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Akindi rode into Grom'Gol as the sun was setting out over the ocean. A cool, salty breeze was coming in with the tide, refreshing after a long day of hunting in the jungle heat. She steered Xandar towards the tannery, dropping off a fresh batch of hides for treatment. She could cure the hides herself, but she preferred to let others do the smelly work while she prowled the jungles. The local tannery was one reason she now preferred the Stranglethorn Vale to her old haunt of Un'Goro.

Electing to spend the night in town, her next stop was the stables to drop of her mount. Xandar customarily hunted at night in the wild, so it was important to keep him contained when she was in town. The huntress gave her mount a stern look before letting the handlers have him, silently warning him that the orcs were not food, and that they would bite back. Xandar growled ungraciously, snapping at the air she handed his reigns over to Rhona, the elderly orc widow who ran the stables.

Rhona gave her a knowing wink as she tugged sharply on the raptor's halter. "No worries, Akindi. I know how to handle these old grouches."

Akindi grinned as she waved goodnight to them, sauntering over to Rohna's daughter to settle up the stabling fees. As she was paying the young handler a familiar whinny brought a smile to her face.

"Oy, ah know dat rot-bag. Dat's Pestilence, eh sistah?"

"If you mean the horse, I don't know his name. But Pestilence makes sense, since he's half rotted and crazy."

"Ho! No lie. Looks like ah found sometin' to do tonite. Spirits be whitchoo."

"Grom'khal, hunter."

Akindi smiled happily as she wandered towards the center fire-pit, Claw padding along behind her protectively.




"Ho dere, Pus!"

The rogue smoothly nodded to the troll as she hailed him, giving no indication of surprise. "Akindi," he greeted her. Pusrot sat on one of the large wood benches by the central bonfire of the camp, his pack beside him on the ground, cradling a small stoppered phial in his hands. He carefully wrapped it in silk as Akindi thumped down beside him, the weight of the troll and her armour rocking the bench.

Akindi removed her helm, plopping it in the dirt and dropping her gauntlets into it. She nodded to the phial Pusrot was slipping into a pocket. "Wossat? Joo steel workin on a poison wit troll blood in eet?"

Pusrot shook his head. "I decided that I was on the wrong path with that. I'm not magically inclined enough to alter the nature of trollish blood."

"Werl, trolls be verra stubborn," she agreed easily. "It be in da blood. So whassis new poison for, den?"

"For poisoning," he snorted in mild derision.

Akindi waved his comment away impatiently. "Pain? Slow dem down? Numbness? Loss o' function? A quicka keel? Whossit do?"

"It enters the bloodstream at the point of contact and quickly travels up to the brainstem where it impedes their ability to move. Common to some spiders."

"Ah. Slow poison. Verra effective. It be soundin' like it wouldn' work on dead tings, dough."

Pusrot shook his head. "Not as such. Nor elementals for that matter."

"Werl, dey resist all sorts o tings," the troll nodded. "S'kinda a given. Magic be one ting dat work on dem a'ight."

Pusrot looked over at Claw speculatively. "Have you ever considered taming a dragon?"

"Heh. Dragons don' tame well," she said with a wry grin.

"I've found beasts to be the weakest creatures I come across. Them and some of the magicaly inclined humans and their ilk. Why not make a pet of something more impressive?"

Akindi grinned at Claw as he came over to nuzzle her shoulder. She reached up with one hand to pat him affectionately. "Dere be a trick to taming. Joo gotta put choreself in da mind of da beast. Dragons, elementals, demons, people - all dese got minds dat're too curvy for tamin'. Da mind of a beast be a simple ting."

"So their lack of intelligence makes them an easy target… They seem to have only the very basest forms of reasoning abilities."

"S'no dat, realleh. Dere be some slimes dat are dumb as toast an joo can't tame dem…. It be 'ard to explain. It's more da shape of da mind den 'ow smart it be."

Pusrot nodded thoughtfully. "What shape does a slime's mind have?

"Slimes? Ech. Ah dunn even tink dat dey 'ave em... Beasts be smart enough ta learn, dumb enough not ta question. Da important ting is dat dey be havin' a mind built for loyalty..."

Pusrot nodded slowly. "Loyalty for benefit, or blind loyalty?"

"Depends on da animal. Plainstridahs be verra stoopid, deir pack-loyalty be blind. Wolves be a bit choosier, dey can switch packs. Wit beasts, all joo gotta do is convince dem dat choo are one. To Claw, ahm a member of 'is pack."

