AN: Well, here's the third chapter. For some reason, I've barely written anything and I'm already experiencing writers block! Due to this problem, this chapter is a little bit shorter than the past two, and in my opinion, not nearly up to their standard. I did, however, want to get another chapter up before the weekend, and here it is. Tell me what you think!
The morning was just as any other. The sky was the same cerulean, mixed with thin, smoky white clouds. The grass was the same luscious green color, every now and then revealing a section of bare soil. A small herd of antelope grazed in the distance and a v-shaped flock of birds traveled overhead, some singing out in good spirit. The sun was risen just off of the horizon, shining its brilliance on every object and animal. Yet, somehow, there was a strange sense of foreboding about the large, bowl-shaped valley. As it was with the strange herd of mixed animals traveling through the gentle morning mist that had settled to the bottom of it.
At the front of the herd were three mammoths. One was a dark, chocolate brown, his eyes set and steady, focusing nowhere but straight ahead of him, a solemn sloth upon his mighty back. To his left was a light brown she-moth, her facial features worried, her trunk wrapped protectively around the frightened, mocha colored baby by her side. Unseen from the ground were two possums, just small, minute beings compared to the giant creature, buried in her fur.
Just behind the small wall of giant creatures were three smaller animals. Smaller, but deadly. Two female sabers walked side by side, their steps long and slow, an air of grace about them. A bit away from them strode another tiger, his golden coat shining in the oddly depressing sun, his emerald eyes staring protectively at his herd. He stepped with power and pride, head high, eyes showing no emotion.
After all, Diego had no need for other sabers, and other sabers had no need for him. Why should he and his herd be forced to stay with a pack when they didn't have to? He had pondered the thought, morphing it so many times within his own mind that he was sure the happenings of the past two days were but a dream.
The tiger glanced over at the two "guests" that had joined the herd for a night, having taken it upon himself to keep track of them. He found the pale-coated tigress glancing right back. Not thinking anything of it, he met her gaze for a moment, his eyes slightly cold, before looking straight ahead. He wasn't even remotely aware of Alaya closing her eyes, maybe slightly embarrassed, and sighing a bit.
An enormous roar soared over the calm of the day. At it's sound, the fifteen tigers that lived in that large rock cave to the west awoke, some yawning and stretching, some wide awake already, and some mumbling grumpily. Each and every one gathered around the mighty tiger atop a large rock.
"Good morning!" shouted Bruno. "Today, I am bringing us a new member of our pack. You as well as I know that we must grow in size along with the humans, or we will perish. You as well as I know that we must find strong, intelligent tigers and tigresses to come and join us here, for if we add weak members, we shall never withstand an attack.
"I have found us strong, intelligent tiger, but he is not willing. He is strange. Different from us. He travels in a herd of herbivores. Two mammoths and their child, two possums, and a sloth. They will be coming with him to our home, for he refuses to part with them. I can not stress to you enough that these herbivores are not to be hunted! I have fought with this tiger myself, and I want him here with us! He had no problem pinning Alaya to the ground, and she is one of our best. He fought with me as well, and I am slightly ashamed to say that I was beaten, though I didn't fight hard. He isn't stronger than me, my friends, but he is undoubtedly quicker and more agile. His name is Diego.
"Arok, Ricato, you will come with me, and we, along with Aria and Alaya, will escort Diego and his friends back here. Remember, he isn't coming with us willingly, and I'm sure wouldn't come with us at all if we didn't put his friends on the line. I don't think he will give us any trouble under the circumstances, but know that his weak spot is the young mammoth. It's the weak spot of the whole herd. If this tiger is to be distracted, that is how you shall distract him. Go for the young mammoth, but do not injure her unless I give word. If we kill that mammoth, Diego has no reason to trust us or stay with us. Let's go."
The three tigers set out, running side by side. Around a tree, down a hill, through some mist, and into the line of sight of the other animals. At the sight of the familiar tigers, the two tigresses trotted away from their posts and came to stand by their pack.
