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How I'd book: An NXT Christmas Special

Hi everyone! Seeing how much of a roaring success Halloween Havoc was it's safe to say WWE aornd better said NXT will continue doing this specials, and thinking of Possible ideas for shows I came up with an idea for a Christmas show. Now a disclaimer this is gonna have quite the amount of wacky/light hearted moments Because it's the freaking Christmas episode so it's only fitting we get an episode in spirit to close out the year, so if you don't like that type of stuff then this isn't for you. With that out of the way I bring to you.......

NXT CHRISTMAS SPECIAL

Opening shot sees the whole Capitol Wrestling Center dressed up for the occasion. There's Christmas trees, fake snow, snowmen and giant present boxes among many others. After that we go to our host which is none other than Tegan Nox! Why her? Because a) if you do an episode of the happiest holiday of the year might as well give the hosting duties to the biggest white meat Babyface you have and b) Because it gives her something to do while still recovering from her injury so people don't forget about her. We get a few words from Tegan on the stage next to the logo before jumping into our first match
Johnny Gargano (c) and Candice LeRae w/Indi Hartwell vs Bronson Reed and Shotzi Blackheart. Miracle in the Capitol Wrestling Center fight
How we get here: During the Priest vs Gargano match at Halloween Havoc it was mentioned Bronson Reed had his sight on the NA Championship and since Johnny won it he now has to deal with the Auszilla. Candice and Shotzi don't need much explanation, we know their story by now, increased with Candice new found hatred of wheels. The weeks before the show we see the Garganos and Indi Hartwell doing some Christmas preparatives during which we find out Johnny hates Christmas Trees, snowmen and a few other stuff, Because why not. At the December 6th Takeover Johnny barely escapes with a win against Bronson with the help of Candice, which is the big trigger for Shotzi to jump on here
How it goes: Typical miracle on the 34th street Fight, bunch of Christmas props are involved, we see Johnny berate a tree, Shotzi try to use a snowblower on Candice but she uses Indi as a human shield and Indi ends up covered in snow, Johnny superkicks a snowman and others. We also see Tegan heckling the Garganos and Johnny get in a shouting argument with Tegan over a bunch of Christmas traditions for comedy effect, for example if you leave milk and cookies to Santa. In the end Johnny is too busy shouting at Tegan over Christmas stuff he gets Samoan Dropped through a table full of present boxes as Shotzi hits Candice with one of the boxes followed by a Senton to win it for her team
Shotzi Blackheart and Bronson Reed def the Garganos in a Miracle on the Capitol Wrestling Center fight (18:45)
We go backstage with Mackenzie Mitchell who's interviewing her guest this time, Tomasso Ciampa. Mackenzie interviews him and asks the Blackheart what is his mindset going into his Night Before Christmas match against KUSHIDA tonight. Ciampa says he has no clue what this is but whatever the Japanese has in mind, Ciampa already has the answer for it
Toni Storm vs Xia Li
Little cool off match that serves as a showcase for Toni as well, Xia gets offense after a few cheap shots but in the end Toni still comes up victorious after a Storm Zero
Toni Storm def Xia Li (6:30)
After that we cut back to Tegan on the stage who is hyping up the #1 contenders match for the NXT Championship between Adam Cole and Pete Dunne as well as the Tag Team Championships match between Oney Lorcan and Danny Burch vs Drake Maverick and Killian Dain later that night before we jump into our next match
Next we cut backstage where we see Drake Maverick dressed as an elf, hyping himself up for his title match later on when Santa Killian Dain shows up, not a fan of the attire Drake got for him but Maverick encourages Killian they're going to pull their own Christmas Miracle that night
Night Before Christmas match: KUSHIDA vs Tomasso Ciampa
How we get here: After getting rid of Velveteen Dream at Takeover, Ciampa says he's nowhere near done and his next target is the man who beat him because of Dream, that being none other than KUSHIDA (if you remember the week before Halloween Havoc you get why) and his path to reclaim NXT goes through him. The time Traveller doesn't seem too impressed by the Psycho Killer, but rather challenging and his whole attitude towards this is that, if Tomasso wants the old NXT back he's going to get the old, the current and the future all in one so he challenges Ciampa to this match. Ciampa accepts blinded by his anger, not knowing what he's signing for but willing to beat KUSHIDA at his own game and prove why he's the best in NXT history
How it goes: It's a cinematic match and essentially Ciampa's Firefly Funhouse match, Because of there's someone who has an arc worthy of this match it's definitely him. Why KUSHIDA? Because if we're doing something with past present and future might as well go all in with the guy who's Gimmick is based on Time traveling movies.
