A children's book for grown-ups by Jon Evans

October 17, 2007

88. Forests of the Night

Riding a tiger was like running and flying at the same time. Siva loped with incredible speed down shadowed human streets, staying in the dark as much as possible, avoiding automobiles, keeping away from the human lights that stitched lines into the night sky, while Patch, calling to mind his memory-picture of the world as seen from the sky, directed their journey with urgent whispers into Siva's ears. They passed a few humans dozing in doorways or staggering through the streets. All stopped and cried out with surprise and dismay as the tiger flashed past: up stairs and over the metal bridge across the little river, through the low buildings and wide streets of the district just north, and finally to the massive concrete ramp that curled up to the enormous bridge that stretched across the great eastern river.

Even in this quietest and darkest hour of the night, the city thrummed with life, and the bridge was busy with automobiles. All of them screeched and skewed to sudden halts when they came within sighting distance of the tiger. There were several collisions as Siva sprinted across the bridge, and once he had to leap over two automobiles that had just violently intertwined and spun to a halt in his path. He cleared both with space to spare. In the distance, far ahead of them, Patch heard high-pitched sounds like the mating call of crazed and gargantuan birds, and saw whirling and flashing lights approach; but the tiger reached the island of the Center Kingdom before those lights arrived, and Patch whispered in his ear, and the tiger zigged north before zagging west again.

They passed the Great Avenue, very near where Patch had once emerged from the underworld with Zelina and her feline court. There were a few more humans walking the streets here, singly and in small groups, and Siva left a wake of shouts and screams and disbelieving expostulations behind him as he crossed the last avenue, leapt casually over the subsequent stone wall, and landed on the grass and soil of the Center Kingdom.

"North," Patch whispered into the tiger's ear, and Siva turned and pelted along the Kingdom's wall. He was moving so fast that tears were streaming from Patch's eyes.

"It's wonderful here." Siva's whole chest rumbled when he spoke, and Patch shivered with it. "I never imagined this city of blood might have a green and growing heart. Is this your home, Patch son of Silver?"


"You are a lucky creature."

Patch said, "Not if we don't save it."

Siva bared his fangs. "I will do my best - what is that?"

The big cat stopped so suddenly that Patch very nearly somersaulted through the air and fell into the dirt, and only saved himself by clawing hard in the last second. Siva seemed not to notice. The tiger was busy staring up at a tall stone spire that jutted towards the stars. At night, to animal eyes, it seemed almost lit from within.

"This is where I met Coyote," Patch said, without thinking.

"Coyote?" Siva asked, and the tiger roiled beneath Patch, and all Siva's fur stood up on end. "Yes, I should have known, I should have smelled this as his work..."

"You know him?" Patch asked, astonished.

"By reputation." Siva hesitated. "But I suppose it no longer matters who set us on this course, or when. We must save this glorious home of yours."

Siva leapt once more into the night and the shadows. He raced to and then along the Great Sea, and through the meadows and tree-laden hills just north of it, until he reached the hills of jumbled rock that walled the southern edge of the Northern Sea. Above and around them, the crows were flying. Patch could hear their wingbeats, and their panicked caws as they flew around the tiger. He feared they would descend in a dark and unstoppable whirlwind; and if they had, they might well have killed Patch and Siva both, albeit at the cost of half their number. But Siva was a nightmare figure for those birds who carried nightmares. No crow, not even the King of Crows himself, could muster enough courage to be the first to attack a cat nearly as big as a horse. Instead they awaited their champion.

Patch directed Siva to the Northern Sea and then along its edge, until they reached a place where a tiny bay protruded between a sloping face of solid rock and a grassy hill in which human steps were set. Here there was no fence between land and water; and here Patch smelled a cold and ancient and reptilian scent.

"He's near," Patch whispered. "He's very near."

"Dismount," Siva said.

