Tek and Ilk, terlock bothers, have set off for an adventure. Unknown to them their forest is being invaded by a savage group of Snatchers, who will simply run them down for being in the way.
Having lost their father to illness and cold, they are vulnerable. For when terlock males want to shack up with newly singled females, they must first be rid of any progeny left behind. If they don't the females remain devoted to the departed. It's the terlock way.
Having followed them, a terlock male appears out of the shrubbery, and reveals his devotion to their mother. Will they escape his knife? You'll have to read it to find out.
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His brother was injured. To fall now was unthinkable. He had to reach Ilk. Had to! There was no one else around, not this far from home.
Tek dropped from the lowest branch. His supple legs took the blow, he rolled. A thorn bush lay in his path and he came to a stop just short of it. A popstickle bush with thorns as long as his nine year old forearm. Ilk was out of sight the other side. 'Ilk!' he called. Tears threatened to form but he pushed them back. He had to remain strong. He was Ilk's only hope. Mum would be furious with them for being away so long, even more so if anything bad happened to either of them.
He walked around the bush, careful not to brush too close and snapped a few stems of the fern next to it as he went. As he rounded the popstickle, he saw his brother, still unmoved, eyes closed tight. Relief swept through him when he saw the rise and fall of Ilk's chest. He knelt at his brother's side and shook him. Ilk stayed silent. He tried again and again; desperate. He'd never been taught how to revive the fallen. Now that it was his brother, he wished someone had shown him.
When shaking him didn't work he slapped him on the face, hard; nothing. Tears fell down his scaled cheeks, uncontrollable. He stroked Ilk's forehead and ran his hand along the ridge on the top of Ilk's head, his claws wouldn't scratch the toughened scales but his touch was gentle nonetheless.
Not knowing what to do, he sat back and wished their mother was there.
He looked down at the sleeping Ilk beside him. He was the brave one; two years older than his nine years. Ilk was the one who knew best. He was the one who'd decided to come on the adventure but they'd wandered too far and they both knew it. Up in the trees, looking for a way back, he'd lost his concentration and footing.
With Ilk in trouble it was up to Tek. He listened to the forest around him. There were the familiar calls of the birds and the squawks and squeaks of smaller mammals, nothing else. If there was anything bigger, he couldn't tell; he'd never grasped how to know when the larger predators lurked nearby. Ilk knew though and whenever he sensed there was danger -- in most cases it was wolves -- he was always right. Tek stood and looked around. Just because he couldn't hear them, didn't mean they weren't there. Maybe he would see them instead, or even recognise something of where he was, now that he was the one in charge.
Patches of long grass up to his chin, and the ferns and popstickle bushes that dotted the landscape made it hard to see anything at all. The trees, towering above, all looked the same down here. It was only from up high you could see where you were. He knew they were close to the dwarves' boundary, but where exactly it started, Ilk hadn't said. Wolves were bad news, but dwarves were their worst enemy. And they were to be avoided at all costs: dad had warned them often enough. If he saw one of those, he'd have to duck, swift and sharp and pray they didn't find them.
He could call for help, but the wolves might find them first. He ducked at the thought. They were always around, always lurking in the undergrowth. They were hidden enough here and he was sure they wouldn't see them, and as long as he kept quiet he was sure they'd not ever know they were there. He needed Ilk to be awake and shook him again. When Ilk's eyes didn't open, he stopped. His brother was in a deep sleep and there was nothing he could do about it.