Curiosity Kills, Part 8
Mission: To The Rescue
The sound of a door shutting woke Taan from her slumber. She squinted through the darkness to the door, then to the vacant hammock beside her. He was up early again this week--from the lack of sunlight peeking through the shuttered windows, it was too early for an old man. She sat up, ruffling the branches on her head. She was no sprout herself, she thought as her boughs creaked as she stretched her roots to the floor.
Outside, Tsshk looked over the balcony. The forest was uneasy. He could feel it in his bones. It was as if the storm the week prior had cut into the trees. But the cry from the forest pulled at him, and called out to him through the darkness. He closed his eyes, listening--more with his soul than with his ears.
"You will catch your death of cold out here," rustled a voice behind him as a blanket wrapped around his shoulders.
His eyes opened slowly, a hint of a smile on his face. "You would never let that happen,"his response rustled back.
A chuckle rumbled softly in her trunk as Taan wrapped her arms around her mate. She leaned her forehead against his broad shoulders. She could feel his worry as strongly as he could feel the forest cry out. They had been mated for over 30 seasons, and his connection to the forest that surrounded him what part of what strengthened her love for him.
Tsshk pulled the blanket around his mate's shoulder, pulling her close to keep her warm in the morning chill. He touched his forehead to hers, sensing her concern. Over 30 cycles later, and he still was in disbelief that she had chosen him as her mate. He was not the protector her mother had hoped for Taan, but she had chosen him anyway.
"What does the forest say?" her branches whispered in the darkness.
Tsshk sighed quietly. She knew him too well. "It hurts. But---there is something else. Something else cries out in pain, in fear. It is not the forest."
Taan could barely make out his face in the darkness, but she could see the concern in his face. "Then go. Take one of the Cacea with you."
He held his mate close. She worried for him. It was a trait he loved in her. He softly kissed her forehead. He would leave at first light, he decided, and guided his mate back towards their home.
Knn carefully climbed his way to the ground. He stepped through the snapped branches and downed trunks, his brow furrowed. He turned over his shoulder, checking on his elder, a wary hand on his weapon at his hip.
Tsshk did not seemed as concerned with his safety, his hands gently placed on the trunk of a damaged tree. He waved over the young warrior as his hands traced over a small gash in the bark. His branches rustled with concern. "Have you ever seen something like this?"
Knn shook his head, his own hand touching the trunk. He was not sensitive to the forest, like the elder, but even he could sense the pain of the ancestor tree. His tendrils traced the gash in the tree, and he paused, taking a step back. Without a word, he gestured to the tracks in the forest floor. They were nothing like he'd ever seen--a pattern of stripes in the mud, a drag mark. "The tracks are irregular. Like it is wounded."
Knn was curious now. The elder had always seemed eccentric to him and the other Cacean, and though he was barely older than a sapling himself, there had been something about the elder's request for an escort into the forest that had been genuine enough to convince him to follow the old man and his 'feelings' nearly half a day's walk into the deep forest.
A few strides before reaching the trickling rivulet from the natural spring, Knn stopped, holding up a hand to stop Tsshk as well. Approaching slowly, Knn paused a spears-length from the heap at the base of the embankment. He could hear the raspy, uneven breathing from the creature--whatever it was.
"It's--it's alive?" Tsshk stepped past Knn, kneeling on the ground.
"Use caution, Elder," Knn's branches rustled, and he placed his spear between the creature and Tsshk.
A scoff rumbled in Tsshk's trunk. "It is not going anywhere, spout. It is barely breathing." He reached a hand out and brushed the hair and debris from the creature's face. Furrowing his brow, he slowly turned the creature over. His hand brushed its skin, and he pulled his hand back quickly. The tingle he felt in the tips of his tendrils made him uneasy, and he rubbed his hands together.
Tsshk stared at the creature in front of him. Cautiously, he stretched out his other hand, placing it on the creature's forelimb. He recoiled his hand again at the tingling sensation, but shook his head in disbelief. This? This was the unease he sensed in the forest, a half-day journey away?
Without turning, he extended a hand to Knn. "Your morning cloak. Quickly, boy!"
Knn, confused, pulled out the cloak that he'd tucked in his pack after the morning chill had lifted. "Elder? What are you---?"
Tsshk pulled his own cloak from his pack, dunking it in the cool rivulet that ran through the clearing. "If the forest allows, I'm taking it home before it dies." His branches rustled with determination as he wrapped the feverish creature in the sopping-wet cloak, wincing at the discomfort of touching its skin. Within seconds, he was knotting the second cloak into a sling. "You will hurry back, as fast as you can. Tell my mate that I'm bringing someone with the sun poisoning."
Lieutenant JG Aemilia "Millie" Stepanova
Chief Counselor, USS Mercutio