A surprise visit from Gray and Storm's father gives Rune new hope, but leaves Gray wondering if it's really best that he stays away from their mother.
Storm and I tried to stay awake into the day, but we fell asleep while the few rays coming through the village ceiling were still bright. It was hard for us to stay awake in bright light, but a lot of our siblings preferred it to the night, so we sometimes tried to stay awake for them.
We usually failed, and almost always woke up in the late evening side-by-side, but not touching because one or more of our younger siblings had decided to crawl between us and fall asleep. (Sometimes that was what woke us up, but we didn’t move until we knew that we wouldn’t wake up the kid.) Sometimes a few others had decided to rest their heads on our tails, or spread their tails or wings out over us. Unless mom had fallen asleep too, that is. Then a lot of our siblings, especially the younger ones, tried to get as close to her as possible to the point where she’d have to wake up at least five kids to move. There was enough room for everyone to sleep on the floor if they wanted to… but it was cold to do so. I didn’t mind it, and neither did Storm, but everyone else complained about it if they had to sleep on the floor without a blanket.
I sat up and looked around to see if Rune had come inside. I didn’t see him; perhaps he had slept on the deck, where the cloths for sick people were laid out. I looked at Storm, who was sitting up next to the wall and smiling. One of the toddlers, a little girl with dark brown skin, darker brown fox-like ears and a long matching fox-like tail, was curled up on top of his tail and fast asleep. Storm shrugged at me, letting himself laugh softly. I grinned, and looked around to see if mom was asleep. She was, and as could be expected, she was surrounded by our siblings. Silk was in the space between her arm and torso, and there were kids resting their heads on mom’s arms, torso, legs, and even one who had fallen asleep on her shoulder. There were a few other kids who were farther away from her and wrapped in blankets.
I stood up slowly, and turned to Storm. “I’ll get food,” I whispered. Storm nodded as he took a blanket and gently lay it over the toddler on his tail, tucking it under her and gently picking her up. When he lay her down off of his tail, she shifted, but didn’t wake up. He stood up slowly and carefully, and followed me into the small room used for food storage.
I opened the ice chest to see if mom had set aside anything for Rune, Storm, and I, since we had fallen asleep before she was finished preparing the meal. She had; three wraps, filled with rice and berries. I picked them up and gave one of the larger ones to Storm. “Let’s go out and eat with Rune,” I said. Storm nodded as he took a bite out of his wrap and followed me out onto the deck.
Rune was sitting with his legs crossed and a book in his lap. He glanced up when I stepped out onto the deck, and smiled.
“Feeling better?” I asked.
“Yeah. A bit.”
“Good.” I sat down, and held the wrap out to him. He took it, his ear flicking under a stray strand of his hair.
“Want to talk about what happened yesterday?”
He sighed. “Yeah, we should.” He hesitated, before looking up at me. “I just… don’t really want us all to be living in fear of going outside, you know? Mom taught me how to read the books, because I was curious, and in a lot of them, they describe the world without the dust. Meat isn’t as rare as it is for us, people can go outside without face masks, there are large plants in their villages, even…”
“And mom has described that to us too, a little bit,” Storm muttered. I nodded, closing my eyes.
“It sounds nice, but it’s not real,” I said.
“But what if it were real? It was real once, if the elders are to be believed. What if we can make it real again?”
“It would be nice,” I admitted. “But if you want to work towards that, doing what you did yesterday was the wrong way to go about it. It was reckless.”
“I know…” Rune sighed. “I want to do something, though…”
“And I’m willing to help you, but you need to be more careful,” I said. “Have you asked Sentinel about doing anything yet?”
“No,” Rune admitted. “I’m… a little scared to do so. What if he says no?”
“Then you wait until it’s safer, and ask again.”
He nodded, not looking up at me. “I guess you’re right… I just feel like I can do something, if people let me.”
“And do you have…” I saw something moving in the shadows that caught my attention enough for me to forget I was speaking. Storm had noticed it too, and he glanced at me. “Scout? Was that you?” I called out softly.
