The half-Sand stared at Sodre; Sodre stared back. A wisp of something fearful and mutual and terribly empathetic floated between them, and the Layer opened his mouth to speak.
"Iwwi - "
Before he could finish, there was a great roaring in the distance; then a crash and the zinging sound of weapons being discharged. Sodre, without pause or thought, turned back towards the place where he had left his mate and ran.
Iwwi was right behind him, feet pounding as they crunched across the needles and leaves, going off-path to shorten the route, banging through brush and thorns. The half-Sand spoke, but Sodre heard nothing - there was only the roaring and the shouting and his terrible fears of what lay in the distance.
They ran further - through what felt like thicker boscage, where branches tangled in his hair and bits of shattered leaf and kicked up silt struck and burned his eyes. Sodre pressed on, missed in one moment the sound of Iwwi running, glanced backwards, saw that the half-Sand was floating in some strange way to rush along behind him, and had no time to think anything of this because in a burst of light and latitude, they were at the clearing.
Fire. There was fire around him and there was some tangy sharpness of taste that he suspected was Sand blood. There had been an explosion - even his distant, angry animal brain knew this much. And there had been violence, and fear, and worst of all - there had been separation from his mate. Mate was lost. He ran for the trees.
Sheltered beneath the arms of a tall pine, Kel'luknar raised his head and scented frantically around. There was a strange darting sensation, between his This brain and the Other. He tried to reason, and failed, and felt only compulsions - to go forward, to find his mate, to run, to hunt, to kill, to escape. There was a flapping in the overgrowth behind him; startled, he burst outwards and darted across the blankness, towards the other side, where Mate had been last.
Fire seared past him - the large kind and the little bursts he knew came from Them. The air smelt burned and ugly. He leapt neatly over a fallen thing - one of Them - and went forward. The black cage that had held him was on its side now, rent in pieces at its vulnerable wooden bottom. There were marks on it - his marks, from wanting to be free, from inestimable strength that even he had not known he possessed. Mate's scent was here and nowhere else. Kel'luknar padded forward. The ground felt sticky, soggy under his weight. He was glad. They had taken Mate from him. He slunk to a corner of the upturned cart, waited, and raced forward, to the dark, dark safety of the trees. Not far, he found a collapsed oak; its shaft was half hollow. He settled himself beneath it and waited.
As long as he lived, Sodre never wanted to hear a sound as agonized as Iwwi's scream ever again.
The half-Sand was in some sort of tragic ecstasy, shifting between states, becoming particulate and then reassembling, trembling, the vision of him fuzzy and uncertain. Sodre tried to reach out to him, to grab hold of him, but there was nothing to touch, and so he had lost and screamed himself.
All while Iwwi shook and shuddered and cried out for his brothers who did not come.
Frantic, Sodre tried to understand what had happened, but knew only that there was too much fire and not enough rain. He made himself think clearly and realized that the cage was torn apart, Lucky was missing, and there were 3 dead half-Sand lying crushed under the upturned cart. The rest, he presumed, had fled.
Iwwi, still writhing in his horror, lost control of his weapon; it fell. Sodre, thinking already ahead of anyone else, retrieved it, then called out for Lucky again.
The sound of Mate made Kel'luknar emerge. He came forward, charging red in tooth and claw, enraged by the loss of Mate, wanting death for whatever had separated them.
At the flash of fur and growl, Iwwi screamed again, and cowered, and Sodre had the thankful quickness to shift and meet his mate halfway. The Layer launched as best he could, still tangled in cloth and weaponry, slammed himself fully into his mate, and landed them both on the ground, yards from the shivering half-Sand.
Lucky snarled and flipped them and Sodre tried to appease - a lick, a nuzzle - an iI'm OK/i that was more touch than sound. The wolfe above him growled, at nothing in particular, then glared around.
Sodre lifted a wet muzzle to push him again, and wriggled so that the gun he'd fallen on didn't dig quite so deeply into his back, and tried with everything he had to communicate to his mate.
iIt's over, /i he tried to 're alright. Stop now./i
Something must have gotten through, because when he shifted, Lucky followed.
The dusty, brutish sound of his second-in-command's voice made the tall Lout turn sharply towards the door. He grunted.
The other's stance was angry; his prodigious muscles were tense.
"Reports of an explosion."
The taller Lout laughed, and with it, his greatness of mass - the muscle and fat that made him into the mountainous creature he was with so little resemblance to a man - all shook.
"Good." he said, then fixed his crooked mouth to a snarl.
The other Lout lunged forward belligerently.
"Not Good. Explosion with the Sand caravan." he snapped.
The first Lout stopped his laughter abruptly.
"The Sand?!" he repeated.
"Your wife." the other Lout verified.
"Who?" he demanded, slamming his fists into the heavy oak table, splintering it. "WHO!?"
The other Lout growled, then gnashed his teeth and spat out: