(December 2, 2008)
Characters: Thunderwing, a large dragon capable of shifting from true or fully dragon form to anthro or bipedal form.
Kajm, the Lir warrior, an immortal and a shape shifter. Soul bonded to Thunderwing.
Ruhk, once just a high tech device, a learning machine who gained sentience and a life of his own.
And five dragon hatchlings.
Thunderwing was quite suddenly pregnant.
It would be months later until Kajm could sit back and consider that he had been seeing / scenting the clues for some time- not to mention the slow shift in her behaviour- but even Thunderwing had not been quite aware that she was pregnant, until the need to nest had kicked in with a passion.
And then they needed a safe haven. A place where the hatchlings could be raised in safety. The world of the Inn was not suitable. It was a nexus world, a crossing point to a great many realities, and there was no telling when something or someone would happen to it.
Time to move on. Thunderwings anxiety to get away left the Lir in a bit of a panic himself for several days, as the soul-bond between them created a feedback loop of emotions. It had escalated until he had come across his friend Katarthis; the black dragons exceedingly calm demeanour had helped calm him quite a bit. Not to mention getting slapped by that tail. Kajm later resolved to explore such rushes of emotion to every limit He could manage without Thunderwing outright killing him- but that was for another time.
His mates need to nest, as it turned out, was a drawn-out affair, much easier to deal with (at least for him). It would be weeks until she was actually ready to lay- and he needed time to find a suitable world. This meant reaching out with senses he had only barely begun to understand over the past century, seeking out worlds he could reach through his ability to open portals. Time and energy expended to find them; more time and energy, to explore each as it was found.
Some worlds were new to him... others he had visited before. It turned out that there was quite a store of recognisable signatures buried in his memories, leads to many worlds. Some within easy reach, more that would take time to get to. Others that no longer existed, or required the use of Powers currently beyond his grasp.
Almost at the last moment he found the world he had been seeking, one that was familiar to him for reasons he could not recall at the time. He had only known it was safe for his mate, safe for their future children.
They had arrived upon that world with Thunderwing so close to laying that it had been dangerous to both the eggs and herself, in that she had been forced to shift from true-form to anthro for the brief moments required to step through the portal Kajm had opened for them. It had taken him three visits to the planet to find the right spot- a cavern large enough to afford his mate plenty of room in her hundred-plus-foot length. The floor carpeted with deep sands, flowing water in several areas, ventilated by a number of openings to the surface- the whole heated by the larger blaze-gem, to provide the most comfortable arrangement that could be managed in which to raise the hatchlings. Months of work had followed, Kajm carving both wood and stone, to make the entire system of caves properly liveable for them. That the cavern seemed to be a not entirely natural construct already, was not lost on Kajm- but he could not at the time recall why it was so. It was there and it was useful. So be it.
The world itself fit their needs almost perfectly. The mountains in which the cavern lay were ancient, little more than large hills, surrounded by a mixed hardwood-and-pine forest which extended across much of the continent. The planets tilt towards the sun produced mild winters, hot summers- an arrangement which suited all quite nicely, though Kajm sometimes missed being able to play in deep snows. Buffalo-like herbivores roamed freely, and would provide the major source of food for the family. The most advanced predators on the planet were large cats, animals intelligent enough to keep their distance, though Kajm and Thunderwing both felt the need to reinforce that idea from time to time. They could protect themselves; the hatchlings would not be able to for quite some time. Additionally there was Ruhk. The Rhokhi personality had emerged almost completely and he was a living being in his own right- one whos abilities complimented the Lir and his dragoness quite nicely. Nothing could happen to the hatchlings.
All in all, it was a grand world in which to bring up the hatchies. With three powerful personalities, two quite seasoned, one new and uncertain but willing to learn, there was not much they could not handle.
Five years passed swiftly, as the five hatchlings proved there were still a few things they had to learn how to handle. Both had no doubt that would last right up into adulthood...
