Snuffles sniffed the cluster of mushrooms in front of him. The ground shook and the leaves on the trees rustled. Snuffles turned away from the mushrooms and peered into a gap between a pair of trees in the forest.
The shaking stopped and Snuffles stared into the distance for a few more seconds before turning back to the mushrooms. He dug them up with his snout and ate them. He let out a squeal and arched his back while extending his front hooves forward like a cat. He walked under a tree and yawned while curling up into a ball.
The shaking resumed and a howl rang out, followed by a bird’s shrill cry. Snuffles lifted his head and squinted his eyes in the direction of the shaking. A few seconds later, the shaking stopped. He tilted his head to the side and lowered it again, closing his eyes. His breathing slowed and his mouth fell open a tiny bit every time his stomach rose. Drool pooled in his lower mouth and leaked onto the grass in front of him.
Ear-splitting howls echoed through the forest and a bird shrieked. White flames sprang up in the distance and smoke rose into the air. Snuffles eyes shot open and he climbed to his feet. He stared in the direction of the sound and his eyes glowed. A sky-blue light spread out from his forehead and wrapped around his body like a web as he let out a squeal that drowned out the howls. The tree trunks in front of him cracked and the trees toppled over with a crash. The forest fell silent and the flames disappeared, leaving behind only a trace of smoke in the air.
Snuffles snorted and trotted in the direction of the sounds. He arrived at a clearing with charred craters and deep gouges in the earth. On the left side of the clearing was a pack of wolves with silver fur and red eyes. Patches of burnt fur and skin peppered their coats. Across from them, on the right side, was a phoenix, roughly the same size as Snuffles. It was dark blue with white flames dancing around its feather tips. Dark red gouges dripped blood onto the ground beneath the phoenix. The two sides remained motionless as Snuffles meandered into the clearing, eyes still glowing.
He turned his gaze on the wolves. They flinched and their hackles rose as they bared their teeth at him.
He turned his head and looked at the phoenix. One of its wings were torn and hung limp at its side. The phoenix stared into Snuffles eyes and didn’t move. White flames flickered around its body. Snuffles tilted his head and walked closer to the phoenix. The wolves growled and stamped the ground in front of them, but Snuffles continued walking. The phoenix took a step back and then another step as Snuffles got closer.
A wolf howled and dashed towards Snuffles, its eyes glowing red. Snuffles turned to look at the wolf and stomped the ground with his front left hoof. A web of cracks spread throughout the clearing. The lunging wolf leapt backwards and stared at the ground before looking back at the boar in front of it. Snuffles snorted and let out a roar at the pack of wolves. He glared at them with golden glowing eyes and a faint image of a dragon head materialized above Snuffle’s body. The wolves’ ears flattened against their heads and their hackles lowered as they crawled onto their bellies. The biggest wolf let out a bark, turned around, and sprinted into the forest. The other wolves scrambled to their feet and followed.
The image of the dragon faded away and Snuffles turned to look at the phoenix. It shivered and tried to flap its wings, but only its good wing moved. It let out a soft cry as Snuffles walked closer to it and stopped in front of its body. Its silver eyes stared at Snuffles as he bent his knees and motioned towards his back with his head. The phoenix tilted its head and took a tiny step forward. Snuffles nodded and leaned towards the phoenix. It hesitated before grabbing onto Snuffles bristles with its claws and climbed onto his back.
Snuffles trotted out of the clearing towards the direction he came from. Other beasts looked at the pair, but didn’t approach. Instead, they knelt onto the ground as Snuffles walked past. The two arrived at the cave that Snuffles liberated from a behemoth bear a few days before. Its corpse was still frozen at the entrance and the phoenix stared at it as they passed by.
Snuffles stopped at a bed made from moss and grass. He crawled onto his belly and tilted the phoenix towards the bed. It slid off and turned around to stare at Snuffles. He snuffled and nudged the phoenix with his snout before nodding and moving to the entrance of the cave. The phoenix sat down and tucked its head under its wing and fell asleep. Snuffles watched the phoenix’s chest rise and fall a few times before he curled up into a ball and lowered his head. His eyes stopped glowing and he yawned before falling asleep.
Sounds of slurping and munching permeated the cave. The phoenix opened its eyes and saw Snuffles chewing on a bear paw at the entrance. It stood up and winced as it looked down at the gouges in its chest. The majority of the wounds were clotted, but a few areas still leaked blood. Snuffle’s ears twitched and he turned his head towards the phoenix with a piece of meat in his mouth. He walked forward and placed the chunk of flesh in front of the phoenix. The phoenix stared at him and he nudged the meat with his snout before snuffling. The phoenix pecked it and tore off strips of meat.
