Quickly, hands moving with practiced precision, Pari spread the warm, pliable wax around the inner surface of the small cylindrical container, making sure that the wax lined the sides evenly and without even the tiniest gap. The outer shell of each candle had to be made with care, as its integrity ensured that the contents sealed within stayed fresh. Once she felt satisfied with her handiwork, she placed the tiny wick into the center of the wax pocket and poured the last of the sleepcandle mixture around it. Finally, she covered the whole thing with a bit of extra wax so that only the wick still touched the outside air. With a snap of her fingers—a trick that Bazzalth-grandfather had taught her; he said that repeatable motions might help her with her Observations, and he was right, as always, because he was her grandfather and he was always right—she created a tiny flame and carefully melted the top to the rest of the candle, sealing it up properly.
Picking up her cloak from the floor by her feet, she proceeded to tie the candle by the wick to one of the many thin strings that hung from the inside of the cloak. A patchwork creation made out of the scraps of clothing that Bazzalth-grandfather had lying around, the cloak covered her whole body and head and could be used to hold her arsenal of various candles. She’d added the strings from which the candles hung all by herself with her new sewing skills, but the cloak itself had been created by Pyr-teacher before... before that time.
Pari didn’t like to think about that time if she could help it. It made her feel bad inside, like something tiny was chewing away at her tummy. Pari had liked Pyr-teacher. She had found the way he would get angry to be very silly. But at the end, he’d said things that confused her and even frightened her. When he’d said the word “slave”, she’d felt a sudden surge of sheer terror spring forth from somewhere deep inside her. She had no idea where that feeling had come from, but it had thrown her into a frenzied panic, and the next thing she knew she was waking up much later. Pyr-teacher was dead again, and he couldn’t come back this time.
Pari missed Pyr-teacher—the original Pyr-teacher that is, the one before that time. He had helped her a lot. She’d learned many things from him, from useful things like how to sew to weird, silly things like something called “table manners”. Why would crawlers wait to eat their food when it was right there in front of them? Food was meant to be eaten, not looked at!
This cloak was the last thing she had to remember him by. So she would keep it and use it to hold her candles for the journey ahead. She had accepted by now the fact that she had to leave this place, this cavern that had been her home for her entire life.
She didn’t want to go. It was warm here, much warmer than the world outside. She’d ventured outside a few times when Bazzalth-grandfather had left to go do some task. It was cold outside. Cold and bright and so very open. She liked the inside better. Bazzalth-grandfather lived here. But she had no choice. She would have to leave. Soon.
Pari didn’t know for a definitive fact that her journey on her own would begin soon—Bazzalth-grandfather had yet to tell her such—but she could see how he had changed since returning home just a few days ago. She’d noticed stress weighing him down and slowly building up over the last few seasons, but the difference between the grandfather that had left that day and the one that had returned just half a day later had been like night and day. Something had happened that day. Something that meant her time here was almost up.
So, as she waited for her grandfather to return from another of his patrols, Pari crafted candles. So far, she’d created enough bangcandles to fill the entire right side of her cloak, as well as nine smokecandles and now two sleepcandles.
The different candles did exactly as their names suggested. The bangcandles exploded with a violent bang; though the range and power left a bit to be desired, her and Bazzalth-grandfather’s tests on crawler bodies suggested that they were still strong enough to dismember and kill crawlers close enough to the blast. The smokecandles would burst forth with thick grey smoke that would make it hard for anybody to see and would be useful if she needed to run away. The sleepcandles put anybody who breathed the smoke to sleep and had already saved her once. They were her greatest surprise. Unfortunately, they were also her most uncommon candle.
The ingredients for the sleepcandle formula required ingredients that, according to her grandfather, only grew in the hunting ground to the north of the mountains. That meant that, unlike the bangcandles and smokecandles which used more common materials and could be replenished later, she could only make these two sleepcandles with the materials she had on hand. Hopefully, Bazzalth-grandfather would have more when he returned—whenever that was; he normally would have been back several hours ago.
There were other sorts of candles she knew how to make, like stickycandles for example, but Bazzalth-grandfather said that those were “not efficient enough” for her limited carrying capacity and that she should focus on making as many bang, smoke, and sleepcandles as she could. So she did. She could always make other candles later, once she’d used up some of these. With the new materials she would surely find, she might even be able to create new types of candles that did things she’d never seen before! How exciting!
Pari’s tail twitched as her sensitive ears picked up a shift in the wind outside, one she’d come to recognize after hearing it for years. Her grandfather had returned! Eager to see what goodies he’d brought back with him, she ran through the cavern’s entrance tunnel and emerged into the bright sunshine just as Bazzalth-grandfather’s tan and gold body landed feet first with a mighty thump. Her eyes widened at the sight of the enormous sack he carried with him, her thoughts running wild with the cornucopia of new materials that could lie within, only for her excitement to stall as she took a closer look. She could see various large, somewhat familiar lumpy shapes pressing against the inside of the sack, and she was pretty sure she could see an arm sticking out of the top.
Crawlers, many of them. Dozens of crawlers—or maybe even hundreds—were in that sack. Where had they all come from, and why had Bazzalth-grandfather taken them back to their home?
“PARI-CHILD, RETURN INSIDE,” he told her as he dragged the sack of crawlers into the tunnel.
Pari dutifully followed behind. “Where so many crawlers come from?” she inquired once they were back inside.
“CRAWLERS DETERMINED TO PUSH NORTH. DEATHS AND DISAPPEARANCES NOT ENOUGH TO OVERCOME GREED. CRAWLERS SEND FORCE OF SEVEN HUNDRED.”
Pari gasped. She had never heard of so many crawlers in one place before! “Bazzalth-grandfather killed all crawlers?” she asked. Others might have instead asked if he was injured, but she knew that no amount of crawlers could hurt her super amazing grandfather. He was super-duper-extra strong, after all.
“YES,” he answered. “BUT MORE WILL COME, IN GREATER NUMBERS THAN EVER. BAZZALTH MUST CALL GATHERING, MUST-”
He froze, his eyes turning up towards the ceiling and following something that only he could see. His jaw fell open, revealing rows of sharp, massive teeth as he focused on something else somewhere far away.
“KAERSHA...” he muttered to himself, his voice filled with a mix of shock and something she’d never heard from him before: horror.
At the start, his gaze pointed north, slightly east, and up. Slowly, it tracked across the ceiling, moving further and further south until he stared off into the southeast. Then he blinked, and his gaze returned to the cavern wherein they stood.
