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TGF Ch.1: Unlock

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Chapter I: Unlock

“Great occasions do not make heroes or cowards; they simply unveil them to the eyes. Silently and imperceptibly, as we wake or sleep, we grow strong or we grow weak, and at last some crisis shows us what we have become.”
- Brooke Foss Westcott

“Just one more, please!”
Vladimir simply shook his head. “That is all for tonight. I must rest now. You young ones have quite an appetite for the tales of old, but I am too old of a stag to tell so many tales at once. I must rest my voice.”
Zephyr could understand this in full, of course. When Vladimir told a story, he did not merely say it, he spoke with feeling. When a monster roared in the story, he would make the loudest roar he could muster. When the hero made his victory cry after felling the foul dragon in one mighty swing, he would speak it just as loud and triumphantly as the hero would have made it sound. For one so old, that must have been taxing.
“Please, one more is all we’re asking,” another child begged.
Vladimir chuckled. “That’s what you said before I started the last story.”
The children slowly started walking away disappointed that they would have to wait another day to hear more stories. All the children, that is, except Zephyr.
“What is it, young rabbit?” Vladimir asked.
“Well… I was wondering if all of this is really true. I want to know,” Zephyr said, a bit hesitantly. Truth be told, he wasn’t entirely sure that he wanted to know. It might ruin the magic.
“That is the mystery of it all. These are legends of old, passed down through many generations. Nobody knows anymore whether they are true or if they are merely tales,” Vladimir explained, “As for me, I believe every single one of them.”
“Alright, thanks,” Zephyr said. With that, he left the small clearing, leaving Vladimir alone to rest on the large stump in the center of the clearing. That stump was special to Vladimir. He was born there, played there often as a child, and most wonderfully of all, it was where he met the love of his life, Minu.

“Hold still. This’ll sting a bit,” Semele said, applying the herbal mixture to the skunk’s leg. Jack winced a bit. That certainly did sting!
“What happened? This is a pretty bad scratch,” Semele asked.
Jack tried his best to push the sting to the back of his mind. “I was playing adventurers with Cal. We found a couple sticks and started playing with them like swords. We didn’t realize that the sticks were sharper than they looked so when Cal hit my leg, it made a really bad scratch, even though we weren’t doing it very hard.”
“Wow. It must have been pretty sharp to dig that deeply,” Semele said, placing a leaf bandage over the wound. “I think it’s best you avoid games like that for a bit. You don’t want to risk reopening the wound.”
“Alright,” Jack said, a bit disappointed. He loved playing adventurer more than anything else. He loved the tales Vladimir told of great adventurers, the great feats done by brave beings. He often dreamed about being a hero someday. But that would not be possible within the Great Forest, and he did not wish to leave.
The Great Forest was protected by an invisible barrier that blocked any carnivore from entering the forest. All that then remained were the peaceful herbivores, and thus there was very little to worry about. The barrier was not always there, but had been placed there a long time ago, longer than anyone else could remember, by Henry, the protector owl of the Great Forest.
Semele stood back up, her work finished for now. She looked back upon the memories of her father. It was he who had taught her how to heal, and not a day went by that she did not use it in one way or another. It seemed that everyone in the forest would call upon her when they needed first aid.
Of course, she was not the only one to receive a gift from her father. Her father had also given her brother, Zephyr, something. A strange crystal necklace. This necklace, he had told Zephyr, was an object of mysterious and wondrous power, or so the myths said. It would hopefully protect him if any danger came, though in the Great Forest, there was not much chance of anything trying to hurt him. Zephyr did not care much for power, but he still cherished the necklace so much that he never took it off, even in the water or at night.
And the strangest part was that she had some odd feeling that the necklace liked Zephyr just as well.
“Semele, I was looking for you. I had gotten a bit worried when I didn’t find you in our tree,” a familiar voice behind her said. She whirled around and saw Zephyr. “You kinda scared me, sneaking up like that,” she said.
“Sorry. We should probably head to our tree. It’s getting a bit late,” Zephyr said. Jack stood up and, ignoring the slight pain in his leg, starting walking toward his own tree.
“Yeah, I guess you’re right,” Semele said. She looked up at the sky, then back at Zephyr. Then, the two of them walked back toward their tree.

Henry looked out from his hole in the Great Tree, at the main clearing. The Great Tree stood in the middle of the clearing and was, to everyone’s opinion, the oldest, biggest, and strongest tree in the forest, probably due to Henry’s magical nature aura. The Great Tree stood for the wisdom of the forest and its protector.
All was peaceful, Henry could see. It always was, since he had put the barrier up. With his power, Henry could see, or rather feel, all of the Great Forest. And he could feel that all was so very quiet.

Jack wandered back to his tree, not willing to risk dashing to the tree as he normally would. That, he thought, might make it sting more than just slightly. His tree was nothing special in itself, but there was a straw welcome mat outside the entryway at the base of the tree (the straw, his parents said, was from a friend who had come in from outside the forest, though Jack knew not whom, nor did he really care) and a few leaf-shaped carvings in the tree. His father was excellent at carving.
His mother was right outside the tree, waiting to greet him. “Welcome home, Jack. What happened to your leg? Does it still hurt?” she asked. She did not ask if he was okay, because she knew that Semele would not have sent him home unless he was okay. She knew that it was Semele who tended him because Semele was the only one who knew how to make a bandage of leaves.
“It’s alright, mom,” Jack said.
“How did you get hurt? Did you trip?” his mother asked.
“No. Play sword-fighting,” Jack said, reluctant to say it in fear that she would tell him to do it no more.
“Oh. Well, come on inside. There’s some dinner waiting for you,” his mother said. He did not know whether his mother was truly going to forbid him from playing with pretend swords or if she was merely waiting until later to talk about it.

