This is the second draft of a story I started for NaNoWriMo. The little summary hardly does it justice, so I apologize. It's a hard story to explain. ^^ I'm still not sure quite where it's going, but I guess we'll see. So here goes...

By the way, this story is written in chapters, but each chapter is in a few parts. I'll update by parts, but only new chapters get new pages. I hope that isn't confusing.


1

The Color of a Curse

I.

It was hot, hot like no early spring day should ever be. The rain-dampened earth steamed under the morning sun. The crocuses dared to open their blooms and the young buds lacing the forest trees strained to get out to this warm, inviting world.

And in one small clearing, the grass was getting trampled by forty-four pounding feet.

"You can do more than that!" a tall, tan-skinned man shouted at the nine dogs running about and fighting with each other; another dog was slinking around on the side. The man glanced at a young woman standing next to him. Her skin was tan and thick like his, covered in scars from the dogs' claws and teeth. Her dark hair was crudely cropped above her shoulders.

"Sayurr, I want you to order them to stop," the man instructed.

Sayurr's brown eyes gazed up at him in confusion. "I thought... you wanted them to fight, Father."

The man snorted and grimaced. "I know. It wasn't very long, but please. I need you to assert your authority over them. It's time to start working on their powers."

Sayurr glanced at the dogs uneasily, and then cried out, "Hold!"

The dogs snarled and gnashed their teeth for a few seconds, and then were still. Sayurr felt a familiar thrill of excitement. She was controlling them... there was something strangely uncomfortable about that thought, but there was still something fundamentally comforting about knowing she could be on top.

"Okay," Sayurr's father said. "Now tell one of them to do something."

"Which one?" Sayurr cocked her head and gave him a sidelong glance.

He studied the dogs for a while. "Haya. Make him do something special. The others need to see him in a brighter light."

"But Fax would need to do that."

"It's a metaphor, Sayurr." An edge of annoyance lined his voice. Sayurr shrunk back slightly and then turned to look at the dogs. She singled out Haya, caught his attention, and stared at him until he knew he was her target. "Wind!" she commanded.

A chill breeze filled the clearing. Sayurr took a deep breath as she listened to the susurrus of the wind through trees. She was about to close her eyes when she realized that the sunlight had faded. She looked up.

Her father followed her gaze and looked skyward as well, wondering what had caught her attention. "Oh..." he breathed. "Oh, no. No."

Sayurr bit her lip. "What?"

He seemed to ignore her. "Sayurr, go home right now... wait. Maybe you should say."

"What?" She was starting to feel desperate. "What's happening?"

"The sky... the clouds are looking a bit too purple for my personal comfort."

Sayurr gasped. "Purple..."

A flash of light split the sky, followed by a roll of thunder that shook the ground. Rain came down in a fine drizzle. Then a mist began to waft from the river. It was thin, but heavy-looking, like a light fog.

But it looked a bit too purple for normal mist.

Sayurr felt a frantic desire to run, but knew she shouldn't. She should stay with the dogs, where she belonged. She felt she ought to do something...

"Wind," she breathed. She whirled her head to look at Haya, stomping with a boot to catch his attention. The light gray dog jumped back an inch and stared at her in surprise. "Wind," she said again, this time with more force.

The wind from the storm had strengthened considerably, but Haya managed to fight it back enough to send the mist from the river in the other direction. Sayurr sighed. She did not want to breathe cursed air.

"Moon Dawn!" her father shouted. He was looking at a black dog, slightly smaller than most of the others, with a coat of long, smooth fur that for some reason lacked the usual luster dogs' fur carried. "The river carries a curse."

The black dog's pointed ears pricked up at the mention of the curse. It knew that word only too well. It also knew the river. The dog slowly padded toward the meandering water-path, sniffing the air and testing the ground with gentle paws. When it located the curse, it closed its eyes, braced its body as if for an attack, and began its work.

Sayurr's father sighed. "I love that dog. I can't imagine how many of us would be dead were it not for him."

"It," Sayurr corrected vehemently. The man looked rather embarrassed, and Sayurr noted with amusement how strange that emotion made him look.

There was another loud boom that shook the ground. At first they all passed it off as more thunder. Then the dogs began to growl. Sayurr followed their glares and found herself looking at the river, a ways upstream from Moon Dawn.