“PARI-CHILD, PACK SUPPLIES. PARI-CHILD MUST LEAVE. NOW.”
“N-Nya? W-Why now?” she asked, her heart sinking through the floor at his words, even though she’d known they would come eventually. She had thought she was ready, but her trembling lip proved that she’d been wrong.
“SOMETHING WRONG. SOMETHING THAT MUST NEVER HAPPEN NOW HAPPENING. PARI-CHILD MUST GO NOW WHILE PARI-CHILD STILL CAN. PACK QUICKLY.”
Pari did as Bazzalth-grandfather instructed. She wanted to cry, but she was a good girl so she held it in as best she could and focused instead on grabbing everything she had and putting it in her little sack. She packed up her candlemaking equipment, her materials, some food, and especially her giant mound of earwax and put them all into the sack until the sack looked about to burst. That, plus her clothes and patchwork cloak, was everything that she possessed. With a grunt, she swung it up over her shoulder and stumbled towards her grandfather. Though the bag was quite heavy, she found that if she balanced it just right, she could move fairly easily. It would just take a little practice.
“PARI-CHILD IS FINISHED?”
Pari nodded. She’d been mostly packed already, waiting for this dreaded day.
“GOOD CHILD. NOW, BAZZALTH HAS GIFT FOR PARI-CHILD.” He held out a hand, a thin crimson membrane of flesh held within. Pari stared curiously at the small strip. It looked to be about half the length of her arm at best. What was it for? “TAKE GIFT, PUT ON ARM.”
Pari climbed onto his hand—a task she found much more difficult with a giant sack over her shoulder—and picked up the strange object. As instructed, she put down the sack and placed the slim membrane on her left forearm.
Almost immediately, the membrane reacted to her touch. Wrapping around her forearm, it quickly melded together where the two sides touched at the bottom of her arm, forming a single skin-tight tube around her arm.
“Nya?” she squeaked in confusion, tugging on it with her fingers. It wouldn’t budge even a tiny bit, as if it were sealed to her flesh.
“GIFT IS IMPORTANT. PARI-CHILD MUST NEVER TAKE OFF.”
“Why?” she wondered, rubbing her right hand along the somewhat-rubbery red surface. It felt unnatural and uncomfortable against her skin.
“GIFT WILL HELP PARI-CHILD COME BACK TO BAZZALTH WHEN PARI-CHILD DIES,” he told her, a hint of pride in his voice. He must have been working on it in secret. She had never seen him studying anything like this before, and she’d watched him work for many days. “GIFT WILL GET CRAWLERS TO RETURN PARI-CHILD TO BAZZALTH THROUGH GREED. CRAWLERS WILL SURELY RESPOND TO OFFER OF TREASURE.”
“B-but then-!” Pari blurted out in a panic.
“WORRY NOT, BAZZALTH WILL KILL CRAWLERS WHO RETURN WITH PARI-CHILD.”
Pari let out a breath of relief. She understood just how important it was to keep her grandfather’s secret. She’d promised to protect that secret. The last thing she wanted was to betray her promise, not even after death.
She rubbed the arm sleeve again, more affectionately this time. The thought that she would return to help expand her grandfather’s hoard even after her life had ended filled her with happiness. Plus, this was just one more thing she could remember him by.
“Pari loves Bazzalth-grandfather’s gift!” she told him with a wide smile.
“BAZZALTH IS PLEASED.” His fingers curled up around her, forming a cage. “TIME RUNS SHORT. PARI AND BAZZALTH MUST LEAVE NOW.”
The next thing Pari knew, her grandfather had carried her from his lair. Then he spread his wings and, for the first time in her life, Pari flew.
Pari had never seen a forest before. Looking down at the bouquet of colors that covered the foothills to the south and stretched as far as her eyes could see, she felt herself standing before a foreign land. This openness, these hues, these aromas on the wind... together they filled her with equal parts curiosity and dread. Who knew what lurked beneath those leaves and needles?
But still, Pari could not get her feet to take a step forward. Turning her head, she looked back at the hulking person behind her. He stared back.
“BAZZALTH CAN GO NO FURTHER,” he stated. “PARI-CHILD’S JOURNEY BEGINS HERE.”
“B-but... Pari...” she stammered. Her body trembled, her eyes welling with tears, as seasons of pent up emotion welled up within her, moments away from bursting forth. “Pari wants to stay! Pari wants to live with Bazzalth-grandfather forever!”
“NO. PARI-CHILD MUST LEAVE NOW,” her grandfather insisted.
“But whyyyyy?!” she wailed, latching onto his front leg and burying her face into his side as teardrops fell from her face and flowed down his skin. “Pari was good! Pari tried real hard!”
“KAERSHA WAS USED. OTHERS WILL COME FOR BAZZALTH SOON. PARI-CHILD WILL NOT GO UNNOTICED THIS TIME. PARI-CHILD CANNOT STAY.”
“Kaersha was used? Pari not understand!”
“BAZZALTH CANNOT EXPLA-”
Pari looked up at her grandfather, confused by the sudden halt in his words. Something looked off with him as he stared off into the distance, his gaze resting upon something far off to the east and slightly to the south. Yes, something was wrong: the lighting. The sun hung in the western side of the sky, on the other side of his body, so why did this side look so bright? Pari turned to follow his gaze and quickly became as still and silent as he.
Something off in the distance shone with a bright white light, a light so bright that it made her squint even in this sunny mid-afternoon day. Pari watched in fascination as the light bloomed, growing brighter and brighter with startling speed until she had no choice but to close her eyes. Suddenly, tremors shook the mountain beneath them, causing her to latch only her grandfather’s hide to stay upright. The shaking subsided fairly quickly but was followed not long after by a low, howling roar that seemed to shake the world itself. Then, there was naught but silence.
“BAZZALTH MUST RETURN TO LAIR,” he stated, gently but firmly prying her from his side and depositing her by her sack. He turned away from her, his wings spreading out to take flight.
“Wait!” Pari cried out.
The Person paused, his head swiveling back to look at her with one massive eye.
Pari hesitated, her mind initially unable to find the words to the question that her heart had refused to ask since Tavreth-meanie’s fateful visit several years before.
“When can... Pari come back?”
“AS LONG AS TAVRETH-SISTER LIVES, PARI-CHILD MUST NEVER RETURN.”
With that said, he leaped into the sky, his voice calling back one final message:
“BE STRONG, PARI-CHILD.”
In just a few moments, her grandfather banked and flew behind another mountain, and then Pari was alone.
