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Beasts of the American West (updated)

F-14 Ace

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Ok, here is the reworked version of my story.  I have rewritten it and added a couple of characters.  Comments and suggestions are welcome.  
Here is the title image I decided to use.


      

Chapter 1: Brothers
          It was a hot day in midsummer.  It was July of 1873 to be exact.  A lone buffalo walked sluggishly through the meadow toward a clump of old oak trees by the river.  The shaggy animal seemed like nothing more than a large, brown speck amidst the vast sea of dry grass.   It was an extremely hot day and very uncomfortable for a beast with really thick fur.  The sun beat down from the azure sky, baking the earth below.  The buffalo paused briefly and surveyed his surroundings.  All vegetation was brown and dry with the exception of a few small oak and pine trees by the river.  In the west loomed the high, rugged, snowcapped peaks of the Rockies.  Tall, jagged mountains towered above the Great Plains like majestic guardians, silently watching over the endless prairie below.  To the east was a seemingly endless sea of dry, golden prairie grass that stretched as far as the eye could see over waves of gently rolling hills.  A light, hot breeze blew across the open landscape making the dry grass to sway back and forth.  The hot breeze just made the buffalo even more miserable.
   “I’m not doing this again.”, thought the shaggy beast as he walked through the grass towards the river.  Blaze was very tired and thirsty after having spent the day looking for a better place to graze where the grass wasn’t so dry and crispy.  He had found no such place and was returning home rather disappointed.  A few clouds occupied the deep blue sky overhead, occasionally covering the sun.  The thirsty buffalo snorted in agitation and resumed his walk to the river.  With each step he took, the dry grass crunched beneath his hooves.  Blaze was about the size of an average bison, standing five and a half feet high at the shoulder.  His shaggy mane was a dark reddish-brown color as was the tuft of hair on the tip of his tail.  The rest of him was simply a dark shade of brown.  Blaze’s horns were each about a foot long though they would probably grow longer as he aged.  
   Blaze reached the river and lowered his head, lapping at the cool, refreshing water.  The water made him feel better and cooled him off.  Blaze lifted his head to look around again, letting the drops of water drip from his bearded chin and fall back into the river.  He was beginning to wonder where his overly protective brother was.  As a matter of fact, Rhen was late today.  He wanted to ask Rhen if he could accompany him to his grazing spot since Rhen claimed his grazing spot was so great.  Blaze lowered his head and resumed drinking when suddenly, his ears perked up at the thundering of hooves on the dry, hard ground behind him.  Before the buffalo even had time to react, however, something rammed into him from behind.  With a cry of surprise, Blaze fell headfirst into the river.  As he rose up out of the water, he saw an older and larger bison standing on the bank.  There stood Rhen, laughing and shaking his massive, shaggy head.  He was a magnificent creature, standing six and a half feet tall.  He had a thick mane of umber colored fur that covered his head and front legs and ended about halfway down his back.  The rest of his fur was short and was a dark chocolate color.  His black, upturned horns were about a two feet long each, razor-sharp, and much longer than Blaze’s horns.  
Blaze sat there in the river with water dripping off of his long fur and shouted irritably, “Very funny, Rhen!”
   Rhen replied smugly, “Hey, did it cool you off?”
   Blaze climbed out of the water and shook the water out of his dripping hair, showering the ground with sparkling droplets of water which clung to the dry grass.    
   He snapped, “Why do you do that, Rhen?  If I had wanted to get wet, I would have gone for a swim on my own.  I’m going to take forever to dry off!”
   Rhen replied, still almost laughing, “Admit it, sourpuss.  You liked it.”    Blaze shook the water off of his head and walked into the grove of trees, still dripping wet.  He flicked his wet tail a few times, sending more water flying off.  Rhen was playful, if a bit immature at times.  Blaze really wasn’t in the mood for Rhen’s pranks right now.  The bison flopped down on the ground, sending up a cloud of dust from the dry, worn earth under the trees.  This was his home.  This is where Blaze and Rhen would take shelter from the burning sun in the afternoon and where they would go in the bitter winter to keep out of the icy wind.
   Rhen walked up beside him and asked, “What’s wrong?  Something’s bothering you.  I know it.”
   Blaze replied sadly, “I still miss mom.”
   Rhen sighed and said sympathetically, “I do too.  But you don’t have to worry about being alone.  I’m here for you.”
   He nuzzled Blaze gently with his big nose and said, “You know I love you very much, Blaze.  You are all I have left.”
   Blaze said, “Thanks.  I’m sorry I yelled at you a minute ago.  I guess I just got upset about nothing.” Rhen laughed, “Hey, what are brothers for.”
   Back when Blaze was still only a calf, his mother died.  She was very old when she gave birth and died of natural causes.  It wouldn't have made any difference if she had been gunned down by a hunter though because she still left behind a calf too young to fend for himself.  Blaze had been weaned but was he not old enough to fend for himself.  Blaze probably would have not survived had Rhen not looked after him.  Since then, Rhen had been very protective of his younger brother and still was even now that Blaze was an adult.  Most of it was because Blaze was the only family Rhen had left now.  The rest of their herd had been slaughtered by hunters.  Hunters were responsible for the fact that now Rhen and Blaze were the only two buffalo remaining for several miles.  There was a small herd further to the north but its leader wouldn’t allow any bulls to join because he wanted to limit competition during the mating season.
   Blaze asked, “Are you going back out again?”
   Rhen lied down and replied as he rested his head on the ground, “Nope.  I think I’ll stay here.  It’s getting late.”
   Blaze tried to say it as nicely as he could, “Rhen, please don’t come check up on me anymore.  I can take care of myself.  I am an adult now, not a calf.”
   Rhen sighed and said, “I know.  I’m just worried.  You are the only family I have.”
   Blaze answered back to his brother, “I know.  It’s just embarrassing.  Nothing is gonna happen.”
   He didn’t quite care much for all these checkups.  He was an adult now.  Rhen was just being overly protective.  Blaze loved his brother very much but he just didn’t like to be treated like a calf.  Blaze then remembered what he was going to ask Rhen.
   “Rhen, can I go with you to your grazing place tomorrow?”
   Rhen quickly replied, “Sure.”
   Blaze was pleased with the answer.  He hardly ever got to spend time with Rhen anymore.  He had no friends and it could get very lonely during the day.  He wished more than anything that he had someone to spend time.  It was so boring with nobody to talk to.  Rhen would spend most of the day on the other side of the river at his grazing spot.  Blaze just thought about how nice it would be to have someone to talk to and spend time with so he wouldn’t be alone.
   Rhen lied down next to Blaze and declared, “Blaze, I met an old friend today.  Someone who I haven’t seen in a long time.”
   Blaze looked up curiously.  “Who was it?”
   Rhen replied, “You probably don’t remember James do you?”
   Blaze thought for a second and exclaimed, “The bear?  I remember him... vaguely.”
   Rhen chuckled, “He asked how you’ve been doing.  It’s been a while and he wants to see you.  That is... if you want to go.”
   Blaze pondered for a second.  Why not?  He had nothing else to do.
   “Sure, Rhen.  I’ll go.”
   His brother said, “Good.  We’ll go later when it cools off.  It is just too hot to do much right now.”
   Blaze and Rhen rested for a few hours, letting the hottest hours of the day pass by.  Blaze rested his shaggy head on the dry ground and drifted in and out of sleep.  Even in the shade, the heat was utterly miserable.  Finally, in the late afternoon, things began to cool down.  Rhen yawned and stood up.  He walked lethargically out of the grove of trees.  Blaze stretched out on the ground, digging his hooves into the dust.  He rolled over and began to stand up.  His fur was no longer wet from the river but dirt clung to his right side, which he was laying on when he was wet.  The young bison followed his brother out of the trees and down to the river where Rhen was lapping up the cold water.  Then, Rhen launched himself into the water causing a huge splash.  The bison swam out into the middle of the river where the water was over his head.  The current there was weak and the large buffalo had no trouble swimming through it.  Rhen kicked his feet until his hooves could touch the rocky bottom of the river.  Rhen thrust himself through the water until he reached the opposite bank.  
   As he climbed out of the water, Blaze shouted after him, “Where are you going?”
   Rhen chuckled and replied, “I’m going to see James!  Coming?”
   Blaze took a deep breath and leaped into the river.  The water, which flowed down from the mountains, felt icy and cold, yet refreshing at the same time.  Blaze  was unable to swim as fast as his brother.  It took him a few minutes to cross the river.
When the buffalo finally reached the other side, Rhen said, “Alright, let’s go.”  
   Rhen dashed off across the flat landscape.  
   Blaze panted as he tried to catch up, “Slow down, Rhen!  What’s the big hurry?”
   Rhen replied laughingly, “I want to get there before dark!”
   Blaze wondered where they were going.  Rhen seemed to be keeping it a surprise.  Blaze pursued Rhen, his hooves pounding the dry earth and sending up a cloud of dust.  He ran alongside his brother and the two bison raced along the riverbank as the sun hung low in the western sky, just above the mountain peaks, flooding the landscape with an orange light.  
   Blaze panted, “Getting tired yet?”
   Rhen replied as he thundered along, “Nope.  I’m just getting warmed up!”
   Blaze was panting and struggling to keep up with Rhen.  The dust that the powerful bison kicked up made Blaze cough and gag. The cloud of dust stung his eyes, bringing tears to them.  Blaze skidded to a halt, panting and choking on the dust.  Rhen abruptly stopped, sending gravel flying as he slid across the rocky ground.  
   Rhen trotted over to Blaze and asked concerned, “Are you alright, Blaze?”
   “Yeah, I’m fine.” croaked Blaze in reply.”
   “Good”, was Rhen’s reply as he dashed ahead again.
   Blaze shouted after him, “I’ll get you for that, Rhen!”
   The buffalo had by now caught his breath and bolted off after his brother toward the setting sun.  The colossal shadow of the majestic mountains blanketed the vast prairies as the sun sank below their peaks.  The bright rays of light reflected off the snowcapped peaks in hues of orange and pink.  Blaze was quickly catching up to his brother and overtaking him.  He was a very fast runner and was not about to let Rhen beat him.  All he had to do was outrun him.  Every muscle in Blaze’s body flexed and relaxed with each thrust of his powerful legs.  His hooves thundered on the hard, dry ground.  It would have been certain death for any creature unlucky enough to be caught beneath the bison’s hooves right now.  A mouse or prairie dog would have been crushed and flattened instantly.  
   Rhen was exerting all his energy and was wearing out.  His tongue was dangling from his mouth and his heart was pounding as if it was about to jump out of his chest.  
   He slowed to a trot and gasped, “Alright...  I give up.  You win, Blaze.  We’re almost... there...  anyway.”
   Rhen was exhausted from the run.  He slogged along with his tongue hanging out and his tail hung low.
   Blaze paused and allowed Rhen to catch his breath and the two bison continued on their way.
   Night was setting in and the land was cooling off rapidly.  The big moon hung low in the sky as the last rays of light glowed in the west.  Finally, Rhen and Blaze arrived at a rocky hill with a cave in the side of it.
   Rhen announced, “This is it, Blaze.  We’re here.”
 
