(2023 BINGO) Searching

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It had only been a month since the downfall of the horrific ring of poachers that had captured drakiri with attractive traits and markings and harvested them to sell to the highest bidders. They had dealt with the injuries, they were dealing with the trauma, but one of the worst parts of the recovery process was trying to find where everyone belonged. Drakiri had been taken from every corner of the continent and some from beyond, no one really knew where they were in relation to where they’d been taken from, only a few well traveled souls were confident enough to leave the town that had been established after the fall of the poachers. But what no one had expected was the influx of drakiri coming to the area to investigate what had happened. 

Icarus found himself trying to corral a group of such drakiri who had shown up en masse, lifting the wings he still was not familiar enough with to gain their attention as he called above the din, “If you have loved ones who vanished and you are searching for them, please form a line over there, no–don’t rush! You’ll just–stop falling over each other!” 

He dropped his wings and looked to the sky in exasperation as he sighed and asked the clouds that obscured the sun, “I suffered so much, only to be faced with the idiocy of the masses? Why?” 

Icarus gave himself an irritable shake and started forward, expecting to have to go help untangle drakiri from the mass of well-meaning but unruly and disorganized legs and horns that had formed in a shallow ditch, but instead found a young kainu standing before him. He had a light brown coat that darkened at the back half of his body with tightly clustered off-white dapples along his face, neck, flanks and rump. His blue scales looked as dull as his golden eyes and Icarus could see the fragments of leaves and other detritus clinging to the kainu’s horn, mane and especially his tail. By the smell of him, he hadn’t been washing himself, and that too was evident in the caked dirt on his legs and belly scales. 

“Are you one of the victims?” Icarus asked, his ears pricking forward with immediate interest. Had they missed one in the rubble?

“What?” the stranger asked, his ears pinning back as he looked left and right, his golden eyes widening in alarm. “Victim? Of what?” 

So he didn’t even know what had happened here? Was he–

“Did you show up with this lot?” Icarus asked, his tail lashing in annoyance as he jerked his head toward the pile up. “Why didn’t you follow them?” 

The stranger glanced toward the drakiri in question and gave his shoulders a nervous shrug, and as Icarus turned to leave, the younger kainu mumbled, “I didn’t recognize anyone else.” 

Icarus froze, the feathers on his wings raising in alarm. Recognize him? From where? Now that Icarus peered closer at the kainu with the understanding that they’d met sometime in the past, he thought perhaps there was something familiar…

“I’ve seen so many faces over the years, I’m sorry I don’t recognize you,” he sighed finally, giving his head a tired, slow shake. “So much has happened in the last year…my recollection is limited at best, please don’t take that as an offense.” 

Icarus stepped forward until there was a respectful distance between the two of them and gave a respectful, but short dip of his head in greeting. “My name is Icarus Sinbad, would you refresh my memory on yours?” 

The other kainu hesitated long enough that Icarus thought he might not answer at all, until finally the younger’s ears twitched with discomfort and he glanced around before saying in a faltering voice, “My name is Giada…no family name, I’m sorry.” 

“Why in the world would you apologize for not having a family name?” Icarus asked, and realized that he was being snappish. He let out an irritable sigh and continued, “It seems I am the one needing to make more apologies. Go wait for me by the construction of that house, please. We can speak more privately after I sort out these hooligans.” 

He gestured across the clearing to one of several houses that were under construction, though the building had ground to a halt at the influx of drakiri that had suddenly shown up over the last week or so. No one had time to build when all hands, hooves and paws were on deck helping every parent, child or long lost cousin that had ever had a family member go missing. They’d heard of what happened here and flocked to the area to try to see if their loved one had ended up here. 

“You there!” Icarus called as he marched toward the disaster, “Untangle your tail from that primal’s antlers, what are you a drakiri or a wildebeest? Honestly!” 

Giada stood in the center of the busy clearing, his ears pinning back against his skull again as he looked around. He’d felt out of place in the crowd of drakiri he followed here, but now without them surrounding him he felt exposed and confused. He’d come here for the same reason as the rest of them, but he had little hope of finding who he searched for. 

His tail curled around his leg anxiously as he trotted across the clearing, grateful for the grass under his hooves. The long, arduous journey here had left him in a sorry state, but between his haste, his fear and his depression, he could only put one hoof in front of the other to finally get here. 

The kainu approached the half-built structure, looking it over and admiring it. He had no eye for construction, but even he could tell that there was craftsmanship here, he didn’t see a single nail or screw joining the wooden slats, but when he leaned against the structure with his flank, it felt as solid as a completed house. 

Giada stepped into the sun along the side of the house and closed his eyes for what must have only been a moment but when he opened them again, the sun had slid down toward the tops of the trees overhead. It had been morning when he arrived!

