Raindrops fell from the dark velvety sky, dropping delicately onto the world below. A few clouds drifted through in the gloom, covering the moon and few stars that had escaped the light of the city that flourished down the river.
Five fruit bats glided through the air, each trying to find enough food for themselves before the rain started to pour down. The only reason they were staying together was that, if one bat found any sign of food, he wouldn’t be able to get it all for himself.
Four of the five bats flapped a considerably long distance from the last one. They were bigger, with longer wings to allow them to fly farther and faster. They flew out every night to look for food, and they were veterans at it.
The fifth bat was a young creature called Seed. This was his first time venturing out of the cave where he was born. He had been smart enough to go with the most skilled fliers to search for food, but he was quickly tiring. His wings felt like lead. He bit his tongue, struggling to keep up with the others, but he was much smaller than any of them.
“Hey, wait up!” he gasped. The other bats didn’t pay any attention. The rain came down harder. A bolt of lightening shot through the air, and a crack of thunder followed quickly after. The older bats dived, but Seed couldn’t tell where they had gone. “I can’t fly!” he cried, his wet wings flapping uselessly. He tumbled from the sky, down toward the ground. The world snapped out of view, and numbness spread through him. He was unconscious before he could cry out.
* * *
A muskrat sat on her haunches at the edge of the river, carefully scrubbing the spherical pearl in her paws of any dirt. She didn’t mind the rain pelting down onto her fur. She kind of liked it, actually. Not like that silly duck that sat hunched up in her nest as if the rain would burn her. The muskrat smiled as she lifted the pearl and watched it sparkle, evidently as clean as it would get. She was just about to turn and go back to her lodge when something caught her eye.
A dark shape floated toward her. She stood on her hind legs to get a better look at it. It was definitely a creature of some sort, but she couldn’t tell what kind it was. She waded into the river, the current rushing past her faster than it usually went because of all the rain. The strange creature wasn’t moving—it was either dead or unconscious. The muskrat seized the animal around the middle with her paws and hauled him to shore. She was enthralled about how this creature looked. It had long, thin membranes stretched across its forelegs, which she guessed served as wings. The bat stirred and coughed. He opened his eyes and stared around at the river. The muskrat gently lifted him into her lodge, which was made of grass, sticks, and dried mud.
“Who are you?” the bat asked suspiciously. He wiped his eyes with his thumbs.
“Me? Oh, I’m Azure,” the muskrat said cheerfully. She looked curiously at the bat. “You’re a bat, aren’t you? How’d you get in the river?” The bat ignored her. She shook her head and stashed the pearl, which she realized she was still holding, behind a pile of sticks.
“What was that?” the bat demanded.
“Nothing,” Azure replied. “I’m going to catch some fish!” She left rather quickly. The bat stood on his feet and looked around. The inside of the lodge was completely empty of anything of interest, except perhaps the thing that Azure had stashed away. He decided he would investigate that later.
“Hey, Bat, have you ever tried fish?” Azure asked, crawling back into the lodge with two pink fish wriggling in her paws.
“My name is Seed!” the bat protested. “And I only eat fruit!” He lifted his right wing and licked it, attempting to get it dry.
“You’re not even going to thank me for saving your life?” the muskrat asked, appalled. Seed ignored her once more. He stretched and yawned widely, then climbed to the ceiling of the lodge and hung upside down, immediately drifting into dreams filled with apples and pears. Azure curled into a ball and fell asleep as well, planning to teach the little bat some manners in the morning.
* * *
Seed’s feet slipped. He landed on the ground with a bump, waking instantly. Fuming, he rubbed his furry head and crept to the entrance of the muskrat lodge. It had stopped raining, and the sun was high in the sky. The bat shielded his sensitive eyes. Azure was paddling skillfully through the water, clutching a fish in her mouth. Seed glared at her. More fish! Why didn’t she go get him some fruit? He turned and went back inside, his stomach growling. The sunlight was hurting his eyes, and he liked the darkness of the lodge much better. He was about to climb back onto the ceiling when he remembered. What had the muskrat hidden? He reached behind the sticks where she had put it, and to his amazement he drew out a snow-white pearl. Seed grasped it in his wing tip and marveled at it. If he brought this back with him to his cave, maybe the others would be so impressed that they wouldn’t leave him alone in the rain the next time they left to find food!
He couldn’t dwell on this thought very long, though, because at that moment a gunshot rang out, startling him so much that he dropped the pearl. There was a scuffling from outside, and Azure crawled into her lodge, out of breath and with wide eyes.
“A hunter!” she gasped. She hurried to the far corner of her lodge and crouched there. “Stay in here.” Seed bit his lip. He wanted to stay out of the hunter’s way, but what better chance did he have of making it out of Azure’s home with the pearl? Cradling the beautiful thing in his wing tip, he stepped to the entrance and sneered at the muskrat.