It was not a suggestion. Patch obeyed and scurried a little ways up the dirt slope. Siva did not watch him go. The tiger stood crouching, coiled, ready to pounce, staring into the dark and silent water of the Northern Sea.

The only light came from a single glass globe across the sea, and the mountain lights beyond. Patch blinked. Was there something moving near the water's edge? Or were those only ripples from the night wind on its calm surface? In the darkness he couldn't be sure.

Above them, crows circled, clouds of them, a whole sky full, an opaque curtain of crows that blotted out the stars.

For a long moment nothing happened.

Then Siva uncoiled, uncrouched, braced himself, and roared.

Patch thought the sound might tear his ears off. The tiger's roar was like the breaking of the moon. It was a challenge, a warning, a war cry, a keening lament of a year lost in a bloodsoaked chamber of killing, a howling celebration of the glory of life and the courage of death, and a roar for the pure and simple sake of roaring. The crows above scattered in all directions as if by a thunderclap. The roar echoed across the Northern Sea, and lights began to wink on in two massive octagonal mountains past the northeast corner of the Center Kingdom, as humans were torn untimely from their dreams by this howl of a savage beast.

Before the echoes had even diminished the King Beneath erupted from the waters, moving with transcendent power and eyeblink speed. Its great maw open for the single killing bite that was all it needed, it launched itself like a pale-scaled lightning bolt at the tiger while Siva stood stiff-limbed and unready.

But Siva was no longer there. The tiger, born in jungle, veteran of a year of lethal battles, somehow found the time and strength, in the eyeblink of the King Beneath's deadly attack, to leap straight up, above the caiman's killing blow.

The tiger landed clawing atop the caiman's hindquarters; the caiman knocked the tiger sprawling with a lashing blow from its massive tail; then caiman and tiger leaped at one another in the same moment - and Siva twisted his head and caught the King Beneath's lower jaw between his own fangs - and the two huge beasts, one white and one golden, slammed together belly to belly, fur against scales, and began to thrash about on the sand and grass, raking at one another with their vicious and massive claws. Dark blood flowed from both. Both snarled and howled with rage and pain.

The King Beneath had an extra appendage; its powerful tail. It used that for leverage, to anchor itself on top of the tiger, and its great weight pressed into Siva, splaying the tiger's limbs out, making Siva more vulnerable to the caiman's stubby but incredibly powerful claws. The King Beneath bore down on Siva, snarling and clawing, until it was between Siva's limbs, and the tiger was no longer able to attack the caiman's belly -

- and then Siva reached out almost casually with his long, limber forelegs, and clawed out the eyes of the King Beneath.

The caiman's body convulsed with shock; and in that moment Siva released its jaw and dipped his fangs into the caiman's throat. Black blood showered out, covering the tiger. The King Beneath twitched once, twice, a third time; and then it died.

Siva crawled painfully out from beneath the caiman's corpse.

"Your debt is paid, Patch son of Silver," the tiger wheezed. "All debts are paid."

By the time Vijay and Toro reached them, the crows were already feeding on the broken body of the King Beneath.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

Whew!! Great chapter

October 18, 2007 at 4:53 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...


Excellent stuff...

October 18, 2007 at 6:15 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

you see? tigers=awesome. The only thing that could possibly make this story better would be a polar bear. But i'm not that greedy. :D

ahahaha, i just noticed the last two chapter titles. Genius. :D And i was wondering about the coyote stuff... coyote is like a trickster spirit, isn't he? (sorry, rubbish at mythology) So he probably wouldn't have been doing all this helpful stuff just to be helpful... he'd be up to something. hmmmm.

anyway, fantastic chapter!! GAH for the bit with the eyes. And OMG for it nearly being the end. :D I'm going to miss this story when it finishes. :(

October 18, 2007 at 12:17 PM  

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Jon Evans is the award-winning author of the thrillers Invisible Armies, Dark Places (aka Trail of the Dead), and The Blood Price. See his web site rezendi.com.

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