His head snapped up and he reared up slightly in alarm as his head whipped around, eyes wild. The noise from earlier in the day was gone, replaced with the smell of wood smoke and roasting meat. It took a long moment for the panic that had flooded his body to fade, leaving him even more exhausted than when he’d arrived here. He longed to sleep properly, as standing up was good for nothing but a nap, but the thought of having to sleep on the ground again made him feel bone-weary. 

“Giada!” 

The kainu flinched as if he’d been struck and pricked his ears in the direction of the drakiri who had called his name. It was Icarus. 

Giada returned the dip of his head as the older and larger kainu crossed the clearing, followed by a young drakiri who floated in the air beside him. She was red in color but that was all Giada saw of her, as he only had eyes for the half a boar that she carried on the spit it had been roasted upon. Its skin was burnt in places, and he didn’t smell any spices on it, but the meat dripped with oil from the fat and it glistened in the early evening light. 

“You looked so tired I thought I ought to let you rest, but I figured you would wake up hungry,” Icarus said, a trace of laughter in his voice. “I can see I was correct.” 

Giada tore his gaze away from the boar and realized that his mouth was dribbling down his teeth into his beard. He lifted his foreleg to rub at his chin but stopped when he realized how filthy his fur really was. 

“Don’t worry, we’ll get you cleaned up after you’ve had something to eat,” Icarus promised. He looked to the young dracus who lighted on the ground beside the two kainus and drove one end of the spit into the ground and leaned the other against the house. 

“Can I go check on Mila now, dad?” she asked, her young voice full of worry. 

“Go,” Icarus agreed, leaning down to press his nose to her cheek. “Give him my love and make sure that beast of his doesn’t swallow him again, or I’ll set it on fire. On purpose this time!” 

The young dracus nodded fervently and took off, leaving only her presence to linger. 

“Would you like to eat first or eat while we talk?” Icarus asked, but before the words had even left his lips, he watched the young kainu sink his teeth into the haunch of the half-pig and rip away a huge hung of flesh. Giada hardly chewed before he swallowed and went back for more, not stopping until half the pig was in his belly. 

Giada stepped back, his tongue swiping around his mouth and clearly wanting to groom himself, but stopping at the state of his pelt once more. 

“You’ve been traveling for a long time,” Icarus observed, no judgment in his voice, but certainly understanding. “The only time I’ve been that hungry is when I’ve eaten nothing but grass and the odd squirrel-chewed pinecone for days.” 

Giada looked away, ashamed of his appearance and his hunger, and muttered, “I was too slow to catch the squirrels.” 

A laugh burst out of Icarus and he cleared his throat guiltily before he said, “Yes, yes I know how that feels. The smaller the rodent, the harder they are to catch.” 

He gave his tail a flick and stepped forward to take a bite from the pig. It had cooled down by now, but was no less tasty for it. He chewed thoughtfully and then cocked his head slightly to the side. 

“Your name is unfamiliar to me, and even if I forget a face, I never forget a name,” he mused. “Tell me, where did we meet?” 

Giada glanced at the ring of drakiri he could see across the clearing, huddling around the cooking fire as an enormous crossbreed stirred a cauldron. They laughed together, but it was muted, almost forced in a way. 

“You came to get me and my friend when I was younger,” Giada said finally, swallowing thickly. “I was different then, I’ve uh…I learned how to change the color of my scales and I didn’t have the spots when I was young, those came in after I learned a spell to change…other aspects of myself.” 

Icarus studied Giada as he chewed, and then his brows shot up. “Ah yes! You were that small kainu who kept fighting anything that moved, I recall!” he said, a smile spreading over his lips. “Yes, you were quite a spitfire–” His voice cut off as the rest of the circumstances around their meeting flooded into his mind and he sobered quickly. 

“Ah, I recall now…then we’ve both changed quite a bit since then,” he said, his voice more serious now. 

Silence and unspoken words stretched between them, finally broken by Giada saying, “The wings are new and the…gold? In your mane and tail. It looks good. Was it magic?” 

Icarus pulled his wings in tight against his body for a moment before he let them relax and smiled as he said, “Of a sort. Some flowers bloom in the gentle light of the moon, while some seeds need a raging fire to open their husks so they can grow. Let’s just say I was the latter option.” 

More unspoken words, a few more bites taken, and Giada cleared his throat as he asked, “Do you have any questions about…me? My appearance?” 

Icarus raised his brows as he studied the kainu again, taking the time to chew and swallow before he cocked his head to the side inquisitively. “You said your spots came in when you changed something about your body, I assume you mean when your spell changed your sex?” 

Giada stiffened and his gaze snapped toward the group of drakiri around the cauldron, but they were busy serving themselves soup that looked significantly less appetizing than the boar they had eaten. Then he looked back at Icarus, affronted and more than a little worried. “How did you guess?” 

