The Kindest Crow

Sledg hopped from branch to branch in the early morning light. He enjoyed waking up about an hour before sunrise and soaring through the cool morning breeze just before he changed back to his human form. Snow would be on its way in the next few months and Sledg wanted to enjoy the brisk fall air as much as he could.  Hopping to the last branch, he plucked a few black berries with his beak, swallowing them down whole.  He flew down to the forest floor, changing back to his human form before hitting the ground. Sledg stood up, brushed himself off and took off running in the direction of camp. The others should be up now.

Today, Sledg wanted to make his way back toward the new village in the north. He had finally gathered enough people to make a difference in defending the villagers from the increase in raids recently.   He roused his troops and began marching off in the direction of the full-blooded.

Usually, a thin, short boy sprinting through the middle of camp wearing only a loincloth would look out of place, but the inhabitants of this particular camp made Sledg look normal. The others hadn’t seemed to have bathed anytime recently; their tanned skin clearly reflecting they hadn’t seen much shelter from the elements in months. However, they were reliable and no man was without his quirks – Sledg had his own; always wearing his beloved cape for one. He enjoyed nothing more than climbing and dashing from branch to branch with his cape flowing behind him, wind hitting his bare chest and legs.

Striding into camp he smiled and greeted each individual. Handzelle, Vanderjoy, and Bot were all ready to go. The other 6, not so much. He grabbed a pot and swiftly banged it against a tree. He clapped once and spoke.

“Now!”

Those that weren’t dressed suddenly were, having put on their single article of clothing. The group was up and running within a minute. Hopefully they’d arrived in time to help their light skinned, pure blooded brethren.

The loincloths ran through the forest, countless shapes darting through the forest trees and floor. Some individuals, like Sledg and Vanderjoy who had flying change forms, preferred running through the branches; briefly forcing a change occasionally to guide themselves through tight gaps in the branches. Together, they were a blur of limbs and wings – there one moment, the next a bird camouflaged against the backdrop. Others with more grounded forms, such as Handzelle, chose to just barrel through the foliage as a rhinoceros. Moab, a koala, just sat on Handzelle’s back – he was the brains of the group and didn’t want to tire en route. Caboose brought up the rear as a lemur, snatching any items the flyers dropped.

As Sledg glided through the trees, he thought about how bad he felt for the purebloods; to only be able to transform at nightfall was no way to live. For the thousandth time, he wondered why it was that only the unnaturals could change whenever they pleased and weren’t stuck in animal form by night. Maybe because he and the others didn’t contain as much of the accursed villager genes to lock them into one form.

Sledg heard a couple pair of hooves somewhere nearby; he listened in.  It sounded like a chase running parallel to his pack. He signaled to the pack to follow Vanderjoy and flank whoever was involved. The pack split up and Sledg changed into his crow form; heading toward the sound to get a closer look.

He could see two individuals riding horseback, with a gazelle and a cheetah closing in on them. Sledg recognized the two creatures giving chase as members of the police force; he immediately knew the two humans ahead were in danger. Pausing only to provide a brief signal to his pack, the crow picked up his pace and circled around to the humans at the front of the pursuit. Once ahead of them, Sledg reversed course and dove straight towards the black haired human, willing him to duck. The two predators were close enough to the human’s steeds that Sledg couldn’t afford to waste any time. At the last moment, Sledg changed forms mid-air as the boy ducked. He fell, colliding into the ground and cheetah at the same time. A snap sounded through the air as a sensation in his leg indicated that it had probably shattered. Sledg attempted to lift his head to no avail; did the cheetah get away? He could see the gazelle still trotting after the humans. His hand twitched and felt the blood soaked fur of the cheetah beneath him; he had succeeded.

Sledg closed his eyes and heard the gazelle circling back for his companion rather than continuing the chase alone. He heard the familiar noise of four legs becoming two. The broken crowboy managed to peek through a swollen eye to see a muscular, tanned man stalking to his location. Before the man could reach Sledg, Handzelle exploded through the woods, smashing the gigantic man into a nearby tree trunk. His friends emerged from the greenery and began tying the bruiser to the tree.

And then Sledg’s world went dark.

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