Prologue

Illustration

My tale is a long one but one I wish to be told. As with all tales it must have a beginning and where else to start than at mine?

I am Shanku and I was hatched to Zanzen and Nari Zefana of the Scissortail Clan of the Sylvan Kurach. Maybe if they had known all the trouble I would bring to them, they would have smashed my egg and looked to my younger brother instead. But, guided by instinct with me being their first cub, they left me alive and tried to raise me as any other. Such is that of a parent's love.

The Feral Sylvans, some may be surprised to find, do not sleep in the trees like the Imperial Sylvans do. No, we live underground in dens and caves. There we make our nests of straw, leaves, discarded feathers, and other soft stuff. Sometimes a cave would be large enough we could each recluse to our own chambers, but most dens we made had the whole clan sleeping in one room. I never knew in my younger years how much I would miss their unanimous snores!

Each morning I would pull Katari from his nest before we were required to go to class, much against his will. We would frolic and wrestle until the other cubs awoke and we had to follow an Elder into the woods for hunting lessons. This was my favorite of what we were taught.

One of my ancestors was a hunting legend among the clan and I hoped to one day prove myself just as much. But my eagerness made them hold me back to smaller prey while my peers hunted larger game. This in turn fueled my anxiety and made me restless.

Afterward, we were dismissed. The boys were sent to their fathers to better learn to hunt, track, and fight. The girls to their mothers to learn to cook, clean, mend, and the other menial tasks I resented. But Ma understood. Ma always understood. Da let Ma teach Hilael and I both how to track and hunt. Da wouldn't teach me how to fight though. I guess he thought Hilael needed the biggest advantage he could get.

Katari and I would explore the clan's territory during the day when we were free from our lessons. We did this for a few years until our wandering lead us into another clan's territory. We weren't caught by the clan, thankfully, but a minocentaur bull from their territory followed us home. The minocentaur was driven back and we were scolded roundly for it.

Katari never went with me beyond the borders again and try as he might he couldn't keep me from it.

There was a small family of gryphons on our territory who had young of their own. I made friends with one of the chicks. I suppose it was the wings that drew us together. We met in secret many times but this was ended when he came too close to the den looking for me one day. Both our families were angry with us and we never saw one another again.

Then there was the time I befriended a dracling... two territories away. The Elders were beyond words and had much to say when they found him flying above our village. The Elders said I was a danger to the whole clan and that I was too disobedient to be made to listen. The dracling was my third offense and they put it to vote. I think a few thought I could be changed, but the majority wanted me gone. "Wanderlust", they said, "is your vile condition. The bane of our kind!"

Without so much as a farewell to my family, the Elders exiled me from the clan for a minimum of ten years, and had the guards chase me to the edge of our territory, to never return until the ten years had passed.

I was miserable.

No place was safe. Rival clans did not take well to strange cubs and they certainly didn't trust cubs traveling alone. Before, I hadn't noticed the prevalence of predators. Now I found them everywhere I sought to rest. Bears, wolves, great cats, and the dreadful minocentaur. I slept as high in the trees as I trusted the branches to hold me and hoped none could reach me. The eagles and owls, at least, feared my size and let me be. It seemed all were angry with me. Even the little squirrels, usually ducking from sight with a flick of their tails, would bark fiercely at me and throw little nuts.

I stayed on the run, traveling further and further than I had ever been before. There were a few pleasant beings that I met along the way, but before long even they wished for me to be gone.

Eventually, the forest began to thin. The grass took root more in this new place and soon the trees gave way altogether to a sea of waving grass. It was so open and free, like the sky when you broke from the canopy and could sail forever without fear of breaking a wing.

With the large predators no longer a threat, large game also disappeared. However, there was small game. Many, many rabbits and medium fowl. Luckily, I was now an ace at hunting rabbits.

Life was still incredibly lonely. But I was alive, and so far, safe. The stars were always there at night. Late at night, when the clouds were gone and the skies were clear, I would look for the special little star my mother and father pointed out that I was hatched under. They told me that so long as they loved me it would shine.

I think it's the brightest in the sky.

~ Shanku

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