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Episode 11: Sparks

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Da Qing walks around the base of the contraptions holding the Longevity Dial and the Mountain-River Awl, his fur brushing against the columns with their knobs and discs and bowl-like curves which Lin Jing had scavenged from who-knows-where. The metal hums softly against his body, a slight warmth radiating out and seeping pleasantly through his hair.

He looks up again to look at the strange objects — the Hallows — glowing faintly in their glass cages. There is that feeling again, the one which has niggled at the back of Da Qing's mind ever since he first set his eyes on the Longevity Dial. Something like — like...

Da Qing shakes his head, unable to put it into words. Which is a human habit anyway, so he decides to dispense with them. Instead, Da Qing sets his front paws on the stand of the Mountain-River Awl in front of him, nosing at the glass and letting himself sink into the feeling.

He stares at the mist circling the Hallow — apparently some kind of energy made visible by Lin Jing’s shield. It’s flickering here and there as it hits the glass around it, lighting up where it touches the surface. Instinctively, he reaches out to bat at the glittering lights. Something about them draws him in, coaxing him into playing as if he is a kitten again. They are bright, and unreachable, but beautiful nonetheless. Like a sky full of stars, without a single cloud or artificial light dampening the view. Like the sparks of a fire, a warm gathering place on a cold night beckoning the entire camp to its sides. Da Qing lets his eyes unfocus, looking beyond the SID lab and into that imagined flame. He can hear faint voices around him, conversations and laughter, their cadences soothing and familiar. He sees the way the shadows twist and dance on the stone walls. He smells the rising aroma of cooking meat, turning gradually from the sharpness of a fresh hunt to the depth of sizzling fat and protein. There is fish too, his nose tells him, a rare treat from the nearby river that has only just begun to come alive again after the darkness and the dust...

Fish! Da Qing's head snaps up as the scent intensifies. His sensitive ears pick up the dull taps of Lao Li's spatula against the pan, the hiss of the vegetable oil. He can tell that they’re almost done.

Just in time, Da Qing thinks. He's hungry.