Ciampa drives to what looks like a big old house and enters, only to almost immediately hear the Ghost of his past in the voice of Johnny Gargano. We see various moments of DIY at their beginning, Glorious Bombs, Dusty Rhodes Classic Takeover Toronto etc. Then the visions stop and we get the first brawling between Ciampa and KUSHIDA through the house until they both end laid out after going through a wall and that's when the Ghost of the present shows up as "Goldie". Goldie shows us everything that Ciampa has done since betraying Gargano And his he's won and lost it all because of that and asks Tomasso if it was worth it. Before he can give an answer he starts brawling with KUSHIDA again and Ciampa puts KUSHIDA through a table before leaving the house. The camera switches to the CWC, where Ciampa makes it back but almost immediately after does KUSHIDA. They brawl for a few more minutes until Ciampa looks to finish it with a Fairytale Ending but KUSHIDA counters into a Hoverboard Lock to force Ciampa to tap out to end the match and establishing himself as a top player on NXT
KUSHIDA def Tomasso Ciampa in a Night Before Christmas match
The camera then goes back to Tegan who's still trying to understand what happened there when Molly Holly shows up but Tegan hadn't been informed beforehand. Why does Molly show up? No real reason, just a nice surprise to Tegan in what would be a raw, unscripted feel good moment of her meeting her idol. We get a bit of hype for the upcoming matches but this is essentially to add a little nice moment to the show
We go to the back with Pat McAfee, the Tag Team Champions Oney Lorcan and Danny Burch and Pete Dunne and they say that regardless of what happened at Takeover where they lost to the Undisputed Era, they still have the Tag Titles, that's not changing EVER and Pat takes a shot at Finn Balor saying Pete Dunne will be the guy to put Lucky Charms out of his luck
Dakota Kai w/Raquel Gonzalez vs Ember Moon
How we get here: After losing at Takeover, Dakota doesn't take it lightly Ember might steal her spot on the women's Division and Challenges her to a match at the Christmas special. Ember says since she's in giving spirit she will give Dakota another ass whooping she won't forget
How it goes: Heel vs face classic dynamic, just add Tegan heckling her former best friend from the stage. Dakota and Ember have yet another very very close one on one encounter, only difference is that Dakota manages to secure the win this time with a Kairopractor after a Raquel interference
Dakota Kai def Ember Moon (14:20)
We then jump to the Garganos backstage and Mackenzie Mitchell interviews them on how they feel after their loss tonight. Typical Garganos funny interview with Johnny being a jackass and Candice being irritated by Mackenzie. But here Mackenzie tells them they have a secret Santa who left them a gift and asked Mackenzie to give it to them. An excited Johnny opens the box and the present ls..... A little wood wheel. Johnny is thrilled by it but Candice Absolutely hates it and smashes it into the ground before leaving
Mini promo from Adam Cole saying he beat Pat's goon before and he'll do it again tonight and after he does Finn Balor better watch his ass Because he's taking back his gold and that is Undisputed. This is followed by a small bit of Finn addressing both Cole and Dunne as their match is up next. Finn compliments both competitors and lists their achievements, but in the end they're not in the level of the Prince
Adam Cole vs Pete Dunne. Winner becomes the #1 Contender for the NXT Championship
This two just go crazy at each other. They have tons of history that goes years back and now they get to beat the hell out of the other in the ring. In the end Pat shows up with the One Two Punch and the rest of TUE come to neuter them, which catches the attention of the ref and allows Pete to low blow Cole without the ref seeing it before hitting the Bitter End for the win to become the new Contender for Finn's title Pete Dunne def Adam Cole to become the new #1 Contender (19:45)
