Citrine’s Monsters: Chapter Six | Lemon Yellow
A bird squawked in the darkness and the sudden hoot of an owl made the hairs on my bare arms stand on end. Hungry, thirsty and sore, I limped to a stop beside a grove of crooked trees, noting the way the weeping willows hung their long hair over their wooded faces. It seemed as if they hid their faces from the nocturnal activity of the murderous creatures of the night.
“Water.” I whispered to the listening air, for it seemed as if it cared about my plight. “I need water before I perish in the dark and gloom.”
A glimmer of white light appeared, and I lifted my hands, palm up to catch them. The lights came to rest in my hands and I saw them for what they were, tiny seedlings of the willow trees, blowing off to find a new grove. Each seed looked like a glossy teardrop and the inside pulsed with a white light, the soul of the tree. They were an answer to my plight, for the seeds generally landed around water. I followed them, ignoring the constant pain in my complaining foot.
Before long I heard the soothing trickle of water and picked up speed, moving out of the thick forest into a river. My heart rose in my throat and I gasped in astonishment, surprised such a deadly forest could hold such beauty. The moonlight revealed what looked like a glass stream, pouring down a riverbank towards a tiny waterfall that trickled into a pond. I stood at the base of the pond among the rocks, staring down at the cold waters that splashed up on the bank. The white seeds floated down and settled onto the rich dark mud near the bank, disappearing with a poof into the ground. I imagined they were like squirrels, tunneling into the ground, seeking mature ground to grow upon. A new grove of weeping willows would rise and start the cycle all over again.
Threading my way through the thick bulrushes I flung myself to my knees in front of the shimmering mirror of water, unashamed of the thick mud accumulating on my bare legs. It felt cold and sucked at me, sliding me closer to the riverbank. Cupping my hands, I lapped at the cool waters like an animal, slaking my thirst. The fog of exhaustion disappeared from my mind and sitting back on my heels I thought about what I would do, where I would go. “I have no home,” I mused aloud to the waters, watching as another batch of white seeds disappeared into the mud. “They treated me like an outcast… I’m not sure where to go. I need to lie low, but I need to be safe, and more than anything, I need to find my pets.”
A roar shattered the calm surface of the lake and a beast rose from the depths. A gray head with sharp white horns appeared, and I froze as a massive head, twice my size, reared up. Vines hung out of the beast’s mouth as if it had been chewing whatever lay beneath the lake. A long graceful neck, like a swan, but thick as a tree trunk swung toward me and I saw its eyes. A blend of lemon, yellow and gold, the same color as my eyes, like dancing orbs in the moonlight. The lake shook as it walked toward me and surprise forsook my body as I stood.
Fear. That’s what one should feel when a monster rises from the lake… yet fear wasn’t something I felt, only admiration and respect. I held out a hand, a sign of reverence as the monster bent its graceful neck over me.
“I am Morag,” it whispered, and even the whisper shook the waters and a wave lapped up near my feet. “I heard your request and have come to give you counsel.”
I watched the water slide off Morag’s scales, dancing back to the waters like the seeds to the mud. “What counsel do you give me?” I leaned closer, captivated by its size and strength, like a wave of doubt through my mind as I wondered what a creature of the water could tell me. How much knowledge did it understand, there under the waves in a dark forest. My feet squelched in the mud and I took a step closer to the bank until my toes touched the cool water and I slid under the surface to be near the monster.
“You have the eye…” Morag began and then paused. In one sudden movement the beautiful monster dived, and a wall of water rose high into the air, watering the mud where the seeds planted themselves.
A sudden feeling of terror swept over me and I crouched in the mud, shaking fingers moving to grip the handle of the knife. A beast slammed into my back with a snarl, toppling me over. Despite my hard demeanor I let loose a shriek of surprise and kicked out, struggling to free myself. Sharp claws swiped near my face and the pale moonlight reflecting off the waters allowed me to see sharp fangs, a pink tongue and snarling dark eyes as the panther leaped over me, mouth wide open for a bite.
I swiped out with the knife, forcing the beast to dodge away at the last moment, although I knew it would not scare it. Snarling and snapping the panther backed away, its tail twitching as its sleek black body disappeared into the darkness. I cocked the knife, ready for its advance, standing firm even though I wished to flee. Turning my back on such an adversary would sign my death warrant. I’d been lucky to escape already today, I did not want to press my luck anymore.
The panther returned on muted feet and leaped, claws scraping my shoulder as it toppled me over on my back. I lashed out with the knife, gritting my teeth, forcing myself not to cry out in fear and egg it on. I kicked at the tough body of the panther in vain, for it was bigger and stronger than me, and if one of its teeth locked around my neck, I would be dead. The panther dodged away from my knife and pinned my arm down. I waved my wrist while griping the fur of its neck as hard as I could with my free hand, yanking the snapping teeth away from my soft flesh. The mud pulled at me, attempting to bury me as I struggled in vain, my eyes flashing in fury, I would not go down this way. I refused.
My hand cramped in agony from keeping the panther away from my face. Its spittle drooled onto my neck as it growled deep in its throat, frustrated with my resistance. Perhaps it was as hungry as I, exhausted after a day of hunting, in need of a tasty morsel to give it energy. My stomach would have growled if I hadn’t been so exhausted, and I could feel tears of distress gathering in my eyes. If I threw back my head and screamed, more of them would come. As I struggled my eyes glimpsed royal blue, a bright feather and then a hurricane of wind.
Something struck the panther from above and it gave a shriek of pain, wiggling off me as it turned to attack whatever had struck it. The same strike came again, a dark blur in the air and I sat up, brushing blood and mud off my filthy clothes as I stood, dropping the knife at my feet. The panther turned tail and dashed into the thicket while my eyes peeled towards the sky, daring to hope when I knew I should not. Please. The whispered prayer left my lips. Is it you? Another flash of blue and there they were, crawling, slithering, and trotting towards me. I opened my arms, and a sob shook my heart. My pets.
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