Chapter 2: The Storm
   Blaze looked around at the dark landscape around him.  The chirping of crickets filled the balmy night air.  The soft gurgling of the river could be heard above the chirping.  Stars filled the sky overhead and a big full moon hung low in the sky to the east.  
   Rhen looked around for any sigh of his friend.
   The bison called into the cave, “James, it’s me!”
   A gravelly voice called down from atop the hill, “Rhen, I’m up here!”
   Rhen looked up and saw the black bear making his way down the slope.
   The bear said casually, “I was just fishing in the river on the other side of the hill.  It’s good to see you again, friend!”
   James paused and looked at Blaze for a moment and then exclaimed, “Look at you, Blaze!  Last time I saw you, you were just a calf with fiery orange fur!  Now you’ve grown into a fine young bull.”
   Blaze, unsure of what to say, replied, “Well, uh... nice to see you again too.”
   Rhen teased, “Aww.  He’s a bit shy around people he doesn’t know.”
   James said in his rough voice, “Oh, that’s alright.  He hardly knows me anyway.”  
   The bear walked up to Blaze and surveyed him again and said, “You know, your brother and I go way back.  We grew up together.”
   Rhen added, “Yeah, we were practically inseparable.  We use to get into all kinds of trouble.”
   Blaze asked, a bit curious, “What kind of trouble?”
   James Replied, “Oh, the usual stuff.  Pulling pranks on coyotes and such.”
   Rhen replied in a low tone, “Oh yeah.  I remember them alright.”
   James laughed, “And don’t forget that old badger.”
   Rhen teased, “Hey, you started the whole thing with your attitude.”
   James retorted, “I did not!  You were the one who started it with your name calling!”
   Blaze interrupted, “What exactly happened anyway?”
   Rhen explained, “There was this badger who that he owned everyone.  He was always bellowing at us for coming too close to his den and we just got sick of it.”
   James added, “Your brother here started calling him names.  I told him it wasn’t a good idea but he didn’t listen.  Rhen has always been kinda stubborn.”
   Rhen snorted at the bear and continued, “Well, the badger got mad and came after us.  I wasn’t afraid of him though because I was a lot bigger than he was.  He...”
   James interrupted, “That’s not true!  You were running from him faster than I was, ya big coward!”
   Blaze yawned tiredly.  Listening to Rhen and James bicker was interesting and all, but it had been a tiring day.  Blaze just wanted to get some rest.  His eyelids felt heavy and he just wanted to lie down.  
   Rhen said to James, “I think we should be getting back home.  Blaze looks like he is about to drop over asleep.”
   James suggested, “Why not just stay here?  You can go home in the morning when it is light.”
   Blaze then asked in a tired tone, “What about your grazing place?  Aren’t we going there in the morning?”
   Rhen replied, “Yeah.  We can still go.  Hey, James, would you like to come with us?  We can talk some more there.”
   The bear replied, “Sure.  We can catch up on some things.  Let’s just call it a night for now.  I’m so tired, I feel like I could sleep for a month.”
   Rhen joked, “I don’t think it is hibernation time just yet.”
   He glanced over at Blaze who was already asleep and said, “Well, it looks like we’ll be staying here tonight for sure now.  Once he’s asleep, there is no waking him up.”
   Rhen lay down on the ground next to James.
   James said, “Just look at him.  It’s hard to believe that he is the same sickly calf I remember him as.  It really amazes me that he survived that first week.”
   Rhen replied, crossing his front legs and resting his big, shaggy head on them, “Yeah.  Of course, I really didn’t care back then.  I thought he’d hog all the attention from Mom.”
   James said, “Well, look how things turned out.  You raised him just as good as any father would have.”
   Rhen nodded.  He still wondered how someone as sick as Blaze had survived at all.  When Blaze was first born, he was very sickly and unhealthy.  He was experiencing breathing problems and nobody believed he would even make it past his first night.  For the first couple months of his life, Blaze was weak and barely had any energy.  He had somehow managed to survive through it all and had grown into a handsome young bull.    
   The next day, Rhen headed off towards his favorite grazing spot with Blaze and James following him.    
   Blaze asked out of curiosity, “Why do you like that particular grazing spot so much?  Is the grass any different there?”
   Rhen replied, “Well, mostly because the grass is greener and there are other kinds of food there too.  You won’t leave hungry, that’s for sure.”
   James commented, “Maybe you won’t leave hungry.  I’m not a grazer like you two though.”
   Rhen said, “Find something else to eat then.  I’m sure there will be something for you.”
   Rhen continued onward as Blaze ran up alongside him.  There was very little sibling rivalry between them.  Sure, Blaze and Rhen would get into an argument every now and then, but Blaze loved his big brother and Rhen loved Blaze.  Blaze thought back to the day before when Rhen had knocked him into the river and gave a slight chuckle about it.  He had been upset about it at first but now that he thought about it, it was kind of nice actually.  It was just harmless fun.  Blaze still wanted some “revenge” if one could call it that.
   He shouted, “Hey, Rhen!  Want to have another race?  First one to pass that big rock over there wins!”
   He gestured towards a large boulder with his head.
   Rhen answered, “Alright, you’re on!”
   Blaze sneered as he pawed the ground, “Okay, get ready to lose again!”
   The two bison dashed off towards the rock, kicking up clouds of dust as they ran across the dry ground leaving James where he was.  Blaze passed Rhen within the first few yards.      Blaze shouted to him, “Come on, slow poke!  I thought we were racing!”
   Rhen just rolled his eyes and began to run faster.      
   Blaze taunted again, “Come on!  At least try to beat me!”
   Rhen huffed as he passed Blaze, “Alright, sure thing!”
   Blaze sped up but was having a hard time passing his brother.  
   Rhen was huffing and puffing as his hooves pounded the ground under him.  The two buffalo were nose to nose but Rhen was getting tired.  Finally, he just decided to back off.  Blaze ran past the boulder and slid to a halt, sending rocks and dirt gravel flying everywhere.  
   He turned around and looked at Rhen while trotting backwards and gloated, “Ha!  Told ya so!”
   He had enjoyed the ordeal but he was now panting hard and his heart was pounding in his chest.  Blaze loved getting back at Rhen for his pranks just as long as nobody got hurt.  Racing with Rhen was one of his favorites.  Despite his early health problems, Blaze had better stamina than Rhen and could sustain his speed longer.  Being smaller and somewhat lighter helped as well.  
   Rhen just shook his large, shaggy head, laughed and replied, “I just let you win.  No point in bragging about it.”
   Blaze just said, “Yeah, sure.  Whatever.  All that running made me hungry.”
   Rhen commented, “Well don’t worry.  We are almost there.  It’s not much further now.”
   James caught up panting loudly and gasped, “I hope not.  You two wore me out already.”
   Rhen sighed.  Blaze had always been a little impatient when it came to food.  He enjoyed spending his time munching on grass and occasionally leaves from a low hanging branch on a tree.  The two bison arrived in a small hallow with lots of green grass and some shrubs.  
   Rhen announced, “Blaze, we’re here.  All you can eat.”
   Rhen walked over to the green patch of grass and started feasting.  It had a sort of sweet flavor to it.  Blaze joined his brother.  The ground was wet and mushy beneath his hooves.  Then, Blaze noticed a marsh nearby.  This explained why everything here was so moist and green.  He walked over to the marsh to get a drink.  This time, Blaze was listening to make sure Rhen did not surprise him again.  The water wasn’t moving much and it didn’t taste as fresh as water from the river.
   James busied himself trying to gather up field mice but was having little luck.  The mice were small and the few that he caught were not nearly enough to fill him up.  The black bear glanced jealously at Blaze and Rhen who were thoroughly enjoying themselves and wishing he was having as much fun.  The two bison spent a couple of hours grazing and enjoying the green, sweet grass.  In the late afternoon, Blaze was grazing on wildflowers when ears perked up to a low rumbling sound.  The sky was growing dark with clouds as a storm approached.  The dark clouds were looming over the mountains to the west and beginning to move over the plains.  From the looks of it, this was going to be a very nasty storm.  Lightning illuminated the clouds and more thunder rumbled across the open prairie.  
   Rhen ambled over and said, “Come on, Blaze.  Let’s go home before that storm hits.”  
   Rhen turned and headed for home.  Blaze nodded and trotted off after his brother.  
   Blaze never liked thunderstorms very much.  He didn’t like lightning or thunder.  The rain wasn’t a problem though.  It was badly needed and would help replenish the parched land.
   James shouted after them, “I’m going back to my cave!  You two, be careful!”  
   Rhen shouted back, “We will!  Don’t worry!”
   Blaze and Rhen trotted at a brisk pace as the sky began to boil and churn with dark clouds behind them.  The scent of rain filled the air and the wind picked up, whipping Blaze’s long hair in his face.  Thunder rumbled again, this time much closer.
   Rhen stopped and turned his head to Blaze.
   “We’re not gonna make it home before this storm hits and I don’t want to be caught out in the open!  I know of a cave not very far from here where we can go until the storm blows over!”
   Blaze shouted in reply over the howling wind, “Couldn’t we just go back with James to his cave?”
   Rhen answered, “No, there isn’t enough room in that cave for all three of us.  This cave is much bigger than his.”
   Blaze nodded and the two buffalo changed direction, heading north.  They headed for a rocky hill in the distance.  Blaze sighed in frustration.  They were going to be in for a rough night.  
   Rhen, annoyed that Blaze was lagging behind, shouted, “Come on, Blaze!  We need to get to the cave!”
   Blaze replied, exhausted from the long, strenuous dash toward the cave, “I’m right behind you!  How much further is it?”
   Overhead, the boiling clouds had turned the sky a deep shade of purple and jagged bolts of florescent lightning flashed high above.
   Rhen panted, “Not far now.  Let’s pick up the pace!”
   Blaze groaned again in frustration.  He didn’t know how much longer he could run like this.  He was tired from his race earlier and didn’t feel like running.  A light mist was blowing down from the black clouds, clinging to the two bisons’ fur like drops of dew on grass.  A fork of florescent blue lightning ripped across the sky followed by a defining clap of thunder that echoed across the open prairie.  
   Finally, after what seemed like ages, Rhen shouted, “There it is!  Let’s get inside!
   There, in the side of the rocky hill was the small opening of the cave.  Rhen ran inside with Blaze right behind him.  Only seconds later, the storm unleashed its full fury.  Rain pounded and the wind howled, blowing mist into the cave.  The ceiling of the cave wasn’t but about twenty feet high.  The cave went back about 200 feet until it went into a huge underground lake which was almost completely hidden in the darkness.  Blaze looked into the black water and couldn’t see that there was any bottom to the lake.  It seemed to go on forever.  The young bison trotted back over to Rhen and sat down on the damp cave floor, looking out at the raging storm.  Water poured over the entrance as if there was a solid sheet being draped over it.  Rhen drank from a puddle of water forming from the mist blowing inside.  This was definitely going to be a long night.  Blaze lied down on the cave floor and crossed his front legs, resting his head on them.  The constant lightning illuminated the inside of the cave, sending shadows from the stalagmites and stalactites dancing across the walls.  The light was reflected from the smooth surface of lake like a mirror and for a brief second, it lit the entire back of the cave, revealing how far back the lake stretched.  It seemed to go on and on into the darkness.  Blaze turned his attention toward the entrance of the cave when he heard the sound of hard objects hitting the ground.  Hail had started to fall outside and a few pieces were bouncing inside the mouth of the cave.  Rhen chuckled and kicked a hailstone with his right front hoof, sending it bouncing across the floor of the cave and into the underground lake.  It disappeared into the darkness with a splash, sending ripples across the surface of the water.  Hailstones the size of quarters were falling outside now.  Rhen got chills when he thought about what else could be lurking out in the storm.  He knew that he and Blaze were safe from it in the cave but that wasn’t the case a few years ago.  It was back before Blaze was born.  In fact, Blaze only knew of it because Rhen had told him of the incident.  It had been on a stormy night much like this one that Rhen had experienced it.  The herd, what was left of them at the time, was huddled in a group as the rain pounded down on them.  Rhen was hunkered down next to his mother, who was still pregnant with Blaze.  There were tiny hailstones falling but not large enough to hurt a buffalo.  Then, over the sound of the rain splattering on the ground, came the most dreadful sound Rhen could imagine.  It was an unearthly roaring sound.  Then, a flash of lightning revealed a long, black, narrow thing coming down from the clouds.  Rhen’s mother would later explain that the thing was called a tornado.  All of the buffalo seemed to be in a panic except for Rhen’s mother, whi was the herd’s leader.  She surveyed the situation and determined that the tornado was not headed their way.  However, she still led them to a different location until the storm passed.  This thought broght back sad memories for Rhen.  His father had sat beside him that night while his mother tended to the rest of the herd.  Rhen had been the only one of the two brothers to know their father.  Their father was shot by hunters along with the rest of the herd with the exception of Rhen and his mother.  Blaze had been born only a week later.  Rhen presently diverted his attention to his younger brother who was lying on the cave floor asleep.  Rhen crept over to him and lay down next to him.  He gazed out at the torrential rain outside.  Like Blaze, he had never liked thunderstorms much.  He wasn’t sure what he hated more; the lightning, the thunder, or perhaps both.  Rhen was getting tired of thinking about it though.  Then, during a flash of lightning, something caught Rhen’s attention.  Something was moving outside.  A second flash of lightning revealed a dark object moving toward the cave entrance.  Then he realized that it was an animal of some sort.  It was a large one.  The mysterious creature bolted through the curtain of rain that covered the cave entrance and yet another flash of lightning revealed a very tired looking, very frightened female moose.  
   Her eyes shifted from Blaze to Rhen and then the dripping wet moose said timidly, “Oh, I’m sorry.  I didn’t mean to intrude.  I had no idea that anyone was here.”
   Blaze was awakened by the newcomer and surveyed her groggily.
   Rhen cocked his head and replied, “That’s alright.  We don’t mind.  We’re just trying to get out of the storm too.”
   Blaze asked the newcomer in a tired voice, “Why are you so frightened?”
   The moose replied, “One of those strange clouds that touch the ground is out there.  I’ve heard some bad things about them.”
   Rhen asked, although he was sure he knew the answer already, “You mean a tornado?”
   The female moose nodded.  Blaze, having never seen a tornado before, could only wonder what was so frightening.
   The bison asked his brother, “Rhen, what exactly is so scary about tornadoes?  I mean, it is only a cloud right?”
   Rhen shook his head and answered, “Tornadoes destroy any thing in their path.  They are much more than just a cloud.  They are made of wind that spins around and suck up rocks and even whole trees.”
   Blaze nodded.  The moose watched the two brothers settle down for the night.  She had always heard that buffalo were greedy and cantankerous and yet these two seemed very friendly.  She crossed her front legs and rested her head upon them.
   Blaze watched the rain continue to pound outside although despite the frequent lightning, there was no sign of the tornado.  His eyelids were heavy and he felt extremely tired from the day’s activities.  Blaze let out a long yawn and rested his head on the floor of the cave.  The pattering of the rain faded away and soon, Blaze was asleep again.  Rhen lied down next to his brother and drifted off to sleep as well.


