A Mind is a Lonely Place to Be

It was a queer thing: how the two had met, that is. Some might call it fate; others may attribute it to the fact that the two were so much alike that it was bound to happen eventually. Regardless of what it's called, it was a sure thing that it was their trouble-making that led the two to each other, that and the fact that they both knew the best hiding spots away from angry shopkeepers.

In the end, though, does the beginning even matter anymore?

Mushra felt like he was coming to know himself more and more along his sole journey, searching for friends lost and taking in every precious life that inhabited the vastness of Enterra. He had never been one for sappy details like that, at least he would never have admitted to it aloud, but once one discovers that they had saved the world a few times it kind of makes you look at things in a different perspective every once in a while.

He had been doing that a lot, actually, looking through different perspectives. He still found himself the same hot-headed youth he was before, it's just that being alone gives you more time to think, and he did – about a lot of stuff, too: whether his friends would see him as the same person, or if he would see himself as the same, if anyone ever knew the world was in danger, if he had made a difference or not. Though, those questions only arose late at night as he watched the twinkling of the stars in the heavens above and relayed his thoughts to Yakumo as she watched the world from their heights.

The other questions came during the day when he was bored yet too lethargic to make life more interesting with tricks on the hoverboard or climbing the trees and scaling cliffs. They would be silly things. Even if they held some psychological meaning, these thoughts weren't as invested as their late night counterparts: why were plants green and not some funny color like purple or blue; wouldn't it be funny if some birds could bark instead of chirp and scare their predators away; wouldn't all the heavy machines have caused Mechano City to fall by the slightest breeze; how did sand cover the desert if sand was from the ocean; that cloud's shadow looks like a smiling cat (which would always prompt a growl from his stomach due the association of cats and good food).

It is in this way that Mushra discovered he was actually pretty smart, or at least had the potential to be smart. There were still a few educational facilities around for the humans, and they were certainly growing, but as he was growing up, his hometown had no "school" (that's what Yakumo and Binka called it). Even if they did, it's not like he would have attended. Orphans don't have time for school. They're far too busy learning to protect themselves, the setup for the marketplace, and where the best hiding spots were. These things were far more important than learning math, writing, and the boring history of the humans. Safety preceded luxury, always.

This was the current rule the fiery enterran found himself repeating as his back probed the rocky remains (and was that glass?) that had become his temporary "bed". He wouldn't have called it a bed by a long-shot, but hidey-hole didn't seem an appropriate word for the painful predicament he had squeezed himself into five minutes earlier. However, he told his back to shut up as he really didn't feel like having to spend another three days busting out of prison (unless, of course, he decided that he didn't care about being inconspicuous or not).

He waited with baited breath for any sounds in the abandoned district, or he tried as best he could, for his knees were drawn up as tightly as possible, touching his chin, and his scrunched lungs could go without air for very little amounts of time before he'd have to gasp for breath, which completely defeated the purpose, he found.

After a few more minutes passed, he decided that the scaly owner of the fruit stand had given up to return to his shop, lest he lose even more merchandise. Besides, it was far cooler in the ruins, as they held the advantage of occupying the land near a lake and forest. Not only that, but Mushra could have sworn that the creepy rubble caused wind that wasn't there before, wind that howled softy through arches and broken windows. He didn't like to think about it, but as he was listening hard for the footsteps of the shop-keeper or the authorities, it wasn't like he could pretend that it couldn't be heard. It was definitely time to get out of there or at least out of the dark alcove he was in and into the main part of the fallen church.

Ever so carefully, he shifted, wincing as his back made noises of protest that might have come from an elderly man. He rotated his spine to get the cricks out and to reach for his hidden spoils when something wet and cold shoved itself against the back of his neck.

The poor boy had to do everything in his power not to yelp, though apparently the attention to his vocals left his body up for reflex and he found himself launched upwards (in which he hit his head) and knocking over the pulpit that he was hiding under, suddenly exposing himself to the mild, rainbow lights filtering into the church.

It took a few moments of bemoaning his now-throbbing head before remembering there was a reason for that pain, and he spun around to face the perpetrator, hand at his hip where he kept his collapsible quarter staff, ready for a fight. However, he was simply met with two dark eyes and a body of fur with a large tail that swayed easily from side to side.

