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Don't Starve, Osomatsu-san

Chapter Text

It was like any other day in Matsuno’s household. The sextuplets were laying around the living room everyone idly doing their own stuff. Todomatsu and Jyushimatsu were playing a board game together, Ichimatsu were sitting in the corner not doing anything, Karamatsu was sitting next to table looking himself from the hand mirror while Choromatsu and Osomatsu were reading - the former some idol magazine and the later manga.

Suddenly they all were interrupted by a strange buzzing noise and they were looking for its source. The tv screen was on and buzzing with static.

“Huh, what?” wondered Choromatsu out loud as he reached for the remote so he could turn off the tv.

Before he could do that, a loud, deep voice started speaking scaring the crap out of them all.

“Hey pals, looks like you could use some help.”

What. The. Hell?!

That was what all the six identical faces were saying. Matsuno brothers were all staring wide eyed at each other.

“What was that?”

“Who talked?”

“Huh??”

“Where the hell did that come from?”

“Did you guys hear that?”

“Hahaha! Is that a ghost?”

They shared alerted looks and slowly turned their heads to look at now wildly buzzing and static tv.

Karamatsu lift his hand to point at it. “Did the voice just…?”

“Did the tv just…?” Choromatsu started.

“... Talk?” Osomatsu finished for him completely bewildered.

Before they could ponder the matter more the voice continued:

“I have secret knowledge I can share with you.”

Todomatsu yelped and jumped behind the others. “The hell?! This is scary!!”

“Huh?!” Ichimatsu let out even more confused.

Choromatsu stood up and stared at the tv with wide eyes. “W-what? You shouldn’t talk. What?!”

Jyushimatsu’s eyes widened and he reached his hand towards the tv. “Wow! I didn’t know our tv could talk!”

Karamatsu stepped in between Jyushi and the tv shielding his little brother in protective manner. “No Jyushimatsu. Don't go too close to it!”

Osomatsu set down his manga and stared warily but curious at the tv. “How can you be talking? And what do you mean?” he asked.

The voice could be heard again through the static. “I could speak to you in many ways. But that doesn’t matter. I can show and give you things that other people could only dream of. You would get everything you want. Money. Fame. Women. If you follow my instructions, everything is possible for you.”

Choromatsu wasn’t convinced and it scared him to see how all his brothers seemed to be eager to take the deal the talking tv offered. “Uh guys… I don't think this is a good idea. These kind of things never end well.”

They could hear dry statistic laugh before the tv continued speaking. “Oh Choromatsu-kun. I know your every dream and every fear. With my help you could become successful. You could get Nyaa-chan’s attention that you desire so much.”

Choromatsu stared at the tv for a while without saying anything. He was going through a losing battle in his head. He sighed and talked: “Okay, I’m in. What do we need to do?” he asked.

-----

Matsuno sextuplets got specific instructions from the tv what to do. It was some sort of a machine they had to built so they decided a remote place from the forest where they started building it.

The instructions were weird. It wasn’t like any other machine they had come across with the odd things it needed. Building it even required a blood sacrifice which Ichimatsu was instantly ready to give.

However, with the six of them working two days straight, it was ready in no time. The sextuplets were looking at their creation, some of them more doubtful than others. The machine looked so strange so it was hard to believe it could give them everything they wanted. Just one pull of the lever should turn it on.

“So who wants to do the honours?” Totty asked looking at his brothers.

Osomatsu stepped up confident and eager. “I’m the oldest, I should do it,” he said and others nodded in agreement.

Osomatsu grabbed the lever and took a deep breath. He couldn’t believe that he would soon have everything he ever wanted. “Are you ready to change our lives forever?”

“Of course, brother!” said Karamatsu giving a thumbs up.

“Sure whatever,” said Ichimatsu with his monotone voice but they could see a unusual glimmer in his eyes.

“Yes! Do it,” said Choromatsu.

“YES, YES! MONEY! BOOBS!” shouted Jyushimatsu excited.

“I’ve been ready my whole life,” Totty said smiling.

A wide grin appeared on Osomatsu’s face when he heard positive answers around him. “Okay. New life here we come!” He shouted full of excitement and pulled the lever.

All of the brothers smiles got wider and eyes brightened. They were full of joy and hope.

Their smiles dropped when the machine started making loud rattling and clanking sounds. It’s form changed creepier and almost like a face of a man was staring at them from the machine.

Some of the brothers already took wary steps back but it was when they heard purely evil laugh echo in the woods, they became scared.

“Stay alert!” shouted Karamatsu and automatically spread his hands to shield the nearest of his brothers.

The ground around the machine turned into strange dark mass that radiated an uneasy feeling around them.

“What’s going on?!” Todomatsu shouted scared with a squeaky voice.

“I don't know. I-” Osomatsu’s voice was suddenly cut off when something pulled him through the dark mass.

“Niisan! Osomatsu! Osomatsu-niisan!” The others shouted in terror. Panic rose among them. What the fuck had they created?!

Todomatsu let out a blood chilling scream as he disappeared into the mass.

“Totty! No!”

Jyushimatsu couldn’t stand still anymore so he tried to leap away from the machine. When he was mid-air the darkness extended and wrapped around his leg and pulled him down.

“No!” Ichimatsu, who was now turned into half cat, shouted and jumped towards Jyushimatsu, Karamatsu running close behind him.

“GAAAHH!” Jyushimatsu shouted and reached towards his brothers as he was pulled to the darkness and he disappeared.

“FUCK!!” “NO!! JYUSHIMATSU!”

Choromatsu hold his head in his hands as he watched the horrors happening around him. “No! This can’t be happening. This can’t!!”

Ichimatsu was furiously clawing the ground at the place where Jyushimatsu has disappeared when he heard Karamatsu scream and turned his head to see how the second oldest was taken as well.

“Shit! Karamatsu!” he shouted. Then he realized Choromatsu standing there frozen to the spot with fear. Ichimatsu started running to him while the darkness was storming around them. “Choromatsu! We need to get out of here!” he screamed.

Before he could reach the third brother, Ichimatsu could feel something grab him and start pulling him down. “No!!” Ichimatsu screamed before his voice was suffocated in the darkness and he was gone.

Choromatsu watched horrified as shadows catched his brothers one by one and made them disappear. Choromatsu could feel hot tears streaming down his face as the shadows all around him started to rose and surround him completely. “Why? Why?!!” he shouted the question in his head and buried his face in his hands crying.

The shadows around him were tightening their trap around him and he could feel them take a hard grip on his legs. Taking a shaky breath Choromatsu lift his head up to take a one last look at the light sky above him before everything turned into black.

Chapter Text

Karamatsu's head hurt. He grunted and opened his eyes frowning in bright sunlight. He sat up and put on his sunglasses. Only then he realized the evergreen forest surrounding him but no sign of his dear brothers.

 

And that was very wrong.

 

Karamatsu squinted his eyes in deep thought. They should be together. They were together when the machine went crazy. He hold his aching head with his hand and stood up.

 

"Hello? My brothers! Where are you?" he shouted and tried calling them also one by one by their names. He didn't want to admit that he felt a bit scared. Karamatsu hated being completely alone. But if he was there, so were his brothers. "Use your brains and show them what a great brother you are" he thought. "This place is not Japan. I need to be prepared to stay here for night..." Karamatsu thought while he started to gather sticks and stones and anything that could be useful for him and his brothers.

 

After some time he observed a knife he had just made. "Heh, that should do it," Karamatsu said to himself. It looked surprisingly good. "Okay. Good." Karamatsu looked around himself and the stuff he had gathered: rocks, sticks, some berries and few carrots. He had also located a small river about 200 meters away. “This is a good place for a camp,” he thought. He wanted his brothers to be proud of him! He would work hard for them!

 

"Now I need bigger branches of tree so that I can make a shelter."