F-14 Ace

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Here is chapter three finally.

Chapter 3: A New Friendship
   Blaze awoke and looked around the inside of the cave which was lit by sunlight streamed into the cave.  The bison glanced around and discovered that his brother wasn’t in the cave.  He yawned and sluggishly stood up.  Blaze’s fur was damp from the wet cave and he eagerly walked out into the bright, morning sun to dry off.  He looked around at the grass which was turning green from the rain the previous night.  The ground was mushy beneath his hooves and there were still puddles here and there.
   “Blaze!” called Rhen from a nearby meadow.
   The bison looked over into the meadow and saw Rhen standing with the moose from the night before.  Blaze began to make his way over to them.  He wondered why the moose was still there.  He thought that she would have moved on as soon as the storm was over.  In the cave, it had been very dark except for the flashes of lightning and Blaze had been unable to get a really good look at the moose but now he could see her better.  She had ginger fur over most of her body except for her lower legs, which were white.  She had dark green eyes which Blaze found quite interesting.  
   As Blaze neared his brother, Rhen said to the moose, “This is my brother, Blaze.”
   The moose said in a friendly, pleasant voice, “Hello there.  Nice to meet you, Blaze.  My name is Heather.”
   The buffalo didn’t know what to say.  His shyness was getting to him again.
   Rhen chuckled and commented, “He’s just a little shy.  That’s all.  So, where are you from anyway?”
   The moose replied, “I am from a valley in the mountains.”
   Blaze finally asked, “Uh, no offence or anything, but why are you here?”
   He was very curious as to why a moose, an animal which generally favored forests, was here on the plains.  
   Heather replied, “Well, you see, my parents picked my mate for me and I didn’t like him.  I tried to tell them but they were still going to make me be mates with someone I didn’t like so I ran away.  I heard there were forests in the east so I tried to find them.  I guess I got lost.”
   Rhen said, “I hate to tell you but if you are looking for the forests in the east, it is a very long way from here.”
   Heather said in a very disappointed tone, “Oh.  I just had no idea the plains were so big.  I don’t know what to do now.  I can’t go back and I can’t go east.  I just don’t know what to do.”
   Blaze whispered, “Rhen, maybe she could stay with us.”
   His brother whispered back, “Good idea, Blaze.”
   Rhen said, “Maybe you can stay with us, Heather.  At least until you figure something out.”
   Heather replied, “That is very kind of you but I thought buffalo were nomadic.”
   Rhen assured, “Actually, we live in a grove of trees.  It is like a small forest.  It keeps the sun off of us and keeps us cool.”
   “And provides us with an occasional snack if we get tired of eating grass.” added Blaze.     Heather said cheerfully, “Alright, I’ll go with you.”
   Rhen gestured with his head in the direction of home and said, “Alright then.  This way.”
The two bison brothers set off toward their grove of trees with the moose following them.  Heather silently followed the two brothers until they arrived at the grove of trees.  The trees reminded her of her old home.  The tall oaks shaded the ground underneath from the sun and keeping the temperature pleasantly cool.  From the looks of things, they had kept the rain from soaking the ground underneath too.
   Rhen said, “Well, here we are.  Make yourself at home.”
   Heather replied happily, “Thank you.  You have no idea how glad I am to see trees again.”
   She entered and found a place next to some bushes to lie down.  Heather bit off a piece of the bush and began to munch on it.  She was happy to finally eat something other than grass.  As the moose was eating the leaves James stuck his head through the foliage which startled her.  Heather backed away, frightened by the sudden appearance of the bear.
   James said, “There you are.  I came by earlier you two weren’t back yet.”
   Rhen trotted past the startled moose and over to his friend and replied, “Oh, sorry.  We slept kinda late and I was talking to my new friend, Heather.”
   The bison gestured to Heather with his head.
   James said, “Ah.  A newcomer and quite a pretty one at that.”
   Heather said, still shaken, “What do you want?”
   Rhen said, “It’s alright, Heather.  He’s my friend.”    
   Heather whispered into the bison’s ear, “I just don’t trust bears.  I think I’ll go outside until he’s gone.”
   With that, the moose turned and trotted out of the shrubs and lied down by the river.  She rested there for a couple of minutes before she saw Blaze’s reflection appear in the smooth water next to hers.  
   The buffalo asked, “Do you mind if I sit here?”
   “Go ahead” the moose answered.
   Blaze sat down next to Heather and said, “I think you hurt Jame’s feelings.  He heard what you said.”
   Heather said quietly, “I didn’t mean to.  I just don’t trust anything that eats meat.”
   Blaze paused for a second and then said, “Rhen has been friends with James all his life.  They grew up together.  Rhen said that James has never given him a reason to distrust him.”
   Heather sighed and said, “I didn’t mean any harm.  I’ll apologize.”
   She got up and walked back into the trees.
   James said to Rhen, “Well, I just came to check on you two to see if everything was alright.”
   The black bear was about to leave when Heather called after him, “Wait!”  The moose caught up and said, “I’m sorry for what I sad earlier.  I really meant no harm.  I was just startled.”
   James chuckled and replied, “That’s alright.  I understand.  I don’t hold grudges.  Well, I must be on my way now.  Good day.”
   The bear departed and Heather sat down by one of the trees.  
   Rhen said, “Thank you for apologizing.”
   Heather rested her head on the dusty ground and replied softly, “Blaze told me everything.  I was wrong to snap at your friend like that.”
   Rhen said, “It’s okay now.  He accepted the apology.  That was all that mattered.”
   That night, Rhen lay awake next to Blaze and Heather.  He just couldn’t sleep no matter how hard he tried.  He just wasn’t tired tonight.  The big bison slowly stood up and crept quietly out of the grove of trees.  Rhen squeezed between two bushes and walked out into the moonlit meadow.  Heather woke up when she heard Rhen rub against a bush and yawned tiredly.  The moose got up and watched Rhen as he walked out into the meadow.  Heather saw Rhen pause by the river and gaze out into the distance to the east where the mountains did not obscure the sky.  All was quiet except for the chirping crickets and a light breeze that blew through the trees, rustling the leaves.  The moose quietly walked out into the meadow after Rhen and paused a few yards from him.  The white moonlight almost seemed to make Rhen’s dark fur glow in shades of light grey.  The moonlight flooded the entire landscape in a white light and danced on the ripples in the river.
   Heather walked over to where Rhen stood by the riverbank and asked, “Hi, is everything alright?”
   The buffalo turned his head to her and replied, “Yeah.  “I’m just thinking.”
   Heather said, “It just seemed like something was bothering you.  What is on your mind?”
   Rhen said, “I just feel lonely.”
   Heather asked curiously, “What do you mean?  You have Blaze and your bear friend.”
   The bison answered, “Besides my brother, I am the only other buffalo around here.  Blaze has never seen another buffalo besides me and our mother.”
   Rhen sighed and continued, “He never even knew his father.  Father died right before Blaze was born.”
   Heather said softly, “I’m sorry.  You have my sympathy.”
   He then asked, trying to change the subject, “So what are you doing out here anyway?”
   The moose answered, “I heard you get up.  I wanted to see if everything was alright.”
   Rhen turned to her again and said, “I just needed to think for a bit.  You know, I just feel so hopeless sometimes.  It almost seems like me and Blaze are the last of our kind.  It’s such a lonely feeling.  More and more, I get the feeling that my kind are destined to die out.  Man is killing us off little by little.”
   Heather didn’t speak at first.  She didn’t know what to say having never had to deal with something like this.  
   The moose finally said trying to encourage Rhen, “If what I have heard is correct, the buffalo have been through times like this before and each time they have learned a way to cope. You need not worry about your kind dying out, Rhen.  They have always survived.”
   Rhen wanted to argue the point.  In the past, humans has been armed with spears or arrows.  They would kill only what they needed.  Now they were armed with guns and could easily wipe out an entire herd within minutes.  Rhen had witnessed it firsthand.  The bison decided arguing the point would be useless, however.  He had already discussed enough and wanted to change the subject for good.
   “It’s a beautiful night.”
   Heather understood and decided it was best to let the previous discussion die.  She said in agreement, “It is beautiful.  Where I come from, there is only one place where you can see the whole sky in the valley.  It is on a knoll in the southern part of the valley where the mountains are lower.  From the top, you can see the sky in all directions.  There is also a good view of the rest of the valley too.”
