“Are you sure it’s alright for us to stay here?” Shiroi asked.
“It’s fine. They aren’t that bad. We don’t bother them, and they won’t bother us. Only because I’m with you, though. Only all humans might be bad,” Va’il said.
The valley seemed much more foreboding than it had a few days ago, thanks to the thought of wild wolves. Ruby and Shiroi were reluctant to enter, but Va’il had reassured them that he understood the howls and smells well enough to say what the local pack would and would not do. It still didn’t reassure the girls. Sleep was something to be feared that night. And they wouldn’t let Va’il retire either. So they sat around the fire for a few hours, never letting it dwindle.
“I’m getting really tired,” Va’il said. He yawned and started swaying where he sat. Shiroi, next to him, looked about the same, though her eyes were much more alert.
“A little longer,” Ruby said.
“No, I’m getting tired too. Let them eat me, as long as I get an hour nap,” Shiroi said.
“They won’t, really. Can’t you believe that?” Va’il asked.
“We aren’t lupus. And I’m an avian. Without the luxury of flight. Really, are we bird in name only, useless to the world?”
“No one is,” Va’il said.
Va’il stood up. He looked each girl in the eye, and then looked into the darkness of the valley’s forests. He looked up at a half moon in the sky. He took in a long, deep breath, and then let it out. He did that twice. He took in another breath. He let out a long, meaningful howl. It was the first either girl had heard him do. Shiroi straightened where she sat, her eyes and ears in full attention. Ruby did likewise. Va’il repeated the howl twice more. Then he let out a last, much shorter one. And then he waited.
He stood still for a while. After a few minutes, he turned around and looked at the girls. His eyes kept looking down, and his bottom lip trembled. He finally looked directly at Ruby.
“They didn’t answer,” he said quietly. Ruby tensed as his gaze made her think the unmentionable. Shiroi wanted to say something, but couldn’t. Her feathers moved without her thinking, and her sudden urge to hide almost overwhelmed her.
“They are dead,” Va’il said.
Neither girl was sure of what Va’il meant, exactly. Who was supposed to have died, they both asked themselves.
“Who?” Ruby asked, though a few minutes had already passed.
“The family. All of them. The mother and the two boys and daughter. I thought something was wrong, but I didn’t think it was them. But I’m sure of it now. The wolf family that owned this valley, they are no more, they aren’t a threat to us, or anyone, anymore,” Va’il said. As he spoke, he blinked more and more often. He raised an arm and rubbed his right eye. Without many more words, he settled himself and slept. Ruby and Shiroi, both scared and relieved, soon followed his example.
The next morning Va’il was silent. His silence gave Ruby a strange reminder that Va’il’s connection to certain animals was different from her own. She would have been more uncaring about the entire ordeal, as it was only a group of vicious animals that died. But Va’il’s mention of how the family was composed made her take a different look at it. They were different, but they also had families and ties, and desired to stay alive, even at the cost of others’ lives.
They briskly followed the valley path. However, at one point Va’il stopped. He turned and ran to the side, into the forest, without a word to the girls. Without hesitating much, the girls followed Va’il. They soon regretted that decision.
Within moments the two girls had returned to the valley path, pale-faced and tears in their eyes. Unable to control themselves, they gave way to tears. The mournful howling of Va’il off in the distance reminded them all too well of what they had seen. They sat on the road while they waited for Va’il to return. After a while, he emerged from the forest. His hands were covered in dirt. His cloths had bits of dirt and specks of blood. He smiled, and then continued the journey with the girls.
“Never thought I would be so happy to be here again,” Shiroi said.
“Me too,” Ruby said. “Waiter!”
“Anything will do. Lots of it,” Va’il said. He laid his head on the table and closed his eyes. The felis waiter soon arrived.
“What would the masters like?” the felis man asked.
“Your best three dishes,” Shiroi said in a slightly gruff voice.
“Certainly! Anything to drink? We have thirteen year old wine, Terrak’s Lilies, ready if the young masters so desire,” the familiar felis said.
“The table’s water will be enough,” Shiroi said.
“Terrak’s Lilies,” Va’il said quietly. “Cheap, diluted with water.”
“Absolutely,” the felis said before anyone could object. He sped off with the order in mind.
“Va’il, just because they were…” Ruby started.
“Zak, let him be, for right now,” Shiroi said. She made a few hand motions to Ruby out of Va’il’s sight. She wouldn’t whisper what she meant, as she knew Va’il might hear her. Ruby nodded.
They chatted a bit while waiting. The first thing to arrive was a meal of fish and various vegetables and sauces. Va’il had eaten three soon enough. He was feeling much better with food in his stomach. A loud crash interrupted his peace.
“Blah! Tasteless dribble, you’re cheating the customers!” said a man at a table on the floor below. The rest of the room quieted as the disturbance grew.
“Sir, that was for another customer,” the felis waiter said.
“Oh, so that wasn’t the tasteless dribble I paid for, it was the snot you were going to feed another victim. Lousy cats!” the man said. His deep voice was resounding through the room, but no one was coming to the felis’ aid.
“Knock it off, it’s not his fault he was born worthless,” said another man who was sitting at the same table.
“And you took it forcefully!” the felis said in anger.
“What?” the man asked with a giant bellow. “Are you speaking back?” The felis waiter fell backwards as the man started walking towards him.
Va’il couldn’t just listen; he had to see. As did the two girls. They looked below as a single large human approached the cowering waiter. At the table were two more human men, each dressed in dark clothes. They watched with little care as the other man pulled the felis up by his robes, lifting him off the ground.
“That’s enough, we don’t need trouble,” the third man said.
“Come on, he’s been itching to go for a while now,” the second man said.
“We don’t need attention,” the third man said.
“Bah,” the first man said. He lowered the waiter until his feet were flat on the ground. The first man turned to look at the other two, and then gave a wide grin.
“Hah!” the second man said.
“Fine…” the third man said.
The first man moved quickly. He picked the waiter up, held him overhead, and then threw him across the room. Another crash as he landed on another patron’s table. The rest of the room didn’t need more motivation. The first floor emptied of people, while those on the second floor wished they could leave.
“Not as fun as the wolves, but oh well,” the first man said.