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The fox wrapped his arms around the coon's neck and pulled him close to his chest for a moment, wanting to take all of his pain away at that instant though he knew, all too well, that Dusk needed treatment. As he pulled away, Zylo smiled. "Try not to move, I'm... not sure if this works yet," Zylo said sheepishly as he moved around to Dusk's back, gently pulling off his torn, bloodied, shirt. He hovered his paw above the wound and closed his eyes. A soft glow surrounded the afflicted area, and slowly the blood began to dissapear. Zylo winced as he felt a sudden pain shoot through his body. His concentration wavered, leaving the wound only half-closed. "D-Damn... Must've... overdone it," Zylo said between breaths as he suddenly seemed exhausted. "We need to find that woman... And get somewhere safe to treat you... It seems I could also use a little rest," Zylo stated as he brought himself to his feet, offering dusk his paw.
‘How embarrassing,’ the raccoon thought to himself as he began to stabilize himself. ‘I can’t believe I went and got myself hurt so badly during my first fight with Zylo.’ Dusk didn’t want to be the fur that Zylo constantly had to rescue. It seemed that fighting followed the fox like his shadow and that was something Dusk would have to get used to if he wanted to remain at Zylo’s side.
The raccoon hesitated to look up at Zylo’s face. Dusk already knew that the fox felt responsible for his injury. “Zylo,” the raccoon began, “I’m really sorry about that I’ve been so much trouble for you.” Dusk sniffled a bit as he struggled to force back the feeling of shame welling up inside him. The last thing he was going to do was let himself cry.
Dusk steadied himself before replying, “She turned left out of the alleyway. I’m not sure how close she would have remained given that her rescuers were outnumbered.” The raccoon walked over to where the boar had first attempted to force himself on the squirrel and picked up a scrap of the dress she had been wearing. “But,” Dusk said as he handed the piece of fabric over to the fox, “with your sense of smell, I’m sure we won’t have too much trouble locating her.”
Finally, the pair came upon the spot where Zylo found the scent to be overwhelmingly strong. A small, boarded up house that appeared to have been vacant for some time. The odor seemed to seep out of the small building. "Hello? Miss? Its okay to some out now...we've handled the rabble for you!" He called out hoping to get some sort of reaction. The air went still with silence as no response was heard. Zylo scratched his head as he thought of something else to say. "I heard your son has gone missing along with some other kids in the city! My friend and I just want to help find those missing kids, anything you could tell us would be greatly appreciated!" He called out again. Something stirred inside the building, steps could be heard approaching the boarded up door. On the door was a small opening, just big enough to grant vision of the front view. Two wide, brown eyes appeared from behind the small slit shifting as they examined the two furs.
"A-around the back... P-please..." The timid squirrel instructed the pair. Zylo nodded and smiled gently, trying to make the squirrel feel as comfortable as possible. The pair made their way around a small pathway to the rear entrance of the house, a makeshift door made out of scrap wood and random binding elements. At the door stood the reluctant squirrel, her face amess with confusion. She mustered a soft smile as she spoke. "T-thank you... For... Everything, I-" Zylo stopped her, noticing she was tied for words. Zylo also took note of a small coin purse that the Squirrel had clutched in her paw.
"It is not unlike myself to help those in their time of need," Zylo stated, bowing softly. "And I assure you, we are not here to coerce any kind of payment, we simply want to ask a few questions about your boy" he continued, the mention of the child brought great worry to the Squirrel as her bushy tail seemed to perk.
"Oh my dear, Boe! Please, tell me... can you find him?! I don't know what I would do if he-" she was cut short by the fox raising his hand, gesturing her to calm herself before too many emotions were unravelled.
"Stay calm, madame. This, Boe. Where did you see him last?" Zylo asked, trying to stay focused on the matter at hand, he could feel Dusk's energy growing more weary as the time went on. The sun, too was beginning to signal the end of the day as it dipped over the horizon. The squirrel clasped her hands and rushed to the coons side.
"He's wounded! We must take him inside! Those gangsters... Their daggers are known for being covered in poision!" She said, concern growing in her voice. "Please, come inside and allow me to get you some medicine! Its the least I could do! I'll explain everything in a moment," the squirrel proposed, looking to Zylo and dusk for their confirmation. By now, Zylo had had his fair share of trials, but now there was the lingering potential of poison. The fox looked to Dusk, seeing him grow slightly more weary as the time went certainly was a tell tale sign of either extreme bloodloss or something off color, such as poison. There was no time to take chances.