NXT Tag Team Championships: One Two Punch w/Pat McAfee (c) vs Drake Maverick and Killian Dain
How we got here: Drake and Dain won a Fatal 4 Way to determine the new contenders against IMPERIUM, TUE and Ever Rise a month ago but since Lorcan and Burch were in the Wargames match this match was postponed for later down the road. During this time Maverick and Dain have really gelled in and out of the ring with some team bonding vignettes. Now here they are, ready for their biggest match yet against arguably the toughest team on NXT. Oney and Danny got the belts after trying for so long and now whoever beats them will have to go over their dead bodies
How it goes: The match starts really even with both teams being toe to toe until a Pat interference weights the balance in favor of the Champions who relentlessly beat Drake for a while. Killian eventually cleans house and things are even again. Things continue to escalate and escalate until Pat tried to interfere again but this time he gets caught and ejected. The action continues for a bit longer until Dain and Maverick hit an Ulster Plantation + Diving Elbow combo on Oney for the win. We have new champions!
Drake Maverick and Killian Dain def One Two Punch to become the new NXT Tag Team Champions (20:15)
After the match we're back to Tegan but this time it's Santa Dain and Elf Drake Maverick who come with their newly won Tag Team Championships and celebrate to close the show on a high note
That's it for my Christmas booking! What did you think of it? Leave it in the comments!
submitted by OrangeForeign to fantasybooking

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SMOL-TOBER! A Spooooky They Are Smol Story, Part 3 of 4

Standard Disclaimer: I do not take credit for the setting, this story is set in the They Are Smol universe, written by our very own u/tinyprancinghorse. This is a much shorter story and unrelated to any characters or situations in Smol Detective.
TPH has a Website, a Patreon, and also a Discord if you need more smol shenanigans.
Happy Halloween, HFY! Here's a four-part series that I'll be posting this week, with the last chapter going up on the 31st. Enjoy!
Part one of this story is here, part two is here, and part four is here.
__________
Gngnra-of-Hnarh took in a good mouthful of her own drink and smoothed down her fluffed-out neck fur with one irritated paw. She was not some flighty male given to jumping after the latest fashion or flinching at the slightest sound. By the Pale Moon, she was chief of security for their ship and she needed to start acting like it.
Kn'na''nan's crest lay flat against his head, and he was pressed into the dirt in a subconscious gesture of submission. The Karnakian realized his posture and straightened up with an air of 'you didn't see that'. Gngnra felt uneasy enough that she didn't chuckle at his discomfort, even to herself.
[Jason], of course, showed nothing but adorable delight. "[That's a good one too! Thanks, [Hn'narnatnss]!]"
During his storytelling, the Jornissian had gradually tightened himself into a figure that looked almost like a ball of yarn with his head poking out of its middle. It would have looked humorous save for that posture's clear unspoken signal of mental distress. Now that he was finished, [Hn'narnatnss] slowly repositioned himself into a more comfortable-looking pile.
"[Thank you, friend [Jason]," he replied. "[That was...not an easy story for me to tell.]"
The tiny-chomper, who normally picked up on his shipmates' moods with no effort, somehow didn't understand just how unsettled [Hn'narnatnss] was. "[Yeah, I liked the ambiguity. Like, where did the box come from? What was its purpose? Was it alive or just some kind of weird parasite...?]"
"[It isn't that!]" snapped [Hn'narnatnss] with uncharacteristic harshness, causing [Jason] to flinch away in alarm. "[My sincere apologies,]" he continued in a softer tone. "[You must understand...the notion of being trapped in one's own body, of losing our own agency...Jornissians find that very upsetting.]"