The dwelling of Semele and Zephyr was even less special than Jack’s. There was no real décor, just a large tree with a moderately sized opening. They had to bend over slightly to get in without their ears hitting the top of the tree. They laid down inside, each grabbing their blankets (these, too, were imported, and few people of the forest had any). Zephyr’s blanket was brown, the same color as his eyes, which matched well with the brown spots on either side of his otherwise white coat of fur. Semele’s blanket was striped blue and white, blue the same color as her eyes and white the same color as her fur.
“Hey Zephyr, I’ve been wondering something,” Semele said.
“Hm?”
“Well, what do you think would happen if Jack really did become an adventurer, really did venture out of the Great Forest?”
Zephyr thought for a moment. “I think he might make a good adventurer someday. After all, many people fear a skunk’s tail, so that’s a pretty big advantage.”
“Yeah, I guess you’re right. I just wonder sometimes what he would do if someone were really in danger. Would he really be brave enough to stand and fight?”
“I don’t know. True bravery reveals itself when the time comes.”
“Yeah, I guess. But fortunately, such a time will never come in the Great Forest.”
“Good night, Semele,” Zephyr said.
“Good night, Zephyr.”

And there was Leo. The Little Dipper, too. Aku wondered why he hadn’t tried this before. Simply lying on his back in the grassy plains, gazing up into the depths of the cloudless night sky. One never truly sees the beauty of the night sky until they take the time to observe it.
And look, Pisces. Aku smiled when he saw this one, partially because he was a Pisces himself, and partially because he just liked fish. He wondered for a moment why the stars had names, who had thought of the Zodiac. But this contemplation did not last long, for he did not really care who had come up with the idea. He was just thankful that they had.
And then, he heard the wind blowing the leaves in the bushes, a pleasant… Wait, how was it possible for the leaves to be shifting? The air was calm. Aku stood upright, his moment of silence lost to a wave of fear washing over him. Suddenly, he found himself wishing it were morning again. In the night, everything seemed bigger and scarier, and it was harder to see what lurked within the shadows. Then again, he wasn’t exactly sure he wanted to see what was in the shadows, but he would have to be brave for a moment, at least, and check what was in the bushes.
“H…hello? Is anyone there?” Aku asked shakily. No reply. Even the bushes had stopped moving. But he did not need to see the bushes move, for when he looked at them, he saw the glint of something slightly shiny. An eye.
There was something out there.
Nile knew immediately that he and the two snakes had been discovered. He wanted to glare at the brown snake for being so fidgety and getting them discovered, but that would have to wait until later. They had to catch this young hyena fast before it had a chance to run. He jumped out of the bushes and into Aku’s sight, the two snakes following suit.
It was the first time Aku had ever seen a creature so terrifying. It was unlike anything he had seen before. Its scales were purple, except for the yellow on the underside of his tail, his belly, leading up to his mouth, and the undersides of his hands and feet. His tail seemed to open up at the end, like some sort of mouth. Aku was not quite sure which mouth frightened him more… they both looked positively terrifying to him.
Aku felt his body freeze up. It was almost as if the eyes of these creatures were paralyzing him. He knew he had to run, but fear would not let him. He already knew what they wanted with him. Out in the plains, food can be scarce. These beings were hungry and he knew exactly how they intended to satisfy their appetite.
The green snake made a lunge for him. It was then, at the nick of time, that he found the ability to move. He leapt backward and the snake’s fangs snapped at the empty air no more than an inch away from him.
Aku didn’t want to leave them a chance to lunge at him again. He turned tail and quickly fled, fast as his legs would carry him. He only hoped that it would be fast enough.
Nile grabbed his own tail and aimed it at Aku. The mouth of the tail opened and out came some strange goo, which fell to the ground just short of Aku. Aku looked back at the strange goo, still running. What was that stuff? What would have happened if it had hit him? He did not really wish to know, but at least now he knew what the mouth on the tail was for… and he did not like the answer one bit.
“Curse it all,” Nile muttered, watching the hyena dash farther and farther into the distance at a speed that he himself could never hope to achieve.
“What are we going to do, boss?” the green snake asked.
“We’re going to follow him, of course. If we continue chasing the hyena, he will look for any available cover, and the nearest cover of any seeming worth is Ganida Forest. That forest is protected by a strong barrier that harms any carnivores that try to pass through it. Hitting it at the speed he’s running at, that hyena will be knocked out cold, or at least injured,” Nile strategized.
“And ours for the taking! A perfect plan!” the green snake comment.

Semele couldn’t sleep. There didn’t seem to be any specific reason. She just wasn’t tired. She crawled back out of the tree, then stood up and gazed up through a fair-sized hole in the leafy ceiling of the forest. But suddenly, the sky seemed to start shimmering, actively. The once dark sky seemed to turn to a shimmer that rivaled the brightness of the sun, through which the actual sky was almost unviewable. Semele did not know whether it was beautiful or terrifying.
“Zephyr! Zephyr, wake up! Quickly! Hurry!”
“Huh? What is it, Semele?” Zephyr yawned, barely awake. He looked outside and saw a glorious sight. What was this strange magic? Was it Henry’s doing, or was it some other force? Either way, it was very beautiful. He joined Semele outside the tree and gazed up at the shimmering sky.
“Beautiful, isn’t it?” Semele commented.
“Yeah…” Zephyr answered.
“You know, there are some times when life just seems so… ordinary. I mean, look at our father. Think of the dragons he and his party have slain, the villages they’ve saved. But some people don’t realize that there’s nothing ordinary about life, if you look at it right. There are the little things, like this, that make each day a new story,” Semele thought aloud. She looked away from the shimmering for a moment to give eye contact to Zephyr. “It does make you wonder, though. What could be behind this strange and mystical shimmer?
“I don’t know. But I think you’re right. It must be something truly magical. I wonder what it could mean,” Zephyr said.
“Let us not think on it for now. Let us just watch…” Semele said, turning her gaze back toward the shining sky.

