A Word to Readers

Dear Readers,
I am going away for some time and I will come back sometime in the middle of JANUARY. When I do, I will notify you.

I posted again on The Light.

Hi, I will post every Saturday from now on, but there might be a few exceptions. If so, I will notify you. The new post I have posted today will be continued every week on the same post. Notice that I have put the date on the top left hand corner. I will do so every week so that you know where you have left off.

At the same time, I would like to thank all of you faithful readers for encouraging me. Your encouragement has motivated me to publish a book. In fact, Dawn is going to be my first book. The prologue I posted on this blog is a rough draft of the book's prologue. I'll keep you posted on my progress, but I cannot reveal the details --Book Progress: Chapter 14

Monday, February 13, 2012

Flames of Sacrifice

           I'm all sure you will agree that you are getting tired of Ivy and her story. Even I am, too. This is just a little myth I wrote, so we could have a little reprieve from those doves. Next post, I will be continuing The Light again, on the same post as usual.
           Long, long time ago, the lions wore pelts of dull, yellow fur and none knew of their courage and bravery that they are often symbolized for today. But the tigers wore glorious coats of pure orange, without a trace of their stripes. The lions were the banished creatures of the Pride, cursed to live as outcasts, for a crime long forgotten, until one day... 
           A young lion licked the fur of his friend, a lioness, clean. The lioness let out a weary sigh, eyes clouded, "You know, Blaze, every single day the tigers take away more of us for their sacrifices to Vuur, the god of fire. If it goes on, none of us will be left.”
           “But there is not anything we can do, Zia,” the lion’s voice hardened with anger. 
           “Yes, I know, I know, yet I feel as though we must do something!” Zia retorted.
           “Yet what? Kneel down in front of them and beg?” the golden-furred lion’s voice was bitter. “Last time they took my sister.” His voice dwindled to a whisper. The lioness ran her tail through his unkempt fur in an attempt to comfort him, but Blaze shook it off. “And they’re coming again tonight. It will be the full moon, and we will lose more of our friends and family. Or it could be us.” he exchanged a side glance with Zia. “We cannot hide forever.” Zia simply nodded sorrowfully, raising her head to gaze at the slowly-appearing stars.
Night fell quickly, the moon slipping into the sky and the stars twinkling brightly, luminous and beautiful. But it would be a day of blood and sacrifice. 
And soon it was to be the time for the Picking, when the tigers would come and choose two lions, one male and one female for the Sacrifice at the Sacred Volcanoes of Vuur.  
“It is time,” Zia prodded Blaze’s flank with an outstretched paw, silhouette traced in silver. Her close friend gave her a curt nod, his amber eyes dark with anxiety. The pale golden lioness nudged Blaze and he slowly got to his scrawny paws. Together they padded into the ragged circle of emaciated lions, each with terrified eyes fixed on the entrance. They stood side by side a little to the left, Zia’s heart thundering against her golden brown chest. Her luminous eyes were focused on the entrance of their home, an opening between two jagged rocks. The lioness’s breathing quickened as she heard paw steps and the crunch of dried grass under paw. Her heartbeat boomed in Zia’s ears, her every breath coarse and her rigid body betraying her unease. A moment later, a broad, orange head popped out of the entrance, eyes two narrow slits. It was followed by muscular shoulders and hefty paws with claws unsheathed. Eyes gleamed in the darkness; claws flashed white against the yellow. Another head followed the first, then another, and another. Sleek pelts glistened, the visitors well-fed unlike the lions, with every single rib showing. 
The tigers were there.
