Highrock Pack History Songs: Storm Surge - Part One
Much fan pressure, a lot of brainstorming sessions, and a complete dump and rewrite of the opening scene later, Highrock Pack History Songs 2 is finally here! Thanks to all you fans who threatened me severe bodily harm if I didn’t glue my rump to the chair and actually write this thing! You know who you are. Without further ado, Highrock Pack History Songs: Storm Surge!
Steel blinked in surprise. He hadn't scented rain on the air, yet the unmistakable rumble of thunder was sounding in the distance. The pack leader, Wind Of Lowering Storm, signaled with his whip-like tail for the Lupes to retreat into the mazelike complex of caves within the caldera that the pack called home. Steel That Glints lurched to his feet, ignoring the pins and needles feeling of having risen too quickly after sitting too long.
“Serves you right, old brute,” he mumbled to himself. “Just because you’re pack history keeper doesn’t mean you shouldn’t exercize now and then!”
“Come now, Steel,” the pack leader said, amused. “You aren’t that old.”
Steel glared at the Darigan Bori. Few other packs had out of species Neopians as their leader, but circumstances had led the Highrock Pack to accept him. “Time was that the pack leader didn’t trouble himself with the grumblings of a malcontented elder, Darkwind,” he said irritably. Few in the pack had the nerve to call the leader by his nickname.
Darkwind flicked his ears dismissively. “Time was that a Lupe in the flower of youth didn’t call himself ‘old brute’,” he retorted.
Steel opened his mouth to give a return sally, when they were interrupted be another crack of lightning. One of the younger pups yelped in fear, darting under his mother's legs. The others were trembling.
Steel chuckled, exchanging a knowing glance with his pack leader. The history keeper padded towards the frightened youngster. “What’s the matter, little one?”
The pup whimpered, “The thunder is s-s-scary, Uncle Steel!”
“Scary!” the older Lupe said in feigned surprise. “Whatever do you mean? Haven’t you heard the legend of the great Lightning Lupe?”
Padding out from between his mother’s legs, the pup shook his head. He looked up at Steel, his eyes begging for a tale. Not at all loathe, the history keeper took a deep breath. The long familiar notes of the song echoed throughout the caves as Steel howled. The magic of the song took effect, and suddenly the storm was gone, as the listening Lupes were transported to lands far away...
Padding along on uncertain paws, Rose Bush’s Unfeeling Thorns whined miserably at his pack Beta. Barely old enough to venture beyond the confines of the den, Thorn lacked the strength for this cross country hike. Still, from the time his eyes opened he had been taught to trust his Pack Council. If the Beta Lupe said to come, he must come.
Thorn still wore his pale blue puppy coat, although it was impossible to tell as much. There had been a storm the previous night, turning the hard packed earth to muck. The miserable scrap was coated in the stuff, making him look like he was a chocolate bar that had been out in the sun too long. He whined again.
Spider Spinning Web turned to his charge. The island Lupe nudged Thorn reassuringly. “Just a little further, young one. We’re almost there.”
“Cold,” the pup replied pitifully, “Wet. Tired. Want mama.”
Web scooted the pup along with his nose. “Don’t fret, child. You’ll be home with your mama soon enough. But there’s someone you’ve got to meet first. I think you’ll be good friends. You can play together.”
Thorn’s eyes brightened, “Play?” he chirped hopefully. He had the misfortune of being an only child. It was a rare occurrence, and had left the poor thing without anyone to spend his time with. His mother played with him, of course, but she couldn’t take the place of a playmate his own age.
“Yes, Thorn,” Web said kindly, pacing through the last of the trees toward the river. This river flowed from Terror Mountain, deepening along the pack’s territory until it formed the Dragon Canyon. This canyon was a sacred place for the Lupes, for it was the spot where Mud That Slides Down Mountain had left this world to become the first member of Skysong Pack. The canyon was much further downstream, however, and here it was quite safe.
