Braq, gojid Cradle ecologist.
Date [standardised human time]: April 19th, 2118
(18 years, 4 months, 15 days before the invasion of the gojid Cradle).
The family were wrapped in blankets against the chill air as Braq drove the buggy south-east across open ground. Imdi babbled in Turin’s arms beside him, his flat infantile face sniffling at the tickle of the wind. Ki-yu huddled beneath her poncho-raincoat, her muzzle sticking out into the cold. The trees were now barren of their leaves; a light frost transferring an eery quiet to the forest. Winter is tightening her grip, Braq ruminated.
The open ground slowly gave way to more rugged terrain, rolling hills and hidden valleys to the west. Beyond them, Braq knew, a great lake sat, and a frigid wind would be roaring up from it at this time of year. This was the same region that Ki-yu had been chased by Juran and Teraka. Braq had thought that the girl would be apprehensive about returning to the site of her near miss, but she had shown nothing but resolute determination, even excitement at finally getting out of the house in winter.
Their mission for today was to complete a survey of the shadow monitor population and observe if there was any loss of life due to the icy conditions. As they had found during the perigee, shadow monitors did not function well in the cold. Whilst the foothills provided the most ideal sunning positions this side of the estate, identifying what areas were better suited to the reptiles was critical to the survival of future introductions.
As risky as it was to bring the boy with them, they could not yet leave Imdi on his own, and all three of them would accomplish far more together than just a pair. But Braq was not taking any chances when it came to his family’s safety: they all had a radio handset, and the rifle would be in his paws the whole time. Ki-yu had strapped her radio to a belt tied about her right thigh, his grandmother’s knife, Talon, strapped to the other. At least she’s making good use of it.
The buggy started to climb as the terrain sloped up before them. A rough trail between the now leafless trees hinting at their last trip through here when they released the monitors three or so months ago. Exposed black roots and potholes shook the buggy’s suspension as Braq pressed on. Imdi gurgled against his mother, rising a chuckle from the parents; evidently that had shaken something loose. Eventually the trail came into a clearing. When they had released the monitors, the trees had been packed so close that it seemed like a wall of green and brown. Now the world was painted in muted tones of a charcoal impressionist: greys and blacks, whites and greys. Where once had been a lush undergrowth at the forests edge now only the spikiest, hardiest of brambles survived. The naked tree trunks rose up behind them, an infantry to the shrubbery’s thorny phalanx. Braq took in the very literal surroundings, a thick layer of snow crunching beneath his paws.
Hopping from the buggy Ki-yu padded up on all fours beside him, experimentally digging her paws into the snow.
“What’s this?” she said, pressing her nose into the white. When she pulled back the frost stuck to her nose, leaving her snorting and sneezing at the moisture. Braq laughed, first at her, then at the perfect nose-shaped imprint. Snickering, Ki-yu picked up a handful and threw it against his chest. The cold impact splattered up his neck, and he gasped in faux exasperation at her.
“Oh, that’s it!” he called out, and kicked a white cloud of ice at her. Ki-yu let out a joyful string of barks as she dodged the first wave, before jumping back and forth and standing up to kick more of it up at him. Turin chuckled from the other side of the buggy, preoccupied as she tied Imdi into a sack about her chest. Just as Ki-yu walloped him with a fresh pelting he playfully pushed her over into the snow, her giggle of surprise satisfyingly muffled by the impact. She pulled her face out laughing, rolled onto her back, and propped herself up on her elbows. Braq put his arms to his sides and stiffly fell face-first into the frost beside her. Ki-yu cackled with laughter at the sight, pointing at the snow now stuck to his face. Braq rolled onto his back beside her, and they laughed up at the grey sky above. They were still giggling when Turin peered over them, Imdi looking down from her breast.
“Well, at least we know there won’t be any monitors around here now that you’ve scared them off,” she chided playfully. She took them each by the paw and pulled them both to their feet. Braq nuzzled her on the forehead, holding her close as she protested friskily as the frost rubbed against her. “Bastard,” she whispered impishly behind a grin. Imdi nattered between them.