"[Oh, I see.]" [Jason] patted a nearby coil in sympathy. "[Sorry to put you through that. I mean, this isn't supposed to be traumatizing. It's supposed to be good fun.]"
The Jornissian shrugged his hood. "[I have to admit, I do feel better. I remember being very unsettled by that tale as a snakelet but now, after the retelling, it doesn't seem so frightening.]"
[Jason] smiled and gave Hn'narnatnss another comforting pat.
Kn'na''nan let out a trill of despair. "[But he did nothing wrong!]" His shipmates looked at him curiously, and he fidgeted his claws again. "[I mean, in my story [N'knn'il] chose to be evil and was punished for it. But in that last story, the [Jornissian] was a good person! Even when he was profiting off of the box he was making sure to give back to the community!]"
Now that she'd had a chance to regain her composure, Gngnra felt like she could properly analyze the latest story. "{He wasn't evil, true, but he was lazy. He wanted to have the accolades and wealth of his elevated position without dealing with the difficult choices that came with it.}"
"[Hmm, yes. I suppose that's true.]" The Karnakian's crest rose again as his normal cheer reasserted itself. "[He got his wish, but at a horrible cost. So it's a cautionary tale too, in a way!]"
[Jason] shrugged. "[Sure, but [spooky] stories don't have to be just warnings. Take [spirited dwelling] stories, for example.]"
"[What?]" asked the other three simultaneously.
"[Crud, guess that didn't translate well. Um, the story setup is usually a person or a whole family move into a dwelling, then it turns out someone died there a long time ago and their [spirit] still [remains within] the [dwelling].]"
Kn'na''nan stroked his long chin with a claw. "[But wouldn't the [human's] soul return to the Great Spirit? Or even if you believe those benighted fools in the [Seven Rings] the soul should still reincarnate...]"
[Jason] held up a hand to forestall the inevitable oncoming avalanche of religious pondering. "[Well, you see usually the [human] died in some bad manner, usually murder. So for whatever reason their [spirit] isn’t at peace and can't move on.]"
Kn'na''nan fluffed his chest out in happiness. "[Oh, I understand now! How do these stories usually end?]"
"[Well, either the main characters figure out what happened to the [spirit] and can somehow put it right...after a lot of [scary] stuff happens, of course...or they just get scared and run away.]"
"{So these types of story have no deep and valuable moral lesson?}" asked Gngnra with a grin. She was careful to not show her teeth too much, since a full-on Dorarizin smile tended to...unsettle tiny-chompers.
Jason smiled back. "[Not really, it's more an excuse to talk about spooky stuff. But don't think chatting about this will get out of your obligation! It's your turn, after all.]"
She leaned back and rippled her teeth together. "{Hmm. If I'm not allowed to use an attack-story, then I'm not sure I can contribute.}"
"[Aw, come on! There's gotta be some old tale you can use.]"
Gngnra thought further. "{Well, there is one story I know that might work. You could almost call it a [spirited dwelling] story without the dwelling. I didn't hear it as a child; it's one I came across while taking a class on ancient mythology. I hope that qualifies.}"
"[Of course it does!]" said Kn'na''nan while Jason nodded his own assent.
She set her drink aside. "{Very well, I'll relate on one condition. [Jason] sits by me while I tell the story. Even the thought of it makes me uneasy.}"
[Jason] chuckled. "[All right, it's a deal.]" Hn'narnatnss looked a little sad at losing his mobile heating rock as the tiny-chomper stood and walked over to the hulking Dorarizin with the standard adorable wobble of his kind.
By now it was one of the worst-kept secrets in the galaxy that the other Senate races instinctually viewed the tiny-chompers as cute. To his credit, [Jason] never abused that instinct with his crewmates. He did his job and never tried to use what the tiny-chompers called [puppy-dog eyes] to foist his duties onto anyone else. Still, it was obvious that he knew how he affected the three of them. And they knew that he knew, and also that he knew that they knew that he knew and so on. They'd all made an unspoken pact to never, ever bring the matter up.