 

---

 

Karamatsu was prepared. He had a small fire already burning. It had took him a while to get it started but now it was burning happily and ready for the night.

 

During the evening he would try to make an axe and also weave something from grass if he had time. Still there was one thing to do before he would start crafting. Karamatsu turned away from his small camp and raised his hands on each side of his mouth to shout.

 

"Brothers! Osomatsu! Choromatsu! Ichimatsu! Jyushimatsu! Todomatsu!" He hold his breath and tried to pick up any voice that his brothers could make. "Somebody answer me! Anybody!!"

 

After a while Karamatsu sat down beside his supplies. "Are they gonna be fine...?" he wondered and felt bad because he couldn't do more to help them. He closed his eyes and sighed.

 

"Ok! Now an axe."

 

---

 

It was dark already when Karamatsu was jerked out from his thoughts and he stood up quickly, heart pounding in his chest.

 

He had heard a distant scream. He was sure of that. He just couldn't figure out where it came from because it seemed to be so far away.

 

"Osomatsu! Totty! Jyushimatsu! Ichimatsu! Choromatsu! Where are you my brothers?" he tried calling for them ones again.

 

Even while holding his breath he couldn't hear anything anymore. Could he had only imagined it? “ No.” He was sure he had heard a scream. And in any case he could never just leave his brothers if they needed him.

 

So that was exactly why Karamatsu took a branch and lit it up with the campfire. Then he ran off to the darkness calling his brothers.

---


After some time Karamatsu returned to his little camp. He had needed to come back to the fire since his torch was burning out. And on top of that something in this darkness around him was... different. Like something was all the time watching his every move. It disturbed him.

 

He hadn't found anything that would tell his brothers or even one of them could be nearby. Karamatsu was worried sick but he couldn't help the situation.

 

"Oh my brothers, I hope you are fine," he said quietly while he sat back down to put more wood in to the fire.

 

---

 

"What the hell?!" Choromatsu yelled after he had opened his eyes.

 

He rose up quickly and took in what he saw. Wilderness all around him. Pinkish leafy tree forest to be exact. No sings of society or his brothers.

 

"Hey! Karamatsu?! Osomatsu!? Ichimatsu?! Jyushimatsu?! Todomatsu?!" he yelled but was left unanswered. "This isn't real, right? I must be dreaming." He tried pinching his own cheek.

 

"Ow! Okay, this is real no matter how weird it is." "It must have been the machine that we built. It was always a little shady." Choromatsu started to walk in circles to calm himself down. He tried to see the whole situation. "Okay. So I'm alone in a strange forest. I don't know where my brothers are if they even are here. I need food, water, fire and a safe sleeping place for the night. And I can do some kind of a map on my notebook." He was proud of himself and was determined to act.

 

"Here I go." he said as he started to collect everything that seemed useful to him.

 

---

 

"Ah! It lit! Yes!"

 

Choromatsu had made two torches and he had tried lighting little amount of dry grass with stones. After some time of trying it had paid off.

 

"Now I know that I can use fire. I think I can survive the first night with torches. Hopefully the night isn't too cold." Choromatsu had found lots of useful basic things but he was worried. He hadn't found any water or food except some bright red mushrooms. He hadn't picked them because they looked too suspicious and he didn't want to risk it.

 

"I have to move on," he said to himself as he put the fire out, collected his stuff and started to walk forward. "I hope that everyone is okay. Even better if they weren't here at all but I doubt it..." Choromatsu thought while walking.

 

Klank.

 

He was brought back to reality by the sound of him stepping on a road made out of rocks. "A road? That means civilisation! Oh, I would be happy to see other people," he thought as he happily started jogging along the road still keeping his eyes out for water or food.

 

---

 

It was getting quite dark so Choromatsu decided that he should look for a place to where he could spend the night. He also collected lots of sticks, grass and branches for a small fire. "I don't need anything big," he though.

 

He was getting worried. He didn't know where the others where. He hadn't found anything to eat except a carrot. But worse than that was that he hadn't found any water sources yet. Sure he could survive some time without it but how long?

 

"Oh!" Choromatsu noticed  a big tree next to the road. It’s branches were thick and could work as a makeshift shelter. "Okay. Now I just collect more stuff here so that I can make something out of it during the night." "I'm too stressed to sleep properly anyway so I can use it to do something useful,” he thought as he left his stuff there and started collecting more for the night.

 

After some time Choromatsu sat alone close to his little campfire made of whatever he had found. He was feeling little depressed. There hadn't been any sign of the others.

 

"I hope that they are doing okay. Totty must be scared out of his mind. Nobody can know what Jyushimatsu does. Ichi, Kara and Oso are probably okay."

 

He turned his gaze to the rocky road in front of him. "Maybe I'll find some kind of civilisation. I hope that they'll show me some hospitality." Sound of a soft wind blowing through the forest felt comforting to Choromatsu. He added few more branches to the fire before laying down.

 

"I should rest a bit," he thought and he slowly fell into surprisingly comfortable sleep.

 

---

 

Ichimatsu blinked his eyes and hissed quietly while rubbing his sore head. He was lying alone on grassy ground in the middle of nowhere. There was yellowish grass growing all around him and further in the distance he could see dark looking forest starting. He stood up and turned his head to different directions to look around. His facial expression was still the same dead-eyed stare as ever.

 

"Ugh. Ain't this just great," he grumbled while standing up. "Oi, stupid brothers, where are you?" No answer. "Jyushimatsu! Shittymatsu! Osomatsu-niisan? Choromatsu? Totty!"

 

Ichimatsu thought it would be best to find his brothers. They wouldn't survive for long in the wilderness. He started to walk around and look for them and decided to also see if he could find anything to eat. This whole thing, whatever it was, was a pain in the ass.

 

Ichimatsu walked lazily at some direction and soon he was in the forest and not at the grassy field anymore.

 

"This place is so weird," he thought. Did he just saw rabbits with horns?? Ichimatsu shook his head slowly. But then again, he had faced impossible and unbelievable things before with his brothers and, well, the rabbits would be a good food source if needed.

 

"Jyushimatsu?! Totty?" he tried again but in vain. "Tsk, I'll be fine, not that I really care what happens to me, but I don't know about the others. Especially those two idiots..." Totty knew nothing about nature and surely wouldn't last long away from society. Jyushimatsu was, well, Jyushimatsu. Sure he was incredibly powerful but Ichi couldn't help but worry. The older ones would better be okay too but it was his younger brothers he worried the most.

 

It was slowly getting darker. Ichimatsu had stuffed poorly made torches in his hoodie’s pocket and he had one burning already in his hand just in case if it would take longer time to light one up. He had found some berries on his way so he wasn't with completely empty stomach.

 

He would never admit it to anyone but he was getting worried. And to the surface, his worry showed as anger. Ichimatsu was constantly hissing, grunting and cursing while gritting his teeth. He kicked every rock or stick that happened to be in his way.

 

"God dammit, where are you Jyushimatsu. Totty," he grumbled. In any other situation he wouldn't be that worried about Todomatsu but this was different. This might actually be serious and this kind of thing was probably his weakness. At least Ichimatsu imagined Totty being afraid.

 

"Tsk. Oi Jyushimatsu! Where the hell are you??! I'm serious!" He shouted once again. "Huh?" He then saw a berry bush that didn't have any berries left. Was it wild animals or could it be that someone had been here?

 

"Hey! You stupid brothers! Where are you?!"

 

Ichimatsu found himself standing in the middle of a field which was growing many flowers. "Stupid flowers looking so bright and happy when my brothers might be in trouble." In Ichimatsu's mind the flowers were completely useless growing here. They could have been something edible instead.

 

It was getting darker and he would have to light another torch soon. "Well, I should try again..." he thought. "Jyushimatsu!! Where the fuck are you?!! Totty?!! Or anyone of you stupid older brother's!!" He waited a bit listening. "Fuck!!! Where is everybody?!!"

