It hungered. The soft breeze carried the scents of the forest to its nostrils. Light perfumes mingled with the smells of fresh growth and damp decay. Not-Food. But together they signaled the height of the growing season, the days when Small-Foods crawled from their dens to announce their presence before making more Small-Foods. It listened for the telltale signs of nearby Foods, angling its peaked pinna to triangulate each scratch, squeak, and rustle. The Small-Foods were active today. It inhaled again, savoring each flavor of future Foods while noting the staleness of the scents of fellow Kin. A small pack of Young-Kin had passed through many days prior, but had not returned. Good. It would have no competition today. It selected a Small-Food, stealthily tracking its quarry through scent and sound before spotting the delectable Small-Food digging through refuse on the forest floor. It carefully drew closer before the Small-Food spotted it too, puffing up tail fur and preparing to call out to the forest in warning. But the Kin took control then, using its mind-powers to command the Small-Food to stay still, keep silent. It felt the Small-Food's fear in its mind fighting to regain control, fighting to resist the command to come closer. And it felt something else... This Small-Food had already found a friend. It claimed that mind too, commanding both to approach. Both Small-Foods walked directly to its waiting maw. A quick snap of the neck, a tear through the bone, and the first Small-Food disappeared down its gullet in two bites. The second followed quickly. A tasty snack. An appetizer. Nothing more. It still hungered. Small-Food was tasty and easy to catch, but there was never enough to sate its appetite. Outside their dens Small-Foods did not travel together, keeping enough distance from each other to remain outside of its mind-power range, requiring a new hunt for each portion of its meal. A Kin would need to hunt for a whole sun to catch enough Small-Foods to feel full. It sniffed the air again, this time searching for the signs of Big-Foods. Big-Foods were slightly larger than Kin, strong with sharp teeth and long claws. But Big-Foods were no match for its mind-powers, if it could get close enough without discovery. Most importantly, a Big-Food had enough food to last a Kin for several suns without more hunting. It could sleep, conserve energy, guarding its prize from within its den. It twitched its ears, listening for the telltale snorts of a Big-Food shuffling through the forest. Nothing. It tilted its head, seeking the musty smell of a Big-Food. Nothing. No nearby Big-Food today. It sneezed suddenly, an involuntary reaction to its repeat inhalations. But what was this? It smelled again, mentally separating each scent before finding the intruder-smell, of clean and danger and Foods consumed by The Burning. The Kin smelled again, to be certain. Smart-Foods were visiting the forest today. Smart-Foods were rare. When they came they brought packs too large for its mind-powers, with loud calls and stabby Not-Foods and control of The Burning. Smart-Foods were dangerous. But Smart-Foods were also delicious. It rotated its ears again, searching for the pack of Smart-Foods. There. The Smart-Foods were making loud noises and shouting loud cries. They were not afraid. Good. Smart-Foods did not know it was here. And the Smart-Foods were not alone. It heard hooves on hard dirt, and a soft knicker, betraying the presence of a Fast-Food. It paused. Fast-Foods did not listen to its mind-powers. The Fast-Food would run, let Smart-Foods know it was hunting. Then Smart-Foods would hunt too. It could not let Fast-Food know a Kin was near. It had to be careful. Quiet. Smarter than Smart-Food. But how to get close enough to use mind-powers? "Utsüdhaohïm!" It tensed its muscles, startled by the happy squeals of the Smart-Food cub, grubby hands outstretched, waddling towards it at a surprising pace. It bared its teeth, eliciting a happy squeal from the cub. "Vodüg Utsüdhaohïm!" It pulled back, light steps silent on soft earth, its eyes watching the Smart-Food cub's relentless approach. Its Kin instincts demanded it seek higher ground, flee the assault until it could assess the situation, but it hesitated. Smart-Food cub was alone. And Smart-Food cub smelled good. The cub was upon it then, the cub's golden mane now draped against the Kin's dark blue hide as the cub wrapped arms around its neck. Its skin felt suddenly damp, the Smart Food cub's mouth pressed against its neck. It pulled itself backwards, struggling to escape the cub's grip, concentrating to apply its mind-powers before the cub could deliver a killing bite. But the Smart-Food cub did not bite, and let go easily with another happy squeal. "Thaïm Utsüdhaohïm!" From a safe distance it watched as the Smart-Food cub reached a furless paw within the cub's colorful hide and pulled out the source of the delicious