"A dog?" he asked, as he dropped to one knee and offered a hand, warily eyeing his sack of fruit only a few meters away. "What are you doing here? What's that you've got in your mouth?" It took him a second to realize the large dog held within its maw, not a rope like he once thought, but a coil of sausage links, eliciting a round of laughter at the site.

"So you're like me, then, hiding so you can eat something?" Of course, the dog didn't answer, but a tilt of the head made Mushra wonder if it could actually understand what he was saying.

Mushra had not seen many dogs before, and none like this. He didn't know what told him that it was a dog as it had pointed ears almost like a cat, but he was sure that a cat of its size would be more likely found in the mountains and would not be wagging its tail so easily while giving him a weird, open-mouthed grin.

It was a beautiful brown and black German Sheppard (not that he would know that), and it was pretty big. Its back probably came up to his lowest ribs if they both were standing. It continued to look at him, almost inquisitively for several long minutes before dropping its links beside it and carefully moving forward to meet his hand, its black nose working furiously in the air, trying to discern the strange scents of enterran, fruit, and fire, among other things.

Dark eyes roaming Mushra's own sky blue, it met the gloved hand with its snout and scouted for a moment before turning around to sit next to its food again, looking at him as if waiting for something.

"Well you picked a good hiding spot," he grinned, partly out of pride as he had chosen such a grand spot as well. "And you're probably sneakier than me. I'm not on a diet or anything, but the guy at the butcher shop seemed on guard so I wasn't about to try it, at least not when the fruit stand owner had his back turned."

He wasn't quite sure why he was explaining himself to the dog, but he owed it partially to the feeling of comradeship between the two, as if they had planned the two heists and their meeting up all along. Perhaps this same feeling provoked him to grab his spoils and offer a particularly juicy tangomelon to the furry creature. It took it immediately and started to chow down as the teen grabbed one for himself and sat down in the most intact pew to eat it.

His stomach settled gratefully as food was fed into it, making him realize how hungry he really had been. He had known that he was famished, but now that he was eating, he could fully understand what two days without food could do.

He hadn't wanted to steal the bag of fruit, no. In fact, he had been trying not to cause so much trouble as before, at least when he had the money to avoid it. However, he hadn't the attention span to work in one place long enough to save up a good safety-cushion of money. He could always rationalize his way out of the precaution as his pride was always able to whisper in confident tones that he could handle himself, that he didn't need it.

His thoughtful eating was interrupted by the dog nudging his idle hand, almost as if it were trying to turn his palm upwards. When Mushra looked down, he was surprised to see it carefully holding two links, waiting for him to take them.

"Oh, thanks, little guy . . . or girl?" He thought it to be rude to check (especially since he accidentally said "little" for some odd reason) so he just took the links, started to work on devouring those as well, and tried to ignore the mildly annoyed glare he imagined the dog to have (seeing as he wasn't about to look back over with the mild embarrassment he was feeling).

He eventually finished the sausage, his stomach feeling fuller than usual, and he couldn't just ignore the distinct pair of eyes anymore, so he turned to greet it again, only to find that it was gone, which was odd as he could have sworn he felt it looking at him for the past ten minutes. He wondered if he had offended it, or if it had just decided to leave now that its stomach was full, but didn't dwell on it long. He had places to be, or at least people to find.

With that somewhat-dreary motivation in mind, he grabbed the bag of fruit and made his way out of the cool church and out into the quiet, abandoned neighborhood that it occupied, shielding his eyes from the sun and noting that the clouds from earlier were now completely gone. Out of the corner of his eye, he detected movement, and he turned to face the dog, who was sitting outside the doorway and looking lazily down the road to where it met the horizon, eyes half-lidded as if it were lost in its own train of thought.

For a moment, Mushra wondered what it was thinking about, if it might be anything like his own thoughts from time to time. This provoked an odd question that he had no answer for, but he wondered it anyways: was thought a separate place that creatures went to? Could he one day, perhaps, meet someone else as he was traveling this plane? That would make it easier to find his friends, hopefully, if only he could slip into that plane when Binka was deep in thought like he had caught her to be every once in a while. She was young, but the human girl had a lot on her mind. What then, would the dog be thinking about? It was a prejudice thought, but he couldn't imagine what dogs (or other nonverbal creatures) would think about.