Pari didn’t know what to do. She knew what she was supposed to do, but that was different. Her being here, alone on a mountainside, just felt wrong, like it was a cruel joke or something. Part of her, a small, childish, desperate part, clung to the hope that this was some sort of test or mistake and that Bazzalth-grandfather would return in just a few moments. So she waited there, on that mountainside overlooking the foothills on the southwestern edge of the mountains. She waited and waited. It wasn’t until the moons hung high in the sky that she finally accepted that he wasn’t coming back.
With a tiny grunt, Pari pulled her sack free from yet another branch’s grasp. In the two days since her descent from the mountains, she’d caught her supplies on countless branches, shrubs, bushes, and all sorts of other foliage. Who knew that forests could be so hard to travel through? She’d made far less progress over these two days than might be expected, though she had to admit that much of that was her own doing. Whenever she found a new ingredient, she couldn’t help but rush over to inspect it, study it, sniff it, and collect it. Now her already-stuffed sack felt close to bursting. She’d have to craft a few experiments soon to make space.
For now, though, she did the best she could, pushing her way farther and farther south. For a second, she glanced back and caught a glimpse of the mountains through a gap in the trees, bringing forth a twinge of sadness. Her gaze immediately went to the sleeve on her left arm and she reached out to run her fingers along its ruby-shaded surface.
The sleeve still felt awkward and uncomfortable to her, though now it carried with it a bevy of heavy emotions as well. This sleeve was a promise, but also a warning. She felt that it was her grandfather’s way of saying that she actually could return one day... but not alive. Still, she considered it a sign of his love and had already vowed to never take it off... not that she could if she wanted to. It seemed to be almost one with her own skin.
She shook her head and continued forth.
The sun was approaching the horizon, bringing a swift darkness to her surroundings, when Pari stumbled upon a thin, winding animal trail. By following the trail, she found herself able to move much more easily, bringing a hopeful smile to her face. Maybe this night she would be able to find a proper place to sleep. A cave, if she could find one. The night before, lacking any better options, she’d slept beneath a batch of intertwined roots sticking out of the ground. It just hadn’t felt right; too many gaps, most likely.
A little while later, just as she was beginning to give up hope, her nose caught a whiff that made her halt in her tracks. Fire, smoke, charred meat... and two crawlers. No, not crawlers, “people”. Even after all those days of learning and practicing, she still had trouble keeping that straight. But that wasn’t important right now. What mattered was what she was going to do about this.
On the one hand, Pari didn’t really want to meet any people, not even with all her training to help her act like one. After Pyr-teacher’s betrayal, she couldn’t help but be wary of their actions. On the other hand, beside a fire would be a warm place to sleep, no doubt warmer than anything else she would find tonight. Plus, the meat roasting over the fire sure smelled tasty. She’d much rather eat whatever they were having than some of her stored rations. But still...
She needed more information, she decided. It wouldn’t hurt to take a closer look, right?
After gently setting her sack down so as not to make any noise, Pari carefully crept through the underbrush as silently as possible. Soon, she was able to make out a small clearing about a hundred large Pari-sized steps away. In that clearing, sitting on two logs and facing each other, were a man and a woman. Because the woman’s back was turned to her, Pari could only see her yellow hair hanging down her back in a ponytail. As for the man, she could make out his thick, bushy beard and dark, vigilant eyes. She knew for sure that the other person was a woman, however, because of the smell. Male and female people each had a distinctive musk that Pari’s astoundingly sensitive nose could detect with ease.
The two talked sparingly, their voices too low for even her excellent hearing to make out over the sound of the crackling fire. Deciding she needed to be able to hear what they were saying to tell if they were good or bad people, Pari crept closer. One step. Two steps. Three-
The sound of a stick snapping beneath her foot broke the relative silence. Pari crouched down as low as possible behind a nearby bush and went as still as possible. Risking a peek through the budding leaves, she saw that neither of the people had moved. The woman was saying something, her arms moving, but her chest kept Pari from seeing what her hands were doing. She hadn’t been moving her arms before, but that was the only thing different. Her tone of voice remained the same. Meanwhile, the man seemed to be agreeing with what she was saying. A normal conversation, nothing too different than before.
Just as Pari breathed a sigh of relief, the woman, in one quick and smooth motion, picked up a bow, turned towards Pari while drawing it, and fired. Pari froze in shock for a moment as the arrow zipped by her, missing by a step. The man, meanwhile, was already rushing towards her, a large axe in his hands.
These were bad people. Very bad.
Pari turned and ran, her hands fumbling inside her cloak as she tried to figure out if she should use a bangcandle or a smokecandle. Her indecision cost her, as the man, his long legs propelling him far faster than Pari could hope to run, had already covered half the distance between them. Pari heard a whirling sound quickly approaching from behind and tried to duck, but it was too late. A cord of some kind wrapped around her torso, two heavy balls spinning around her and tightening the cord, tying her arms to her sides.
Pari stumbled and fell to the ground. Trying to grab a bangcandle, she found that she couldn’t move her arms!
“Did you get it?” the female called from a distance.
Pari heard the footfalls of the man just behind her.
“Uhhh... yeah,” he called back, a trace of confusion and worry in his voice.
“What is it?”
Pari felt large, rough hands grab her cloak and turn her prone body to face the treetops. She caught a glimpse of the man’s face as he squatted over her, his eyes going wide before he stood up and she lost him again.
“Parlo? What is it?” the woman called again, closer this time.
“A beastkin child, Erini.”
Pari eyed the two people warily as she took another bite of meat. Her body shivered with pleasure as the juices filled her mouth, bringing with them flavors she’d never before experienced. She didn’t know what sort of meat it was; she only knew she wanted more.
Loathe as she was to admit it, perhaps Bazzalth-grandfather’s cooking skills were not as great as she’d once thought. It wasn’t like he needed to eat cooked meat. He’d only done it for her in the first place, so he hadn’t had much practice. Yeah, that was it. These people just had more practice.
“Oh, you poor thing,” the woman named Erini cooed as she sat down on the log beside Pari. “You must have been so hungry.”
Maybe these people weren’t bad people after all? They had given her delicious food, but they’d also attacked her. She would need more time to deliberate. Pari scooted to the farthest end of the log, just to be sure.
“Don’t worry, nobody’s going to hurt you,” Erini-person said softly. “We’re very sorry about what happened, but we thought a dangerous beast was stalking us. These woods are filled with dangerous animals. We never thought a young child like you would be out here.”
“She shouldn’t be out here,” the man named Parlo grumbled. “This is no place for a five-year-old. Something’s not right.”