“Nile, there seems to be some shimmering dome covering the forest!” the brown snake reported as he slithered in pursuit of Aku, followed shortly by Nile and the green snake.
“I know that already. I’m not blind,” Nile snapped. Inside, he was worried. What could this possibly mean? He had heard of the barrier as an invisible force, but this seemed quite visible to him. What was going on…?
To Aku, this strange shining light was a beacon of hope, a potential refuge for him. He did not really think about what it meant, in exact terms, but he hoped beyond hope that this light was some sort of mystical place that would let him remain alive and uneaten.
Aku looked back. Though he was gaining distance, he could still see the trio far off. He did not want to stop and rest, for every moment of rest might cost him the ultimate price. So terror kept him going, straight for this strange dome of shimmering hope.

“Lord, no…” Henry muttered, “This cannot be!”
But it was. This shimmering could only mean one thing. The barrier was dying. The forest would be vulnerable again when its light goes out. He would have to warn the others of the forest immediately… and pray to the forest spirit that the carnivores do not realize what have happened.
He called out to the messenger crow. “Fly swift and call the news loud, Carrier. Call them here. The unthinkable has come to pass.”
“You can’t mean…” Carrier responded, not wishing to finish his sentence.
“Yes, the barrier that has sustained peace these many years is fading away,” Henry said. Just then, the barrier stopped shimmering, marking the end of its existence. “And that is the end of the barrier… the beginning of dark times…”

“Jack, Jack, wake up quickly!”
Jack woke up groggily. He had never been shaken awake before, so he was fairly unhappy with the new experience. “What is it, Mom?”
“The sky lit up, all shimmery-like! Then it stopped and soon after that, Carrier came with terrible news. Jack, the barrier’s gone! We’re all in danger now!”
This woke Jack wide awake. “What?” He could not believe his ears. The barrier was gone? But how did it happen? How would the forest survive? Sure, he always dreamt of being an adventurer, fighting monsters many times his size, but now that he was to potentially be forced into such a thing, he wanted nothing more than for the barrier to come back up and for everything to return to normal. “Mom, what are we going to do?”
“I don’t know, child. I just don’t know…” his mother whispered sadly. She then suddenly remembered the second part of Carrier’s message. “Carrier told us to come to the main clearing. Henry wishes to speak with all of us.”

The shimmer had stopped, leaving the sky black once more, except for the stars.
Then, someone whistled. “Lovebirds! Lovebirds! Awk!”
Semele and Zephyr turned around quickly. Up in a tree was a parrot, clearly the source of the noise. Semele blushed. “We are not in love! We’re siblings!”
The parrot flew off, squawking and repeating the word “Lovebirds!” over and over again.
“Weirdo,” Semele muttered.
“Caw! Caw, I say!” another bird spoke. The two turned around and saw Carrier, the messenger crow. He seemed quite worried.
“What is it, Carrier? Did something bad happen?” Zephyr asked, also becoming worried.
“The worst happened! Caw! The barrier is gone! Vanished! Gone caw-put!” the crow announced.
This news was a death knell. The forest was no longer the safe haven it once was. It was now open to invasion by these strange and terrible beings called ‘carnivores’, beasts the like they had never seen before and were in no hurry to encounter.
“Was that what the shimmering in the sky was?” Zephyr asked. A moment ago, he had been marveling at the beauty of it. He had not then thought that such a beautiful thing could be a sign of something so deadly.
“But what could have taken it down?” Semele asked. The barrier was supposed to be impenetrable, even to the greatest of force and the highest of magic. Something must have gone terribly wrong, indeed. What could have possibly caused it? What could be strong enough to do it? And whatever it was, was it coming for them?
The crow flew on, not because it did not wish to answer, but simply because it did not have the time. As it flew out of sight, it called out. “Henry wants everyone at the main clearing, now! Caw! Caw-caw!”

Aku was almost there. He dashed even faster now than before. He was so close… almost there…
Nile smirked as he ran, even though he was short of breath. It was almost time. That foolish hyena was going to run into the barrier at top speed, which would most certainly disable it from running any farther away. He urged the hyena to run faster. It was just to be a little farther now.
Aku dashed straight at the light. Just as he would have hit it, the light mysteriously vanished, but Aku paid no mind to it, for he was too afraid to wonder what might have caused it or what it might mean. He merely ran on, into the forest, hoping to the stars that the forest would offer him protection.
“Wha? Our prey was able to enter the forest?” the green snake exclaimed.
“Oh great, now we’re going to starve. Our prey got away,” the brown snake muttered in dismay.
Nile smirked. “Not at all. Don’t you two get it? The hyena has entered the forest, which means that we can, too. The barrier is gone, so there’s nothing stopping us from entering there and having a real feast.”
“Nice plan, boss,” the green snake said.
“Yes, not even the two of you can bungle this one. Let’s go then, but we’re walking. There is no way I’m sprinting all the way there,” Nile said.

