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Walnuts - The Land of Taa'hi - Prologue
Orange swirls of clouds floated gently across the morning sky, accented by bursts of pink and strips of varying purples. The sun slowly climbed up and into the heavens, inch by inch, creating a unique warmth known by all, both plant and animal. Soon the air was filled with the songs of many birds of differing origins and colors. Each call was made by the singer's core heart, sewn with stitches of silk. The trees themselves were alive with the chirping, screeching, and humming of bugs. The ground was thrumming with the beat of animals' paws, the waters bubbling with rushing fish. All was well in the land of Taa'hi.
And in the very earth of the forest a stirring began. Claws scraped against dirt and roots, whiskers brushed tunnel walls, and the sniffling of a small pink nose could faintly be heard. A furry face with large, beady black eyes pushed its way through the fallen spring leaves, eyes blinking in the filtered light. Small ears round as the full moon fidgeted back and forth, alert in the early morning. And then, two small brown paws planted themselves on the ground. Then two more. And then a tail emerged. The caramel brown chipmunk stood in the filtered spring light, nose a-twitching. Two bold black stripes ran down his back, along with another, broader white one down the middle. The first hopped away from the hole, rubbing his eyes with his paws. And then another, identical chipmunk sprang up, smiling widely.
"Spring is here!" said a cheery voice. It had come from the second critter. His fur was the same caramel color as his companion's, and his round black eyes glittered just the same. The first looked over, twitching his short white whiskers irritably. "Too soon, too soon," he grumbled, glaring in the brightening sunlight. "Why, what is there to hate about spring? The bird songs are exquisite, don't you agree?" the second argued meekly. He hopped forward to try and persuade his twin, who had nothing of it.
"The bird songs are far too loud! Step off, would you? We barely just woke up." He crossed his arms stubbornly, breathing out into the crisp, fresh air. He tapped a paw impatiently, his tail curled outward, much like a squirrel's.
"Brother. Damon, please, can we not just enjoy the morning? For once?" The second wrung his tail in his paws, his ears going flat with despair. "We haven't done so in forever."
"Forever is a long time, pretty-paws," Damon retorted smugly. His twin cried out stubbornly, going on about how rude Damon always was. You would be, too, if someone was kicking you all snow-sleep, he thought bitterly. Damon, taking his brother's frustration to advantage, slipped away from the shelter of their burrow and scrambled up a tall oak tree.
Ah, how his brother could exceed in being so grumpy. The now lone chipmunk watched Damon scramble off, his eyes narrowed. No matter, he told himself. "Well! I-I should be off to gather breakfast. Feel free to apologise!" He called up the tree as loudly as he could in his tiny voice, paws clenched at his sides. Now, he should be off. But he stayed put just a moment longer, hopes high. Nothing. No response. The chipmunk huffed, spun on his heel, and tramped off, mumbling to himself.
Shoving small pebbles and leaves out of the way, the chipmunk made his way deep into the forest. He stopped at the sound of buzzing, his small black eyes darting around. Aha! A beehive, high above his head. Heeding the workers' violent dances, the rodent backed up, and continued his trek. No need to get on their bad side, he thought to himself with a smile.
The chipmunk sniffed the air, taking in the rich smells of the forest. He had been traveling for some time now, and his feet were growing sore. Right where he was, the chipmunk plopped down, absorbing the warmth of the springtime air. He closed his eyes, and lay his head, his fur color blending with the earth.
* * * * *
"A disturbance in the land," a gruff, raspy voice groaned. The sound echoed through the abyss, on and on until it faded at last. "I feel it too," said another. This one was like a snake's -- hissing and spitting. There was a long silence. And then another string of words. "Then we have succeeded," said the first, followed by a booming laugh that was interrupted by coughing. "Sire," the second exclaimed. "Do not waste your energy on laughter. You need rest, I am sure, if you are ever to rise again." Another dragging silence. Then, "Fyre, your babbling is giving me a headache. Do leave me to rest and perhaps make yourself useful." The silence returned. And it would remain for a long, long time.