Diego appeared as well between the two mammoths, and stepped ahead of the herd, coming face to face with Bruno.
"Diego, my friend, what is your decision?" the tiger asked, looking Diego in the eye.
Diego was silent for a moment before taking a deep breath and responding, "I'm not your friend. But we will come with you. We have no choice."
"I'm glad to hear it, Diego," stated Bruno, a smirk coming to his face at Diego's harsh tones. "And Diego. Just remember who's in charge of this pack, will you? Not you. Not your herd. Me. And if you do something that hurts my family, you will have three sabers at a time on your trail, hunting you down. Just remember that," he said, turning to walk in the other direction.
Diego felt a low growl arise in his throat, and he was unable to stop himself from rushing forward, ahead of Bruno, and spinning to face him. "Hold on, Bruno, we're not finished. You have some boundries, too, if I'm not mistaken."
"Very well, Diego, state your conditions," said the tiger, tilting his head a bit, the sabers on either side of him looking slightly threatening.
"Just remember who's in charge of this herd, Bruno," spoke Diego in a low voice, so as to not allow the other animals to hear. "Not you. Not your pack. Me. And if you do anything… anything that hurts my family, you won't have three sabers on your trail. You'll have me to answer to! Just remember that…"
Bruno's eyes seemed to loose their confident, non-emotional look for a moment, and his head lifted slightly higher, before his air of authority yet again found him. "We have an accord."
"That tiger is something else, Alaya," stated Aria, walking side by side with her sister.
"I don't think he's so special," Alaya growled stubbornly.
The tigress walking next to her sighed. "Alaya, go talk to him."
"I don't want to!" she defended herself, lifting her head and loping forward, falling into stride with Aroc.
Aria sighed, finding that playing matchmaker with her sister was much easier said than done. Her tawny eyes found Diego, and she stepped his way, deciding to aim for a different target.
"Diego! Wait up!" she called, and to her surprise, the tiger actually stopped for her. Never before had he come so close to being somewhat kind!
"What do you want?" he asked.
'Well, there goes that thought,' Aria told herself in her mind. Out loud, she said, "I just wanted to talk to you. I mean, it's not exactly a normal situation we're in, is it? Then again, I suppose you're not a normal tiger, are you?"
The words hit Diego quickly, and he lay his ears back a bit. Was this female mocking him? "What do you mean?"
"Well, look who you travel with! A sloth, two possums, and three mammoths! Really, I don't see why you don't just eat them! Especially that little one! Such an easy target!"
Diego couldn't stand listening to her anymore. If there was one thing he had, it was a temper. Normally he could keep it in check, but with the circumstances, his fur stood on end, and he silently pounced the tigress, so as to not alert the three male tigers a good ways ahead. It wasn't long before Alaya joined the fight, knocking Diego aside and rolling on the ground a bit, before being pinned down a second time by the tiger.
What the two didn't notice was Aria slinking away, a smile on her face. Her sister would talk to Diego eventually, and eventually was now.
Alaya struggled for a moment before giving up, a her mouth twisted into a frown. "Let me up!" she exclaimed, knowing from experience that she would never free herself. With a sigh, the tiger stepped off of her.
"Thank you," she said, her tone somewhat rude.
Diego laughed a bit at the look on the tigress's face, even as she turned to walk away.
"Hey!" he called to her, not quite sure why.
She looked back, a deadly look in her eyes.
"Don't lose momentum!"
Her eyes turned from cautious to curious. "What?" she asked, taking a step back towards him.
"Don't lose momentum. You can knock something over with as much force as you want, but it doesn't matter if you slow down before they do. If you're rolling, keep rolling. You're sure to get on top if you're attacking an enemy. It's the same with everything. If you're charging, keep charging. If you're running away, keep running away. That's all you have to do to have the upper hand," he said.
Why was he telling her this? He had never felt sorry for a tiger before, and here he was trying to make up for knocking her down. In any case, he must have done something kind, because Alaya came back to walk with him.