The distance between the clearing of the Great Tree and the tree of Semele and Zephyr was not great, but fear stretched the journey to seem less like minutes and more like hours. Every twig snapped, to them, sounded like the step of a monster, every rustling of the leaves was a carnivore waiting in the bushes or trees to strike an unsuspecting herbivore.
But to their immense relief, there was never any carnivore approaching or waiting for them on the way, and after a journey that seemed like a terrifying eternity, they finally arrived in the main clearing.
The main clearing was immensely crowded and Semele and Zephyr had a difficult time finding a spot to enter. There were some animals who had to stand in the edge of the trees around the clearing, instead of actually within the clearing. Zephyr looked up and there was Henry, patiently, yet nervously, waiting for the rest of the animals to arrive.
The animals in the clearing were nervously chattering. There was so much speaking that, to the ears of Semele and Zephyr, it became a massive conglomeration of words that made it near impossible to discern what words were being spoken.
After a while, Henry hooted loudly and a hush fell over the clearing. The silence almost seemed louder than the noise that Henry had just halted. All eyes were on Henry now and Henry, in turn, turned his head to look at everyone in the clearing before clearing his throat and speaking. “A dark time, indeed, a terrible time. I am sorry, my friends, to say that it the recreation of the barrier shall take a week uninterrupted. This is not to say that it shall never be restored, but not until the forest has a defense strong enough to protect itself can I then ensure the peace once more. For now, though, I must actively defend, yet I have only so much power to use and cannot defend everyone.”
This was answered by a near-panic. The animals of the forest spoke out almost all at once, asking what would happen to them, what could possibly be done, what Henry would do to save them all.
A mere moment of this was allowed before Henry silenced them again with another loud hoot. “Hark! You must hear my words! All is not lost, but what we need is a great request, indeed. Alone, I cannot defend you all, which is why I request further defense. We need brave souls who will stand boldly against the terrors that face us in these dark times. We need heroes.”
There was a small pause, but then a white paw held up a sharp stick. “My name is Jack,” the brave skunk said, “and I shall fight for the safety of the forest.”
“Jack, no! You can’t! You just can’t!” Jack’s mother said.
“I must, ma. The forest needs me now. I need to fight. Besides, Henry will protect me. He’ll do his best to make sure I don’t get hurt.”
“But child…”
“I’m going to be hero, ma. I’m going to make you proud.”
This stopped his mother’s arguments fast. All she could do now was simply nod, holding back tears. She herself did not know if they were tears of sorrow or of pride.
Zephyr raised his hand. He was the son of a brave adventurer, so this was certainly his destiny. “I am also joining. It is my destiny by birth.”
Semele spoke fast, without thinking. “If he’s joining, I’m joining, too!”
“I, too, must join,” a voice from the back spoke. Everyone stared at awe at who it was that spoke. It was Vladimir, the storyteller.
“Are you quite sure, my friend?” Henry asked, also quite surprised.
Vladimir nodded. “I might not be the warrior I used to be, but these old bones still have some fight in them yet. Also, my knowledge will be very useful, for I will be able to tell you about many of the beasts that we shall encounter.”
“Very well. Is there any other brave soul who wishes to join the fight?” Henry asked.
“Don’t y’all dare think of leaving me behind! I’m a key player!” a voice called from high in the branches. It was a red squirrel, holding a slingshot and a pouch that no doubt carried acorns as ammunition.
“Very well. Are there any others?” Henry asked. There was silence. “Then this meeting has now ended. All, save the volunteered, are now dismissed.”
The animals of the forest departed from the clearing nervously, all except for two rabbits, a stag, a skunk, a squirrel, and an owl.
“You are brave souls, indeed, to take this task. The first carnivore has entered the forest, and approaches this clearing. You must quickly prepare yourselves for battle,” Henry said.
It was then that the full gravity of the situation came down on Semele. What was she doing? She was a healer, not a fighter. How would she defend herself against whatever was coming?
Jack was excited. This was it, his first adventure. But deep down, he was terrified. Things were more real now that he was truly living the adventure. He wondered if real adventurers felt the same way right before a battle.
Sunny, the squirrel, was also pretty excited. It was about time she got the chance to show her stuff. No slingshot competitions or nothing to show off her skills, so this was her golden opportunity. Whatever that carnivore was would be sorry it ever messed with Sunny Mae!
Zephyr, too, was nervous, but was not excited. What had he to fight with? He may have had the blood of a hero in him, but he was untrained in fighting and all he had was the strange crystal necklace. He truly hoped that the necklace would protect him and his friends now, at a moment of truth and immense danger.
They could hear the sounds of a being approaching. All seemed terribly silent now. All Zephyr could hear was the beating of his own heart. It seemed to be getting louder with each beat.
And then, it jumped out. It was a strange beast, on all fours. It had black paws, black spots, a black tail tip, and black, perked ears, but its fur was otherwise gray. It looked as if in immense fear, but looks could be deceiving. The beast had stopped at the edge of the clearing, staring cautiously at the beings in the clearing.
Sunny wasted no time at all. She readied her slingshot. “Dance, plain-slicker!” She fired off an acorn at the beast’s feet. The beast jumped back quickly, then brandished his teeth to try, desperately, to scare the creatures away, though the beast itself seemed terrified.
Zephyr knew many things from his father’s stories, such as that fighting is not always the answer and that things are not always as they first appear. This seemed to be such a case. This creature seemed to be a terrified child, not a ravenous monster. “Stop!” he called out.
“Ah, shoot! Why you want me to stop firing my acorns? You got no respect for the acorn?” Sunny called out.
Zephyr approached the beast cautiously. “You aren’t really evil, are you?” he asked the creature, more sympathetically than inquisitively. The beast shook its head.
“This beast is one known as a hyena. They are normally fierce, but this one is but a mere child,” Vladimir explained.
“I didn’t mean any harm. Really! I was just looking for shelter,” Aku said, still quivering. “I was just looking up at the stars, but then these mean, nasty creatures jumped out of the bushes and tried to eat me. I was so scared.”
Zephyr was scared to do so, but he had to face his fear. He hugged the hyena, in the same way he often hugged Semele to comfort her, except that Semele did not have razor sharp teeth or claws that could tear into him at a moment’s notice.
“Do not worry, young one, for you are surely safer here than you were outside,” Henry consoled.
Aku’s shivering slowed. He had finally found safety. These people were going to protect him. He silently thanked the stars for this nice turn of fate. He suddenly felt a bit guilty. After all, weren’t these fearless protectors the same type of animal he used to eat on a regular basis? He would have to think of something else to eat, because he was certainly not going to eat anything living again now that he knew what it felt like to be hunted.
“What is your name, young hyena?” Vladimir asked.
“Aku, sir,” Aku said.
“I’m Zephyr. And right over there is my sister, Semele. If you ever get hurt, she’s the one to go to,” Zephyr said.
“I’m Jack, master swordsman,” Jack said. He paused, as several people stared at him. “Okay, maybe not yet, but someday, I’m going to be the best swordsman ever!”
Sunny leapt out of the tree, onto the ground right next to Aku. Aku jumped back in fright. “I’m Sunny Mae, fastest slingshot in the forest.”
Zephyr chuckled a bit. “Sunny, you’re the only one in the forest who uses a slingshot.”
“That very well makes me the fastest slingshot in the forest, now don’t it?” Sunny said. Aku snickered at this. He was beginning to feel good about this place. He no longer felt like a stranger, but like a guest. The people here were really friendly, almost like one big family, and he had become a part of it now.
Henry hooted loudly. “Be on alert, for other carnivores have entered the forest.”
Aku felt as if he’d have a heart attack. How could he have nearly forgotten about the predators that were chasing him? Surely he did not expect them to just stop at the edge of the forest, did he?