   Rhen replied, “I wish I could see it.  Things sound so great where you come from.  Er, well... except for the parents picking mates for you and all.”
   Heather giggled and said, “That was just my parents who did that.  Not everyone there does it”  
   She yawned tiredly and Rhen suggested, “Perhaps we should get some sleep.  I think talking about this made me feel better anyway.”
   The bison turned and walked back toward the trees.  Heather wanted to tell him something but she didn’t feel that this was an appropriate moment.  Although she had only learned his name that morning and she had just gotten to know Rhen, Heather had developed a crush on him.  She felt awkward having a crush on a bison with her being a moose and all.  She didn’t know how to explain it to Rhen or even if she should.  Heather started after Rhen and followed him into the trees.  Rhen lied down quietly next to Blaze while Heather rested against a tree and closed her eyes and soon all was quiet.
   Two weeks had passed since the storm and the prairies had become dry in the summer sun again.  It was now August and by far the hottest month of the year.  Blaze was grazing among the tall prairie grass in the afternoon sun when he heard someone moving noisily through the grass.  The bison lifted his shaggy and saw Heather making her way through the grass.  She was looking down at her feet with an expression of annoyance on her face as she untangled one of her front hooves from a thicket of weeds.  
   Blaze began to move toward her and the moose shouted, “Oh, Blaze!  Have you seen Rhen anywhere?”
   “Over there.” replied the buffalo after swallowing the grass he was chewing on.  He gestured toward an area with shorter grass.  
   Heather spotted Rhen wallowing in the dirt just outside the tall grass, sending clouds of dust into the air.  As she prepared to take another step a rattling sound filled the air.  
   The moose asked curiously, “What is that sound?”
   Blaze, having lived on the plains all his life, had heard the sound many times before and knew exactly what it was.
   “Don’t move!  Don’t do anything!  Be very still!” shouted the buffalo as he moved cautiously toward Heather.   The moose became very still and dared not move.  There, curled up directly in front of her was a rattlesnake that she had not seen until Blaze said something.
   Blaze said calmly, “It looks like a rattler.  Here, let me get rid of it.”
   And with quick movement, Blaze used his left front hoof to knock the snake away and into the brush.  
   Heather sighed in relief and thanked Blaze.  She was not finding life on the plains very appealing right now.  At least where she was from the danger was more conspicuous and easier to avoid.  The heat only made things worse.  Heather followed Blaze out of the thick grass and into the shorter grass onto the plains.  She glanced over at Rhen who was still rolling in the dirt and asked, “Why is he rolling in the dirt like that?”
   Blaze replied as if the answer was obvious, “It keeps the bugs off of us.  All buffalo do it.”      
   Blaze and Heather walked over to Rhen, who was now on his back in the dust, and stood over him.  When the large buffalo noticed them he quickly rolled over and got to his feet.
   Heather giggled, “You’re awfully dirty, Rhen.”
   The buffalo shook his whole body, sending dust cascading out of his dark fur like mist from a waterfall and responded, “What else is new?”
   With that said, he flicked his tail a few times, getting rid of the dust that still clung to the long hairs at the tuft on the end.
   Blaze asked, “You wanna fight, Rhen?  It’s been a while since the last time we had a good tussle.”
   Heather was a bit surprised by the question.  After all, Blaze didn’t seem to be the violent type.
   “Sure.” answered Rhen.  
   Heather asked, “Why would you want to do that?”
   Rhen answered, “We just do it for fun.  It keeps us strong.”
   Rhen then whispered to her, “Plus it gives me a chance to get back at Blaze for beating me at races.  He may be faster than me, but I’m stronger.”
   Rhen trotted into the middle of the field with Blaze and the two bison took their positions about twenty-five yards apart.  Blaze pawed the ground and lowered his head, preparing to charge.  Rhen scraped the ground with his left front hoof, kicking dust into the air as he got ready to take off.  The two buffalo bolted toward each other at full speed, covering the distance in only a few seconds.  The two met with a loud thud that sent a shudder down Heather’s back.  Blaze was pushed back almost immediately after the impact.  He slid backwards as Rhen pushed as hard as he could.  Blaze then dug his rear hooves into the ground, to stop himself.  Rhen continued to push with all his might but Blaze wouldn’t budge.  Blaze gritted his teeth and began to push back, causing Rhen to slide backwards.  The two beasts continued to wrestle with one another.
   Blaze grunted as he pushed Rhen back slightly, “Is that the best you’ve got?”
   Rhen didn’t answer.  Instead, he snorted and dug the sharp points of his hooves into the dirt and shoved Blaze back again.  Heather didn’t see how either of them could call this a scuffle.  It looked like all out war between the two.  Blaze and Rhen were almost completely enveloped in a cloud of dust as they continued to duel.  Rhen finally got the upper hand and pushed Blaze back onto his haunches.  Blaze was unable to go on.  His strength was gone and he would just injure himself if he kept up.  Rhen could feel that Blaze was letting up and backed off, allowing Blaze to get back up.  
   Blaze panted, “Next time, your mine, Rhen.”
   His brother responded smugly as he trotted over to Heather, “Yeah, sure.”
   Heather said to him, “Well, you won.  Now what?”
   Rhen replied, “We were just having fun.  No harm done.”
   The sun faded away behind the grey clouds that were rolling in from over the mountains.  A breeze began to blow and Blaze sniffed the air.     
   He called over to Rhen and Heather, “I think it’s going to rain again.”
   Rhen nodded his shaggy head in agreement and said, “Let’s go home.  It looks like the storm is still quite a ways off.  We should make it back before the rain gets here.”
   The two great beasts headed for home with Heather following.  She looked toward the mountains and sighed.  The moose missed her valley home and wished to return.  However, it looked as if she would be stuck here for a while.  On top of everything else, she had grown close to the two brothers, particularly Rhen.  Heather was torn between her love for him and her home.  
   Evening arrived and thunder rumbled across the vast expanse of the prairie as the storm clouds blocked out the setting sun.  Instead of the radiant orange and pink lights reflected from the mountain glaciers, the dusk brought a dark, gloomy, blue tone that can commonly be seen on a cloudy evening.  The scent of rain filled the air and the wind blew through the foliage in the cluster of oaks and pines.  The prairie grass swayed in the wind and sheet lightning illuminated the bottoms of the clouds overhead.  Heather and Blaze watched from the edge of the grove and Rhen stood just outside in the open.  The wing whipped his fur into a frenzy as he stood there.   Once the big, sloppy drops of rain began to fall, Rhen turned and joined Blaze and Heather under the cover of the leaves.  He rested on the dry ground next to an oak tree root while Blaze rested next to one of the pines.  Heather walked over to Rhen slowly and lied down next to him.  The three animals talked to each other about their past adventures as the gloomy atmosphere of the stormy night set in.  The darkness of the night was illuminated every minute by a bright flash of lightning and the pattering of rain on the tree canopy overhead.  A bright bolt of lightning streaked across the sky, turning night into day, and was followed shortly after by a sharp crack of thunder.  Heather leaned against Rhen’s shoulder and closed her eyes.  She had been planning how she would reveal her love for him and now was the perfect opportunity.  Blaze was asleep so she didn’t have to worry about him listening in.
   Mustering all her courage, Heather whispered softly in Rhen’s ear, “Rhen, there’s...  there is something I want to tell you.”
   Rhen asked, “Go ahead.  What is it?”
   “I know we have only known each other for a short time, but... I love you, Rhen.”
   She had finally said it.  
   Rhen chuckled softly and said, “I thought so.”
   He had suspected something like that ever since she spoke with him on that starry night two weeks earlier.
   Heather then added, “It’s not just you though, Rhen.  I love Blaze too.  You both remind me of my old friend, Myles.  Perhaps, if you were a moose or if I were a buffalo like you, we could have been mates.”
   Rhen nodded and said solemnly, “It isn’t meant to be, Heather.”
   “I know.” she replied.  “We’ll never be anything more than friends.”
   Rhen nodded and laid his head down on the dry ground.  Heather yawned tiredly and decided to sleep.  She nuzzled Rhen and laid her head on her front legs, pleased that her confession had gone as well as it did.  The moose closed her eyes and Rhen nuzzled her back.  In just a few minutes, everything faded away as sleep overtook Heather.