Feeling in high spirits, Braq shouldered the rifle, and they set off uphill. As they pushed through the brambles the snow layer dwindled, in some places vanishing entirely. Ki-yu looked back at the frost curiously.
“It’s called snow sweetheart,” Braq explained. “You know how when the clouds fill with water, they get heavy enough to fall? If it’s cold enough the rain falls as snow. It’s a kind of frozen water.” Ki-yu panted beside them, her long legs gracefully moving over the terrain in a way a gojid’s never could.
“So… when it gets cold in winter, it makes snow?” she said. “Huh. Wait… what makes it cold? And what is cold anyway?” Braq sighed in between pants as they pressed on. He heard Turin chuckle behind him. He paused against a tree and listened, his eyes scanning the forest around him. With reptiles, you usually hear them before you see them, his tutors voice rang in memory. For the moment, all he could hear was them puffing quietly.
“The sun is like a big ball of fire, kinda, and the Cradle flies about it in space in a big circle-ish shape. The further the Cradle gets from Kay-ut’s light the colder it is.” He set off again and raised a paw against her next question. “I think it’s Mama’s turn for a hard question, ask her to explain heat.”
“Oh gee, thanks,” she muttered behind him. They talked quietly as they made their way through the trees, the terrain eventually levelling off.
Ki-yu was about to circle back to the concept of gravity when she stopped suddenly. Turning as she heard something, she dropped to all fours and loped into the undergrowth. A few moments later there was a crash, followed by a slight hissing sound, and their daughter re-emerged carrying a struggling monitor in her paws. “Got one!” she said giddily.
Braq was mildly impressed, and a little unsettled, by the ease with which she had caught it. The monitor wriggled about in her grip before tiring and looked up at Braq with a blank look of resignation. Pulling out the tagger, he scanned the microchip implanted at the base of the reptile’s neck with a satisfying Bing! The device could function from a distance, so strictly speaking they did not even need to touch them. But they also wanted to measure them if possible, and it gave Ki-yu some excuse to catch something.
“One of the juveniles?” Turin asked, and Braq nodded. The monitor seemed to be eating well and was clearly growing. After taking some measurements they returned it to the brambles.
They picked their way in a random pattern further and further south along the hills, tagging and measuring monitors where they found them. Many they found sitting atop large platforms of stone, attempting to sun themselves in the grey clouded light. They were, Braq thought, rather easy to catch even by hand. The cold had made them sluggish, Turin even overturning a rock to find a pair sitting together in a state of torpor. This was, in-and-of itself a good sign; if some reptiles could find a satisfactory habitat to endure the harsh midwinter, then chances were the population would endure.
Once they sampled a dozen or so, the family stopped to have a mid-morning lunch. Turin gave Imdi a feed, the boy having been unusually alert as he took in the wider world beyond the lodge. Ki-yu morosely chewed through some kibble, her jaws and molars making quick work of the synthetic product. She never seems to enjoy it anymore… Braq thought. Ki-yu was still getting larger, but her growth had stalled somewhere around Braq’s waist. It is a plant-based product, maybe it’s not giving her all she needs.
Having stomached a new meal, the group continued south. Turin was extracting a pair of monitors nestled beneath the roots of a tree when Ki-yu whined and looked about. Braq released one he had just measured and watched her curiously. She squatted down next to her mother and ran a paw along the side of the tree, chewing her lip.
“Are you alright Ki-yu?” he asked her. She gave the tree a sniff, and then shook her head.
“I… think this is where I hid,” she said quietly. “From the men.” Turin paused beside her and retreated from the burrow empty pawed. Braq looked about the trees. They were alone aside from the rocks and the trees and the reptiles.
“We… can go now, if you want to,” Turin told her gently, rubbing a paw across her back. Ki-yu shook her head.