Web flicked his ears, a silent signal to Thorn to be still. The island Lupe stepped cautiously out of the trees, sharing the wild Lupe’s inherent fear of the open. He sniffed warily, pacing slowly forward toward the water. Seemingly satisfied that all was well, he turned back to Thorn and nodded. The pup scuttled forward, stopping a few paces behind his Beta. The youngster looked around, searching for the “friend” that Web had mentioned. Suddenly, the river water rippled. Thorn looked at the river and his eyes widened in astonishment at the creature that waddled onto the bank.
It had a dull brown coat of short, coarse fur slicked back by water. Its ears were short tufts, and it had long whiskers. It also had flippers.
Thorn gasped. Of course he had heard the legends of the Merlupes, but he had NEVER anticipated meeting one himself. Yet, here before him was a baby Merlupe. The aquatic creatures were said to be very shy, and never seen this far from the ocean.
Web smiled. “Thorn, this is Bingseer. Bingseer, this is Thorn.” The island Lupe gestured to the Merlupe. “He was blown in by that storm. It seems that our river empties into the ocean very far downstream. He was separated from his mother by a rock fall.”
Thorn shyly padded up to Bingseer, sniffing curiously. The Merlupe seemed just as curious, and waddled farther onto shore. Then, as if by some unspoken signal, he dived into the river, while Thorn splashed in the shallows, laughing for the first time in his young life. Web smiled. Yes, this would work out just fine.
* * * * *
Bingseer was in trouble.
Scooting along the shallows of the Dragon River, his eyes wide, his tiny ear tufts rose. That wasn’t going to save him, though. Not if the huge blue Lupe had anything to say about it. He tensed, and then leapt out of the shrubbery, landing atop the Merlupe. After a brief scuffle, the blue Lupe managed to pin his prey, and threw his head back in a howl of triumph.
“Alright, get off me, you big oaf!” Bingseer laughed. Three years had added plenty of muscle to the young Merlupe, but he still couldn’t compete with Thorn on land. Of course, he easily outclassed the Dragon Canyon Lupe in the water, but that was another matter.
Thorn obliged, padding down from atop his friend. He panted, his eyes glittering with amusement. Despite having reached his full growth, his pelt was still sky blue. Thorn was somewhat disappointed to be a blue Lupe, but he didn’t dwell on it.
The Lupe was concerned, though. According to legend, Merlupes were supposed to be big and strong, yet Bingseer was still rather weak. Thorn had tried to bring it up, but the Merlupe was amazingly elusive about the subject. Perversely, this only increased Thorn’s concern. Bingseer’s eyes were hollow, and he seemed to be losing weight instead of gaining.
“Yo! Neopia to Thorn!” the Merlupe interrupted his thoughts. The blue shook his head, laughing.
“Sorry, I was woolgathering. So, what should we do now?” he asked.
Bingseer chortled. “I believe you have a previous engagement with the Beta. Something about remedial combat training?” He guffawed as Thorn’s ears flicked and his tail curled around his hind leg, the Lupine equivalent of blushing. Thorn was a superb hunter, but as Web so eloquently put it, “You fight like a human’s pet, Thorn!”
The blue Lupe grimaced. “Well, wish me luck. Hopefully his lordship Musclepaw won’t beat me too far into the ground.”
Leaving his chortling friend to catch some fish for himself, Thorn padded off into the training grounds, a small rocky place full of little caves and scraggly plants for prey to nest in. But hunting wasn’t what Thorn was here for. An island Lupe padded into the open twitching his tail, his expression blank, the very picture of dominance. As was proper for a young, low ranker approaching the Beta, Thorn tucked his tail and gape-grinned, licking Web’s chin. This formality out of the way, Web’s expression softened.
“Are you ready, young one?” he asked.
“Yes, Lord Web. I’m ready,” he replied, stifling a sigh. He dropped into the familiar crouch, his ears forward aggressively, his tail lashing, balancing his weight on his toes. He had been taught all of these things, but he still lost every fight he participated in. This was no exception. Finally, Web called the session to a halt.
“You are strong and bright, young Thorn,” he said, “but your concentration is lacking. Is something troubling you?”
