Finalization of this thread.
;___; Goodbye, Bronx.
The trees were a blur as Shikoba urged his mustang to go faster. A stray arrow would occasionally streak by them, and he would find himself holding Bronx tighter, hunching over the coydog as if to shield him from any lucky projectiles. He was glad to have had Dorado and Daeva with him. They guarded his back as he desperately drove Wind through the twists and turns of the forest, trying to put some much-needed ground between the Infernians and the Boreas wolves. If they were to all die today, at least he would be with his most trusted allies, minus a particular fiery woman.
Eidolon swooped and weaved through the branches up ahead of the retreating coyotes, doing her best to lead them down the best paths for their horses.
In their escape, the Whiplash had taken an arrow to the shoulder, reopening the knife wound he’d received during the Full Moon Raids. Thankfully, it’d only been a grazing shot, but, the pain of the arrowhead ripping through flesh as it continued its course had been enough to cause the rusty-furred male to cry out. At the time, in the midst of the chaos, Bronx hadn’t had time to ask his friend if he was alright. Their minds had been too focused on getting the hell out of the area before they were overrun completely.
That wasn’t all that concerned the Quintus though.
“I’m fine, kid.” Shikoba grunted distractedly. His wasabi gaze was hard, unwavering, and the firm line on his lips was out of place compared to the male’s normally bright, playful features.
The Nizhoni tribesman looked deadly serious, and it scared Bronx.
The horses’ thundering hooves in the snow echoed throughout his ears as the sounds of battle slowly faded from it. Even out of immediate danger though, the Sciens did not let the mare slow down. There was an urgency to him, a rigidness to his body that Bronx could feel when Shikoba would hold him tighter over particularly rough terrain or over a jump.
“How’s your neck?” He asked suddenly. It had been a question he had asked a lot since their escape.
Bronx’s ears fell and he let his amber eyes fall to the quickly passing ground beneath them.
“Don’t bullshit me, Bronx!” Shikoba snarled, causing the non-Luperci on his lap to weakly jerk at the harshness of his tone.
Shikoba’s voice quieted, “…more than before?”
Up ahead, Eidolon let out a cry, and the mustang beneath them changed direction.
“Just…hang on a little longer for me, okay, kid? We’re almost home.”
He was sure of it now, he was sure he could feel Shikoba shaking.
The feeling of the world suddenly stopping around him roused Bronx from whatever stupor he’d been in. As his golden eyes looked around him though, he realized he must have faded out. The forest scenery…it was gone. For as far as he could see, there was nothing but frozen grassland…and the sound of…
What was that weird sound?
His body—his whole world, actually—suddenly moved on its own—levitated—and was held against something warm, a welcome reprieve from the bitter chill that he felt climbing up his bones. “Kid? Kid! Bronx! The sound of snapping fingers belatedly registered in his ears.
His eyes moved to the source of the sound, and, for a moment, he saw his brother staring down at him. Dark, broad features and warm pumpkin eyes. There was a sad smile on his lips.
Bronx blinked slowly. Everything felt so heavy…and he felt so…numb.
The image before him morphed with each refresh of the visual world around him. The form of his deceased brother faded into the figure of Shikoba.
He had a grin on his face, but it lacked any humor or joy behind it. The way his brows were twisted, the way his eyes almost glimmered, the slight twitching at the edges of lips. It was forced. Even in his cloudy state, Bronx could see that.
A soft, forced chuckle escaped the coymutt’s maw. “Yeah, that’s right, buddy.” Was his voice…wavering?
Bronx tried to move his eyes towards the strange, rhythmic sound he kept hearing.
He was gently adjusted—he realized he was being held by Shikoba—so that he faced a great expanse of what appeared to be water. It was like looking out onto a lake, only it was bigger. So big, in fact, that he couldn’t even see the other side.
“I…I know you always wanted to see the ocean, right?”
The sun was setting, and the sky was a beautiful mix of warm and cool colors swirled and blended into one masterpiece. In a time of war and of grey, winter skies, Bronx had almost forgotten how pretty they could be. Though, he couldn’t recall any being as pretty as the one he saw before him. The distant waters reflected the vibrant hues on an otherwise dark canvas. White curls washed in from the deeper waters, causing that distinct sound that Bronx had heard when he’d come to.
“This was…” Shikoba’s body shuddered behind him. “This was as far as I could push Wind to go. Before…before the sun sets.”
