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A note from Michael Adams

Aaaayooooo! Another chapter in! It's a... well it's a touch darker, but the next handful of chapters has a few heavy moments, so bear with it for now! This isn't going to be the tone for the rest of the story, but there are going to be times where hard things happen to the characters. 

So far, though, everything seems to be going well! We are at rank 256 as of this 3 AM check up and we are still going strong! I wonder if we need more people to come across this or not. Who knows? But, if you'd like and you haven't yet, feel free to give us a rating and we'll see about rising a bit higher. We're allllmost on the front page for rising stars!

As for the Patrons, thank you to the following: "Karl Tageman," "Alan," "Andrew Read," "scott kostuik," "Infinite Mangos," "IrateRapScallion," "Death2moo," and "mly85lc"! Thank you all again for the financial aide and support! I'm getting closer to just doing this fulltime and not needing to do anything but feed more of the story to everyone, so thank you for that! As for all of the readers here, thanks again, as always, for the positive engagement and being open for more people to join in conversations. It's always fun to read theorycrafting, also, so if you feel like doing so, go for it! I do enjoy reading what you guys think will be happening!

Aaaand that's that for now! I'm going to hopefully be getting a new banner for the Patreon soon that is directly relevant to "Cheep!?" so keep an eye out!

...Though I'll definitely mention it here, so either way you'll know!

Anyhoot, I hope you enjoy the chapter and have a wonderful day as always. :D

 





The inside of the cart was filled with a sense of dread that only seemed to have worsened over the course of their trip. Dane and the three other remaining Oath-Sworn either lay on the now spacious floor or curled up on themselves, hugging their knees to their chests. Even now, Dane didn’t know any of their names, and he tried not to take in too much of their appearances. One woman and two men, none that he’d ever actually worked with before, unlike a few that had been a part of the larger group not a few hours prior.

‘They’re dead now, though,’ Dane felt heat and bile rise up in the back of his throat, but somehow managed to keep it down this time. He was honestly terrified of what was going to happen to them, and as much as he felt guilty about it, was glad that he was at least still alive. After everything that had already happened though… It was absolutely doubtful that they would be allowed to live even when the job was completed.

‘How do we get out of this?’ He grit his teeth, clutching his hands together tightly to keep them from shaking. ‘They’re down in number, only five of them left. The leader is tier three for sure, but he should be running on fumes. This area can’t support that high of a level, but his co-captain is tier two, so he’ll be the big problem. I don’t know how much essence he burned, but he can at least benefit from the ambient essence more. The other three are solid tier ones… which is exactly one tier better than what we’ve got.” Dane summed up the people around him, fighting hard to keep the wave of depression from crashing down on him again when he finished. They’d be stronger and faster than him by virtue of their bodies having taken in essence, not enough to make the situation hopeless, except for the fact that he wasn’t some skilled martial artist, weapons master, mage, or anything else that could even the playing field.

‘Fighting is out,’ Dane continued mapping things out in his head, ‘gotta be smarter, sneakier. The way out isn’t through, it’s around and over.’ Dane was an architectural engineer, not a balls out combatant; and with that in mind he turned to look at the cages around him.

Unlike with his fellow man, Dane had always been able to work with beasts easily. He could have been a born tamer, if he’d wanted to pursue that path. When he was younger, he’d wanted to be one, but there wasn’t anything anywhere near his hometown that really spoke to him on the kind of level that would work. Instead, he had decided he wanted to be an engineer so he could build the facilities that tamers and their companions used. At least, that was until he came out here, and ironically began to feel a strange sort of connection to the beasts in the region. He’d begun to strongly consider trying his luck at being a tamer and an architectural engineer, after he was done with his Oath-Sworn duties. No one said he couldn’t be both, after all.

‘Focus on not dying first,’ chastened, he met the gazes of the Ironback Badgers, the Greenhound, and set his own eyes upon the still trembling form of the cat in a smaller cage. Idly, Dane looked up and around, checking to see if anyone was watching him.

None of the poachers had bothered stationing someone to watch into the cart. They didn’t need to, and they needed the manpower to check their surroundings as they delved back through the forest towards the city. When he looked to the other Oath-Sworn once more, though, Dane noticed that the two further from him, man and woman, were holding hands.