"You going somewhere, too?" he asked aloud, earning a quick glance from the creature that allowed him to see how the shadows made the brown underside of its face as dark as the top half for just a moment in time. Then, it stood and ambled off down the road at a comfortable pace, stopping momentarily to look back at him.

It was the direction that he was going to head anyways, so Mushra grabbed his hoverboard from the doorway, strapped it to his back, and took off at a jog to catch up to his new companion as it started its trot once again toward the low-hanging sun.

Mushra had always been tempted to talk to himself during the silence of the road, but as the absence of noise immediately after would force him to continue talking, he never gave into the urge twice. However, he found that having a companion, even one who didn't talk back, was far more comfortable. The two could travel in silence for days until something popped into his head that he felt the need to share.

The great dog would tilt its head up to him, ears swiveling around patiently as it absorbed whatever wondering thoughts that spilled from the hero's lips. For whatever reason, just this action seemed to spur the rather one-sided conversation onward until Mushra couldn't remember what initial thought had branched his musings in the first place. He quite enjoyed it though, as he felt that he could actually sense responses and answers from its mild body language and its open demeanor.

One of his most questioned subjects involved the state of the world and how he had become so intricately tied into its history and survival. Before, his mind would fill with so many questions at once that the threads of thought would only tangle and confuse him as he had answers for none. These were the nights that he would fall asleep troubled and feeling small and used, despite his great deeds.

"Did you know that I saved the universe?" he said aloud one day as the two traveled through cool woods, shaded from the suns intense rays by the canopy of green above them. It had been quiet for some time as the two listened to the chirps of the birds, the rustling of the leaves, and the hum of his board. Normally he would be walking, but as he had absentmindedly tripped over more than one set of roots, he decided that it would be safer to accommodate his wandering mind with the smooth ride of his board.

"I'm not just saying this to brag though, as it's true. I actually did twice, apparently." He smiled when he met his friend's eyes and saw that it was closely listening to him, waiting for him to go on, instead of turning away in disbelief. "I was a Celestial Guardian, or I think I might still be. I'm not too sure about that. I don't even know if I'm allowed to tell you this, but I don't think they'll care. You won't tell anyone if I ask you not too, right?" The dog only blinked, but he took this as an affirmation and continued.

"The first time I kind of had to die to do it, or maybe I just gave up my immortality, and the second time I didn't know I did it the first until close to the end. They were going to send someone else, but I wanted to do it again, to keep everyone safe. It probably shouldn't have mattered much to me the second time, as I had lost a lot and was dead again anyways . . ." He trailed off here, his voice growing quieter at the thought of his own demise. It made him feel unnatural, and almost like a phantom. He certainly seemed like a phantom, the way he drifted from town to town, searching for something to link him to the past again, to bring back the days when he was alive.

A cold tingle ran through his entire body, seeming to resonate from his heart outward, making him suddenly aware of how foreign its beating felt and sounded. Maybe he wasn't real at all; maybe he really was a phantom stuck in some sort of limbo as he searched for the past and didn't know how to move forward. Although he felt very solid, the idea crossed his mind that a phantom would feel solid if it were in a phantom world. Nothing would seem different. He might be trapped.

The conversation had paused and they continued to travel on silently as Mushra stayed stuck in his own thoughts for quite some time. He didn't even notice that the dog had run off, not until it came trotting back and nudged his side. It held a flower, the Enterran Flower of Hope, fresh and white, held ever so carefully with the front of its jaw.

Mushra was stunned, eyes wide with surprise, as he stopped his board, gently took the flower, and held it in his lap. Calloused fingers slowly twirled the stem, causing white petals to flutter in a delicate sort of ballet, bringing forth memories of the equally delicate face that belonged to the young woman he had loved.

He wondered that she probably felt the same way he was feeling now, as if she weren't real and her entire world was some construction for her to roam about in. She had woken up from a slumber of five-hundred years to find that she was probably the last human alive, despite her recorded father's claims of people to the west. She must have felt so alone, so imaginary; yet, she still continued to travel on in hopes of finding her purpose and discovering that she might be real after-all. Despite everything, she had persevered in order to see her journey to its end.

