“Here,” Brenloru said, stopping to inspect a small pile of feces on the ground. “Raccoon droppings… and footprints of your species leading this way.”
“Oh, yes, you’re correct. Thank you, Bren,” Festelda said, examining the area for more clues. Various trees displayed small scratches, etched in by the claws of her species. Patches of pine needle-covered soil were disturbed from the traffic of tiny feet. How could I not recognize it until now… she thought. I promised myself I would never come back here.
Her loyalty to her family pulled her deeper into the forest. “I’m leaving you three here. I need to do this next part myself,” she said, appearing worried.
“Wha- the… the sun just rose! We’re never going to make any progress on this wild goose chase if we keep stopping for various side projects!” Reblex exclaimed. His cheeks flared red.
“I’m sorry, Reb. I truly am. But I need to visit them. Please, take some more time to rest up. Then no more stops, I promise!” she called while sportily backpedaling. Maybe things have changed, she thought. The ache in her stomach disagreed. Hopping over a protruding root, she took off in a jog. Or maybe… they’re not even here anymore.
Festelda paused in front of a large boulder wearing a smile. She knew this place well. Approaching it, she was forced to tilt her head back to retain vision of the very top. It towered over her. White specs dotted the granite monolith. Chips and chunks had fallen from the eroding rock due to physical abuse and weather patterns, although it was the same rock. She could never forget this landmark. As her neck became stiff from the strain of fully tilting her head back, memories flooded her mind. Racing relatives around the base, keeping watch for predators from the top. She even recognized some of her own claw marks – permanently imbedded in the stone when she had attempted to scale it at a younger age. It was one of her favorite places to play as a child.
“Fez?” a flat voice called out behind her. She whipped around and grasped the handle of one of her daggers.
“Little Fezzy!?” the voice rose.
A male raccoon, only slightly taller than her, had snuck up to investigate the mysterious visitor. He possessed no weapons other than his own claws. Slightly overweight, his demeanor expressed no ‘stealthy’ qualities. His grey chin was matted, stained a darker tone from dried blood.
“Demrus,” she said, narrowing her eyes on the raccoon. Her lips pursed, and she released her grip on the hilt.
“You’re back. You’ve changed your mind?” the pudgy raccoon inquired.
“Heh. I was passing through. Just paying a visit,” she replied flatly.
“Look at you, little sister. All grown up! You look so professional; like a hired assassin!” he ran up to embrace her. His pudgy belly impeded him from fully wrapping his arms around his sister. Despite their relation, Demrus displayed the typical, darker shades of a raccoon.
Festelda patted one of her sibling’s shoulders, keeping her other arm at her side. “How’s mom and dad. The rest of the family?” she said after a brief pause, the rock behind her still on her mind.
Festelda and her brother entered the small encampment they had been raised in. Small lean-tos were crafted from mud and sticks, built against the base of various wide-trunked trees, but most shelters rested on large branches, looming above their heads. Raccoons from this year’s litters chased each other around the bases, letting out loud squeals and baring their teeth when caught. Elders watched while fiddling with nuts still trapped in shells. An elder female looked up with a gasp, dropping the nut she was trying to crack between her back teeth.
“Fes...telda! Oh, dear, welcome home honey!” Her mother rushed over to embrace her. Average height for an aging female of their species, she too carried a little extra weight around her middle. Her color, however, had held quite well. Generally, her age would have greyed the animal’s fur. Festelda did her best to not give any credit to her mother’s dietary choices for keeping her looking so young.
Trying to keep a straight face, a tear welled in Festelda’s left eye as she held her mother for a moment.
Mother forcefully pushed her to arm’s length. “Have you eaten, darlin’?” she asked with a smile on her face. “Come, come. The spring berries are excellent this year. They pair quite well with the birds returning for spring.”
Festelda replied to the meal plan with a stern gaze.
“Oh, well, right. Sorry sweetheart. Just the berries for you. Come, your father should be sitting down with some now,” she said, forcibly retaining a smile that exposed canines beneath curled lips. Festelda winced at the sight of the left tooth, which was only half the length of the other. It had probably been broken in an attempt to bite through bones.
She followed her mother through the camp, subtly scanning the living area with scrutiny that cramped her stomach. Bodies of birds littered the base of a tree, lazily pushed into a small pile while others remained in the very spot they had been dined on. Peeled snake skins were disposed of on the forest floor. Bones of small rodents were scattered the dirt. She had to take awkward strides forward to avoid stepping on a corpse as her mother simply kicked others to the side.
I can see why they’ve gained so much weight, she thought with clenched teeth. Don’t have to go nowhere, don’t have to do nothin’. Just wait for dinner to wander into camp.