“Pari not five, Pari eight,” she informed him through a mouthful of half-chewed meat. They had to know that she was a grown-up child, not a measly five-year-old. It was important!
“Pari? Is that your name?” Erini-person asked.
Pari froze for a moment, the realization of what she’d inadvertently given away finally hitting home. Could she trust these people? These maybe-not-bad, possibly-good, tasty-food people? Maybe. Just a little. She slowly nodded.
“What a nice name!” Erini-person said, flashing a wide smile. “I’m Erini, and this is Parlo. We capture baby jaglioths for the army, though right now we’re simply scouting for jaglioth dens. Then we’ll come back with more people once we’ve found them. Do you know what a jaglioth is?”
Pari nodded again. “Meat tastes okay but very tough to chew. This meat much better.”
The woman blinked. “Are you saying you’ve eaten jaglioth meat?”
Pari just tilted her head and returned her gaze as she took another bite.
“Don’t listen to the wild claims of a child,” Parlo-person snorted. “Nobody hunts jaglioth for food. There’s no way she has eaten anything of the sort.”
“Nuh-uh!” Pari protested. “Baz- ah... grandfather hunted jaglioth lots. Pari ate lots of jaglioth meat before!”
The pair blinked.
“Your grandfather hunted the strongest beast in the nation?” Parlo-person laughed.
Pari felt her ire rising over such mockery. “Grandfather is much strong than stupid jaglioth!”
“Parlo, don’t argue with a child,” Erini-person scolded him. “That isn’t important right now.”
Slowly, the woman turned back to her and gently asked, “Pari, what are you doing here? This place is at least four full days of hiking from the nearest village.”
Pari tensed at the question and kept her lips sealed. She didn’t have a good answer.
“We found your bag full of things out back behind the trees,” Erini-person continued. “Were you running away from home?”
Pari went as stiff as a rock. “N-no,” she replied. Technically, she hadn’t run away from home, though she imagined that it would have felt fairly similar.
“Pari, don’t lie,” Erini-person sternly told her. “Where is your home?”
Pari’s eyes involuntarily flickered towards the mountain peaks, the moon behind them rendering them as dark outlines of jagged teeth blocking the pale white light. She turned around and pointed away from them.
“Your home is that way?” Erini-person asked. “Is it a village?”
“Uh-huh,” she lied.
“What’s the name of this village?” Parlo-person butted in.
Pari went silent. She didn’t know any village names! Now what was she supposed to do?!
Erini-person frowned. “Parlo and I need to have a chat by ourselves for a moment, okay?” she said.
Pari tensed again, ready to bolt at a moment’s notice.
“Don’t worry, you’re not in trouble,” Erini-person assured her with another soft smile. “Just stay here and have some more meat, alright?”
Pari felt her worries ease a little as the nice lady handed her another leg. She now felt that Erini-person was a good person. Parlo-person was a little more complicated. He seemed intent on questioning Pari, but he also listened to Erini-person, so maybe he was not a bad person? Either way, Erini-person said she wasn’t in trouble, so maybe it was all going to be alright in the end.
Pari focused on her hearing as the two people walked a little bit away and started talking to each other in hushed tones. Perhaps they didn’t understand just how good Pari’s hearing could be, because they stopped much, much closer to Pari than they had been when Pari had first snuck towards them. Because of this, she could hear everything they said.
“She’s lying,” Parlo-person began.
“Of course she is,” Erini-person replied. “Isn’t it obvious what’s going on here? Look at her clothing, and that ratty cloak she’s wearing. Nobody would give that to their children to wear. And her body, it’s far too small for an eight-year-old unless she’s been underfed for a long time. She ran away from home because they were mistreating her, and she’s terrified that we’ll take her back there.”
Pari took a big bite, savoring the juicy flavor and letting herself relax a little. If Erini-person thought that, then maybe things could work out after all.
“Even then, things don’t add up,” Parlo-person insisted. “Judging by the condition of her clothes, she hasn’t been in the forest for more than two, maybe three days. But there’s no village close enough for her to have run away from.”
Pari tensed up again.
“Maybe there’s a new village, one we don’t know about.”
“I highly doubt that. Villages don’t spring up overnight. We would have heard about it by now as we were making our way up here.”
“Did you see how her eyes kept glancing towards the mountains whenever we asked about her home? What if she lives to the north?”
Pari froze, a sinking feeling in her gut growing stronger with each word spoken. Had she really done that?
“I was up north just half a season ago,” Parlo-person answered, shaking his head. “Went all over, all the way up to the Krekards themselves. There’s nothing there but trees.”
Phew! For once, she was glad that Parlo-person was here.
“But you yourself said she can’t have been in these woods for very long. So where did she come from? What if... no, never mind.”
“I just had a stupid thought, is all.”
“What is it?”
“Well, you know the rumors about the disappearances up north? How people go up into the mountains and just never return?”
“What nonsense are you spewing?” Parlo-person snorted. “You think there’s a village of beastkins hidden up in the mountains? And they’re killing everybody? That’s stupid, and you’re stupid for even thinking it.”
Oh no. Pari could hear her heart hammering in her chest. This was bad.
“It explains everything,” Erini-person countered. “If she hasn’t been in the forest for more than a few days, then she can’t have come from the south, east, or west. She could only have come from the north. There has to be something up there.”
This was really bad. This was terrible. She’d broken her promise to Bazzalth-grandfather already, on her very first contact, no less! Sure, Erini-person wasn’t exactly correct, but it was close enough that it didn’t really matter. The resulting armies marching into the mountains would be the same.
“I... there has to be another explanation,” Parlo-person stated.
Pari’s mind whirled as she tried to figure out what to do. They would probably catch her again if she tried to run, and it wouldn’t change the fact that they knew. If only there was a way for Pari to make them forget! The three of them were alone. If she could make them forget, then it would be the same as if nobody had known in the first place! But... she had never found a formula for a “forgetcandle”...
“Look, forget where she came from, it doesn’t really matter. What matters is that she’s here now,” Erini-person returned. “Do we continue the job and take her with us, or do we call it quits for now and head back, maybe return in a few days?”
But there was one way, Pari realized. One way that she could make everybody forget.
“You know we can’t return now with nothing to show after all the investments we made in this effort,” Parlo-person shot back. Otherwise, we’d have turned around when that light and roar came from Zrukhora’s direction. But there’s no way I’m going to consent to taking a child with us for the rest of this. She’ll only slow us down.”
Pari slowly reached into her cloak and felt around on her side until she found one of her two sleepcandles. Hopping off the log, she approached the two arguing woodspeople.