Something was rising out of the water, surrounded by a thick purple cloud. The next thing they all knew, they were staring into the eyes of a gigantic creature, an abomination of nature.

A demon.


II.

The demon had narrow white eyes shaded by a heavy brow, which swept back into a pair of serrated horns. Three magnificent fin crests colored like the dawn sky rose from its head and neck. It had a long, snake-like body covered in a hard slate blue rock-like substance. It had a pair of stubby limbs with diamond-shaped fins by its head. Its tail had a similar diamond-shaped crest at its tip.

Its most frightening aspect however, was its mouth. None of its teeth protruded from its mouth, as many demons' tended to do, but it was huge and Sayurr could only imagine how many teeth it could fit.

It roared. It was a deafening sound, and it reminded Sayurr of water crashing in a storm. She wondered if the ocean sounded like that. Then she studied its teeth. There were two rows of them on each jaw. They were short, but incredibly narrow. They looked brown and rotten in some places. Many of the tips were broken, and Sayurr imagined that they must be all the sharper for it.

She resolved not to get bitten.

"Sayurr," she heard her father say. "Stand back, please, and watch me..." She could tell he was trying to stay calm, but something about his tone told her that this was a more worrisome demon than the few he had faced in the past.

Sayurr studied the situation. With that rock-hard skin, she doubted Isumine's power would be of much effect. Fax could blind it, but then it might thrash around and cause damage the move had been meant to save. Moon Dawn was busy, Fennel couldn't do anything useful right now... Saila, Kalomi, and Amarok probably couldn't do much either. It would have to be up to Serre, Sarurun, and Haya for now. Thinking of Haya, where was he right now?
She noticed that he had joined the other dogs. The strange mist from the river seemed to have vanished. A slight wave of relief washed over her.

Her father began to make gestures for the dogs and shout out commands. They dispersed, running along the riverbank or jumping up onto boulders. Serre, a small brown dog about a hand's length shorter than most of the others, unfurled two long, thin wings and jumped into the air. The faded sunlight filtered through the thick umber membrane. He swerved away from the demon, trying to get behind and above it.

Meanwhile, the other dogs tried to distract it. Fax and Isumine created small flashes of light in the air around it. Kalomi, Saila, and Amarok darted around and barked, trying to keep it from paying attention to any one of them. Haya kicked up a breeze to mix up the scents, and Sarurun stood by Moon Dawn, staring into the river's murky depths. Sayurr wondered what he was doing. Perhaps helping purify the water? Could he do that?

Infuriated by the dogs' incessant barking and prancing around, the demon drew its tail back. Still dripping with water, it swung forward with a force that threatened to knock down nearby trees. The dogs were trapped. They couldn't run away in time, and they couldn't jump over the tail. They couldn't run into the river, either—that would be the most dangerous move of all. Suddenly Amarok, a gigantic black dog who stood almost as tall as Sayurr, spun around and jumped. The demon's whiplash tail slid beneath him. He fell on top of it and bit down on the fin, shredding it to bits with his fangs and claws. The other dogs made a desperate move to follow his example and were nearly hit. The demon shrieked in pain.

Sayurr knew that shredding its fins would do nothing to help kill it. There had to be something. She stared blankly into the water. Water... a water demon. What could be used against a water creature?

Her head snapped around to look at Isumine, a struggling white mass of fur.

Electricity. Water conducted electricity.

"Isumine!" she cried. The dog did not seem to hear. If she did, she didn't respond. Sayurr's father spun to look at her, a worried expression on his face. She wished she could assure him. I don't know what I'm doing, either, she thought. I've never felt so certain before...

She ran over to where Isumine now lay. The demon had retracted its tail, and the dogs were panting and growling on the bank. "Isumine," she said softly. She stroked the dog for a moment, and then dragged her to her feet. "Water. River. Shock."

Isumine's eyebrows bounced up and down in confusion. She was usually asked to shock certain objects, such as rocks or dead trees or other creatures. Not bodies of water. She trusted Sayurr, though, and went to attempt the command. She bounded over Sayurr's leg and ran to the river bank, far enough away from the demon that it shouldn't immediately notice her if it decided to attack a random target.

She drew in energy from the air around her and gathered the static electricity within her own body. She took a bit from the dogs, and even some from the demon. She was expecting some retaliation from the demon's body, and almost lost her charge when she was met by nothing. But she continued to let the energy build up.