 

Ichimatsu snapped his head up. He had heard a shout he would recognise anywhere. Who else in the whole wide world shouted "BOEHBAA" than Jyushimatsu.

 

"Jyushimatsu!!!" he shouted and started running to the way he thought the shout had came. After running awhile he saw something big and yellow in the middle of flowers.

 

"Oi, Jyushimatsu!" he shouted again, now bit more calmer. He had found him. Jyushimatsu would be fine with him.

 

---

 

Jyushimatsu heard a whole nest of bees buzzing in his head. "So loud!" His thoughts were interrupted by something touching his sleeve. He's eyes shot open. "BOEEHH!" he yelled and jumped away from a huge bee that had landed on his arm. He was amazed by the size of the creature.

 

Jyushimatsu crawled slowly closer to the bee. He jumped a little when it suddenly made a big buzz sound before flying away. "I have never seen so big bee. But wait..." He saw lots of bee nests and flowers but nothing else. Cold sweat started to flow down his back.

 

"Ichimatsu-niisan! Osomatsu-niisan! Totty!" He continued shouting as he picked up his baseball bat from the ground and ran forward not knowing what to do.

 

Jyushimatsu had run quite a while but he had eventually stopped to take deep breaths. He still hadn't seen almost anything and felt anxious. He had ran until he had come across few rocks, and a little tuft of grass which he had collected. "I need to do something."

 

Jyushimatsu noticed a cute flower little further away. His usual expression returned to his face.  He pounced next to it. "l want it!" he thought as he picked the flower and brought it close to his face. "It smells so nice," Jyushimatsu thought and felt much calmer. Then he saw something in the corner of his eye. He turned his head and saw another pretty flower. He dashed and grabbed it. In the distance he saw another perfect flower. "So many pretty flowers." His usual smile got even wider.

 

"Okay! Follow the flowers! They will show the way out!" Jyushimatsu ran and picked flowers. "Muscle! Muscle! Hustle! Hustle!" he shouted and raised his hands up high one holding his baseball bat and the other holding the flowers. He was sure that he would get somewhere eventually.

 

"Aaaaa!" Jyushimatsu yelled as he saw a tree. "Flowers were right! Flowers were right!" he yelled excited and dashed to the tree. He felt so happy that he yelled some nonsense and ran around the tree. He had found something before it became completely dark. His eyes widened as he looked forward to the direction he had taken.

 

"Berries! Berries!" He ran to them and ate them all.  Further he saw even more bushes. "Aaaa! Lucky flowers! I'll keep you forever!" "Maybe they'll lead me to the others." He continued his exited running and yelling as he moved forward.

 

In the darkening evening Jyushimatsu continued onward on his flowered path. "Where are you leading me?" He didn't know where his path would end but he was thankful of the berries he had run across.

 

"I don't have anything for the night. Hopefully it doesn't matter." Then he suddenly stopped and his eyes widened.

 

"BOEHBAA"

 

That was one the loudest boehbaas he had made. But he had a good reason. He had come across huge flower field. "Aaa!" Jyushimatsu yelled in happiness as he jumped at the field. He crawled, rolled and jumped. He was happy as he laid down surrounded by the sweet smell of flowers. But something was missing. One of his brothers would have already told him to stop. "I wonder where everyone is." He thought as he raised his head above the sea made of flowers.

 

"Huh?" Jyushimatsu heard how a familiar voice was shouting for him. "That sounds like..." He looked around and saw his brother in purple running towards him. His smile grew as his brother came closer.

 

"Ichimatsu-niisan!" He shouted back and ran to give his niisan a big hug. "I don't have to spent the night alone."

 

"Jyushimatsu! Are you okay? What have you been doing this whole day? I've been looking for you," Ichimatsu said to his little brother ruffling his hair. "Phew. Thank god I found him and he seems to be fine."

 

"I'm okay. I spent the whole day at an empty field. There were only giant bees and these flowers that led me here." Jyushimatsu smiled as he told about his day.

 

Ichimatsu was relieved to hear that Jyushi was fine. "Really? Well anyway," Ichimatsu said now almost back to his monotone voice, "let's go there where are some trees so we can took some branches to make a fire." He still had many small torches but campfire would be better. His arm was getting tired of holding the torch.

 

Jyushimatsu nodded at Ichimatsu's suggestion and started to walk onward. Then he turned to his brother and asked "Do you know where the others are?”

 

"No, I don't know but since we are here, I'm sure that they are too," he answered and ripped branches from trees and threw them into a pile. After he had enough he lit them up.

 

"Have you eaten anything? Tomorrow we could try fishing. What do you think?" he asked and looked at his brother.

 

Jyushimatsu knelt next to the fire and placed his bat beside him. "I ate some berries that I found earlier."

 

He looked closely at the flowers that he had collected. "I don't want to throw these away. Could I use them for something?" He's expression seemed little confused.

 

"Fish is good. But we don't have fishing rods do we?"

 

"No but we can try making some," Ichimatsu answered. "Or use spears. Besides, I'm sure you could catch them even with your bare hands if you put your mind into it." He really believed that. "And I'm not that normal myself, you know, my with cat-like part," Ichimatsu continued and now stared at his hand which sometimes turned into cat's paw. "I think the cat part in me is getting stronger in here."

 

"Now I want to catch fish with my bare hands." Jyushimatsu thought. "You are a good kitty," he then stated to his older brother. To him cat-Ichimatsu was cute.

 

He smiled as he took two flowers in his hand. Yellow and purple. The yellow one he put behind his own ear and the purple one behind his brother’s ear.

 

Ichimatsu was used of spending time with Jyushimatsu so he let him put the purple flower behind his ear. He eyed his brother trying to look annoyed and asked with his monotone voice:

 

"Really Jyushimatsu, a flower? They don't suit a trash like me." However, he didn't took it off yet. It was kind of cute from his brother to do and he wanted to keep him happy. Then he shrugged. "I'm a good cat if I feel like it. But you must be tired. Why not try to sleep? I can keep watch," he offered.

 

Jyushimatsu looked at his niisan and said "But these aren't normal flowers. They led me to you." He placed rest of the flowers next to his bat. It was true.

 

After a long day Jyushimatsu was tired. "Okay niisan. Wake me up when you need to sleep." He laid down close to Ichimatsu. The second youngest mumbled a sleepy ‘good night’ and was soon snoring in his sleep.

 

"Good night," Ichi answered and patted Jyushimatsu's head gently. Then he rose up and gathered more sticks and branches to use during night. "Just to be sure there are enough."

 

After that he sat down close to his brother. "Flowers led you to me, huh? Well, it's not completely impossible so I guess I should be thankful." He took the flower behind his ear and played with it while guarding his brother's sleep.

 

---

 

Todomatsu woke up lying on the cold and hard ground. "Ow, ow, ow." He mumbled while rubbing his sore back. “What the heck happened...?” he thought and looked around.

 

“Huh?” His eyes snapped wide open when he realized where he was. He had woken up surrounded by nature. The ground had different looking patches and there were few trees and other plants growing.

 

"Where the fuck am I?" Totty asked out loud while standing up and glancing around him. They had built the machine and... Where were the others? "Oi, Osomatsu-niisan? Karamatsu-niisan, where are you? Choromatsu-niisan, please answer to me. Ichimatsu-niisan! Jyushimatsu-niisan! Where the hell are you?! Where the fuck am I?!! Somebody please answer!" Totty tried to shout to his brothers but after few moments he started to feel the panic rising. He tried his phone but there was no service. "Shit!" “I need to get away from here. I need to find other people,” he thought when he started to run to random direction.

 

---

 

"Shit! God damn it fuck!! Still no service!" Todomatsu shouted exhausted from running and walking around for more than two hours now. He knew that his phone wasn't going to work but he couldn't give up! If he gave up what could he do?