“No. I want… I think we should see if they’ve come back since,” she said, standing and looking uphill. Braq and Turin shared a glance, but they nodded to her. Braq drew the rifle, and they cautiously made their way up and over the rise. The trees were packed less densely here, and the silence of the forest became oppressive. Even Ki-yu’s soft padding steps crunched against the frost, so Braq and Turin’s footfalls felt needlessly loud and overbearing. Ki-yu paused for a half-second to sniff at the base of a tree, a remnant of a plasma burn scarring its surface. Turin let out a shaky breath beside him, and they locked arms for a moment to steady themselves. If she’d been found out here, so far from home… it did not bear thinking about.
They came upon a flattened semi-circular bowl in the terrain, enclosed on the windward side by a wall of dense brambles, tree trunks, and fallen wood.
“Here…” Ki-yu whispered, gesturing to a snow-covered log. “They shot him here.” The ground was undisturbed, the leaves having long turned to mulch and then rotted away. In the summer this would have been an ideal spot for an animal to den, with the tree to their back and the brambles around them. Idiots didn’t count on winter. Ki-yu padded about the area, her nose working the cold soil. She let out an exasperated grunt.
“The ground’s not keeping a scent,” she muttered. “Must be the snow.” She scratched at the brambles, running her paws through the dirt. “I think this might be the spot, but I can’t smell anything.” Braq brushed the snow from the log with the rifle’s butt, revealing another fading scorch mark beneath. Bastards.
“Which way did they come from?” he asked her. She sat back on her haunches and gestured with her head.
“South, I think. They had packs with them, but I don’t know where they would have slept.”
“Must’ve had a camp somewhere,” he said looking out at the barren landscape. Maybe they still do, came an unnerving thought. He shook his head.
“We shouldn’t linger here,” Turin breathed beside him, adjusting Imdi in his sack. Braq nodded.
“Let’s head back, see if we can find any more monitors,” he said, turning to see Ki-yu cantering off between the trees.
“Ki-yu?” he called to her, but she pressed on unabated. Shaking his head, he pushed between the brambles and followed her, Turin close behind. Where’s she going? He found her after only a short distance.
Ki-yu had a monitor wriggling in her paws but was not looking at it. Instead, she had stopped flat and was staring down at a patch of snow-sodden ground.
“It’s here…” she whispered. The parents joined her, and Braq’s spines bristled at the track in the snow. The paw-print was clearly a roht, already a little larger than his own. It’s growing fast… Braq grip tightened around the rifle.
“Expedition’s over,” he whispered. Ki-yu dropped the monitor which scurried off beneath the roots and pressed her snout deep into the track. Her hands curled as she tried to get the scent.
“Damn snow!” she grumbled. Braq chewed on his lip. We shouldn’t be out here with the kids… but we need to find that thing before it hurts someone. He turned to Turin who was looking around the forest with the calm certainty that sometimes comes to a person in danger. Her arms were sealed protectively around her sleeping son. Braq placed a paw on her shoulder.
“We need to get them out of here,” he whispered. Turin nodded, her eyes still scanning the woods. She began unslinging the sack from her arms.
“What’re you doing?” Braq asked her, confused. Turin turned to their daughter.
“Ki-yu,” she said firmly, “take Imdi and go wait with him in the buggy.” Ki-yu looked between them, conflicted.
“No, do as you are told.” Yes, good. Adjusting the straps Turin tied Imdi snugly around Ki-yu’s back, that way she could walk upright or run on all fours. “You keep your radio on and make straight for the buggy. If we get in any trouble we’ll make our way to you, not the other way around. No heroics, am I clear?” Ki-yu pouted but grumbled an affirmative. “Go on then. We’ll be no more than an hour,” she told her. Ki-yu looked up at them both, her long face hiding a vortex of mixed emotion and doubt.
“Don’t do anything stupid,” she said and padded off between the trees.
“Huh,” Braq said, “I guess she learned snark from you.” Turin rolled her eyes. “You should go too.” He added, more seriously.
“Like hell, I’m not leaving you alone. We’re not exactly setting out to find the thing, just… seeing where it’s going. Then we can set out properly once we know more and…” she left the last part unsaid. The creature needs killing. It is an unknown variable.