"Where'd you learn to fight, Diego? There aren't many tigers that can beat me, and to challenge Bruno you must be mad. And Aria and I heard what you said to him. You don't know how much that flared his temper, Diego, even if he didn't show it."
Diego paused for a good while before answering, After all, why should he tell her his life story? Then again, it really couldn't hurt. So he answered her question.
"I grew up in a pack. Only a small one, though. That was my family before Zoto took over. He sent just about every tiger packing, save for me and three others. Even my parents. I wanted to go with them, but he threatened to kill my mother if I did, even if he died himself in the process. I couldn't let her die, so I stayed.
"It's so horrible to be forced to do something, especially whenever you know that if you go wrong, another's life is on the line. Zoto raised me as his son, and being as young as I was, It didn't take very long for me to think of him as my father. Zoto taught me how to fight and how to obey. That's just about all he taught me, too. He head a heart for nothing but revenge, and used his "pack" to obtain it. We had no choice but to obey. Of course, by then it was normal to us. It seemed like the right thing to do, even if it really wasn't"
Alaya looked away from Diego as he looked up at her, not able to imagine being in his situation. It also didn't take her long to grasp the similarities between that situation and this one, and it took her even less time to feel bad about it.
Diego sighed, "Why am I telling you this? You don't care, and neither do I. Not anymore. I'm finally happy with what I have, and this pack of sabers isn't going to make me any happier!" The tiger was beginning to let his temper fly again. "We shouldn't be here! We shouldn't be forced to stay!" he shouted, running ahead of the tigress, not looking back at her and not looking forward either. He only slowed when he became aware of a large, dark brown mammoth next to him.
"Hey, what's wrong? You look like you've seen a ghost," stated Manny lightly.
"Manny, you should move on. Take Ellie and Riley and get out of here! Get to somewhere safe! Get anywhere but here! You don't need to stay because of me. Go home." The words were said somberly, and somewhat softly.
"Diego," warned the mammoth, his tone slightly threatening, "we've been through this. We won't leave you here alone! We'll be fine. Bruno's going to keep his word, and we'll all be fine. Don't worry. We aren't leaving without you by our side. That's not what a herd does."
The tiger sighed and looked away, a movement which the mammoth knew as defeat. He wouldn't argue the topic any more. Not today, at least.
"Well, did you talk to him?" Aria asked?
"Yes," growled Alaya. "I talked to him."
"And he told me a little about his past, said no one cared, got angry with himself, and ran off!" she blurted out.
"What exactly did he tell you?"
Alaya sighed and repeated Diego's story to her sister, repeating some parts when asked. "I just don't understand. What's so horrible about his past that he's not telling us, Aria? I mean, no matter how much we ask, he never told us where he found his herd."
The word herd flowed more fluently now from their mouths, and didn't sound so odd. Different, yes. Odd, no.
"Well, it's your job to find out, no?" replied Aria, tilting her head to look at her sister.
"But he didn't even want to talk to me today! How am I supposed to talk to him tomorrow?"
Aria laughed a bit, causing Alaya's head to lift, her eyes looking at her strangely. "It wasn't that he didn't want to talk to you. You were talking fine! There's just something that he refuses to tell anyone. And maybe you just came too close to getting that from him."
"Let's just wait until tomorrow, Aria."
The land they came upon was beautiful beyond beautiful. The newly-grown grass was just beginning to sprout from the ground by the millions; the trees surrounding the flat plains were large and stately, with leaves quickly beginning to evolve; several large rocks sat still as stone here and there, which some tigers were currently using for sunning; and in the near distance, a large, deep cave was cut out of the large stone wall. Yet it brought no joy to Diego's heart.
This was where they would stay. They didn't want to, but they would stay there, and they would do their best to make it their home.
AN: There you go. I know, not quite as good as the past two chapters. Sorry about that. I really am. I think I had a bit of trouble keeping Diego in character in some parts, but in the end, I suppose it's decent. Anyway, new chapter up soon! R&R!