Snuffles dug a hole in the ground and a chunk of ice materialized in it as his eyes glowed. He pointed at the chunk of ice with his hoof and then pointed at the phoenix. The phoenix tilted its head, before its eyes glittered. It spewed white flames at the chunk of ice and it melted into a pool of water. Snuffles took a few sips and then motioned with his head towards the phoenix. It finished eating the chunk of meat walked over to drink the water. Snuffles sat down and observed the phoenix’s wounds as it drank. It walked back to the bed and looked at Snuffles before tucking its head under its wing.
Snuffles waited a few moments before leaving the cave, freezing the entrance with a block of ice before he left. He wandered around the forest, looking for herbs that cured injuries. Vur had pointed out all kinds of plants and their functions as they wandered the forest together during Vur’s reading craze. Snuffles wandered and gathered as many plants as he could, careful to not crush them in his mouth as he carried them back to the cave. The ice in front of the cave vanished and the phoenix looked up. It stared as Snuffles walked past it towards the pool and dropped the herbs into the water.
Snuffles looked at the phoenix. It flapped its good wing and screeched as Snuffles nudged it towards the pool and pushed it inside.
It struggled and flailed, flinging water everywhere in the cave, but Snuffles wouldn’t let it climb out of the pool. After a few moments, the phoenix stopped struggling and looked down at its body. The gouges had stopped bleeding and traces of new feathers started appearing on its torn wing. It looked up at Snuffles and its body slimmed down as it lowered its head. It let out a chirp and floated in the water. Snuffles grunted and walked back to the entrance of the cave to eat some more meat.
The phoenix got out of the pool as Snuffles was finishing up a portion of the bear. It shook its body, flinging water droplets out of its feathers. It preened its feathers and walked up to Snuffles who had curled up into a ball. It tugged on his bristles with its claws and looked in the direction of the bed. Snuffles looked at it and tilted his head. The phoenix tugged on his bristles again and hopped towards the bed. It stood next to the moss and stared at Snuffles. Snuffles climbed to his feet and trotted over. He curled up his body and looked up at the phoenix. It walked in between his front and back hooves and snuggled against him before tucking its head under its wing. Snuffles closed his eyes and fell asleep.
Snuffles dreamed he was a baby blue female bird in a nest. The nest was on the peak of an average-sized tree in the forest. There were five red chicks huddled together on the opposite side of the nest. In between him and the red chicks was a grown red phoenix with its head under its wings. Snuffles recognized the phoenix as his father. His mother hunted for food as his father watched over the nest, defending it from would-be predators. His brothers and sisters ignored him and stole food from him whenever possible.
He dreamed that days, then months, passed as he got bigger and feathers started to poke through his downy fluff. One day while his mother was hunting, a wyvern flew towards the nest and his father flew up to confront it. The five red phoenixes waited until his father was engaged in battle before lifting him and tossing him over the edge of the nest.
He flapped his wings, slowing his descent, but he was unable to take off into the air. His wing crashed against a branch and he tumbled to the ground.
He tried to chirp, but no noise came out. Only tears.
He crawled to his feet and scratched the tree trunk, but his father was still engaged in battle and couldn’t hear him. A badger passed by as he tried to climb up the tree to no avail. It charged him and he flapped his wings while clawing at the badger. It ignored his strikes and pinned him to the ground as its mouth lunged for his throat. He struggled and a burst of white flames erupted from his body, launching the badger. It screeched as it was blasted two meters away and it turned to run away.
He watched the badger flee and turned his head up to look at the nest. He couldn’t see the treetops from the bottom. He lowered his head and chirped as tears fell from its eyes. He tried to fly, but his flight feathers hadn’t fully developed yet and he could only get a foot off the ground. He heard rustling sounds in the bushes and took one last look at his home tree before turning to flee.
Days passed as he lived in foxholes and hunted rabbits to survive. Some days he wouldn’t eat anything at all. Days turned to weeks, and weeks turned to months. He didn’t know where he was. He couldn’t remember where his home tree was. He learned to fly, but couldn’t find any traces of his home or his family.
One day, as he was sleeping in a foxhole, a pack of dire wolves found him. The wolves outnumbered him and the alpha tore his wing before he could take off. They attacked him, ignoring the white flames dancing around his body. His body got heavier and heavier as the wolves harassed him. His eyes glowed silver and a ball of white flames expanded outwards with him at the center. His vision went black.
Snuffles opened his eyes and saw the phoenix staring at him. She looked him in the eyes and blinked. Snuffles blinked back and nudged her chest with his snout. She tucked her legs under her body and leaned her head against his belly with closed eyes. He snuffled and closed his eyes.