As if the hatchlings were not enough, the Rhokhi life-form Ruhk was finally coming into the final stages of his development. The little creatures curiosity had been piqued by the antics of the hatchies. Over time he had taken on their form, settling into what appeared to be his final shape, as the many other forms he had worn over the decades of his development had not seemed to hold his attention for long.
Kajm had been pleased with this final evolution, taking it that Ruhk had now finished his childhood, and was ready to take on adult responsibilities- such as babysitting.
Big mistake. After losing both the hatchies and Ruhk twice in a month, Thunderwing had been on his tail to put Ruhk to use elsewhere. The diminutive dragon still had much to learn about being Alive, let alone taking care of others. So he had been returned to more familiar functions- such as monitoring the weather. It might not seem to make sense to an outsider- Ruhk had begun his existence as a Lir AI ultra-tech backpack, much bigger inside than out- but there was a great deal of modal technology within him that Kajm had never gotten around to making use of. Therefore Ruhk would now begin to explore the full range of capabilities that had been built into him...
Serendipity. Ruhk discovered the drastic climate shift which was coming their way.
Safe. He had thought this world was safe? Safety is relative. Kajm had recalled this world as being safe, but clearly it was not so in all areas. How could he have forgotten the dust clouds?
For this worlds orbit periodically passed through a micro-nebula, a massive cloud of dense dust and gases whos orbit lay at a high angle from the ecliptic. The world was perfect for their purposes, much of the time- but every few decades, the two orbits intersected-
The weather had proved out nicely over the past five years, and when he was not actively seeking food or teaching the pups, the Lir warrior had happily spent what free time he could garner in exploring the region and plying his hobbies; such as the smokehouse hed never had time to build before. Now, however, the mild autumn weather had suddenly taken on a much colder aspect. The cool winters of the past would quickly be forgotten in the massive snows which would be arriving within the next few weeks. What had been an idyllic situation was suddenly very dire, forcing the Lir and his dragoness to take drastic measures in preparation for a very hard winter.
The herds of buffalo-like grazers in the valley below- from which, at Kajms urgings, they rarely took the best, in order to preserve the quality of the stock- now saw a culling unlike anything the pair had set upon them before. Thunderwing took down a number of them in true-form, bearing them back to a small cave adjacent the nesting cave, which she and Kajm kept packed with slabs of ice from previous winters. Otherwise she tended to the pups, while Kajm worked at the tasks of skinning, slicing up the huge joints of meat- some for storage raw, others to be placed in the smokehouse, which was soon literally stuffed to the rafters. And finally, tanning what hides he could, to create massive, heavy fur blankets. In some senses it was overkill: they had the comforts of the gem-heated cavern and plenty to keep the pups occupied. But as with all things Kajm saw opportunity, and as soon as the worst of the storm was over, he would have their children out to gain new experiences across the snowy landscape.
With the first blasts of severe cold and whipping snow Kajm bade his mate retire to the nesting sands, where the blaze-gem would keep all of them quite comfortably warm. They had finished just ahead of the storm, bringing in supplies both hoped sufficient to feed the five hatchlings for the entire winter. Both knew it would barely be enough, as the five hatchies had been undergoing an unprecedented growth spurt.
But Kajm felt he was not finished yet. He had seen a trio of the buffalo sheltering in a dense grove of trees several miles from the cave- a pair and their offspring. He and Thunderwing had chased the herd south as they hunted, but these three had become separated, and seemed resigned to the storm that was already burying them. They could survive a while longer on the provender beneath the trees, but severe cold and depth of snow would soon put an end to them. Kajm would rather have their meat ready on hand, rather than buried beneath the drifts miles from the nest- and it wouldnt hurt to have a few more furs for trading purposes, next time he was off-world.
In the end he had chosen to butcher them on the spot, wrapping the meat in the astringent bark of certain trees, then wrapping the whole of it with each of the skins. To the packages containing the meat of the calf he affixed the symbols which identified each of the dragon pups, a special treat of tender meat for each of them- not to mention a neat way to get them to learn their alphabet. For the purpose of tanning he had also wrapped the brains. And while he normally took as much as the animal as he could for various uses, the Lir wolf was tired from weeks of work and the many small physical transformations required for it, such as refashioning his hands into various cutting blades. So the skull, horns and other portions he might have recovered fell by the way, this time.