F-14 Ace

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Chapter 4: Disaster
   Grey clouds filled the sky and a light drizzle had been falling all morning.  Heather sat on the dry ground under the trees and shared stories with her two friends.  
   “Myles was my childhood friend.  He was a moose like me and we grew up together.  When I left the valley, I tried to get him to come with me.”  She hung her head and said sadly, “He wouldn’t leave the valley.”
   Blaze asked, puzzled as to why, “How come?  You two were best friends.  Why wouldn’t he come with you?”
   Heather replied in a quiet voice, “He said the valley was his home.  He could not bear to leave.  I know that he loved the valley and I suppose he was afraid of the open plains.  He never likes wide open spaces very much.  He wished me luck before I left and that was the last I saw of him.  I was hoping Myles would be my mate someday.  I miss him very much.”
   Blaze rolled over on his side and stretched out tiredly on the ground.  
   Rhen glanced at him briefly and asked, “What was the valley like?”
   Heather answered, trying to remember everything she could, “Well, it was very pretty there.  There were tall peaks on either side but it was flat in the middle.  There was a river and a small lake at the northern part of the valley at the base of a mountain.  And there were trees everywhere.  They are mostly tall pines and cypress trees.  They were much bigger than these trees.”
   She paused for a moment and sadly realized just how much she truly missed her old home.  She was a creature of the forests, not the open plains.
   Heather continued on, “It was cold in the winter and warm in the summer, not like here where it is hot all the time.  And there were little mountain streams every.  The water was cold all the time.”
   Rhen nodded and Heather then said, “I had another friend named Della.  She was a doe who I had known since I was very young.  She would play with me and Myles in the forests and meadows.  She tried to talk me out of leaving but I couldn’t stay.  I didn’t want Yazet for a mate.”
   “Who in the world is Yazet?” Blaze asked.”
   Heather turned to him and said, “At one time, he was another one of my friends.  I don’t know exactly what happened to him but when he got older, he just became bitter.  He always picked on Myles even when he was my friend.  That is why I feel so bad for leaving Myles behind with him.”
   Blaze then asked, “Why would your parents pick someone like him to be your mate?  He sounds like a jerk to me.”
   Heather nodded and answered, “They wanted someone who could protect me and they didn’t think Myles was strong enough for that.”  
   She then said, “I miss my old home though.  Sometimes, I get the feeling that I shouldn’t have left.”
   Rhen nuzzled her and said, “Don’t worry.  I’m sure you’ll get use to things here.”
   Heather rubbed her head against Rhen’s shoulder and said, “You are so sweet, Rhen.  I’m just homesick.  I’ll get over it.”
   Around midday, the rain stopped and the sun emerged from the clouds.  Rhen, Blaze, and Heather walked across the soggy prairies along the river bank.   Overhead, gray patches of clouds rolled through the sky overhead, occasionally revealing patches of blue sky.  The sun faded in and out of the broken clouds as they moved eastward.  A warm breeze rustled the green grass.  Blaze walked along lazily next to Rhen and Heather followed behind them.  The three arrived at a bend in the river where the current was gentle.  
   James the bear greeted them at the river.  He was devouring some kind of fish and judging by the pile of bones next to him, it was clear that it wasn’t the first fish.
   Blaze glanced over to Heather, hoping she would not be too disgusted by the sight, but she seemed alright.
   James seemed to have the same idea as Blaze and swept the fish skeletons off into the brush saying, “Sorry about that.”
   Heather replied cheerfully, “It’s perfectly fine with me.  I only eat plants but that I don’t expect you to do the same.”
   Rhen spoke up, “So, who wants to swim?  There is not much of a current here so we shouldn’t have to watch out for rapids.”
   Heather shouted excitedly, “I’d love to go swimming!  I used to do it all the time!”
   Rhen leaped into the water with a huge splash, followed by Heather.  The two immediately began to play in the cool water, laughing and splashing the whole time.
   Blaze sat down next to James and scoffed, “Look at him goof off.  You’d almost think he was a calf.”
   James smiled and nodded, “Yeah.  I miss those days.  Did he ever play with you when you were little?”
   Blaze nodded and said in a somewhat depressed tone, “Yeah, all the time.  Of course, he was bigger than me so we couldn’t wrestle.  We used to race a lot though.”
   “What’s the matter, Blaze?  I can tell something is bothering you.”
   Blaze remained silent for a few seconds and replied, “Ever since Heather came along, Rhen has been spending more time with her than me.  He was just starting to spend time with me more often but not anymore.”  
   The bison looked down at the ground and continued, “I have nothing against her.  It’s just that Rhen has been spending so much time with her recently.  Why can’t he spend time with both me and her?”
   James shook his shaggy head and said, “I see what you are saying.  Rhen loves her.”
   Then the bear whispered, “Sometimes Rhen can get carried away with something.  Remember how he used to be so overly protective?”  Blaze nodded and James continued, “You talked to him about it, made him aware that it bothered you, and he changed.  Maybe you should talk with him.”
   Blaze looked at the bear and said, “Thank you, James.  I’ll talk to him alone tonight if I can.”
   James asked, “So, what do you say we join them instead of moping around over here?”
   Blaze nodded, stood up, and charged into the water, straight into Rhen.  Rhen cried out and fell with a splash.
   Blaze chuckled and Rhen yelled playfully, “Oh yeah?”
   He swept one of his front legs under Blaze’s front legs, knocking them out from underneath him.  Blaze fell forward and landed in the water.  The two began to wrestle in the river and James joined in.  He scooped up mud from the riverbank and threw it at Rhen, hitting him just behind the left ear.  Heather ran up behind James and pushed him into the water with her nose.  She stood on the riverbank, laughing happily.  This continued for several more hours until Blaze and Rhen both had enough.
   As they climbed from the river, James laughed jokingly, “Ahh, nothing like the smell of a wet buffalo.”
   “Shut up.” Rhen replied as he shook the water from his fur, although he was obviously joking around too.  
   Blaze shook the water from his fur but was still dripping wet.  He suggested, “Let’s go home so we can dry off before dark.  I don’t like to sleep wet.”
   Three weeks passed and it was now early September.  It would not be long before the weather would become cold.  Heather followed Rhen and Blaze as usual, pausing briefly to glance at the mountains.  She really wanted to go home.  As much as she liked Rhen and Blaze, she just had to go home.  Things had not turned out like she planned.  The moose was not built for the plains, having almost broken her leg a few days earlier by stepping in a prairie dog hole.  In addition, she felt that she was not getting a lot of nutrition from the food.  The oak leaves and grass were not what she was used to.  Being a moose, Heather enjoyed aquatic plants and pine needles, both of which were scarce in the open prairies.  She had brought the subject up the previous day, and though Rhen was upset by the decision, he did not openly show it.  Heather had even invited Blaze and Rhen to come along with her, but Rhen refused saying, “Our kind aren’t meant for the mountains.  We need the wide open spaces.”
   Heather had resolved to leave the next day, so she wanted to make this last day with her friends memorable.  Little did she know just how memorable it would be.  She ran and played with Rhen and Blaze in the meadow, and Blaze was actually sad to see her go.  Blaze was just beginning to get use to her.  He had never spoken with Rhen about spending more time with him, but the issue seemed to have resolved itself.  Recently, Rhen had been including Blaze and James in his activities.  Blaze decided that it would be best to leave Rhen and Heather alone for the moment.  He figured that Rhen would want to say his goodbyes in private.  The young bison  found a nice quiet spot by a lone oak tree and began to graze on the grass in the shade.  It was a quiet day and Blaze stood there, enjoying the silence.
   On the hill overlooking the meadow, two men watched the bison, safely hidden in the tall grass.  One, a short thin man with round glasses, observed Blaze under the tree with an old spyglass.  Then he shifted his view to Rhen and Heather.
   “I see two buffalo down there.” he whispered to his partner, a tall and muscular, but not too bright individual.
   The tall muscular man replied with a whisper, “Let me see.”
   He took the spyglass and, after watching Rhen and then Blaze, he said pointing to Blaze, “I think he’s close enough.  Hand me he rifle.”
   The short man objected, “Let’s get closer.  That deer rifle ain’t gonna take down a buffalo from this distance.”
