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Jerem was disheartened. Only twenty of his clan's breedmates had survived the winter, and only half that remained today as they made their trek through the forest. His pace had grown slow. This wasn't a terrible issue, as the speed of their journey did not matter, only that they succeeded in reaching their destination. It did, however, leave them at risk for more danger. A worried young breedmate, Testo, questioned Jerem why they had slowed.
"Hmm, I suppose we have slowed down, haven't we?" Jerem stroked his hand across his face and looked to the night sky. Haro, an older breedmate on his second trek, brought a suggestion to Jerem.
"Perhaps we should rest for the night, Jerem. We could use the energy and we'll pick up the pace in the morning." Jerem was disinclined to the idea. He would have preferred to keep plodding along all night, as was his nature. The relieved look on the faces of his crew swayed his mind, and he agreed. The other breedmates began setting up camp, arranging foliage to blend in with their surroundings. Haro put his hand on Jerem's back, leading him away from the camp.
"I know this year has been hard Jerem. No one I've spoken to has ever seen a population this small. But driving us slowly into the ground won't help. With some rest, we'll move faster and make up any ground we would lose, and it has the added benefit of raising the crew's spirits." Jerem nodded as they walked, keeping one eye focused for prey and predators.
"Are you listening to me, Jerem? Sometimes, I think you take too much on yourself. We may only be few, but there are some of us with experience, you don't have to carry all the burden. I am more than capable of leading for a while, as are..." Haro was silenced by Jerem's hand covering his mouth. He tried to speak again and Jerem clamped his hand closed. Haro watched the eyes of his leader darting back and forth. He closed his eyes and tried to listen for whatever Jerem was searching for. All he heard was the wind, rustling the leaves. At the same moment, Haro and Jerem turned back towards the camp and leapt into the air, moving at full speed. There was no feeling of wind on their bodies; the rustling was the sound of a predator. They reached the camp in time to see young Testo walking towards a long yellow spike poking out from the bushes. As he tried to touch it, it would dart sideways. The other young breedmates watched, entranced.
"Scatter!" Jerem yelled as soon as the scene came in view. The bellowing resonance of his voice broke their trance, and they leapt away, diving into the underbrush. Testo was left alone, frozen in fear, his black eyes opened wide. The yellow object pulled itself back, and from up above the bush, the beast emerged. It slithered its way around the nearest tree, the markings of its body camouflaging it. Jerem hopped around the center of the camp, as much to draw the attention of the beast as to discern its camouflage. Testo was still unmoving when Jerem reached him. He tried to shout at him, but he was unresponsive. Jerem shoved him, and he fell over, unmoving, like a statue. His white belly went skywards, making him an easy target in the darkness. Haro gave a warning call to Jerem who jumped just in time. The beast's slimey body slid beneath him, swallowing Testo whole. Jerem hid himself in the underbrush. His eyes searched around for his remaining broodmates. He found them one by one, though they were well-hidden. He congratulated himself on teaching them, but only for a moment. The beast had returned, slithering around on the forest floor. By random chance, he would eventually collide with each one of the crew until they were all devoured. Jerem made the first leap. He burst through the leaves, drawing the attention of the beast. He cleared it easily with his first jump, and with his second short jump he slid beneath the leaves, hoping to lose its trail. Haro joined him next, following the same pattern and soon the whole pack were leaping through the forest, darting left and right, losing their attacker in the chaos. Having been fed, he gave up rather quickly. The fear and adrenaline coursing through their bodies urged them on regardless, and Testo would have been pleased with their pace. They didn't stop until the sun rose up. Jerem touched his forehead against Haro's, and then against each other breedmate's. It was a tradition, to remember those who had fallen and be thankful that you had not. After a moment's rest to let the sun shine across their weary faces, Jerem moved on again. The crew followed along behind him, their pace slow again but no one complaining. This was the third death they had experienced and, though in some terrible way the amount trivialized the event, they were still saddened. They continued their trek in relative silence for most of the day. Near evening, Jerem called Haro to his side.
"Scout ahead up this hill. Be quick and be careful." Learning from his last experience, Haro searched their environment quickly for any signs of predators. Something about this place seemed familiar to him. He looked at Jerem, who had a smile forming beneath his black mask. Haro took off up the hill, leaping as fast as his legs would take him. When he reached the crest and looked over, he saw what he had been hoping for. The Raining Stone stood in the center of a small clearing. A ray of sunshine gleamed through the trees, illuminating its concentric rings. Haro croaked his loudest, sounding like a warbling duck, and the rest of the breedmates rushed to his side. At the sight of the Raining Stone, the jumped past him and down to its smooth surface. Jerem was purposefully making his way up the hill to Haro, who waited for him.
"Does it not excite you anymore, having been here so many times?" Haro asked of his leader.
"It excites me more everytime. But I can't help thinking of all the lives we lose every time."
"Why not think of all the lives we will be helping to create?" Haro offered, though the loss of Testo and the others still weighed heavily in his heart. The two made their way down to the Raining Stone where the rest of the crew, once wild with excitement, were now sitting quietly.
"Don't be worried my brothers, you will perform excellently." Jerem said cheerfully, his face warming at their nervous smiles. He took in a wide sweeping look at the forest. The tribes were arranged around him like a clock face. The all-green bodies of the treefrogs stood at 1 o'clock, the dull brown, wide bodies of the spadefoots at 4 o'clock, the red tailed frogs at 9 o'clock, and a dozen others inbetween. Jerem stood in the center of the Raining Stone and let out a long, deep croak. It seemed to echo through the forest like a horn. The frogs in his crew hopped around the Raining Stone, each trying to go higher than the last, all the while copying Jerem's croak. The tribes circling them joined in the chorus as well, building to a crescendo that boomed through the skies. The skies boomed back in thunderous applause. Dark clouds gathered around the frogs' song and dance and soon they were rewarded with rain. When water had soaked the Raining Stone, the other tribes joined them on it, dancing a directionless dance of celebration for hours. One by one the tribes dispered back to their homelands. Huddled on the stone, the rain showering their backs, Haro approached Jerem.
"The mating pools will have formed now, we've helped create life in a way no other frogs could have." Haro beamed at his leader. Jerem's head hung low.
"We still have to make it back home, and there will surely be less of us after that trek. And there will be even less to return next year. What will happen when there are none left to bring the rains?" Jerem asked, more as a question to the sky gods than to Haro.
A short story inspired by [link]
It's the story of a group who go on a quest. They get attacked, they survive, they make it to their destination, and everyone rejoices. Well, almost everyone.


If you like this story please check out coltonhornstein.com, for more information on my upcoming fantasy short story book :D
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