The trip back was gruelling, as he was pulling a sled carrying near a ton of meat and hides through the deepening snow, his feet broadened out into great, webbed snowshoes. The short valley that marked the nesting cave lay in the foothills above, an uphill battle against near whiteout conditions. It had been easier when Thunder had just been able to carry things back in true-form...
A brief lull in the storm afforded him a view of the narrow valley, which terminated in the main cave entrance. It was framed by massive ribs of rock nearly one hundred feet high, all that remained of the roof of what had once been a much more extensive cave system. The valley itself was covered by a jumble of boulders, also debris from the ancient roof. Several trails ran between them, carefully laid out, a maze which only Thunder and Kajm knew. It had amused Kajm to create that maze while his mate had tended to her eggs; There was an easier, broader though somewhat convoluted avenue through it, but under current conditions, and with the long sled behind him, an already tired Kajm was having thoughts of dismantling it.
He paused at the cave mouth. Reaching up to break away the crust of ice and snow which had worked into his ruff and the overhanging, bushy eyebrows he had grown to shield his eyes from the storm. Shaking himself as he dropped the sleds harness from him shoulders, he looked up and about at the entrance, an opening large enough to permit his mate to enter and leave in true-form. Small avalanches of snow had piled up several feet deep just before the entrance. Plumes of warm vapour drifted up from it at several points, only to re-condense and fall as snow themselves, slightly brighter trails against the dark blue-grey sky, the bulk of the mountain behind hidden by the storm. The smokehouse stood nearby, the scents of curing meats and various flavours of wood drifting to his nostrils.
Thunderwing was not there to greet him.
Which was not unusual, but she had said she would keep a lookout this day. A tentative touch to the bond between them informed him she was out on a hunt. Targets of opportunity, or just more worried than she would let on (but which he always well knew)? She had a great deal of practice travelling in wild weather but Kajm could not help but feel she was pushing her boundaries with a storm this massive. His own concerns aside, Kajm was deeply tired. He would keep tabs on her through the bond, but right now he wasnt sensing any troubles- and he needed some rest before attempting to join her.
He paused to send a thought to Ruhk, who had been sent aloft to monitor the storm from low orbit. Despite past problems, Kajm felt the Rhokhi dragon could teleport down later if need be, take care of the pups while he went back out-
The newest packages of meat less one were quickly stored away in the cold cellar. Kajm made his way into the depths of the cavern, carrying along the fresh skins, which he left just outside the chambers which had come to be called Home Den, a name which was gradually coming to be applied to the planet itself. A plug of rock weighing several tons formed a baby gate across the lower half of the entrance, affording an easy scramble for either Lir or dragoness, into or out of the nesting cave. And while the pups had long since learned that they could climb out, years of reinforcement- as positive as possible from himself, much harsher from their mother- ensured that they would not do so.
A thought, a wave of itchiness across his shoulders. Snow and ice showered from his body as his form shifted. Deep fur shortened, broad, webbed feet shrank back into paws, ears reformed, extra joints and sharp, bone edges vanished from fingers. The Lir warrior once more wore the wolf form, which was so familiar to his children. But the transformation had been slow, evidence that he was indeed quite tired. Kajm allowed himself the slightest bit of a sigh, hoping that they would accept his embraces and then let. Him. Sleep...
Taking hold of the small package of meat with his prehensile tail Kajm placed his palms atop the stone plug, lifting himself up and over easily, dropping lightly to the sands within. Soothing, penetrating warmth immediately flowed about him as the blaze-gem registered his presence and sought to bring his cold body back within set parameters. The gems field extended across the main chamber and into several antechambers, keeping the whole heated to spring-like conditions. Carefully placed lighting made the interior of the nest as bright as day would have been, had it not been snowing; the lights matched average daytime outside exactly, from dawn to dusk.
