Everyone knew these southern deserts were hot. They weren't ideal places to live or even pass through, but occasionally it was necessary. Hyppa's rag-like furry ears cramped as she used them for small fans to push the stagnant air against her cheeks. Being covered in fur from head to toe made travel through the desert that much less bearable. Hers and her husband's tracks in the sand went from distinct little boot prints to shallow ditches like a child drawing with rocks.
The oasis village was a lifetime away. Hyppa and Filop both day dreamed of the kind breezes and the lush lawns that they padded through daily. The memory of their neighbors' smiling faces, the sounds of laughter, and the smells of home cooked carrot stew fueled each bunny's arduous steps. They had to bring back that happiness that vanished so suddenly when the river dried up.
Hyppa suspected something magical was afoot and was surprised when so many of her neighbors were reluctant to peek out of their burrows. Filop, her true love and soulmate, allowed her to vent her reasoning. Hyppa's heart had dropped a moment when his look mirrored the villagers, but just as quickly as he would dismiss her, he instead agreed that something needed to be done.
Together they went to the village sage, a one eyed groundhog who was older than anyone could remember. He lived in the deepest tunnel that the river's bounty kept pact and secure. He accepted Hyppa's words and offered anything he could to help other than his body which was too frail to withstand leaving his home. Hyppa believed knowledge and relics from the days of the Great Migration when the river first appeared would suit her needs.
Everyone knew magic from some benevolent force brought them their oasis village; magic could take it back.
The couple took a few days to prepare for a painful desert journey beyond the oasis. Hyppa made sure they had proper food and clothing while Filop took care of logistics and directions so they didn't wander. They had created a rhythm over the years that made their two very different personalities match up.
Hyppa and Filop traveled for days along the path of the crumbling river bed avoiding known hazards on their map and trying to reach new blooming areas before sundown. The days were sweltering and the nights were frigid, but still the two bunnies took every chance they had to encourage the other. They would cuddle in a lump to keep warm at night or simply touch the tips of their ears together to remind the other that the heat couldn't stop them on their journey.
Halfway through the fifth day of travel, Hyppa and Filop began to worry that they hadn't packed quite enough supplies and that their protective clothing was fraying and leaving patches where the sun's beams would worm their way through. They considered veering off the path to find another oasis village that might help them, though talk between villages was scarce.
"They might be affected like we are," Hyppa squeaked, bouncing on the soles of her thick boots that protected against the elements. "They really might be!"
"Yes, I know Hyppa," her husband said, "but that doesn't mean they're going to let a couple of strangers walk in and ask for their supplies. Especially if they also lost their water."
"Oh they've just gotta help! Please just look, Filop!"
Filop raised his paws in surrender and fished out a carefully folded piece of aged paper from his sandy pack. It unraveled into a square half their height with dark lines and symbols spread across it denoting different oasis villages in the widespread southern desert. Towards the north-west border was their home, Colombunnyia, far from any natural waterways or forests. The miracle that overtook the southern desert allowed for the Great Migration that saved numerous northern cities from the overreaching hands of their prolific human neighbors. As far as animals could tell there was much more peace than ever before.
However, without the rivers who knew what could happen again?
Hyppa and Filop noted where the nearest animal societies were and debated which one might be best suited to help. One city was mainly inhabited by predatory beasts that might take too kindly to the bunnies' arrival. Another city's inhabitants were a mix of aquatic and amphibious. Their survival was the biggest miracle and brave travelers were willing to risk the desert to hear their stories. The turtles were so old, some of them were alive when the miracle happened.
As the bunnies discussed their limited options, the page began to ripple under their paws. Hyppa held tighter with one paw as she used the other to rub her eye that was quickly collecting a small mound of sand. Hyppa and Filop looked up and finally noticed the rampaging winds barreling towards them. The skies overhead darkened as the clumping sand blocked out the sun. Filop threw his arms around his wife and buried her head against his chest. He tried to yell over the wailing of the storm, but each gust stole his words and deposited sand along his tongue.
In married unison, the pair trudged towards the dried up river bed, seeking lower ground. Their boots broke off chunks of the clay and sand beneath them, tossing them down the sloping earth until they crashed against the bottom ten feet below. They kept their heads tucked as they felt their clothes and packs ripping away. Hyppa felt a paw brush against the top of her head and she dared to peek one unfortunate eye open. She saw Filop's fuzzy arm blocking most of him, but he was making deliberate clawing motions with his free arm right beside his scrunched face. Chunks of clay were discarded into the air and carried off by the winds.
Hyppa accidentally smiled, inviting sand between her large teeth, and she began to dig. With a few scuffs against the riverbed, the ground tipped under her chin. She felt one paw sink further than she imagined. Then her arm slumped, dangling in open air.