smell. "Vüdhaohïm waop? Darla nü chutsit!" It inhaled in the direction of the gift, breathing in the scents of Food eaten by The Burning. It stepped forward carefully, cautiously. The cub stepped forward too, holding the gift towards the fearsome Kin, showing teeth. It bared its teeth in return, and again the Smart-Food cub let out a high pitched shout before throwing the Burned-Food in its direction. "Alches! Alches chutsit!" It sniffed at the Burned-Food cautiously, tentatively consuming a portion. The Burned-Food tasted even better than Big-Food. It ate the rest quickly before approaching the Smart-Food cub, sniffing the cub's colorful hide to locate any other Smart-Food parts eaten by The Burning. The cub made shrieking noises again, pulling at its ears and scratching lightly at its hide as it circled. "Darla?" It stopped its circling, ears twitching, at the distant call. The Smart-Food pack was growing restless. They were calling even louder than before. "Darla! Darlaaaa! Bi waïb utsütüdh?" It crouched in front of the Smart-Food cub, staring intently. The Burned-Food had distracted it from using its mind-powers. The Smart-Food cub batted at it playfully, like a Young-Kin, breaking its concentration and preventing it from taking control. It attempted its mind-powers anyway, ordering the cub onto its back, and was surprised when the cub obeyed. "Waïl hü ülubiwäng, Utsüdhaohïm?" It still hungered. Smart-Foods cared for their cubs. It wondered if it could use the Smart-Food cub to separate a bigger Smart-Food from the pack. Grown Smart-Foods were more filling than cubs. Did these grown Smart-Foods have parts eaten by The Burning, too? Did they taste as delicious? "Yaï käamiktü umtüdh? Yaï shal sil ülubem yeïk!" "Lej̈ bidüs shal igün mï j̈is shatsaïvwo!" "Nol! Le j̈e lej̈ jutcho biwop yaï? Lej̈ yob yaï shal j̈ek faïb thaïm dhois duspoj̈ yaï shal dok. Yaï ra zaowis ash theïp bagag ash utsütüdh!" "Kaotsap dhaohwif, bäk bi. Alahaïrup hudaï deïyoiptu. Yeïk iki fao. Hü dok yeïk." "Darlaaaaa!" The Smart-Food pack was agitated now. Did they know it was here? It shook its head to clear the cub's mane from its eyes, listening to the calls of the other Smart-Foods come closer. Time to hunt? Or to hide? "Päm woi Utsüshedh, Faowip!" "Ram dhois now yok yaï, Darla!" "Alches lan, Darla! Hü käyos ram nulchel!" Kin perked its ears. This pack had bad hunters, the Smart-Foods were splitting up. It commanded the Smart-Food cub to hold on, waiting to feel the cub's arms hold tightly around its neck before bounding towards the closest Smart-Food voices. It would eat Smart-Food today. It heard the Fast-Food panic in the distance, realizing its mistake too late. It had forgotten about the Fast-Food. Now the Smart-Foods might know it was here. "Yov! Zancig." It recognized the Smart-Food word for Kin. Smart-Foods knew. The Hunt just got harder. But Kin could be patient. Kin could be clever. It could still eat well this sun. "Waïl, woi?" "Chuj̈ utgä käpädh Darla, lej̈ neïngäw-" "Darlaaaaa!" The Kin crouched in a nearby bushy Not-Food, using its mind-power to order the Smart-Food cub to keep still. It felt the cub's arms pull tighter, felt the cub's breath against its neck. Good. Now, to wait. "Sivwu! Chuj̈ huv Mitsïsdhaohïm ngeïwung yeïk dhoip. Lakwu waodhew bi aspim." "Chuj̈ hü agato hü ap yeïk hü daï Darla." "E chuj̈ ap bäk j̈em theïmï ram tüdh shaf yeïngam." It listened as the four voices drew closer. The Smart-Foods were looking for it as a pack now. There were too many Smart-Foods for its mind-powers, especially if it wanted to keep the cub. It needed to separate them again. It crouched deep in the bushy Not-Food, waiting, until the voices passed. It was now between the Smart-Foods and their Fast-Food. The Fast-Food was still stomping at the ground but had not moved. Smart-Foods did like to stop Fast-Food from being fast. Maybe the Fast-Food could bring some of the Smart-Foods back? Or maybe it could eat the Fast-Food. It had never caught a Fast-Food but Smart-Foods liked to bring them everywhere. Delicious Smart-Foods did not seem to eat other Smart-Foods. Maybe Fast-Foods were more delicious than Smart-Foods? It turned back towards the Smart-Food camp, following the sounds of the Fast-Food. It felt the Smart-Food cub shift on its back and commanded the cub to keep still, keep quiet. It waited to feel the cub comply before continuing, carefully slipping through the underbrush. It imagined the bright hide of the cub on its back was easily visible, but more importantly the cub's scent would help mask its own. Hopefully. The Fast-Food did not appear to notice their approach, maintaining a heightened level of unease but without any changes as they drew closer. Good. It could see the Fast-Food now, mane disheveled from pulling against the restraints binding it to a tall Not-Food, dirt filing the air from the stamping of uneasy hooves. Fast-Food was too dangerous for it to approach. But maybe