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The Blue Beacon Begins
A map, the opening scroll, and a prologue.
Two hundred years have passed since the disappearance of humanity and the dawn of interspecies communication. The cities and towns of the Pacific Northwest are now resettled by the Cascadian Alliance, a coalition formed to protect the flourishing of all mammal life. Outside of the brief and bloody Avian Wars, a prosperous peace endures.
But a new conflict is arising, as predators in the wilderness regions yearn for a revival of the Old Way, when the strong ate the weak. While Old Way antagonism builds, hunted mammals migrate to settled regions in droves, and a long peace leaves the Alliance vulnerable to threat.
Meanwhile, deep in the Siskiyou forests, war arrives early…
Wil crashed across the water, hooves slipping a bit on the stones lining the creekbed. But the boar had momentum and the rush of the stream barely slowed him down. He skidded to a stop on the other side, pausing for a moment to sniff the air and listen.
He could hear nothing save the burbling creek. He could smell, still miles off, the sharp dank fur of the wolves, the blood they carried on their fangs.
Whose blood? asked a voice in his brain. He shook off the answer. Wil knew they would be coming.
The creekwater cooled Wil, and a breeze on his bristles was drifting from upstream, so he headed downstream along the banks, where the path was relatively clear. The clearer path let him think, let him remember. This was not necessarily helpful.
Wil recalled: waking at dawn; a sturdy breakfast of apples, hazelnuts, and porcinis; the gathering; the sounder1 divided into foraging teams. He and Coos paired, almost always, because they were friends who worked well together.
Don’t think about Coos. Not now.
The morning was bright and the sun was casting pins of light through the canopy of firs. A beautiful day, he’d thought.
They weren’t far from camp when they heard the gut-wrenching howls, a cacophony all around. How many wolves were there? Then the scent of the wild dogs set in. He’d heard battle cries pierce the woods. He’d heard the bellow of Uncle Harald, the bravest and strongest of all the sounder.
“Family! Flee! Find help!”
Was that the last time…? Wil wondered, his thoughts trailing off, his mind not ready to dig deeper.
He trotted, reserving energy, the land still light under his hooves. Even his best hope, the Rogue River, was far off. The air was clean in his lungs at least, the creekwater already evaporating in the midday heat. Wil’s mind returned to the morning.
He and Coos had fled. They’d run as fast as they could, south, away from the battle. But they were not faster than their pursuers, and they knew this.
They’d paused for much-needed rest on a bluff, exhausted from the flight and the coursing adrenaline, when the scent of the trailing pack again caught their snouts, faint but growing stronger each moment.
“Listen,” Coos had said, panting. I’m…not made…to run.”
“We have to,” Wil replied.
“No…I’m slow…” his cousin wheezed, then he was resolute. “But I can give you time.”
Wil was snapped from his reverie as he arrived at a road and a small bridge which crossed back over the creek. The road was fortuitous, and would benefit Wil’s hooves more than the wolves’ paws.
Maybe I have time to reach the river after all.
Wil was the fastest runner in his sounder, but he couldn’t run forever, and soon, with the road under hoof, he slowed to a trot to catch his breath. Even with the scent of the wolves growing steadily from the north, he allowed himself time to think.
Once I find the Rogue, what then?
Downstream. To Gold Beach.
Then Wil’s mind slipped back to Coos, how he’d wanted to argue, but knew his cousin spoke the truth. How there wasn’t time to argue.
“Go! Tell others!” Coos said, then he dashed back the way they came, back toward the chasing wolves.
Then Wil’s mind was back in the present, trotting along the road above Lobster Creek. Old growth towered around him, the coast air rich with myrtle and redwood. And then Wil registered a new scent. This scent was also wolfish, but this time different, fainter, still far off. There was no mistaking the direction, though. This new scent was ahead.
Both scents grew steadily stronger, and with each hoof print and each current which wafted in, Wil’s hope faded. He could feel the wolves closing like a blade on his throat. If the wolves were ahead of him and behind him, what choices remained?
Wil considered crossing the creek again to run up the valley’s far side. But the rough terrain would favor his pursuers, and gain him only minutes at most, since he wasn’t sure what was over the next bluff anyway. And while the scent ahead of him was growing stronger, he could feel the chasing wolves. They were not far behind.
Spirit, rescue me! he thought.
And then another scent grew richer in Wil’s snout, the scent of rushing water, and aquatic creatures, and the decay of riverbanks. The scent coined his memory, and carried him back to trotting along the turbulent waters of the Rogue.
If the river is ahead, and still between me and the wolves, there’s a chance.
The sound of the rushing water refreshed the young boar’s courage, and he picked up pace. Soon, he was running again.
Wil ran through the rest of the morning, following the road down the creek valley until it finally merged with a larger road. A hundred meters after that, his momentum carried him free of the trees. The sky opened up and he could make out the looming green trusses of Myrtle Tree Bridge. The structure offered a vague sense of safety, for his sounder had crossed here many times during return treks to the mountains after trading mushrooms in Gold Beach.
