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Hunting in the Dark

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She breathed, moving through the woods light-footed and intent in the darkness. She could hear the quiet pitter-patter of footfalls to the left and right, where her brothers and sisters hunted with her; nightfall was precious and rare creatures emerged from dens and borrows during the hours the suns hid their face. He would only give them so long, after all.

Doir lunged over a dropped log (not so old, she thought, but dead long enough that the bark had gone, if not long enough that the luminescent fauna had arrived to cannibalize it) and nearly lost her footing over a clutch of slick stones. One of her brothers hissed a protest to be quiet, then caught his ankle in a rabbit-hold and went tumbling forward into the brush. She smothered a bark of laughter and settled for grinning, reaching up to caress a low oak branch as she ducked beneath it.

Leaves rustled, a spirit's greeting, and she felt her heart lighten as she continued onward. In the distance the false-suns that the Kakori used to light their settlements glittered like not-so-distant stars. They feared the darkness, but Doir and her kin reveled in it, alive as if for the first times in their lives. These were their woods; they knew them, and the wind and trees whispered to them secrets of the future.

"There's a herd of voli to the east," Doir's sister said, dropping down from one of Grandfather Oark's wide branches next to her. The whisper wasn't meant to carry far. Voli were dangerous to hunt, and it was Doir's choice if she wanted to take the party there, for voli were her hunting spirit.

"Anything else?"

"The Kakori are doing something in the north, beyond their settlement," her sister's lips twitched into an annoyed frown. "I would like to check it out, but.."

But no one here was a hunter of Kakori. Let the Kakori do what they willed, as long as they left the deep woods to the Children of the Sky. She did not have any desire to traverse that far in search of something they could not eat, for a people who could no sooner see in the darkness than they could swim across the river.

"Keep watch on the voli," Doir requested, pausing in her movement to cast about in the dark for the rest of her kin. "We might go back for them later." They were blooded hunters, except one; Liar, who hoped to make his first blood of the towering king-of-beast, the morial. She had heard the Kakori call them other things, wrecks maybe, though the Kakori tongue was strange. Not that the Kakori had better chances at surviving the morial than they did. Though they were, supposedly, Liar's hunting spirit. She would help him if she could, but first and last blood had to be his.

She wasn't out here for morial, though. None of them were. But where one found morial, one found the alori, huge and silvery birds with beaks the size of young trees and wings that spread as large as Grandfather Oark's branches. And at night, the alori slept.

She whistled, low and haunting. The call of a huntress leading a band.

She knew it haunted Kakori nightmares. Strange sounds from the rare nights that no one could place? What other things might cause them fear?

When she had the attention of her brothers and sisters, she raised her hand high and then motioned to the north-west, where she knew there was a morial hunting ground. Knew and sometimes wished she didn’t, for Liar wasn’t the first of the hunt to wish for a morial kill. But if they were lucky, the trees were tall enough they could scale for alori and ignore the morial altogether…

They were not lucky, and it had nothing to do with trees.

On the forest below, clad in their strange hunting gear of black and green, a hunting pack of Kakori moved in bewildering, unsettling precision. They moved quiet, but not quiet like Doir and her siblings. Quiet like this drove away the creatures of the night, which made them loud, while Doir and the others moved as part of the woods instead. The Kakori were not part of the woods; Grandfather Oark did not shelter them, nor did his many cousins.

They made their homes from the dead and the dying, they trapped the light of the Sky in shards-- they were strange and foreign people, and they looked very little like Doir’s.

But even though they were foolish people, they were people, and the morial did not sleep when the suns were resting. The roar shook the air around them, leaves quivering, trees shaking. Beneath the Kakori, the ground rumbled, and then a morial-- adolescent, not yet having acquired the reddish colors of adulthood, some scaled flesh still opalescent-- charged into the pack of them.

Doir watched from the safety of the trees, staring down with gnawing horror taking root in her belly. Kakori screamed when they died; Doir could understand it, because the Kakori did not seem to understand that death simply was, and they feared it. But they screamed, not understanding of the danger they had walked into, and it sent chills up her spine.

“They’re dying,” her brother whispered, as confused and upset by the scene below as she felt, voice thick with it. She swallowed, nodded.

They were people, though, and Liar--

The alori could wait. Doir let go of her hold and moved forward, fling herself off it. As she fell, she loosed her dagger from the ties.

They usually left the Kakori to their own devices. They did not interfere. That was how the world worked.

But they were people, screaming-- and that was how Doir decided the world must end.