Following the direction of the pawprint they quickly found a trail through the shrubbery; the brambles being pushed aside by the movement of the predator. Braq tried to keep his profile as low to the ground as possible, ignoring how the unnatural posture pulled on his lower back. He led the way with the rifle at the ready, Turin close behind. Some more tracks became clear when they sporadically passed through the snow, and he gestured to them as they silently passed by. These tracks are recent… They found the tracks were working their way down the hill, toward the east. Twigs and small low-hanging branches had been broken by the predator as it skulked between bushes and trees. Braq tried to distract himself from his gnawing fear but could only read the terrible size of the long loping stride left in the monster’s path. What the fuck are we doing?
Something snapped a distance to their right, and a whimper escaped him as he span, ratcheting the rifles lever as he brought the weapon to bear. He just managed not to fire as the startled vyrryn bounded away, its long slender legs throwing its shaggy body uphill with haste. Braq let out a shaking breath, and Turin offered a wry, but nervous chuckle. They continued downhill, keeping as quiet as they could.
“Is that water?” Turin whispered after a short while. Pausing to catch his breath, Braq could just hear the trickle of a stream. As they reached the bottom of the hill, they found a small torrent of icy water cutting between the terrain. The tracks led south along the bank for a way before they stopped at the water’s edge. Did it stop for a drink? The roht had splayed its monstrous great forepaws in the mud, digging at the dirt like a child at play. But here the tracks seemed to stop.
“Where’d it go?” Turin breathed beside him, looking about the ravine. Braq scanned the surrounding embankments. It could be hiding between any of these trees, and we’d never know. His eyes drifted to the opposite bank, where he spotted the tracks exiting the freezing water. With a start Braq saw that the roht had doubled back. If it’s following the river back, then now its heading north-east towards…
“The buggy!” he hissed. He turned to Turin, her eyes bulging with fear. Oh, Protector, the kids! As if to mock him, the radio crackled to life.
“It’s here,” Ki-yu’s staticky voice whispered. “It’s right here.” Braq began bolting across the riverbank, Turin hot on his heels. He whipped up his radio unit with his left paw as he ran, the rifle priming in his other.
“We’re coming!” he panted into the radio. “Get your brother and hide! We’re coming!”
The couple sped along the waterfront as fast as their short legs could carry them. Turin was lagging, gasping behind him as her body still reeled from the damage of her labour. But it did not matter, Braq wanted her as far away from the monster as possible. A new hill rose before them, and he threw himself at it in a frenzy. Partway up, he tripped and stumbled over an exposed root. Scrambling against the bank, he dug his claws in, burs and thorns cut into his palms. Ignoring the stinging in his paws and the aching in his chest, he pulled himself up. The radio spat out another, more frantic message.
“It’s seen us!” No! Braq’s breath reverberated in his chest as he crested the rise, and he fought to keep his footing as he practically tumbled down north side of the hill.
“Ki-yu what’s happening?!” Turin’s panting voice echoed from both a distance behind him and the radio. There was no reply. As they raced downhill Braq could hear the horn of the buggy beeping insistently, followed by a resounding walloping sound, a screech of metal and shattering glass. Oh, Protector, Kay-ut the All-mother, whoever! Save them! Braq barely noticed that he had long outstripped Turin.
Nearing the edge of the treeline, Braq had just enough time to acknowledge a ferocious snarling howl when a moment later the brambles ahead of him blew apart, and he was thrown from his feet. The world span up and over and under him far too quickly to process, and the rifle was flung from his grip. He landed flat on his back; the wind being driven from him as several of his quills snapped against the packed dirt. The wooden infantry seemed to loom over him from all sides as he felt the footfalls of the massive predator he had collided with pacing around him. Gasping for air, he instinctively rolled onto his stomach to protect his soft belly, peering out at the monster in the woods.