Then she let it go. She channelled it into the river. In a thick blue bolt it struck the water. In an instant it had been supercharged by the water and sought out the demon's body. With a loud snap it surged through the demon. It shrieked, an ear-splitting scream, and Sayurr thought she would go deaf. She couldn't imagine how it must have felt to the dogs' super-sensitive ears. Her heart seemed to trip and double its pace for a second.

The demon's long, heavy body fell over and nearly crushed Moon Dawn and Sarurun. Moon Dawn stayed rooted to the spot, but the floppy-eared, gray-striped Sarurun scrambled backward in shock. Water sprayed everywhere.

With the demon gone, the curse lifted much more easily. The last of the purple haze in the river burst out and swirled around Moon Dawn, and then seemed to vanish. The dog's matte black fur looked even less shiny than before. Moon Dawn seemed only slightly worn, though. It padded toward Sayurr and her father, who had moved to stand next to her.

"That was brilliant," he breathed.

Sayurr felt pride well up within her.

Her father had praised her.


III.

"So, you killed your first demon," Sayurr's father said, smiling. "How do you feel?"

Sayurr spent a silent moment thinking, then said, "I didn't kill it. The dogs did."

Her father blinked.

"But..." she continued, "I do feel rather... not happy. I caused the death of a great creature. I can't feel happy about that."

"You could very well have saved the whole land, Sayurr."

"Still... I do feel proud. But not because I helped kill it. I guess... I don't really know how to explain it to you."

He had to consider that statement for a few seconds. "I understand," he said finally. His tone belied his confusion, however. Sayurr sighed and smiled half-heartedly at him. "Sorry."

"That's okay," he replied. "Come on, let's go home."

The two turned toward a hill and began to walk. They followed a path of beaten earth, packed down and tread so often that no plants grew on it. The dogs followed close behind, padding slowly. The path wound through the forest and away from the river, until it reached a place where the hill erupted from the gorge. The path broadened as it neared a short, long cliffside. The cliff was dotted with a series of shallow caves, ranging from about one and a half to two times the height of a person. The cave entrances were covered with cloth and furs draping from the ceiling.

Sayurr and her father walked toward a cave in the center. It looked small, but when they pulled aside the thick fur covering the mouth, it revealed a wide space that stretched about twenty feet back into the hill. The entire cave was made of rock. Generations of feet had worn the floor to soft and rounded stone. In the back of the cave, three small sections of the floor were covered by beds of dried leaves and soft furs. The walls of the cave were covered in black markings, swirls and doodles drawn or painted with charcoal.

The dogs settled down on the floor with grunts of relief. There were shallow dips worn in the floor from the years' worth of dogs that had slept there. Sayurr went and knelt down amidst them. She crawled over to Amarok. She suspected that if any of the dogs were wounded, it would be him.

"Is he okay?" her father asked, biting his lip.

Amarok was panting softly. His eyes were halfway open, and his breaths caused his chest to rise considerably. Sayurr put a hand on his side. He twitched.

"I think he took quite a blow when he landed," she replied. She kept her hand on him, trying to feel how his lungs were moving. "His breathing feels a bit labored. I think he'll be okay, though." She looked at Fennel. The soft brown dog was sitting up and studying the others. She was completely unscathed, but she noticed that her gaze kept moving to Moon Dawn. Concern flicked through her brain. She crawled over to the black dog.

He was breathing slowly—slower than her, which was unusual for a dog. His eyes were closed. She grasped his paw lightly, and he opened his eyes. They looked slightly glazed, but Sayurr couldn't tell if it was from exhaustion or ailment.

"What's wrong?" came her father's voice.

"Moon Dawn..." Sayurr stroked his fur. "Curse," she whispered. "Release."

Moon Dawn squeezed his eyes for a moment. Then he lifted his head and gazed at her. He lowered his ears.

"Did he absorb too much curse energy?" her father asked.

Sayurr nodded. "He won't release it."

"You haven't tried."

She stared at him blankly.

Her father furrowed his brow. "...Sayurr?"

She blinked. "Yes?"

"Um... is something wrong?
"No." She froze and looked at Moon Dawn. She released his paw and put both her hands on his neck. "Afraid. He's afraid."

"Of what?"

"Don't know."

