He felt old. And he hated aknowledging that fact. His pride didn't want to accept that his legs weren't as lightning quick as they'd been a few years ago, his fangs weren't as sharp anymore, his claws duller than before and his horns barely having the energy to spark a decent lightning bolt. If he was to fight one of the youngsters now, chances were he'd get himself hurt and even die from it.
Tiger crossed his front paws and put his head down with an indignified huff.
Ever since Holly and Genki had married (seriously, the boy had been literally blind to her love) and gotten themself a real farm, everything had begun to fall apart. First to go was Hare. Good old Hare. He'd meant so well, but his kind wasn't known for a long life in the first place. Most hares didn't get much older than two, maybe three years, four if they take it easy. Hare himself had lived a stressful, painful life fighting Moo with them. In fact, if you looked at it, it was a miracle he'd even made it to the final battle against the re-awakened evil spirit.
He hadn't lived for much longer after that. One day, Genki had found his dead body, tucked in under his favorite bed sheet in the barn, drifted away peacefully. They'd made him a nice grave under the shade of an ash tree. Mocchi had cried for a whole week. Then the little guy had followed Hare. Ran away from home; they found him on a busy street, his cherry blossom body trampled by hooves.
Sometimes, Tiger wished he'd just go too.
They didn't need him here anymore. In fact, he was surprised they hadn't taken him to the fusion chamber a long time ago. Youngsters came and went all the time; More often than not right after winning a high contest, two of them were brought away; one came back, changed beyond recognition and raised like any other monster, and a newborn young one that resembles one of them but doesn't have a clue who everyone was. It's not as if they didn't want it. Being fused isn't the same as dying. Usually one spirit lives on, the power of the weaker monster becoming part of the reborn body. The spirit of that monster is reborn as well; as a mystery disc, to be put in a shrine and raised. This circle of death, raising and rebirth had been going for a long time now. Every once in a while, there'd be actual newcomers, coming to stay.
Suezo had gone, too. As one of their weaker team members, everyone had expected him to reincarnate as young monster, but instead, he'd merged with that Pixie type. At first, Tiger had found it hilarious, then realised his old friend had in fact died. You see, even the combined monster lacks previous memories. Not all of them of course, but many. So many.. Suezo hadn't recognised any of them anymore. Only Holly, which he loved dearly.
Part of why Tiger refused to go this path. He'd just die, as good legends should. No use lending his strength to a young monster, to be exploited for it. There were no more lethal enemies to deal with, it was all pretend nowadays. He looked up as two young monsters rushed past him; a zuum and a dino. They stopped to stare at him, little zuum was about to say something, then they ran on. Tiger shook his mane in disgrace and stood, every bone and joint cracking as he did, a low growl in his throat. A quick glance over his own shoulders confirmed he was as slim as he felt. Not the healthy type of thin; he was skinny. Muscles dying off quicker than he could rebuild them, leaving his gait shaky and ungraceful. He knew there would be the day he wouldn't be able to control his body anymore, at all. That is, if he didn't die beforehand. He almost hoped he did. That thought of depending on someone else was so unbearable he clenched his teeth in disgust, shook himself again and started walking off. Hell, he'd rather jump off a cliff before he'd let them treat him like the grandpa he was.
With that in mind, he began trotting towards the ranch's entrance, fully intending to find himself a cliff and throw himself down there.
But there was one problem. It stood square in the middle of the gate, arms crossed, a stern gaze on his beardy face. Genki.
"Where're you going, partner?"
His voice had gotten a lot deeper. The boy Tiger had once known had grown up and become an adult in every aspect. He was now less lanky, less siney than before. In place of thin arms and legs, there were strong muscles a monster farmer could put to use. While his usual clothing had been switched for a farmer's outfit, he'd kept his trademark cap. Tiger bared his fangs, just slightly.
"Get out of my way, Genki."
"Tell me where you want to go and I'll think about it."
"I'm not joking."
"Neither am I, partner."
"Stop with the partner-stuff!"
"Why? You're my buddy. One of the few left. I can't let you go outside, Tiger. You could-.."
Genki knew he'd made a mistake. He tried hiding from Tiger's withering look, but failed. When he looked up again, Tiger didn't return the gaze. The blue maned monster had sat down, lowered his head and stared at the ground beneath his clawed paws.
"Listen.. if you want to go outside so badly.. I can.."
"No. Just forget about it."
With that, Tiger turned around and trotted towards the barn, leaving Genki behind, scratching his head.
The barn was barely more than what you'd expect; straw everywhere, some well-used lairs built from it, monsters sleeping in them. Tiger had been the last to join, so Holly, who'd witnessed the earlier discussion between her husband and the monster, closed the gates and locked them well. It wasn't so much about anyone running away, rather than the fear of wild monsters roaming about and possibly attacking their youngsters.
