Insp. X

“I’m worried about him. He’s hardly left Nerok’s side since what happened in the river, he comes crying to me about nightmares almost every night, he hardly goes past waist-deep water even if someone else is with him, and sometimes he’s even kept his brother from going into the water! I’m not sure what else to do!”

“It’ll pass, Jera. He’s young. In time he’ll see that these fears are irrational, even if they’re understandable considering what happened. You’ll see.”

“You’re just scared.”

“I’m not SCARED, I just know what I was told and told NOT to do, and going into the water past the light points is one of them!”

Haxus stood glaring at the older kit and his sister before glancing out at the surface of the water. The purplish light of the marker beams shone bright against the fading light sparkling across the water. The field that spread beneath the surface was supposed to sting a predator’s senses and keep them out of the swimming area, but it didn’t hurt Galra. There wasn’t actually anything keeping anyone from leaving the area, except for common sense.

“I still say you’re scared. I’ve snuck out there plenty of times and nothing’s happened to me. You just gotta stay out of the main current and trust me, that’s not as easy as it looks. You gotta be a strong swimmer to do it.”

Haxus felt himself puff up at the implication. He was young, but he was still a good swimmer, and the thought of not only proving the other kit wrong, but beating him at his own game was all too enticing to ignore.

“Fine, you’re on. Just to get you to shut up,” Haxus snapped. The older boy smirked, but then pointed a webbed finger at Nerok.

“Leave him here, though. He’ll get in the way.”

Haxus shook his head.

“He’s staying with me, else he’ll go wandering back to mom and they’ll come lookin’ for us. Besides, if we’re only going where you say we are, he can make it,” Haxus growled, compelled to defend the younger kit.

“As if. He ain’t even full River Galra, any kit could swim circles around him.”

“He can hold his breath and he can swim, that’s all he needs to do. Or are YOU scared we’ll beat you?”

Haxus glanced down at the tug on his arm and saw Nerok with his ears back and his eyes wide.

“Maybe we shouldn’t. It’s just a stupid dare. He’s right, I’m not a real strong swimmer an’ we’re not supposed to go out there… Let’s just go back to mom before we get in trouble!”

“We won’t get in trouble, they won’t even know we’re gone. Just hold on to me and you’ll be fine,” he muttered, ignoring his brother for the most part before looking back to the other kids. “We’re ready when you are.”

“Then follow us. If you can stick close without falling behind or getting carried away by the current, we’ll consider it a win.”

Haxus nodded and tugged Nerok with him, who immediately clung to his side as the four of them waded into deeper water. They neared the barrier, occasionally glancing back at the shore to see if anyone was coming to stop them, but there was no sight of anyone headed their way. Haxus drew a deep breath, prodded Nerok to do so, and went under. 

The other two were waiting just past the glimmering barrier. There was a slight tingle as they passed through it, but an instant later they were looking out over the dark expanse of the Trivozen river as it stretched out into the dropoff leading to the distant glow of Zha Kasarit. But the glowing pathway wasn’t their destination, and Haxus pulled Nerok in the direction the two other kits were headed. More than once, he glanced back at the glowing barrier vanishing into the murk of the river, but he couldn’t turn back now. They’d never let him live it down.

The sister doubled back, her black eyes gleaming, smirking as she did loops and twirls around them, tricks Haxus WOULD have been able to do if Nerok hadn’t been clinging to him… but he refused to let go of his brother, and simply kicked harder, glaring as the girl twirled and flitted her way back to her brother. But she overshot him too, barely skimming his head and shooting him another grin as she passed–

Only for something to rocket up from the murk and slam into her from below, something almost four times her size that moved with more grace than even she had. Haxus reeled back, kicking hard to stop his forward momentum but the gentle tug of the current continued to carry him forward. The beast– a feral haraxin– twisted, shook its head, and deep indigo began billowing through the water, obscuring his view like storm clouds hide the sky. He didn’t see the other kit shoot for the surface, but even the muffled screaming couldn’t snap him out of the cold shock of watching bits of flesh and fur– even part of a hand– fall through the cloud of blood and into the dark below to be whisked away by the current. 

His grip tightened on Nerok, he felt his claws pierce flesh as surely as Nerok’s claws dug into him, but he didn’t respond to his brother’s frantic shaking. He knew he should swim… he needed to get to the surface… but was frozen, starting to sink without any momentum to keep him in line. He thought he saw the silhouette of a head before that was snapped up too, and an instant later the beast was circling the blood and murk, searching for any morsels it might have missed. Its head swung around, and the kit felt warmth spreading between his legs as it shot towards them. He couldn’t even close his eyes to keep from seeing the ragged teeth gleaming in the dim light.

But then– too much was happening at once. Something bright shot through the water, going through the beast and causing it to curl in on itself, covering a wound leaking black into the already clouded water. An adult dropped down on it– a hunter judging by the bodysuit he was wearing–, driving a knife into its neck and drawing more blood into the current. That same instance, Haxus felt a pair of strong arms seize him and his brother, and then he felt water tugging at his ears and fur as they were carried back to the surface. Cold air hit his face, and the next breath he took brought a coughing fit, choking and crying as his eyes squeezed shut and his grip on Nerok tightened. His brother was sobbing as well, and he could hear frantic screams from the shore, callings of names… one of which wouldn’t ever be answered again.

Haxus hardly realized it when they were handed back to their mother. He was too busy clinging to his brother despite the younger kit’s whimpering at the tiny claws in his arms. That could have been Nerok. That could have been his brother torn to pieces and devoured. The speed and ease with which it had happened left him in shock. One moment she was there, and the next… He held on tighter, ignoring his mother’s shaky pleading to let his brother go. He didn’t want to let him go. He wasn’t going to lose him too. That much he’d make sure of.