Gngnra felt a little more settled as the tiny-chomper sat cross-legged on the ground next to her arm, close enough that her fur just barely brushed against him. She'd never admit it even to herself, but that little bit of physical contact was enough to give her courage. Still, she paused to reach over and throw another log onto the fire...just to make sure the darkness didn't creep any closer in while she related her story.
"{All right, then. This is a tale which starts with a mighty hunter in search of prey...}"
__________
GERTIE'S TALE: THE FOREST OF MANY PATHS
As you doubtless know, Dorarizin families evolved from simpler pack structures. In the distant past, before our species gained sapience, those packs were how we hunted. Even after we became self-aware our kind still used the same basic form to hunt for food, although we used smarter techniques to do so.
On our homeworld is an animal called a glrnada. You recall that last [year] we were sampling each other's cuisine, so I know you've all tasted its meat. The animal itself is huge, at least three times the size of the largest adult Dorarizin. It's also famously bad-tempered; one of our sayings when faced with some odious task is 'I'd rather wrestle a glrnada single-handedly'. What makes it even worse is that the glrnada is a herd animal. Tackling one glrnada is bad enough, now imagine dealing with a few [dozen] vicious giant horned beasts who are all ready to give your pack a good stomping!
For these reasons glrnada were left alone during our prehistory, and we made do by hunting smaller and easier animals. However, once we gained sapience our hunting became more subtle and less of 'everybody pounce on the weakest herd member'. With that change in tactics, glrnada became...well, not 'easy' to hunt but let's say 'less difficult'.
Part of those improvements involved having one or two Dorarizin scout ahead to find the position of glrnada herds and which way they were heading. Then the rest of the pack could get ahead of the oncoming herd to set up traps and ambush positions.
Being a scout was one of the most prestigious and difficult positions in any pack. It was a role only given to the most cunning and seasoned hunters, especially those skilled in navigation and able to [live off the land] by themselves for many days at a time.
In these long-past days there was one particular scout of great renown by the name of Rnaghr-of-Ngraz. She was remarkable for her ability to travel long distances with minimal navigation, to find the largest glrnada herds, and for her cunning in organizing the trapping and killing of those herds. Rnaghr also loved exploration of new areas, and her scouting trips grew ever-longer. She searched for many [miles] around the Ngraz main camp, save for one densely-wooded valley. From before she was born the pack elders forbade everyone from setting so much as a toe into that area; any questions as to why was met with a shrug and a vague statement about 'tradition'.
Thanks to Rnaghr's efforts, the Ngraz pack grew large in number and every member went to sleep with a happy, full belly. At the time of this tale the winter season was fast approaching. Thanks in large part to Rnaghr's ability the Ngraz had stockpiled a generous amount of salted and smoked meat. This winter held no terrors for the pack's adults; they knew they had enough to feed their young and themselves.
But Rnaghr was still unsatisfied. She'd been through a particularly harsh winter as a pup, and the memory of that famine still gnawed at her. If she had her way the Ngraz pack would be practically drowning in food.
However the pack's matriarch did not agree. "{We have barely enough room to store food as it is,}" she said to Rnaghr. "{Even if we managed to trap another glrnada herd, what would we do with the excess? It would be wasteful.}"
Rnaghr didn't relent. "{But temperatures are dropping! By the time we harvest the meat, it will be below freezing. We can store that food in snowbanks without fear of it spoiling.}"
"{Even if I agreed, where would we find your mythical herd? We've trapped all the herds in this area.}"
"{There is one particular valley we could check...}" Rnaghr knew she was treading on a sensitive topic, so she made sure to keep her head lowered and avoid giving any non-verbal challenge to her superior.
