The sun was bright and high and the air thick with heat and humidity.
The tension and dread Oornu felt was growing. He knew that the thick fronds of tall grass would provide protection for only another hour, barely enough time to reach the safety of the tree line that still seemed to be no closer than the horizon. But reaching such safety in time seemed more unlikely with each passing minute. Even without the direct stimulation of sunlight the stench of the putrefying hides of the stoors was close to becoming overwhelming. His mate, Uurna, had already passed out twice, requiring a precious dose of jell each time to bring her round. And she looked like she was on the verge of passing out again.
Uurna spoke, her voice weak and wheezy. “Please. We must stop.”
Oornu looked back at her. He shook his head. “We’d never make it to the trees. We must continue.”
With a moan Uurna vomited. The head of her stoor was sprayed liberally once again with semi-digested food, and this time blood as well. It hissed and snorted as it tried to shake Uurna’s stomach contents from its face, its big black eyes blinking furiously as red-stained bile dribbled into them. Weakened, Uurna struggled to stay on the creatures’ decomposing back.
She would not survive much longer.
“Please…” She said, feebly, spitting more blood and bile.
Oornu nodded and looked around. “I must make a shelter from the grass.” He dismounted, tearing open the side of his stoor. It moaned as rotting fat seeped from the wound. Oornu doubled up and emptied his guts. He rested his hands on his knees for a moment and panted as a wave of temporarily exhaustion passed over him. Grimacing at the foul taste in his mouth, he stood upright and began to pull up together some of the tall fronds of grass. He tied them together creating an arch, and then stepped forwards and repeated the process. Behind him his stoor began to snort, and then let out a guttural shriek. He turned to Uurna. “Grab it. Without me on its back it will soon lose its docility!”
Uurna nodded and reached over. She grabbed the neck of the stoor and held on. She retched as warm and gooey puss pressed through her fingers, but this time she managed to avoid throwing up.
Oornu got back to work. Within a few minutes he had created a grass tunnel just wide enough for the stoors to fit into. The far end of the tunnel was tied shut. He stepped over to Uurna, who was still sitting on top of her creature. She was barely conscious. “Get down.” Uurna nodded, and then fell onto him. He put her down and propped her up against the side of the grass tunnel. She retched again. A small flow of sick and blood and saliva dribbled out of the corner of her mouth and dripped onto her lap.
“I’ll get the stoors into the tunnel.” Oornu said, getting behind the creatures. Pushing on their putrid backsides he directed them into the grass tunnel. They were still submissive, but that would not last for more than a few minutes. As soon as the second stoor was inside he tied up the open end of the grass tunnel. He filled up any gaps with rolled up fronds.
It was done.
Oornu sat down next to Uurna and rested his back against the grass tunnel. He breathed deeply for a few moments, relaxing his mind and muscles. His nausea was subsiding. Uurna, too, was looking better. He held her hand. “We’ll rest here until the sun lowers.”
The grass tunnel shook. The stoors were becoming agitated. Uurna looked up. “They’ll soon start thrashing!”
“Yes, but the grass is strong. I think it will hold them for a few hours.”
She nodded, coughed, and then sighed. “It’s so hot, and I feel so weak.”
Oornu nodded. “Sleep. I will watch over the stoors. I’ll wake you when it’s time for us to move.”
“But you need sleep, too.”
“I’m fine.” He said, pulling a ball of food from his pouch. He bit into it.
Uurna watched him for a moment and then lay down.