“Not a guess,” he said with a shrug. “I’ve seen it happen before, usually in young males who grow up and after their first rut they develop new markings on their coats. I assume it has something to do with the hormones males get that most females do not. It wasn’t hard to figure out what had happened, as the drakling I brought across the continent years ago smelled decidedly female, and now you do not.” 

Giada’s heart beat a little faster and he swallowed thickly, trying to convince himself that he was safe enough here, there was no reason for him to bolt. But the anxiety kept growing, and he feared the food he’d scarfed down would come up with it. 

“I can smell your fear,” Icarus said, his brows pulling together with concern. “You’ve no reason to worry, not here. Especially not with me!”

The confusion must have been plain on Giada’s face, because Icarus continued by flicking his ear in the direction of the young red dracus across the clearing, she held a bowl and was holding a spoon full of soup up to the mouth of another young kainu, a pale blue male who seemed about as sentient as the building they stood beside. 

“Those are my children,” Icarus said, pride warming his voice. “Of all the things I expected out of my life, being a mother was not one of them.” 

He looked back to Giada and saw realization flit across the other kainu’s face. “Were you born that way?” he asked. 

Icarus nodded and said, “No magic had been used on me until just a month ago. They were a happy accident, truthfully, one that I am beyond grateful for.” He looked over his shoulder at Alina and Mila again, the warmth in his smile faltering a little when he saw Alina becoming more distraught as she pushed the spoon against her brother’s lips. He did not accept it. 

Giada started to ask, “Is he okay–” but Icarus cut him off by pinning his ears back for an instant before looking back to him. 

“My children are recovering from a traumatic experience,” he sighed. “But you didn’t travel all this way to hear about the woes of my offspring. Tell me, what brings you here?” 

It took a long moment before Giada felt brave enough to finally say it. “I heard about what happened here,” he said, his gaze dropping to his mud-caked hooves. “About the…poachers. And what they did. I heard they took people from all over the continent.” 

Understanding gripped Icarus’s heart like a vice and he had to suppress another sigh. More lost souls needing to be found. 

“Did someone you know go missing?” he asked. 

Giada hesitated, and his throat ached with the press of tears that refused to come to his eyes. He had no more tears, he’d already cried them all out. “Either that or he left,” he said. “It was shortly after…the spell. I woke up the next morning and Rubin wasn’t beside me like he always was, we’d talked a lot before and I don’t think he really understood what it would do, and then he was just gone.” His voice trembled at the end and he had to swallow again before he continued, “Is it horrible that I’m hoping he’s here?”

Having lived through the horrors of the poaching ring, Icarus decidedly agreed that it was horrible to hope someone had ended up here rather than leaving because they were intolerant of someone changing their sex, but he wasn’t about to say that. 

“I think it makes sense that you would hope someone you love hadn’t left you because you did something to make yourself happy,” Icarus said tactfully, giving his head a slow nod. “I’m sorry to say though, I don’t believe we’ve seen anyone matching his description yet.” 

Giada’s golden eyes did fill with tears now, and his whiskers lashed the air as he shifted his hooves. 

“You’re sure?” he asked, looking toward the far line of the clearing. “It’d be impossible to miss him, he’s the size of a komakha by now, dark brown fur, red scales, white speckles all over him, he’s got those crazy long antlers, one of them’s broken at the tip.” 

Icarus shook his head regretfully and said, “We’ve been keeping track of every drakiri who passes through here and where they go so if their loved ones show up we can point them in the direction they left. And we’ve been keeping track of the descriptions of the drakiri we’ve found in the rubble of the warehouses. If he was here, he escaped during the sacking, and no one saw him while he was here.” 

Silence followed Icarus’s words, only punctuated by the choked sob the young drakiri let out. Icarus wasn’t sure how to help here, he didn’t know the other kainu well enough to know whether physical contact would help him, but the poor thing seemed skittish enough as it was. 

“Let’s go get you washed up,” Icarus sighed, leaning on his parental instincts. No one could think clearly when they were caked with filth. “We can ask around just to make sure no one’s seen him once you’re clean and you have some time to rest. I’m sure someone has at least heard of a kainu that big wandering around. Goodness, I remember he was big for his age but imagine!” 

“He still doesn’t know how big he is,” Giada said with a miserable, spluttering laugh as he followed Icarus. “He sat against our Yule tree and snapped it in half last year.” 

“I can’t imagine that felt very nice,” Icarus chuckled, noting that the younger kainu walked close enough beside him that the younger’s side brushed the feathers of his wing. He lifted his wing and stretched it just enough that he could rest it on Giada’s back as they walked. “Tell me more about him, Giada. I want to hear all about what became of you two.” 

Hellcatstrut
(2023 BINGO) Searching
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Submitted: 2 months agoLast Updated: 2 months ago

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