More of the earth around the bunnies started giving way in larger slabs. In moments there was nothing there to support them. Both Hyppa and Filop screamed, ignorant of the storm any longer, as they fell into a sea of darkness and quiet.
The fall seemed to last an eternity. After a while, the bunnies didn't think they were actually still falling, but rather they were perfectly still and just waiting to open their eyes to find that they were back home. They knew their eyes were open because they were looking at each other and their enclosed paws that held on for dear life.
Just when they thought the rest of their lives would be spent suspended in time, their ears twitched. Droplets of water dangled in the air around them lit by orange pearls of light reminding them that they were falling. A gurgling sound drew nearer by the second and it grew louder and more fearsome. Soon it was a constant crashing and flowing, lapping at an unseen shore. Hyppa opened her mouth to cry out in excitement just as she and Filop smacked against the surface of a roiling river. The water carried their bruised bodies through the darkness that was only broken by the refracted light in the droplets above. They shifted and swayed, taunting the bunnies with their safe distance.
Filop spat out more water and forced his aching limbs towards his wife who was barely managing to keep afloat. Her fur was soaked through and her bucked teeth were chattering. Her fidgeting whiskers flicked water away only to drown again. He took her under his arm and began a painful paddle towards what he prayed was the shore.
Something sharp pricked at Filop's back and he felt himself being dragged from the water. He made sure he was gripping Hyppa with all of his remaining strength as they were draped in the air and the water flowing off of them dropped back into the river tens of feet below. They were surrounded by the small orange lights again and they could see how they were similar to fruits on the tips of branches.
"Who are you?" a voice rumbled through the dark. The glowing fruits burned brighter, lighting everything around them. Hyppa and Filop were face to face with what appeared to be a giant evergreen. Much of its blackened bark was peeling away in jagged strips and its branches that held the fruit and prey were partially rotted.
"We-we're Hyppa and Filop," Hyppa piped up after a moment to catch her breath. "We're searching for the reason our river dried up."
The evergreen rumbled again with a rhythmic laughter that shook its branches. Then it seemed to cough and shunted the bunnies about with more force.
"I, too, am dried up," the evergreen drolled on. The bunnies still couldn't see a mouth. "I, too, need the river's water to live. Once I had god-like powers, but I am not immortal and I, too, must survive."
"Can't we work something out?" Filop asked while wriggling into a more comfortable position within the tree's grasp. "The river is huge!"
"I need a lot of water to regain my strength."
Hyppa growled in frustration which only brought back the shifting branches that told her she was being mocked. She had not just suspected something magical was blocking the river from her village; she correctly feared it would be something dangerous. Hyppa moved along with the rocking of the tree as it laughed in their tiny faces. Her paw reached into her knapsack and as the tree's branches began to swing as if to throw Hyppa and Filop to their deaths far below, Hyppa pulled a small battle axe with runes carved into the hilt. She knew she was a sad sight, a sopping wet bunny with a weapon more than half her size, but she also knew she believed in the magic that brought her people salvation and these runes were part of that magic.
Hyppa slipped free of her protective robe and pack, launching herself towards the worn trunk of this beast. The sharp curved edge of the blade sunk into the tree bark with a nauseating ease and gravity pulled Hyppa down, dragging the axe with her. A jagged trail formed that seeped an amber ooze. Globs of it plunked onto Hyppa's head, matting her fur, but she hardly noticed as the axe finally came loose and she dropped back into the river.
A bellow rocked the chasm as the tree fell backwards, a collapsing monolith of greed. As Hyppa breached the surface of the river, she just caught the large splash where her husband fell in behind her. This time she grabbed him, paddled to the edge, and plucked them both out. As they exited the water, they watched as the entire moving body began to glow and even as it continued barreling into the dark nothingness of the chasm, it rose up into the air and soon was out of sight.
The bunnies sat for a moment to simply catch their breath. Their clothing sloshed as they rolled to look at each other with soft smiles.
"You were right," Filop said and Hyppa smiled brighter.
"I'm just sorry it had to end that way." Hyppa's voice faltered for a moment.
Filop gave her a sloppy hug and kiss. "It's about time the little guy got to be the hero."
As he spoke, their ears twitched again, detecting a wheezing cough. The bunnies sat up and looked towards the empty waterway. A creature twice their size with four tall legs and miles of damp fur lay shaking in the decaying remains of the old evergreen. Hyppa and Filop crawled a little closer for a better view and to listen as the coughing changed to some mumbling.
"I need to grow strong. I need to grow strong," it said, each wilting word was labored. "The magic will help us-" Then it fell still.
Hyppa and Filop shared nervous glances and then Filop hugged his shaking wife. So many people and creatures alike depended on the river's miracle. So far as they knew, it didn't belong to any one being except the miracle giver, whoever or whatever that may have been.
Filop tucked a paw under Hyppa's chin and raised it to meet her gaze with a small smile. "Let's go home."