“Well I’m not leaving a small child in the middle of the most dangerous forest in Kutrad,” Erini-person hissed. “I don’t care how she got this far. Leaving her here is a death sentence. What would my ancestors think of me if I-” She halted mid-sentence as she noticed Pari just a few steps away. “Is something wrong, Pari? What’s that in your hands?”
Pari lit the candle, held it up towards the both of them, and held her breath.
A little while later, once the breeze had cleared out the sleep gas, Pari stood over the unconscious forms of the two hunters. They seemed so harmless while asleep, but they knew. And Pari couldn’t let them know. She’d promised.
Placing a bangcandle upon each of their skulls, she lit the wicks and ran back. Moments later, two loud, wet bangs told her everything she needed to know.
It was a shame, really. They hadn’t been bad people, especially Erini-person, but this was what happened to the weak. Grandfather had said so many times. She would not be upset over the simple way of the world.
Yes, they’d been faster than her, and bigger than her, and physically stronger than her, but she’d won. It had been easy, too. That meant she was stronger than them, and they were people who hunted jaglioth cubs.
Pari had seen jaglioth corpses before. Their bodies were huge; while nowhere close to the size of a Person, jaglioths were still easily the largest beast she’d ever seen. If those two people hunted jaglioth cubs, then they had to be pretty strong themselves. Which meant only one thing: Pari was very strong. Super strong, even!
Maybe she didn’t need to worry so much after all. If she accidentally let slip her secret again, everything would be alright as long as she was stronger. Though, she figured she should still avoid people when possible, and try to do better keeping her secret when she did run into some. She had a lot of bangcandles, but possibly not enough for all the people in the world.
Content with her decision, Pari curled up beside the fire and went to sleep.
Pari blinked as a sunbeam peeked through the forest canopy and flashed across her eyes. Even after a handful of days out of the cave, she still wasn’t used to the light of the outdoors. Bazzalth-grandfather had not let her go out of the cave very often, and even in those rare cases, she didn’t stay out for long. Even in this place, where the light was filtered by the myriad leaves and branches above, she found everything to be too bright.
Closing her eyes to that light for a moment, Pari sniffed deeply, taking in the scents from all around her. She smelled a variety of plants and insects, all of which she’d already harvested, as well as several small animals, though they all seemed to be rather far away from her. The gentle wind shifted slightly and she sniffed again and paused. Just on the edge of her perception, she smelled two new things: a plant she didn’t recognize, and jaglioths. Giddy at the chance to harvest new material, she headed towards the smell.
It had been three days since she’d left Erini-person and Parlo-person at the campfire, and she’d made good progress on her journey. Journey to where? She wasn’t entirely sure. Absent a clear destination, Pari’s mind kept coming back to what Pyr-teacher had said once: that there was a big forest with other people who looked like her somewhere to the south. Clearly, this was not the right forest, so she decided to keep moving south in the hopes that she would soon find it. Perhaps she would find a better destination along the way. But those were long-term concerns. What mattered now was this plant.
Not too long later, Pari spotted a bush with wide yellow triangular leaves. Giddy as could be, she dropped her sack, opened it up, pulled out some tools, and got to work. She was so happy with her discovery, in fact, that she almost didn’t notice the growl.
Just up a nearby hill stood a jaglioth, the first live one that Pari had ever seen. It glared at her and bared its large teeth as it growled even louder, taking several steps down the hill towards her with malicious intent.
Pari didn’t feel even a hint of fear. After all, not only was she stronger than the jaglioth hunters, making her also stronger than a jaglioth, but Bazzalth-grandfather had also taught her just what to do.
Rearing up, Pari let out a growl of her own, one fashioned after the powerful growls of her grandfather. His growls always terrified Pyr-teacher, and Bazzalth had told her how important it was to instill fear in one’s foes.
The jaglioth growled back, taking more steps forward.
Pari growled again, louder this time, and the jaglioth stopped in its tracks. It stared at her and sniffed once, and then again. Then, letting out a small, pitiful whimper, it turned tail and fled as fast as it could.
Pari laughed as she went back to harvesting her materials. Of course she was stronger than a jaglioth—so strong that it didn’t even dare face her. It simply made sense.
As she watched the third lizard in three tries scurry beneath the rocks and out of her reach, Pari couldn’t help but gnash her teeth in mounting frustration. She just couldn’t understand. She was strong. Very strong, in fact. This was not even conjecture at this point; it was established fact. So why couldn’t she seem to hunt anything, no matter how hard she tried?
Hunting should have been easy. With her sense of smell, she should have been able to track down the tastiest of morsels, but almost all of them ran away before she could even see them. She had no idea how they knew she was coming. Most of the time, even being quiet and sneaky didn’t help much.
But then there were the times when being quiet and sneaky did help, the times when she’d be able to get less than thirty steps from her prey. Those times were the worst. Despite trying for days, she had yet to successfully hunt even a single animal. They always seemed to sense her coming and get away at the last moment before she pounced on them. How? Why? She didn’t know. All she knew is that she was very hungry and that there were only so many plant stems and leaves she could eat before she never wanted to eat them ever again.
The prey that stuck around, the ones she seemed to almost catch, largely consisted of lizards ranging from the size of her hand to the length of her arm. She’d never caught a single lizard. She’d killed several with some well-timed bangcandles, timing the wick and throwing them just before they went off, but that had proven too effective at slaying her prey. A bangcandled lizard was little more than a stain on the surrounding area. There was nothing left to eat.
Grandfather made it sound so easy: just swoop in and grab your prey. Simple! But it seemed that Pari was deficient somehow. And her deficiency was getting worse the hungrier she got.
She’d looked for alternate food sources, but so far she’d found little luck. The few dead animals she’d come across had already been stripped of their flesh, with few remaining intact bones from which to harvest marrow. Eggs would have been another, very convenient option, had she started her journey a little later. According to what Bazzalth-grandfather had taught her, lizard mating season was just beginning and the eggs wouldn’t be laid for another thirty or so days.
This was too hard! Giving up on this area, Pari moved on, continuing ever southward. She’d been traveling for many days and many steps, moving through the forests and avoiding people as best she could. How much farther would she have to go? Surely she was close by now, right?
Pulling out some edible grass she’d harvested that morning, she bit into it and fought back a gag. Her stomach groaned a dual protest of disgust and need. Her hunger was all that kept her chewing.
The sun was well on its way towards its bed when Pari halted in her tracks. She could smell another lizard upwind, a big one. It hadn’t run off yet!