He noticed also the way they looked to each other, and the very different kind of oath jewelry around their necks. Dane felt his heart die a little as he realized that they were a couple. ‘The Oath is weakening,’ he tried to talk himself up, ‘Otherwise they wouldn’t be openly displaying affection to each other on the job.’

The Oath wasn’t so callous as to keep people away from each other, but while on the job, it did dissuade any Oath-Sworn couples from distracting one another or others from their work. That was a particularly controversial part of the Oath, and people would be a lot less willing to deal with it if it wasn’t for the fact that it immediately turned off when the job was done or a break was in effect.

But, they were able to do so now, and they didn’t look like they were in agony while doing it, just sad and depressed at their iminent demi-

‘That lines up with how I was able to cut the fabric, or leave the cart, even if it was brief.’ Dane forcibly shifted gears, contemplating things more, ‘Combat is still out, guaranteed. That’ll be damn near the last thing that’ll go, and we’ll long be in town before then. If we’re going into the town in the first place.’

Again, he looked to the beasts, trying to stretch his connection to them once more. He didn’t force the connection, that wasn’t the real tamer way. Instead, he led the connection across the essence field that the beasts had, his mind shaking at the effort of sustaining the feed.

In his mind's eye, it was like growing a branch outwards, trying to give a place of rest to any beast that wanted it. Everyone was different, and he’d heard it told that the form it took represented something in the tamer’s subconscious mind.

Thus, he wasn’t terribly surprised when neither the badgers nor the hound looked thrilled or interested at the connection. Even if it was more than mildly frustrating that they wouldn’t, it was for the best and expected - a tame bond might be subject to the Oath in the same way he was, and that would only further reduce their chances of escape.

They dimly recognized his essence, though, and they peered more closely at him, his thoughts and words trying to cross the gap between them. It was difficult to shape concepts to their minds, something that would be easier if they’d had contact with a human mind before. Still, it was progress, and while he couldn’t get anything complex through to them, that wasn’t necessary. They just needed to not attack the Oath-Sworn, and that would be sufficient.

Dane’s connection, pale and faint as it was, snapped off as his concentration waned. Outside of the cart, he could barely hear the muffled sounds of the men around the cart speaking. Moments later, the trundling movement of the cart beneath Dane stilled as their procession stopped.

‘They’re taking a break,’ Dane guessed. These people were unlike any kind of poachers he’d heard of, and indeed he wasn’t foolish enough to think that they were merely poachers. Current occupation aside, they were almost military in how they moved and followed orders, only breaking free of that mold when they were at ease and relaxed.

They were not at ease nor relaxed right now; they moved with all the purpose and sharpness of a warrior on duty. They maintained a strict schedule for breaks, and predictably, Dane heard one of them approaching the back of the wagon. His heart thundered in his chest, ‘Am I doing this? We’ll have one more rest stop before town if we’re lucky.’ Tightly clenched fingers held the key in his hand, he didn’t even remember taking it out from his sleeves.

‘Do it now. For all I know they’re going to kill us on this break to keep leaks from happening.’ A coldly clinical voice that belonged to Dane’s more cynical side pushed the decision forward. Smoothly, he managed to slip over quietly and quickly. Dane knew he had to be fast with this, and thankfully he didn’t need to worry about being all that quiet. There were muffling enchantments on the inside of the cart, meant to help keep down the snarling and howling of any captured beasts within its confines.

Dane pushed his mind as he slotted the key into the lock, noting the way the Greenhound was staring at him, ready to pounce and push through the gate. In spite of the headache that he’d earned from his previous session, he conjured forth another mental branch, extending it first only to the Greenhound. He probed for a way to a deeper connection, the foundation of taming, but the Greenhound was not willing for that level of a connection, and instinctively he felt that it would react violently if he pushed to that end. Instead, he suffered the weight of an attempt to touch upon its mind.

‘Wait.’ He sent through the connection with gritted teeth, hoping against hope that it would understand. When it stilled, Dane hoped that meant it would abide. The other Oath-Sworn noticed his actions then, a combination of terror, confusion, and suddenly hope alighting their expressions.

Without hesitation he clicked open the next lock for the Ironback Badgers, straining his mind agonizingly to maintain connections with the less-than willing to be patient beasts. If they wanted to be tamed by him, this connection would be as easy as breathing, but as with the Greenhound, they too were unwilling for a deeper connection. Dane added mentally, ‘They’re also fucking badgers. Crazy things.’