Nile and the two snakes were, indeed, already inside the forest. They were trying their best to find some sign of food around. They could see traces of fur and a stray footprint here or there, but all seemed very still.
“Why aren’t there any animals here, boss?” the brown snake asked.
“There are plenty, they’re just hiding. Keep a keen eye out for any movement.”
And then, they heard a hooting noise in the distance. The brown snake opened his mouth to speak, but then shut it again, remembering the reaction to the last time he pointed out the obvious.
“Alright, then. Let’s go. It’s been quite some time since we’ve had roast owl,” Nile said.
They traveled to the source of the noise and found themselves in a clearing filled with all sorts of delicacies. Two rabbits, a skunk, an owl, a squirrel, and even that hyena they had seen earlier. Oh, what a treat this would be.
Aku screamed loudly and dived behind the protective cover of Jack. He looked at the three predators, eyes wide with fear, trying futily to scare them away by growling at them.
Zephyr and Semele were shaking, as well. Semele also wanted to dive behind Jack, but she was a defender now. She had to stay in the center or thereabouts so she could quickly perform first aid as necessary. Zephyr tried to muster up his courage, but was doing rather poorly in the face of such fearsome creatures.
Despite his attempts to tell himself otherwise, Jack was also scared. His grip on his stick was quivering. Sunny, on the other hand, was not afraid. She leapt onto a branch of the Great Tree and readied an acorn for firing.
Vladimir’s eyes went wide for a moment, but he quickly recovered himself. “Those two slithering creatures are snakes. Some have a poisonous bite, some constrict. The creature in the middle is…”
“If you please, I prefer to do my own introductions. My name is Nile. And my powers are this,” Nile said, grabbing his tail and aiming it at Vladimir. He fired without giving Vladimir much time at all to react. Though Vladimir tried to evade, his hind side was hit and covered by a thick coating of green goo. He tried to pull his hind legs off the ground, but the goo was too sticky to allow him to move his legs much at all. He was completely stuck.
“Vladimir!” Zephyr exclaimed. He couldn’t believe that Vladimir had been taken out so fast. This goo must have been very strong indeed. Aku was horrified. Earlier, he had wondered what the goo would do to any being it hit. Now, he wished he didn’t know.
“Don’t worry about me. You must fight them without me,” Vladimir said.
Nile broke out in laughter. “You prey expect to fight us off? You have no idea what forces you – Ow!” His speech was interrupted by an acorn that hit him squarely on the forehead, creating a small wound. “You wish to fight, then? Alright. Camo, after the squirrel and owl. Flauge, take the skunk and hyena. I’ll subdue the two rabbits. Then, we’ll feast like kings.”
The green snake made its way toward the tree. “Just try and take us, you overgrown worm!” Sunny taunted, loading another acorn.
“You shouldn’t have said that,” Camo said, making his way up the tree.
Flauge, the brown snake, slithered toward Aku and Jack. “Ready or not, here I come…”
“Y-you just try it, you… you monstrous… thing!” Jack said, scared but trying to stand tall.
“‘You monstrous thing’? Can’t y’all come up with better than that?” Sunny commented. She shot an acorn at Camo, who barely dodged it by moving his midsection out of the way. “Aw, shoot!” Sunny exclaimed.
Henry had his eyes closed. He was trying to concentrate on casting a spell, but spells took a long time to cast, not to mention the fact that he was used to having complete silence when casting spells, so the sounds of war were not helping.
Nile took one step toward Zephyr and Semele, then another, intentionally slowly. “So, tell me… which one of you shall be first to go?”
Zephyr was in a bad position. He was to defend himself and Semele, unarmed and untrained, against a creature of immense power with a potent weapon. As much as he hated to risk it, he only had one option and that was the full frontal assault.
Zephyr wasted no time. He dashed straight toward Nile, ready to deliver a hard punch. Nile did not see it worth the effort to shoot Zephyr with goo, so he hit instead with a hard tail whip, which knocked Zephyr to the ground, unconscious.
“Zephyr!” Semele exclaimed. How could this have happened? What could she do? She had to help him, but if he got to near Nile, which she would have to do, she would suffer the same fate. What to do…
Aku, too, saw what had happened and did not like it. Zephyr was the first one in the forest to actually give him a chance. That was special. As soon as he got rid of the snake, he silently vowed, he would go to protect Zephyr from any further harm… but he hoped he wouldn’t have to do it alone.
Sunny was about to load another acorn, but by that time, the snake was almost to her. She decided against firing an acorn and instead waited for Camo to come close enough to her, the stabbed him with the bottom end of the slingshot. She silently thanked her mother, who was the one who crafted the slingshot, for having such foresight to make the bottom of the slingshot so sharp. Camo gave a loud hiss as he recoiled in pain. “How dare you, fur being?” It yelled in agony.
“Eat sharp wood, snake!” Jack yelled. He gathered up all the courage he could and gave the mightiest swing he could muster. Flauge, with seeming ease, ducked right under the swing and, before Jack could try swinging again, coiled around the stick, his head dangerously near the place where Jack was gripping the stick. Jack quickly jumped back and dropped the stick.
But before Flauge could uncoil itself from the stick, even before the stick had hit the ground, Aku caught the stick, along with the snake, in his mouth. He bit down as hard as he could. It was obviously working. The Flauge wriggled around, hissing in agony, trying to escape Aku’s grip. “Let me go! Let me go before I bite you!” Flauge yelled. Aku nearly let go, but he then saw Jack grab a rock. If that bold skunk was going to do what Aku thought he was going to do, Flauge was not going to have the time to attack.
As Aku suspected, Jack threw the stone straight at Flauge’s head. It sailed through the air, straight and true… and whizzed right past Flauge’s head. Aku could feel his heart skip a beat as he heard the stone fall on the ground. He did not have time to react. Quick as lightning, Flauge bit Aku in the neck.
Aku let go of the stick, not because he wanted to, but because the pain had loosened his grip. He staggered backwards a couple steps, whimpering from the immense pain. He could feel the poison. It was already coursing through him, weakening him. He already found it hard to keep his balance and he felt terribly ill, especially in the stomach.