Her heart pumping with desperation, she quietly set her sack down and crept forward, moving so slowly that the sun touched the horizon by the time she spotted her target. But it had paid off. The lizard had yet to move.
Her mouth started to salivate at the thought of the creature’s roasted flesh. What a big one it was, too! From head to tail the length of Pari’s leg, it would provide her ample nourishment for days to come... if she could hunt it.
Pari hesitated. The lizard sat in a fairly open, rocky outcropping. Without anything large enough to hide behind, she couldn’t see an easy way to sneak up on it. To make it worse, she could see a hole close by that the lizard would be able to flee into well before she got close enough to strike.
Would she be able to hit it with a bangcandle at this range? She doubted it. She wasn’t that good a thrower, and most of her other “successes” had been more luck than anything else. But there was one other option...
She’d saved her last remaining sleepcandle for an emergency. Her sleepcandles had already helped her out of jams twice. The problem was, she couldn’t make any more. Was this a big enough of an emergency to use her last one?
Pari’s stomach gurgled as if to answer the question on its own. But it didn’t have to, because the rest of Pari agreed with it. She wanted, nay, needed meat! No more eating these plants! If this wasn’t an emergency, she didn’t know what was! Besides, she hadn’t run into anybody or anything dangerous in a long while, not since she’d gotten good at staying in the woods and avoiding people. It would be fine.
The sleepcandle arced through the air and spewed forth its powerful contents. Though the lizard made a mad dash for its hideyhole, it fell unconscious before its full body made it inside. Success!
Pari ate well that night, and for several days after.
Rocks. Rocks, rocks, and more rocks. Staring out at the world below from her perch atop the small cliff, Pari searched the horizon for some semblance of a tree and found nothing of the sort. This was new.
Bazzalth-grandfather had deposited her in the southwest corner of the mountains she called her home. Since she’d stayed put for that entire day, waiting for him to possibly return, Pari had been given plenty of time to get the lay of the land. To the south was another range of mountains—more like overgrown hills, really—that ran straight south along the coastline on the west, which also ran south. To the east, the land was much flatter. That was where most of the people lived.
Pari’s journey has been a fairly straightforward one so far. She’d headed as straight south as possible, using the stars and the sun like Bazzalth-grandfather had taught her to help her navigate, and stayed away from the flat land where the people lived as best she could. It had been a journey of trees and underbrush, of obscured vision and shadows, of myriad scents and sounds surrounding her.
But now, she found herself with no more mountains upon which to travel, and what lied ahead looked to be the complete opposite of her journey so far. Pari looked down at a vast desert of stone, a maze of cracks and chasms stretching as far as the eye could see, and sniffed deeply to take in the desert wind.
Dryness. Of all the scents she picked up, water was not among them. Not even a drop.
Pari’s gut rumbled its concern and she took out her storage of leaves, pulling away the wax shell with disdain for the contents inside. She placed several choice bits in her mouth and began to chew as best she could, her jaw strength weaker than it had been days during those nice few days when she’d had that lizard meat to eat. It had been almost eleven days since she’d run out, and try as she had, she’d utterly failed to acquire more. It had gotten to the point where she’d even contemplated heading east and looking to take meat from a village somewhere, but she’d decided against it. She didn’t want to lose her path.
Hunger didn’t make the leaves taste any better, but Pari did note the abundant water within them. Turning back to the mountain, she reentered the forest to harvest as much as she could. And hadn’t there been a small stream about half a day back? Yes, she remembered hopping over with a giggle just that morning. She needed to stock up on as much water and food as she could now because it didn’t look like there would be much for her to find for the next few days.
Not once did Pari consider turning back or averting her course. The mountain forests had been interesting to travel through, but they didn’t appeal to her as a place to live. There just weren’t any good caves. The people living to the east didn’t hold much appeal either. The one destination that held her interest was the southern forest, the one where the people like her lived. She didn’t know why, but she found herself enticed by the thought of others that looked like her. If she had to go somewhere, why not there?
Almost unconsciously, Pari’s right hand brushed against the semi-rubbery sleeve on her left arm. Her grandfather’s gift no longer felt awkward and uncomfortable, feeling instead like a natural part of her body. Touching it gave her courage, reminding her that a small piece of him was with her no matter where she went. If she had to travel through this desert to get to this great forest, then that was what she was going to do, and no stupid rocks were going to stop her.
Her arm shaking with strain, Pari grabbed the withered plant root and tugged it out from a small crack in the stone. Eagerly, she broke the root open and began to suck out the small amount of water within. The feeling of the liquid running down her throat soothed her disturbed spirit, though only for a moment. Then her thirst returned, just as strong as before. It was enough to make her cry, except she was too hungry to manage that.
This desert stretched further than she’d thought possible... or maybe she’d just gotten lost.
Navigating by the sun and the stars inside a forest had not been the easiest task, but she’d found it fairly doable. Enough gaps existed where she had been able to check her heading from time to time, and then she had just traveled south. If she really needed to, she could always just climb a tree.
None of this was possible here in this terrible place. She could check her heading all she wanted when she could see the sky, but once she was within a cranny, all direction became meaningless. She could enter a crack in a massive stone slab and start heading south, only for the crack to turn west, then south again, then east, then north, and she would emerge on the same side she’d entered! And those were the lucky ones. Most of the time, the cracks terminated in a dead-end, leaving her with the choice of climbing or turning back.
The choice was a difficult one every time. Climbing atop a rock let her make great progress for a short while, but it took a load of work and strength to climb up these clamber vertical walls without leaving her sack behind, and she refused to abandon her sack under any circumstances. Even when she did make it atop a boulder, that only lasted as long as the boulder lasted. Soon enough, she’d have to make way back down, which could be just as hard as climbing up in the first place.
Those choices were mostly gone now. She felt far too tired and weak now to climb anything with her sack anymore. Pari’s food had run out three days ago and her water two days ago. The only thing that kept her alive was the trace amounts of water within the roots of the seemingly-dead plants that grew sparsely across this wasteland. These roots held onto their water dearly. Even her exceedingly powerful nose had barely detected any hint of moisture before she’d broken one apart.
This night, Pari found herself sitting in a large hole she’d stumbled upon inside a massive boulder. The hole reminded her of her grandfather’s lair, only much smaller. It had four tall stone walls and a mostly flat stone floor, much like the cave she’d called home for so many years. It had a crack which led to the outside, wide enough for two Paris to stand shoulder-to-shoulder, much like the exit to her old home. Only the lack of a ceiling kept this place from being a mini-lair.