He shook himself again, water droplets flying everywhere, and glanced off to his left. Around a jutting wall of flowstone was hidden the pups play area, placed there so that one might have a few moments respite before they were discovered and mobbed. He smiled at the shadows playing upon the far wall as they tumbled and wrestled with one another. Hopefully theyd had a good run today, too, and all could sleep peacefully-
He was halfway to the playroom when he realised that there were not enough shadows on the wall. He paused mid-stride, one foot scuffing the sand. Four shadows froze for an instant on the wall beyond the playroom. Four voices called out Papa! then the horde surged around the corner and pounced. The four ten-foot dragonlings, already learned in acting as a team, took him down with several well-placed shoves, chirping happily as they clambered over him, one striving to burrow for the package that now lay beneath him.
Despite his sudden worry- for there was no empathic echo of the fifth dragon pup within the cavern- Kajm felt he must give in for the moment to their mood, laughing and wrestling with them even as tails and wings assaulted him from all sides. The sought-after package was tossed high into the air, the wolfs long arms snatching it from greedy grasps each time it came down, only to launch it skywards again. The four finally decided the matter by piling atop him, but even then he kept the prize from their reach-
Until all finally settled down around him, waiting patiently as they had been taught, while their father sat up, laid the package in his lap, and began to unwrap it. Five thin strips of gristle-laden belly meat came to light- not the choicest meat, but that designed to keep them occupied for a time- and the youngest stood to come forward and take her prize.
But not just yet. Kajm lifted the meat away as the pup reached for it, his brows furrowed with an expression half-apologetic, half a frown. Im sorry, Caly. I need you to tell me about Tyajna first.
His question drew a puzzled look from the pup. She was obviously more focused on the snack than on the question.
Five years along- which made the pups about three, mentally- and Kajm still had not quite gotten past the fact that his children were not Lir pups- who would have been attending college at this same point in time. He sighed and tried to rephrase the question. Where. Is Tyajna. Then snack.
The little one blinked.
He repeated the question, putting the treat behind his back and catching the pups chin to stare into her eyes. Where is Tyajna?
Helping mother! The pup beamed, knowing she had the right answer to that question.
Helping mother... she was Outside? An icy shiver ran down his back. Kajm cast his empathics out across the cavern complex, hoping Calyhyn was wrong... He came up empty, tried not to grit his teeth. The cubs were beginning to fidget, but he felt he needed to know Why Tyajna had gone after Thunderwing- she couldnt have taken the pup with her in this storm, it didnt make sense!
Calyhyn was all but bouncing at his feet with a questioning, hopeful chirp. Kajm leaned forward with a slight smile, scratching her head between the eyes before she snatched the treat and scrambled away. Three pairs of hungry eyes followed her until the big wolf clapped his hands together, drawing their attention. Nattalawyn! My little trouble maker.
The cub rose swiftly, only to hesitate at trouble maker. Kajm could not help but smile, even as he cast his empathics farther out by increments, hoping to find the missing pup nearby. "Naaaattaaa... you know you want it, he said, swinging the strip of meat like a pendulum bob.
Nattalawyn actually made to go around his fathers back when Kajm hid the piece of meat behind himself. Ah-ah! Scamp. He caught him by the chin, lifting his face until their eyes met. Why is Tyajna helping mother?
The cub squirmed with impatience. Idontknowsowecanhavefish.
Erf. A billion billion lifetimes worth of things to teach them and he had to wait for them to grow up just to have a conversation. He smiled anyway, chucked the little dragon under the chin and let him have his treat, watching him retreat to a far corner of the cave with it. Fish. Fish? Why fish?
Two to go, and not likely to get much more out of them. None of them seemed concerned and he had to let that go, too: they were barely aware of themselves, let alone their siblings.
Truethnir and Mranithsi looked crestfallen as Kajm slowly folded the skin over the last few pieces of meat. You may have yours in a moment, Kajm said, trying to figure how to ask one more question. Even the ten minutes he had been sitting there had been much too long- Guys, help me, please? Did one of you dare Tyajna to go outside?
