Mistica Chronicles

Welcome to Issue 47

Mnemosyne Winning Entry

The forest was shifting again. Nero had felt it moving all through the night; the massive routes that supported the entire system of life slowly inching backwards, out of the light and into the darkness. The land moved as well, eager and hungry, pushing itself forward like a wild animal that was finally being let off its leash. The move made his own roots itchy, because unlike the rest of the forest, he didn’t want to move. Neither had the rest of the clan, but early that morning the head of the family of Overgrowths, a scarred Ahbruis named Gregor, had announced it was time to migrate to new lands. Nero had complained bitterly to his mother – he didn’t want to leave the lands he had been born in.
“When the trees begin to shift like this, it’s a sign that they are evolving and growing into something that may not support us. What will happen if we stay, and discover our food sources dwindling? What if the salty sea rises to meet us instead of the warm embrace of the stream? I know you don’t like it, but we must move, or we could very well die. And besides, you can always come back once you’re old enough to support yourself, if you think your roots can handle the change.” His mother was wise; she had lived as long as Gregor had, and it was only recently that her leaves and color had started to pale, and her roots had begun to curl up and splinter, a sure sign of her age.
Nero didn’t like admitting his mother was right, but he nodded and went along anyway. A few hours after the announcement, the family started to move out of the forest.
They passed through the Inferno first. Here, the temperature caused the entire clan’s leaves to wilt. Nero thought nothing of any of it, right up until one of their oldest members, a female Anya named Stick, burst into flame. It was horrific, but within a few moments of screaming there was nothing left but a pile of ashes. Nero stared at the ashes, and felt fear run along his spine. Gregor called the sobbing younglings to order, putting them in the care of older females and leading the clan along. When Nero’s legs refused to move, his mother bunted him sharply with her nose. He jerked, shaking his head, and finished the walk out of Inferno with trembling legs and wide eyes.
It was only later during a rest that Nero began to calm down. His mother had often told him that life was unpredictable, and sometimes bad things happened to good people with no rhyme or reason. During such trials, the best thing to do was remain composed, and be a pillar of strength for those in pain. His eyes drifted along the resting members to the still-trembling children. The females had gone to their own children to feed and care for them, and while there were a few males nearby, none of them would have anything to do with the whimpering lot. In the past, Nero had ignored them because he was too old to be one of them, but too young to be considered an adult. But now for some reason, he found them interesting. Before his mind could even agree to it, his legs were pushing him up, and Nero was moving in slow, easy steps towards the group, curling around them and laying down. Wordlessly they gathered close, and if Nero felt streams of tears against his fur, he didn’t say anything.
With dawn came the next leg of their journey. From the Inferno they passed through the Banshee Swamp. Here, there were constant sounds all around them, and more than a few chilled Nero to the core. However, the younglings were still had Stick’s death on the mind, and so instead of sticking close to his own mother like he wanted to, Nero kept his head high, eyes always looking out for danger. At one point a massive owl screamed in the night, and Nero bared his teeth in silent challenge, but the bird never came out of its hiding spot, and he was able to move the younglings along again.
It was only once they got out of the swamp that Nero realized at some point he had lowered his head protectively, hiding the younglings underneath him from the front while moving his longer vines and leaves to hide them from the sides. He caught the slight nod Gregor sent him, and the smile his mother gave, and felt a sense of pride.
By now the younglings had come to identify Nero as a source of safety and comfort, and stuck to him like sap. He allowed it, feeling oddly patient whenever one of them asked a question or played with him. Even when he was sleeping and one of them nipped at his tail or vines, he did nothing more than shift the vines or move his tail around to give them a moving target to practice on. His mother seemed to be forever smiling at him now, and Gregor seemed much more tolerant of him than before. Nero didn’t understand, or even think about the reason behind such actions until they were deep in Jumboyo Territory, looking for a new place to set down and call home when something barreled out of the forest and tried to kill one of the younglings.
Nero didn’t even think about what he was doing before he was lunging at the thing, teeth snapping into its flesh and dragging it back, nails digging into the earth and vines crawling deep to aid him in his efforts. Whatever it was, it was big, but the cries of the youngling kept him going until it was felled, and the rest of the clan came rushing over. By then Nero was already shuffling the pups off to safety, glaring at anyone that got too close.
Later that evening, when the moon shone high in their new home, the clan’s voice rose as one to greet Nero when he stepped out once the pups were asleep. He started when he heard the tone of the howl, bowing his head in pleased embarrassment. When Gregor approached to give the final verdict, he nosed the leader’s chest in shy thanks.
“Welcome, Hunter Nero, to the clan.”