Pari had originally felt attracted to this place because of the similarities between the two locales. Now, however, the similarities just left her with a feeling of loneliness and despair. Stuck in this place for the night, she found herself unable to push away thoughts that she’d successfully kept out since her journey began.
Those thoughts all boiled down to some version of the question: was it her fault that Bazzalth-grandfather had sent her away? He had been very clear at all times that she had done nothing wrong, but no matter what she did, she could never shake the feeling that it was her fault and that if she had been better somehow then she would still be sleeping every night wrapped up in her grandfather’s warm hide.
Maybe she was just too weak. Maybe she was just never a real Person, so she’d needed to leave. Maybe, somehow, if she’d found her Hoard, she would have been able to stay.
Bazzalth-grandfather had instructed her to become strong and to find her Hoard. She was strong now. But her Hoard still eluded her. Right now, she felt like she could Hoard water, but she knew that wasn’t a real Hoard. She had taken his explanation to heart and had searched for a hole within herself, one that she felt the need to fill no matter what, but she always came up empty.
Pari sniffled, the dry air running up her parched nostrils and drying her out a little more with each breath. Her right hand wrapped itself around her arm sleeve, her fingers squeezing it tight. She missed Bazzalth-grandfather dearly. She missed him and the cave and the glow sacs and the mountains and everything more than she could imagine. She missed her home so much that she could almost smell the meat her grandfather would roast for her every day.
Pari’s depressive spiral came to a screeching halt mid-plummet as she sniffed again, her nose picking up the smell of roast lizard and smoke more clearly with each successive sniff. This wasn’t her imagination. Somebody was cooking food, and they were relatively close by.
She needed this food. She needed it desperately. Her entire body yearned to consume every last morsel of the source of this divine aroma. Before she was even aware of what she was doing, Pari found herself halfway through the crack that led outside. She stopped herself for a moment and looked back. Her sack sat in the stone hollow, where it would be safe. As for what she had on her, she had several smokecandles and a handful of bangcandles. She had been too weak and tired to spend energy replenishing her candle stock since entering the desert, but she knew that what she still had would be more than enough.
Pari kept track of the twists and turns as she made her way towards the scent of pure deliciousness. She would need to remember how to get back once she had obtained her food. Some of the natural crevices were fairly small, to the point where an adult-sized person would have to bend over to fit through, but she could make it through without issue.
It wasn’t long before she found what she was looking for. Another large boulder had a big crack running vertically right through the center. She could smell the sizzling meat coming from within. With strength born of hope and hunger that she hadn’t possessed in days, Pari scaled the outside of the boulder and approached the center of the crack from the top. Looking down, she spotted a small group of people clustered around a small flame. Above that flame was her prize.
Several warnings screamed at her in her mind, various non-food-related scents setting off alarms within her, but Pari didn’t even notice them. Her mind was consumed by a desperate need to consume.
Quickly, Pari worked out a simple plan. It seemed clear, given that she’d managed to get above them without them noticing, that her best bet was to drop some candles down onto these people. But which? Bangcandles would probably be the most effective way to get her hands on the meat, but images of lizard guts splattered across rocks and tree trunks—the end product of her attempts at hunting with the explosive cylinders so far—flowed through her mind. No, she needed to go with her second option, smokecandles.
First, she would drop a smokecandle onto them, turning the space within the crack into a smoky haze and confusing the people below. Then she would jump down, seize her prize, and run before they had any idea of what had happened. If, by chance, they did manage to chase her, she would be able to easily lose them in the twisting pathways that led back to her little hideaway. Besides, why would they even bother? They’d already demonstrated the ability to get their hands on these lizards—how, she had no idea; she hadn’t even seen any in the desert this entire time—so they could always just get more. It would be much easier than trying to chase her when she was long gone.
Pari pulled out a smokecandle and lit it, waited a moment, and dropped it down into the crack. Moments later, she was sprinting out of the crevice, weaving around and over smaller rocks as she retreated with her prize in hand.
Pari’s ears picked up the sound of footsteps behind her. She glanced back to find a giant of a man gaining on her with startling speed. Nearing her first turn, she pulled out a smokecandle, lit it, and dropped it behind her as she ran as fast as her body could manage.
She heard the people yelling to each other behind her as she continued to run and she hoped that they were talking about halting their pursuit, but the giant came rushing through the smoke just a few moments later. He caught sight of her immediately as she sprinted toward the next turn in her escape route and sprinted towards her, his speed far faster than anybody that large should be capable of moving.
Worry gripped Pari. Why were these people still chasing her?! It was just a few lizards! How big a deal could that be?!
Apparently, she needed to dissuade them a bit. As she ducked to the left and entered another crevice, she lit another smokecandle and dropped it behind her, following that up almost immediately with a bangcandle just after that. The giant barged through the smoke as the bangcandle exploded, its blast showering her pursuer with bits of nearby rocks. She heard him grunt, but she kept going, not daring to peek. As she turned into another crack, she heard the sound of them moving forward again and despaired.
This whole situation was not just bad, it was super duper terrible! Why did everything have to go wrong now, when she was already so hungry, thirsty, and tired? She’d never thought that the meanies behind her would keep chasing her forever over some food! If only she’d made some stickycandles after all!
She dropped her last bangcandles behind her as she ran, her body fueled by little more than desperation at this point. Soon enough, she found herself back in her little almost-cave hideout, trying to figure out what to do. The smell of the still-warm lizards wafted into her nostrils and she bit into one, reveling in the warmth, the moistness, and the crunch of its tiny bones. It tasted so good that she almost forgot her circumstances as she gobbled up more and more.
Her body already feeling lighter, she swung her sack up and over her shoulder, preparing to tie it around her so she could scale the high stone walls, when her ears caught the sounds of footsteps. She turned to find three of her pursuers entering the enclosure. Blood dripped from all over their bodies, but they were very much still alive and, judging from the expressions, very, very angry.
Perhaps for the first time in her life, Pari felt fear. She didn’t so much think as simply react, dropping everything in her hands and leaping up onto the wall behind her, her tiny hands grasping at tiny handholds that no adult could ever hope to grasp.
“Ya aren’ gettin’ away!” the giant cried out.
Pari turned back to see a massive spear rocketing towards her. She tried to jump away, but the weapon closed in too fast and she only managed to barely avoid it. Instead of piercing through her, it pierced through her cloak and embedded itself deep into the stone behind her, trapping her against the wall two Pari-heights above the ground.