The scenery was almost idyllic. The sun was high in the sky, and hot, but a breeze moving up river from the ocean cooled the sweat on Wil’s hide. There was danger, too, in scent waves from beyond the river, and from the steady pursuit behind. His hunters were nearly here. But not here yet. Wil dashed on, ready to cross.
The thud of each hoof was different now as the young boar’s hooves struck the bridge. He could hear them echoing off the river below, and he realized how tender they felt, and how much was asked of them today. He’d never run so far.
He was nearly halfway across when the scent of the wolves grew rank, washing over him. Wil’s eyes weren’t as strong as his nose, but he could see the waiting wolves now, filing onto the bridge in front of him, their pawfalls so unlike his, silent and stalking.
Wil’s body responded before his mind could react, and he spun the other way, skidding across the moss-layered surface of the bridge, desperately surging to get back. After so much travel, though, his haunches couldn’t stand such a quick turn, and Wil stumbled, rolling once before regaining his footing. The wolves closed in, fanning out. There were four.
With two I’d stand a chance.
Wil’s mind raced then went dark.
They are so quiet.
And then his heart sank further, because as he turned he saw the chasing wolves spilling down the hill behind him. The bridge ends would soon be sealed. He skidded again to a stop, turning back the other way. The four new wolves would be easier to face than the pursuing pack, and a full charging boar could do damage, maybe even make it through. But the odds were long and a terrible fear swept in.
Wil considered the river, but the problem was the bridge’s sides, tall steel barriers meant to keep the way passable to larger creatures even during storms. The bridge was ancient, built by the prime mammals endless seasons before, and a small mammal could slip easily through. But any space once wide enough for a mature boar was now overgrown in thick vines.
And then Wil saw an angle emerge like an idea occurring. His eyes darted, wondering if the move could work. The wolves were closing in now, and Wil waited, drawing them closer as he scooted to one side of the bridge.
This’ll either get me free, or I’ll be dead within a minute, Wil thought.
Then the wolves were within fifty yards, and Wil made a sudden dash toward the opposite end of the bridge, leaping as high as he could. He landed hoof-first on the slanted metal of the railing, and kicked back hard the other way, hoping to clear the barrier on the opposite side.
But the leap was not high enough, not on exhausted haunches, and Wil crashed hard onto the railing. He felt bones crack, but he also had his shoulders over the top—and enough time—to clamber up. He surged his body, swinging all momentum he had over and clear of the railing.
And then Wil was falling. He heard the wolves howling in dismay. He watched the sky and the river topple end over end. He felt the fiery pain in his ribs. And then Wil crashed into the water, snout first, and his world went black.
When Wil sputtered into wakefulness again the sun was setting and he was sprawled out on a riverbank, an otter in a dark red cloak pushing sharply into his chest with a wide, flat stone. The pain rippled through Wil’s raw hooves and broken ribs and his vision almost went dark again, but instead he threw up a torrent of riverwater and bile onto the sandy beach.
His senses awakened. He could smell the saltwater of the ocean, and feel an easy breeze. Wil’s eyes blinked open and he saw, besides the otter, around him, the shadows of a half-dozen or so creatures, all cloaked in red.
The Redwood Order, Wil recognized, and he realized he’d escaped. Did I make it all the way to Gold Beach?
“He’s alive,” said the otter.
Am I? Wil wondered. The otter’s voice was hollow in his ears, and he’d never felt so exhausted. A smaller creature drew near, and through bleary eyes the boar saw a glimmer of red, and the face of a fox.
The canine snout startled Wil for a moment, took him back briefly to the fear, the slavering wolves. He startled, but then saw the fox’s face was kind.
“Friend, we found you floating by and brought you ashore. How can we help?”
Wil tried to speak, but his tongue felt sluggish.
“Something’s…wrong,” the boar began with great effort. “The wolves came...”
He paused, catching breath before the last realization dawned on him and he spoke again.
“Everyone’s either dead or gone.”
A sigh went up among the red-cloaked creatures. The fox put a paw on the boar’s side.
“Rest, forest friend,” she said. “You honor your brethren by reaching us. We will tend you from here.”
At these words, Wil felt a peace and deep drowsiness. He closed his eyes and slipped back into dreamless sleep. A beaver, a pika, and a black bear, all in red cloaks, prepared a litter to bring the fallen boar somewhere safer.
If a whole sounder was slaughtered wholesale… the fox’s thoughts trailed off and she shivered at the news. The seasons’ change has come.
She turned back toward the other animals.
A brown hare stepped forward.
“We’ll need two discrete and reliable messengers. One to send north and the other to send south.”
The hare nodded, then headed toward the forest. The fox turned to the rest.
“Prep the canoes,” she said. “The rest of us will go into town, and we bear bad news.”
The others nodded, and the nurses tended to Wil as the otter and beaver went to fetch the dugouts which would carry them and the rescued boar downstream to Gold Beach.
Click below to read Chapter 1
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A sounder is a group of wild pigs.