Chapter 1

The Sun had briefly emerged from behind a great wall of clouds. The rain ceased about ten minutes ago, leaving the ground and the trees damp to the touch. I would take this opportunity to go off in search of food, perhaps to bring some back for the family if I found the bark worthy. I pulled myself up from my comfortable seating position and stretched, feeling the bones in various stiffened limbs click back into their appropriate positions, having been lax during my many hours of rest.

I yawned, taking in the cool Earth air and exhaling, seeing my breath form a small ball of steam. Shaking off what was left of the deep slumber that the change in weather had disturbed, I bounded off in search of much needed breakfast.

From my tall home tree I descended, losing sight of the distant mountains in the horizon that signalled the border of our lands. The sun was now shining elegant rays across the land, casting silhouettes over the ground like loyal companions, dancing as my people did through tall pines and spruces.

They slowly invaded the land, similarly awoken by the sun's arrival. My people, young and old, short and tall, emerging from the warmth of their homes, stretching and yawning, yearning to begin a new day.

I bounced away from home and headed north. I passed great open grasslands, bordered streams that glistened in the light of the sun, and pounced hastily through great armies of trees. I shouted my greetings to passers-by, equally eager to partake of the days finest offerings from trees of such variety and taste, and they grunted back in satisfied but tired stupors that the first hour or so after sleep brought.

With young muscles I threw myself ever higher into the canopies, bouncing effortlessly from trunk to trunk, my feet, with some deep inner sixth sense, finding and kicking against thick branches that shook under the weight, causing leaves all around to rustle like a chorus of maracas. My hands sometimes caught onto higher, thinner branches, changing my direction ever so slightly, guided by my nostrils that occasionally sniffed at the air, forever searching out the slightest whiff of what I was looking for.

My body flung forward, and with a thump collided with a large pine, my elbow and knee blades held forward to pierce the skin. They held me in place, and while I sat there amongst the crowded flora, I lifted my snout high, sensing the distinctive fragrance of that which I desired somewhere over to my left.

Somewhere hidden in the depths of the maze of trees, I spotted just what I had been looking for. A large maple, so far untouched by my people this season, its bark fresh and begging to be harvested. I hurdled over a few branches until I sat high up, surrounded in dense outgrowths that ended in beautifully coloured leaves, snugly pressed to the trunk.

Pleased with my finding, my tongue lolled from my snout and licked up against the wonderful bark, made to taste even sweeter as it dripped with moisture from the rain. I lifted my arm and sliced down with my wrist blade into the succulent layer. With a wriggle of the arm, a long slab began to pull loose, and eventually came away from the tree with a persuasive twist. The underlying skin of the tree dripped with sap, and I greedily lapped it up with my tongue, before I pulled myself up to a branch sturdy enough to hold my weight. Using the blades on my knees, I was able to cut the long bark slab into small, easily edible chunks, and I threw one particularly appealing piece into my mouth, letting it grow moist with my saliva. The tastes swirled pleasurably through my senses and caused me to smile quite dopily, and before long the bark had softened enough to become chewable.

These minutes alone every morning provided me with ample time to think, to ponder any current issues that had to be resolved, but today held no such responsibilities. At least, not yet. I had no meetings to attend, no interviews to perform. I had the day to myself, and I planned to use it selfishly, because selfishness was not a pleasure I was often privileged with. I would spent the morning feasting and bringing this delicious bark back for my family and friends, then perhaps I would spend the rest of the day in places I had never explored, meeting new trees and new acquaintances.

I would finish the day by the campfire that would no doubt appear, and bask in the warm orange glow with those close and those unfamiliar, getting lost in some new story, or perhaps even telling one myself.

I had plenty of stories to tell. You wouldn't have thought so, being only three years old, but in those three years I had faced challenges and tasks that no Hork-Bajir should face, visited locations where Hork-Bajir should never wander. I have talked to those whom Hork-Bajir would never usually come into direct contact with. And I am grateful for it all.

The first few months of my life, however, were no different than anyone else's, and somehow those are the times that I remember most vividly, despite such a young age. I could even recall in detail my first moments in this world. The first time I opened my eyes.

I could remember the smells and the noise, the first workings of my senses as I emerged into the world. I was wrapped us, held like I had been stuck in a cocoon, my limbs crossed against my torso, head pressed to my chest. My eyes were not yet open, but around me I heard the urgent rustling of movement, and I felt something warm and living lift me into the air. Two appendages held me tightly, lovingly, providing necessary comfort as my body slowly began to unfurl and awaken. Something cool and dry rubbed over me gently, ridding me of liquid ooze that coated my form. It found its way all over, and by the time it was complete, I had unwrapped from my stiffened ball.

