Chapter 2

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 Yaalon sat next to the river, listening to the sound of the water swishing and gurgling around the boulders that were strewn across it. Rockdog, his wolf companion, sat next to him, alert but not alarmed, snout pointing upward, eyes closed. The wolf took in a series of quick inhalations, determining whether or not anything nearby threatened him or his human companion.

"Hey, pup," said Yaalon as he patted the wolf on its rump. "What do you say to some dinner?"

The wolf's ears perked up at the familiar word.

Yaalon stood up, pulled off his fur wrap, and hung it over the small boulder he had been sitting on. A chill was setting in as the sun sank toward the horizon. He shivered, looking out at the brilliant oranges and purples that blanketed the sky over Iyhiri Forest. Ten years outside of the caverns had desensitized him to cool air.

He ran down to the water line and darted out into the stream, diving in when the water was deep enough to hold him. Swimming along the bottom of the stream, he watched for a fish large enough to feed him and Rockdog. Spotting a blue catfish, Yaalon swam slowly behind it, staying close to the riverbed, his webbed feet sending swirls of sediment into the water as he kicked himself along. The fish was almost two feet in length and appeared to be about twenty pounds.

Yaalon returned to the surface for a breath of air and sank back down to the bottom, getting a fix on the catfish. The glands at the base of his thumbs were already secreting the sticky, honey-like substance that would help him grab and hold onto the fish. He darted toward it, sending it fleeing toward the opposite bank. Sediment with tiny gold flakes spread up and out in the water, creating a hazy, sparkling underwater fog as he chased after his dinner. The fish jerked to the right, heading downstream and moving toward the center of the river. Yaalon followed it, hoping that he would reach it before having to return to the surface for air.

A large mass landed in the water and sent the catfish scurrying toward the bank again. It swam into a wall of small boulders sitting in the water. It darted back and forth, seeking escape as Yaalon reached it and grabbed its scaly body. Planting his feet on the river floor, he brought himself upright, reaching his full six-foot-two and breaking through the water's surface. He turned to look at Rockdog, swimming toward him from the middle of the river.

"Thanks for the help, pup. He almost got away."

Yaalon walked onto the sandy beach and carried the squirming fish back to the boulder he laid his coat on, grabbed a sharp rock, and slit its belly. Pulling out its insides, he looked at the wolf again.

"Must be twenty pounds. We'll eat good tonight." he said as Rockdog walked out of the water, stopping to shake himself dry.

With a wagging tail, Rockdog trotted over to the boulder and sat down next to Yaalon. He let out a small huff.

"Don't be in such a rush. I'm gonna cook it first."

Grabbing his fur wrap, he dug into a small pocket sewn inside, and pulled out two small rocks. Setting them down by the catfish, he stood up and walked around the boulder.

"I'm watching you, pup. Don't even think about it."

The wolf turned his back to Yaalon, as if insulted by the implication that he could not control himself.

Yaalon moved around, picking up small twigs, moss, and a couple of large chunks of driftwood, dried from sitting in the sun. Returning, he made a small circle with some loose fragments of boulder, set the moss inside of it, and began to strike the two small rocks together near the moss. A spark caught, and he added the twigs, letting the fire grow before placing the driftwood on it as well.

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