Zia stepped closer to Blaze, gulping and pressing her pelt against his as the inspectors padded into the clearing and glanced at the lions. It’s going to be all right, Blaze whispered. Zia just shook her head slightly, troubled. The lead tiger, the one with a scarred muzzle, passed by the first lioness, her mother, who was tipping her head up boldly and holding his gaze although her paws were trembling. Zia’s heart skipped a beat as the tigers halted in their tracks, eyes darting over her. Please, not her. Not my mother, the lioness pleaded. Please. She spotted her father stiffen, but luckily, the tiger’s eyes passed over her mother with indifference and carried on. “You!” the tiger snarled at a lioness bearing cubs. “Take her.” he motioned with his tail at the his companions. “NO!” a lion leaped out of the circle, screeching, "Please! She’s bearing my cubs!” A flicker of something dangerous danced in the tiger’s green eyes, and without warning, he lunged, savagely pulling the lion by his scruff, tearing at his chest fur and throwing him to his cohorts. “Enough! We will leave now.” He whipped his massive head around and prowled to the edge of the clearing. “These will have to do.”
“And if you ever, ever oppose us, the consequence would be death. You hear me, just like this,” The tiger wrenched a tiger cub peering from behind his mother’s back and with one blow, sent him sprawling. Then, he viciously tore out its throat, teeth glistening with blood. The little scrap of fur didn't even have a chance. The cub let out an eerie wail of pain, his body jerking in spasms, and his mother let out a shriek, rushing toward him. 
But it was already too late.
The poor cub took in a final breath, flanks heaving, and his ocher eyes glazed over, death washing over. Zia watched in horror as his body turned limp and his mother mourned beside him, letting out distraught screeches of loss. The ragged ring of lions stood quietly in silence, petrified in terror. The tigers glared around the clearing one last time and turned toward the opening to leave.
Despite what everything had happened, Zia couldn’t help but be relieved. At least none of her friends or family had perished or been chosen. What are you thinking?! She chided herself, they are all your kind. She shook her head silently. What have we become? What have the tigers turned us into? Guiltily, the lioness glanced away from the departing figures. Cold and uncaring creatures, those heartless with gaping, blackened, starving mouths where love and empathy once resided. We are as much monsters as they...
But then, suddenly, as if the gods had heard her unworthy thoughts, a tiger whipped around and growled, "This one is dead.” He used his long tail to point at the lifeless body of the lion whose mate had been chosen. He lay with his paws splayed out and a smear of blood above his eyes. The leader narrowed his eyes and ran his gaze over the remaining lions
to rest on Blaze.
The tiger's brilliant green gaze, dark as emeralds, bored into her friend, cold and calculating. Zia froze, eyes wide as moons, as he issued the order: "Take that one.” The lioness's mouth gaped, a tiny gasp issuing from her jaws. How can it be? Blaze cannot be chosen; he cannot! She would not allow the little gods and goddesses to punish her so; she would not allow them to steal from her her world. And so she prayed to them, pleading and promising them her paws, her pelt, her breath, her heart: take him, take her, take anyone but Blaze. Yet they did not heed her. They did not listen. There was all but another star in the early dawn skies for another wish left unheard — another scar in a land of little wounds.
She could do nothing.
She was nothing. 
I am nothing.
Yet Zia could not stand by and watch helplessly as her best friend was taken to be slaughtered. She pushed forward as they reached for her friend,” No! Take me instead!” The first tiger just flicked his tail, ignoring the pleading lioness. “Please!” Zia desperately searched his gaze for any signs of sympathy. She was only met with cold reproach, icy as the nights of winter. She glanced back at her friend, but he stood in shock, jaws gaping and eyes staring. “Blaze!” Zia darted forward. "No, Blaze, do something! Please!” He twisted around to look at her for the last time, eyes pools of sorrow and anguish. 
"I-I" Blaze rasped, utterly bewildered. Then he seemed to notice the concern and terror in her eyes and attempted to assuage her.
“Zia...” he began. "I may be gone, but life goes on. You taught me that when they took my sister.” He attempted a smile, but failed miserably. "It's okay," he whispered quietly.
A low growl came from behind, threatening. The tigers were becoming impatient, scraping the ground with their forepaws. And then the leader issued an order to one of his followers. A tiger, bristling with hostility, shouldered his way through the crowd and roughly shoved Blaze. Zia whipped around, but her friend shook his yellow head gently. “One more moment, please,” he begged the tiger. 