   The tall, muscular hunter retorted, “Excuse me.  What do you know about hunt’n big game.  It ain’t gotta kill it on the first shot.  Just needs to stop him from getting away.  I’ll finish him off later!”  
   Suddenly the wind changed, blowing down across the plains.    
   “Do you really have to go?” asked Rhen.
   Heather replied nodded and answered sadly, “Yes, Rhen.  I... miss my family.  I miss Myles.”
   “What about that jerk your parents wanted to be your mate?”
   Heather replied, “He can’t force me to mate with him.  Not now.  I’m grown up.  My parents can’t tell me how to live my life anymore.”
   Rhen nodded and said, “I’ll miss you.”
   Heather nuzzled the soft umber fur under his neck and replied softly, “I’ll miss you too, Rhen.  I’ll miss Blaze as well.”
   Rhen was about to say something but he suddenly sniffed the air, detecting the scent of the two hunters.  Heather seemed to notice it too.
   “What is it, Rhen?”
       “Hunters!” Rhen said in a shaky voice.  “We need to go!  Where is Blaze?”
   “He was over there last time I saw him.” answered the moose, gesturing toward the oak tree with her head, a concerned tone in her voice.
   The short man swore and shouted, “They saw us!  Do something!”
   The bigger hunter loaded the rifle and grinned, “The runt ain’t going anywhere!”
   Rhen bolted toward the tree where Blaze was grazing and shouted, ëBlaze, run!”
   “What?” his brother replied, bewildered.
   “Hunters!  Run!” Rhen repeated.  
   Blaze instantly bolted toward the two boulders at the far end of the meadow as fast as his legs could carry him.  Having never encountered humans before, he did not know what to expect.  Rhen began to follow, but he could see the barrel of the big man’s rifle following Blaze as he ran.  Rhen snorted angrily and changed direction, charging directly at the hunter.  Nobody was going to hurt his brother!  
   “Rhen!  Be careful!” Heather shouted and ran after him.
   The short man with glasses followed Blaze with his spyglass and then looked across the meadow, expecting to see Rhen follow.  
   “Where did that big bull go?” he said to himself just as the thundering of angry hooves filled the air.  
   The man turned just in time to see a clearly upset, 2,000 pound bison charging directly at him.  
   Rhen lowered his large head and knocked the first hunter into the air, sending the man flying over his back and landing with a thud behind him.  The second man turned just in time for Rhen to knock him to the ground and trample over him.  The bison slid to a stop, sending up a cloud of dust as he did do.  He pawed at the ground, bellowed in rage, and charged at the short man, who had gotten back up.  He knocked the man to the ground with a thrust of his head and turned to the second hunter, trying to buy Blaze enough time to escape.  However, as he charged at the second man again, the hunter grabbed his rifle and fired.  It was a desperate, inaccurate shot, but Rhen suddenly felt a burning pain in his left side that pulsed through his entire body.    With a gasp of pain, the buffalo stumbled and hit the ground with a loud thud, sliding to a stop at the human’s feet.  The pain became worse and he could feel warm blood oozing down his left side.  It was a stabbing pain that penetrated deep inside his body.  Rhen opened his eyes and gasped for air, but all he could see was the blurred figure of the human standing over him.  
   The tall man growled in rage as he clutched a bloody cut on his face and a bruise in the shape of a hoof print on his forehead.
   He kicked Rhen in the face, right between the eyes, and shouted, “You stupid beast!”
   He kicked him a second time in the throat and grabbed Rhen by his right horn, pulling his head back.  The wounded bison did not have the strength to resist.  The man put a knife to his throat and whispered, “Say goodnight, you fat cow!”
   Rhen was overcome with fear like he had never felt before.  His instincts took over and the bull began to thrash and lash out with his sharp hooves.  
   The other hunter asked the tall man, “What do you think you’re doing?”
   The large man replied angrily, “I’m gonna slit his throat for what he did to me!  Let it die slowly.”
      The short hunter replied to the tall one’s comment, “It’s just a stupid animal.  It ain’t gonna understand why you’re doing it.  Just shoot it so we can skin it.”
  Rhen coughed and lifted his head and his vision cleared up a bit.  He managed to yank his horn out of the human’s grip.  The buffalo rolled over on his stomach and attempted to stand.
   The tall hunter raised his gun again, aiming at the buffalo’s head, and Rhen knew what was coming next.  All of a sudden, Heather appeared seemingly out of nowhere, reared, and struck the hunter with her front hooves, rendering him unconscious.  The other man reached for the rifle but the moose kicked him in the face with one of her rear hooves, knocking him out as well.
   “Come on, Rhen, get up!” she panted as she helped him to his feet.  
   Rhen stood there with his head down and panting heavily.  His throbbing wound had become excruciatingly painful.  
   Heather asked, concerned, “Are you alright?”
   “I don’t...  I don’t know.” Rhen gasped and winced in agony.  
   He was having difficulty breathing and felt liquid gathering in his throat.  The wounded buffalo took a few steps, and then began to cough.  A coppery taste filled Rhen’s mouth and scarlet blood dripped from his tongue.  He coughed again and more blood dripped onto the ground.  The bullet had pierced his left lung, causing it to fill with blood.  Rhen gasped for breath and staggered along.  Heather let him lean on her for support as they fled the meadow to where Blaze was waiting by the large boulders.
   “What happened?” asked Blaze when he saw that Rhen was hurt.
   Heather answered, “They shot him!”
   Blaze quickly ran over and helped Rhen along as they made their way back to the trees where they lived.  Both Blaze and Heather were exhausted from hauling Rhen all the back.  Rhen probably weighed at least 2000 pounds.  
   Blaze said to Rhen, “It’s alright.  We’re almost there, Rhen.”
   Blaze backed away to let Rhen lie down.
   Rhen stood there with his head down, wheezing.  His legs wobbled beneath him as his strength ebbed.  Suddenly, his legs gave way and the bison collapsed like a ragdoll.  He let out a groan of pain and coughed again, gagging on his own blood.
   Blaze nudged Rhen with his nose and tried to roll him onto his stomach, but Rhen just lied there limply gasping for breath.
   Then Rhen said quietly, “Get James.”
   Heather nodded and said, “I’ll go.  Blaze, stay with your brother.”
   She darted out of the grove, off in the direction of James’s cave.
   Blaze lay down next to Rhen and whispered, “It’s alright, Rhen.  You’re going to be alright.”
   The wounded buffalo gasped for air again and replied, “I don’t know...  if I’m gonna make it.”
   Blaze could not bear the thought of losing Rhen.  His brother was all he had in the world.
   Blaze said tearfully, “Don’t say things like that.  You’re going to be alright.”
   He began to lick the wound on Rhen’s side, trying to stop the bleeding, but he knew that Rhen was getting worse.
   It seemed like forever before Heather finally returned with James.
    “How is he doing?” the moose asked worriedly.
   Blaze did not answer.  Instead, he just nuzzled Rhen.  His eyes were red and the hair around them was moist with tears.
   James sat down next to Rhen and examined the wound.  He shook his head and stroked Rhen’s back.  Then the bear place a paw on top of Rhen’s head.
   Heather asked, “James, will he be okay?”
   The bear replied solemnly, “I can’t say.  He is hurt pretty bad.”
   Rhen coughed again, spitting out more bloody saliva.  He gasped again and dug his hooves into the ground.  
   Rhen wheezed, “Heather, if I don’t make it...  I want you to look after Blaze.  Take him home with you.”
   The moose nodded and tears began to appear in her eyes.
   “I will take care of him, Rhen.”
   “Blaze, promise me you will go with her.”
   Blaze remained silent and Rhen said, “Please, Blaze, go with her.”
   The young bison nodded and sobbed, “Yes, Rhen.”
   Heather whispered to Rhen, “Don’t do this to Blaze.  Please don’t leave him.  You are his only family.”
   Rhen’s sputtered, “I want to be alone with Blaze for a bit.”
   Heather backed up and walked out of the grove with James following.
   “He isn’t going to make it is he?” she muttered to James.
   The black bear answered sadly, “I really don’t know.  Poor Blaze.  He will be alone if...”
   Blaze lied silently next to Rhen, a tear trickling down his face every now and then.  It was almost completely quiet except for Rhen’s raspy breathing.
   Rhen broke the silence, “I’m sorry, Blaze.  If... if I don’t make it...” he coughed again and panted a couple of times, “I want you to know I love you.  I couldn’t let... those hunters hurt you.”
   He could barely keep his eyes open and his strength was fading fast.  
   Blaze sobbed, “Rhen, please don’t leave me.  Please don’t die!”
   Rhen gasped again and rested his head on the ground.  He closed his eyes and lost consciousness.  He lay there, completely motionless, and the only sign that he was even still alive was his raspy breathing.
   Blaze sniffled and laid his head on Rhen’s shoulder, tears streaming down his face.  
   To be continued...