"What about the folks you work with?"

"Some o dem be near-cats in 'is mind. Da rest are jus' allies."

"So he understands the concept of allies."

"Oh, all animals know dat one. S'natural. Like dose crocolisks - dey let da birds eat da leel bits o food outta between deir teeth. S'like dat."

Pusrot nodded thoughtfully. "I've never seen it in play myself. I don't have much of an eye for things like that."

"Werl, choo won' see it in da plaguewoods anyway. Joo need a propah lifeplace for tings like dat ta show up."

"What about the carrion birds and the diseased bears?"

Akindi considered the question. "Ah dunno. Da diseases can mess wit' an animal's mind… maybe da carrion truce be dere. Ah neva seen it. 'Sides everatin' be carrion up dere..."

"Could you tame a diseased bear?"

Akindi looked uneasy. "Ah dunno… Ah wouldn' want to."

Pus shook his head at her. "Why not? Disease can be as potent as venom."

She hesitated, trying to find the right words to explain her distaste at the idea. "Hmm. Werl, a diseased animal be outcast from da tribe - dey be inherentleh antisocial. Even when all of dem bears are diseased… da instinct of self-destruction be dere. Manneh go mad. Dey attack annehting dat moves. Ah don' see 'ow ah could be a pack-mate of a beah wit da madness."

Pusrot frowned behind his mask. "Could it work though? Or is it completely out of the question?"

Akindi leaned back on the log, her hands linked around one knee in front of her. She stared at the fire for a moment, tonguing a tusk thoughtfully before answering. "Ah dunno. Mite depend on da disease. Depend on 'ow far da mind of da beast be spoiled."

"You'd want something fairly potent…"

"Werl, it would depend on if da beast knew it was sick."

"So you couldn't do it if the beast had the rage."

"No. Sometin' strong enough ta be used as a weapon would'a alreaddeh made da caarriah go mad, Pus."

Pusrot nodded slowly, considering. "Yes but… What if you were to take the disease from an advanced case and pass it on to a relatively healthy AND already trained animal?" He leaned forward, clasping his clawed hands together eagerly. "Eventually you'd have to write it off as a loss, but until then…"

"What? Choo mean like, if Claw got a sickness?"

"Well, not Claw. Even I'm not so blind as to think you'd just toss him away."

"First, dat wouldn' work. Da bond joo make in chore mind with chore packmate - or pet, as odders call dem - it no letchoo lie. Joo couldn' trick yer pet inta getting' a disease."

"You can always learn to lie."

Akind scritched Claw's ears as he came over, laying his big head in her lap. "No. Not always."

"Look, you can't think of it as a companion. You'd have to think of it as a weapon. As far as I'm concerned, Claw is a weapon of yours."

Akindi smiled, amused by the simplicity of the statement. "Jus' a weapon, eh?"

"If he was injected with a disease, it would be to the same effect as when I poison my blades."

Akindi snorted. "Not so. Jor blades don' tink. Claw does."

"Well you're obviously more attached to him than that, but sill. I've seen some warriors who love their blades like you love Claw."

"Jah but da mutual attachment is what makes da bond, mon. I'ss impossible ta 'ave a pet and no be attached to 'em. A warriah's blade don' care for 'em when dey're sick. Deir blades don' love 'em back."

Pusrot shook his head impatiently. "Allright, your flesh weakness won't let you do it to an animal you love, but surely you could fake it with an animal you could care less about. Like one of those raptors out there," he said, pointing towards the North Gate.

"Cho're not getting what ah'm telling joo - joo can't fake eet. Let me try again, ah no be esplainin it rite." She sat back, considering Claw. The giant cat's stomach made loud rumbling noises. She smiled and fished out a handful of jerky from a pouch. "Alweys feed yer cat… hm. When ah went ta tame Claw, da first ting ah did was ta send out ma huntah's spirit - do joo know bout dat? Joo won't be understandin annehting ah say if joo don' be knowin bout dat."

Pusrot shook his head no.

Akindi looked stymied. "Hmm. Well den. Erm. Ah no be verra good at esplainin tings about spirits. Tumjuk be da one fer dat. But iss kinda like… Werl, djoo evah pretend ta be sumetin' yer not? Pretend so 'ard dat for a bit, joo forgot whatchoo realleh were?"

Pusrot shook his head again.

Akindi sighed at him. "Wha, nevah?"