The clanking and grinding of chains and gears filled the air, and the disgusting smell of oil and smoke accompanied it. Grunting and groaning filled the beehive of noise as well, quieter than the metal, but still noticeable. Small silhouettes walked along, glistening with sweat and grimy with unidentified gunk. They were fleshy beings with tusks about a foot long, protruding from the lower jaw and curving up towards their eyes; their eyes were small and black, pushed deep into their sunken faces. Almost all of them wore green overalls that looked centuries old, and they were torn and revealed flesh. The creatures had arms thick as an ape's, though they were bare. Their hands were gnarled, with two fingers and a thumb. Their feet -- hooves as black as midnight, dull and scarred. The beasts all had hairless tails as short as their chubby legs. And their ears stuck out to the sides like a pig's. Now, these horrendous excuses for animals were completely hairless except for their neck and chin. Black stubble crowded the area, and upon further inspection, they all seemed to be male -- no one creature did not have the prickly hair at their throat.
These monstrosities -- called Rumbellies -- shuffled about in a mindless manner, snorting and grunting, wiping away grime, and carrying pickaxes and other tools. They were nearly blind thanks to the tusks that stuck up in their faces, and were very hard of hearing despite their large ears. The area they were crammed in was very deep -- endless, almost. Metal platforms hung by chains were nailed to the top of the place, which was also out of sight. The Rumbellies moved across the narrow platforms with ease. Below, an orange glow, most likely caused by fire or lava, raged on and on. The source was just enough to light the place, though it was unnecessary, as torches were welded to the chains that held the platforms, which creaked with each step. The beasts seemed the least worried about falling, and much more intent on were they were going. They pushed past one another, not bothering to give a small "sorry," an "excuse me," or even a "pardon."
Far above the area, perched on a shelf in the cliff face, sat a dark brown, scaly creature, whose eyes burned like red coals. Small horns protruded from their forehead, curling backwards and finally ending after coming forward again, making an S like shape. The figure had long, muscular arms and hands like a chimpanzee's, and long, skinny legs. They had gills on either side of their neck, and a batlike nose. They had no visible ears, but a bulge in the throat took attention away from that. They watched on, eyes intent. And then it screamed.
The horrible sound rung through the air like a foghorn, only much higher pitched. The Rumbellies below only looked up, hardly startled at all. Their expressions were bored, and nonchalant, though they still paid attention. The thing high above peeked over the edge of his perch, and spoke in a high, hissing voice. "My friends -- comrades. The time to rise is near, but with your slow pace, none of you will ever see daylight! Those who took it from you walk lazily, relishing in what they have stolen! Move quicker, work harder! We leave in a month!"
This small speech resulted in excited squeals, and faster movement. The Rumbellies pushed past each other more aggressively than before, their sudden urge to be active impressive. Meanwhile, the figure above, previously identified as Fyre, smiled slyly, and moved backwards into the cave from which he had emerged.
* * * * *
A stirring in the earth began, a small, sudden one. Small black eyes blinked themselves open, and a small brown body sat up. A pink tongue emerged from the being's mouth, accompanied by a yawn. Smacking of the lips followed. The creature looked around, blinked, and rubbed their eyes.
"My," the chipmunk murmured as he marveled at the world around him. "How long a nap that was! It's nearly noon, and I haven't even gathered a single berry, nut, or root!" As to how he knew the time of day is beyond us, but nevertheless, he would move on. Quickly, the body jumped up and raced over the dirt and leaves, their paws moving with surprising speed. The little rodent came across a thin stream, which he cleared without hesitation (mind you, when I say thin, I do mean an inch or so).
On the chipmunk raced, swerving to dodge obstacles, leaping over roots, turning every which way. Never once did the animal show doubt in his decisions, as if he had made the route time and time again. Finally, the journey ended, the chipmunk stopping abruptly. He did not stumble nor fall, but simply stood still after making such a quick halt.