The blue Lupe sighed. “I’m just worried about Bingseer. He seems so weak lately. It’s as if he’s fading slowly away.”
The older Lupe sighed. “Yes. I figured something similar would happen.”
Thorn jerked his head up in surprise. “What do you mean?” he asked.
Web shook his head. “If Bingseer hasn’t told you, I’ll respect his privacy. Hopefully, he’ll be able to confess the truth to you before it’s too late.” With those ominous words, the Beta dashed off.
* * * * *
Thorn’s jaw split in an enormous yawn. Three hunts since dawn, and not one catch. That, on top of his training fight with Web, had completely worn the young Lupe out. He flopped down next to his yearling pack mate Runt, who offered a shy smile and snuggled next to the worn out blue. The steady breathing of his packmates around him lulled Thorn’s already fatigued mind into sleep.
The Tyrannian Lupe sat before him, his tail swishing. Thorn’s first instinct was to attack the stranger, for there were no Tyrannians in the pack currently. Yet this Lupe bore the scent of the Dragon Canyon Pack, despite not being anyone Thorn knew. The tusked stranger gestured with his tail for Thorn to approach, and air of calm authority about him. The blue padded cautiously forward, suspicion in every line of his body.
“Rose Bush’s Unfeeling Thorns, welcome. I am Tusk That Guards Your Sleeping.”
Thorn gasped, his jaw dropping. Tusk? THE Tusk? The first Alpha of the Dragon Canyon Pack? What on Neopia would bring such a hallowed soul to walk in his dreams?
“Nonsense,” the other said, amusement in his voice, “I value all of my pack children equally. I am no more or less special than any other Lupe. I have come to you because this is a matter that concerns you alone. It is about Bingseer.”
Thorn blinked. “Wh-what about Bingseer, ancestor?”
Tusk That Guards Your Sleeping shook his great shaggy coat. “He is in great need of your help. Ask what ails him, and do not stop asking until he tells you. His time is running out, and though he is not Pack Born, we value him for the time he has spent here and the friendship he has given you.” The Tyrannian faded, and Thorn was thrust into the formless haze of deep slumber.
* * * * *
It wasn’t quite dawn yet, but Thorn was already at Bingseer’s section of the river. He had awoken with the fuzzy, muddled impression that he needed to do something urgently, something to do with Bingseer.
As usual, the Merlupe waddled onto the shore, clumsy as a turtum on land. Thorn bit back a yelp of surprise. Bingseer’s eyes were completely sunken in, and he could scarcely hold his head up. The blue dashed over to his friend. “What on Neopia is happening to you?” he cried.
The Merlupe sighed. “It’s because I’m in a fresh water river. We Maraquans need salt water to stay alive. It’s a slow process, but eventually if we aren’t submerged in the ocean, we sicken. If we stay away too long, we eventually die.” He shook his head. “I’m getting very weak now. I don’t have much time.”
Thorn blinked in surprise. He turned his head away, digesting this revelation for a moment. Then he turned to his friend, his eyes alight with fierce determination. “If that’s the case,” he snarled, “then let’s go.”
Bingseer blinked. “Um... go where?”
“To the sea of course. We’ve got to get you home before it’s too late.”
“What? Are you crazy, Thorn? Do you have any idea how far it is to the ocean? Even if we did make it all the way we couldn’t get through! There’s a huge rockslide blocking the path to the ocean.”
The blue flicked his tail dismissively, “The distance is no trouble. I’ll travel as far as I have to get you to a place where you’ll be safe. Furthermore, it’s been three years since you were downstream anywhere near the ocean. For all we know, the rocks have shifted by now.” His eyes glowed with fierce determination, “I’m not going to lose you, Bingseer. If you have to leave the pack, so be it, but I won’t let you die!”
Bingseer gazed at Thorn in blank astonishment. Tears shimmered in the corners of the Merlupes eyes for a moment before he swiped them away with his flipper. “Thank you, Thorn,” he whispered.