the cub...? It used its mind-powers to direct the cub into the camp to calm the Fast-Food. "Utsüganfeï!" Once it was certain the Fast-Food was focused on the Smart-Food cub it crept towards the tall Not-Food where the Fast-Food was restrained, carefully climbing high into the branches above the pacing Fast-Food. It relaxed its mind-power grip on the cub and waited, preparing to strike. "Darla? Darla! Deïnlew yaï! Yaï daï deïpteï?" A Smart-Food entered the camp, taking it by surprise. The Kin studied the short-maned newcomer warily as the Smart-Food inspected the cub. It had not been discovered. Good. It began to focus its mind-powers on the New Smart-Food. "Darla, Faowip, yaï daï foik ät. Ram dhois now äkäpaov!." The Smart-Food stood up and began waving its arms. "Äwoi! Kädoc yeïk! Yeïk bisha j̈em akifaïng!" The big Smart-Food crouched in front of the cub again." Waïl käshät yaï? Be yaï käj̈e?." "Lej̈ kädok Utsüdhaohïm!" The Kin crouched carefully in the tall Not-Food. It knew some of these Smart-Food calls. Soon all the Smart-Foods would return to the camp. It needed to act quickly. It tightened its mind-powers over the Smart-Food cub, directing the cub to run away from it and the Fast-Food, into the forest. "Deïnlew Utsüdhaohïm! " As it hoped, the short-maned Smart-Food ran after the cub. "Darla? Daï bikä... Päm u Darla!" The Kin took its chance to strike from its perch in the tree, easily snapping the Fast-Food's neck between the strength of its jaws and the weight of its body. The bindings holding the Fast-Food to the tall Not-Food broke easily in the fall, already frayed from the doomed animal's attempts to escape earlier. "Yov! Zancig!" The Kin looked up from its kill to see the pack of Smart-Foods had all returned at the calls. Too slow. It prepared to slip into the surrounding forest, commanding the Smart-Food cub to stand between it and the rest of the Smart Food pack. The cub complied. "Darla! Hil dï iptä!" The largest Smart-Food shouted angrily, waving a sharp Not-Food in its direction. "Durkeng!" the cub shouted angrily, planting front paws on hips. "Bi daï deïpteï vü Utsüdhaohïm!" " Darla..." A different Smart-Food was advancing now, the bottom of the Smart-Food's face covered in fur, this one ignoring it and instead focused on the cub. "Ram utsüdhaohïm? Utsüdhaohïm ap yaï gew?" "Deïnlew!" The cub ran up to it, arms wrapping around its neck, face burrowing into its fur. "Chug Utsüdhaohïm." It kept its attention on the big Smart-Foods, directing a snarl in their direction and ignoring the sudden wet on its neck. "Bej̈ ävwaginghes jü! Yaï dhoi jü dhois ävwäyeïthol." "Hü bidüs daïbayeïngam tuptä hu mï j̈em yeïk huv. Du waomitsïs dhaohïm ävwäyeïthol." "Yeïk shall ap vü tüdh u gew. J̈em yeïk j̈is äj̈ipüp foiv! Yeïk utsäwüaop." It watched as the face-fur Smart-Food reached inside the Smart-Food's own colorful hide and pulled out a small chunk of something, tossing the item in its direction. It sniffed before consuming the offered gift. Burned-Food. The Smart-Foods must all have delicious Burned-Food pieces. "Le yaï ipaïrdos du vüsh? Yaï no yeïk alchesyaï?" "Yaï shal dhoi Zancig giwïk j̈em hü ähï üluwaïb theïtwu. Lej̈ biwäng gew, j̈em lej̈ ap um tüdh. Ädaï bisha sen yaï." The long-maned Smart-Food reached for the cub. "Ädaïmïnunfoihew. Dï Zancig aginghes Darla, yeïk ähï j̈ibisha dü shaf äfaothoijo!" The face-fur Smart-Food bared teeth. "Lan lej̈ ït urküj̈ dü vü muyam shafe udh. Faïm lej̈, dï ga ävwäyaïrarvo Daïhunvu Nuchi!" It watched as the face-fur Smart-Food stopped to stare down the long-maned Smart-Food. "Yaï daï ijü ju zäj̈ shafe j̈is ganfeï, rash." "Päm woi, Darla. Thaïl dï dhaohïm tunfe." It watched the Smart-Foods call to each other loudly for several moments before shaking the Smart-Food cub loose. The Darla-Cub looked at it questioningly. "Utsüdhaohïm?" It imprinted the Darla-Cub's mind with pieces of its own before relinquishing its current mind-powers and nudging the cub towards the Smart-Foods pack. Darla-Cub watched it curiously as it grabbed the Fast-Food in its jaws and began pulling the carcass into the forest. "Utsüganfeï? Utsüdhaohïm?" "Waïb? Ädaïmïnunfoihew. Yaï äpaov." "Yeïk shall yeïthol vü ganfeï!" "J̈em yeïk shal j̈ilchaosoi um Darla. Lej̈ hudaï abeï yeïk j̈is theïplo ges du. Best yeïk. Äj̈ipüp dhaohom." The Kin kept its muscles tense, watching the Smart-Food pack warily as it pulled the dead Fast-Food towards the surrounding forest. To safety. The Smart-Food pack continued to call to each other and gather around Darla-Cub but did not follow it into the forest. By the weight the Kin estimated this Fast-Food would last it two whole suns. It would eat well. Then it would return. Darla-Cub could help it hunt the Smart-Foods. It would teach Darla-Kin to be a good hunting partner. It always hungered.
Thaïj̈ is one of the many dialects of the Andisol Valley. It is most prominent among cities along the outskirts of the Ashgrove Forest.