Before him the treeline stopped dead -- opening into a valley. At the bottom lay a perfectly circular pond. A few patches of cattails were scattered here and there, standing tall. Here the sun shone brightly -- not unbareable but not very gentle either.
Why a chipmunk would gather his breakfast at such an open place is unknown. He was very peculiar, undoubtedly, but to expose himself to such danger was unheard of. His eyes took to the skies, examining every inch for any threats (mainly predatory birds). One paw met the warm grass that lay beyond the shade of the trees. And then, eyes never leaving the sky, the rodent bolted towards the pond. He disappeared into the cattails, tall grasses, and any other cover that was provided by the pond.
Barely stopping to catch his breath, the chipmunk set to work. He began breaking grass off at the root (possibly for bedding) and laying each blade over his shoulder. He hummed as he worked, steadily, slowly. He looked up, through the grass, and peeked his head out of the shelter to look out at the pond. A deer drank peacefully, her fawn leaning unsteadily against her.
"Hello!" he called, waving his free paw frantically. The doe's head shot up, startled, her legs now spread with fright. She squinted, and upon the sight of the rodent, smiled gently. Her fawn shrank back. "Hello Felix! Fair morning, yes? I do wish you had a great snow-sleep?" she inquired lightly.
"Absolutely wonderful day, Gloria! Snow-sleep was long, as per usual, of course. I see you have a fawn this spring! Which buck is the father?" Gloria nudged her fawn with pride, smiling down at her. "Only Victor -- the finest and most gentle of bucks," chuckled Gloria. Her fawn simply blinked her wide brown eyes, staring down at Felix in amazement.
"Victor, hm? Well I wish you well, Gloria -- I must be on my way now. Damon does hate a late meal! Buh-bye!" And with that, Felix turned tail, holding the blades of grass in his jaws now, and scampered towards the forest.
"Goodbye!" He could hear the doe call. He smiled widely, happy to know his friends were doing well. He looked over his shoulder to see them, and by doing this, missed the next step, and fell.
The dip he had fallen into wasn't there before. He knew the dirt had been a bit damp, but what had made such a sinkhole? Felix shook himself of shock, and stood up. "My Lord," the chipmunk gasped, dropping the bundle of cargo at his feet. "What big paw prints! I wonder who made them? They aren't of hooves.."
His question was answered promptly as a deep, throaty chuckle filled the air. Felix's eyes grew big, and his jaw simply dropped. A second later, he was face to face with who he would later call a good friend -- but for the moment he was staring Death in the eye.
Before him crouched a lynx -- looking to be at least sixty pounds. His fur was brown and cream, and his eyes a brilliant amber. He bore a thin scar on his upper left lip, and to top it all off -- imagine this! -- he wore a thin rope as a necklace. At the end, on a metal loop, was a corked test tube. But the most frightening thing about him was his size.
Felix stared up at him, his ears flat. He froze when he was afraid. It was common knowledge around the area. Before he could think to run or to dash away, his mouth started moving. "I-I-I'm so terribly s-sorry, sir, for r-running into you like this," Felix spluttered. He picked up his grass bundle, thinking quickly. "I don't think we have met," he squeaked. In his obvious hurry to leave, Felix kept talking. "I m-must be on my way, sir. It was a p-pleasure to meet you."
The lynx simply watched Felix, a grin spread over his muzzle the two stared at each other for the longest time; a silent staring contest had taken place. Perhaps it was the silence; perhaps it was the tension, because the lynx finally gave up in being so quiet.
"I see you've stumbled across my trail," he said smoothly, sweeping a paw over the dusty forest floor. "What a shame. Do you need an escort off?" His amber eyes turned mischievous, his ears perking up and angling towards the chipmunk. Felix stuttered on his words, desperate to speak.
"No, no, I'll be just fine, thank you very much." And with that, Felix turned tail, and began marching away, staring up at the walnut trees that towered over him.