 

He tried to call for his niisans every now and then but he was really growing tired.

 

Totty panted and sat down under a tree to rest for a while. "Okay, Todomatsu, calm down and breath. You need to think! Okay. Okay. You need water and food." Todomatsu looked around saw two berry bushes. "Good," he thought and went to them. "They are probably not poisonous, so you can just eat them. Hopefully..." he added in his thoughts.

 

Totty ate enough berries to get full and then he started to look for water.

 

It was later that day and the sun was setting. That meant that Totty was starting to panic even more. He was afraid of dark and being alone in the wilderness didn't help. He didn’t know where he was or if his brothers were there too.

 

He really needed them.

 

Totty hadn't found anything interesting during the whole day except for one giant turkey that had jumped from a bush and scared the living hell out of him. Now Todomatsu was holding back the tears he felt already starting to burn the corners of his eyes. He took out of his phone once again but it was no use. He hadn't even drunk anything after breakfast at their home. He felt scared, tired, useless and just horrible.

 

Again he stood up tiredly and started walking to the same direction he had been going for a while. "Karamatsu-niisan! Choromatsu-niisan! Osomatsu-niisan! Please, somebody help me!" He continued his hopeless walking at the darkening evening.

 

It was almost completely dark and Todomatsu continued walking and was sobbing at the same time. He was so afraid of darkness. He could broke down any moment now.

 

Totty looked around with his teary eyes but he couldn't see much. He leaned on a tree and led out a miserable cry when suddenly he went deadly silent. Totty's eyes widened and he hold his breath. Then he heard it again! Someone was shouting in the distance. "Niisan!!!" he shouted with everything he got. And then the complete darkness fell upon the forest.

 

---

First thing Osomatsu noticed was birds singing somewhere near him. "It must be unusually quiet outside if i can hear birds" he thought. Osomatsu slowly got up and opened his eyes. His jaw dropped when he looked around.

 

He was surrounded by different kinds of trees and berry bushes. "What the heck? How did I get here? And where are the others?" he thought as he inspected his surroundings.  

 

"Hello! Can someone hear me?! Karamatsu?! Choromatsu?! Ichimatsu?! Jyuchimatsu?! Todomatsu?! Where are you guys?!" Osomatsu waited some time but he didn't get any response. A frown made its way onto his face. He felt truly alone. His frown was replaced with a serious face "I have to find the others. I'm the oldest so I'm responsible if something happens." he thought as he picked a carrot. "At least I found food." He wandered around picking more carrots and some berries.

 

-----

 

Snap

 

"Fuck! How fucking hard can it be?!" Osomatsu's brain had never worked this hard. He had faced the biggest puzzle of his life. He needed firewood. To get it he needed an axe. He had to craft it himself. All he had were flintstones, sticks and grass.

 

It had went surprisingly well until he had to tie the axe with grass. When he tried to tie it, the sharp edges of the stone cut the grass in half or he used too much strength and ripped it into pieces.

 

"Okay, I just have to take it easy and be careful."

 

Snap

 

"God fucking damn it! This shit is never going to stay in one piece like this. Not to mention that it needs to be strong like hell to cut down a tree."

 

Osomatsu took a deep breath to calm down. "I need to think. What is the problem here?" He started thinking. "I need something stronger to tie the axe. But there isn't anything stronger than grass."

 

Osomatsu was frustrated. He knew that he needed firewood for the night. Then his eyes got brighter. "I could try to make rope from the grass." "Hey! That could work." He had hopeful look in his eyes as he started to work again.

 

Later on Osomatsu had just chopped down his second tree. The idea of a rope had worked perfectly. While looking for good trees he had run across a clean little stream. Since it had already been dusk for a while he had decided to spent the night there. It was easy to cut wood there.

 

"Everything is good for now. I have lots of food, clean water and firewood." It was getting pretty dark. Osomatsu was just about to attempt starting a campfire when he heard very weakly a familiar voice. "Wait? Is that..?"

 

Osomatsu jumped up and shouted as loudly as he could "Totty! Can you hear me?! It's me! Osomatsu!"

 

When he didn't get a response right away he took a stick and grass. He quickly tied the grass onto one end of the stick making a torch. He hastily took some stones and tried to light it. "Please. I need fire. Please" he prayed while desperately hitting the stones together.

 

Then a tiny spark made its way to the grassy end of the torch lighting it. "Yes!" Osomatsu yelled as he grabbed the torch and ran to the direction of the sound while shouting his little brother’s name.

 

---


"Niisan!! I'm here!" Todomatsu shouted.

 

Suddenly he felt strange and utterly terrifying presence nearby. Todomatsu looked around but couldn't see a thing - but he did hear a growling hiss. "Aaaaahh!!" He screamed and started running to the direction where he thought one of his niisans was.

 

He scrabbled for his phone and took it out of his pocket. Something was closing in on him. Totty opened his phone and turned on the flashlight. It worked! He could hear annoyed hiss but he didn't turn to look back. "Niisan!!" he shouted while running for his dear life.

It took some time but now he was much closer to his brother. He had recognized by now that it was Osomatsu.

 

Then without a warning he fell down and with a crash his phone's light died.

 

"Fuck! Fucking shit, fuck! No!!" He shouted while he got up. In the darkness he could again hear the same terrifying presence hissing at him.

 

"Osomatsu-niisan!!" he screamed for his brother to save him while he stumbled towards the source of light he could now see. "It's him!" he thought, "So close."

 

Todomatsu bit his teeth together and run like he had never run before. Then he felt something cut his side.

And he screamed.

 

---

 

Osomatsu's throat was sore from the shouting and running like crazy. He started to lose hope. He stopped and sat down to breath and think. “Should I stop and search later. No. I can't stop looking. I have to continue even if I feel awful." Then he heard it again.

 

"Totty! I'm coming!" Osomatsu shouted as he rose up. Osomatsu's heart froze. Totty had just let out a terrified scream. "Totty! Hold on!" "Please be okay. Please be okay." He ran as fast as he could forgetting the pain and soreness.

Osomatsu saw little light further away. "Looks like phone's flashlight. It must be him," he thought as he continued running forward. "So close." But then he saw how the light disappeared and it was followed by a scream of agony.

 

"No! Tottyyy!" "Am I too late? No no no!"

Finally he saw pink hoodie close. "Totty!" he shouted and dashed to his brothers side.

 

Totty lied on the ground holding his bleeding side with his hand. He was frozen to the spot. He panted and looked the grass under him, tears rolling from his open eyes. Then he was surrounded by light and Osomatsu's screaming when the oldest rushed next to him.

 

"O-Osomatsu-niisan!" Totty shouted with unsteady voice as he lunged to his older brother's lap. "O-Osomatsu-niisan, Osomatsu-niisan. Niisan." he sobbed hugging his brother. He was with his brother now. He was saved.

 

Osomatsu was shocked to find Totty bleeding and sobbing in his arms. "What caused this? If only I had been here earlier..." He hugged Totty and looked for more injuries at the same time.

 

"Shhh. It's okay. I'm here now." He tried to calm down both his brother and himself. He didn't dare to think what would have happened if he hadn't found Totty on time. "Totty let me see that wound."

 

Totty was was sobbing and hiccupping in his brother's arms. He couldn't talk from all the crying or it would be really hard at least. He nodded and let Osomatsu look at his wound. It was a crear cut nearly horizontal in his right side. It was deep enough to bleed a lot but it seemed like it hadn't reached his ribs.

 

Todomatsu didn't really feel the pain right now. He was full of adrenalin, fear and now relief and he had almost forgotten the wound. He gulped and spoke: "It's- It's not too bad, right? It doesn't really hurt," he said trying to catch his brother's eyes for comfort and confirmation that he would be fine.