This thought gave the young hero hope. Even if he weren't real, he would continue his journey as long as there was a journey to be had.

"Thanks," he offered in a voice just above a whisper as he reached out to pet the dog's soft head, stroking its ears affectionately before continuing on. They had people to see, wherever they may be.

"You know, I had the weirdest dream last night. You were in it of course, but so were a group of fish that jumped over my fishing net just to tick me off." This curious comment earned a particularly curious tilt of the head from his partner and a raise of the brows as if to say "Really? Go on then."

"You could talk, and you had a lot of cool things to say, though I can't remember most of it anyways, though I'm sure it was important." He really wished that he had waited a little longer to wake up that day, to try and remember the conversations before they slipped away like dreams would do. If he had, he would have known what they were to tell her, but he hadn't so he couldn't. "Though, one of them was about names. You didn't know my name, and I didn't know yours." Here, her ears twitched as if in surprise.

"It's not weird, though, 'cause I never told you my name and you never told me yours. In the dream we did, but I don't think you were having the same dream, so I'll tell you. My name's Mushra. I don't know why you would ever need it, but we're friends so we should know each other's names, right? I can't ask you what yours is, though. In the dream, you said it was Danni, but I don't know if that's it or not." At this point, his friend barked, almost sounding as if it agreed. "So Danni it is then."

Mushra had not wanted to name her like a pet, but he hoped it would be okay since she agreed to it and her dream-self told him as it splashed about in the water to scare the teasing fish into his net. He knew that she had some sort of name, but not one that he would ever truly know. Names were something humans had started long ago so that they could communicate ideas to each other, but when it came to communicating to said creature, names were a trivial thing.

The enterran wondered how he was named. Had he been Mushra as a guardian? If not, how did he get it when he came to Enterra? If so, how did he get it in the first place? His memories of guardianship were fuzzy, and if there were anything before that, he didn't know. Had he had a mother before who had named him, and what did it mean where she was from? Who was he before if he had been anyone at all?

"It's my birthday today," he suddenly said aloud, eyeing the cool water of the river that they had been following, the river that had reappeared in his dreams the night before. "I'm not sure how I know, but I think it's today. Was there a calendar in the last town? I can't remember. Maybe I saw the day there and I've been counting without knowing it." Another head tilt, this one meaning that she didn't know.

"I don't know how old I am, though, I lost count. I think I'm sixteen or seventeen. I hope I'm not older than that, I haven't grown enough to be that old - only about five inches since the last tournament." In battle tournaments, the contestants' heights and weights had to be measured for size ranking. He was about exactly five feet in the last one, before Binka had recruited him for his second (or was it first if the timeline changed) journey to Shinzo. He remembered that he had been so proud to finally be five feet tall, and how he slowly realized how small he still was as time passed on and his body almost refused to grow.

"When's your birthday, Danni?" Instead of a head tilt, she stopped in her tracks and sat down, as if she were thinking long and hard about it. After some time, she looked back up with him and offered the tilt he had been expecting.

"Let's say it's today so we can both celebrate. How old are you?" She shot him a steady stare as if to remind him of how rude it was to ask a lady such a question, but eventually forgave him as she probably figured that he had no way of knowing. She stood again to walk on, but this time, it was Mushra who had stopped.

"We should catch fish, a lot of them, and cook them up for a birthday feast?" He grinned madly, growing increasingly excited at the thought of such a feast. They had eaten nothing but fruits from the trees and staling bread from their last stop in a town. Besides, it was a rather hot summer day and a nice splash in the water sounded like an excellent idea to him. From the wagging of Danni's tail, he could see that she liked the suggestion as well.

Other than that, both of them quite needed the break from the fruitless quest. A little time off wouldn't make a lot of difference in the long run.

Mushra had been attacked by wild animals and roaming enterrans before, but on nights that he had been exhausted, he would wake already in the middle of danger instead of when he first sensed it, and no one liked to be woken up by the sound of wolves or to a knife at his face.