Scrabbling to keep her purchase on the wall with this new impediment, she turned to face her attackers and let out a growl. Without any more bangcandles, her only hope was to scare these people away like she’d scared away that jaglioth.
“Rawr!” she growled, just like Bazzalth-grandfather had taught her. “Raaawwwwrrr!!”
It wasn’t working. Why wasn’t it working?! It had worked on the jaglioth, and that had been much larger than even this man’s considerable size.
The female person pulled out a small blade and wound up for a throw. Pari squirmed and closed her eyes.
“STOP! DON’T HURT HER!”
Pari let out an involuntary gasp as a new scent found her nostrils. No, it wasn’t new, she realized; she’d smelled it before when planning her food heist, but she’d been so food-crazed at the time that its significance had failed to register on her. It was a familiar scent she’d only smelled from two other beings in her short life: the smell of power. Pari’s nose told her that the other three were relatively strong as far as people went, but this was on a whole other level. This reminded her of her grandfather... or maybe even Tavreth-meanie.
The smell came from the woman who’d just appeared and started yelling at the others. Pari’s head swam as she watched the others stop, especially the woman about to throw the knife. Yes, this made perfect sense. The strongest person was the boss, after all. It only made sense that the new woman would be the boss of the others and they would respect her.
After more yelling and arguing, the three others put down their weapons and the strong woman turned towards her. Pari stiffened as she moved closer and held out her arms with a smile.
“Hey, sweetie... come on down from there. Nobody is going to hurt you.”
“Rrrrrrarw!” Pari replied. Pari didn’t trust this person just because she reminded her of Bazzalth-grandfather. It would take a lot more than a smile and a smell to sway Pari’s iron conviction!
The woman reached into her pants and pulled out something. Pari’s eyes went wide as her vision tunneled in on the dried meat in the woman’s hand. Her nose picked up the salt and the smoke, causing Pari to hesitate. Maybe the woman was a nice woman?
No! She’d fallen for this trap before, and then she’d had to kill those people. She wouldn’t fall for it again. Although... that piece of meat was bigger than Pari’s whole hand. She could feel it calling to her...
No! Pari steeled her heart against her temptations. But she was still so very hungry. And even if this female person was good, food-giving person, there was still the matter of the three others behind her. But the smell of the meat...
“Don’t worry about them, sweetie. They’re a bunch of big meanies, but big sister Sofie will make sure they don’t hurt you, okay?”
The word struck her like a blow from Bazzalth-grandfather’s mighty tail, nearly knocking her senseless. She’d heard her grandfather speak the word before, but never had she experienced such meaning behind it. There was a depth and breadth of caring and togetherness within the world that shook her to the core and left her nearly speechless. She felt like she’d felt this before, but when? What was with this surge of familiarity so strong it threatened to sweep her away like an avalanche cascading down the mountain outside her grandfather’s lair?
“B-big sis...?” she barely managed to say.
“Big sister Sofie will protect you from those meanies, don’t you worry! Now come down and have something to eat, okay?”
The word struck her again, hitting her soul with a ground-shaking surge of affection. This time, something gave. Her world inside her was like a cave, filled with all the joyous and sorrowful experiences of her young life. It always had been, as long as she’d lived. Only now, one of the cave walls crumbled, revealing a whole other cavern of experiences hidden away seemingly forever. No longer bottled up, the experiences surged forth. The avalanche of memories crashed over her, and Pari remembered everything.
She remembered her father, how he was big, strong, and always so quick to laugh. She remembered the way he would kiss her forehead as he left for a job, and the way he would pick her up and swing her around with a wide smile on his face when he finally returned. She remembered the pain she’d felt when she’d finally realized that he wasn’t ever coming back, the agony ripping through her now just as torturous as it had been then.
She remembered her mother, the calm, collected woman who’d always been the first to hug her when she was sad. She remembered her mother’s tasty meals, and the way she would conscript Pari to help clean the house while somehow always making it all into a fun activity for them to share together. She remembered the day when the men had come to tell her that her mother had been found dead in an alley with a dozen stab wounds and that she would have to go to an orphanage.
No, not she, they.
She remembered her brother. Erdi. The boy who’d been there for her when nobody else had, who’d protected her from the beginning to the very end. She remembered the desperation in his eyes as he pleaded with her to escape, to run away and be free, and how she’d run and... and...
Mother, Father, Brother... She missed them and she wanted them and she needed them oh so desperately, but they were gone now. Gone forever.
What little desperate strength Pari still had evaporated into the night air. Her hands released their grip and she fell into Sofie-person’s waiting arms. Tears she didn’t know she had flowed like great rivers as she let out years of sadness all at once, bawling like there was no tomorrow.
Sofie-person pulled her in tight, smothering Pari in her embrace. She stroked Pari’s matted hair and she whispered soothing words softly into Pari’s ears.
“What’s your name, sweetie?” the woman asked.
“P-P-Pari...” the girl managed to gasp out.
But no, that wasn’t right. Clansnarl. Pari Clansnarl. That was her name. She just couldn’t bring herself to say it, or anything more for that matter.
The woman didn’t seem to mind, pulling her closer and burying Pari’s face against her soft chest. “Pari... that’s such a nice name!” she said calmly, almost like how Mother would have said it. “Now just let it all out, okay? Everything’s going to be just fine.”
Pari didn’t need to be told. She couldn’t have stopped herself even if she wanted to. All she could manage to do was gush forth, a fountain of anguish accompanied by soft mutterings of the woman who held her so lovingly.
Sofie-person’s scent filled her world as she sobbed. She liked this scent, she realized. It held not only the power found in Bazzalth-grandfather’s scent but also the warm, reassuring feeling of safety and security that told the terrified, despairing child inside her that everything was going to be alright.
This woman, this Sofie... she’d declared herself Pari’s sister. Pari had never had a sister before, but now she realized that she wanted one more than anything. She wanted Sofie-person’s warmth, her companionship, her love. She wanted Sofie-person to be Sofie-sister, and so, much like how Bazzalth had become Bazzalth-grandfather, Sofie-sister she became.
Something inside Pari clicked into place. It was like there was a hole inside her, one that cried out to be filled at any cost. The hole felt just as ravenous as before, endless in its insatiable hunger, and yet at the same time, it felt fuller. The need remained, and yet simultaneously it had been mollified.
Pari rubbed her head against Sofie-sister’s shoulder and breathed in more of her scent, luxuriating in the peace that her sister’s presence gave to her soul. Of course. It was all so clear now, so obvious, that she couldn’t believe she hadn’t realized it from the very beginning.
She would hoard Family.