"Move." He strode over to Moon Dawn. Sayurr scurried out of the way and knelt by Fennel's side, wrapping an arm around her neck. He crouched down and studied the black dog. "I'll take him out. Maybe he'll vent it when he's away from others." He was only slightly taller than Sayurr was, but his arms were strong from years of working with the dogs. He scooped Moon Dawn up with ease, stood up, and carefully moved him outside. He set him down on the path a few feet from the cave mouth, where no things grew. "Release," he whispered. "Release."

Though she could barely hear him, Sayurr thought she detected a hint of fear in his voice. She wondered if the situtation was too complex for her to wholly comprehend.

He has curse in him, she reflected. There was a demon. There was a demon in the river, so close to home... demons have never lived so close... are there more? What's happening?

Then she noticed a figure standing by the cave, looking in. Her brother. "Sayurr?" he asked. "I heard you killed a demon."


1

The Color of a Curse

I.

It was hot, hot like no early spring day should ever be. The rain-dampened earth steamed under the morning sun. The crocuses dared to open their blooms and the young buds lacing the forest trees strained to get out to this warm, inviting world.

And in one small clearing, the grass was getting trampled by forty-four pounding feet.

"You can do more than that!" a tall, tan-skinned man shouted at the nine dogs running about and fighting with each other; another dog was slinking around on the side. The man glanced at a young woman standing next to him. Her skin was tan and thick like his, covered in scars from the dogs' claws and teeth. Her dark hair was crudely cropped above her shoulders.

"Sayurr, I want you to order them to stop," the man instructed.

Sayurr's brown eyes gazed up at him in confusion. "I thought... you wanted them to fight, Father."

The man snorted and grimaced. "I know. It wasn't very long, but please. I need you to assert your authority over them. It's time to start working on their powers."

Sayurr glanced at the dogs uneasily, and then cried out, "Hold!"

The dogs snarled and gnashed their teeth for a few seconds, and then were still. Sayurr felt a familiar thrill of excitement. She was controlling them... there was something strangely uncomfortable about that thought, but there was still something fundamentally comforting about knowing she could be on top.

"Okay," Sayurr's father said. "Now tell one of them to do something."

"Which one?" Sayurr cocked her head and gave him a sidelong glance.

He studied the dogs for a while. "Haya. Make him do something special. The others need to see him in a brighter light."

"But Fax would need to do that."

"It's a metaphor, Sayurr." An edge of annoyance lined his voice. Sayurr shrunk back slightly and then turned to look at the dogs. She singled out Haya, caught his attention, and stared at him until he knew he was her target. "Wind!" she commanded.

A chill breeze filled the clearing. Sayurr took a deep breath as she listened to the susurrus of the wind through trees. She was about to close her eyes when she realized that the sunlight had faded. She looked up.

Her father followed her gaze and looked skyward as well, wondering what had caught her attention. "Oh..." he breathed. "Oh, no. No."

Sayurr bit her lip. "What?"

He seemed to ignore her. "Sayurr, go home right now... wait. Maybe you should say."

"What?" She was starting to feel desperate. "What's happening?"

"The sky... the clouds are looking a bit too purple for my personal comfort."

Sayurr gasped. "Purple..."

A flash of light split the sky, followed by a roll of thunder that shook the ground. Rain came down in a fine drizzle. Then a mist began to waft from the river. It was thin, but heavy-looking, like a light fog.

But it looked a bit too purple for normal mist.

Sayurr felt a frantic desire to run, but knew she shouldn't. She should stay with the dogs, where she belonged. She felt she ought to do something...

"Wind," she breathed. She whirled her head to look at Haya, stomping with a boot to catch his attention. The light gray dog jumped back an inch and stared at her in surprise. "Wind," she said again, this time with more force.

The wind from the storm had strengthened considerably, but Haya managed to fight it back enough to send the mist from the river in the other direction. Sayurr sighed. She did not want to breathe cursed air.

"Moon Dawn!" her father shouted. He was looking at a black dog, slightly smaller than most of the others, with a coat of long, smooth fur that for some reason lacked the usual luster dogs' fur carried. "The river carries a curse."

The black dog's pointed ears pricked up at the mention of the curse. It knew that word only too well. It also knew the river. The dog slowly padded toward the meandering water-path, sniffing the air and testing the ground with gentle paws. When it located the curse, it closed its eyes, braced its body as if for an attack, and began its work.

