The Collapse

The Creation Serial Part 4

Greatwing’s feathers were downy against the starlight as he extended his talons and released his hold on Star. The brindle-striped meerkat landed on all fours; his usual tawny luster shaded by the night. The full moon hung over the island like a curious eye watching them. The clearing was bathed in silvery light. Lounging about were Star’s five closest friends. Claw’s lithe body was languid and relaxed in the lush grass, her stripes rippling tongues of darkness as her tail twitched. Listener was pure shadow as he trod over to greet Star, his huge, bat-like, ears on constant swivel. Bringer was a mound of coils near the Starfire pit, while the goshawk Storm peered down at them from her perch in a tree lining the clearing. Greatwing alighted beside her, his brawn dwarfing her dove hued, limbered wings.

            Listener lowered his snout and nudged Star’s shoulder. “My friend, how have you been? Is all well amongst the meer family?” Rumbled the black fox.

            “All is fine in The Gang.” Star answered with a glance towards Bringer, wondering how the cobra would react since he’d been so upset last time, they’d encountered each other. The cobra just dipped his head and flicked his tongue. His black eyes glinted with pleasure and Star relaxed. Bringer wasn’t holding a grudge. After rubbing against Listener, he trotted over to touch noses with the reptile.

            Star wasn’t there for long, mingling amongst his companions when a blasting wind sprung up, seemingly out of nowhere. It almost yanked Storm from her perch and the rainbird had to dig her talons into the bark, flaying the wood into chips. “What in the skies-” She uttered in bewilderment.

            Then the crater blazed with Starfire so bright that the six survivors had to squint their eyes. Bringer crept forward, jaws slack with wonder. “We did not call upon you.” He told the flames in confusion.

            Star stalked neared, the flickering white flames casting eerily pale shadows. He paused at the edge of the pit, soil crumbling and hissing as it fell and met the fire. Listener, Claw, Greatwing, and Storm all leaned forward, faces awash in the unearthly light. Though all four had heard tales of the mystical Starfire from Star and Bringer none had ever seen it for themselves.

            “Starfire.” Star whispered to the embers. “What have you come to show us?”

            The fire roared even brighter. In it’s heart images grew. Star peered closer and recognized the home burrow of The Gang. It was predawn and all seemed peaceful, a heavy mist clung to the dunes and shrouded the sand, obscuring most of the entrances from view. Star frowned.

            When Greatwing came to get me, some fine mist was settling over the heavy dew. Could the Starfire be showing us what will happen in the morning?

            Five huge, hulking shapes materialized out of the white mist, ripping Star’s attention from his questions. As they stomped closer to the burrow, he could make out their long, supple trunks, thick charcoal hides, and great flapping ears. Their eyes were tiny pinpricks and their feet gargantuan boulders. “Giants.” Star murmured.

            “Giants?” Claw’s pointed ear twitched. “I thought they were elephants?”

            “Meer call elephants giants.” Listener panted in her ear.

            “Ah.” Claw’s whiskers juddered. “That makes sense.”

            Star silenced them by lifting his tail, keeping it straight and rigid in the air, his gaze locked on the giants. He saw the sand tremble as they lurched into the burrow area. Anticipating their strides, he growled. “No.” He wished he could sheild his eyes, but they remained stubbornly open.

            The first giant stepped onto the mound of sand above the main burrow entrance. The ground shuddered but held. The same happened as the second and third followed, but as the fourth joined its companions the burrow system trembled. Loose sand poured into the main entrance hole and then the soil opened. Clouds of dust rose to mingle with the damp mist.

            When the giants passed, and the sand stilled the burrow was gone. The tunnels had collapsed, caving in on the meer sleeping inside them. Nothing moved. The burrow area was a husk, a deep impression shrouded in white.

            As soon as Star saw the wreckage the Starfire winked out, leaving the six friends in a blanket of shadows. They all exchanged glances, expressions grave.

            In the morning, The Gang would be destroyed, unless Star did something about it.

            He looked up at Greatwing who was already lifting off the branch. “Take me home.”

*****

Barely traceable predawn light was only just visible through the bank of mist as Greatwing released his hold on Star above the mound of sand shadowing the main burrow entrance. Star shook out his fur as Greatwing hovered, dampness already clinging to him. “Thank you.” Star told his friend.

            Greatwing bowed his mighty head, feathery ear tufts flicking, and clicked his beak. “Of course. Should I stay to help?”

            Star shook his head. “No. They’ll never trust me with you hanging about. Gather with the others. I’ll find you if I need you. You have your own brood to care for.”

            The eagle owl’s wingbeats stirred the sand as he rose higher. “Fine winds, small friend.” His orange eyes glowed. “Be safe.” Then he ascended into the mist and out of sight.

            Star took a deep breath and stared into the maw of the tunnel, shivering as moisture seeped through his coarse fur. Rallying his courage, he plunged inside.