Flauge uncoiled from the stick, smirking at the stricken hyena. However, he knew that things did not look good. He was greatly wounded and bleeding from the hyena’s bite. He would not be able to take much more.
Henry opened his eyes, for his spell was complete. “Hold your breath, Vladimir,” he warned.
Vladimir took a deep breath, then he found himself in a dome of swirling water, just large enough to cover him. The water’s spinning did wonders to eliminate the goo trapping Vladimir’s hind side. Then, the dome became merely a lifeless puddle of water. Vladimir was soaked, but free, and not a moment too soon.
Henry knew his job was not done. Without treatment, he feared that Aku would die. So he closed his eyes once more to cast another spell.
Nile couldn’t believe his eyes. That water just seemed to come from nowhere. And it made quick work of his goo like it was common dirt. He did not know what caused it, but whatever it was must have been powerful, indeed. When he thought of it, he knew of one being who was not participating in combat at all. It must have been that blasted owl who made water dance like that. But that would have to wait. He now had another concern on his hands.
Vladimir made a straight dash toward Nile. Nile knew he didn’t have a choice. This deer was fast enough and surely strong enough that without using his goo, he would be unable to win. He only had enough goo built up in his tail for about two shots, so he would have to make them count. He aimed his tail and fired at Vladimir.
It was a hit, but it did not slow Vladimir down. The goo only fell onto his antlers, so he was not stuck until his antlers were to touch something… and he had something in mind.
Jack was shaking now. He was without his stick and any unarmed attempt at subduing Flauge would be suicide. It could just bite him in the arm if he swung at it or in the leg if he kicked at it. But he had one more idea on how to get Flauge to go away. Flauge slithered toward Jack, but Jack just turned around and raised his tail.
Flauge didn’t know what had hit him. His eyes were burning. The air was filled with the worst smell he could have ever imagined. Flauge recoiled and hissed, then turned tail and fled into a nearby bush.
Aku could no longer stand. He collapsed under his own weight. It was getting difficult to breathe. It seemed as if the world were fazing out, getting fuzzier. He felt truly horrible, far worse than when he had the flu. He felt as if his life was fading away, slowly but surely. Was he going to die? He continued whimpering, out of both fear and pain.
“Semele! Trade me places!” Jack called out as he grabbed his stick and ran over to Semele’s position. Semele nodded. She could tell that Aku had been poisoned – she knew the signs. She dashed over to Aku’s aid as fast as she could get to him. She crouched down next to Aku. “Don’t worry, Aku. Everything’s going to be okay now,” she said. She herself did not fully believe those words, for it was more of a hope than a promise.
These were just the words Aku wanted to hear. Everything was going to be okay. He stopped whimpering. He was still in pain, but it didn’t matter to him now. All that mattered was that he was going to be okay.
Vladimir hit Nile dead on, knocking him into the air. That was not what Vladimir had expected. He then remembered a detail of the tales he had been told about this creature: it was immune to its own goo. How could he have let himself forget such a crucial detail?
Nile hit the ground hard. He had a few small bloody spots, where the antlers had hit, and he felt sore from impact, but he was not toward a level of danger yet. He got back up, wondering what to do. This deer was strong, too strong for him to match He might have to use his last shot.
Camo was not going to let Sunny have a chance to do stab him again. Acting fast, he quickly delivered a tail whip to Sunny, knocking her right out of the tree. “Take that, fur beast!” he yelled triumphantly as Sunny fell.
“Lookout below!” she yelled. Vladimir looked up just in time for him to see Sunny falling, but too late to react. Sunny fell right on Vladimir’s back, her head falling right in the web of goo between Vladimir’s antlers. “What in tarnation?” she exclaimed as she tried, futily, to free her head from the goo.
“Let’s see you charge me now without harming the squirrel,” Nile said, smirking, “In fact, the more you move, the higher the chance that her head will bounce into one of your antler spikes.”
Vladimir hated to admit it, but the creature was right. There was no way for him to do anything but stand still without harming Sunny.
Jack gulped. He wasn’t sure what to do now. He just had to go all-out and hope for the best. Maybe if he moved fast enough, Nile would miss. It was worth a shot.
Henry opened his eyes and cast the spell on Aku. He could not easily reverse the damage that had already been done, but he had at least stopped the venom’s spread. With Semele’s aid, Aku would surely survive.
But all was not well. He was the only one left on the Great Tree, other than Camo. He took to the air and flew onto a much higher branch of the Great Tree. “You can run, but you cannot hide,” Camo hissed as he slithered up the tree.
Jack rushed toward Nile, stick at the ready. Nile was not worried about the stick, but about the spray. He would have to knock Jack out quick, preferably in one hit. He decided to go with the tactic that he had used last time, but he was a bit late. Jack swung quickly at Nile, creating a new wound on the side of Nile’s left shoulder. Nile did not let this stop him, though. He delivered a heavy tail whip and knocked Jack to the ground, unconscious.
Nile knew he had won. The owl could not use any magic if he didn’t have the time. The only one of the prey who wasn’t incapacitated was the rabbit tending the hyena; and that one apparently could not fight to save her life.
But then, the strange crystal necklace around Zephyr’s neck began to glow. At first, Nile thought it was a trick of the light, but that was impossible. It was night and there were no local sources of light, other than the necklace. What was happening?
Zephyr stood up, as if he had never been hit at all, just as the necklace had stopped glowing. He looked at Nile with a confident smirk. “It’s time,” he said, his voice firm and poised.
Nile scowled. “You forest prey don’t know when to quit.”
Zephyr gave a small chuckle. “Funny. I could say the same about your kind.”
Nile was now angry. How dare this prey be so… so sure of itself? Prey should fear the carnivores, not mock them!
Semele was so amazed by this that she had momentarily forgotten that she was in the middle of tending to Aku’s bite. What was happening? Her brother had never acted this way before. Was it that necklace that was doing this? But how? What was its power?
