Part 1: Vengeance is sweet

Chapter 1: Run but don't hide

Great bullets of rain were thundering down on the roof of the shelter, sounding like a herd of romping elephants. I lay down, just listening to the rhythm. Suddenly I heard a piercing scream from the shelter next to me – where my mother was sleeping. I dashed out of my shelter to find Ma lying lifeless in the mud, the wooden supports, leaves and fabric collapsed on top of her, murmuring my name and insisting on my departure. My dark eyes flickered to a few scattered feathers still hovering above the ground. They were a shiny golden colour, the shade of a blazing fire. I knew what had done this – it was the giant Eagle.

When I was little, Fa used to tell me stories of the Eagle. He told me that the creature will never rest until all the Fox clan are dead (nobody knows why) – that's what we are, from Fa's side. But he was killed a Moon ago and now Ma's dead too. Full of hatred I picked up the body of Ma and carefully lowered it into a dry ditch. I scouted around for fresh herbs and flowers to decorate my mother's mud tomb. Then I forced myself to leave the camp. I knew it wasn't safe there anymore, in case the Eagle came back to finish me off as well. Instead, I bundled my only possessions, an ivory tusk knife from my father and a clay model fox made by my mother, into my cloth bag. I ran into the dark forest desperate to escape my living nightmare. I sprinted deep into the undergrowth,

Faster!

Faster!

Faster!

I sped, crashing through the whispering trees as if I was a powerful rocket cutting into the night sky. As I ran, I thought of my mother's last words, 'Find dagger, kill eagle, it's your destiny.' What did it mean? I knew by legend that the dagger, the most powerful dagger in the world, was kept in the depths of the Lake of Death, but who knew what obstacles I would have to face to get there. And why was it my destiny? However, I trusted my mother and just had to hope that all reason would be explained later. At that moment, I had no time to waste.

I came to a sudden halt in the dusty earth, remembering something awful. I knew what it was – I'd left my brother behind at the camp! My dear little brother Hawthorn was lying all alone in his wet shelter. It was agony to think about it. Hurriedly, I dashed back to our circle of shelters, letting the tree's sharp claws tear my only piece of clothing to shreds at the leg, hating myself the entire way. How could I have forgotten about my brother – my only brother? I hadn't given him a second thought when I'd left camp, yet I had the nerve to pride myself on my motherly instincts. He had to be okay or I would never let myself forget this.

When I finally reached the camp, I feared I was too late, but I peeked desperately through the gap of the collapsed shelter and I was relieved to find Hawthorn with nothing but a small scratch on his lightly reddened nose. Together we ran into the mass of green, pausing every now and again to listen out for the sound of wings beating heavily. Neither of us spoke. I guessed he knew what was happening so didn't want to ask, for fear of letting what we'd been prepared for colliding with reality. As for me, the adrenaline rush I'd acclaimed only had need for me to keep moving. If I stopped I'd only let my worries weigh me down.

XxX

At last we reached a small but pretty clearing and decided to camp there for the night. I made soft beds with the pink blossom from the young bushes surrounding us. As sunset fell, Hawthorn and I went down to the river bank for a drink. The words we spoke were few and carefully general like 'How are you?' This usually received a determinedly perky 'Fine' in response. All the preparation in the world wouldn't have readied us for this. We sat down, Hawthorn lapping it up like a dog while I cupped my hands. Ma had told him a dozen times not to do that, but he never listened.

Without warning, we heard a deafening screeching noise overhead, which startled us both. Before I could do anything about it, Hawthorn toppled headfirst into the river and began struggling. As quick as a flash I jumped in after him, bag and all, wading neck deep, trying to resist the strong current as I searched for my brother amongst the reeds. He was my all now and without him I would be nothing. I had to save him. I was becoming slightly fed-up with myself. My human form could not be used as a repetitive excuse; I could have prevented Hawthorn from falling; I could have stopped myself from having to rescue him for the second time in just a few hours.

Soon I became helplessly weak and let the current carry me downstream, not caring about anything but saving my little brother. After what seemed like days, I was washed up on a riverbank in the far north of the forest, far away from where I had been that sunrise. Exhausted, I crawled out of the water, my clothes sodden, quickly remembering why I had jumped in in the first place. Hawthorn. I thought sadly, wondering where he was now – if he was even still alive.