It had happened before; all they'd find in the morning would be a few drops of blood and, only if they were lucky tho, a corpse. When stuff like this had started happening, the owners of the ranch had started to put their monsters in the barn at night.
Tiger hated being locked in with a passion. Ever since he'd been a little pup, he deeply resented the feeling of being caught, trapped, unable to escape. He'd retreat in the hindmost corner, roll into a blue-white ball and wait for the next dawn. He envied Golem; he was too large to sleep in here – and, also, not a viable prey. Strays knew whom to attack and whom to leave. Thus the large stone monster had the freedom to rest where he liked. Same went for Suezo; though he slept with Holly inside the house. He and Holly were so close separating them didn't seem right to Genki. When Moochi was still alive, the little guy too had been allowed to stay inside.
Their house being small as it was though, they couldn't keep everyone in there. Large monsters like Hare and Tiger for example had no business in there. Sometimes the young monsters would get the same priviledges, for bonding reasons. The youngsters had the annoying attitude to stress-out easily and try running away. Thus the farmers went easy on them until they reached maturity.
All of this Tiger thought about, as he lay awake that night. Somewhen his thoughts drifted to his younger brother. Where was Graywolf now? Was he still with that girl and the Hopper, winning tournaments? Who'd have thought he'd become such a furious fighter.. little Graywolf, who couldn't do battle to save his life – quite literally; how often had he saved the pup from being stomped by a Dino, or slashed by a Zuum.. or bitten to death by a stranger pack? Or even caught by humans.. If he'd been a champion as he was today, back then, when Moo took him, maybe everything had gone differently. Maybe not being heartbroken and depressed would've enabled Tiger to kill the freaking kid who dared challenging his authority that day. The kid who charged him full-on, only to meet the next cliff wall, after being hit by a mighty roar.
Genki. He probably meant well.
Again the wolf-like monster stood, turned around a couple of times and laid down again, just to repeat the same procedure another few times.
He had to go. He knew of a spot in the barn where the wooden floor was broken, a hole just big enough so he could squeeze through. His mane would be ruffled up a little, but he'd be free. Just a little digging..
Careful not to make a sound (some of their trainees were especially sensitive and woke at the slightest noise) he made it to that spot and started clawing where he smelled earth. Just a bit of space was enough. A powerful shove with his hindlegs, a grunt as his forelegs pulled the rest of his slender body outside, an annoyed shake of his pelt to get rid of the soil, then he ran. Not bothering to stop when lights went on in the humans' house he passed the farm's gate and headed for the forest.
He didn't get far though. Just as he was about to go fullspeed ahead, a large rock hand went into his way, causing Tiger to crash right into it, drop to the ground, dizzy, groaning, before he looked up and straight into Golem's sad eyes.
"Where will Tiger go?", the big monster asked, not a hint of critic in his voice. He just wanted to know and even took care not to speak too loudly. Tiger frowned just a bit, then relaxed. Golem wasn't about to hurt him – if he told him, he even might just let him go.
"Away. I'm not needed here anymore. I want to spend what's left of my life in freedom. Monsters ain't meant to be kept as pets."
"But.. outside world is dangerous. Tiger not as strong as he used to be", Golem replied with a short look on the wolf's scarred, thin body, an old wound that had barely healed for months and (due to his last action) even bled a little again. The claws, frayed at places, some of them dull. Tiger scoffed and shook himself again, as if to get rid of the looks Golem gave him.
"Look Golem, I'll be fine. Don't worry too much about me."
Again, Tiger tried getting past the hand, then felt a crushing weight on his back, pressing him flat on the ground. Golem held him fast. Knowing struggles wouldn't help (from experience, that is), Tiger simply held still, growling from frustration.
"Let me go, damn it. We're both too old for this shit.."
"Golem will not let Tiger get himself killed.."
"I will be fine, damn it!"
"You.. will not go. Golem will not let you. If have to, Golem will carry you home."
"Either you leave me be or.."
"Or what, Tiger?"
"I shall fight you."
"Damn well I would! I'll freeze you and break you up into little pieces if you insist!"
"Tiger... not a baddie"
"Maybe not a bad monster, but I can go wild if you force me to. Let me go, Golem! Now!"
The hand on his back didn't do as much as flinch, but Golem looked actually hurt. Slowly, hesitatingly, he let his friend stand and retreated his hand.
"Tiger.. take care."
"I will. Thanks."
With that the aging wolf took off, leaving behind what he'd known for years.
"Genki", he thought as his legs became swifter, his movements more fluently, pains of age vanishing with the wind of freedom greeting his return. "don't take it personally, kid. A wolf's a wolf until he dies. As is a Tiger."
He wouldn't stop until the farm was well out of sight.