Sayurr's father sighed. "I love that dog. I can't imagine how many of us would be dead were it not for him."

"It," Sayurr corrected vehemently. The man looked rather embarrassed, and Sayurr noted with amusement how strange that emotion made him look.

There was another loud boom that shook the ground. At first they all passed it off as more thunder. Then the dogs began to growl. Sayurr followed their glares and found herself looking at the river, a ways upstream from Moon Dawn.

Something was rising out of the water, surrounded by a thick purple cloud. The next thing they all knew, they were staring into the eyes of a gigantic creature, an abomination of nature.

A demon.

II.

The demon had narrow white eyes shaded by a heavy brow, which swept back into a pair of serrated horns. Three magnificent fin crests colored like the dawn sky rose from its head and neck. It had a long, snake-like body covered in a hard slate blue rock-like substance. It had a pair of stubby limbs with diamond-shaped fins by its head. Its tail had a similar diamond-shaped crest at its tip.

Its most frightening aspect however, was its mouth. None of its teeth protruded from its mouth, as many demons' tended to do, but it was huge and Sayurr could only imagine how many teeth it could fit.

It roared. It was a deafening sound, and it reminded Sayurr of water crashing in a storm. She wondered if the ocean sounded like that. Then she studied its teeth. There were two rows of them on each jaw. They were short, but incredibly narrow. They looked brown and rotten in some places. Many of the tips were broken, and Sayurr imagined that they must be all the sharper for it.

She resolved not to get bitten.

"Sayurr," she heard her father say. "Stand back, please, and watch me..." She could tell he was trying to stay calm, but something about his tone told her that this was a more worrisome demon than the few he had faced in the past.

Sayurr studied the situation. With that rock-hard skin, she doubted Isumine's power would be of much effect. Fax could blind it, but then it might thrash around and cause damage the move had been meant to save. Moon Dawn was busy, Fennel couldn't do anything useful right now... Saila, Kalomi, and Amarok probably couldn't do much either. It would have to be up to Serre, Sarurun, and Haya for now. Thinking of Haya, where was he right now?
She noticed that he had joined the other dogs. The strange mist from the river seemed to have vanished. A slight wave of relief washed over her.

Her father began to make gestures for the dogs and shout out commands. They dispersed, running along the riverbank or jumping up onto boulders. Serre, a small brown dog about a hand's length shorter than most of the others, unfurled two long, thin wings and jumped into the air. The faded sunlight filtered through the thick umber membrane. He swerved away from the demon, trying to get behind and above it.

Meanwhile, the other dogs tried to distract it. Fax and Isumine created small flashes of light in the air around it. Kalomi, Saila, and Amarok darted around and barked, trying to keep it from paying attention to any one of them. Haya kicked up a breeze to mix up the scents, and Sarurun stood by Moon Dawn, staring into the river's murky depths. Sayurr wondered what he was doing. Perhaps helping purify the water? Could he do that?

Infuriated by the dogs' incessant barking and prancing around, the demon drew its tail back. Still dripping with water, it swung forward with a force that threatened to knock down nearby trees. The dogs were trapped. They couldn't run away in time, and they couldn't jump over the tail. They couldn't run into the river, either—that would be the most dangerous move of all. Suddenly Amarok, a gigantic black dog who stood almost as tall as Sayurr, spun around and jumped. The demon's whiplash tail slid beneath him. He fell on top of it and bit down on the fin, shredding it to bits with his fangs and claws. The other dogs made a desperate move to follow his example and were nearly hit. The demon shrieked in pain.

Sayurr knew that shredding its fins would do nothing to help kill it. There had to be something. She stared blankly into the water. Water... a water demon. What could be used against a water creature?

Her head snapped around to look at Isumine, a struggling white mass of fur.

Electricity. Water conducted electricity.

"Isumine!" she cried. The dog did not seem to hear. If she did, she didn't respond. Sayurr's father spun to look at her, a worried expression on his face. She wished she could assure him. /I don't know what I'm doing, either,/ she thought. /I've never felt so certain before.../

She ran over to where Isumine now lay. The demon had retracted its tail, and the dogs were panting and growling on the bank. "Isumine," she said softly. She stroked the dog for a moment, and then dragged her to her feet. "Water. River. Shock."