The prey animal in him quailed at the nightmare before him, calling him fool for trying to stalk the stalker, yet screaming for him to find the gun that was no longer in his hands. But another terribly rational part of his brain entertained itself by describing his doom as best as it could. The roht was far from fully grown, maybe a year or two old. The ribs visible beneath its gaunt tawny fur told him it had not been eating well, but nevertheless it was already heavier than him. Its four short but stocky limbs rippled with a taught muscular grace, a long body stretched between them, and a long tail balanced out a massive head and jaws. It paced about him, snarling and spitting, swatting at its face with a great clawed paw. There’s something in its jaws, he realised. One of my quills? Finally ridding itself of the irritant, the monster turned toward him. A yellowing set of massive canines paired nicely with two golden eyes, and it snarled as it closed in. As his world narrowed to those terrible jaws, he recalled that his son had quills too.
The white-hot round hit the roht high between the neck and the shoulder blades, the surrounding fur immediately starting to alight as the plasma tore through the predator. The creature rolled from the impact, spitting out in pain. Turning, Braq saw Turin panting between two trees, the rifle in her grip. She ratcheted the lever and aimed at the roht again. Snarling, the predator duked to her left, then right, before retreating, the wooden soldiers seeming to close ranks around it as it fell back into the forest. Turin fired a shot after it, but Braq heard it embed itself in a tree trunk, the heavy footfalls staggering away. With a groan Turin fell to one knee, leaning on the rifle to support her.
“Are… you… okay?” she wheezed, but Braq did not answer her. He crawled, gasping, to the bloody something that had fallen from the monster’s mouth. No… please, no. He began picking through the dirt, searching for what he hoped he would not find. “What’s wrong?” Turin winced, standing. He let out a sobbing gasp as he found it.
“Ki-yu…” he gasped weakly and held aloft his grandmother’s knife spattered with red and blue blood. Staggering to their feet the couple pressed into the clearing.
The buggy had been pushed over, and now lay upside-down, it’s windscreen shattered. As they approached Braq groaned as he saw the distinctive red blood of an arxur smeared across the frozen ground. Turin knelt and picked up Ki-yu’s leg belt, the radio unit’s interface shattered.
“Ki-yu?!” Turin cried out desperately. Braq tried to speak but clutched his side in agony instead. “Ki-yu where are you?!” Here and there was a light splattering of blue blood, but the impressionist artist was apparently taking a sickening joy in discovering the colour red.
“Here…” came a weak voice from beneath the buggy.
“Help me!” Braq wheezed to Turin and they both heaved the buggy upright with a crash.
Beneath, Ki-yu straddled her brother protectively, panting as her features contorted in pain. The boy was unharmed, but trio of massive gashes tore through her raincoat where the monster’s claws had slashed her. Beneath lifeblood seeped out of her, her right thigh and rump were torn open. Her right hand was blue to the wrist with the roht’s blood where she had stabbed it.
“He went for the baby…” was all she said as the strength left her, and she collapsed atop him.
His daughters strange red blood was drying on his arms, his son crying in the backseat. The engine roared and groaned, the wind whipping their faces with a viscous lash as Braq pressed the canvas of the raincoat firmer against the wound. Faster, damn it, faster! He still had Talon clutched in one paw. When they finally tore down the track to the lodge, Braq was out of the vehicle before it had even stopped. He threw himself at a sprint inside, Ki-yu hanging limply in his arms. Books, cups, Spike, all of it save a lamp was thrown from the table with a single desperate motion as he placed Ki-yu gently atop it. Her slender chest still rose and fell softly. The muscle of her leg twitched and spasmed when he gingerly touched it. Turin appeared beside him with the trauma kit as he flicked the lamp on and brought it to the wounds. The raw red meat of his child was starting to dry, ragged strips of hide stretched across it encrusted with the dirt from the roht’s claws.
“They’re not deep…” he thought aloud, desperate to fill the room with something other than the smell of his daughter’s blood. “But it needs disinfecting, then we can seal it up, stop the bleeding.” Turin was already moving to disinfect some bandages, and he opened the pack of scalpels, and he clenched his fist as his claws shook.
