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I stared up at the stars, Kaivelt’s Everdeep – I wanted to be there with him…

He was gone.

But yet, not.

He was that embracing darkness, waiting to embrace me. But I was too far away, in the Pridekeep.

Bring me outside.”

You are unwell, child.” Fear-scent so desperate it addled thought led me to Tacivaar, and Trinna. The Huntleader frowned. “You must remain here, quiet and still.

Behind them, though, was Xanaas the Healer who seemed always calm and willing to listen to children as to anyone else. Better to talk to him, than the Huntleader or Trinna.

I must go outside, Xanaas. He is there, and I must be with him”

He met my gaze steadily – like Kaivelt’s could be; as his sire’s. He nodded. “Yes, I understand.” He turned to the Huntleader and my Huntmother. “This is not a time to burden the child with the fullness of the Pride’s expectations upon her.”

I looked back to the stars, which held my link to my Solemate. I was too weak to move, so I watched the patch of sky, placing my faith in it, and in Xanaas, and in sima garo.

I don’t like it.”

Plainly said, Huntleader, but scarcely of import, against her need.”

I need Kaivelt, and the stars.”

Who is this Kaivelt who tries to rob her from us?”

He is my Solemate. We are our own, and not thine.”

Tacivaar strode to me, knelt, and took my hand without asking. His yellow eyes, robbed me of the stars, of the place I could most feel Kaivelt’s existence.

You have no Solemate. You are a child.”

Before I could argue – a foolish choice, with the Huntleader – Xanaas said, “She must be taken out, else she will choose the boy and die here.”

His clutch on my hand tightened; he blocked Xanaas’ view of me. I knew he could not cuff me, here, but he said, too softly for anyone but me to hear. “If you try any such thing, child, I will set the entire Hunthread upon you, and leave no chance that you will even look to the stars unless I allow it.”

Kaivelt and I surged together, strong, fierce, and hot –

Trinna pressed and rubbed herself against him, from behind. “Come to my furs, Huntleader, and leave the child to the Healer. There are ways to pass time that she is not yet ripened for…”

A frozen moment, and we waited – and then he growled deep in his throat, and their two bodies blended. and then they slipped away to the pleasures of Matehunt.

Xanaas knelt where Tacivaar had been. His eyes were dark and kind. “There is the sheltered ledge beyond the cookfires, Niaan. Will it suit your needs?”

I nodded as tears came; mine, and Kaivelt’s– tears of loss, and relief, and hope. Xanaas didn’t say anything more, but he lifted me, still in my nest of furs, and carried me to the ledge.

I will be within easy hearing. Call out if you have need of me.”

A gentle hand stroked my forehead, brushing back the hair that clung to it. “Attend to thy joining, now, and heal. All is as sima garo provides.”

And then he was gone, and I was left alone, where I could feel Kaivelt in Everdeep’s embrace.

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