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There was nothing but the pain now. The thirst in his throat had faded, then the aches of body. His leg burned, and Kevaar slipped in and out of unconsciousness.

Voices spoke around him, and he would sometimes come flailing awake to find he was alone. Except for the small rodent. The more violently he thrashed, the more worried it looked, until Kevaar thought he must have chased it away...

******

"It is ill," I said, trying to puturgency in my words. Across from me, Deritakt only rolled his great golden eyes, and whuffed a breath over me that smelled of dreamflowers.

"You've been dipping with the humans," I snarled in sudden anger. "Clouding your mind with their weed! But you won't let me help this degonti I found out in the desert? They're almost the same species!"

"Humans and degonti are only animals, Kemekien," said the old khurarl with a sigh. He scratched his cheek languidly with his thumb talon. "You have to let nature take its course. You wouldn't want to upset the Balance now, would you?"

"Spirits hang the Balance!" I snapped, but I wondered again why this had me so upset in the first place. It was hard sometimes to tell that the creature I had found was even in pain. Degonti were not like the humans--the brownskins as they call them, whose expressions bloomed on their faces at the slightest complaint or joy--but they were not as inexpressive as us khurarl either. Like the degonti, we had not evolved to be social creatures.

That's what the Elders would say at any rate, whenever they argued for not getting involved in the affairs of the outside world. We hadn't evolved for it. We weren't meant to. I always wondered then how the elders would explain how the khurarl had taken to living in such large colonies, if we weren't meant to help each other out.

"It's just one degonti," I said, dragging my mind back to the argument. "No worse than those felines Rositarien has been trying to domesticate. And they're a whole lot smarter, too."

"Kemekien, you drive me to distraction!" grumbled Deritakt, and he rose from his place and hid his head in his wings, pretending to preen their insides. He continued, gesturing to me with a flap of his wing's phalanges. "But if you insist, then by all means, bring the creature here. But you are responsible to its grooming and feeding and cleaning up its leavings, and good luck if it manages to escape!"

"Oh, it won't be that hard," I said. "Degonti are smarter than you think."

"Yuvain said that about coyotes too, and look at what happened to him."

"Well, maybe if he hadn't turned himself into a mulusdar right outside their den, he'd still have all his limbs!" I snapped. "Look, I'll be careful, Deritakt. I won't even show it my true form. I'll just be a...a yez or something. Or one of it's own kind. It should respond well to that."

"The degonti are dangerous in more ways than just their physical makeup," Deritakt explained impatiently. "I should not say this, but the Elders are getting increasingly concerned with them. They think we would drive them from the desert."

"Cull an entire species?" I asked, aghast. So much for not messing with the Balance. "Why?"

"Because of what they stir up, the powers they meddle in. Rot has crept back into the bantam groves and Old Tyr believes these degonti are somehow responsible. You bring one back here, and who knows what will happen."

"Then I won't bring it back here," I said. "I'll just heal it, and then return it to its own kind. Surely that's nothing terrible?"

Deritakt grumbled and rolled back and forth. His scales made an awful screeching noise against the rock of his lair. I knew he was just doing it for show, and had already made up his mind long ago. I lashed my tail in impatience, but forced a human-like grin on my snout.

"Fine!" Deritakt finally snapped in climax. He threw his wings in the air, looking ever so much as a human throwing up his arms in disgust. "Drag it out by its ruff and fix its owie-boo-boo's. Just don't blame me if trouble comes from it."

"Oh, I won't," I said, bouncing on my feet now that I had something to do. "You won't even notice I did anything, uncle. I'll be back before dark!"

"Yes, well, we'll see," said Deritakt, bringing up his long neck, crest puffing out as he watched me launch from the hill, spreading my wings. "Youngsters get into so much trouble they don't even know when they're out of it."

***

Light fell across his head, and he heard the rumblings of a deep voice, like out of a dream. The Other had been speaking before, but quickly hushed with a scream of agony and rage.

Or perhaps the scream was his own? Kevaar felt himself dragged and lifted, and the pain seared all reason from his mind. Wind roared in his ears, and when he woke up again, he was far away from the little hole in the rock he had climbed into.

He was far away from anything he recognized.

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Gray Fox

March 2016

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