The Unnamed Dreamer

Prologue

The Red Tongue blazed through the forest, licking up the trees and devouring them hungrily. The Named darted to and fro, their eyes wide and their voices shrill with panic.

"Hurry, now, herd the beasts towards the river! Fessran, have you found Ratha yet?" A tawny male with bright green eyes asked. The female he was talking to whirled around, her singed whiskers raised in alarm.

"No, I haven't! Where could that belly-biter have run off to?" She growled in frustration.

"That belly-biter is our leader! We must find Ratha, and the cubs!" The male cried desperately. Fessran looked at him closely and then nodded.

"Of course, Thakur. I will send Bira and Cherfan right away." She yowled over his shoulder as she sprinted away. Thakur nodded and turned on his heel.

"Ashon! Make sure the rumblers aren't panicking or they'll cause all the others herdbeasts to scatter!" He called to one of the young herders. Ashon dipped his grey head and curled his lips back, leaping over a fallen, smoking tree towards the gigantic creatures that the Named called rumblers. Sitting on top of the largest rumblers' heads were Bundi and Mishanti, the "terrible two". Thakur watched as they pushed on their beast's ears and the giant horse-like heads lowered so that Ashon's message could be heard. Whirling around at the sound of his name, Thakur caught sight of Thistle-chaser running towards him.

"What happen, Thakur?" Thistle asked, alarmed. She had been coming to the Clan for a visit with her cubs, Far-see and Gentle Wind. Her mate from the hunter tribe, Quiet Hunter, ran hard on her heels.

"The Red Tongue has escaped from its den. This has happened before but we need to get all the herdbeasts out of the way, and it's not easy at this point." Thakur growled. Thistle-chaser nodded.

"We help," she growled. Quiet Hunter nodded.

"This one will find Fessran, see what can do." He said before taking off after the Firekeeper's fear-tinged scent. Thakur eyed him and then turned to Thistle-chaser.

"Come with me! I must search for Ratha!" He exclaimed, his voice high-pitched with anxiety. Thistle's eyes widened.

"Ratha-mother missing?" She asked, alarmed.

"Yes. I'm afraid so." Thakur said, racing off in the direction of his and Ratha's den. Their cubs were young, but most of them could walk easily by themselves – especially their eldest, Saruna. The little she-cub was Thakur's pride and joy. He felt dread fill his heart at the thought of losing her. I must find them! He thought desperately. He coughed as smoke filled his lungs and stung his eyes.

"Ratha!" He called.

"Thakur?" A weak voice replied. He whirled around and saw his mate lying under a tree which had been knocked over by one of the burning ones. It wasn't on fire yet, but it would be soon. Their cubs were nestled beside her, whining pitifully. Richa, Thasren, and Ratha's treeling, Ratharee, looked up at him with wide, scared eyes. But Saruna was gone.

"Ratha-mother!" Thistle-chaser exclaimed in horror. Both she and Thakur bolted forward and heaved at the tree. Together they managed to shove it just far enough so that Ratha could wriggle free.

"Saruna is still back there somewhere! I lost in her in the smoke!" Ratha cried desperately, turning to look through the smoky haze but finding it impossible.

"W-we can't go in there. We must leave her." Thakur choked the words out, hating himself for having to say such words. Ratha gaped at him but obeyed, following him with a dumbfounded expression on her face. The two emerged from the smoke and made a break for the river, Thakur carrying Thasren and Thistle carrying Richa. Ratharee clung to her partner's back as Ratha panted miserably, trying to breathe fresh air untainted by smoke. She stared behind her at the devastation and shuddered. Fessran approached quickly, holding a lighted torch in her jaws.

"Leader," she said, setting the torch into one of the guard-fires. "We are glad to see you are safe." She purred, rubbing her muzzle against Ratha's. Thakur could see that she was still in shock. He touched her gently with his nose.

"It's Ok, Ratha…" He murmured. "You saved Richa and Thasren." He encouraged. Ratha looked at him blankly and then shuddered.

"What is it?" He asked.

"I thought I heard something… I-it must be my imagination. Let's go." She said, turning and walking farther from the river's bank. Thakur could hear the crackle and snap of her creature, devouring their home behind them. It would soon run out of fuel and die out, leaving most of their territory devastated. He looked hopefully at the grey clouds, but even as he did the harsh realization dawned on him… his daughter Saruna was dead. His dearest daughter…

Gone.