Thankfully, they assented to his general plan at least, knowing that the time for violence was rapidly approaching. That surprised him, he expected the badgers to be the most difficult.

Dane flopped down next to the cat's cage, fingers fumbling with the lock and turned away from the entrance. He didn’t have to try hard to look miserable, but he did force himself to be slanted away from the entrance flap as it opened.

Which ended up being incredibly wise, since his nose started to bleed from the effort of maintaining his previous connections.

The man said nothing for a moment, though Dane couldn’t look at his expression. He did notice that the one Oath-Sworn he could see out of the corner of his eye managed to look sufficiently beaten down and despairing. ‘Damn good actor. Unless they think this is going to blow up in our faces…’

‘Which is… fair.’ Admitted the probably-about-to-brain-hemorrhage Dane.

“Alright, break time, get outta the cart,” the man sighed aloud before turning around, muttering something under his breath whilst somehow managing to sound contrite at the same time.

Dane clicked the last lock open as the others clamored out of the cart. Whatever was going to happen, they knew this would be their only chance. As he dallied, pain mounted from the corrupted oath, forcing obedience through pain. He grinned, scooping up the cat and hopping down from the cart.

And came face to face with one of the tier one Guards as he was shining a light-pendant on his neck to the back of the wagon to illuminate it.

Confusion and then shock rolled through the man's eyes as he looked at the squirming, also confused bundle of fur in Dane’s arms.

“What are you-”

Dane’s connection to the Greenhound and badgers snapped with a mental pang that felt like he’d just been whipped between the eyes. Staggering low, he just happened to fall under the now full-tilt blurs of green, grey, and white that seemed to fall upon the man in a heap.

‘He didn’t even have time to scream,’ Dane distantly considered from the safe space in his mind. A safe space that rapidly became less solid when he realized the man's head was damn near severed from his body by the Greenhound’s decisive strike.

‘Ah, nope. I’m out, c’mon cat, let's get gone,’ Dane turned on his heel and broke out into a sprint. Already, he noticed one of the other Oath-Sworn had bolted, utterly vanished. The couple were less decisive, having tried to nonchalantly walk away into the underbrush ostensibly to handle their business.

That meant that the guard assigned to them must have been the one that was now mauled to dea-

‘Later, process the bad later.’ Dane picked up the pace, running straight out while hefting the cat to his chest. He pulled out blots of cloth and stuffed them into each ear as he did so, uncertain if the Oath needed verbally heard words or not.

The animals behind him went ballistic, and even through the cloth he heard the black armored men howl, enraged at what was happening.

Dane turned his gaze to the couple, noticing the man had stuffed his ears too. The woman hadn’t finished, though, one ear open.

A deep bellow sounded out, but Dane couldn’t make it out. The woman must have, though, because she froze on the spot with all the blood having drained from her body. Dane grit his teeth as the man panicked for a split second before pulling her with all of his considerable might into the forest.

‘Yes! Go, get out!’ He shouted in his mind, instinctively trying to make sure his ability to speak was still hidden. Dane was still running, putting trees between himself and his captors, when he felt the ripple of essence in the air.

A lance of gray force crossed through the open air, digging into the chest of the man as he pulled his wife with him. The Oath-Sworn fell backwards, eyes wide open in disbelief as he realized his fate was sealed. The expression was frozen on his face even as her own widened into a silent scream, somehow feeling a hundred times more heart rending to Dane than if she could scream aloud.

A kernel of hatred flared in his chest, but he couldn’t stop. The badgers and the wolf might be able to hold them for a moment, but that relied on them not simply running away at the first opportunity. If he stopped now, tried to help, his fate would be no different from what he’d already seen. Muffled sounds met him as he looked at the now panicking cat, and Dane almost felt glad that its frankly ridiculously sharp claws were poking at the skin of his chest and shoulder. It drew his attention to the present and away from things he couldn’t fix right now.

Also, it made him realize that the cat wasn’t attempting to escape him at all, seemingly aware that he was trying to help.

‘Good, just hang in there, we’ll be home free even if we just get lost in the forest.’ Dane still didn’t dare speak aloud, fresh terror suffusing his every movement. It didn’t matter if the enemies were higher tier than him, so long as they couldn’t find him out here, that would be enough.