 

Osomatsu held his torch close as he inspected the cut closely. He tried to stay as calm as possible. He didn't want to scare Totty with his strong reactions. He thought for a moment before facing Totty's gaze.

 

"It's bleeding pretty badly. But it doesn't seem too deep." "That cut needs some caring. It's not good bleeding like that and it could get infected." Osomatsu took a little distance from Totty and said "Could you held the torch while I try to stop the bleeding?"

 

Todomatsu looked at his brother's eyes. "He looks honest." At this point he had nearly stopped the crying. Then he nodded answering: "O-okay." It was rare seeing Osomatsu serious or acting responsibly but it was amazing to see how well he handled things when needed. He truly was the oldest brother they could rely on. At times at least.

Totty reached to take the torch when he realized he probably should take of his shirts. "Oh, wait a second niisan," he said.

 

"Oh, right. Take you time," Osomatsu answered him.

 

Todomatsu took off both his hoodie and t-shirt under it, "they are ruined," and he was then bare chested. Now the clearly visible blood scared him more than before. He tried not to look at it but he could feel it better now when it wasn't sucked to his shirts.

 

The blood dripping down.

 

His blood bleeding out.

 

Bleeding and dripping.

 

Totty's breath started to get faster again but then he faced his brother. Osomatsu was still calm.

 

"Okay, calm down Todomatsu. It's okay, you're with Osomatsu-niisan and he knows what to do. Deep breaths. Good." Totty managed to calm himself somewhat and asked Osomatsu: "Should we use shirts to make bandages like in the movies? Should we use my t-shirt? It's ruined anyway."

 

Osomatsu waited until Totty was done taking his shirts out of the way. The clear sight of blood coloring his little brother made Osomatsu feel anxious. "It looks worse up close. I wonder if I'm able to stop the bleeding."  He managed to keep calm and he took a better look at the cut. " I need something big enough for this."

Osomatsu showed a calming smile at his little brother’s suggestion. "Okay. It should be good enough." He reached for the T-shirt and ripped it into suitable pieces. Before placing the bandages he looked at Totty and said: "This will probably hurt somewhat but I'll try to be gentle."

 

"I should distract him. Ask something." Osomatsu kept his eyes on the wound as he asked: "Any idea what caused this?"

 

Todomatsu bit his teeth together when Osomatsu started tending his would. It did hurt but he could manage it.

 

"You mean this wound? I don't know, something big and horrifying. It only came when I was completely without any light and it left immediately when there was light." Totty shivered. "It hissed," he said and looked to the darkness surrounding them.

 

"You know what?” he continued. “I guess my already irrational fear of dark just got tenfolded."

 

Osomatsu felt goosebumps. "I don't even want to know what hisses in the darkness and can cut you like this." He saw how Totty looked to the darkness all around them.

 

"Don't worry. We'll always stay in the light especially when there is a monster in the dark." Osomatsu said it calmly but he had to admit that he was scared too.

Todomatsu looked at Osomatsu bandaging him. "What the fuck is going on, Osomatsu-niisan? Where are we? Where are the rest?"


Osomatsu sighed "I don't know. I just hope that others are safe and we can make it out of here together." He carefully tied the bandages so that they would stay still. He looked at his brother and asked: "How does it feel?"

 

"Yeah, me too. But they are strong. They will be okay." "They have to!" Todomatsu said and added the last part in his thoughts.

 

"Well, actually now it hurts like hell," he answered to Osomatsu. "Ow, ow, ow! I don't think I can make really big moves so that it can heal and won't open again later. But I guess I can do all the normal things," he said and put his blooded hoodie back on. "It's so chilly that I have no other choice," he thought.

 

"I want to wash this tomorrow," he said to Osomatsu talking about his shirt. Todomatsu was a neat freak and afraid of bacterias and other nasty stuff so he was worried if the wound would stay clean. "I hope it doesn't get infected... That would be pretty bad," he said almost to himself. “Osomatsu-niisan, do you have any clean water. Or a place to stay?"

 

Osomatsu was worried when Totty said it hurt. But it's normal if you get wounded like that. "It's a big relief that you can be normally." Osomatsu smiled a little when Totty talked about his shirt "Well at least he still thinks like Totty." "I had made a campfire ready for the night but before I lit it I heard your shouts. There is also a stream and my stuff. It isn't that far away." Osomatsu's eyes moved to his brother. They showed worry as he asked "Totty, have you eaten or drank anything?"

 

"Wow. Their eldest brother wasn't completely useless after all." "Really? Osomatsu-niisan that's great!" When his brother asked if he had eaten or drunk anything he avoided his gaze and looked down to his feet. "I ate myself full with some berries earlier. It has been multiple hours, though. I haven't drank anything," he admitted. Then he stood up. "Can we go? I'm tired."

 

Osomatsu listened closely what his brother had been doing. "He can drink when we get to the camp." He looked as Totty rose up and stated that he wanted to go.  "Let's go. I'm also tired from running after you like crazy." He held the torch as he led them towards his camp.

After some time Osomatsu saw the familiar place. "We have arrived." "Luckily Totty was able to get here." He looked around. The camp was just as he had left it. Campfire waiting to be lit. Next to it were Osomatsu's food, grass, sticks, stones, logs and his axe. The stream made calming noises few meters away. "It's not much but better than nothing." He said as he walked closer. He knelt down and placed the torch on the campfire. The dry grass light and in no time the campfire burned brightly.

 

Todomatsu looked around while Osomatsu started the fire. "No. It's not much," he said. "But it's still much better than what I did..." he sighed. "Argh! I can't believe how stupid I was running around the whole day pointlessly!" His side hurt now more. Probably from the walking or from the fact that now he had calmed enough and the adrenalin rush was gone. He walked to the bank of stream and kneeled down to drink. Yesterday he wouldn't have believed he would willingly drink this kind of not human cleared water ever. Then again he wouldn't have believed he would woke up in random wilderness and be attacked by a something, probably monster.

After drinking he walked next to Osomatsu and sat down. "I'm super tired but I don't know if I can sleep..." he said watching the now burning campfire.

 

While Totty was drinking Osomatsu kept his eyes on the fire. He watched the enchanting dance of the flames and got lost in deep thought. "Without light we would most likely be dead by now. Luckily I made proper firewood." It was shocking to realize that if you stayed in the dark something would come to attack you. He noticed how Todomatsu sat next to him. Osomatsu's eyes moved to Totty as he spoke. Then he answered him: "You should try to rest as well as you can. You need it to heal properly. Don't worry, I'll stay awake to look after the fire."

 

"Mmm," Totty mumbled. He knew the oldest was right. Then he shifted closer to Osomatsu and laid down putting his head onto Osomatsu's lap. He still stared at the fire. "Are you sure you won't fall asleep?" he asked sounding worn out. He didn't know if he dared to try to sleep at night or not.

 

Osomatsu tensed up when Todomatsu suddenly came so close. He relaxed quickly and responded "I will craft something useful to keep myself awake." Osomatsu knew that he wouldn't get much sleep even if he tried. So he was going to do something useful. Maybe he could make some kind of backpack. He smiled to his brother. "Sleep well."

 

Todomatsu could feel Osomatsu shifting uncomfortably under him before he settled. He needed to feel his brother to have any hope of getting sleep. He needed to feel the warmth coming from him. It meant safety. He was still staring at the fire after few minutes when he spoke up: "Hey niisan, I didn't thank you. You saved my life," he said quietly.

 

"Don't mention it. I must say that I'm happy to have you here." Osomatsu replied as he started to weave grass around few sticks. It looked kind of pathetic but he was determined to continue. "Besides if I was alone I would lose my mind sooner or later."

 

Totty felt happy hearing that Osomatsu wanted him there. He hadn't blamed him at all about how stupid he had actually been not trying to do anything useful during the day. "Thank you, Osomatsu-niisan. You really are a good eldest brother," he said and it didn't took long for him to fell asleep surrounded by his brother's warmth.