General Grievous

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The title image looks very nice.  The descrriptions are very nice too.  Nice job so far.  I can't wait for chapter 5.  Poor Rhen.  :(  He was my favorite character.   :cry2


F-14 Ace

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Chapter 5: The Journey Begins
   Blaze awoke the next morning and lifted his head from Rhen’s shoulder and looked at the bright sunlight streaming through gaps in the foliage.  Rhen was still unconscious and his breathing was raspy and weak.  Blaze was relieved to see that his brother had at least lived through the night though.
   Heather stuck her head into the grove and called, “Blaze, you’re awake?”
   She walked over to Rhen and said, “I checked on him all night.  I haven’t had any sleep.”
   Blaze nodded and sobbed, “I wish he would wake up.”
   Heather agreed, “Me too.  Why don’t you go get something to eat?  I’ll watch him for a bit.”
   Blaze shook his head, “I’m not hungry right now.”
   The bison laid his head on his brother’s shoulder again and closed his eyes.
   Around midday, Blaze was awakened by movement underneath him.  He lifted his head and saw Rhen beginning to stir.  Rhen opened his eyes slightly, coughed hard several times and let out a moan of pain.  More bloody saliva.  Not as much blood came out this time and Blaze hoped it was a good sign.  He was about to say something but Rhen closed his eyes and lost consciousness again.  Only his labored, hoarse breathing remained.
   James walked in and sat next to Blaze.
   “Why do the humans want to kill us?” asked Blaze tearfully. “Why are they destroying our kind?  What did we ever do to them?”
   James shook his head and replied, “I don’t know.  I’ve heard that some humans profit by taking buffalo skins and selling them.  I don’t understand exactly how it works.”
   Blaze at first looked disgusted by the idea but asked, “What do you mean, “selling?”
   James explained, “They give someone the skins and the other human gives them something in return.  It is basically trading.”
   Blaze asked in an astonished tone, “How do you know these things, James?”
   The bear answered, “Like I said, that is just what I have heard.  I’ve spoken with birds and other animals that live near human settlements.  To tell you the truth, some of the things I hear are actually interesting.”
   “Save it for some other time.” Blaze said.  
   James understood and said, “Alright.  Another time then.”
   For the rest of the day, everyone took turns watching over Rhen except for Blaze, who never left Rhen’s side at all.  Rhen would slip in and out of consciousness every few hours, coughing violently and painfully.  Blaze couldn’t stand to see his brother suffer like that.  The next two days passed agonizingly slow.  Heather and James were worried that Blaze had not eaten or drank anything since Rhen was shot, which was four days ago.  All of their attempts to get him to eat proved to be in vain.  While they were worried about Blaze, things for Rhen seemed to look better.  His breathing, while still labored, was no longer as raspy and he had stopped coughing blood.  On the morning of the fifth day, Blaze awoke from a shallow sleep when he felt movement.  The bison lifted his head and heard Rhen let out a groan.
   “How long has it been, Blaze?” Rhen asked in a hoarse voice.
   It was the first time Rhen had actually spoken a complete sentence since the incident.
   “Rhen?!” Blaze exclaimed with joy at hearing his brother’s voice again.
   Heather ran in to see why Blaze was shouting.  James bounded in behind her and almost ran into her.
   “Rhen, are you feeling better?” she asked.
   “Uhg.  I feel horrible.” Rhen croaked.  “I feel like I’m burning up.  I need water.”
   “You’re not the only one, Rhen.” James added.  “Blaze has eaten nothing since this whole mess started.”
   “I couldn’t leave him!” Blaze retorted.
   “Blaze, I’m going to be fine.  Go eat something.” Rhen said weakly.  “Starving yourself will not help me get better any faster.”
   Blaze reluctantly stood up and paused by the opening in the trees, looking back at Rhen.
   “Go on, Blaze.” Heather said.  “We’ll take care of Rhen for you.”
   The young bison nodded and walked off toward the tall grass nearby.
   Rhen tried to stand but he did not have the strength.  Heather stuck her head under his chest and lifted him up with help from James.  Together, they helped Rhen over to the river so that he could drink.  Rhen looked terrible; his fur was dirty, he had dried blood caked in the fur around his wound, and on top of everything else, he now had a fever and sore muscles.  When James and Heather put him down, the big bison drank the cool, refreshing water and enjoyed the cooling sensation it brought over him.  James splashed the cold water on Rhen’s head to cool him off and to clean his face.  Rhen blinked as the water ran down his face.  All he could remember from the past few days was slipping in and out of consciousness and everything looking like it was shrouded in fog.  Heather brought over a mouthful of grass and placed it next to him.  Rhen began to chew on it slowly.  Heather brought him more and whispered softly, “This will help you get better.”
   Rhen finished his meal and said, “Heather, we need to talk.  Are you still going back to the valley?”
   The moose nodded and Rhen continued, “I changed my mind.  Is it alright if we still come with you?  It is no longer safe for me or Blaze here.”  
   A look of joy appeared on Heather’s face and the moose exclaimed, “Of course you can come with me!  I’m sure you will like it there.  There is even a big meadow in the valley!”
   Rhen nodded slowly and said, “I’ll tell Blaze when he gets back.”
“We aren’t going anywhere until you have a chance to recover.” James interrupted.  “You are in no condition to travel.”
      Blaze returned a few minutes later, still looking exhausted.  His normally cheerful brown eyes were tired and downtrodden.  It appeared as if he could barely keep them open.  His dark, reddish-brown mane appeared damp and sticky from perspiration.  Having spent five days lying next to Rhen and doing nothing, Blaze had become noticeably thinner, although not too much.  In fact, Rhen appeared to be in worse shape from his near death experience.  
   Blaze lied down next to Rhen by the river and Rhen said, “Blaze, there is something we need to talk about.”
   The young buffalo looked at his brother inquisitively and Rhen continued, “I have decided that it is no longer safe for us to be here.  It is just not safe for our kind on the plains.”
   Blaze asked, a little surprised, “What do you mean?  What are we going to do?”
   Rhen answered, “We will leave with Heather as soon as I can travel.”
   Blaze’s jaw dropped and he sat there stunned and speechless.  He could not believe his ears.  The plains had always been his home and even if there was the threat of hunters, it was still a place he loved.   
   Rhen seemed to understand and said to him quietly, “I know it is hard for you.  It wasn’t an easy decision to make.  But we can’t risk staying here.  What if I had not stopped those humans in time?  You could have been killed.  I never could have lived with myself if something happened to you.”
   Just when things seemed to be getting better, Blaze had just had a bomb dropped on him.  He closed his mouth and lowered his head on the ground.  A tear trickled from his right eye and disappeared into the fur on his face.  Rhen sighed and nuzzled him.
   Heather walked over and lied down on the other side of Blaze.  
   She said to him, “There is a meadow there like the one here.  There is plenty of room to run around in the valley.  I know it won’t be like the plains but still, you will like it.”
   Blaze looked at her and nodded.
   “Alright.  I’ll go.”
   James, who had been sitting there silently watching the whole time, spoke up, “Well, I suppose I’ll come too. If all my friends are leaving then there is no point in me staying here.”
   Rhen nodded and said, “I need to rest out here in the open air for a bit.  My head is pounding.”
   He crossed his front legs and used them as a cushion for his head.  
   Blaze stood up and said, “I’m going to go for a walk.”
   Heather followed him and asked, “Can I come too?”
   Blaze nodded and trudged lethargically onward toward the tall grass.  His steps were slow and sluggish as he walked along, his tail swishing back and forth with each step he took.
    “You must be very eager to get home.” the bison said in a sad tone.  “At least you can go home.  Once we leave, I’ll never see this place again.”
   “The valley is a lot like this except for the trees and the mountains on all sides.  It will probably be easier for you to get use to things there than it was for me to adjust to life here.”
   Blaze asked, “Is there tall grass like this there?”
   Heather shook her head and Blaze muttered, “I’ll get use to it.”
   The buffalo took a mouthful of the grass and began to chew on the grass.  He was sad to leave his home but at least Rhen was going to be alright.  
   After eating his fill, Blaze said to Heather, “We should take some of this to Rhen.  He always loved to eat this grass.”
   Heather nodded and grabbed a big mouthful of the tall grass in her mouth.  Blaze grabbed a big mouthful as well and began to walk back toward the grove of trees.  After placing the grass next to his brother, the bison walked into the trees to rest.  
   Two days later, Rhen had regained enough strength to finally stand.  His fever had gone and his breathing had returned to normal.  Though still weak, Rhen was able to swim in the river so as to clean his fur and refresh himself after not moving for more than a week.  Heather joined him and the two played in the gentle current for about an hour.  Rhen climbed out of the river, water cascading from his wet fur like a waterfall.  The large bison shook the water off, sending mist flying everywhere.  Rhen walked off into the meadow with Blaze following him.  
   Blaze looked up at the mountains and sighed sadly while Rhen nibbled at the grass a short distance away.  The sun hung low in the evening sky, perched just above the mountain peaks.  The sky above the mountains had turned a fiery orange, the clouds, silhouetted against the burning sky, had an almost golden light emanating from their edges.  The golden prairie grass swayed gently back and forth in the breeze and the setting sun cast an orange aura over the land.  In the east, the sky was a deep shade of blue.  Blaze lowered his head and began to nibble at the grass for his evening meal.  
   Heather walked up next to him and mused, “That is the most beautiful sunset I have ever seen.”
   “Yeah” Blaze answered as he watched the sun, which appeared to be cradled between two mountain peaks.  
   Over the next few days, Rhen recovered his strength until finally, the time came to leave.  A low fogbank clung to the ground, no higher than a few feet.  The fog was much thicker over the river.  The sky in the east was becoming a light shade of blue as the first rays of sunlight began to peak over the horizon.  Rhen was the first to wake.  He inhaled deeply, taking in the fresh morning air.  He gazed out at the fog which came up no higher than his stomach.  It was a humid morning and droplets of dew clung to everything.  Rhen walked over to his sleeping brother and nudged him awake with his nose.
   “Come on, Blaze.  It’s time to go.”
   Heather stirred in the corner and stretched her legs out.  The moose opened her eyes and blinked tiredly a few times before realizing it was morning.  
   She got to her feet slowly and yawned, “Where is James?’
   Rhen looked around and spotted the bear outside lying asleep in the wet grass.
   Go wake him up, Blaze.  Then we can go get some of that juicy grass.”
   Blaze nodded and ambled over to the bear and rolled him over with one of his front hooves.  
   “What?” the bear gasped in shock as he was jolted awake.
   “Time to get up.” Blaze replied cheerfully.
   James yawned and stood up.  Blaze turned around and returned to the others, eager to eat the lush grass.  James snorted and walked to the river to catch fish.  The breakfast was rushed as everyone was eager to begin the journey.  
   After fifteen minutes of eating, Heather gestured toward the mountains and said, “We should go.  It will take us a while to get to the valley.  I want to get through those mountains before the snow comes.”
   “Snow?” Blaze asked.
   “It snows early in the high mountains.  The valleys don’t get snow until later but it won’t matter if we are unable to get through.  We have to get through there before the path is blocked by snow.”    
   “Right then.”  Rhen said.  “Let’s get going.”
   As they began to move out, Blaze paused and took one look at the grove of trees where he had spent most of his life.  A tear trickled down his face as he looked upon his old home.
   “Come on, Blaze!  We have to go!” Heather called.
   Blaze then turned to follow the others.  He would never see this place again.  Now he turned his attention to the dark mountains looming high into the dawn sky.  On this morning, the mountains did not appear as the familiar, majestic spectacles as usual, but instead, dark and forbidding giants.  Blaze had seldom gazed upon them before dawn so the dark, pointy shapes against the sky looked somewhat frightening.  However, about an hour later, the sun had risen enough and now the peaks were bathed in a pinkish-orange light.  The glaciers glistened like pink diamonds in the morning sun while the lower parts of the mountains remained shrouded in shadows.  
   The group arrived at the cave where they had taken shelter from the storm so long ago and Rhen asked Heather, “Do you think you can lead us back from here?”
   The moose nodded her head and said, “Well, when I found this place, it was dark and I was running.  I wasn’t paying much attention to the land.  I think we just go strait until we get to the mountains.  By tomorrow, we should be close to the mountains.  We should reach them by tomorrow night.