She needs you… focus on your work. He took a breath and began cutting away the corrupted skin. Some morbid part of Braq remarked on how tough Ki-yu’s scales were, even at such a young age. If it had clawed Imdi… he put the thought aside as emotion welled in his throat. Focus!
Ki-yu was still passed out, but she twitched at each cut, her snout contorting reflexively. Turin placed on the table two bowls of bandages, one soaking in water and the other in the black-brown antiseptic. She ran her paw gently over the arxur’s head.
“She’s burning up!” she croaked wispily, dabbing the young girl’s forehead with a cool, wet bandage. The carved wooden table was starting to soak red, but Braq was satisfied that he had cleared away the worst of the ragged flesh. The parents began pressing the wet cloth to clean the dried blood from the horrid wound.
“How’s Imdi?” he asked Turin idly.
“I don’t think he’s old enough to understand what’s happening, but he’s clearly upset. I put him to bed.” I left my children alone… what was I thinking?! Through his tears he began dabbing antiseptic into the wound with shaking paws.
“I… it’s my fault,” he stammered. “I should have made them stay here, or– or– I shouldn’t have tried to find the roht, I–” Turin snuffled and shook her head beside him, brown-red fluid staining her paws.
“I sent them back to the buggy. This is no one’s fault, save mine,” she said. “All of us going out was the right decision, sending the kids back to the buggy was the right decision.” She pulled back the cloth and handed Braq the medical sutre-gun. “But this is my fault, okay?!” her voice quavered slightly, but the look in her eyes was solid conviction. No, I did this…
Snuffling he pulled the savaged flesh of her thigh together placed the glorified stapler on the wound. The first few went in with muted clunks, and the largest of the wounds was closed. It was as he was starting on the second laceration that Ki-yu groaned, then spat out a bark of pain. Her leg spasmed and her claws lashed out on instinct, knocking the gun from his hand. She kicked and bucked on the table, a scaly ball of hissing instinct and fear, desperate to get away from whatever was hurting her.
“Ki-yu!” Braq called out, trying to calm her. “She’ll rip open the wound!”
“Stop! It’s us!” Turin yelled over the girl’s hostile cries. Ki-yu tried to drag herself off the table, her beautiful dark sclera were crescent-shaped in animalistic fear. Braq grabbed her by the haunches and Turin managed to get a hold of her flailing wrists. Suddenly Ki-yu growled, her lips pulling back to reveal her wickedly sharp teeth that snapped and snarled at them. Their daughter seemed to melt away before them leaving only an arxur, scared and dark and full of rage. Her haunches still bucked beneath Braq’s paws, and he had to fight to hold her down. Her claws dug impulsively into Turin’s paws, blue blood mixing with the red on the table. Turin winced but did not waver. The three were locked together in an intimate and terrible conflict.
“Daughter! It’s us!” Turin said, her voice raw with emotion. “Don’t you know your parents?!” The predator’s snarl weakened a little, panting as her mind fought with what her fearful instincts were telling her. Her teeth were still bared, and her eyes held back some repressed aggression as she turned warily to Braq.
“Ki-yu, you’re okay, you’re home,” he told her. Her nose twitched and she licked at her pearly teeth before she slowly hid her jaws behind her lips again. She looked down at herself and blinked as she shook her head.
“What–? Ow–?!” she chattered out a rattling keen, all the energy and fight lost from her again.
“It’s okay,” Turin cooed, “just calm down.” Ki-yu winced and nodded weakly. Carefully, Turin released Ki-yu’s hands. Ki-yu only then noticed that she had clawed at her, leaving thin scratches over the back of her mother’s hands.
“Did I–? I didn’t mean to–!” she mewled, her eyes filling with tears.
“I know,” Turin said calmingly, running a bloodied and shaking paw over Ki-yu’s head. Braq collected the suture gun whilst Turin crushed some painkillers into a glass of water. He knelt beside the table so that they were at eye level.
“How do you feel?” he asked her.
“Weak… confused…” she said hoarsely.
“What do you remember?”