It was then that she remembered that she had a job to do and continued at it.
“I’ve got you now!” Camo said as he reached closer to Henry. Henry merely flew up to the top of the tree.
“Curse you!” Camo exclaimed as he climbed still farther up the tree.
“Enough talking. You made a big mistake, rabbit. You’ve made me angry,” Nile said.
Zephyr walked over to Jack’s unconscious figure and casually picked up the stick. “Then let us dance.”
Zephyr made a dash toward Nile. Nile smirked. This was the same tactic that this bunny had used the last time. This would be easy. He waited for Zephyr to come close enough and then swung his tail at the hapless bunny.
But this ‘hapless bunny’ was not using the tactics Nile thought he was using. When Zephyr came close to Nile, he stuck the stick into the ground and pole-vaulted right over Nile. When Nile hit the stick, he snapped it in two, but missed Zephyr entirely.
Aku was not sure if it was the assurance he felt or if it was Semele’s work, but somehow, he felt a little better. He still felt very ill, but now the pain had gone down and he no longer felt as if he was going to die.
Semele felt Aku’s forehead. “I think the fever’s gone down by a bit. Not much, but at this level, every bit counts.”
Zephyr jumped up and grabbed a branch, then hoisted himself up and into a tree. He snapped off a thin, yet sturdy branch. “You’re not going to just leaf me alone up here, are you?” Zephyr asked tauntingly.
Nile was not happy with this. Yet he knew he could not let his guard down. The bunny was obviously trying to lead him into a trap.
Zephyr leapt back down from the tree, right behind Nile. Nile quickly turned around and tried to hit Zephyr with his tail, but his tail met air as Zephyr quickly jumped back to avoid being hit.
“Alright, now I have you! You won’t be able to fly any higher when you’re already on the top of the tree,” Camo declared triumphantly. Henry flew out of the tree entirely, onto a tree at the edge of the clearing. “Curse you!” Camo yelled as he began his descent.
Henry closed his eyes to cast another spell. He would need to free Sunny and Vladimir, for Zephyr, even with his strange new power, could not stand against these enemies alone.
Zephyr rushed over to the Great Tree. Camo saw his opportunity and fell from the branch he was on, straight toward a seemingly unsuspecting rabbit. But Zephyr was very aware. He took a step back and swung at Camo with the stick, sending him flying at Nile
Nile caught Camo in his hand. He couldn’t believe it. How could this little rabbit bat away such a good strike so easily? It was uncanny.
Zephyr smirked again. “Home run.”
Nile tossed Camo back toward Zephyr. “Get him, now!” he commanded.
Camo slithered toward Zephyr at his best speed, not wishing to upset Nile by doing anything less than his best. Zephyr lowered the stick, so that one edge was nearly touching the ground. “Fore,” he said resolutely. With that, he swung hard, like an expert golfer, hitting Camo right back at Nile again.
Henry opened his eyes. “Hold your breath, Sunny,” he warned. Just as sunny finished doing so, a globe of water appeared around Sunny’s head and Vladimir’s antlers, washing the goo right off. The globe of water fell to the ground in a puddle. Sunny got up off Vladimir’s back. “Glad that’s over. Now, let’s show this overgrown lizard how we do things in the Great Forest,” she said, loading her slingshot with an acorn.
Nile caught Camo again, but this time, Camo was not conscious. Nile was in a tough position. He was the only one left, facing off against four enemies who were much stronger than he had originally thought. He himself was wounded, bleeding in several places. They were not bad wounds, but there were plenty of them. He had no choice. “You herbivores have not seen the last of us. We will be back,” he said. He rushed back out of the clearing, carrying Camo with him. Flauge came out of a bush and started following Nile out of the forest.
Zephyr’s necklace then stopped glowing. He fell to the ground, unconscious again. “I heard of the old on-again off-again, but this is just ridiculous,” Sunny declared.
Henry flew back onto the Great Tree. “There is much mystery in this. We shall ask Zephyr what happened when he wakes.”
“I think it’s the necklace. Father said that the necklace would protect the wearer in an hour of great need and it did. It protected all of us,” Semele said. She then looked at Aku. “I think I’ve done all I can. You’ll definitely live, but the next couple of days are going to be a little rough for you, I’m afraid.”
Aku looked at Semele for a moment, then laid his head down on the ground. Rest. He needed rest. Maybe after a nap, he’d feel a bit better.
Semele stood up again, quietly so she would not wake Aku up, and walked over to Zephyr to look at him next. “He doesn’t really look hurt. Maybe some bruises, but he’ll be fine, thank the heavens.”
She walked over to Jack next. “I think Jack’s the same way. I can’t find any significant damages.”
“Then it’s settled. We wait for everyone to wake up, then we have a good old Great Forest celebration!” Sunny declared.
“Please, not so loud. Aku’s asleep,” Semele whispered.
“Ah, fine,” Sunny whispered.
“The hero awakens,” Henry declared. Vladimir, Sunny, and Semele all looked over to Zephyr.
Zephyr sat up, feeling sore all over. He opened his eyes and looked around the clearing. “Did we win?” he muttered?
“‘Did we win?’ he asks. With you doing all that stuff, how could we lose? I didn’t know you had it in you, kid,” Sunny said, barely able to keep her voice quiet.
“But I don’t get it. All I did was get knocked unconscious. I didn’t even hit anyone,” Zephyr said.
“Y’all mean you don’t remember how you hit that brown snake right when he dropped from the tree, as if he were just a baseball? Y’all don’t remember how you were pretty much the one who drove them out?” Sunny asked.
“But… I never did any of that. Are you sure it was me?” Zephyr asked.
“Clear as crystal, naturally. You the one who saved all our hides, though I got a pretty good stab in one of them,” Sunny said.
“What… what is happening?” Zephyr asked, confused and a bit concerned.
“I think it was your necklace. It must have been what caused you to do all of what you did. I don’t know the details, but that necklace is as magical as father told us it is. It saved us all,” Semele said.
Zephyr looked down at his necklace. “My necklace did all that? But why don’t I remember it?”
“I don’t know. Maybe because you were unconscious when it took over,” Semele said.
“This is really weird, but… whatever it was, I’m glad it happened,” Zephyr said. He still could hardly believe it. This necklace was special, more special than he had known before. Would it happen again if he was in danger? What would the future bring?