Still, the matriarch's ears flattened against her head in obvious anger. "{Absolutely not. It's forbidden for anyone to intrude there.}"
"{But why? And don't just say 'because of tradition'.}"
"{I...wasn't going to say that,}" replied the matriarch, even though her expression made it clear that 'tradition' was her planned response. "{It's said that anyone who sets foot in there is never seen again.}"
Sensing a weakness, Rnaghr pressed onward. "{But how long ago were these disappearances?}"
"{That doesn't matter!}" snapped the matriarch. "{Our forebears lost too many of our scouts to that never-moonlit place! Enough to make that decree one of the oldest of our pack.}"
"{But the decree was made a long time ago,}" said Rnaghr in a persuasive tone. "{It may be there were a few large glrnada herds in there, numerous enough to kill our scouts. But I'm not afraid. At least let me check.}"
The matriarch made an imperious swiping motion with her paw. "{No, I have decided. We need your help in preparing shelters for winter, not scouting for un-needed food in places which are best left alone.}" She strode off, leaving Rnaghr behind to grind her teeth in frustration.
That night she did not sleep well. It would have been so easy to accept the matriarch's decision and stay with her pack. Like any proper Dorarizin she felt safest when in the midst of others, but she was also keenly aware of her duty to the pack. An innocent mistake during the preservation process could render their food surplus inedible, or some unexpected blight or mold could take hold and also cause catastrophe.
It was still dark out the next morning when Rnaghr came to her decision to explore that forbidden valley. Yes, she would earn the ire of the matriarch and her pack but her return would show that the ancient proscription was mere superstition. Even if the pack decided not to trap any more glrnada for the winter, her information would give them all a head start on hunting in the spring. That alone was worth risking her peers' anger.
Thus decided, she gathered her spears and gear and set out. Those standing guard over the sleeping pack caught not the slightest hint of her passing as she slipped out of camp like a spirit. Once she was out of detection range she relaxed and set off towards her destination at a near-run.
Rnaghr figured that her absence would not be discovered until sunrise. By then she'd be far enough away that the matriarch would veto any attempt to retrieve her; winter was coming on, and everyone was needed to prepare for it instead of chasing after some wayward scout.
It took her several days to reach the forbidden valley. She paused as she came over a ridge and took in the magnificent sight. The place was bounded on either side by knife-like mountains whose tips were so high as to be permanently frosted with snow. Below those mountains stretched a forest of dark green trees that occupied all of the valley floor. The granite ridge she stood upon ran down towards the nearest trees, and from here she could see that the forest was so dense that very little sunlight reached the ground beneath it.
Rnaghr took a moment to compose herself, as she was about to commit what some might deem heresy. She settled her spears upon her shoulder and strode down the rocky slope with determination in her steps. Once she reached the edge of the forest, she made sure to look up at the snow-capped mountains on either side and fix their orientation in her memory. One of the most important skills of any good scout was the ability to navigate through dense brush and woods and know where you were and where you’d come from.
She figured that even with trees this dense she'd be able to catch glimpses of the mountains and thus orient herself. Failing that she could climb a tree at night and use the stars themselves. Thus reassured she crept forward into the forest. Perhaps it was her imagination, but it seemed that once she was well among the trees everything seemed to become more hushed. Birdcalls became muted, and the other normal sounds of scampering wild animals faded away.
The first few days were frustrating. Rnaghr spent the first few hours expecting to see something that would explain why this place was forbidden, but apart from its dense brush and closely-spaced trees the forest was perfectly normal. The leaves overhead filtered out much of the sun, so that even at noon the place seemed like twilight.
The scout marked on trees as she headed deeper into the forest so that she could retrace her steps during her return. She detected no tracks or spoor of any animal larger than her paw. Rnaghr trapped quite a few of the small scurrying animals and ate them with relish; if nothing else she knew she could survive here quite easily by living off of such meager prey. On the fifth day, however, she finally found something substantial.
Her find was a wide lane of well-trodden earth which ran through the dense forest like a highway. She clicked in pleased relief; this was the familiar sight of a trail created by a glrnada herd. Quite a sizable one, based on its size. Rnaghr allowed herself a moment of joy that her gamble had paid off, then focused again on the business at hand.
For starters she needed to fix the location of this trail so that she could find it again next spring. As she'd suspected, the leaves overhead crowded out any view of the mountains. She sighed and set her spears down, then began scaling one of the taller trees. The scout was careful to choose one able to support her weight.