Again, he was given that blank stare. Of course, you dont have a concept of what a dare is yet. Ok. Sigh. Something must have happened between the pups to push Tyajna to go outside, especially against her mothers manner of teaching. But he wasnt going to get it out of them this day.
The last two cubs all but leapt into his lap as he opened the package again, Kajm carefully catching them both before they could grab the meat. Now, now. Take. Turns, remember? He gave them both the strips anyway. Dont tell your mother.
Stiff muscles complained as he climbed to his feet, testimony to how hard he had been working these past few weeks. Carefully re-wrapping the remaining segment of meat as he made his way back towards the entrance, putting in a psionic call to Ruhk as he did so. The Rhokhi dragon was going to be babysitting for more than a few days: Kajm planned to sleep for a week.
After Tyajna was safe. I will find you. And she would have her treat. If Thunderwing allowed it.
He made his way towards the mouth of the cave. Ath. How are you doing out there? He could not help the worried tones his thought carried as he reached out to her.
There was a delay to her response which had Kajm biting his lip, but, finally: Managing.
No doubt. He couldnt help but wonder if her own training regimen, plus all he had put her through over the past few centuries, hadnt made her Overconfident of her ability. Ath, I...
Speak fast. Concentrating.
That spoke volumes. Kajm sighed, feeling the weariness deep in his chest. Monkey Wrench.
Ty is out in the storm. Please tell me she found her way to you.
Stunned disbelief struck him like a wave. Several long moments passed before she finally responded: Why did you just ask me that?
Hold off the bad news a few moments longer... That was a reaction hed felt often enough in his life. The cubs... something happened with the cubs. Ty... Erf. You know Ty, she thinks she can handle anything. Right up until it hits her on the nose-
Youre searching? Tell me you are searching-
Already. Shes not in the caverns. Im going up the mountain in a moment. She knows where you like to hunt, track back your route, ok?
She fell silent then but he was aware: the channel was open between them, Thunderwing paying attention to him through the soul-bond. Feedback as they both searched would slowly draw a map of the area; each would know where the other had been.
Kajm staggered as he rounded the final bend in the tunnel, looking on in shock as he saw what seemed to be a deep blue-grey wall ahead of him. The lull had passed, the full force of the storm pounding the valley before him. Another six inches of snow had fallen since he had gone inside. The cave mouth would be buried in less than a day. Ahh, God. And shes out in this.
Again he flung out his empathics, stretching them as far as he could in search of the errant cub. He had hoped for some hint of her mind- she had to be deeply distressed by now. But Tyajna and the other cubs did not possess the connection with him that Thunderwing had; did not yet have the psionic abilities which Kajm used almost daily. And his mates own worries this day- combined with the feedback mechanism- were now overwhelming his senses, masking out anything else he might have detected. To try and caution her against it would only make things worse, and he knew she would quickly block any attempts on his part to calm her down. Why did I bring her into this?
to avoid strife later. Bad choice.
Minor but needed shifts took place as he stepped out into the gale: fur grew longer, wove itself into plats, overlapping like layers of clothing. The wolf now looked like he was quilted...
He paused, vision darkening for a moment as he wavered on his feet. The shift had been very slow, was he really that tired? He had hoped to sleep, let the Power slowly trickle in, revive him. There were ways to extend his energy if only he had the time! But now he must conserve it for the proper time, nothing for it but to move forward.
He strained to catch any sign of her trail in the snow, realising that he would have obliterated it on his way in. Something else nagged at him, but Kajm shook it off. Tyajna was his Only concern right now-
His body continued to change as he delved deeper into the storm, until he was walking on all fours, hands and feet spread to the dimensions of large frying pans, ears tripling in size, the fur about them reforming to help focus sound. He peered through heavy brows, shaking his head every so often to clear all of the accumulating snow. How could she go out in this? She must have left during the lull in the storm. It had been quite the pretty sight, of course it would draw her-
The cavern valley cut back into the foothills, a slice of limestone sandwiched between massive shale and conglomerate formations, the whole having been tilted to the north in the distant past. The bulk of the mountain behind it was sandstone overlaying metamorphics, layers many yards thick, which had created a series of steps, or false summits, and a variety of rocky terrains in which the Lir, always thinking of ways to teach his cubs, had often taken them for various training sessions. As often as not, without his mates permission, for each had their own ideas of how the cubs ought to be raised.