Isumine's eyebrows bounced up and down in confusion. She was usually asked to shock certain objects, such as rocks or dead trees or other creatures. Not bodies of water. She trusted Sayurr, though, and went to attempt the command. She bounded over Sayurr's leg and ran to the river bank, far enough away from the demon that it shouldn't immediately notice her if it decided to attack a random target.

She drew in energy from the air around her and gathered the static electricity within her own body. She took a bit from the dogs, and even some from the demon. She was expecting some retaliation from the demon's body, and almost lost her charge when she was met by nothing. But she continued to let the energy build up.

Then she let it go. She channelled it into the river. In a thick blue bolt it struck the water. In an instant it had been supercharged by the water and sought out the demon's body. With a loud snap it surged through the demon. It shrieked, an ear-splitting scream, and Sayurr thought she would go deaf. She couldn't imagine how it must have felt to the dogs' super-sensitive ears. Her heart seemed to trip and double its pace for a second.

The demon's long, heavy body fell over and nearly crushed Moon Dawn and Sarurun. Moon Dawn stayed rooted to the spot, but the floppy-eared, gray-striped Sarurun scrambled backward in shock. Water sprayed everywhere.

With the demon gone, the curse lifted much more easily. The last of the purple haze in the river burst out and swirled around Moon Dawn, and then seemed to vanish. The dog's matte black fur looked even less shiny than before. Moon Dawn seemed only slightly worn, though. It padded toward Sayurr and her father, who had moved to stand next to her.

"That was brilliant," he breathed.

Sayurr felt pride well up within her.

Her father had praised her.

III.

"So, you killed your first demon," Sayurr's father said, smiling. "How do you feel?"

Sayurr spent a silent moment thinking, then said, "I didn't kill it. The dogs did."

Her father blinked.

"But..." she continued, "I do feel rather... not happy. I caused the death of a great creature. I can't feel happy about that."

"You could very well have saved the whole land, Sayurr."

"Still... I do feel proud. But not because I helped kill it. I guess... I don't really know how to explain it to you."

He had to consider that statement for a few seconds. "I understand," he said finally. His tone belied his confusion, however. Sayurr sighed and smiled half-heartedly at him. "Sorry."

"That's okay," he replied. "Come on, let's go home."

The two turned toward a hill and began to walk. They followed a path of beaten earth, packed down and tread so often that no plants grew on it. The dogs followed close behind, padding slowly. The path wound through the forest and away from the river, until it reached a place where the hill erupted from the gorge. The path broadened as it neared a short, long cliffside, about two hundred feet long. The base of the craggy gray cliff was dotted with a series of shallow caves, ranging from about one and a half to two times the height of a person. The cave entrances were covered with earth-toned cloth and furs of various animals draping from the ceiling.

Sayurr and her father walked toward a cave in the center. It looked small, but when they pulled aside the thick fur covering the mouth, it revealed a wide space that stretched about twenty feet back into the hill. The entire cave was made of rock. Generations of feet had worn the floor to soft and rounded stone. In the back of the cave, three small sections of the floor were covered by beds of dried leaves and soft furs. The walls of the cave were covered in black markings, swirls and doodles drawn or painted with charcoal.

The dogs settled down on the floor with grunts of relief. There were shallow dips worn in the floor from the years' worth of dogs that had slept there. Sayurr went and knelt down amidst them. She crawled over to Amarok. She suspected that if any of the dogs were wounded, it would be him.

"Is he okay?" her father asked, biting his lip.

Amarok was panting softly. His eyes were halfway open, and his breaths caused his chest to rise considerably. Sayurr put a hand on his side. He twitched.

"I think he took quite a blow when he landed," she replied. She kept her hand on him, trying to feel how his lungs were moving. "His breathing feels a bit labored. I think he'll be okay, though." She looked at Fennel. The soft brown dog was sitting up and studying the others. She was completely unscathed, but she noticed that her gaze kept moving to Moon Dawn. Concern flicked through her brain. She crawled over to the black dog.

He was breathing slowly—slower than her, which was unusual for a dog. His eyes were closed. She grasped his paw lightly, and he opened his eyes. They looked slightly glazed, but Sayurr couldn't tell if it was from exhaustion or ailment.

"What's wrong?" came her father's voice.

"Moon Dawn..." Sayurr stroked his fur. "Curse," she whispered. "Release."