So when he heard the sounds of growling rousing him from the darkness of sleep, he groaned at the idea of trudging through another fight, then moving on to find a safer place to set up his tiny tent.

Instead of being greeted by a viscous set of fangs, he found nothing in his immediate vicinity. Regardless, before moving around and alerting whatever it may be, he slowly found his compacted quarter-staff that he kept close at hand and started to look around. He found the backside of Danni, her fur standing on ends, and facing her was some creepy humanoid with bright pink hair and an eye patch. In his hand was a long, crooked knife.

"Now, now, doggie, quite or you'll wake your master up. Then I'd have to kill you. You have such a lovely coat." He spoke in venomous whispers that laced about the night air like a snake, but they were only met with an even deeper growl from the large German Sheppard as she tried to tell him to get away before throats were ripped out.

They seemed to be at a stalemate, eyes locked on each other and their weapons, fang against knife. However, a flash of white and lavender interrupted the two and the strange man suddenly found a very skilled foot slamming into his skull and something metal striking the knuckles of the hand that held his knife.

He was on the ground in an instant and was now confused and disoriented. He tried to get up, but there was a threatening growl from the side with his eye patch. He couldn't see, but he knew the dog could get his throat in an instant. Something blunt was pressing into his chest and he looked up a long golden staff to see the angry face of the young man who had been sleeping only moments ago, lavender hair a mess and sky blue eyes trying to burn wholes into his only green one.

"Threaten my friend again and we'll see whose hide will go for more at the market, got it?" The enterran managed a nod and ran off as fast as he could when the two let him go.

Mushra plopped to the ground and let out an exhausted sigh. Even if the man was gone, he was likely to bring back others since he knew it was just the two of them, and Mushra hadn't even hyperformed so the guy was likely to underestimate him.

"I don't want to find a new spot," he moaned, falling backwards to gaze up at the sky before lazily eyeing Danni, who still seemed a bit startled by his sudden counterattack. "Thanks back there, though. It would have been more annoying if he had me tied up or something already." He yawned, as if to prove his point about the extra expended energy, and then directed his gaze back to the stars, laying purposely uncomfortable on one arm to prevent himself from falling back to sleep as he contemplated moving or not.

There was a low bark and he sat up to look at Danni as she inspected a vast tree trunk a little into the woods that they had camped outside of. After a moment, she looked back to him, then looked up into the trees and barked again, though not loudly enough to alert too much wild-life.

Curious, Mushra stood and half-staggered to where she was and looked up. It took him a moment, but he realized that she hadn't been barking at nothing like he initially thought, but at the branches. They were nice, thick branches and were spread out almost like a net with gaps in it.

"Did I ever tell you that you're a genius?" he asked, petting his friend's head.

The next fifteen minutes were spent "setting up camp". This simply involved Mushra disassembling the tent and securely tying the tarp up in the trees at four corners to make a type of hammock, then putting whatever he could in his bag and tying that up nearby. It wasn't too difficult to get Danni up, other than the fact that the hoverboard just barely fit both of them if they stood or sat right.

She seemed a bit unsure at first as she stepped off the board and onto the makeshift bed. She had watched him test its stability from the ground as he jumped about it and reinforced a network of ropes just beneath it until it looked like a web from beneath with a blanket draped over it. Still, it was a bit difficult to step on, and she didn't seem entirely comfortable until Mushra had put his board up a bit higher in the tree and climbed down to meet her.

Mushra quite liked sleeping in the odd little hammock. He had his sleeping bag for cushion, and Danni and a blanket to keep warm. Not only that, but he felt safe and relaxed, even despite the slight cramps it gave his back (though it was much better than the hard ground). He wondered if birds felt like this in their nests, safe and away from the rest of the world. Even in the day, they flew higher than everyone else, out of reach and free to do what they wanted in the vast skies.

He dreamt that he was flying that night, flying high away from responsibilities and consequences, his friends at his side as they all flew away to a safer place, crimson wings trailing sparks behind them to burn away the pain and regret they were leaving behind.

Mushra knew that he talked in his sleep and that sometimes he would even act out his dreams when he hadn't spent enough energy during the day. So it was no surprise to him that sometimes he would wake up to see Danni staring at him in some odd form of amusement, her face holding something remarkably similar to a humanoid's version of a smirk. He could deal with those, though, as he was sure he must have looked like a complete moron, so he probably deserved to be laughed at.