"Thank you, Miss?" Zylo said, realizing they had not been introduced yet.
"You may call me Krishna, sir," she replied as she led them into her hideout. Surprisingly, the room was quite spacious, a small dining table for four, two beds in the corner of the room. And off in the opposite corner was a workshop of sorts, small wodden cabinets labelled with different types of ingredients, a series of mortar and pestle sets, as well as a few beakers and vials lining the shelves above.
"Thank you, Krishna. I am Zylo and this is Dusk..." The fox's words seemed to grow quiet as he was amazed by the setup that the squirrel had been concealing.
The raccoon was aware that Zylo had located the squirrel they had rescued, but the details of the conversation between the two seemed to slur together. Dusk could see a darkness creeping in at the edges of his eyes. A wave of exhaustion washed over him and he could feel his consciousness being pulled down deeper into sleep.
Dusk wasn’t sure if the fox was still there. He wasn’t sure if he was still there. As the darkness closed in the raccoon managed to say, “Zylo. I think I’m going to sleep for a little while,” before he was totally consumed.
"He will be fine, so long as we don't move him anymore," Krishna hushed Zylo in a mother-like tone. "If he stops breathing, however... You will need to continually compress his chest," she added, a more serious tone than the first. "Keep in time with your own heartbeat, and don't stop... I'll try and make a remedy soon" She walked over to her alchemy station, rummaging through one of the drawers, pulling out a small leafy substance. She placed the leaves inside a beaker and filled it with water. On a small table beside her work station was a small, makeshift burner for her craft. She lit the burner and placed her mixture in its designated hold atop the burner. "This should just be a few minutes to brew...how is he?" Krishna looked back to the fox, who still knelt beside his friend. His body seemed petrified in a state of overlooking the coon.
"I've ...still got his pulse," Zylo called back to the Squirrel. One paw stay clutching Dusk's own, while the other held two fingers to the coon's carotid artery. Zylo's head moved back and forth from watching the coon's shallow breaths, to leaning slightly over his nostrils to ensure the breathing was still strong. A single tear hit the coon's cheek fur as Zylo's inner turmoil surfaced. "I'm so sorry, Dusk...I-I didn't mean f-for you to... I shouldn't have... I-I wish we could have just...GAH! Why didn't I just keep you safe!?" The fox's one-sided conversation turned to bitter frustration.
Minutes felt like hours as Zylo waited. All the while, he stroked the coon's forhead and clutched his paw tight. Krishna did not speak, focused on completing her remedy as soon as possible. Finally she mustered the words that shot waves of excitement through the fox. "It's ready... Please allow me..." Krishna gestured towards the racoon as she approached, a small razorblade and syringe in each paw. Zylo was reluctant to leave the coon's side, he scoot over to give Krishna some space.
No words were said at that moment. Zylo simply watched as the Squirrel shaved a small patch of fur on Dusk's forearm, making sure she could see a vain to stick the needle in. When she found her mark, she dove the needle carefully into the vein and injected her antidote. All went still as Krishna simply stared at the coon for a moment, as if waiting for something.
Minutes passed, and the pair sat still. What they had been waiting for had come, ever so subtly. Dusk's breathing had regained a normal strength, he seemed to rest peacefully. Krishna smiled and turned to Zylo, "I believe he will recover now... If you'd like you can move him to the bed over there," she pointed to the bed in the corner of the room. The fox did not hesitate to gently scoop the small coon in his arms like a young kit, carrying him over and setting him down on the small, somewhat cushioned bed. Before laying him down completely, Zylo made sure to apply a makeshift gauze to Dusk's back wound. The bleeding had stopped but the risk of infection was still on his mind. He smiled as he watched Dusk nuzzle gently into the small pillow he rest his head upon, seeing him sleep so peacefully made him long for some rest of his own. The fox could feel himself running on empty, but there was still so much to be done. He looked to the squirrel who had made her way back to her lab to sterilize her equipment, she turned to him and clasped her hands together. "I know... y-you must be tired... I-I... just simply need to know..." She began as she approached Zylo, she seemed shy of her question now. The fox motioned for her to sit on the bed across the one Dusk rested in. He took his own seat at the side of the sleeping coon.
"Krishna, I need to thank you. Without you..." Zylo paused, looking again to the sleeping coon.