No sooner than the thought had occurred to him did he feel a piercing pain in his calf. He shouted in pain, nearly staggering and falling, but somehow he managed to stay upright, darting quickly around a tree and slamming against it, just in time for several blurs to pass it, roughly at torso level. A cold sweat immediately broke out across his body, hot blood running down his leg from the knife embedded in it. If Dane had felt despair before, it was a true dread that coursed through him now.

A man was speaking loudly, farther away through the trees, but thankfully he couldn’t hear him. Dane considered his options, knowing that running was impossible now. With an injury, he would be slower, and in the first place the man must have had some ability to track him. What was even more despairingly unlucky is that he’d come after Dane, instead of the other Oath Sworn who’d managed to run, as selfish as that was.

‘Shit, shit, why? What the fuck am I supposed to do!?’ Dane felt his heart rate accelerate and lightheadedness began to creep in.

The bundle in his arms shifted, and Dane looked down to see the cub staring at him, terror and a expectant kind of hope shining within. It broke his heart to see it, to know that he wasn’t going to be anyone’s hero. Maybe the other man would get out, but he wasn’t so sure about even that anymore. Dane could practically feel the poacher encroaching on his position, but he didn’t know what he could do about it. He guessed that it was the second-in-command of the group, but even the second was leagues above his ability to do anything about.

Dane looked up then, feeling a strange flicker of essence above. There, sitting in the trees farther away, rested one of the most elegant and gorgeous birds he’d ever seen. Red Hawk’s were among the most revered tames, especially in his opinion, as they were fiercely loyal and dependable.

Dane squeezed his eyes shut, ‘If I can’t get away, please, please just get this one out of here. Give these fucking poachers nothing for their troubles. I send this prayer to Samut, O’ God of Vengeance, to see it through.’ Dane prayed, for perhaps the first time in his life with genuine hope.

He felt nothing for it, but he could only desperately wish that his prayer was received.

Idly, he also added, ‘And if you could utterly fuck them over any other way, I’d appreciate that too.’

With a force of will that he didn’t even know he had, Dane pushed his mind outward, constructing the essence branch to connect to the bird afar. He could feel the inquisitiveness there, the concern, and also the pity behind the barrier that separated the bird from himself.

‘Please, save him!’ Dane shouted out across the bond, holding the cat up into the air then, much to its surprise and fear.

For a few moments, nothing happened, but he could feel a torrential amount of intent shift behind the barrier that was the Red Hawk’s mind. Visually, he could see it shift on its feet for a moment, the double dark red chevrons on its chest and the silvery-gray feathers around its eyes marking it as a much more unusual pattern than he’d ever heard a Red Hawk should have. Short feathers ran up from its middle back to the back of its head. Before Dane could study it any longer, or dread that it would reject him, something else happened entirely.

What he didn’t know was that while he was examining it, so too had she examined him.

Dane sucked in a breath like he’d just been punched as the branch that he’d extended had suddenly broken through the barrier, and, in a way that felt natural, sensed the Red Hawk somehow alight upon it, roosting on the mental scape and deepening the connection in a way that he knew only a true tamer’s companion could.

He could feel a deep warm smile across the connection, almost in an elder sister kind of way.

“I’ll save him.” The voice, shockingly human, would have sent Dane staggering at the sheer implications of it, had he any time to care. Behind him, he could feel the essence of the man hunting him, and Dane let out a shout as he tossed the cub into the air. The bird - Gabby was her name, he realized, which almost forced a snort of amusement at the ridiculousness of the situation - swooped down as fast as a dart and delicately grasped the cub in her talons, careful not to pierce his skin.

Dane watched as they flew away, even as he realized a man was standing next to him, radiating dumbfounded shock through uncontrolled essence. That stopped quickly, though, as Oscar let out a tired sigh, pocketed his knife, and then punched Dane in the face hard enough to send him clattering across the ground to come to rest at another tree, unconscious.

He was still smiling, though.

“Gods damn this fucking forest,” Oscar groaned as he stifly walked over to the man who would be dead if not for the fact that Oscar had personally witnessed what just happened. “Thrice Venris cursed tamers and this thrice damned Kingdom…” he continued to grumble as he dragged the bleeding man through the underbrush back to the wagon.