“No, we are leaving now! You come with me or I’ll kill you and your precious little friend.” 
“I’m coming,” Blaze snarled, and turned one last time. 
Zia muttered, "No...” They gazed into each other’s eyes for a heartbeat and his amber eyes told more than a million words, a mixture of agony and sadness. And then her friend was wrenched away. “No!” the lioness screeched and flung herself in the way. “No,” she murmured hoarsely. But before she could get into much more trouble, her mother pulled her aside, holding her down as they departed. Blaze shot a glance at her one last time and disappeared. “No!” Zia yowled at the twinkling sky, raising her head up and yelling her anger and sadness at the cold sky.
The next day, Zia woke up. And she smiled. The lioness just had a very amusing dream about her friend being chosen at the Picking and Blaze would want to know about it. She flipped over and stared, heart skipping a beat. The patch of stone where her friend always slept was empty, with no signs of a lion settling there at all. 
And then the horrible realization dawned to her: Blaze was gone, forever. He was to be sacrificed to the fire god. She would never feel the warmth of his fur or splash in the mud with him. He was taken. Never to be seen again. Zia despaired, putting her slender head on her mud-stained paws. She had tried to save him, grasping the tiger's hind leg with her forepaws. But it had been useless. She was useless.The lioness hung her head and sorrow swept through her, her paws leaden with guilt that she had not been able to help her friend.
But then she remembered something her father had once said to her: Persevere, always persevere, and never give up. Failure is not scary. Have faith in yourself and take the matter in your own paws. Zia looked up. That was it. She would go save Blaze herself! Pleading and begging would not help. She must take the problem to her own paws and have faith in herself. Instantly, her back straightened and she was once more alert and determined. 
Zia left immediately. She journeyed to the Sacred Volcanoes, passing tall grasses and sparse trees. Blaze would be sacrificed at noon, when the sun was at its zenith and the power of Vuur greatest. She must save him before then. Zia went without food or water, traveling for hours at a brisk pace, until she spotted the volcanoes, outlined in a dark gray, just ahead. She was almost there, but the sky had risen already and was inching up the sky. Just two hours left until the sacrifice.  She dashed up the volcano to the top, where all the tigers were for the sacred ritual. They were chanting a hymn, screeching and stomping their hind legs. In the middle of the tigers, surrounded and completely unharmed, were Blaze, the other lioness, and the other creatures of the Pride for sacrifice.
Zia crept up slowly, one paw at a time. The guards did not notice her, focused on the ritual. After all, they were the tigers, rulers of the Pride. No one, no matter what species, could ambush them. The supercilious brats! Zia spat. she began to map out a plan in her mind. But there are too many of them. Too many to fight. What should I do? She thought in dismay. Zia glanced around the volcano ledge she was crouched on. A few boulders and jagged rocks littered the place and smoke rose from the volcano in a swirling pattern. Tigers were all positioned a little below the boulders, eyes in narrow slits as they kept watch. Bubbling lava boiled down below in  temperature that would melt bone. Torrid flames danced around, sparks flying. A plan slowly began to form. A simple one, but which Zia hoped would work. She regretted dearly that she had not told anyone where she had gone. She could have persuaded someone to come with her, but then again, there might not have been enough time. The lioness shook her head to clear it and continued devising her plan, creeping toward the nearest boulder with her belly fur brushing the cool volcanic rock. Examining it, she nodded. The plan would work, but she would need to get Blaze and the others out fast. And she would have to go back down the volcano a little, to gather some things she would need. Turning, she slithered down and dashed back toward the green forest growing on the side. There would be vines there, and that was all she needed. She flashed a glimpse of the sky and realized that she had only around forty-five minutes left. Zia would have to hurry.