"No, no! I must thank you for saving me from those hellish thieves... they've had this coming a long time!" She replied excitedly. A sense of justice had prevailed, in her mind. "But..." She stopped, her mood shifting. "I still don't know where Boe is... I've tried so hard... and I know he's still out there...somewhere," she explained, ver voice filled with sadness. Her large, orb-like eyes welled with tears as she looked to Zylo. "You're just like 'him'... y-you can lift objects... a-and people, with nothing but the will of your mind! Surely you could help me find my son!?" she said, excitement building in her voice. The fox's ears perked at the mention of someone with abilities like his.
"Krishna... who are you talking about? You've met someone who can do the things I do?" Zylo asked.
"Yes... months ago I met this strange lion, after he saved Boe from a rival gang. He used those same powers that you have...After that he told us to call him 'L'. He was such a kind fellow...and handsome too, probably about your age. He said he needed a particular type of ingredient, one not so easily found. So I directed him to Diorio, whom I knew had a steady supply of such goods," she began. Zylo seemed intrigued, his fatigue was but a speck in his thoughts at the moment. "After 'L' had gotten the ingredient, we never saw him again... he only left this," Krishna stood from her seat on the bed and walked over to the small nightstand, reaching in and pulling out what seemed to be a small painting of the Squirrel. Zylo's eyes went wide as he stared at the details of the picture. It was simplistic, a touch of impressionism, but the smaller detail in the face and eyes is what gave it life. Zylo knew this artwork, he had seen it already once before. The fox reached into his pack and pulled out the wrapped, pieces of artwork he had rescued from the old studio, the arranged the four pieces on the bed before him. A glance back and forth, and careful examination was all it took for Zylo to be sure. This was no coincidence.
"Where did you see Boe last? Also, how old is he and have you any idea where he might have gone?" Zylo asked the squirrel. Krishna placed her paw on her forehead as if trying to remember.
"He is only seven...It was... midnight, and we had just gotten back from our last trip into the forest just outside of the city to collect ingredients. I remember I was so tired, I told Boe to stay close and hold my hand as we walked... it seemed like only minutes after that, he just... disappeared. I could have sworn I felt his paw in my hand only seconds earlier..." She tried to explain, mustering the courage to hold back her tears of frustration. "The real truth is... I don't know where he is... but I know he's alive. I can feel it," She said, tears streaming down her face.
"Don't cry, now... I might have something, but I won't know for sure until he wakes up," Zylo said, pointing to the sleeping coon.
"Y-yes of course! My, my... how rude of me! I haven't even offered you so much as something to eat!" The squirrel perked. She scurried over to her small kitchen and quickly got to work. "Why don't you rest for a while? I'll make you some supper, and once your mate wakes we can-" She was cut off abruptly by Zylo.
"He's not!..." He stopped himself. Why was this such a trigger for him? "We're just... close...that's all..." He tried to explain. The squirrel blushed and smiled warmly.
"Of course, dear... I'll, let you two have some rest," Krishna said softly as she continued her work.
Zylo sighed and removed his bracer and set it next to his pack on the floor beside the bed. Zylo lay down facing Dusk on the bed, smiling as he watched the coon's sleeping form. He stretched one arm slowly, around and under the coon to pull him closer. His tail wrapped around them as Zylo tucked his chin and closed his eyes, basking in the warmth of their embrace. 'Dusk...' his thoughts began to wander as he slowly entered a light sleep.
It was an eerily clear night with no clouds, no stars, and no moon. It was as though a black curtain had been pulled across the sky and darkness seemed to cling to the air itself. Several minutes passed as the raccoon tried to figure out where he was and how he had ended up there. His mind strained to remember what he had been doing before, but no memories surfaced to erase his confusion.
A light gust stirred the trees along the river’s edge. Regardless of what the answers to the questions that plagued Dusk were, he might not learn anything if he remained exposed in the wilderness on a night such as this.
As Dusk took in his surroundings, he was reminded that a raccoon is just as much at home in the dark as he is in the light, if not more so. There were no signs of fur activity in the area and there was no path to follow either. In fact, Dusk couldn’t even make out the pawprints he had made to reach the place where he stood in the river.
