junglepic

Prequel to THE FIRST AND THE LAST

Chapter One:

 Though it was eight o clock in the morning, there was no light. The trees of the jungle grew too close too each other in this place for that. It was like a sanctuary of darkness – a cathedral of black where the only things to be made out were the sharp smells of flora and fauna. Perhaps this place had existed since the dawn of time – no – far older than that. More like since before the dawn of time. Before the worlds. Before the wars. Before Happiness.

Except, of course, for the fact that this place contained life. Amid the immense trees and the for once silent fairies was a horse. The hunters did not know exactly where it was located. They just knew that if there was one place in this jungle that an escaped dumb beast would flee to for protection, it would be here.

The two warriors couldn’t even see each other, and they dared not even breathe, much less speak, for fear of startling the hidden horse and forcing it to escape further into the blackness. Thankfully, these two could communicate with one another via their minds.

“Do you smell him, Snapper?”

“No, Alpha. But I smell something else. Something not right…out of place…wait. Wait, I can smell him now.”

“How far?”

“We must walk another hundred feet. Cautiously.”

          “I know, Snapper. We must be very quiet. He could run away at any moment.”

“No. Cautiously. There is something else here with us.”

Alpha and Snapper moved on. The fierce Kappa warrior had a difficult time in doing so, for he was very heavy. Alpha’s agile, silent form had already succeeded him by several yards. But it was more than just the fear of making noise that held Snapper back.

It was the fear of the “something else”.

As they continued to stalk, Alpha took great care to not let his hidden thoughts about Snapper reach the turtle’s mind. Snapper had been different as of late. He didn’t eat as much. He was easily startled. And, most disquietingly of all, he had lost his edge in the art of sword fighting. Alpha would never forget the time he caught Snapper rumbling up his cannon in anger when his twin brother beat him in a sword match. Alpha would have intervened, but thankfully, Snapper collected himself quickly. His brother didn’t even realize that Snapper’s cannon was preparing to fire, which would have completely decimated the winner of the sword match. But Alpha did. And he knew that Snapper could somehow sense a new presence within the Jungle. Something that did not exist before. However, when asked about it, Snapper always shrugged his massive shoulders and grunted. Was this new presence of the Alpha? Or the Omega?

They could only guess.

“Halt,” said the telepathic voice of Alpha.

“What is it?” thought Snapper in reply.

“There is light. Sunlight, stabbing through the trees.”

“Nonsense. There are no open spaces in this part of the Jungle. Oh, you are right. I can see it now. And there’s the horse.”

The sunlight rained down upon the horse, briefly illuminating his black body before he moved back into the shadows. His head was at the ground, eating what looked like mushrooms. This horse, like so many other things in this Jungle, was different from horses belonging to other worlds.

For one, the horse was actually owned by another horse. The owner’s name was Swiftmane, and he was the Jungle’s lead breeder of dumb horses. Whenever he was not jealously wishing that he had been born a unicorn (pure black, red eyed, horned creatures that were this world’s epitome of grace, wisdom, and beauty), the Common Horse Swiftmane was busy with his farm of dumb horses. These ones were bred for milk, and, more importantly, for their nourishing, delicious meat that was the source of Horse Steak, the absolute delicacy of this world.

But those delicious meals were not being enjoyed frequently as of late. The livestock was depleting. It began at a slow pace, about a horse a month, but gradually escalated to two a week. Naturally, due to Alpha’s well-honed telepathy, Swiftmane put Alpha in charge of finding the beasts and discovering the reason for their disappearances. Alpha’s powers always produced an accurate answer for anything questioned of in this world, except for the fates of the Jungle’s creator, Happiness, as well as her future rescuer who was to come from another world (Alpha did, however, have some insight into certain things about these two that didn’t involve his telepathy). But this horse dilemma proved to be the third puzzle that Alpha was unable to solve with his enchanted mind.

Still, Alpha did succeed, with abundant help from Snapper, in locating a few of the horses, but most remained unaccounted for. Their condition upon being discovered caused great fear amongst the Jungle Dwellers. Blood was always present. The amount varied from a trickle to a pool, but it was there every time, along with an occasional piece of hoof or horse hide. Without tracks or any other signs of predation, all the Jungle folk were totally baffled.

All they could ascertain was that something had assaulted the horses from above—some sort of flying beast. But the fliers of this world were gentle, herbivorous animals that never caused any trouble—aside from the Fairies, but the only flesh those creatures consumed was their own.

No—there was something in the air, possibly ever-present, and it had proven itself extremely lethal. A specter of death, a power of the air, a killer that could soon lose interest in livestock and begin attacking people.

But that’s not what troubles Alpha the most. What truly disturbed him was that whatever else these monsters may have been, they were completely alien to this world. Alpha’s senses told him that they belonged neither to the good force his name represented, nor to the corrosive energy of the Omega. All created beings, even the cowardly humans, could be identified in at least a small way with one or the other. The phantom, on the other hand…

Crack.

The horse, startled by the sudden noise from within the Jungle, jerked his head up and began scanning his surroundings.

“What was—”

Snapper’s thought was cut short by a visual and auditory frenzy. The horse was thrashing about violently and screaming in ways no one had ever heard from a horse before. A blur of feathers and blood surrounded the animal from all directions. Alpha and Snapper rushed forward, but were too late to even get a good look at the winged assailant.

The entire incident lasted no more than two seconds, and during that time, all the two warriors could make out were flashes of yellow and red, a pair of glowing green orbs, and four impossibly long limbs with what appeared to be hooks on the ends. Then, their eyes were blinded as a cascade of burgundy blood rained down on them from above.

The phantom had struck again, and Alpha knew in his heart of hearts that this was only the beginning.

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Comments
  1. Well, you’ve done it again, Shane. Very good!

    Liked by 1 person

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