Reaver’s Hunt: Chapter Three


I’d been spending too much time away from the aerie. While I hadn’t been told as much, I was getting inquisitive glances whenever I arrived.

We all wanted more answers about the underdwellers, all eyes were on alert for any move closer to our mountains.

As did I.

But I could not deny the heightened patrols had given me an excellent reason to stay out longer, watching over my golden female.

Still, it was time to return.

My heart felt light. She liked my gifts, even wore the necklace. An unfamiliar warmth filled me.

Why could I not stop watching her activity around the camp? It should bore me. Instead, I was held rapt.

Yet I was failing my duty. The female needed to be escorted to the aerie, to her tribe. That was the standing order.

But watching her from hiding—the act had taken hold of me. Seeing her from a distance, going about her day. Daring myself to be closer, pulled by invisible strings to her side. To stare openly at her smooth shape, her glossy golden hair. Guarding her sleeping, eating…

While I tried to convince myself I was protecting her, it was beyond that. My distant admiration, I knew, needed to end. Soon. Before the winter.

Or maybe when the first snow fell.

She moved into her shelter, carrying food, the meat I’d provided. I knew the routine. After eating, she would retire for the night. Maybe sing a song to her campfire.

I sighed. I knew she was safe enough. My game bag was stuffed with another bundle hargeisa meat, a delicacy this time of year. It would serve as a good excuse for my absence.

Even as I took to the sky, I felt her tug on my soul. To be near her, to guard her, to watch her…

I had responsibilities.

She had taken the necklace, and wore it even now. When the time was right, I would make my introduction. Somehow, I would convince her to let me carry her to her people in the mountains.

Circling the camp high overhead, it occurred to me what a wise selection this tiny valley was. Steep slopes dropping down on two sides, the mountains rising on the other, made it difficult to reach on foot.

A stream ran close by her rock shelter, splashing down a waterfall to the river in the gorge below. She had easy access to water, to game, the grasses she toyed with endlessly, and edible plants.

One more circle, higher this time. My wings caught an updraft. I caught her tiny figure moving toward the forest. Gathering more firewood, I thought. Then I straightened my course, heading for the peaks of the aerie.

Chill wind blew over me, harbinger of the seasonal change. My wings found the gusts, lifting me. The thought of her accepting my gift lifted me higher. I found myself smiling.

And then terrified.

Even at this height, the scream reached me.

Raw fear, from my little golden one.

Pulling my wings as tight as they would go, I plummeted back toward the clearing, my dive was dangerously swift. Dark closed in, pooling in the woods.

We’d only learned of dangerous underdwellers. They lived only in darkness. Had they emerged from their underground domain, taken advantage of the lengthening night?

A grumbling roar directed me. Darting between the twilight trees, I sought her. Finally, I caught sight. She was halfway up her cache tree and facing her was a mountain of blue fur.

Hunched back, knuckle walking, and dozens of claws—a recci attacked her.

It stood nearly twice as tall as me. Fangs were longer than my fingers. Claws oozed with stunning venom. Ricci were huge, slow moving. The ambush predator swiped at my golden one.

She fell! But caught herself on the many branches.

Freeing the nakav from between my wings, I held it for a flying lunge. Impact from my swift momentum threatened to rip my weapon away.

Instead, I held it true. The spear blade punched into the recci’s shoulder. It took a stumbling step. Away from my female.

We collided. It backhanded me with a paw twice the size of my head. My teeth loosened. But not my grip.

Wings furiously pumping, I managed to remain airborne. The monster’s next swipe was met with the nakav.

It howled in pain, the slash deep. Fanged snout snapped inches from my own face. Blocking sideways with the shaft, I kept it at bay.

Faster than I anticipated, its other paw swatted me away, claws tearing into my arm. The blow fell hard enough to knock me to the ground.

Tucking my wings, rolling, I leapt again to my feet. Close combat with the monster was suicide. From a few paces away, I threw the nakav with all my strength.