The raccoon shook off his unease as he weighed his options. The forest that rose up on either side of the river contained row upon row of trees in what appeared to be an endless sea of foliage. Such a tangled wilderness would be difficult to navigate, even for one who could see in the dark. ‘Well then, I can either go up river or down…,’ the raccoon thought to himself. At the very least, following the river carried the promise that he would likely come upon furs living next to it. Whether or not those furs would be friendly was another matter entirely, but Dusk would cross that bridge if he got to it.
He made his way to the bank of the river and then slowly began to work his way downstream, occasionally scanning the edge of the woods for any vegetation that might be edible. Dusk was unnerved by the stifling silence that seemed to be suffocating the world around him. He almost wished that something would jump out of the trees to break up the stillness…almost.
After walking for almost an hour, the raccoon began to lose hope that he would come upon some form of shelter for the night. Just as he was about to find a sturdy tree to climb up and rest in, his ears picked up the sound of a woman’s lyrical voice singing in a language he had never heard before. It was faint at first, but grew in intensity as he made his way ever further down river.
The river bank had gradually begun to rise on one side and Dusk quickened his pace as he got closer to the source of the song. A short distance away, the raccoon could see that there was a cave-like opening in the side of the river bank. ‘Thank goodness,’ Dusk thought to himself. As he approached the cave, a small flit of movement at the entrance caught his eye and he was certain that he had just seen a young fur with a bushy tail go inside. The raccoon was about to call out, but stopped himself. He could not be sure what he had just seen and it would be better for him to remain hidden until he could better assess the situation.
Dusk crept up to the mouth of the cave and pressed himself against the wall on one side of the opening. The singing he had heard earlier echoed out of the dark cavern, but no other sound could be heard above it. The raccoon cautiously peered around the corner.
Much to his surprise, the cave was not at all the dark and dank space he had expected. The walls were littered with luminescent crystals of varying shapes, sizes, and colors. Several pairs of lit torches seemed to create a path that led deeper in. Most importantly, whoever or whatever Dusk had seen enter the cave seemed to have go on ahead.
The raccoon crouched down and slowly made his way in, making sure to keep a wall at his side. It was not long before the corridor-like tunnel Dusk had been following opened up into a much larger chamber. The crystals within the walls were exceptionally large here and the air seemed to crackle with a strange energy. The lyrical voice filled the room, but Dusk saw no one as he surveyed the space. ‘Perhaps,’ he thought to himself, ‘the cave goes even further beyond this chamber.’
Dusk marveled at the natural beauty of the cave’s interior. Strange glyphs and runes were inscribed in intricate patterns across the floor, but the raccoon was far more intrigued by the massive crystals. He approached one of the crystals that was closest to the floor to inspect it further and was amazed by its clarity. However, there seemed to be some sort of flaw at the core of the crystal which broke up its otherwise undisturbed perfection. Dusk pressed his nose against the crystal’s surface to see if he could make out what it was.
A gasp escaped the raccoon’s lips and he pushed himself away from the crystal causing him to stumble backwards. At the heart of the crystal, at the heart of every crystal, was a young fur that seemed to be sleeping. Dusk’s eyes wheeled about the room until they finally settled upon a crystal on the far wall that seemed to be different from the others. It was dark purple and small veins of the same color seemed to extend out into the wall around it. The crystal pulsed like a heartbeat and, unlike the others Dusk had seen, it gave off no glow.
The raccoon lifted himself from where he had fallen on the floor and made his way over to where the purple crystal hung suspended in the cave wall. He reached out his paw to touch the crystal’s surface and a chill ran down his spine. Before his paw could reach the crystal, Dusk was struck from behind by an unseen force and suddenly awoke inside the house of the squirrel he and Zylo had rescued.
Dusk could feel Zylo’s heavy arm wrapped around him and it seemed that the fox had also put his tail over the raccoon as an added measure of protection. Waking up next to the fox after the day that he had had made Dusk smile, not that he would give Zylo the satisfaction of knowing that just yet.
The raccoon made an effort to separate himself from Zylo’s embrace, so that he could walk about the room but let out a small yelp as a shot of pain went through him. It seemed that his back injury still needed some healing and treatment.
Krishna turned from her small stove, seeing that the raccoon had awakened. She wiped her hands lightly upon her apron as she approached the pair. "It's good to see you are well... we were worried you would die from the poison," she greeted, smiling. "Supper will be ready in just a few moments, I promise!" The squirrel clasped her hands once again as she turned towards her kitchen to resume her duties. Zylo had rested the coon in an upright position on the bed, he could tell from looking into his eyes that he had seen something horrifying. His aura seemed...different now.