"I often pretend to be things I'm not, but I never lose sight of what I truly am. I have to pretend, otherwise I'd never be able to sit like this and speak with folks like you.."

"Hmm. Ah dunno if ah kin esplain it to make joo understand den. It's no a rule, like "go buy a sword, go tame a pet." It be a feelin. It be hard to esplain feelings wit words an logic."

Pusrot chuckled lightly. "We've been through this before, I think. I don't feel like you do - like most anyone does."

"Jah mon. Dat be makin it hard ta esplain feelings, eh? Joo eva try esplainin green to a blind person? Trickeh stuff. Mostleh dey get mad and yell atchoo…" Akind looked irritated, as though remembering something.

Pusrot shook his head. "I'm not yelling at you I just disagree about how viable an option it is."

"Cha, jo're patient. But look, Pus, when joo tame an animal, joo make a leel pack of two. Choo 'ave to realleh be part of your own pack, see? Joo can't pretend to be packmates witcho're pet. Dey'd know and so'd joo."

"I think your moral qualms are hindering your ability to see it my way."

Akindi shook her head no, smiling. "S'not a moral qualm, s'just 'ow it works."

"Ok. Now, what if Claw's bite were more venomous than the scorpids in Ahn'Quiraj?"

"Werl, dat would certainleh be something."

Pusrot nodded. "Right."

"But it no be da venom dass da problem. If 'e 'ad venom, fine, but sickness be verra different for animals."

"Disease, venom… I'm using the two interchangibly for now."

"Dey're verra, verra different, Pus."

"No they're not. Disease is living venom, that's the only difference."

Akindi stared at him. "Joo no be listenin to annehting ah said, bout animals bein' 'erdless when dey're sick? Natcha can tell when sometin's not right. A sick animal be dead meat walkin. An animal with venom be an 'ealtheh one."

"Does it happen right away? Do they know right away?"

"Depends on da sickness. If dey wah ill enough ta spread it, den it'd be too fah gone… Venom be a normal part of a 'ealtheh animal. Disease kills de animal. Jus' cose bot' kill odder tings don' make dem da same. Cho're oversimplifying an important difference."

"I won't do it, so you can put your mind at ease, but what would happen if I were to disease Claw? You'd know. Then what? Would you drive him away?"

"Jah ah'd know. Ah'd cure 'im. If ah couldn't, den ah'd keel 'im outta pity, like a good pack mate should."

"You'd cure him, but in the meantime he'd still be diseased."

"Jah, until ah could find 'im an fix 'im."

"Could you not leave him that way for a bit before curing him?"

"Erm. Not long. Claw does get diseases, fightin tings. Ah wait for da fight ta finish an den ah fix 'im up. 'E always panics a bit, ah send out ma spirit ta calm 'im an tell im iss okay."

Pusrot sighed. "I imagine this is why you don't see any forsaken hunters."

"Oh, animals don' like forsaken. It'd be verra, verra 'ard ta convince a beast ta trust one."

"Allright, hold that thought. Are the Broken Horn like a pack to you?"

"Sure."

"But you could lie to them. If it suited you."

"Wit me words, jah. Ah could speak lies," she agreed carefully, seeing where this was going.

"Right. Now why doesn't that translate to beast-speak, or whatever means you use to get points across to Claw?"

"Hm. Da easiest way to esplain diss isn' verra true, but ah'm a use it annehway: Claw reads mah t'oughts directly. Ah don' speak ta 'im in words. So ah can't trick 'im."

Pusrot was silent for a moment, thinking. "Maybe I'm looking at this the wrong way."

Akindi bit her lip and looked away, trying not to laugh.

"Maybe… Maybe the key is to do like the Priests do. Mind control the diseased animals."

"Heh. Dat mite work."

"Then... The animal has no say in the matter… it does as it's told until it's no longer needed…"

"Jah, den it tries ta eat yer face."

"You make sure it's nearly dead before you let it go. Then you just strike it down."

"Fff. Why are joo so obsessed wit' 'arnessin da powah of sick animals annehway? Few diseases be so bad dat dey'd make a difference in battle."

"Because I'm reaching the point where I've done all I can with poisons. I refuse to believe that this is all there is."

"Ech. Stick wit whatchoo know. Maybe dere be a limit an joo just 'ave ta deal wit it."

Pusrot shook his head. "That kind of thinking inhibits progress."

