"Shanku! Shanku!" Nari walked through the Nyre calling for her missing daughter. Now where has that cub gone? She pushed aside a low-hanging limb of an old oak. Shanku was prone to wandering off, especially to places she shouldn't be. Nari shook her head as she searched through some bushes. In tree branches and around rocks, nowhere could she find her mischievous little cub. Hopeful that she may have already returned home, Nari returned quickly to the clan's current den, constantly glancing around should her daughter be returning home as well.
Nari arrived at the den to find it in its usual state. Hunters skinned and cleaned their fallen game. Gatherers prepared pots to cook their findings with shares promised to hunters who would at some of their kill in exchange for a bowl of stew. The tanners tended to the hides of hunted game to provide clothing and necessities. All the cubs but Nari's absent one were playing games as their parents relaxed at the end of the day. A sinking feeling began to settle in her stomach.
"They've done it again!" came a furious cry. Nari jumped and looked quickly around. She saw her mother angrily stomping towards her.
"That infernal council has run of your cub! Just like they did my mine!" Misen roared, shaking her fist angrily. Her wings were arched dangerously behind her and she looked fit to be tied.
"What?" Nari asked, shocked. "Mother, please do not joke like that."
"It is no joke," wailed her mother. She tilted back her head and threw her wrist to her forehead. "Shanku is gone! Just like my Turai!"
Nari gasped and covered her mouth with both of her hands. She stared at her grief-stricken mother for a moment before asking in a voice that was barely above a whisper, "She was the reason for the dragon earlier, wasn't she?"
"Of course," Misen sighed.
Nari shivered. Not only did Shanku often wander far away, she also had a habit of befriending creatures the Sylvan Kurach feared. The Council had been growing steadily angrier with each of her antics. It seemed this had been the final straw.
"Ol' Zanzen is trying to repeal the Elders' decision. Waste of breath. They didn't listen to us and they won't listen to him," spat a ragged old Kurach. Misen nodded to her husband as he joined them.
"Perhaps if you had spent more time with your family and less in the woods, we would still have our granddaughter!" growled a second older male close behind Haro, still wishing to argue and fling insults at his rival.
"Bibot, you..." Haro growled a multitude of curses at Nari's sire-in-law.
"Stop it! Both of you! Like I told our son, fighting will not help!" shouted Haro's wife.
"For once, I agree with you, Ysu," grumbled Misen.
"Bibot, Ysu," began Nari, hoping to diffuse some of the continually building tention between her and Zanzen's parents. "Can't you influence the Elders? Make them change their mind? She's too young to be on her own."
"We've already tried, Nari. You know that their decisions are always final," Ysu said sadly, her wings drooping in sadness.
"Fat lot of good the council is," Haro hissed as he glared at Bibot.
"Haro!" Misen snapped in warning. Her wings flared behind her as she placed her hands on her hips.
"Somebody has to keep you peasants in line," sneered Bibot, his arms crossed over his chest and his wings arched defiantly behind him.
"Bibot!" Ysu gasped.
Nari slipped away quietly while the parents argued with each other.
Moments were always tense when the upperclass citizens mingled with the lowerclass citizens in the clan. Bibot held a position on the Council and a very high rank among the Scissortail clan. Nari's family held a very low rank. They were Hunters, those who sought game and scouted territory, a place just below the Crafters and a mere step above the Gatherers, who collected plants and other resources for cooking and Crafters.
Bibot's son, Zanzen, had taken a chance years ago when he decided to court Nari. He had taken a stroll in the forest one day and happened across her in the middle of a hunt. He was captivated by her stealth and grace. Then he surprised her by offering to carry her kill back to the clan for her. She obliged and he took advantage of the opportunity to talk with her on the way home.
Nari smiled fondly at the memory. Zanzen had always shown her the utmost devotion since. Every day they spent together ended with long fights throughout the night between him and his father. In the end, Zanzen won, and took Nari as his mate.