Sometimes, though, he would wake to see a look of deep concern in the dog's expressive eyes. He hated when that happen, as he usually remembered what he had been dreaming just before, and as it was usually about the same thing, he understood that he probably yelled out some things that would prompt concern and perhaps even pity. He often dreamt of Yakumo.

One morning, he woke himself early by calling out her name. In his dream, they had been walking a quiet trail together in the late afternoon, looking for a nice spot to picnic. Though some parts of the faded trail were a bit dangerous (including a particularly rickety bridge), the two continued on, hand in hand, helping the other on their quiet expedition. When finally they reached the end of the trail at a soft field, they set up the blanket and unpacked the basket that only contained a bunch of apples. They ate in each other's company until the human stood up and looked out onto the horizon.

"Look," she said, pointing out a trail that they didn't know they had been sitting on. "We've only made it to the beginning. I'm too tired to walk right now. I'll catch up." The words puzzled Mushra as he watched her sit beneath a tree and doze off. In alarm, he suddenly realized that she was fading away. Close to tears, he called out to her, only to find the strange world fading away to the dark-orange of his eyelids.

He could still feel her name on his lips as he opened his eyes to the brightness of the rising sun and met the dark eyes of his companion as she furrowed her furry brows at him. He didn't know why he always felt embarrassed, though he knew it wasn't just having Danni around. He had always felt the same when he woke alone, maybe even more so.

"Danni, have you ever lost someone close to you?" There was, of course, a silence that met this question, but when he glanced at her, he noticed that her eyes seemed clouded with their own trouble. He would have liked to change the subject to her own feelings, but that would be rude, especially as she couldn't exactly explain, so he continued. "And you couldn't get over it, right? Even if you knew they were okay?" She looked at him for just a moment before averting her eyes, but he felt that she had agreed.

"Yakumo, the girl I was traveling with – she's not with the friends I'm looking for. She died to help save the world. I died, too, but I guess the Guardians wanted her up there with them and put me back here." His voice has quieted to something small and unsure, and he caught the look of sympathy in Danni's dark eyes. She knew that he had loved the woman. That made him grateful as he really couldn't repeat it aloud without the risk of crying, and it just wouldn't do at all to cry. "But I don't think I hate it too much. She loved someone else, someone much better than me. I wouldn't have been able to be with her if I had an eternity."

And there were those nasty tears threatening to spill from their designated reservoirs. He forcefully blinked them away, holding his eyes shut tight to keep them at bay, when something hit his forehead rather forcefully.

"Ow! What the-?" He opened his eyes, finding himself annoyed that smaller tears had escaped to the corner of his eyes and held fast to his lashes, but he ignored these to figure out what had hit him and caused the throbbing pain in his head. His eyes caught a good-sized rock and he looked up at Danni who was glaring something ferocious at him.

"Jeez, I'll quit moping, fine, thanks for being caring and all th- Ow! Will you cut it out?" He had turned to start packing up camp when another rock hit his lower back. He whipped around to find his abusive friend right next to him, with that same spark radiating from her being. He felt very much like a scolded child, but couldn't understand whether the rocks were his punishment or merely a way for him to pay attention to her. "What?"

She seemed momentarily pleased with herself before pushing one massive paw to his chest, almost making him fall backwards. He was able to catch himself before falling and watched her carefully for anymore sneak attacks. She circled around him for a few moments before heading off in front of him, head held steady and tail held high as she walked with the grace of royalty.

It took Mushra a moment, but he realized what she was trying to tell him – to keep his head up and shoulders broad. He wasn't sure why, but it made him feel more confident and he followed her off in the same manner, watching his shadow walking proudly along the path in front of him.

It took both of them almost half-a-mile to remember their unpacked camp left behind.

Mushra had been slowly realizing different reasons for which the humans were wiped out in the first time line, and why enterrans and humans still treated each other so differently. He knew that the main reason was that as their creators, humans were slightly feared by enterrans due to the threat of subjugation. All throughout human history, it was proven that humans not only dominated other species, but even others of their own kind. It seemed like something hard-wired into their brains.