Akindi picked her teeth, unimpressed. "Progress tawards what?"

"More effective means to destroy!"

She considered that briefly. "Ah dunno. Ah still tink dat cuttin a t'roat be pretteh effective."

"Yes yes. Slit one throat, one goes down. Unleash a plague, they all fall down! Unleash the right one, and some get back up…"

"Ah! But den joo can't eat dem!" Akinid laughed.

Pusrot just shrugged. "I'm not looking to poison my food sources. I'm thinking more in terms of, say, stemming the Scarlet Crusade."

"Ah spose it depends. Ah t'ought joo were talkin about battle, but diss is dat Forsaken genocide ting again."

"Don't the goblins make a mind control device of some kind? Or is that gnomes?"

"Gnomes, ah tink. Gobbies onleh blow stuff up. Dey're too dumb for mind control. Ah still tink yer overdoin' eet. Just kill all dem scarlets."

"Disease does that too. And then you have the pleasure of knowing they suffered."

"Ah don' care if dey suffer, as long as dey die."

"I heard of one plague when I was younger… heard the drunks in the Gallow's End talking about it."

"Hmm?"

"Everyone would catch it. It'd always be fatal. But it took four days… and sometimes it looked like folks would be getting better."

"Sad."

"Eventually their throats would swell and turn black and they'd choke to death on their own mucus."

"Blech!"

Pusrot's eyes grew whistful. "Suffocate themselves… something like that."

"So?"

"So you don't see the potential in that over the potential in a poisoned blade or arrow?"

"Arrows go where dey be aimed," Akindi warned in a serious tone. "Diseases affect more dan da targers. Ah'm no a fan of usin one as a weapon."

"But you can't deny how effective they'd be."

"Ah spose not. Crazy-head," she accused him, though without rancour.

Pusrot shook his head at her. "I think I'm onto something big here, Akindi. I just have to learn to harness it."

Akindi shook her head at Pusrot, but didn't press the issue. A low shuffling behind her made her look around. Nattieto had just come out of the inn and was wandering over towards the firepit. She waved to him in greeting.

"Ello, Nattieto. Where's leel Jeera?"

"I am not knowink! Ve vere in zee Downs yesterday, and zen she went to speak to ze trainink people in ze capital."

"Ah! Ho, so she be pesterin dem orcs again, eh? Joo two been buseh, ah 'ear. Pus, joo met Natt yet? 'E's mah daughtah's shadow. Or mebbe she be 'is."

Pusrot nodded a casual greeting to the bear. "Good evening."

Akindi waved vaguely, introducing them. "Nattieto. Pusrot."

Nattieto rumbled happily. "Eet ez a pleasure to meet you, Pusrot."

"Likewise, Natt. You know, Akindi, I don't know that I've ever met your daughter."

"Jah.. .she be in da field a lot. Yer a civilized sort."

"There's seldom call for assassins in fields. I go where the work is."

"Dere joo go. Sometimes she be goin' to da clan meetin's. Joo may see er dere."

Nattieto lumbered up beside their bench, curling up close to the fire.

"Ze fire is warm."

Akindi grinned at him. "Dass what it's foh."

"Ven I vas with ze Timbermaw, ve use fire for all zorts of tings."

She nodded. "Jah. Like cookin, 'n makin lite n such. Shuah ting."

"Heat, ov course, but also to scare off our enemies. And to cleanse ze Felvood."

Pusrot was looking at Nattieto thoughtfully. "I wonder… a druidic shapechanger would understand the point behind what's being done. If they knew you'd fix them after, I wonder if they'd let you…"

"HAH! No way. Dass like, anti-drood. Jore plan requires some psycho. Or a moron. Not a natcha lova."

"Are there no anti-druids?"

"Anti wha?"

"Anti-druids. Some direct opposite of them?"

Akindi blinked. "What… like, warlocks?"

"No, they wouldn't do. Their pets don't look like beasts."

Nattieto had been watching Pusrot. He spoke up. "I do not understands. You need druid friend?"

Akindi smile at the bear, answering for Pusrot. "E's got a plan ta be makin' sometin' diseased, den sick it on sumetin' else. De idea be ta use an animal like a weapon, to make odders sick."

Pusrot was frowning behind his mask, thinking.

Akindi looked askance at him. "Why do they gotta look like a beast annehway?"

"Because they're more covert that way. Nobody thinks much of seeing beasts prowling around."