Nari stopped for a moment and placed her hand on a tree. She closed her eyes as she remembered what had happened next. Her brother, Turai, held no love for the Council or any of the higher ranking members of the clan. He had challenged Zanzen to a duel to prove he was not good enough to have her. Turai was much younger and less experienced. He had lost the fight. Bibot, furious, had him exiled from the clan. That action had permanently destroyed any hope of Zanzen and Nari's parents becoming friends.
Even though exile only lasted for ten years, there were very few who ever returned from it. Most were eaten by the minocentaurs within their first year. Dreaded bull-like monsters with vicious tempers who lived alone. Those who survived them barely made it past rival clans.
Nari said a silent prayer that her brother would somehow find her daughter and watch over her. She returned her focus back to the present and continued walking through the forest.
The trees became older and more twisted the further she went. Vines dangled from branches somewhere far above and tangled bushes strove against one another on the ground. The air became heavy and still. Not even the usual hum of the insects could be heard. The other Kurach avoided this place and held many fears towards it. But to Nari, this was her second home.
Deep within the ancient grove was a little pool surrounded by gaily colored flowers of all shapes. She knelt beside the still waters for a moment. Nari dipped her fingers into the pool and pulled them slowly across the surface, sending little ripples dashing throughout the water.
"Spirits, I have a question for you. Is my daughter alright?" Nari paused and then dared a second question. "Will she return to me?"
The waters disturbed again and not by Nari's hand. A green face appeared and rose from the water. Long, thin ears with a blooming lilypad behind one ear and flowing hair adorned the face. "Hello again, Nari," the naiad greeted her warmly with a silvery voice.
"Greetings, Danae." Nari smiled sadly.
"We warned you about our gift of Wonder," Danae laughed a laugh like music as she rose from the water. Flowers and vines decorated her body. Her hair seemed to continually be pulled and swayed by an unseen current.
"I know. I do not regret it," Nari sighed. "I think." She pulled her wings close to her body.
"Come," Danae gestured to the pool below her. "Let's see about your cub."
Nari removed her tunic, braided her long hair, and stepped into the cool water. Danae slipped below the surface and Nari followed. Down, down deep into the pool they went. Danae held onto Nari's hand and led her to the bottom. Nari held onto her without fear. For so long as she trusted the naiad she would not be allowed to drown. Nari breathed the water in and out as easily as she could the air.
At the bottom of the pool was a mirror wreathed in vines and flowers. It seemed to be a part of one of the many boulders lying on the floor.
"Let's see what has become of Shanku." With a wave of Danae's long, spindly fingers the reflection in the mirror swirled in on itself. Nari leaned in, holding her breath, as the reflection faded from view and soon refocused itself.
"Ah, there she is!" Danae cheered gaily. There was little Shanku, clinging tightly to a branch as large wolves circled the tree below her. To make matters worse, a squirrel was making it known he did not appreciate her presence.
"Oh dear..." Nari gasped.
"Squirrels can be so unfriendly," Danae laughed her musical laugh. "She may attract trouble, but the predators will never be able to reach her."
"I'm relieved," Nari sighed. Shanku was alive, for now. "But will she come home?"
"Ah, now, Nari..." Danae clasped her hands together before and looked at the mortal with a sad smile. "You know I cannot divulge the future's secrets." She smiled slyly. "Well, not in detail, anyway."
Danae lifted Nari's face with a spindly finger. "She is your daughter and she is herself, for all that entails. She will feel joy. She will feel pain you couldn't understand. And she will do what has not been done for a thousand years."
Nari found herself fully dressed and back on the shore again among the multitude of flowers. She looked into the pool. Instead of her reflection she saw the face of the immortal naiad.
"Now, go. Comfort your family. We will watch over your daughter as we have your people for centuries."
Nari nodded as the naiad disappeared back into the eddies of magic that inhabited the ancient grove. Nari left the pool and returned to her mate and her remaining cub Hilael.