It was for reasons relating to both parents that Kajm chose to climb the mountain first. Numerous trails of varying difficulty would up into the mountain; most had been created by the Lir, little challenge to himself but plenty to keep the pups occupied. Other, easier trails existed at Thunderwings behest, though she rarely used them herself, preferring to fly up to the table-flat stacks of sandstone which made up the top of the ridge.
Fly up. Thunderwing often flew to the top of the ridge with the express purpose of viewing her domain, before leaping into the days pursuits. On a number of occasions she had flown each of the pups up with her. Would Tyajna have gone looking for her up there?
The big wolf glanced up-slope to either side. Which trail, where to begin? His head drooped, eyes closing, a sigh welling up from deep within his chest as he once more mourned the myriad abilities he had lost. No empathic / psionic link? No problem! A resonance scan would reveal the path she had taken, even though buried, filled in by fresh snow. Or: adjust ones own visual receptors, fine tune the eyes to see even the faintest trace difference in heat, left by her body in passing. Sonar. Radar. Lidar. Other senses he could no longer recall. All lost.
He shook himself. Someday he would have such abilities back. Best make do with what one had now.
He was forgetting something. He understood that. The mind was just too tired to work out what. Worry for the lost one blanked out all else. He forced himself to focus on what was important to the moment, bringing every sense he did have to bear upon the problem at hand. Perhaps he would get a psionic fix upon her as he got closer-
Despite his weariness there was still great strength behind the Lirs movements, allowing him to plough forwards and upwards through the deepening snow, into the mountain. The trail he had chosen was the one Thunderwing most often used when she did walk; it had many little scenic stops, springs and overlooks, making it attractive to the young dragon as well. Or so he hoped-
He moved as quickly as he could, searching out each little niche he could discover, that might provide shelter for the cub. She couldnt have gone far! Kajm considered how much her little body could take as he climbed. She was the daughter of a dragon and a Lir. That said a lot- but at the same time, not. There had never been any truly bad winter weather in which to teach her survival skills-
He was a third of the way up when he remembered. Fish. Nattalawyn had mentioned fish. But Natta liked fish, more so than any of the others. He was going to be the familys next big fisherdrac. Would Ty go fishing? Could Kajm dare hope that he wasnt just saying that to please Papa and have his treat?
There were several ponds- cut-offs from the large, meandering stream in the valley below, where the hatchies had learned how to swim, were now supervised play areas- Kajm sent his mate a thought to search them out. He would tackle the stream itself, being far more capable of searching it in his otter form than she would be in her true-form.
And it was a quicker way down the mountain. The shift was almost painfully slow, but the longer, sleeker body allowed him more speed in the more open terrain below, once he negotiated a dangerous but swift decent from the mountain.
His mind worked furiously as he paddled through the deep snow, falling to all fours as he moved towards the broad stream. He could not recall any disturbance in the snow as he had made his way back to the cave earlier. Snow collapsing from over the cave mouth had buried her exit trail. He had to have walked over part of it himself. She must have taken off at a tangent to the main trail, at least briefly... how long had she been gone? How had he managed to miss her?
He could work out the blame towards himself later. Kajm turned to the north-west, hoping that memories of the ponds might have taken her in that direction. He had no doubt that Thunderwing would be searching out every detail of those-
He paused upon a rise overlooking the stream. Tyajna! Useless, the shout whipped away by the howling winds. He doubted even his mate had caught it. No. Search the stream banks, find the fishing holes. One of them had to be a favourite for her but only Nattalawyns came to mind.
He made his way along the stream, scanning both banks, following a trail well-worn over the past five years. Even in otter form, he felt as though he were slogging through mud. Cold was beginning to work into the tired body. Want to Sleep.