The blue grinned. “That’s what friends are for, bud. To make suicide missions into unknown territory. What else?”
* * * * *
The canyon wall loomed overhead, blotting out all of the sky save that directly above the traveling Lupes. Bingseer swam in the deeper waters at the center of the river, and Thorn stumbled along in the relatively shallow water at the edge. The current was getting stronger, and soon Thorn would have to figure something else out.
The blue rounded a bend in the canyon, and suddenly realized where he was. Thorn shuddered.
“What’s up?” Bingseer called to his friend.
“This... this is the place where Mud That Slides Down Mountain sacrificed herself to save her packmates from the Monoceraptor. This is hallowed ground to our Pack.”
Bingseer’s eyes widened and he gazed up at the cliff, sobered by the notion of falling from that high up. His flippers were better off staying submerged, preferably deep within the ocean.
As the sky turned amber with the approaching dusk, Thorn called, “I need to find somewhere to stop for the night. I can’t be sure of my footing in the dark.” The Merlupe nodded, and dove beneath the surface, speeding off. Thorn waited for him, and soon he returned. “I found a perfect place,” he barked, “It’s a small cave. It’s well within reach from the ground, just a few feet to climb up the cliff face.”
Thorn brightened, nodding. He quickened his pace, looking for the cave. Just as the last rays of light faded, he saw it. It was small, nearly invisible crack in the cliff wall. If he was careful, he would just be able to squeeze inside. Hopefully it was bigger inside that the entrance. Leaping up, he squirmed his way inside. The cave was smooth from the moisture of the river, and just big enough for him to curl up inside. While Bingseer swam to the bottom of the river to build himself a nest of mud and rocks, Thorn settled down to sleep in the crag.
He padded along the beach. It was unlike anything he had ever seen. An endless expanse of blue-green water as far as the eye can see. The air smelled of salt and life.
Suddenly, a huge tidal wave roared toward the shore. Thorn whirled around to flee, but it swamped him. The entire world was roaring, foaming water. He gagged, trying to clear his lungs-
And jerked awake. That was the strangest dream he’d had for a while. The most frightening one too. Still, if it was a dream, why could he still hear the roaring of the wave? And why was his tail still wet?
His sleep fogged mind suddenly cleared. The roaring was rain. The wet was water. He gasped as panic rose within his heart. The cave was flooding.
He dove for the entrance, and tried to squirm his way out. Unfortunately, the pressure of the water rushing into the cave was too strong. The blue couldn’t get out. He flailed wildly, but to no avail. “Bingseer!” he cried, “Bingseer, help! I’m trapped, help!”
But the Merlupe was oblivious to his friend’s plight. He was far beneath the water’s surface, sleeping the sleep of the utterly spent, his ears plugged to keep out water.
Thorn’s situation was growing desperate. He had to tilt his head back to keep his nose dry, and soon there would be no air left. He scrabbled at the entrance with his claws, hoping against hope to widen the gap.
“Kid, grab on!”
Suddenly, a tan tail dangled before Thorn’s nose. Without a moment’s hesitation, he lunged at it and chomped down. The owner of the tail pulled him from the outside while he pushed from the inside. Finally, as his head became completely submerged, he slipped through the gap. He was free.
However, he was not yet safe. He was immediately caught in the fierce current of the swollen river, yanking his jaws loose of his rescuer’s tail. He was swept downstream at a terrifying rate. He was also being tugged underwater.
Thorn surged toward the surface, his lungs screaming for air. Just as his muzzle cleared, a huge wave swamped him. Jaws parted to take a desperate gulp of air were filled with water, and the current was too strong for Thorn to surface again. Strangely, the blue found that he didn’t care. The water swirled around him, within him, making him a part of it. His mind sank into oblivion, and he didn’t even try to fight it.
Suddenly, he felt something slam into his ribs. He was shoved into open air again. Instinct took over, and he coughed and wheezed, forcing up every drop of water he had swallowed. His fatigue fogged mind just managed to register the concerned face of Bingseer propelling him shoreward, before he fainted.
To be continued...