Though, the humans also feared the enterrans, and not just because many resembled what were once labeled "monsters". Even excluding hyper enterrans and the ability to absorb other enterrans for power, enterrans were just naturally stronger. A scrawny, pathetic-looking insectoid child would survive against something as deadly to the humans as AIDS, cancer, or even some types of flu. Enterrans were designed to withstand disease and even the environment. The newer species were slowly dominating the harsher climates more comfortably than humans could have ever imagined.

However, both group held a particular fear over one subject, and Mushra suddenly understood a lot more about the reasons as he tried to pry his eyes from the deer corpse. Although he was the one still alive, and would never actually end up like that, he felt some odd sense of fear and incomprehension surrounding the motionless, rotting body. He had never seen a corpse before, and this shook him to the core, especially when he remembered that someone once told him about how bodies were displayed at human funerals. It made him shiver.

He could stand the image no longer and tore his eyes away from the dead dear to his silent friend. She, too, was looking at the body, though she seemed to hold some timid sort of sad acceptance as she looked over the body. She must have felt bad for the thing, as it seemed barely older than a fawn, but he could see that she wouldn't let it faze her. To her, to humans, and other creatures not spawned from the first successful lab-made enterrans, this was just how things happened, and it was what they knew to be their own end as well.

After a moment, she looked up at him as well, and the two locked eyes, though neither saw their friend. Mushra saw some type of mammal that would one day meet a tragic fate such as the deer and leave its body to rot into the earth in a gruesome display. Though, to Danni, he probably appeared just as gruesome – an unnatural being that could outlive about twenty of her own generation, and could come back from a card if they had enough life left to live. A fatal wound to her would be the end. To him, it would be a new opportunity for his life to be utilized by something else; it might even be a chance to come back. They were monsters to each other, strange beings unable to comprehend the other.

However, one didn't need to understand someone to be their friend; otherwise life might get too predictable. The two finally looked each other and actually saw who stood across from them. They felt bad for their own prejudiced misunderstandings, but both understood it was something hard-wired into them as a response to the strange and mysterious.

They buried the lifeless dear and continued onward, trying to erase the images of dark, deadened eyes. Although their ends would be different, they still had much to do before that time was met, whether by body or by card. After all, they were still at the beginning.

It had been awhile since they had eaten through their last rations, even with Danni's newfound plan of making sure Mushra had saved up enough money: if she was able to comfortably carry the money pouch in her jaw, it was still too light. Mushra hated this plan of course, as she would force him to stay and work up enough wages to buy supplies, but he couldn't try to argue. After nearly a year of running short on food too soon, it was a welcome change.

However, neither of them could have predicted the desert between the two towns, so neither knew to save up more than usual, especially as they learned the next town was only a day away. In fact, Danni had allowed him to slack off since they only needed a day's worth of food and because the small town had few jobs that Mushra could stand for long at all. The place they were heading to next, Vesdavi, was supposed to be some big city full of resorts, casinos, restaurants, and other places for fun and excitement.

The duo did not plan to arrive starving with only enough money for a loaf of bread. After almost two hours of walking around the eastern part of the huge city, they were hungry again and Mushra was still jobless thanks to a recent flood of workers for some upcoming event. They hated to resort to low tricks in such a nice place (with most of the concern coming from the larger number of authorities), but desperate times called for desperate measures.

So Mushra found himself waiting on a street corner next to a nice restaurant with few windows and a cheaper menu than most. He had put one of his shirts on Danni and distracted the man at the entrance of a casino, allowing her to slip in undetected. They hated to steal, but he reasoned with her that the targets were going to lose their money anyways. Even if they won something, most lost it right away as he had learned with Saago.

Down the street, he heard a commotion: people exclaiming in surprise as they ran out of the way, clattering of claws, and above everything else – someone shouting "Stop! Dog-Thief!" Mushra found himself pretty impressed that they had chased her all of seven blocks, and he wondered if she had been feeling daring, or just couldn't find any scrawny-looking ones.