I was further shuffled around, a frozen breeze connecting for the first time with my skin, causing me to shiver vigorously. However, that was soon dampened, as I was carefully dropped down and a soft, warm surface, and more appendages wrapped around me like bandages. The breeze dropped, and my quivering body regained its warmth.

The noises around me gifted me further comfort, distant voices that grew louder as my ears adjusted to my new, much more open environment. They were symbolic, organised into some form of language, but they were also soft, almost whispers. I can't remember well enough how many voices I could make out, but they spiralled from any and every direction.

There was one voice that was dominant, and it caused the warm surface below me to rumble, ascend and descend. I twitched, kicking my legs out behind me, testing the muscles that had sat in a near-motionless sleep for so long, and I gripped the surface below me with my fingers, causing it to react quite abruptly.

After a few moments of fidgeting and taking a few heavy breaths, I was able to open my eyes.

The world around me was strange. So much detail to take in, so many objects to focus on. My weary eyes accustomed to the light, and I blinked repeatedly and rubbed my upper limbs against them, validating their unusual and wondrous existence. I lifted my head clumsily from the surface and bent my neck backwards, looking almost directly upwards at a collection of green moving objects, all starting right back down at me. Overwhelmed, I rested my head back down, closed my eyes, and covered them in a tangle of limbs.

There was a noise before me, a squeak followed by deep cluck. More appendages shuffled me, and I realised that I was encased. It was warm and comfortable, and I once again opened my eyes to the big scary world.

Something was looking down towards me, slowly motioning, swaying just barely. My eyes focused on the big green object, but narrowed as a short breeze erupted from it.

I fidgeted again, but this time moved myself closer, curious. My limbs clutched tightly to the surface below me as I stopped, my face just barely apart from the thing in front of me. Using the rapidly growing strength that my body was gaining, I lifted my neck again, a little higher this time, to gaze into two large eyes staring right into mine. Big red orbs disrupted by a thick slit, bearing down onto me. There was a sudden sense of need, of yearning, and my limbs clutched ever tighter around the creature that watched me. I continued to observe it, and it paid just as much focus back down to me, cooing and purring, its appendages holding me close and protecting me.

I shivered again as the cold air tugged at the lowest of my limbs, but the protector's grip around me tightened, pulled me close against the warm surface once more, and I was satisfied. I shuffled forward just enough so that I could rest my snout on the big breathing green object in front of me, looking directly into the eyes behind it.

The object moved as the closest voice spoke, and the breath that came from it provided yet more heat over my body. By now, my ears had unclogged, and I could make out sounds just as they were meant to be heard.

At the time, of course, I had no idea what the strange jumble of sounds meant, but I still remember it so clearly now that the conversation seems like one that I was fully involved in.

The creature that I had laid my snout on was the first that I head clearly. "Kawatnoj sleep on Pok's face." It chuckled, warm breath again curling around my needy body.

Further laughter around me, audible, but not overpowering. "Kawatnoj so good. Already want kiss!" Another voice from behind spoke up.

There was more movement to my right. Another figure entered my field of vision, also poking its snout in my direction. "Has Mago eyes. And Mago nose."

"Has Pok's nose." The protector whispered, gently rubbing my snout with the hard surface of its own. I squirmed a little, and vocalised a whimper.

The new figure moved forward, and I saw its eyes, too, just as secure and inviting as the protector's. It rubbed the back of my neck, and gently down to my torso, but a little too hard. I squeaked in retaliation.

"Not too hard, Mago. Hurt Kawatnoj." The protector said.

"But Kawatnoj strong. Healthy." The second figure replied, now moving closer to the protector. They embraced, all the while still gazing down to me.

There was a third voice that chirped up from behind us, momentarily distracting the pair's attention. "Kawatnoj have name? Little Brother need name!"

The four big eyes focused on me yet again. Eager for their attention, I reached forward with a forelimb, tugging lightly at a great, sharp horn that protruded from the protector's head. It chuckled again and playfully pulled my limb away.

"Need name." The second figure murmured. "Good name."

The protector hummed, vibrating the beak that my head was laying on. "Yes. Need name."

I pulled my body closer into the protector's chest, curling up into a ball and feeling a great sense of security in the view of these creatures. However, I let go of eye contact, curious as to the rest of my surroundings, and already feeling exhausted from the unknown ordeal that I had just emerged from.

"Have name." A voice said, the surface that I laid down on vibrating.

"What name?"

"Name Kawatnoj Taku. Taku Kelmut."