She raced down the volcano-side until she found vines of ivy, and peeled them off, fashioning them into a sort of rope. When she thought that it was long enough, Zia darted back up the volcano and put it around the rocks, making a huge circle with the boulders inside of it. Luckily, the ivy tendrils were long enough to make the rope. Finally she brought the two tips together where she had started. The rope was a little too small, but hopefully it would work. The lioness put both ends in her jaws and pulled backward, wrenching the rope. For a moment, all was silent and Zia thought that her plan had failed, but then there was a deafening rumble and the boulders began to roll down, crushing some of the guards who were caught unawares and creating a distraction. As the tigers turned to look at the rocks and dodge them, Zia bounded into their midst and nudged Blaze to his paws. He looked at her and drank in her scent, twining their tails together. “You came for me,” Blaze breathed. “Of course,” Zia replied. The contact lasted for just a heartbeat and they split up, racing toward their home. The birds and giraffes and all the other animals were also on the run. But then a fresh wave of tigers appeared, rushing at the escaping sacrifices. Some animals turned to fight, but most just fled. Zia raced forward and was suddenly face to face with  a tiger. She dodged as it swept  a massive paw at her and slashed her claws down the orange pelt. Claws reached for her neck and she had to rear up, matching the tiger’s blow for blow. Whipping around, she bit into its hind leg and the tiger screeched, dashing off. Zia turned around, flashing out a paw at a tiger and leaping on another to dig her claws in. The tiger bucked and rolled over in a desperate attempt to shake her off, but the lioness clung on tight. And then serrated fangs dug into her shoulder and snatched her off. A tiger with eyes glittering with hostility pinned her down with a long, curved claw. It snarled and raised its paws for the death blow and the lioness braced herself for the pain that would ensue. But it never came. She looked up to see Blaze baring his teeth at it and scoring his claws down the tiger’s back.
But they were losing. There simply were too many tigers. Battered and exhausted, Zia lashed out her hind legs at a hefty tiger, catching him in the head and he swung around, muzzle stained with blood. All of a sudden, she heard a battle cry and a line of lions, led by her father, streamed into the battle field. The lioness almost smiled and jerked her spine to the right as her opponent’s paws crashed down. She bit hard into his throat as he bent down and the tiger ripped himself away, backing off. 
Reaching her mother’s side, Zia asked, "How...” 
“I guessed where you went and persuaded the others to come. And we came just in time, I see.” her mother gasped between blows. 
The lioness glanced around the clearing. A brave bird who was pecking at a tiger’s eyes was swept away with one paw. It hurtled through the air and landed with a dull thud. It did not move. Her father and a group  of lions were being beaten back by a fresh wave of tigers and Blaze and a giraffe were ever closer to the volcano edge with every step. They were still losing.
Just then, when Zia wasn’t paying attention, a tiger slammed into her, pinning the lioness to a rock. She struggled vainly to free herself, but to no avail. Quickly all the others were either surrounded or pinned down by the tigers. There simply were too many and they were outnumbered greatly. 
The tiger leader strode out of the center of the tigers and snarled, "Since so many of the sacrifices evaded us, I’m sure that the fire god would not mind if we just used you and your petty, interfering lions.” He growled. And with that, he abruptly pushed his face into Zia’s. “This is all your fault so you will be the last to be thrown into the volcano mouth. You will die with the cries of the animals in your ears and die knowing that you killed them. And oh yes,” he continued with a malicious snarl, "every single lion will perish today. From now on, you will be obliterated, eradicated. Gone. Extinct.”
“You are mad!” Zia retorted, surprised that her voice was so calm. “The gods and goddesses will make sure you get your rightful punishment.” 
“Oh, I don’t think so,” the tiger’s voice was dangerously quiet, "especially when I am offering them you.”  He whisked around, his entire form bathed in red light and specks of foam flying out of his muzzle. His eyes shone with a wild light, crazed and blazing.
"Let it begin!”