“What do you mean we’re gonna go back in?” Flauge exclaimed.
“Not today. We need to regroup and recover first. But we’ll get more numbers and go back to take those insolent herbivores once and for all,” Nile said.
“But we’ve lived in the plains for years. We don’t need the forest that badly,” Flauge protested.
“Don’t you get it? This isn’t about food, this is about my revenge!” Nile yelled, “Those furry beings defied us directly. And that rabbit with the necklace… oh, I will not forget about him. He will pay for this disgrace. I will have my revenge against them all, especially him.”

“Ugh…” Jack said as he sat up. “Somebody get the number of the boulder that hit me…”
“Finally awake, huh? You were certainly out for a while. A couple of hours over Old Zeph,” Sunny said.
“‘Old Zeph’? You mean Zephyr?” Jack asked.
“That’s the one. Y’all missed it, too. He gave those carnivores a lickin’ they ain’t never gonna forget. Seems it wasn’t really him, though. He don’t remember any of it. We think his necklace was behind it,” Sunny said.
“The necklace? You mean the one his father gave him?” Jack asked.
“That very one, kiddo,” Sunny said.
“Wow. I thought it was just a good-luck charm,” Jack said.
“It was very lucky,” Zephyr said.
“How’s Aku? He got bit pretty badly by the snake,” Jack asked.
“He’s going to be okay, but he’ll be going through some hard times in the next couple of days,” Semele said. She looked back over to Aku. “I guess the time that he spends asleep is going to be the best time he has for a bit. He looks so peaceful when he’s asleep.”
“Zzz…”
Semele looked around and found that Aku wasn’t the only one asleep. Zephyr had dozed off, resting his head on a large, protruding root of the Great Tree.
“Good night, Zephyr,” she whispered. She stared up into the starry night sky, which would soon be outshined by the light of the morning sun. What a busy night it had been…
Aku and Nile are the creations of Slector… Sklecker… Skelker… *looks at the name again* schlechter-Drache.

At any rate, here is a side-series, something that some of you (Kyzak, Scavion, et cetera) know as the forest plot, yet with some significant differences.

EDIT: I fixed an error at the end where it said ‘Sally’ instead of ‘Sunny’. Sally was her name before I decided it would get her confused with Sally Acorn.
Published:
© 2008 - 2020 FWJoat
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schlechter-Drache's avatar
very awesome i Really like the Way you got aku down hehe Very close to My Persona' ^__^ a big' Scaredy cat hehe , and thats sounds just about like i Pictured Nile too hehe Very nice i do Enjoy the Detail you put into writing ^__^ +fav!
FWJoat's avatar
Whew. Aku was the part I was most nervous about. Nile was the part I was second most.

At any rate, I will probably be completing AW Ch.4 before I complete TGF Ch.2. The good news is that I was already a good distance into Ch.4 when I started on TGF Ch.1, so I am quite close to finish.