Tramping through a boggy area where there lived frogs large enough for even him to have frogs legs, half-frozen vegetation crushing, soggy beneath his feet. No sign of her trail. A shallow where they caught minnows to fish with. No sign of her passage. Sense of his mate, frustrated and worried, as she moved from one pond to the next.
Rounding a sharp bend he paused at a deep, sheltered pool. The windswept ice bore scratches no lesser creature could make, but in this calm area it was thicker than out in the current. He felt he was going in the right direction-
Thunderwing. He could feel her own strength ebbing to match his own loss. She might be nearly his match for strength in true-form, she might be cold-loving, but she was approaching her limits-
Ath, Love. Youve had enough. Let me finish this.
It wasnt so much a thought as a series of feelings. Kajm winced away from it, looked out over the stream with a sigh. There was still an odd, nagging feeling; he shoved it aside. Call the instant you find her, if I dont
He barely felt her response as he continued along the stream. So tired.
Tyajna. Can you hear me?
No response. He came across several trees half-submerged in the stream, a good spot for lunkers. Again, signs she had been there- and now, a faint trail, rapidly vanishing in the snow. A moment of relief tempered his worries; Kajm picked up the pace.
Ahead was a wide bend, a prominence where the whole family would go in better weather; beyond that, a widening of the stream, deep in the center, before it took off in another direction. A most-favored spot, if ever there was one-
And then, a distant cry. Kajms careful perusings of the landscape were forgotten as he rushed towards the sound. In a few moments he found himself in the center of the prominence. The pups trail seemed to go straight across it. Tyajna!
The whipping wind almost hid the faint response. Kajm started forward, still on all fours, only to tense as he heard it: the splash of water. Ty! Im coming!
At the waters edge he paused, for the briefest of moments. Again he heard her cry... it was so faint! How long had she been in the water? Claws digging into the ice he moved forward, out towards the center of the stream. The deepest part... it was the only place she could possibly be, and not touch the bottom-
There! The heavy snowfall eased for just a moment, allowing him to see the expanse of broken ice ahead of him. After a moment he spotted her form, dark against the ice, choppy water surging about her as she strove to cling to the edge. God! Shed been floundering about for some time from the looks of it, clinging now, eyes half-closed, whimpering, shivering, her claws barely able to sink into the ice-
Ath! Here! A spike of emotion followed his call, a telepathic beacon Thunderwing could follow. But... it was going to take time for the tired dragon to reach him. Time Tyajna didnt have. There wasnt much choice. He had to go after her!
He inched forwards as fast as he dared, spreading his weight out over the ice. Faint cracking, popping sounds began to spread about him. Kajm stopped, considered for a moment. Began to stretch his body, literally, the limbs and tail elongating, partially to spread his weight, partially to give him anchor points on the ice that were farther apart. One arm stretched out for the pup, muscle mass shifting so that he could pull it back by a series of contractions. Thankful Tyajna could not see the strange changes her father was going through-
The ice gave way; Kajm gasped in one quick breath, nostrils clamping shut as a frigid wash of water closed about him. Panic pulled him back into his proper form as he saw his daughter submerge before him- she could not have gotten a breath! Tail and feet moving as one he pushed forwards, grabbing her, hugging her close as he pushed towards the far shore. This must have been where she had originally fallen in: the ice was broken, but rapidly sealing over once again.
One foot caught at the sloping stream bed for an instant; Kajm pushed, ramming up into the ice. It broke too easily, he knew it would not support his weight and hers. He pushed her up out of the water for an instant, hoping she would catch a breath before they fell back-
Closer to shore. Both feet found the bottom, and he lunged upwards, smashing head-first through thicker ice. Flung his free arm out hoping to set his claws into the ice, only to have it break again. Feet now set upon the bottom he tried to moved forward, like an ice-breaker, until he could no longer crack it easily. It might just be enough...