All the animals were herded into a line, and Zia spotted her mother, father, and Blaze. It was all her fault. She should never have come, and now, she had endangered her entire species. Zia lowered her head in shame, letting out a sigh. A bird was first thrown into the flames, screeching in fear. Then was a lion cub, mewling for its mother, and Zia squeezed her amber eyes shut as it was launched into the torrid lava. And then she looked up again and found herself gazing into the brilliant yellow eyes of her mother. “Do not give up,” she mouthed as she stood bravely at the edge. “No!” the lioness yowled, thrashing to and fro as she tried to save her mother. But there was nothing she could do. Her mother was hurled down into the awaiting flames below. The smoke stung her eyes and the sorrow pierced her heart like a thorn. Do not give up, her mother had meowed. The lioness started struggling, flailing, and her paw caught something: a sharp stone that had broken off from one of the boulders. She gripped it in her paws, waiting for the right moment. The lead tiger was not yet in the right position... Her father was next. He turned and gave her one last nod, his eyes shining with pride. He was not upset at her;on the contrary, he was proud. The lioness, eyes trained on his face, gave him a tiny nod back. The tigers stepped up to throw him in, but he refused. With dignity, her father padded up to the edge, glanced down and... Zia could not bear on looking. She gazed at her dirty paws instead, and when she looked up, her father was gone, empty air where he once stood.  Then another lion paced forward, his face resolute. His eyes that had sparkled so many times with light-hearted laughter were calm and unblinking. 
It was Blaze.
He glanced at Zia with melancholy eyes, fur ruffled and glowing in the light. His chest was puffed up and he gazed  at her, seeming to say good bye. The two locked eyes, filled with grief and mingled with love, and Blaze shook his golden head slightly. Zia stood silently, watching, her fur flowing in the gentle breeze as he stepped forward and faced the volcano. And then the leader shifted, padding right in front of her, by the ledge. His eyes were cruel and distorted with anger and hatred. The leader snickered and waited, seeming to enjoy the ceremony. And at that moment, Zia knew what she had to do. She felt it in her heart, and she cast one final glance at Blaze, and bunched up her muscles.
Blaze was ready. He was ready to die. The red glow of the lava gave Zia a beautiful appearance, tinging her fur red-gold. Her amber eyes were worlds of sadness and were mesmerizing. A slight breeze ruffled her smooth, glistening fur, her tail flowing out behind her. At that moment, she was gorgeous, perfect. Then she turned to the mouth of the volcano. Puzzled, Blaze halted in his tracks and watched as she leaped, and in that moment between one breath and the next, as the world went silent and the gods granted a wish, realization dawned upon him. There must be something we can do, she had said. It was an echo, the sound of a hero made, a heart breaking, and a soft goodbye whispered into the night to the one you loved.
“No!” Blaze yowled, rushing forward. 
It was already too late. 
Zia stabbed the tiger leader with a razor-sharp stone. The tip dug into his chest, and she crashed into him, the momentum sending both tumbling into the volcano mouth. Blaze raced to the edge and frenziedly searched for a final glimpse of Zia. He spotted her gazing at him as she plummeted, and it was the last time Blaze saw Zia, her golden fur flowing around her. Then the whirling smoke and twirling flames engulfed her. 
“Zia!” he screeched, "You can’t leave me!” 
Throwing up his head, Blaze caterwauled to the sky. Yet there was no response, just the light of the full moon and of the icy stars above twinkling coldly. The quiet of a million tears falling, and shattering against the earth.
And in that silence, the sound of a heart breaking.

That night a tongue of flame rose from the mouth of the volcano and scorched the sky, searing stripes onto the remaining tigers. Shrieking, they fled the volcano, crying out in pain and misery, crying out for their once beautiful pelts that held the light, gone. And then the sun appeared in the midst of all the smoke and fire, the sun god, Suno. Suno had watched the sacrifice of Zia from the heavens and believed that the lions deserved a gift. He granted them their manes of sunlight and spread word of their courage and bravery. He then designated them as the rulers of the Pride. For the tigers’ crime, he banished them from Africa. Some said that they journeyed east toward nowaday India, but no one can say for certain.