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"Deciding to stay was a mistake."

I sighed. The sun had seen this argument before, and no doubt would rise and fall many more times over it yet. "We have passed over this place dozens of times in our travels, Daridil. You know as well as I do that this is an unusually dry summer. It will go, as seasons do, and the rains will come."

"The rains were one thing. But this... don't you think it's a

sign, Serel? How many more will we lose for breaking our customs?"

I did look at him then, for his voice had a breathy flutter

better suited to fear than his usual belligerence. Daridil was atypical for our kind: he'd remained male through both puberties, and it showed in the adult. Tall and limber, he had the emodo's long fingers and flexible toes, perfect for complex and delicate work. His wedge-shaped head had a handsomely blunt end that complemented the triangular ears with their dark tufts. He was in some ways too perfect, for the family tended to overlook his mind while praising his body.

"I don't think the sickness is related to our decision to stay here, truly," I said to him. "It is coincidence."

His narrowed eyes told me he didn't believe. He glanced at Sedikit and tossed his braided mane over his shoulder. "Well, I shall go burn incense for him. The Trifold is displeased with us."

"Gods are not cruel," I said.

"No. But errant children may mistake a cuffing for cruelty if they don't know better."

I sighed. "Daridil--"

"Pray we'll have no more cases of this," Daridil interrupted

me. "Or we will abandon these ill-thought buildings." He lifted his chin and ducked back out.

The rustle of rushes brought my eyes back to Sedikit. I finished wringing out the rag and placed it over his forehead, flinching at the heat rising off his skin. We were not meant for heat, we Jokka. Too hot and our minds burn up and die, and the first to go are our breeders. I clasped one of the emodo's warm hands in my own, my fingers cooled by the water, and murmured, "I will not let you die."

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