not even his litterbrother, Dapple, could know. He didn’t regret the deed itself. No, Bringer had to be stopped. But the rage that had overtaken him so easily. He never wanted to take a life like that again. It hadn’t made him feel triumphant, like he had thought it would. Instead, all he felt was sadness. Nothing would ever bring Comet back, not even justice.
It was in that way that the evilest creature that the desert had ever witnessed was brought low by the fruit of his actions. But death can mean many things… Was Bringer really gone?
At least, as a scar marring Patch’s memory, he would live on.