“What happened?” A deceptively calm August asked as he stared at the carnage all around them. The corpse just behind the cart was the first thing he settled his gaze on. The man died instantly in the sneak attack, fairly agonizingly, he was sure, but at least it was quick. The next one had been hamstrung by a badger and had his guts torn out by its friend. Said badger was still sticking halfway out of the man's rib cage from when August stabbed it in the back of the head. The man had died moments before that, so there were two men in total that perished from the escape attempt. The last badger tried to get another kill, but August spent some of the precious last bits of his reserves - after having killed one of the fleeing Oath-Sworn - on killing that one too. Honestly, he should have conserved, but he was far too enraged to think clearly at the time.

That left him, Oscar, and his last remaining tier One, as well as two Oath-Sworn that he was contemplating beating to death with his bare hands. He wasn’t usually one to commit to violence wantonly, it simply wasn’t respectable and generally suggested someone of poor mentality and little above a savage.

But damn was he close to doing it anyways.

“Obviously someone got a key, or picked the locks,” Oscar sighed, looking as tired as August felt, “My money’s on the asshole right there.”

He pointed to the man with the braided hair, the very same one that had given August a defiant look a few hours before. That wasn’t anything to go off of necessarily, but his gut was telling him that Oscar was probably right.

“Right. I’m considering skinning him alive and leaving him out here. Given my emotional state, I’m willing to listen to either of you telling me reasons why I shouldn’t.”

The two other men looked around at the carnage, but, bless their hearts, still looked uncomfortable with the idea of outright torture.

“I dunno about you, boss, but I’d rather not see that kinda shit in my dreams. Got enough of that today. But, also, kinda a waste of time, yeah? Not like anybodies gonna know it was our group that did it, so it’s not even useful as a warning.” The tier One spoke, surprising August with how Gods-damned reasonable that sounded.

“Fuck. Alright, fine, pike him and be done with it,” August let a rare moment of fatigue through as he rubbed his closed eyes with his thumb and index finger. “Good suggestions, by the way, remind me to promote you later.”

“My pleasure,” the man responded dryly, immediately being raised a few more points in August’s book for being shockingly unflappable.

“We should hold off on killing him, sadly.” Oscar said while looking like he was unwillingly shoving something very far up his ar- “I’m pretty sure he tamed a Red Hawk as soon as he met it and got the fucking rat with wings to carry the cub away.”

The silence following that statement was deafening.

“Repeat that. I’m pretty sure I am on the threshold of my sanity leaving me and am hearing shit.” August’s eyes remained closed as he very carefully considered how he was going to skin Nobleman Karsk and then pike him in front of whatever town he happened to be in at the time.

Oscar repeated it, but then followed up with, “I don’t think this is actually fully a bad thing, though.”

“Samut’s arse it’s not.” August nearly hissed, before he reigned himself in with a deep breath. Getting angry at his second was not going to help things, “How, exactly, is it not as bad as I’m thinking it is?”

Oscar’s grin might have split his face if it was any wider, terrifyingly. “We can force him to point to where the hawk is, he’s still Oath-Bound, and he’s now connected to the bird.”

It was at this point that consciousness returned to Dane, just in time to hear what they were planning for him.

‘Samut, you are the most useless fucking god of vengeance I’ve ever heard of. Should have at least let me bleed out.’ Dane knew there was a reason he’d never prayed before.

 

—------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------

Gabby hauled the squirming cat in her talons, screeching at it in chastisement as it roiled around, “Hey, you little furball, stop moving around so much! Do you wanna splat against a tree?”

That got some stillness out of him.

‘Honestly, he’s as pigheaded as Yak…’ She rolled her eyes, distantly feeling her connection with the man. Gabby found it somehow comforting, in spite of the waves of negativity that constantly flooded the link. Luckily, she seemed to be able to dim any contact from that side to nearly nothing, so that problem wasn’t really an issue at the moment.

What was an issue was that she found her inner essence shifting somehow, as though it were mobilizing in a way that was inherently different than it was before. She’d been worried before she realized she actually felt stronger.

“I have to tell the others about this! Maybe we can all bond with that guy,” she let out a shrill cry of excitement. He’d seemed to be down on his luck, but Gabby had been able to feel that connection he’d extended, like being able to read the fine print of someone’s soul. She wasn’t sure why she thought that, but it was like being able to really see what someone was like.

Sure, he wasn’t some combat enthusiast, he wasn’t an active adventurer, and he seemed… oddly fixated on buildings, for some reason, but there was more under the surface. A will to do what was right, a long buried dream of adventure and excitement. It was something about his character, about the warmth she felt from deep in his heart that spoke to her on a level that she hadn’t realized she wanted to have in her life.