 

After a while Osomatsu realized that Totty had fallen a sleep. "Such a relief." He thought as he crafted in silence. His little brother needed rest to recover. "Now I just have to keep quiet to not wake him up." It was kind of scary to stay awake alone surrounded by darkness that hides a dangerous creature. But Osomatsu had to stay strong for Totty. "Now I have some time to clear my mind." he thought as he placed new log into the fire.

Chapter Text

Osomatsu was annoyed." Come on. Come on! " He was attaching last parts of the second shoulder strap to the backpack as first beams of sunlight were breaking the darkness. During the night Osomatsu had lost it with the backpack and almost started cursing but kept quiet to not disturb Todomatsu's sleep. He had put the backpack away and managed to make a spear while cooling down. " Yes " Osomatsu mentally cheered to himself. The backpack looked little scrappy but it was surprisingly big and strong.

 

Osomatsu noticed that Todomatsu was slowly starting to wake up. He hadn't moved his legs so that Totty wouldn't wake up before morning. " The poor thing slept like a rock. I probably look hideous since I haven't slept at all ." His eyes followed the last small flames of the campfire.

 

"Mmmm," Todomatsu mumbled and blinked his eyes a few times. " What the heck? Where the hell am I?! " he thought when waking up. Then everything that happened came crushing back to him and he jerked himself to sitting position. That caused his wound remind that it was there. It hurt like hell and he hissed holding his side with his hand. " Thank god it's not dark anymore! " Then Todomatsu turned to look at Osomatsu. He was still sitting at the same place for him but he looked really tired. "Morning niisan," he said quietly. There was nothing good in this morning.

 

Todomatsu's sudden movement had surprised Osomatsu. He noticed how he hissed at the wound. " Looks like it hurts pretty bad. Sadly there is not much to do about it." Osomatsu turned to his brother. "Morning. Slept well?" he said while he straightened his legs. He slightly moved them around as blood rushed to his feet making them tingle unpleasantly.

 

"Like a log," Totty answered. "Thanks niisan. Your legs and back must hurt from staying at the same position the whole night." Totty now tried to massage his shoulder a bit. "Every part of me is hurting," he complained. Then he looked at what Osomatsu was doing. "What do you got there?"

 

Osomatsu stretched himself as much as possible. "Well, they are little sore." It felt so good to move again. He looked at the backpack in his hands. "You mean this? It's a backpack that I just finished. It should be strong enough to hold lots of stuff inside."

 

Totty eyed the backpack. It looked hideous but would be useful. "Nice Osomatsu-niisan. I could have never done it."

 

Then Osomatsu turned away and grabbed the spear. He turned back to Totty. "Here. You can have this."  He said and held out the spear towards his little brother.


Totty hesitated when Osomatsu held out the spear for him. "A-a spear? What should I do with it?" he asked but took it anyway. He had to admit that having some weapon would be a tiny bit calming. "Anyway, you should try to sleep a little. I want to wash my hoodie," he said.

 

Osomatsu smiled as Totty accepted the spear. "Hopefully you don't have to use it. But it's good to have just in case." A yawn escaped from Osomatsu's mouth. "I think you are right." He laid down and said: "Wake me up if you need something." He took a comfortable position before falling asleep.

 

Totty walked to the river and took off his blooded and torn hoodie. He had some bruises here and there from falling last night. That didn't bother him as much as the wound. The bandages were soaked in dried blood from the place where it touched the wound. It made him feel sick. When Osomatsu woke up, he would ask him to tie the wound again so that the bandages facing the cut would be clean from blood. He washed the shirt the best he could but some stains were there still. He would need to sew the cut shut when he could since now he didn't have any string. Then he went back to look what edible Osomatsu had. He ate a carrot and some berries. After that he wanted to be even little useful so he gathered some more sticks, branches and some berries he still found around the place. He didn't go far from the camp, 50 metres maximally. When it had been about two or three hours, Todomatsu kneeled down next to Osomatsu and asked softly: "Niisan?"

 

Osomatsu lazily opened his eyes and answered.  "Mmmh. What is it Totty?" He felt much better now that he had slept a while.

 

"Sorry for waking you but I think we should do something useful before it's dark again. Could you tie the bandages again so that the clean part touches the wound?" Totty asked his brother. "And can we go look for my phone? Most likely the battery only fell off from the impact. It's been doing that. It really means a lot to me, niisan," he explained.

 

Osomatsu rose up and stretched his back. "Don't be sorry. I've slept enough already." He nodded and started to take the bandages off.

Osomatsu didn't like the look of Totty's wound but didn't say anything about it. "We could take our stuff and move the camp somewhere else. We could look for your phone on the way. And maybe we could find one of our brothers as well. What do you say?"

 

Totty looked around the pathetic camp. "Yeah, I guess that would be fine. We don't have much stuff to carry yet so it would be easy." Then he took a look at his wound and he grinned from disgust. "What do you think? Will it get infected?" he asked.

 

Osomatsu sighed. "I don't know. Let's hope that it won't." He took a closer look at the wound so that he could say something about it. "If it stays clean I think it will stay healthy. Should we get moving when I'm done with these?” he asked as he wrapped clean side of the bandages around his brother once again.

 

"I hope so," Todomatsu said and sighed too. "But yeah we can go." After Osomatsu was done with his wound he stood up. "Shall we start gathering the stuff then?"

 

"Yeah let's do that." Osomatsu opened his backpack and threw stones inside it. "I can take stones, food, sticks and the last two logs in the backpack. The rest we need to carry or put in our pockets," he said while packing.

 

"Okay, good," Totty said and stuffed random stuff to his pocket. After a while they were ready. "It was this way where you found me during night, right?" he asked. He was thinking about his dear phone lying somewhere.

 

Osomatsu put on his backpack. " Please, don't break anytime soon. " He looked to the direction where Todomatsu pointed. "Yup. That's the direction." He picked up his axe and walked to his brother. "Shall we go?"

 

"Sure," Todomatsu answered. He was also holding his new spear.

 

---

They walked a while, not very quickly due to Totty's condition but after some time his eyes widened at the beautiful sight of pink laying on the grass. "There!" he shouted and tried to rush towards it but ended up cursing the pain and slowing his pace. "Fucking wound..." he muttered.

 

"Are you okay? You need to be more careful or your wound might start bleeding again." Osomatsu didn't want to go through the stress of stopping his brother from bleeding out again. He inspected their surroundings. "Now that we are here we should pick a direction to go to."

 

"I'll be fine," Todomatsu answered without paying much attention on his brother. He kneeled down and gathered three pieces of his phone. Like he had guessed, the battery had fallen off. He fixed it quickly and tried starting it again. "Please, please!" he begged. "Yes!" he called out when the phone started working again. There was still no signal, not that he had expected any, but it was still so comforting having his phone back. He shut it down to save the battery. Then he answered to his niisan again: "Why don't we go there and follow the river?"

 

" Sounds like his phone works." Osomatsu was picking berries nearby while waiting for Todomatsu to be ready. He looked to the river. "Good thinking Totty." " We can't survive without water so following the river would be wise. " He put the berries in his backpack. Osomatsu and Todomatsu walked forward along the river.

 

---

 

Todomatsu and Osomatsu had walked for hours now. They had been taking breaks but Totty was starting to complain about everything. "Niisan, how long are we gonna walk? I'm tired and hurting. I hate this. Why did we end up in a place like this? What are we actually going to do??" he asked upset.

 

Osomatsu was getting tired of hearing Todomatsu's complains. "Let's stop at next good place. If we are lucky, it'll take only a minute." Osomatsu frowned as he listened to his little brothers questions. "I don't like this either. There isn't much to do right now. I suggest that first we find the others and then look for a way out together." " That sounded so stupid but I can't say anything else cause I don't know anything about this place. " Osomatsu pointed to the horizon. "Look Totty. That seems like a good place." It looked rather normal but nice place.