The shadows shifted again, revealing the face of Scout. My father and Storm’s father. I could see his face turn red even through the thick, gnarled scars that ran from the top of one cheekbone down to his chin over his mouth and to the other cheekbone. And that wasn’t the most harsh mark the humans had left on him. As the shadows receded from him, I could see his left arm, which had been swollen from his neck down to the tips of his fingers for as long as I could remember, and all of the red scars and the enlarged veins that had just gotten worse over time. His right arm, while better, was still mutated, with the veins having become even more enlarged on that side and his fingers and hand looking like they had been somehow stretched out by the humans. He wore a shirt that had loose and long enough sleeves to hide his whole arm, but he tied the sleeves up when it was warmer out. His legs were also wounded, and he had goat-like hooves like Storm and I. Not only that… his hair was purple, like mine, though mine was grayish and his was very dark, like Storm’s, and it was almost the exact same texture. And his face, before it had been wounded, had been almost exactly like Storm’s. We were the only two of our mother’s children whose paternal lineage could be traced… yet, Scout was always there for all of our mother’s children. Even those who weren’t likely to be his.
“Scout, where have you been?” Storm asked, standing up and walking to his side. “Do you want something to eat?” Scout shook his head, and glanced at the doorway.
“Is your mother awake…?” His voice was scratchy and low, almost a growl, and he had to speak slowly to prevent his scars from re-opening. Yet, he still managed to sound gentle.
“No,” Storm said. “Did you want to see her?”
“No. I don’t want to worry her.” He glanced at Rune, looking at the fact that he was on the deck, still sitting. “Are you sick?”
“I… was…” Rune muttered, his ears flattening quickly.
“He wants to know more about the dust,” I said, turning back to Rune. “Speaking of which, Rune? Do you have any plan for any of these… tests, or experiments you want to do?”
Scout’s eyebrows raised a little in concern, but he didn’t say anything.
“Yeah, actually,” he said, “but they’ll be… a little bit complicated. We’d need to find a place that doesn’t have much, or even any, dust… just so that I can control how much exposure to the dust happens.”
“And what exactly would be getting exposed to the dust?” I asked. Rune winced.
“I dunno, to be honest… I was thinking of maybe starting with plants, seeing if it’s possible for them to become contaminated, and if so, I can start watering them with water that has blackberry leaf in it to see if that still works. If so… I can use plants to test things that might work for preventing contamination. That’s my first goal, at least…”
I nodded slowly, and Storm’s wings hooked over his shoulders as he thought. Surprisingly, Scout was the first to speak.
“Have you been to the ocean?”
“No,” Rune said, his ears perking up.
“There is less dust there, usually. Some places have a lot, but there are places sheltered from it. Will you speak to Sentinel?”
“Yeah, that’s the plan.”
“Tell me what he says. I can find somewhere.”
Rune smiled. “Thanks, Scout!”
He nodded. As soon as there was motion inside the house, however, he started to sink back into the shadows, averting his eyes.
“Do you want to talk to mom…?” I asked.
“I don’t want to worry her…” And with that, he seemed to be enveloped in shadows, and then every trace that he had been there was gone.
As we finished our meal, we listened to the sounds of some of our siblings waking up, and listened to our mother’s voice as she tried to tell them not to wake everyone up, and that she needed more sleep. Soon, most of the other nocturnal kids were upstairs, or going to spend time with others, or going to go train in whatever they were interested in, and by the time I poked my head back into the room to see if Mom was asleep, she was curled around Silk and two of the younger toddlers, and even more of my siblings were asleep with their heads on her side, her legs, and one was curled up just behind her neck. All of them were sleeping peacefully… but mom always looked tense, even in her sleep, as if she was scared that one of us was going to be taken from her when her eyes were closed.
I couldn’t help but wonder if knowing where Scout was would give her even a little ease. I knew it helped me sleep better when I knew that he was safe...