And then he was on the ice, water draining from his fur, threatening to freeze him to it. Tyajna in his arms, shivering, coughing up water. Freezing! He had to get her warm. Sprawled full-length on the ice, pushing himself forward with his feet as best he could, Kajm began one final transformation. His body flattening, spreading, bones shifting and changing shape, until he looked like nothing so much as one of the tanned furs back at the cave-
And then he literally rolled himself about her. Layer after layer, willing his body to generate a higher heat. Her head was somewhere near his throat, the only place where the chill air could reach her, allow her to breathe-
No strength left. Barely the will to keep himself in this form. Protect Tyajna at all cost, wait for Thunderwing-
Kajm. Wake up. Wakie-wakie! Kajm? Kajm. Kaaajm. Kajjjjjm. Kajm? Kajm! Kaaaaajm
*poke* *poke* Kajm? *poke poke* *poke POKE poke* Kajm! *Poke Poke Poke POKE poke-*
He felt himself lurch. Erf! Alright! Ohhh-h-h-h...
He felt... good. Tired, but good. Still wanted to sleep, but Thunderwing was persistent. After some long moments and a few more pokes, the Lir forced himself up into a sitting position. Forcing one eye and then the other to open, look down at himself. He was in his kangaroo form. Pattern shift. Wow, he said, no emotion in his voice. I must have used up everything.
Six pairs of eyes were locked upon him. Thunderwing knelt beside him. The pups- all save for Tyajna- were gathered about her, wide-eyed. Looking ready to burst into questions, but silent, no doubt at their mothers behest. And off to one side, as though he did not know where to be: Ruhk.
There you are, Ath said quietly. Her hands moving to each of the pups in turn with a calming touch. I-
-was just about to tell you, she smiled through her concern. You were on the far shore. I almost couldnt tell it was you, you were so... her hands pawed the air as she tried to make sense of it- You were stuck to the ice. I had to lift the entire block of ice with you on it. Barely able to carry you home-
The cavern was coming into focus about him. Wheres Ty?
Asleep in the play room. You managed to hang on long enough to put her to sleep, a deep sleep- Kajm, shes sick.
He had no memory of anything after falling into the water. I got her? Shes sick? Despite the protest of every muscle in his body Kajm climbed to his feet. Tried to take a step forward. Reached out to his mate. Love... help me, Please?
She took the much taller Roos arm over her shoulder, allowed him to rest his weight on her. The pups followed at a few paces. Ow. My tail. Hed been sleeping with it tucked under the wrong way, for two days. Roll me over next time please?
Ruhk spoke up as they walked. Master? Why did you not call for me?
Kajms ears twitched. He looked back. Call?
Ruhk looked hurt. I could have found her easily. Teleported right to the spot, and then right to the cavern.
That was what had nagged at him! Ahhh, Ruhk, Im so sorry! He stopped for a moment, stooped to pick up the little Rhokhi dragon. Hugged him close for a moment. I... had things on my mind, my friend. I promise, I shall not forget you in the future.
The play area had been converted into a nest, a pile of furs sunk into a pit dug deep into the sands. Kajm noticed that it was warmer here, wondering absently when Thunderwing had learned how to adjust the Blaze-gem for specific areas.
Tyajna slept fitfully in the midst of the furs. He could hear it in her breathing, knew it for what it was instantly, said as much to his mate- Pneumonia.
Easily, Love. Love? Take everyone off for a bit?
He could see she wanted to stay with them both. But after a long moment she assented, herding the pups out of the play room. There would be plenty of time to talk to them all later-
Kajm knelt at the edge of the furs. Felt within himself, for the needed powers... all had returned. He just needed, Oh, another week of sleep-
He raised his hands over her, palms down. Violet-blue energies shimmered about his hands, drifted down over the pup, like a mist. Reaching out to her empathically as well, striving to find every little problem he could-
Half an hour later Thunderwings curiosity finally got to her. What was taking him so long? Why was he so quiet...?
There came a faint snore and she snorted in amusement. Looking about the corner, to find the big Roo curled about his daughter, both sound asleep, both breathing easily.
Thunderwing sighed. It had been a very close call.
Turning she almost fell over the rest of the pups. Quietly herding them away to another corner of the cavern. Hush, all of you, and gather around. We are going to have a little chat-