Tailless had a blend of fear and relief on her face when she saw him enter the low-ceilinged cave. All three of their babies were trying to squeeze under her to hide. Once they saw their father, they tumbled out to meet him, whimpering very slightly. The terror in their big, black eyes was intensified by their pure white fur -- they hadn't started acquiring the tan patches that will camouflage them in the desert sands outside, and their ears had just begun to grow; soon their ears will make their heads look twice their actual size. They shivered as they stood before him.
Able started nuzzling them while making comforting cooing sounds. Tailless came over and did the same. Once the kits stopped shaking, Able and Tailless greeted each other by touching the tips of their tongues to the other's teeth. He wagged his tail and she wagged her stump even though they were just as frightened as their young ones.
* * * * *
The sun began to set as all the hunters stood in the Den's entrance. They looked in the direction where the Thing That Fell From the Sky hit the ground. Something that looked like a black, cloudy snake stretched from the ground to the sky. They tipped their heads from side to side as they watched...was the Thing close to another den?
They all exchanged concerned looks -- someone had to go see. Able dipped his head. The others wagged their tails, thanking him. He then nudged Swift who then did a quick twirl to express her joy in being chosen. She was young -- she hadn't even considered taking a mate yet -- and she was smaller than the rest, but she was the fastest runner. If he needed to send for help, she wouldn't fail him.
The others went off for the evening hunt while Able and Swift went deep into the Den to use the underground tunnels.
Able and Swift had to detour and backtrack four times when they got close to the Thing That Fell From the Sky -- several tunnels had collapsed. Finally, they reached the exit Able had in mind when they left the Den. They emerged from a rock outcropping and saw the Thing a short distance away.
Even though it was blackened and broken, Able knew it was just like the flying things that went in and out of the Strange Den from time to time. A small breeze blew, sending many strong, bad smells toward them. At least the cloud-snake thing had gone away.
Swift tried to snort the bad smells out of her nose. When that didn't work, she turned to go back into the tunnel. Able let out a disapproving grunt. Swift whimpered in protest -- bad smells mean bad things. He responded with a tiny growl -- someone might be in there.
Once they had found their way inside the Thing, curiosity began to override her instincts. The strange bad smells weren't in here, so that helped. But there was one bad smell Able recognized, and he swallowed down a sad whine.
It was dark, but not that much different than a moonless night. There were several Hindwalkers inside. Some were slumped over in their seats, others sprawled on the floor. But were they good Hindwalkers -- like the ones in the Strange Den -- or bad ones?
Able went over to the nearest Hindwalker on the floor. He gently tapped this one on the shoulder with his paw and said, "Oof?" a couple of times. No response came. He went to two others and got the same results. Swift did the same to others.
Able let out a sigh and left her to it. He didn't need to see any more. He went outside.
Did it matter if they were good or bad Hindwalkers? They weren't waking up any more, far away from their den, their family. He looked for the final light of the setting sun. He turned toward it, pointed his face toward the sky, and let out a low, keening, cooing type of wail. It petered out with his breath. He inhaled deeply and --
Able angrily spun around and saw Swift jump out of the thing while barking a strange bark. She had an intense look of urgency on her face. He realized she was making one of the Hindwalker sounds.
"No! No! No!"
He glared at her -- didn't that obnoxious kit care that this wasn't the way to grieve the ones not waking up?
"No! No! No!" she stomped her feet, challenging him. He charged after her, determined to teach her a lesson. She jumped back inside, staying just ahead of him. She deftly hopped over several Hindwalkers on the floor until she came to one that couldn't be seen from the entrance. She spun around to face Able and let out a defiant snort.
Able laid his ears back, bared his teeth, and --
jumped back, startled by a small moan that came from the Hindwalker. Able looked at the Hindwalker's face -- he always found the hairless faces of this breed fascinating -- to make sure he hadn't imagined the sound. The eyes fluttered open. Able's eyes were drawn to the hair between this Hindwalker's mouth and nose as the lips moved slightly. Able knew then that he had to send Swift back to the Den to get Healer.
"Faron?" the figure on the floor said weakly, "Jasmine?"
Weren't those the names the Hindwalkers had for the Travelers? It was apparent now that Swift also needed to bring as many strong ones she could find so this Hindwalker could be taken to the Den. This was a good Hindwalker, and the bad ones might be hunting him.