"Dusk...you seem, shaken. Are you alright? I-" He paused, he was being too overbearing, or so he felt. "I was worried...that's all," He sighed, grinning.
Dusk was still shaken by the vivid dream he had had while he slept and his unease must have been easy to detect. He wasn’t sure what to make of the things he had seen. Everyone dreamed and he was no exception, but never had a dream felt so vivid as the one from which he had just awoken. Regardless, a dream was still a dream and he would not saddle Zylo with further worry over something so ephemeral.
The raccoon turned his cheerful gaze toward the fox and replied, “Your worrying flatters me more than any amount of kind words someone could heap on me.” Dusk nuzzled against the fox’s chest before continuing, “I just had a bad dream, that’s all.”
"Come now, boys. The food is ready!" Krishna called out to the pair. An audible rumble emitted from Zylo's stomach at the mention of food. The fox grasped his belly and blushed.
"I...must be hungry, heh," he said, flashing a toothy grin.
It seemed to Dusk that Zylo was almost always hungry. The growl of the fox’s stomach was becoming as familiar as his voice. The raccoon, on the other hand, wasn’t sure he had the stomach for food just yet, but he knew he needed to eat something if he wanted to regain his strength. With no small amount of effort and the help of the fox, Dusk managed to make his way over to the small table in the squirrel’s home.
As the two sat down to the meal the squirrel had prepared, Dusk took a moment to express his gratitude. “I want to thank you,” the raccoon began, “for going so far out of your way to help us…to help me. I’m sure you are taking a pretty big risk by assisting strangers who just shook things up down here and it’s kind of you to go put yourself out at our expense.”
A sudden wave of calmness had overcome the fox. He was still fatigued from their battle, and hungry to boot. It did not take long for him to devour the hearty bowl of vegetables, meat, and broth that had been placed before him. Krishna attentively refilled the bowl before Zylo could even put his spoon in for the last bite, she winked as he placed the newly filled bowl before him. Zylo smiled sheepishly and and thanked Krishna before diving back into his meal. Once finished, the fox sat back in his chair with his paw on his full belly. "Krishna... your meal was delightful! Truly, you are a woman of many talents," Zylo said as he stood, picking up his bowl and walking over to the small counter and setting it in the wash basin. The squirrel simply chuckled, bowing her head.
The tranquility did not leave Zylo's mood. Something about seeing the raccoon, alive and well, made his heart feel warm and relaxed. So many things weighed on the fox's mind, but at the moment he could only think of being there, in that moment, safe with Dusk. Zylo began washing his plate as he waited for Dusk to finish his meal.
Dusk echoed Zylo’s expression of gratitude for the meal and slowly made his way back over to the bed they had been sleeping on. It took him several attempts to position himself in a way that didn’t send shots of pain through his back, but he eventually made himself comfortable. ‘This injury is going to be a tremendous inconvenience,’ the raccoon thought. ‘Rather than dwell on my injury, I may as well shift my focus back to the reason we’re here in the first place.’
Dusk turned his gaze to the fox who was wearing a rather contented look at the moment and began, “So Zylo, you’ll have to get me up to speed on any of the things the two of you spoke about while I was out relating to the disappearances.”
"Thank you, Krishna..." The fox said softly as he left the squirrel to finish the tidying of the kitchen and making his way over to the bed. Noticing Dusk's discomfort, he took his place at the edge of the bed until the coon had settled. When the coon spoke of his brief lapse in time, Zylo nodded and cleared his throat. "Krishna explained to me that her son disappeared in the night, after they returned from a gathering trip in the forest nearby... She has no lead on where he disappeared to, " Zylo began, crossing his arms at first. He paused and then reached for the two paintings he had set aside for Dusk to compare. "She also explained to me that she met someone who can use the same power that I can, he left this small painting of her... I have this one that I found torn up in the studio I met Andrea in..." Zylo laid out the small paintings before the coon, allowing him to examine at his leisure. "I can't be sure... but I think the artist is the same for these two... Something tells me, if we find the lion who painted these we will have a chance at finding the boy, too..." He explained. Zylo knew it sounded odd, chasing a stranger that the victims had met fleetingly. He knew, though, that such furs with magical power don't just show up without bringing a trail of misfortune behind them.
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