 

Todomatsu looked at the place where Osomatsu has pointed. "Yeah it's fine," he said not really caring. " Like any place in here would be good... "  "And I guess you are right. We should find the others," a pause, "Do you think they are fine? I mean like think about Jyushimatsu. He probably can't start a fire," he said looking at his older brother.

 

Osomatsu took a deep breath. "I'm not sure how well they are doing but I think they’ll survive. I mean we have gone through some crazy things together. Even though this is without doubt the craziest one. And not in a good way."

 

"I think you are right. We definitely have faced some crazy stuff. And I don't know, if this will be over soon, it's probably not even the worst thing on our list," Todomatsu said and maybe didn't feel so bad anymore. They would survive and get through this! It would be fine.

 

Osomatsu wandered around the area. "I'll call for others again." He took a deep breath. "Choromatsu! Ichimatsu! Karamatsu! Jyushimatsu! Is anyone there!" He shouted and waited for an answer.

 

Totty watched Osomatsu shout for their brothers. "Niisan, I don't think anyone can hear you," he said sadly.

 

Osomatsu sighed. "I know but I had to try." " I couldn't imagine the guilt that I would feel if we walked past one of our brothers without noticing them. " He turned to his brother. "So what should we do now?"

 

"At least we need more wood for the night," Totty said and shivered. He definitely didn't want to live through last night again. "I will try to find something to eat."

 

"Okay. I'll chop some trees." He grabbed his axe and walked to the nearby woods.

 

After some time Totty has gathered two carrots and some seeds. That wasn't much. "Osomatsu-niisan, we need to think better ways of getting food," he said.

 

Osomatsu was about to finish chopping the first tree into logs. He had chopped off its branches and gathered them to one pile next to the log pile. He had taken off his hoodie and had tied it to his waist. He swiped sweat from his forehead with his palm. "We could try hunting or fishing. There should be some animals in here. To grow crops we should stay in the same place for a long time so we can't do that right now."

 

"Yeah I know. And it would take a long time. We can't stay here for that long!" Todomatsu said. The sun was already setting. "You know, cause I'm physically weaker than you I should probably focus on learning how to weave or craft other stuff. You should get good rest this night and I could try making something during that time. But I want to sleep too," he added.

 

"Okay. I'll chop the rest of this tree and start a campfire then I'll try to sleep." To be honest Osomatsu was exhausted. He was thankful that he would get sleep tonight. He was about to continue chopping but stopped. "Hey Todomatsu, tell me when you want to change your bandages again."

 

"No, I'll start the fire! I have to learn," Todomatsu said and started gathering grass and sticks. "I would really want to change it all the time but we need to be prudent. Let's shift the bandages again in the morning," he said. His wound was still covered with dried blood because he hadn't dared to clean it with stream water. He had only washed off the blood around it. "Ah shit! Niisan, how do you manage to get the fire started?" Totty asked after trying it for some time.

 

"Okay." Osomatsu finished his duties and was ready for now. He carried the stuff next to the campfire that Todomatsu tried to lit up. He rubbed his nose with his finger like he usually did and answered: "First you need right kind of stones so that you get some sparks. Like these ones that I used last night," he said and took two stones out of his pocket. "When you hit them together you need to do it fast and put some strength into it." He handed the stones to his brother. "Why don't you give it another try?"

 

"Yeah, I'll try," Totty answered and took the stones. After many tries and multiple attempts to give up he finally managed to make a spark that lit up the grass. "Niisan! Niisan, I did it!" he said to Osomatsu eyes sparkling with proudness. Todomatsu put first smaller sticks to fire and then larger ones. The campfire was burning happily.

 

"Good job Totty!" Osomatsu waited until he didn't have to worry about the fire dying. He yawned and laid down. "Wake me up when you need to sleep." He slowly fell into sleep.

 

"Yes. Good night, Osomatsu-niisan," Todomatsu said. " Okay, let's see what I can do with these sticks and grass, " he thought.

 

---

 

"Mmmh. So bright." Choromatsu mumbled still half asleep. He opened his eyes and was on full alerted. " How long did I sleep? Looks like the sun is just rising up. " He sighed in relief and stood up. " I really need something to drink. And I'm starting to get hungry too. " Choromatsu collected his stuff and continued to walk down the road. " I was supposed to use the night to craft stuff but I slept through it. Well I'll need lots of energy to continue. " He shouted for his brothers once again but was left unanswered. "I'll find them eventually," he said to himself as he walked onward.

 

---

 

Choromatsu had walked quite a while. "Is this road never going to end?" He was getting impatient. He had found few more sticks and stones on the way. " I want to get somewhere. I need to get to a place that has food and water. " Then he saw something. The road led out of the forest. In the horizon it led to a small village. " Thank god! " Choromatsu ran closer as fast as he could. " I see people. I'm safe. " He suddenly stopped dead on his tracks. His jaw dropped as he eyed the scene before him. "What the fuck?!"

 

"What the fucking fuck?!" Choromatsu yelled. He had thought that he saw humans. But they weren't. They were some kind of pigs. They walked on two hoofs and wore a rag around their waists. Choromatsu was disgusted by the sight. " Ewww! They are hunchbacked pigmen. I don't want to go there so much anymore. I wonder if they can even talk. " Then he saw something. The village had lots of berry bushes, carrots and a lake next to it. Hunger and thirst hit him hard. " I have to go to the lake. " He took another glance at the village's food sources. " I'll think about those later. For now I go around pigmen to the lake. " He took a safe distance and started walking.

 

A moment later Choromatsu knelt down and drank water from the lake. It felt so good to have a drink after a long time.

 

"YOU NO PIG."

 

Choromatsu was frightened at the sudden loud rash voice behind him. He instinctively jumped up and turned on his heels. Unfortunately the edge of the lake was slippery. "Waah!" He fell into the cold lake water. Before him was one of those pigmen that he saw earlier. It looked uglier up close not to mention the smell.

 

"UGLY MONKEY MAN" it stated.

 

"Rude." Choromatsu replied and got out of the water. He grabbed his notebook to look if it took some damage. " Whew. It's okay. That pig doesn't seem aggressive. " He raised his head and saw the pig running away. The sun was begin to set. "H-hey wait!" Choromatsu ran after the pig. It ran into the closest house, locked the door and turned on the lights. Choromatsu looked around and saw how all the pigs had done the same. The village had fallen to silence.

 

"Hello?" Choromatsu said and walked closer to one of the houses. As he approached the pig turned off the lights in its house. " Be polite and they might be polite to you. Or at least won't mind you. " "Um, excuse me?" he said as he knocked on the house's door.

 

"YOU BACK OFF!"

 

Choromatsu jumped back when the pig shouted at him. "O-okay. I'll give you some space." He tried other houses but the pigs just turned off the lights and gave him similar responses.

 

"TOO CLOSE!" "THAT MY SPACE!" "STAY AWAY!"

 

"Okay. Okay. Jesus. Calm down. I was only going to ask if I could take some of your berries." Choromatsu was getting tired of this. He was tired and all alone, wet and cold and hungry. "You know what? If you don't want me to touch your berries, come here and say it to me." He waited but nobody came. " Okay I'm just going to eat them. " He ate until he was full. " Now I need a place to stay. I'll stay close to the lake but I'll go little further away because I don't want a pigman to be the first thing I see in the morning," he thought and walked away.

