“Are you okay?” the moose-like stranger asked. His vibrant blue eyes glistened in the moonlight.
“Heh, yeah, I am,” Dahj replied between deep breaths. He gingerly gripped the back of his neck. Blood lightly trickled though dreaded fur, making it sticky.
“Now that’s a thick hide!” the moose exclaimed, finding almost no tears on the back of Dahj’s neck; just puncture wounds. “Those things are just as much bite as they are bark! Get up.” He extended his long arm to help Dahj to his feet.
Dahj accepted the offer. Standing, the two nearly matched in height, but Dahj’s hunch made him slouch, appearing shorter when standing face to face. The moose’s posture was rigid and proud. His broad chest was slightly puffed from pulling his shoulders back. Air whistled through nostrils of a nose too large for his face as he caught his breath after the strenuous sprint.
Still grasping the moose’s hand, Dahj firmly turned his own palm-up to expose the top of the moose’s. Discreetly inspecting the savior’s extremity while tightly clutching it in his own, Dahj found that the erect mammal had four independent fingers – resembling his own hands. As if both sides of his hooves had split down the middle, four deep black, leathery fingers had replaced them. However, Dahj noticed that the moose’s fifth finger was not quite as developed as his own. Lacking a joint, it seemed to be one straight, unbendable digit. Dahj released his grip from the moose’s palm, and thanked him for his noble assistance.
“Impeccable timing,” Dahj noted.
“Impeccable would have been arriving before you were assaulted,” the moose replied. He dusted himself off. Veins protruded through slim, muscular arms. His complexion was dark brown – a little lighter than that of the bison’s.
“You just, happened across me then? Right place at the right time?” Dahj asked.
“You could say that,” the moose replied. “I’ve been tailing you for some time – waiting to see if instinct would lead you before I would have to.”
“Tailing me? Where… where was instinct supposed to lead me? This is my herd’s old resting ground,” Dahj replied frantically.
“Heh. If you say so,” the moose replied, scanning the vacant area.
“And you just waited for me to be attacked? You didn’t think to gain my attention some other way?” Dahj couldn’t ignore the pain in his shoulder through the distraction of the stranger’s mysterious claims. He lifted his hand and clutched the puncture wounds that dotted his shoulder.
“Waiting for you to be attacked wasn’t exactly part of the agenda, bison. Like I said, I was just – oh right, let me get you something for that,” the moose said, pitying Dahj’s poor self-aide.
Swinging his wide rack silently through the chilled air, the moose retreated to groups of various flora lining the exposed area where Dahj had fallen under assault. Rifling while muttering to himself, the moose hand-picked a pitiful bunch of herbs and wide, waxy leaves that had yet to perish in the chilling season. He returned to Dahj, halfheartedly presenting the collection.
“What do you want me to do with those?” Dahj asked, hesitantly looking over the array of limp flora.
“I’ll take care of it, those wounds’ll close right up!”
Removing Dahj’s hand from his shoulder, the moose crushed the plants together in the palm of his own hand, releasing their natural oils. He held them up to the moon as if offering. “For good measure,” the moose claimed out of the corner of his mouth.
Dahj didn’t comprehend. Usually when an injury occurred, he just rinsed it in the river and rubbed some dirt on it.
An open-palmed slap met Dahj’s shoulder. The bison replied with a roar as the wound burned intensely. Oils mixed with coagulating blood slowly trickled through his matted fur, causing a stinging sensation.
“What was that?” Dahj shouted.
“Nature my friend,” the moose replied confidently. “Nature. Take care of it, and it will take care of you.”
“But it’s not… taking care of me!” Dahj raised his hand again to clutch his arm that now burned fiercely. On contact, the pain spread to his hand as well.
The moose watched Dahj’s reaction, confused. “Just uh, give it a minute.”
“I think you made it worse!” Dahj scolded.
The moose retreated to the area where he had procured the herbs, inspecting those that grew in the same vicinity.
“Oh, yeah. I think I know what happened,” the moose mumbled as he approached once again, carrying a new variety of plants. “Well, we’ll look into that further when we reach our destination!”
“Destination – a resting place? Do you know my herd? The Kleecloks,” Dahj stuttered, distracted from the pain.
“Slow down,” the moose replied, arm outstretched. “I’m not the one to answer these questions. I’m just here to retrieve you…”
“Retrieve me? By who?”
The moose separated himself from the injured bison. “An individual who will answer your questions!” he called over his shoulder.
They walked silently through the night. The moose’s long, gangly legs allowed him to take powerful strides on feet that Dahj noticed resembled his own. Leathery hooves that had been recycled into feet allowed the moose to quickly cover ground with minimal effort. As they crested a rolling hill, sunrise broke. Fog summoned by the rapidly-changing temperatures filled the valley below.