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Earning His Stripes
Hu looked out across the horizon, the trees towered above him and as he looked at his reflection in the water, he sighed. He had been chased from his mother’s territory as he was now old enough to go out on his own. He lapped at the water looking at his reflection, an orange face with black stripes stared back, he turned away from his reflection then continued on his way.
He found a place to hunt and waited for his victim, a buck slowly crept out into the open and he prepared for the pounce. Snap! With one swift bite to the neck the buck was dead.
Now that the sun had set and his belly was full he laid down to sleep in a small patch of grass surrounded by trees.
“Another day goes by and still no territory,” he sighed.
He listened for danger then rested his head on his forepaws and closed his eyes allowing sleep to overcome him.
He woke with a yawn and stretched. A twig broke behind him and he whipped his head back, pulled his lips back in a snarl, ready to attack but instead he was met with a loaded gun. Then there was a loud sound and he was lying on the ground in a pool of blood. Then everything faded to black.
He opened his eyes and came face to face with a white tigress who had eyes like ice. But where was the forest? He looked around and all he saw was a black sky and the grass beneath him shimmered.
“W-who are you?” he stuttered his question, “and where am I?”
“I’m Reign. You're between the living world and the afterlife.” she responded calmly.
Hu searched her eyes and found sadness deep within them but he had to know more but her expression was blank.
“How did this happen?” Hu asked.
“I’m not sure, all I remember is I was shot and then I ended up here,” she answered.
There was pain in her voice and sadness like she had been here for a long time with no way to get to the afterlife or back to the living world. He had to help.
“Maybe we can find our way out,” Hu suggested.
“How?” she replied sharply, “Sorry, I just can't see us getting out.”
Hu wasn’t going to let that stop him, he would find a way to get them both back to the living world.
“Well, I’m not giving up,” Hu said as he rose to his feet.
“What?” she said in surprise, “But there really is no way out, I’ve tried.”
Hu wasn’t listening, he had already begun his search. He drew in the scents but there were only the two of them, no, this couldn’t be it. He kept looking then he came upon a stone with a message carved in the rock that read:
“Help me, help me,
I will show you the way.
Follow the path,
Paved by ancient paws.
Then say the oath,
To the oak,
And follow the light,
To relieve you both.
At the end you will find,
A shimmering stone,
And there you will be,
“Follow the path… By ancient paws…” he muttered.
He looked around, there was nothing, he sighed and right when he was about to give up he noticed something on the ground.
“Paw prints!” he exclaimed.
Reign looked on with a confused look but this was her only chance to get out so she followed Hu.
“Follow the path… Follow the path and…” he said to himself.
They traveled for hours on end until they came to the oak, it looked old and worn like it had been here for years, wait, could things get old here?
“This must be it, now say the… oath!” he shouted, “Reign, come here and place your paw on the carved out paw in the tree and recite the words above.”
She nodded and placed her paw where she was asked to and looked above to find the words she was to recite.
“I promise to honor this code for when I am set free, I will find the man who killed me and return the deed with my claws and teeth,” Reign and Hu said in unison.
A beam of light came out from the top of the tree and carried onto a mountain that looked to have a hole in it.
“That’s where we must go,” Hu said firmly, “Let’s finish this.”
Reign nodded and they were on their way.
Days went by but out here there was no way to tell time nor days for it was always dark but they knew where they were going and knew what they must do.
Each passing day grew their friendship stronger. They never separated, they slept together and even spent time at night just talking or even cuddling, they had truly come a long way.
When the pair had grown weary, they stopped beside a sheltered spot under a tree to rest and after they had settled down in their usual sleeping spots, Reign rested her paws neatly in front of her and looked at Hu.
“So… Hu, I was thinking maybe we could stick together after all this is done… Maybe even make a family of our own,” she said shyly.
Hu snuck a glance back at her and she stared back, they laid there gazing into each other's eyes for what seemed like forever then Hu rubbed his face into hers and smiled.
“I would love that,” he told her.
Reign simply smiled and rested her head on her paws then Hu rested his head on hers and smiled until sleep took him over.
After days of traveling they made it to the end of the light where there was a cave, it was dark but they knew they had to do this.
“Ready?” Hu asked.
“Ready,” Reign responded confidently.
They walked into the cave and lucky for them their eyes were built for the dark so they could navigate pretty easily. The cave started to grow lighter until they came upon a stone that shimmered in the dark.
“This must be it but what do we do now?” Hu questioned.
“Over here!” Reign exclaimed.
She had found that in the floor there were two paw prints carved into the cave floor.
“Put your paw on this,” she instructed.
He did as told and Reign did the same then suddenly the cave walls began to fade and the hard stone became soft grass. When they opened their eyes they were back in the jungle, they looked at each other and smiled but it wasn’t over yet.
“Finally, home again. but Now we must find the man who shot us,” he told her.
Reign nodded and they continued on their journey once more, now looking for the man who sent them to that dreadful place.
The sun beat down on their fur warming it enough that you could cook on it, it had been a week since they started their search and they’d had no luck so far. Now with the jungle behind them they trekked across the open meadow but just when they thought all hope was lost they heard a rustling in the bushes ahead of them.
“Looks like he found us, stay here,” Hu told Reign and stalked across the meadow.
He crept up behind him and when he raised his head he let out a fierce growl.
“Long time no see,” Hu said.
The man swung around gun in hand but Hu remained still just staring him in the eyes daring him to reach for the trigger.
“You're a brave cat, I almost feel sorry for killing you,” he said with a laugh.
“Oh but you already have. Don’t you recognize me?” Hu asked sarcastically.
“Oh you think I don’t know what I did? I know I killed you and I’m about to do it again,” the man said as he reached for the trigger.
“I’ll take that!” Reign laughed as she stole the man's gun.
She stood beside Hu with the gun held firmly in her mouth but the man simply laughed and turned to flee but Hu took charge and tackled him to the ground scratching and hissing fiercely until all that was left was a weak man. Blood dripped off his paws where his claws met the man's skin and then Reign walked up to him and dropped the gun beside him then returned to Hu, it was over.
A couple years passed and they finally found a territory of their own, they had a small cave they slept in that was placed in the middle of the jungle and later on Reign had a cub named Rey, a male tiger who looked much like his father but had ice blue eyes of his mother.
Rey grew up and so did Hu and Reign, as the years went by and their cub had left to find a territory of his own, Hu began acting strange, he was less active and grey hairs grew on his face and whiskers. Reign to had grown old and was also developing grey hairs of her own. When it was time, Hu knew and when Reign woke she guessed where he went.
“You okay?” she asked him as she walked up to him.
He looked up at her weakly then smiled.
“Hu?” she said his name as she rubbed her head into his fur.
“All the years we spent t-together and I wouldn’t have changed one thing, our cub was a blessing and being with you… Was better than any joy in the world. I l-love y-you,” he stuttered weakly and laid his head back down.
“I’ll see you again… my love,” she said sadly as a tear left her eye.
She laid with him until she could no longer hear his soft breathing and covered his body with dirt and leaves returning everyday to sleep with her beloved mate until another week had passed and she too left the world to join him.
Their cub grew into a fine tiger, he even had a mate and little ones of his own to care for, protect, and tell stories that his father once told him. Stories about how a young tiger named Hu grew and the journey he took with another tiger named Reign, the story told of how through challenges in life grew a bond stronger than the strongest steel. The story is still told today as his cubs after him and many more after that told their cubs the story, some believe it to be true and others believe it to be a myth but the story of a tiger named Hu is full of hardships and overcoming them and it’s about love but most of all, it’s a story of how a young tiger earned his stripes.