Written by Micah Edwards
A howl rolled across the mutable landscape of the Dream. It was answered by another, then another. Those of the wild were on the hunt tonight. Cossus pricked up his ears, listening, but he did not join in. Unlike them, he had a duty.
According to the legends, all of his kind had once been of the wild. They had run with the packs, their fluid forms shifting as they ran, adapting to the changes in the world around them. They had been sleek, graceful, instinctive, free.
Now, they had no pack. Each of his kind had given that up to become something far greater, solid sentinels standing alone in the Dream. They had left their carefree, unknowing existence behind and traded it in for intelligence. No mere animal cunning, but the true sort, that of words and ideas and power. They had lost the freedom to simply live in the moment, but had gained the ability to tell stories, to pass on memories, to live forever in those who remembered them.
Where the wild ones shifted with the Dream, allowing themselves to flow along with it, Cossus instead altered the Dream at his own whim, forcing it to adapt to him. He was the master of his domain, and he guarded it zealously.
Cossus stood on a mountain of his own creation. He looked out over the world before him, surveying the small valley at his feet. It shifted liquidly, altering as he watched. Four distinct masses bumped against each other’s boundaries, sliding smoothly off without mixing. Cossus knew each of them. He had sought them tirelessly in the Dream, carefully shepherded each one here. They were why he and his kind no longer had packs. They were his family. He would protect them.
In the world, they were strong, fierce warriors of sentience and technology. They commanded powers that Cossus could barely understand and strode through life like giants. But in the Dream, they were blind, helpless. All of their kind were. Every night when they slept, they lay open and exposed to the dangers of the Dream. And so by story and scent, Cossus had found each one of his family and brought them together where he could watch over them, guard them while they slept.
The howls came again, the pack calling out to each other. This call spoke not of the hunt, but of another predator nearby, one of the Sadists. It, too, was on the hunt, and the pack fled from it.
Cossus sent up a howl of his own, a warning and a challenge. He announced his claim to the territory, his intent to defend it. Let the Sadist come if it would. His muscles shifted, thickening into battle mode. His teeth lengthened, his claws sharpened. The ground shook beneath him as he strode forth.
In the world, his paws twitched in his sleep. A quiet echo of a bark escaped his mouth.
The Sadist slid from a cleft in the mountain, attempting to sneak past Cossus’s watchful gaze. But Cossus had felt it come and widened the cleft into a pit, sending the Sadist tumbling in a clatter of claws and hissing mouths. It twisted as it landed, rearranging the landscape and turning the fall into a leap. Sharp teeth raked Cossus’s flank as a stinger pierced his side, numbing venom flowing forth to hinder and hobble him.
Cossus caught the attacking creature in his jaws and shook it viciously, hearing its chitin crack beneath his bite. He tossed it insolently against the rocks, snarling as he released it.
“Find your prey elsewhere, weakling,” he taunted, ignoring the burning pain in his side. “These are protected.”
The Sadist spat at him, an expanding gobbet that burned the air as it flew. But Cossus was no longer there. He was behind the Sadist, huge forepaws stomping it to the ground, teeth tearing off limbs as fast as it could form them.
The fight was vicious, brutal and far from one-sided, but in the end the Sadist threw Cossus from him and fled the way it had come. “You will not stand sentinel forever!” it shouted as it ran. “You will weaken and die while I am still in my prime. I will return!”
Suddenly, Cossus was before it. Fear flashed in the Sadist’s eyes as it attempted to turn, but Cossus was upon it, its black blood flooding his mouth in a vile gush as he bit down heavily and ripped a mortal wound in its neck.
The creature shifted wildly, attempting to staunch the flow, but the damage was too great. Cossus stood over it, staring into its eyes as its struggles weakened, then ceased.
“No,” Cossus told the corpse. “You will not.”
In the world, his tail thumped once softly, and his breath escaped in a contented sigh.
He retreated to the mountaintop to lick his own wounds. This one would not be back, but others would. And it had not been wrong. Some day he would weaken and die, long before those he protected. But until that day, he would do his duty. When his day did come, he would face it without fear, knowing that he would live on in those he had defended.
Cossus howled from the mountain, a cry of triumph. From the forests of the Dream, the wild ones replied, honoring him.
If you liked this story a second story by this author in the same setting is available to supporting members.