“Do you think the other bats will like this?” he asked, displaying the pearl. Azure opened her mouth, closed it, then turned her stunned look into a ferocious scowl.
“Give it to me,” she said menacingly. Seed’s heart quivered with fear, but the sneer sat frozen on his face.
“I don’t think I should give it to you. I mean, you have no real use for it. And the bats back home will love me for this!” Seed snickered. “You could try to follow me, I guess. But… oh, yeah! Isn’t muskrat fur valuable to hunters?” Azure lunged at the bat, but he was flying away from the lodge before she could blink.
“I saved your life, you vile creature!” she screamed. “I trusted you!” Seed felt a pang of guilt. How strange—he had never felt it before. With the pearl stashed safely in his mouth, he alighted upside-down on a tree branch and watched the lodge to see how Azure was taking this defeat.
She wasn’t in the lodge.
* * *
“That pearl was given to one of my ancestors by a sea rat he rescued!” the muskrat snarled as she made her way across the river, heading straight for Seed’s tree. “It was passed down generation to generation!” Seed was so surprised by her actions that he let go of the branch, only barely managing to catch hold of the next one down. He began to get frantic. Was she crazy? She was going to get herself killed! But wait, no. There were no hunters near this area. Satisfied, Seed dropped from the tree and took wing in the other direction.
Blam! Blam! The gunshots rang through the forest. The bat let out a startled cry and lost height, checking every part of him to make sure he wasn’t hit. It took him a second to register the blood in the water.
“Azure!” The cry was horrible. She lay motionless, carried away by the current of the river. The hunter’s dogs were already going after her, barking excitedly. The bat lost all altitude and tumbled to the ground, breathing heavily. “No… no…” he moaned. She was dead. His only friend in the world. Dead! The word spun through his head, making him dizzy with horror and fear.
The dogs sloshed through the water, bending down and grasping Azure’s limp body in their mouths. The hunter whistled to them, loading his gun for his next kill. Anger suddenly surged through the bat’s body. That human was just standing there! He had just killed an innocent creature and he was just standing there!
“You leave her alone!” Seed found himself shrieking, once again in the air. The pearl still sat lodged in his mouth, interfering with his speech. So it was really just a bunch of jumbled syllables that not even he could understand. Seed flew straight for the hunter’s face.
If you’ve ever had an angry bat streaking straight toward you, you know it’s a bit unnerving. The hunter stepped back, raising his gun toward the bat. He was about to pull the trigger when he saw that the creature held a pearl in its mouth.
“What the…?” the man said in confusion. He was surprised enough to let down his guard for a split second. That was all that Seed needed. The little bat flapped right up to the man, buffeting him with his wings.
“Eek! Eeaaaccchh! Rahacch!” Seed cried, not sure what he was saying. The pearl dropped from his mouth, and the man lost no time in snatching it from the ground. In two seconds he was off and running, not caring about his newest muskrat prize. He just wanted to be sure he didn’t get rabies from the crazy bat.
* * *
Seed collapsed to the ground, moaning. He buried his head in his wings and sobbed. If he hadn’t stolen the pearl, then the muskrat wouldn’t have chased him, and she wouldn’t be dead… She had been so nice, catching food for him and letting him stay in her home! Why on earth had he been so ungrateful?!
“Don’t cry so hard. If you do, you’ll get dehydrated. And the dumbest place to get dehydrated is by the river.” Seed whipped around, his eyes wide in astonishment. Azure crawled onto the bank, her face twisted in pain.
“A- Azure! How! How did you…” he trailed off, just stood in amazement. “His aim was off,” she replied, trying to hide her pain. “He got me in the leg. But those dogs… those horrible dogs didn’t care whether I was dead or alive, they just grabbed me…” she shuddered. Seed looked down at the ground, guilt replacing his sadness.
“Azure… I’m so sorry. I- I was just selfish. And I lost your pearl.” He began to cry again. The muskrat nodded solemnly. “I guess I was unfair to you, too. If I hadn’t hid the pearl like it was some big deal, you wouldn’t have stolen it, right?”
“Probably not,” Seed muttered. He sighed. “Azure, I can’t go back home. At the cave we don’t really believe in helping each other and… we’re just so selfish.” He shifted uncomfortably as he said this. “So… I was hoping I could stay at the river. I could find my own home and everything!” Azure stared into his eyes, but the cold, hardened look that had previously been there was gone. In its place now stood sincere hope. The muskrat nodded.
“Of course you can stay, Seed,” she said quietly. “I know of some fruit trees down the river.” She smiled, and the bat smiled back. Right then, there was no place he would rather be. No place other than with his best friend.