"Unless dey're bonkin deir 'eads into tings an frothin at da mouth! Or smellin like rot an 'ave all da dogs barkin at it. Sounds like joo need an armeh of evil squirrels or somethin."

"I always take care of barking dogs first."

Nattieto had been thinking through what he had been told. He looked confused. "Vy vould you make something with dizease? Vould it not be better to cure ze disease instead?"

"No," Pus answered. "The point is to inflict the disease on more things, to destroy them."

"Zat be very funny, friend-Pusrot. But animals are life holders. Zey must be respected just as if zey were people, no?"

Akindi and Pus broke into identical grim smiles.

"You. You're new."

"Ech, spare 'im, Pus."

"I will try to explain this as simply as I am able, Natt."

Akindi interupted with a quick bit of Pusrot-mimickery: "I am completely psychotic. Dass da short version!"

Pusrot shrugged. "I exist to destroy life."

"But zat be very good, friend-Pusrot! Bringing balance is vat ve druids do!"

Pusrot shook his head as Akindi snickered. "Dere's not'in balanced about Pus 'ere…But dat's ok. Ah like 'is crazeh," she finished magnanimously, slapping Pusrot on the shoulder.

Undaunted, Nattieto continued. "For example, ven there are too many crocolisks, ve kill crocolisks… Ven there iz too many humans, we kill humans."

Pusrot stared a bit at the bear. "You don't understand. You consider life to be sacred. I consider it to be expendable at worse, currency at best. You justify your kills in the name of balance. I need no justification. I'd burn down an orphanage because I didn't like the colour of paint on the walls, and feel no worse for having done it."

Nattieto lapsed into silence, again considering what he had heard. Akindi, however, was quick to point out what she considered a flaw in Pusrot's logic.

"Joo need justification. Money. Jo still keel for a reason."

"That's incentive, not justification."

"Same ting, fancy man!"

"Nope."

"Nah-hun! Eet be a reason."

"If you were put to trial and you said 'I killed to maintain the Earth Mother's balance,' there are tribunals that would accept that as completely viable."

"Jah, an some dat would lock joo up."

"There are none, save perhaps in the Undercity, who would accept monetary gain as a justification for killing."

Akindi waved at him. "See? Some would! Ees a mattah of opinion. Reasons be reasons! D'ough it be troo, jo'res be evil, in da main. Selfish annehways."

Nattieto interrupted them with a hearty bear laugh. "Oh-ho-ho! Zat be very funny, friend-Pusrot! I like you. Joking man laugh makes me do. Kill for money? Zat make good funny."

Akindi eyed Nattieto up and down, momentarily at a loss for words. Pusrot blinked at the bear, then looked askance at Akindi. She whispered to him briefly.

"E's a bit thick. Was rasied by dah timbermaw, e's alweys in beah-form. Useful inna fight, dough."

Pusrot nodded and whispered back, "I figured he was beast-simple. Some druids are."

Akindi nodded, only adding "He be a sweety, really…" before turning back to the fidgeting Nattieto.

"So! How goes da trainin' up in Moonglade, Nattieto?"

"Ah, ze Moonglade is a very beautiful, no?"

"Jah, mon. Ah been dere a few times. Kinda elf-y, dough."

Pusrot shrugged. "I prefer the plaguelands."

Akindi rolled her eyes. "Joo would."

Nattieto grinned. "My friends in ze Cenarion Circle have recently helped me to move ze winds! Vould you like to see?"

Akindi glanced at the huge firepit with its burning coals. "Shuah… but ova da watah, maybe?"

Nattieto nodded happily, then rolled up to his feet. He lumbered over to the West Gate, Akindi, Pusrot and Claw following along behind him. At the gates, he paused. "I must change vor a moment to my secondary shape."

Nattieto concentrated hard, shifting into a large furry Tauren. He was tall for a Tauren, and very pale. Stepping forward, he raised his hands and spoke in Taurahe, addressing the clear sky above him. As he spoke a patch of stars seemed to dim as dark clouds gathered low over the water. The clouds swirled rapidly, lightning flickering through the tight formation. Suddenly on arc of lightning sparked, joining the water to the cloud in a flash that smelt of ozone. Thunder rumbled out over the water as bolt after bolt of electricity shot down from the cloud. Then, as quickly as it had appeared, the cloud dispersed, fading into a small patch of fog that gradually blew away. The stars once again shone down, blurred only by the steam rising off the patch of water where the lightning had hit.