He saw her as she rounded the corner, the grey t-shirt looking a bit funny in contrast to her dark brown and black fur. She met him before her pursuer rounded the corner, and he grabbed the pouch from her and tossed it in his own bag at his feet as she continued off down the street to shake the guy before meeting Mushra again. In no time, an angry-looking humanoid with blue hair rounded the corner as well, took a moment to find his target, and started off again.

Mushra had zipped up his bag and was putting it on as the man came close to crossing him, though, just as he neared, the fire enterran pretended to lose balance and fell into the man, causing both of them to hit the ground.

"Ow, uh, oh sorry about that," he lied as he stood and offered the man a hand. The guy swore but took the offer anyways and allowed himself to be pulled up by one arm. He was about to take off after Danni without another word, when he suddenly turned back to Mushra again and studied his face.

This, of course, unnerved Mushra, as Danni could run a good deal faster than him and the man already had him by the wrist. He tried to loosen the grip but, for some reason, the man held him there as he continued to look at him.

"Yeah, what is it? It was an accident, geez," he tried to brush it off, refusing to look the other enterran in the eyes lest he give away his own guilt.

"Mushra?" Something stilled inside him at the sound of his name and the familiar voice that said it.

"Saago, it's you." He couldn't think of anything else to say, really. Everything suddenly seemed unreal and he didn't know if speaking would rip away the dream. Something inside of him told him that it wasn't a dream, that it was really happening, but he still couldn't believe it. After traveling so long, he had no idea what finding his friends would be like as the entire idea had lost all sense of solidity.

Saago hugged him tightly, glad to see the friend that he had considered a brother, amazed to see him actually alive and alright. No one had known whether they would ever find him again or not. He didn't seem to want to let go, as if the younger man might disappear again, but eventually he had to, to lead him back to where Binka, Kutall, and the kittens were. Though, he kept glancing at him every second or so as Mushra followed in a half-daze, the younger too stunned to even feel the happiness that would attack him later when everything could sink in.

The reunion seemed to pass by in a blur, every moment fading into the next, but each oddly distinct compared to the whole. He met the others in a tearful reunion, gawked at how Binka and the kittens had grown in four years, related a short tale of what he had been doing, and found himself at dinner with everyone. Danni reappeared about halfway through, prompting even more tales from Mushra, and everything seemed to finally settle back to its rightful place where it belonged.

After dinner, he and Danni were taken to the hotel room the group had rented as everyone agreed that a good rest was in order after so much catching up in a few hours. Mushra lay in a soft bed with Danni and the kittens between him and Binka. He didn't want to sleep, despite how tired he was. Everything still seemed so unreal; he wondered if it all might just fade with the morning.

A cold nose nudged his arm and he looked over to see that Danni was staring at him with a calming sort of expression, wide-eyed and innocently batting off all worries. He knew what she meant, though. As unbelievable as it was, they had finally reached the end of their journey and had found their beginning.

Disclaimer: Despite what you may have deluded yourself to believe. I do not own Shinzo . . . yet.

Sorry for the lack of A/N at the beginning, it's just that I didn't want to interrupt the flow and all that. It felt that it needed to be empty up there.

So this was written for a friend as a birthday gift as I couldn't think of a fandom to write for her and she suggested Shinzo since she watched it when she was younger. (Might have a Shinzo marathon one of these days. Maybe after our finals.)

Her birthday is September 3rd and I've been meaning to write something for Mushra as well, so I kind of used this as my free card for his birthday fic. I hope she doesn't mind too much, it's just that I don't think I could come up with two things, especially after creating the adorable/epic dog version of her for this fic. However, I couldn't capture her essence. She's much more humorous than I've depicted dog Danni, but she's just as rational when helping friends. She's not the kind to force someone into talking if it would be better to let them be for a while. I think that's how all this psychobabble spilled out onto the keyboard. Her open personality makes a great listening friend, especially with her humor.

Sorry about the long description there, I guess it's just my way of trying to tell her "Thanks for being there" and "Happy Birthday, Love."

Anywho, I still hope other readers enjoyed this conglomeration that spilled out of me. I know Mushra is a bit OOC, but I find everyone is much quieter when alone with their own minds, plus he's growing up, so there's some justification.

I'd love to hear your reviews! (After all, 12 pages in about two days call for some commentary, I believe.)