“The Hollow Ode was sung as a way for every clan of the forest to remember the oath of peace we once swore, but the last few decades, the clans have divided, even among themselves which has caused the ode to crumble.” Gülay stared at the half-drunk griffin that sat next to her at the bar. The tavern was the first real place that felt familiar since they found their way into this strange world. They were exhausted, climbing over branches and trekking through the woven system of trees, so seeing the tavern was a blessing.
The tavern was a round shape with a counter that was in a U-shape and various tables scattered throughout. A mix of dracat, griffin, and creatures they’d never seen before filled the tavern. The cats were thrilled to explore all the new smells and creatures, especially ones that looked like them. Their interest in their humans faded for a time as they explored the tavern, leaving Gülay, Nadya, and Anya. They now sat by a drunk griffin and a drunk dracat, hearing the story of the clans’ peace. “I guess no one can get along for too long,” Nadya said. She stared at the bowl of a strange pink liquid and white petals sat in front of her by a feminine figure made of sticks and flowers.
“That’s for sure.” The dracat hiccuped. “It started as divides within each of the clans. The griffins fractured…” It waved a paw.
The griffin, with bright golden wings that are tipped in blue, chuckled. “Pettiness over some dagger.” It took a long drink of a red liquid with its beak. “That’s when the griffins divided into separate clans, always at odd.”
“That’s when the darkness started,” the dracat added.
“Darkness?” Anya asked. “Is that a metaphoric way of saying evil?” She carefully touched the blue liquid with a finger and watched the ripples. It smelled of honey and coconut which wasn’t an altogether bad scent but the small blobs of questionable fruit made her reluctant.
The dracat lapped up one of the petals in its drink. “The peace our ancestors made brought light to this world. An endless day that we still have. But darkness has spread. First in the region of the spirits but I heard its grown closer to the valley of the sprites.”
“A constant night,” the griffin added. “Disturbing, to say the least.”
Gülay shuddered at the vivid imagery that encroaching darkness has in her mind. “What’s causing it?”
“All the bickering. The conflict. The wars. The griffin civil war. Fights over territory. One fractured lot of griffins is just one fracture in a long line of fractures,” the griffin said before guzzling another drink. Its beak was stained in blue. The griffin hiccuped. A brief silence fell among them. “If you want the snow dagger, you should go toward the darkness. I heard that was the last place Ginger Skies was seen.”
Gülay moved closer to Nadya and Anya, keeping an eye on where the cats had ventured to in the tavern. Clawdia and Sassy Pants were intimidating a small spritely being by batting them back and forth across a table. Pumpkin Belly was sniffing at crumbs on the floor while Nemehiss was challenging another Puddy Tat over a bowl containing a white liquid. In the far corner of the tavern, Ricky Ticky Tabby was keeping to himself, shyly sniffing the air as different, very drunk, patrons made their way passed him. “So, let me get this straight, to find the dagger that will help us get a key, we have to go towards the darkness that everyone in this world fears?”
“Should be easy. How hard could it be to find one griffin?” Anya said with a nervous laugh. “I think I need more of…” She poked the bowl and the liquid inside of it sloshed over the side. “Whatever this is.”
“Mom, Mom, look at me!” Ricky Ticky Tabby barreled over a branch. “Did you see? Did you see?” The overly sized feline twitched his tail, one way then the other.
Gülay watched as the baby of her clowder pranced along the branch. “I do see. Great job, Ricky Ticky.”
“Their personality to size ratio is a little terrifying,” Anya whispered. She narrowly avoided being knocked down when Nemehiss and Sassy Pants raced passed her. Puddy Tat and Pumpkin Belly followed while Clawdia took her time to sniff around every nook of the tangled web of branches.
Puddy Tat found a gap between branches and had the unfortunate idea to squeeze his way through. He wiggled back and forth trying to get his round stomach through. “Mom! Help!” His legs flailed in his attempts to free himself.
Approaching him, Gülay and Nadya worked to push him from behind while Anya climbed over the top branch to help from the front. “Next time, don’t try going through such a small space.” Another tug and another push finally got the cat free.
“Ha, ha, Puddy Tat got stuck!” Ricky Ticky Tabby taunted. Puddy Tat lunged at the smaller feline and swatted at him.
“Boys,” Gülay warned. The cats quickly chimed “sorry” before scampering onward. “I don’t see how we’re expecting to follow directions in this … forest.”
Nadya ran her fingers over marks carved into a branch. “Yeah, I don’t speak claw marks.” She studied the marks for a moment. “I think this means…” She points to the right. “That way.”
“Feather,” Anya shouted, hurling herself forward. She pried a feather from a crease in the bark. “Does this look ginger to you?”
“More yellowy,” Nadya observed.
“Best we’ve got,” Gülay said. She took the lead. They made their way through the dense entanglement quietly until Sassy Pants led the charge toward them.
“Mom, we saw darkness,” Ricky Ticky Tabby said, coming to a stop in front of Gülay and scurrying to hide behind her which with his new size failed adorably.
Puddy Tat panted softly, huddling close with the other cats which was a tight fit in the tunnel. “We couldn’t even see anything. It was just dark.”
Gülay patted each of them on their heads. “Wait here, I’m going to get a closer look.”
“No! Don’t let the darkness eat you!” Ricky Ticky Tabby begged.
“I’ll go with her RTT,” Nadya promised. She nodded to her sister before easing her way out from the cluster of felines.
Nadya and Gülay crawled their way over and under various branches until they came to a stop. “That’s dark,” Gülay whispered. They stared into a void of darkness that felt like staring into the heart of oblivion.