Moon Dawn squeezed his eyes for a moment. Then he lifted his head and gazed at her. He lowered his ears.

"Did he absorb too much curse energy?" her father asked.

Sayurr nodded. "He won't release it."

"You haven't tried."

She stared at him blankly.

Her father furrowed his brow. "...Sayurr?"

She blinked. "Yes?"

"Um... is something wrong?
"No." She froze and looked at Moon Dawn. She released his paw and put both her hands on his neck. "Afraid. He's afraid."

"Of what?"

"Don't know."

"Move." He strode over to Moon Dawn. Sayurr scurried out of the way and knelt by Fennel's side, wrapping an arm around her neck. He crouched down and studied the black dog. "I'll take him out. Maybe he'll vent it when he's away from others." He was only slightly taller than Sayurr was, but his arms were strong from years of working with the dogs. He scooped Moon Dawn up with ease, stood up, and carefully moved him outside. He set him down on the path a few feet from the cave mouth, where no things grew. "Release," he whispered. "Release."

Though she could barely hear him, Sayurr thought she detected a hint of fear in his voice. She wondered if the situtation was too complex for her to wholly comprehend.

/He has curse in him,/ she reflected. /There was a demon. There was a demon in the river, so close to home... demons have never lived so close... are there more? What's happening?/

Then she noticed a figure standing by the cave, looking in. Her brother. "Sayurr?" he asked. "I heard you killed a demon."


IV.

Sayurr blinked. "The dogs did it. I didn't kill anything."

Her brother sighed. "Just don't tell the villagers that, okay? Let them think you killed it. They'll think all the better of you."

"But I'll be lying. I don't like lying."

"The phrase 'you killed it' already implies that the dogs did it, and you just commanded them," he explained. "You aren't lying. At any rate, what you did is a major accomplishment! You need to give yourself some credit."

"Farasi..." Sayurr stared at the ground.

"Please? For your family as well as yourself."

There was a long moment of silence. "Sure," she finally said.

Farasi smiled softly. "Good, and thank you. And congratulations." He glanced at the dogs lying off to the side. "I would never be able to do something like that, you know. They never listen to me."

"They do when you make noise."

Farasi rolled his eyes. Sayurr drew back. She gaped at him. Farasi cocked his head in confusion before realizing what he had done. "Oh, I'm sorry. I must be picking that up from dad... sorry!" His brown eyes shone with apology.

Sayurr didn't say anything, but she didn't express any disapproval. Farasi assumed that she forgave him, more or less. Sayurr never forgave anyone with words. She was usually the one saying sorry.

She wondered what time it was and looked outside. The sunlight just barely touched the tops of the hills across the valley. There was only an hour or so before the night would begin to settle in. Her stomach trembled slightly, and she decided to make dinner.

In the back of the cave was a dark nook. Sayurr knelt down in front of the small opening and pulled out a box made of carved slabs of wood held together by sap. She opened the box and drew out some wooden rods and a large stone bowl about a finger's breadth thick. She set them aside and then pulled out a wooden bowl of a similar size. Closing the box, she stood up, grasping the wooden bowl, and made for the river. Fennel, the only dog awake, decided to follow her. After a quick stretch, she trotted after Sayurr, staying obediently on the footpath.

It took a few minutes for them to reach the river. Sayurr dipped the bowl in and scooped up some water. It was heavy, but years of doing this had strengthened her arms considerably. She carried it back to the village with ease. She noticed that her father and Moon Dawn were no longer outside their cave. When she entered, she saw that Moon Dawn was curled up with the other dogs, looking as normal as ever. Her father had set up the stone bowl on the rods and was busy lighting a fire beneath it.

She smiled. "Thank you," she said softly as she began to pour water into the stone pot.

Sayurr returned to the box in the back of the cave. It had grown dark enough that she had some difficulty seeing inside it, so she spent a few moments digging around before procuring a handful of rice. Then she moved over to the pot and dumped the rice in. She watched it fall through the water until it was all resting at the bottom. She added another handful and then left to gather plants as it cooked. Fennel went with her again. Sayurr put her hand on Fennel's tawny shoulder and quietly sang "Rice, rice," as she wandered into the forest.


::end chapter 1:

Yeah, that was kind of a weird ending. I just wanted to get on to chapter 2, because chapter 2 will be fun...