It flew true, into the beast’s neck. In slow motions, the mighty recci fell to the ground.

Ignoring my pain, and my cherished weapon, I raced to the tree where she hung from the branches still. Was she hurt?

Reaching up, I grabbed her hips and lowered her to the ground. My hands turned her head, golden hair falling to one side and then the other. No bruises.

I lifted her arms, fingers seeking broken bones. There were none. I turned her around. Only a few abrasions, bruises, indicated her struggle with the monster recci.

Her eyes popped, staring at me. While her mouth moved, no sound came out.

I took a step back. She was terrified of me. What was I thinking?

The golden female began clucking like a kagen. She was more damaged than I could tell.


She pointed.


I turned to look at the fallen recci, pulling my nakav free with a wrench.

“You’re fine now,” I said.

“Whoareyou? Howdidyoufindme?”

Of course. She spoke the tongue of the females. Despite months of watching Sarah and her clan, I knew only a few of their words. Still, I sought to calm her.

“Good.” I looked into her gemlike eyes. “Good.”

“Good?” She then babbled; her language full of too many words.

Again, she pointed at the bear.


I shook my head, unable to follow. She brought her fingers together near her mouth. “Nom nom nom?” Then she rubbed her abdomen.

Ah. She wanted to know if the recci meat was edible. The tribe of women had various gestures. I tried one. Holding my hand out flat, I tilted it from side to side.

She blinked, staring. Had I done it wrong? Then she laughed, eyes wide. When she babbled, I felt a little relieved.

I watched her do a little dance. She rubbed her stomach, pointed up into the tree, did the finger-mouth thing, then pointed at me. Her brows rose, head tilting with a slight smile. “Nom-nom-nom?

It took a moment. Then I realized she wanted to share her smoked fish. Could I do this dance, too?

I pointed at her, and then at me. Then I made a gesture, waving my hand in an arc toward the treetops. We had to leave. Then I indicated the recci. One by one, I held up fingers. Then I made claws of my hands. With two fingers, I did a walking gesture. More recci would come.

For a while, she only blinked. I danced again.

“Morebear?” Her brows drew together. “Coldweather? Aretheymovingsouth?

I picked out a single word. “Cold,” I nodded. I did the point wave again. “We have to leave, to reach your people. Your tribe. Females.”


Aha! I nodded rapidly, reaching for more of Sarra’s words. “Hyoo-mon female.

“Humanfemale?” She looked startled. Babbled, put a hand on her chest. Her words rose up at the end. A question.

I pointed at her and nodded. Human females like her.

“Omigod!” Her hands flew around as she paced. She pointed in all directions. Her hands made a rolling motion together. Nothing she did made sense.

She headed for her shelter, beckoning me to follow. Was she not understanding it? As we moved from the trees, my head went light. A sweat broke out over me. Not wanting her to see weakness, I shook it off.

In her shelter, she put on a vest she’d made from twined and woven grass. She grabbed a small woven basket, then put a few stone tools in the vest pouches. In the basket, some cordage, a bundle of leather, a leaf packet of berries. She held some out to me.


I shook my head. My stomach churned, and another round of sweating. What was wrong with me?

“Suityourself,” she shrugged and ate a mouthful. She pointed at the meat, shrugged.

I hefted my full gamebag. She got it. There was plenty. But she did put the fur in her basket, as well as the fur of bawets. Then she lifted fistfuls of dry grass and looked a question at me.

“It grows everywhere,” I managed. My head ached. I swiped sweat off my brow.

Her expression darkened and she moved near. I felt an electric tingle when her palm touched my forehead.

She spoke a bunch of words, but I caught only one.

“Hot.” Then she gasped, lifting my arm.

I saw claw marks, eight deep cuts. They were surrounded by the darkening of my skin, swelling.

“Bad.” She said. Another female word I understood.

As the room went blurry, I found I couldn’t argue.

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