To Kurt’s left, unseen except for her swaying yellow lantern, Copper-eye made a yowling screech. Ub, somewhere on Kurt’s opposite shoulder, his pale-green lantern flickering in and out of the columns of the wood, answered her, “Better two that are late than three with no reason to leave, thought I.” From this Kurt assumed Copper had asked why they hadn’t taken Tal with them to the gathering. From what he could figure out, she had thought Tal was with them, while they knew they had left him at home. Where he actually went was anyone’s guess. She answered with a bark that faded into a growl.
“And what? Thou slumberest through truth, shall I wake thee for a duty plain?” Kurt thought this had something to do with the fact that Copper didn’t go to the gatherings with them anymore. He secretly wished Ub would stop waking him up for them too and wondered how Copper-eye got out of going? She hissed a retort. “Aye,” Ub’s voice was thick with sarcasm, “next time I’ll bind the lad neck to nethers and hang ‘im from the beams.” Kurt hoped that was a joke. She snarled in response. He said, “I should be so fortunate.” Then it was on. Her scathing bark coming a mile a minute and shriller by the second. When she paused for breath, he roared anger that shook the stones. Kurt, knowing what each of them was capable of, began to hang back so as not to be in the way of the spines, hammer and venom when it started flying. Instead, Ub made an exasperated snort and his light lifted off the cave floor and sailed into the air.
How the…? “How is he doing that?” he asked Copper-eye. She made a questioning, short-tempered noise. “That!” He pointed, forgetting that she probably couldn’t see his arm. Her scratchy growling became more impatient and he gave up. He probably wouldn’t understand the answer anyway. He just watched then in amazement as the sickly green lantern flared a little brighter and bobbed along to and fro above them. Was he climbing the smooth but knobbly stones? Was he hanging by some kind of spidery thread, Kurt had seen kids do that. Was he flying? If so, how? Kurt had never wished so hard for more light than he did right then. Which coincidentally, would also help them find Tal. How easily he forgot the reason they were stumbling along through the pitch-black wood. An image of Tal, alone and crying, appeared clearly in Kurt’s mind and his heart ached, tears came suddenly to his eyes. He wiped them away and tried to soldier on but it was as if he could hear his brother’s cries in his ears now, pitiful and scared. How stupid for them to be fighting when Tal was out there somewhere lost and afraid. Why did monsters have to be so stupid? Who cares whose fault it was? They needed to find Tal! They needed to find him before something else did.
He hadn’t realized that he had stopped until he felt a warm arm around his shoulders. He started then, shocked and alarmed but calmed down when he looked up into the soft, damp face of Copper-eye. In the light of both their lanterns he could see that she was crying too. The fur of her scarred face was wet and one jewel of a drop hung from her whiskers, about to fall on him. He gave her a fierce hug, forgetting and almost knocking her over. Her iron leg thumped the ground as she caught herself. Kurt could see it through her embrace and he remembered the night she had come home, torn and broken from the attack. He remembered there were many monsters that did not eat bread and fruit from the factories. What if…? What if some carnivore found Tal first? What if it already had? Kurt’s crying was in danger of becoming sobs. Copper-eye, hugged him tighter and purred. With his eyes closed, his world was completely dark but it was warm, soft, furry and purring, her heartbeat thumped against his face and in his ears. It was a good dark, a safe dark and Kurt soon felt strong enough to relax, just a little, as if Copper had somehow given some of her strength to him by sharing his weakness. She shoved him back and meowed a little question.
“Yeah,” he said, “I think I’m okay now.” She huffed, pleased, her one, good eye softer than he had seen it in some time. He wondered if she hadn’t gained a little strength from him too? From just one little hug, one little moment, so much could be gained and given without either of them losing anything. It was as if something had come into the world that wasn’t there before. They continued on, hand in paw now and Kurt thought the darkness didn’t look as dark anymore.