            His whiskers brushed the wall of the tunnel as he wound through the passages, deeper and deeper. He could see nothing, he made his way towards the bottom-most sleep chambers by touch, scent, and hearing alone. The steeper the descent grew the warmer and staler that the air became, a contrast to his misted fur. His pelt prickled in anticipation of what he was about to do. Finally, he reached the biggest of the sleep chambers. He tipped back his head and yelled.

            “Everybody up! The burrow is unsafe!” A steady rhythm of alarm calls warbled from his throat. Sharp pings of rr-up, rr-up, rr-up, echoing through the maze of tunnels. He kept it up until he felt the stirring of the first sleepy and alarmed meer. Then he rushed up the passage, continuing his cacophony.

            After running through every tunnel Star emerged again into the mist, this time from a different hole than he’d entered. A crush of meer whom he didn’t know were on his tail and he sidestepped to allow them to pass. The Gang muddled about in a loose cluster above ground. They cast looks into the mist, as if wondering what to do with themselves. By now the light was a bit stronger, but not strong enough to allow for sunning themselves. A few gave half-hearted attempts to tidy the burrow entrances, but they stopped after shifting only a few pawfuls of sand. Star spotted Ripple and Wing huddled together and pushed through the throng to join them.

            “Star!” Wing spotted him first and stood to rub her cheek to his. “What’s going on? Was it you who sounded the alarm?”

            “Yes.” He panted as he touched noses with Ripple. “I know it’s going to sound insane but there are giants heading our way and they’re going to-”

            “They are going to do what?” Drawled a low voice as a big tawny shape shouldered his way to Star. It was Gnash, with Thorn right behind him. The leader of The Gang sat back on his haunches, his forepaws resting on his stomach. “Giants pose no threat to meer, we’re too small for the behemoths to bother with.”

            Uneasy chuckles rippled through the gathered meer, all eyes now on Star and Gnash. Star’s ruff bushed. “Listen.” He shouted to be heard. “I know how its sounds, but I’ve seen a vision of the future, if we don’t leave now then our home will be crushed by giants.”

            “Our home?” Gnash laughed. “Crushed by giants? Visions of the future? I knew you were crazy the moment I met you. I never should have let you join The Gang.”

            Star raised a paw and bared his teeth. “I’m serious.” He said with a fearful glance into the mist. “We’re all in grave danger. We must leave this place at once!”

            Gnash jumped to his paws, his fur spiking and scarred snout wrinkling. “It’s a leaders job to decide where The Gang goes and when we leave!” He hissed, his rank breath rolling over Star’s muzzle. “Are you challenging me, Star?”

            Star’s tail dipped between his legs and he cringed. Gnash was a good deal bigger than him. At his flanks Wing and Ripple began to back away. Star swallowed, he was much more afraid of what was to come than anything Gnash could do to him. He lifted his chin. “No.” Star said. “But I am telling the truth. We will die if we stay. Anyone who agrees should go with me.”

            Gnash peeled back his lips and charged at Star. Star didn’t have time to react as Gnash rammed into his shoulder, tossing him onto his side. The leader of The Gang snarled over him. “I should have killed you when I first saw you, runt.” He snapped his jaws and Star squeezed his eyes shut, sure that this would be his, and The Gang’s, end.

            Suddenly, Gnash’s weigh was hauled off him. Star blinked and scrambled to his paws. Thorn had his jaws hooked in Gnash’s scruff. Gnash growled. “Get off of me, you traitor!”

            The bulky Thorn gave Gnash a shake and then dropped him. Gnash crouched panting while Thorn moved to Star’s side. “I belive Star.” Thorn declared.

            Star regarded Gnash’s most trusted guard with shock. “You do?”

            “Of course.” Thorn said with a sweep of his tail.  “I got to know you those days I had to watch you, Star. You wouldn’t lie.”

            Happiness warmed Star’s pelt, he hadn’t realized that Thorn cared enough to pay such close attention. Wing and Ripple moved as one to claim his other side. “I believe Star too.” Wing announced.

            “And I as well.” Ripple scowled at Gnash.
            “Fine!” Gnash hissed through a wheeze as he rose. “Go with him then, you betrayers! You certainly aren’t welcome here anymore-” His tirade was interrupted when the sand trembled. In his paw pads, Star could feel the undulating vibrations through the ground. He squinted into the mist. The faintest outline of dark shapes was visible.

            “Giants!” Someone screeched and dove back inside the burrow on instinct to escape the threat. More followed, pouring into the tunnels, including Gnash.

            “No, wait!” Star shrieked, tone high and panicked. “Come back! You’ll be buried alive!”

            ‘Star.” Wing nosed his shoulder. “We must go now or share their fate.” Her gaze was round with fear.

            Star sighed and turned, bowing his head in resignation. “Alright.” He nodded to the small group of twelve meer surrounding him. “Let’s go.”

            As the earth quaked, he, Wing, Ripple, Thorn, and the rest left The Gang for good.

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