“I… called you… it… saw me…” she took the cup from Turin and gulped down the whole glass. “I… hit the horn to try and scare it away… Then… it flipped the buggy, and Imdi went–“ She gasped suddenly and tried to rise from the table. “Where’s Imdi?! Is– is he okay?!” They shushed her gently, patting her and pushing her back down onto the table.
“He’s fine,” Turin told her. “You kept him safe. Even if I did say no heroics.” She tittered then looked down at the partially sealed wound in her leg and let out a whimper.
“We’ve stopped the bleeding, but we need to close up the wound,” he told her, swallowing. “I’m sorry, but it’ll hurt.” Ki-yu chuckled dryly from the table.
“Hurry up,” she said. “It already hurts.” Braq let out a shuddering breath. My brave little girl… Oh, Protector what have I done?! Turin slipped her paw into Ki-yu’s hands, and the girl put her head back, before nodding shakily. Braq pulled the skin taught and pressed the gun to the wound.
Clunk. Ki-yu flinched at the sting. Her eyes screwed up and her great jaw muscles clenched taught.
Clunk. This time she remained perfectly still, but her nose worked furiously as she panted at the pain.
Clunk, clunk. She grunted, and her grip on Turin’s paw tightened. Braq moved to the final laceration.
Clunk. Ki-yu bucked violently and cried out.
“Ah-! Ow!” she panted. Turin ran her free paw over her head, shushing her gently.
“Must be a broken nerve in that one,” Turin murmured. Braq looked down at the gun in his hesitantly.
“Keep going!” Ki-yu urged him weakly. “Just do it!”
Clunk, clunk, clunk. Braq felt his chest tighten with every suture, a phantom echo of his child’s pain. The last suture went in, and Braq flung the thing aside. He rushed to Ki-yu’s side pressing his muzzle to her forehead.
“I’m sorry,” he whispered. “I’m sorry, I’m sorry, I’m so so sorry!” he stammered as Turin placed an arm around his shoulders.
They had brought Ki-yu’s bed into the living room, an acceptable risk to ensure she did not pull open her wound in her sleep. It would scar, of course; a clear record of her encounter. They had tried feeding her, but she found it difficult to eat. She had shrunken beneath her blankets, falling into a deep torpor. It’s just exhaustion, Braq hoped. She’ll need to keep her strength up after that.
Braq sat idly on the couch, his paws fidgeting with Talon. He had cleaned the table, washed off and made note of the damage to the buggy. Then he had cleaned the rifle and tried to brush the dirt from his broken quills. When he made Turin and himself a small meal neither of them had the stomach for it, so he’d washed up the dishes and the cookery for that. He sat on the couch, the blood of his daughter and a predator on his paws. The two types of bloods mixed as they dried, staining his paws an unnatural purple, near black in the din.
Turin appeared beside him; he had not noticed her approach. Her paws slowly passed over his palms, and she took the knife from him. The blood was still there. A warm wet towel was rubbed against his palms, the water pooling in a bowl beneath as it soaked into his cuts.
“It’s my fault…” he whispered, dimly aware of how the soap stung. Turin pulled the towel away and placed it in the bowl. Her own paws went over his, red and blue staining her fur.
“My paws are bloody too, lover,” she whispered. For the first time in hours, Braq looked up from his wounds. Turin’s stunning furry face smiled sadly back at him, her eyes full of tears. Braq reached for the towel and began cleaning her paws, breathing shakily.
“Not… your fault.” Ki-yu breathed out from her bed, and Turin choked on a gasp. “Not Mama’s, not Baba’s. Not even… roht’s fault. He was just hungry,” she grunted softly as she adjusted her posture, her face twitching slightly against her discomfort. Sniffling, Braq stood and knelt beside her bed.
“I hurt you. Forgive me…” Braq could barely get the words out. She let out a shuddering breath, what might have been a snort. Her dark eyes opened a sliver.
“Nothing to forgive,” she whispered. “Some hurts are worth it.”
“Some days you get the bear and some days the bear gets you.”
–Data’s Day. ST:TNG. 1991.