When she poked her head above the forest canopy, she was surprised to find that she was farther into the forest than she'd suspected. But she shrugged and scanned the mountains to either side of her, making sure to note again individual crags and features so that she could triangulate and find this place again. A quick glance overhead showed the gray expanse of an overcast sky; this surprised her, since from the ground it had appeared clear and blue.
She shimmied back down the tree, picked up her spears, and reexamined the trail. The glrnadas' hoof-prints stood out clear as crystal, and were only a few days old. So Rnaghr set out after them with renewed vigor. Her ears stood out at attention and her nose was ever-sniffing for evidence of her prey.
Night fell without any sign of her quarry. Rnaghr decided it would be wise to get another fix on her position, this time using the stars. She looked up and in the slight gaps in between the leaves she could see pinpricks of light; the cloud cover must have disappeared. After a more careful bit of climbing she again raised her head above the forest canopy, this time looking to the skies. And now for the first time Rnaghr felt uneasy.
She couldn't see any stars.
This didn't look like the obscuration caused by clouds, it was as if the sky was just...blank, a canvas of pure black stretching over the mountains. She blinked and rubbed her eyes, but the sky stayed stubbornly dark.
Rnaghr climbed back down, keeping a watch upward. As soon as the leaves obscured most of her vision, then she could suddenly spy a star here and there. But they never appeared with enough of their neighbors to allow her to identify them. She climbed back up, but once the leaves thinned out she once more saw nothing but blackness overhead.
When Rnaghr set her paws back on the ground she was a much less confident Dorarizin. She wondered if this strange blank sky was the reason for her pack's shunning of the place. For a while she debated with herself on how to proceed; should she continue pursuing the glrnada herd, or head back? At the end of that debate her natural confidence reasserted itself and she decided to press onward. She'd marked her path in, so she could always leave. If she didn't find the herd within two days she promised herself that she'd head out. She picked up her gear and continued onward.
By the end of the next day she caught on the breeze the faintest whiff of unwashed glrnada. Rnaghr snapped her teeth in happiness and slept well that night, confident that the next day she'd find the herd. She'd spy on them and judge the best way for her pack to take the herd down. That would be information valuable enough to appease her pack's anger.
But the second day after her promise brought no such discovery. The scent of glrnada grew stronger, but otherwise she caught no sight of the herd. As the darkness of night descended Rnaghr inwardly cursed the fates but outwardly remained stoic. She'd promised herself two days, and two days had passed. It was time to leave.
The next morning Rnaghr set out on the return journey. The blazes she'd cut into trees stood out even in the dim light, and her mood improved as she retraced her steps. Soon she'd be reunited with her pack, soon she'd see the stars again.
It took a few days before Rnaghr realized that she should have reached the edge of the forest. Now she was making no effort at stealth and traveled at a much faster pace. The scout refused to panic and decided she needed a better visual fix on her location.
With a faint feeling of dread Rnaghr scaled up a nearby tree and looked out. The sky overhead was that same flat gray, but she ignored that as she focused on the mountains to either side. She felt a bit of relief as she realized she was close to where she'd originally found the glrnada trail, but that relief was soon replaced with puzzlement. Surely she should be well past that point by now?
She ignored that little voice of unease and set off again. Another full day of travel made that unease flare brighter. Her trail markings still stood out bright against the dark forest, so she knew she must have come this way. But now much of the forest looked the same; her natural sense of direction no longer seemed as certain.
At the moment she was in a small clearing. She could see blue sky overhead, but somehow she knew that the moment she was above the treeline that sky would become the unending gray she'd witnessed before. Still, she should be able to use the mountains as a guide. Rnaghr's arms ached in protest as she hauled herself up another moon-cursed tree.