Pusrot nodded appreciatively. "Nice."

Akindi clapped her approval. "Dat be nice. See, ah couldn' do dat."

"In Felvood, you move da winds!"

"Felwood be a trickeh place."

"I like the look of those fire-stone golem things," Pusrot commented as they wandered back to their seats by the fire.

"Da ancient tree spirits? Or da demons?"

"The demons. The ones that warlocks sometimes bind...?"

"Ah, Infernals! Dey do look verra impressive."

"Indeed. I sometimes wish that I could make Pestilence look like the warlock mounts, with the flaming hooves and mane..."

Akindi blinked at the mental picture. Pusrot on a dreadsteed… Somehow, it fit.

"Felvood vas a very beautiful place before ze daemons came," the druid said, shifting back into his bear form.

"Hm. Dat was a long time ago, Nattieto."

"I vould valk vith ze bears before zey caught ze daemon blight. Now I bring balance to them."

Akindi eyed him. "So joo do."

"See, demonic bears, they would be succeptible to plague. Mind control one of them and you're in business."

"Dat again?" Akindi sighed.

"Of course."

Akindi yawned, tired from her long day of hunting. "Won' werk," she said shortly. There wasn't much point in going into a long explanation at this point. She had already tried.

"You just dislike the idea because it goes against the grain of your moral fiber."

"Joo jus' don wanna heah dat cho're wrong."

"I'm not wrong."

"Joo wouldn' know, dough. Joo don' know da beasts."

"I've watched the sick ones enough. I live in the plaguelands. Though lately I've been taking a room at the Gallow's End."

Akindi eagerly took the opportunity to change topics away from a fruitless debate. "Wheresat?"

"The Inn in Brill."

"Oh, Jah, cho're always at Brill."

Pusrot nodded. "It's where I grew up prior to the plague.

"Ah. 'S an okay leel place. Not too smelleh."

"Most of the folk there are too fresh out of the ground to have built up much of a funk."

"Ah spose. Da breeze 'elps too, off da mountains."

Another nod. "And the lake."

"Ah! Ja, da lake. Da one clean t'ing from Tirisfal to Light's 'ope," she grinned. That lake was a small oasis of unspoiled land. She often went there to think and relax when she was forced to stay in the Undercity for any length of time.

Nattieto broke her momentary reverie. "In Felvood, da lake swims you!"

She blinked at him, then looked to Pusrot hopefully.

"I can't even begin to imagine what he means by that. "

"Ahm no so shuah eidder…"

"Ze demons made ze lake very slimey. And now ze slimes attack you ven you try to svim or drink."

Pusrot nodded, smiling slightly. "I am able to pluck items out of slimes without stirring them," he said to the bear, as one might speak of a wonder to a child.

Akindi raised her eyebrows at him, impressed. Nattieto frowned in puzzlement. "Vat vould you take from a slime?"

"Whatever they've... slimed over. Junkboxes, the occasional little item that comes out clean as new with a bit of polish. The Goblins always pay for 'em."

Akindi snorted derisively. "Dah goblins will buy anneh old junk. Dey're suckas like dat. Joo can sell dem anneyting if joo charge just undah "market price." Even if dey don't need eet or want eet!"

Nattietto burst into a somewhat delayed laughter. "Slimes - polish! Ho-ho-ho! You are very funny, friend-Pusrot!"

Akindi and Pus stared at him, not getting the joke. Nattieto chortled gleefully, apparently savouring some obscure pun.

"...So on that note, I'm going to return to Brill for the evening."

" Eh? 's fah, Pus! Why not stay heah?"

"I have a contract to write up. My papers are in the desk in my room," he said, gathering his things as he prepared to go.

"Ech. Writin."

"Indeed. I bid you all farewell for the evening."

"Aye. Gnite, then, crazy Pus," she said affectionately, also standing and giving him a salute.

"Take care, comrade-friend-Pusrot!"

Pusrot nodded to both of them and headed out to collect his mount and catch the last blimp to the Undercity.

Akindi sat back in front of the fire, staring into the flames as Claw sniffed at Nattieto curiously. The bear-druid sniffed back, a rumbling purr emanating from his furry belly. Claw purred back, pawing at the bear. Nattieto huffed and started off, running in great loping circles around the camp with Claw in close pursuit. Akindi was going to call him over but thought the better of it. Let them play.

She lay along the rough bench, the bonfire warming her side, and stared up at the sparks climbing up to join the stars.

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