What that meant long term, she had no idea, but so far she was only experiencing benefits!

Though, she was aware that, eventually, that might mean that she’d have to leave the forest. But, frankly, she and her siblings all knew that was coming sooner or later. They could already feel the essence in their bodies reaching some kind of threshold. All they needed was a little push to go that last step, and they’d reach… whatever it is they were going towards. She wasn’t super sure, but that was fine! They’d figure it out together!

More squirming interrupted her thoughts.

“Child, calm yourself!” Gabby snapped, “We’re literally almost home, just hold tight.”

Apparently, shouting at it was not the right move, because it began to squirm and cry loudly. Gabby cringed, realizing she’d messed up. She slowed somewhat, letting out calming, cooing noises and with a low voice said, “Auntie’s sorry, she didn’t mean to scare you. We’re almost home, though, and Auntie promises to get some food in you when we do. That sound good? You hungry, huh little guy?”

While she wasn’t sure where the word ‘auntie’ came from, it seemed to carry a kind of warmth to it, a connotation beyond what she knew, but it worked after some gentle combinations of care and more cooing. Less than a minute later, they arrived at the big tree-nest, the other siblings all present with a variety of meat and other edibles in a pile. They were expecting Eldest to visit any day now, so they tried to keep at least some kind of stock on hand. They couldn’t expect him to go hunting for the whole of them every time he came to visit, after all.

“Uhh… Dear sister, are you planning on…” Pecky cleared her throat uncomfortably upon seeing the uncertain, scared cat under her wings, “Eating that poor thing?”

Gabby squawked a gasp before she sheltered the now violently shivering cub under her wings more fully, “Pecky! Why would I do that? You’re scaring the poor thing!”

Pecky winced, “Oops, uhh… Well, I mean I’m glad you’re not a sadist at least.”

The others also looked relieved, leaving Gabby gobsmacked, “You lot, do you think I’m a sadist?”

“Obviously not,” Talon said resolutely, though her body language said otherwise.

“Look, whatever, this is more important anyways,” Gabby shook her head in dismay before huddling around the cub, wings still sore from the flight over, “There’s some humans in the forest who caught other beasts. One of the humans was being chased by another human and got stabbed with a…-” she paused as the word came to mind, “-knife, and he did this weird essence connection thing to talk to me and ask me to take this critter. I apparently connected to him somehow and I feel stronger, but, I also said that I’d save this guy, so I did.”

The other birds looked around, before nodding, “Alright, so… You want help?”

Gabby felt warm at that, and nodded, “Yeah, not really sure what I’m doing. Also, I think this is the same cat from the other day, right?”

The others peered in close, but Owl was the first one to decisively nod, “Definitely the right one.”

“Why do they have him? Where’s the big one?” Talon cut in, concern painting her tone.

With a shrug, Gabby replied, “No clue. There were two badgers and this big green leafy wolf, but aside from that, I really don’t know. There were two groups of people, though, some wearing black armor and some not. The ones with black armor were definitely bad news.”

“They didn’t see where you went, right?” Talon frowned.

Gabby scoffed, “No, I circled wide and then came home, they can’t possibly track me in the air like that. I’m not as sneaky as Pecky, but I’m confident that I can’t be followed back.”

The others clarified several points while they also took the time to try to comfort the terrified cub. It wasn’t easy, but they did manage to get it to eat, and then settled him into a large spare nest cubby they’d made with the intent of inviting their eldest to stay with them if he didn’t want to walk all the way back to his nest at night.

Quickly, they went over the connection Gabby felt, but the group all slowed when they heard a near quiet whimpering from the nest they’d let the cub use.

“I’m not sure I like humans, Gabby.” Owl’s tone was icy, “This doesn’t feel good at all.”

“No, it doesn’t. But they’re not all like that,” Gabby shook her head before realizing she was already walking into the nest. Wordlessly, the others joined, seeing the cub with tears in its eyes, kicking in its sleep in a nightmare’s struggle.

Its nightmares faded away somewhat with the reassuring weight and warmth of five birds, who remembered once a long time ago they’d comforted someone else just like this. Warm and protected, the cub and hawks drifted off to a deep sleep as the evening began to draw its dusky hold upon the forest.

 

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Michael Adams

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