Chapter 17 - At the Falling of Stars
As he ran back over the moors Notail looked up at the vastness of the night sky. In the stoneforest he had seen few stars. There was only ever man’s false light. Here the world went on and on even into the dark above. He knew his place here now. He was no longer a lonely fox lost in man’s stoneworld. He was not alone. The stars were not alone, they were everywhere. A vast oblivion that held no fear. So many. He had never thought there could be so many.
He saw a star was falling, a dot of fire speeding towards the world. It even had a tail.
It was falling into the west.
He stopped and sniffed the air. Bone’s scent was faint and now he realised it was not ahead of him, not in the east. It was far away but it came from the west. He is going into the west, thought Notail with a smile.
Notail turned and ran on, following that distant scent, towards the falling star. As he ran he could see more stars falling. Bright streaks of light burning across the night. Why did they do that, he wondered. Whatever stars were surely they were meant to shine in the night sky not fall. Their purpose was to shine just like his purpose had been to hunt the stoneforest. To keep his mate and cubs safe. All things change, he thought, even stars have to let go.
Notail ran on into the west. He ran fast and relentlessly.
He did not care how long he had been running or how tired he was. With each paw fall Bone’s scent grew stronger and stronger. At last he came to a line of trees.
He sniffed at the trees. The scent was strongest here but Notail paused. He did not like the darkness the trees enclosed. For a moment he thought of what might be waiting for him beyond those trees. A shadow. A worse kind of darkness. He growled. He would not let those fears hold him back now. Bone was in there, he had to be, and whatever else was in there too, he did not fear facing it if it meant finding Bone.
“Bone,” he called into the trees but there was no answer. He scratched a paw at his throat. Above him more stars let go of the night and hurtled towards the world. He padded into the trees and soon all the stars were lost beneath the cover of branches.
Slowly he moved down through the trees following the young dog’s scent. The line of trees was shallow. Coming out on the other side he reached a great stone hollow dug out by man’s hands but there was no Bone waiting for him. Notail padded carefully to the edge and peered over. It was a long way down and there was nothing but rocks there.
Notail looked around at the strange place his search for Bone had brought him to. Above him the sky was bright with starlight again but the hollow was deep and dark.
Behind him now were the trees. Trapping him against the edge. Hiding shadows. Hiding eyes, maybe. And ahead of him was the strange hollow. A place of nothing. Whatever was there before, the stone and the mud and the grass, it had all been taken away by man and now there was only the deep emptiness and silence. It was not a good place but the young dog’s scent was near. Too close to lose now. Too close to let go.
Something rustled the trees behind him.
The trees moved. Something was coming.
And then he saw it. The shape. The shadow.
With it came a deep growling. He did not tremble. He felt no fear now, only a need to protect Bone like he should have protected his cubs. He knew he would face anything for Bone.
He wanted the Black Dog to come.
It has found me, thought Notail, as he readied himself to face the Black Dog.