   “Let’s get going then!” Rhen ordered and began to follow Heather.  
   For Blaze, this was unfamiliar territory.  He had never ventured far from his grove.  The time passed slowly, as nobody spoke.  They  walked along the river that led into the mountains.  After a lunch, which consisted of sage brush and a little bit of prairie grass, the four animals continued their journey.  It was a long, hot day but in the late afternoon, the sky became overcast.  The sun still shined through the thin cloud layer but things began to cool off at least.
   That night, there was no moon.  The clouds had cleared up a bit so that there were only a few patches here and there.  The sky was filled with thousands of stars.  
   “Look there!” Rhen said in awe as a shooting star streaked across the sky.
   Blaze watched the shooting star until it disintegrated and asked, “Rhen, what happens to those things?  Why do they disappear like that?”
   Rhen shook his head and replied, “I have no idea.”
   Heather turned her attention away from the sky and whispered to James, “I still don’t understand how Rhen survived.  I thought we were going to lose him.”
   James replied, “I thought so too.  I’m sure he thought he would not make it either.  Rhen has always been strong though.  Maybe that had something to do with it.  Still, he is lucky to be alive.  We should be thankful for that.”
   Heather looked at the bear and said, “I love him.  He reminds me so much of Myles.  They are both lovable, kind, and a bit stubborn sometimes.  When I asked Rhen to come with me earlier, he gave me the same answer as Myles.  They are a lot alike.  I think they will get along just fine.”
   There was the thundering of hooves on the hard earth and the two glanced over at Blaze, who was galloping along with Rhen chasing him though the dark field.  Rhen suddenly skidded to a halt, panting heavily.
   “Are you alright?” Blaze asked his brother.
   “I’m fine.” Rhen gasped as a twang of pain emanated from the left side of his chest.  Though his lung had healed, it was still sensitive and it hurt to take large breaths.  
   Rhen caught his breath and began to trot after Blaze again.  The two frolicked through the grass until they were too tired to run anymore.  Everyone settled down for the night.  The chirping of crickets filled the night air as everyone huddled together.  Morning seemed to arrive too soon and Blaze was surprised to see how much closer they were to the mountains.  The routine was the same as the previous day.  Breakfast was brief and Heather led the group of animals closer to the mountains.  Heather informed them that the valley was still quite a ways off.  It may take them at least a week to reach it once they were in the mountains.  The walking became boring and monotonous, and blaze hoped things would not be so boring once they reach the mountains.  Around midday, the group stopped by the river to rest and eat.  Blaze finished drinking and decided to look around a bit.  There were bare patches of  limestone everywhere with grass growing between them.  Blaze nibbled on it, found it to his liking, and began to eat.  He looked over at Rhen and Heather, who were talking to each other over in the meadow.  The bison smiled and returned to his grazing.  Blaze could tell that they still loved each other, but he wondered what would happen once they reached the valley and Heather was reunited with her    friend.  The moment was short-lived and Heather led the group onward toward the mountains.  Blaze trotted alongside his brother and asked, “Are you doing alright, Rhen?”
   “I’m fine, Blaze.” Rhen answered and nodded.
   Blaze still worried about Rhen.  Although Rhen had survived his encounter with the hunters, he had not been the same since then.  He was not as strong as he once was.  Blaze hoped that it was not permanent.  It would be a shame for Rhen to have a disability at his age.  At seven years old, Rhen was still young, though Blaze was three years younger.  Blaze watched the mountains grow larger and larger as they approached and the terrain became rougher and more rugged.  The ground was strewn with rocks and boulders of varying size.  The sky was darkening in the east and radiant shades of orange and yellow filled the western sky over the peaks, as if painted by a massive paintbrush.  The rough landscape abruptly gave way to a steep slope of granite which rose thousands of feet into the sky.  This was the Front Range, a branch of the Rockies extending from southern Wyoming all the way to central Colorado.  The jagged peaks looked like a formidable obstacle.      
   Heather announced to the group, “We’ll rest here tonight and then continue in the morning.  At some point, we’ll have to cross a mountain.”
   Rhen groaned in displeasure at the thought of having to climb a mountain, seeing as how his kind was not meant for such feats.
   “I’m sure we can do it, Rhen.  Don’t worry.” Blaze reassured his brother.  
   Rhen simply nodded and lied down on the rocky ground.  The large bison tried to find a position that was comfortable.  Blaze lied down next to him and Heather and James joined them.  Blaze knew that the journey ahead would be hard but it had to be done.  There was no alternative.  Blaze tried to go to sleep, but all through the night, he had the feeling that he was being watched.  It bothered him because Heather explained that wolves and cougars inhabited this area.  The bison felt vulnerable lying on the ground.  Just before dawn, Blaze awoke from a shallow sleep to what sounded like the thud of heavy footsteps.  Something large was walking nearby.  The bison’s ears perked up and he stared into the blackness of the night, trying to make out who or what the creature was.  It must have been very large, judging by the heavy footfalls.  It was very close and Blaze was becoming frightened.  He felt so vulnerable lying down but he did not dare move.  His heart pounded as he focused all of his attention on the direction the sound was coming from.  Unfortunately, like all bison, Blaze’s eyesight was very poor at night.  On the other hand, his hearing was excellent, and he realized from the clopping sound of the footfalls that whatever this thing was, it had hooves.  The buffalo sighed silently in relief, knowing that there were no hoofed predators.  The footsteps soon became more distant.  The mysterious visitor was moving away now, toward a mountain pass which the river flowed through.  
   “Is everything alright, Blaze?” James’s voice whispered from the darkness, causing Blaze to jump in surprise.
   “Did you see what it was?” Blaze asked after a few moments of silence.
   “No.  It was big though.  We’re upwind of it though so I couldn’t get a scent either.  Whatever it was, it’s gone now.” the black bear whispered.  “Try to get some sleep.”
   Blaze was able to rest, knowing that James was watching out for danger.  Unfortunately dawn came earlier than he wished and it was time to move on.  Blaze stood up on wobbly legs and stretched tiredly.  His eyes felt heavy and he felt as if he could sleep a few more hours.  The buffalo slogged over to the river, which had a light fog hanging above it, and began to lap at the water.  The sound of hooves could be heard behind him and Blaze assumed it was either Rhen or Heather, except the footsteps seemed to be approaching cautiously and slowly.  Blaze lifted his head from the water, a few droplets dripping from the beard of fur on his chin, and turned to see another buffalo.  It took him a bit by surprise.  It was a female, about the same size as Blaze, but with a shaggy, rusty reddish-brown mane of fur rather than Blaze’s darker mane and Rhen’s umber mane.  The rest of her fur was a chocolate brown.  
   “Oh...” the newcomer said softly.  “Uh, mind if I join you?”
   “Not at all.” Blaze replied quickly.  
   He had never seen a female of his species before, other than his mother.  His shyness was beginning to get to him again and he was unsure of what to say next.  The female bison walked down to the river and drank for a few seconds before stopping.
   “I had a rough night last night.” she said.  “I was walking along in the dark and happened to see you and your friends asleep.”
   Blaze realized that she must have been what he heard last night.
   Blaze nodded, “So that’s what I heard last night.  You gave me a bit of a scare.”
   “I’m sorry.  I didn’t mean any harm.  I was afraid a cougar or something may find me.” the female buffalo said quietly.  “I was going to ask you if I could sleep nearby last night but I didn’t want to wake you.”
   Blaze said in a friendly manner as his shyness wavered, “It’s alright.  No harm done.  Say, do you have a herd?”
   “No.  They’re all gone.” the other bison answered sadly.  “I’m...  I’m all that’s left.  I don’t know what I’m going to do now.”
   Blaze said sympathetically, “I’m sorry to hear that.  Me and my brother are all that is left of our herd too.  We’re on our way to a valley in the mountains.”
   Blaze got an idea and asked, “If it is alright with the others, would you like to come with us?”
   It seemed awkward to ask a complete stranger to accompany him and his friends, but Blaze was already beginning to like this buffalo.  
   “Well, I have nothing else to do.  I guess I’ll go.” she replied.
   Blaze motioned for her to follow him and led her back to the group.  
   “I suppose it is alright.” Heather said, although she seemed unsure about letting a complete stranger accompany them.
   “My name is Tocka, by the way.” the female bison introduced herself.  
   “I’m Blaze and this is Rhen, my brother.”
   Heather and James introduced themselves and the group moved on with their newest member following closely.
   “And so we are going to the valley so we won’t have to worry about hunters anymore.” Rhen explained to Tocka as they continued into the mountain pass.  Blaze put in a word here or there, but he spent much of the time admiring the beautiful scenery.  Pine trees peppered the landscape on either side of the river now and the landscape had become incredibly rugged.  Even the river had changed.  It had become strewn with rocks and was dotted with small, white, foaming rapids.  The roaring of the rapids made conversation difficult and at this point, so everyone remained silent.  It was some time before Blaze realized that the group had been ascending a mountain.  He turned and looked behind him and could see for miles across the prairies.  Heather had led everyone away from the river as the terrain along it became too rough to walk on.  Looming high overhead, the white glacier of the mountain gleamed in the afternoon sun.  The days seemed to be getting shorter and Blaze dreaded the long winter months that lay ahead.  By nightfall, the group of traveling animals had ascended to about half way up the mountain.  The other half, however, looked far more difficult.  So far, the journey had been pretty easy, but now Blaze and the others had to negotiate a steep climb up a slope covered with loose rocks and gravel.  
   Tocka said to Blaze, “That looks dangerous.”
   Blaze nodded and Heather added, ëIt will probably take us all day to get over this mountain and get back to the river.  But the valley is not far beyond that.”
   This statement lifted everyone’s spirits.  
   Tocka said, “I hope they don’t mind our kind there.  We aren’t exactly native to the mountains.”
   Heather reassured her, “I’m sure it will be fine.  I don’t think anyone is going to mind three buffalo living there.  It is a big valley after all.”
   As evening fell, the temperature dropped drastically.  It soon became so cold that Blaze’s breath looked like jets of steam shooting from his nostrils.
   Tocka lied down next to him and asked, “So what part of the plains are you from?”
   Blaze described what his old home had looked like, becoming sad once again at the thought of never seeing it again.  He explained his past adventures, such as the storm and how Rhen had nearly lost his life.  Tocka seemed to be saddened by the story of Rhen.
   “What’s wrong?” Blaze asked.
   “I had a cousin who was very close to me.  Her name was Takana.  The two of us were a lot like you and Rhen.  But then hunters found our herd one night and...” she paused for a moment, tears welling in her eyes, then continued, “Takana and her mate tried to lead them away while the rest of us escaped.  Some of the humans went after them but the rest kept chasing us.  They got everyone but me because  I split off from the others and went to the place where I was supposed to meet my cousin.  She never came back though.”
   Tocka sobbed as tears appeared into her furry face, “They must have taken her and Akuta too.  I never saw her again.  She was expecting a calf in the spring.”
   Blaze nuzzled her and said, “I’m so sorry.”
   He couldn’t help but wonder if he might be going through the same thing had Rhen not survived.  He glanced over at Rhen, who was lying down a short distance away and had already settled down for the night.  
   Then Blaze turned to Tocka and said, “Come on.  Let’s get with the others.  We have a busy day ahead.”
   The two buffalo joined Rhen and the others, and as they settled in, Tocka placed her head on Blaze’s shoulder and whispered, “You are lucky to have Rhen.  At least you still have someone.  I have nobody.”
   Blaze nuzzled cheek her and replied, “You have us now.”
   Tocka said, “Thank you, Blaze.  You’re so kind.”
   Everyone soon went to sleep, resting up for what would probably be a long day ahead.


F-14 Ace

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  • Cera
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General Grievous

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Well I read chapter 5 finally.  i forgot to check back earlier.  Glad to see that rhen made it. :yes   It looks like blae got himselfe a girl too.  Can't wait for the next chapter.