When she reached the top Rnaghr felt panic take hold of her. From the position of the mountain features, it seemed she was in the exact same place as one day ago. Her claws dug deep into the tree as she ground her teeth together. "{No!}" she yelled to herself. "{Stop being foolish. It's just due to the unusually dense forest, that's all.}"
In spite of her self-reassurance, when Rnaghr reached the ground she began running. She didn’t even bother to pick up her spears, and left them ignored in the dirt behind her. She ran as if an entire herd of rampaging glrnada were at her heels. She ran and ignored the gnawing hunger in her belly, stopping only to drink from puddles when her thirst became too much to bear. And the forest never changed, her trail-blazes now appearing to mock her as they reeled by in an unending stream.
She did not stop until she collapsed from exhaustion. With the last dregs of her strength she pulled herself upright and willed herself to become still and quiet. She knew she didn't have enough energy to move for hunting, so an ambush would have to do.
After a few [hours] a small creature became complacent thanks to Rnaghr's stillness and dashed across the forest floor near her foot. She pounced and grabbed the animal, tearing its throat out and slaking her thirst with its blood. The rest of the beast followed down her gullet and she felt a little strength return to her limbs. She stood on shaky legs and continued on. There was nothing else she could think of to do, save to lay down and wait for death to claim her.
She felt a bit of hope return when she caught a glimpse of open space ahead. But that hope turned to fear as she stumbled into a small clearing. A set of hunting spears lay in the middle of that clearing.
Her spears.
Rnargh sank to her knees. "{WHY?}" she screamed into the twilight woods. "{What did I do wrong? I just wanted to feed my people! Now all I want to do is leave! Leave, and never set foot in this accursed place again!}"
She fell forward onto her elbows and sobbed. "{Please, just let me leave. What do I have to do to...}"
Her eyes lit on her spears. Some mad instinct made her crawl forward and snatch them up. "{You want these?}" The stout wood of the spear-shafts splintered like un-fired clay under the sudden raking frenzy her claws. "{Then HAVE THESE!}"
She reared back up onto her knees and roared, letting the ruined bits of her weaponry slip from her paws. "{I swear by the ancient mothers that I'll never pick up a spear again! IS THAT WHAT YOU WANT?}"
There was no answer except for a soft breeze and a few muted birdcalls. Rnargh slowly regained her feet and trod out of the clearing, no longer really seeing her trail-markers as she moved on instinct.
On she plodded, not raging or hopeful or even fearful. She became a machine, a thing that sensed but did not see. Even when the trees finally parted in front of her she did not howl for joy or even crack a smile. She simply lurched away from the forest without so much as a glance backward.
__________
Many days later the Ngraz pack roused themselves for a new day. The morning routine ceased when one of the sentries sent up a howl of alarm.
He’d discovered the sprawled-out, half-starved figure of Rnargh. She'd passed out within sight of camp. From the sores on her feet it was clear that she'd walked and run without ceasing for many miles. The scout was quickly bundled into her shelter and given food and water. She was very weak, and only able to speak in a whisper as they bandaged her wounded paws.
When the Ngraz matriarch asked her point-blank if she'd been to the forbidden valley, Rnargh gave a slow nod. The matriarch's anger at Rnargh's audacity was tempered with relief that their most accomplished scout had returned. Then her natural curiosity got the best of her and she asked the obvious question.
"{What did you find there?}"
Rnargh didn't meet her eyes, but instead stared at the roof of her shelter. "{Nothing. There's nothing there,}" she whispered.
"{Surely you saw something odd...}"
The matriarch trailed off as Rnargh brought her gaze down. Her eyes bored into the matriarch's. "{Nothing. There.}"
The rest of the pack learned not to ask the scout about her ordeal in the endless forest. During the following spring Rnargh caused another scandal when she refused to so much pick up a spear or take the slightest part in any hunt. She accepted the most menial and low-ranked duties as long as it kept her in camp and among her packmates. Other bits of odd behavior became notable as well, such as the way she flinched away from an overcast sky or slept outdoors in even the bitterest cold. When asked about the latter, she would claim that she needed to keep an eye on the stars.
She said that if she stopped watching the sky, someone might take it away.
submitted by Frank_Leroux to HFY