Bronx watched as the water—the ocean—rose and fell as it came closer inland. The waves rolled and splashed at the rocky shoreline, causing the pebbles there to glisten as the sunlight caught them. It was beautiful. It was everything his brother had ever talked about. He felt calm just looking out onto it. His eyes felt heavier, and Shikoba’s warm body up against him made it hard to fight off the darkness that threatened to take him back.
Shikoba’s words, combined with this strange numbness and haze that threatened to overtake his body, it all suddenly registered though. Weakly, Bronx’s lips twisted, and he felt liquid begin to build up in his eyes.
The coymutt stiffened for a brief second before he began to softly stroke Bronx’s matted, blood-stained fur. “Shhh, just…just watch the waves, Bronx.”
Bronx’s body trembled. Had he the strength, he would have shook his head.
“I’m here, Bronx. There’s…there’s nothin’ to be afraid of.” The Optime male continued to stroke the coydog’s fur in a soothing manner. His muscles twitched and trembled in spite of his best efforts to calm them. The young male needed him now more than ever.
“Shhhh, calm down, you’ll…only make it worse. Just watch the waves.” Bronx blinked as he tried to clear his blurry vision and do as Shikoba suggested.
He was so afraid, so scared.
He didn’t want to die.
He wanted to stay here, with Shikoba…with Shikoba, and Kore, and Wind, and Eidolon and Twitchtail…with Dorado and Daeva…with Inferni.
He’d found a place to call home…and he didn’t want to leave it. He wanted to see the flowers that would bloom in the spring, wanted to hear more of the stories the Nizhoni brothers had to tell, wanted more of the joy that he felt from watching Kore or Daeva pick on the boys. He wanted to learn more than he had ever known, he wanted to fight like Clover could. He wanted to do more lessons with Shikoba, wanted to be a scout just like him, wanted to be brave and fearless…just like him.
He wanted to live!
…he wanted to live so badly.
He was dying though.
He’d lost too much blood, he knew. He knew from how numb his limbs felt, and from how weak his body was, from how hard it was to keep breathing and keep his eyes open, from how hard it was to resist the darkness.
“You were really brave today, Bronx.”
The downward spiral suddenly dissipated.
“You were the only non-Luperci there, y’know? Anyone else would’ov cut their losses and headed home. You went with me though, you didn’t let your inability to shift stop you.”
His head was starting to feel heavier, and, try as he might, he couldn’t look at Shikoba. So, he strained his ears, trying to latch onto the warm, familiar voice of his friend. If he could just hold onto it…maybe it would keep the demons at bay.
“You’ve been like that since the start. You’ve fought bravely since you’ve come to Inferni. I wouldn’t…I wouldn’t have wanted any other canine at my side today.”
The waves continued their repetitive, hypnotic turning as they came in and out, moved up and down.
“You’ve been brave for so long…so…it’s…it’s okay to be afraid now. Being afraid…it’s…it’s what makes us stronger.”
His vision began to narrow and darken. How?
“If we never knew…if we never knew what it’s like to lose something…we’d never grow to know how much we appreciate the things we have.”
As his world began to swim, Bronx felt something wet hit his cheekbone. There was one…then another…and another…and then more.
“So, please…don’t fight it, kid. Dying…it’s nothin’ to be afraid of. You won’t feel pain anymore…you won’t have to be scared of anythin’ or anyone comin’ after you… Where you’re goin’…the Elders say it’s a paradise…”
Shikoba petted his head, smoothing down the fur from his temple back, over his ears, and to the back of his skull. An audible swallow could be heard. “I’ll…I’ll be here.” Bronx felt a warmth wrap around his neck. “I’ll be right here. You can watch me from the stars.”
The coymutt nodded, his wasabi eyes looking above them to the bright lights that had started to form in the darkening sky. “Yeah…you’ll be one ov’em soon. That’s where we go…when we…when we die…so we can watch over the ones we leave here on Earth.”
It took a moment for the words to process, but, eventually, Bronx smiled softly at the thought.
Shikoba closed his eyes. “Neither will I…Cricket.”
He could feel his heartbeat slowing, and there was a calm that began to wash over him.
Wet droplets dampened his fur.
“And you won’t…you won’t ever have to be again… You’ve been…brave long enough…kid. It’s time you…rest.”
And his eyes closed for the last time with the sight of a beautiful sunset, the sound of crashing waves, and with the feeling of the warmth of his best friend.