 

---

 

Choromatsu sat there wearing only his underwear. The rest of his clothes were drying near a fire. It was late and the night air felt cold against his wet skin. " Damn, how it can be chilly. " He touched the clothes to see of they were dry. "Yes!" His pants were dry enough to wear again so Choromatsu put them on. " Now it's just my T-shirt and hoodie. " He took his notebook and expanded the map he had created. He drew more houses to the pigmen village. " Today's events made it clear to me. This is not normal wilderness. This place might not even belong to our universe. It's so weird. " He looked around to the darkness. It was silent. Almost too silent. Then he heard something moving towards him. Choromatsu grabbed a burning branch from the fire. "Who's there?" he asked ready to fight or flee if needed.

 

"Meow!"

 

"Huh" Choromatsu was confused as he saw what meowed at him. It was a big cat-raccoon creature. Its fur was short and grey with black stripes.

 

"What are you?" He smiled as the creature lazily came closer and tried to play with a stick. "Heh." Choromatsu took the stick and slowly dragged it along the ground. The creature's eyes widened and it leaped to the stick. "Rawr!" it said and bit the stick.

 

"I have to admit it. You are very cute." Choromatsu smiled at the creature. The creature came next to Choromatsu. Suddenly it vomited onto his lap. "Ewww! Why would you do this?" He was grossed out but then he saw what the creature had vomited. "Flintstones? For me?" Choromatsu asked as he held the stones in his hands. They were surprisingly clean.

 

"Meow!" the creature said. It jumped to Choromatsu's lap, laid down and started to sleep. It was heavy compared to its size but not too heavy. " It's really cute and apparently useful. " "You can stay with me if you want to," he said and petted the creature. It purred even louder and relaxed more.

 

Choromatsu felt comfortable when there was another living creature with him. He could get sleep easier now that he wasn't completely alone. " If it's going to stay, I'll need to name it. It looks like a combination of a cat and a raccoon. " Then he came up with a good name. "I'll call you Catcoon." After that Choromatsu reached for his T-shirt and hoodie and put them on before falling asleep.

 

---

 

Ichimatsu was still sitting at the same spot watching the fire die. Sun was rising so they wouldn't need it anymore.  During the night he had took Jyushimatsu's flowers and made a garland from them. He hoped it was okay to him. Ichimatsu stretched a bit. He was getting hungry. He didn't want to wake up Jyushimatsu but he hoped the other would wake up soon.

 

Jyushimatsu jumped up to his feet. "Good morning niisan!" He stretched his body. "What do we do today?"

 

"Morning Jyushimatsu! We have to find something to eat. How about we first try to look for some berries and after that would you like to try fishing?" Ichimatsu asked.

 

"That sounds good," Jyushimatsu replied. He was about to grab his bat but stopped. He had noticed the garland and was now staring at it with sparkles in his eyes. "Ichi-niisan did you make that?"

 

"Huh?" Ichimatsu said and looked at the garland in front of him. "Umm... yeah. I hope you like it," he said and put it on Jyushimatsu's head. "Let's go then."

 

Jyushimatsu felt so happy. "Thank you niisan!" he yelled with a wide smile. He grabbed his bat. "Yeah, let's go!"

 

After sometime and walking Ichimatsu and Jyushimatsu had managed to find few berry bushes. They started picking the berries and fill their empty stomachs. Ichi tried to humor Jyushimatsu by throwing some berries towards him, cheering the other man to catch them with his mouth. When Ichimatsu moved to the next bush suddenly a huge turkey let out a scream and started running away. Cat ears and tail had popped out from him due to the surprise and he had now cat paws with sharp claws as well. " Shit, that scared me! Wait. Food? I'm not gonna let it escape! " he thought quickly in his head. Immediately he turned to his brother shouting: "Jyushimatsu! Catch it!!" and he himself bounced after the turkey on all fours.

 

Jyushimatsu ate berries when he heard a weird scream. He quickly turned his head towards the sound. " Big screaming turkey. " Next to it was Ichimatsu in his half-cat form. Jyushimatsu heard his brother's command and he ran after the turkey holding the bat. He moved as fast as he could. He passed his brother and was getting close to the turkey. " Almost. Almost. " Then the turkey made a sharp turn to their side. The distance between them had grown but Jyushimatsu wasn't going to give up.

 

Ichimatsu jumped in front of the turkey after it had made its sharp turn to escape from Jyushimatsu. He blocked its way and hissed. Screaming terrified the bird made a turn for its final attempt to escape.

 

As the turkey turned away from Ichimatsu, Jyushimatsu raised his bat and jumped at the bird. While in the air he swung the bat with his hole body weight behind it. The bat hit the turkey knocking it out. Jyushimatsu stood there a second before yelling: "We did it! Muscle! Muscle! Hustle! Hustle!"

 

Ichimatsu walked over to the turkey. "Good job, Jyushimatsu! Nice swing!" he complimented his brother. "I suppose we don't have to worry about fishing for a while." Then he looked at the turkey closer. "Oh, it's still alive..." To be honest he didn't really want to kill anything but he could never put his cheerful little brother to do it. And they had to survive in the wilderness so they needed food. Ichimatsu stretched his claws and sliced turkey's throat open with a swift move, letting the blood run out. "We should look for some sharp rocks to use as tools for this," he said.

 

Jyushimatsu looked away as his brother sliced turkey's throat. " Sorry mr.turkey but we had to. " Jyushimatsu nodded and walked around looking for suitable rocks. He found a sharp stone that was shaped like a tear. "Niisan! Is this good?"

 

"Hmm," Ichimatsu said and looked at the stone Jyushimatsu was holding. He was now back to his normal self. "Yes, it should be fine," he said, took it and started slicing open bird's stomach. "Do you think you can start a fire?"

 

"I think I can do it if I have something that burns easily. I'll go look for something." Soon Jyushimatsu found lots of tiny sticks and dry grass. " This should do it. " He gathered branches to the campfire as well. It took him awhile but then sparks ignited the campfire. "Yay! I did it!" He cheered as he made sure the fire wouldn't die.

 

"Nice job!" Ichimatsu said as he was slaughtering the bird. "Here. You can cook some liver and meat for us." Slaughtering was a messy job and he wasn't particularly good at it since it was his first time but it would do. As long as they got something to eat it should be fine, right? "Hey, do you think we should keep moving and looking for the others?" he asked.

 

Jyushimatsu put a stick through the meat and liver and held them close to the fire. "We could move little forward before stopping and spent the evening crafting something useful."

 

"Mmmmm sounds fine," Ichimatsu said and continued his task.

 

Ichimatsu was lying on the soft grass. He and Jyushimatsu had more than enough meat for couple of days and they had eaten a lot. He was almost feeling happy, or as happy as he normally did. Still he had a job to do. They needed to make a fire for the night since they had let the one die out with which they had cooked the meat. He went ripping of branches and collecting sticks.

 

Jyushimatsu had eaten so much. But he felt like he needed to do something useful. He tried to think what they needed but he wasn't sure. "Ichimatsu-niisan. What should I do when I want to do something useful?"

 

Ichimatsu didn't answer right away because he was thinking. They had a lot of food at the moment. They couldn't carry much stuff so there wasn't really point at collecting too much wood or anything like that. Leather would be probably most useful so that they could make bags, blankets and many other useful things. But that would mean hunting. "Why don't you see if you can find anything interesting around here? Go treasure hunting? Maybe you'll find more flowers," Ichimatsu answered to Jyushimatsu. There wasn't much to do but his brother needed activities. "Just stay close enough that you can hear me if I shout.”

 

"I'll pick enough flowers for another garland." Jyushimatsu stated and ran of. " I'll make a garland for niisan. " He picked flowers and drank water from a pond he found. " All right! I already want to make the garland but I need few more flowers... " he thought as he looked behind the pinetree before him and stopped dead on his tracks. He had found something.

Jyushimatsu walked back to the camp. He dropped the flowers to the ground in silence. He wore his serious face. His irises were wide and his mouth was almost closed. He just stood there for a while before speaking. "Niisan."

 

Ichimatsu was happy that he had found Jyushimatsu something interesting to do. He had also managed to gather nice amount of branches to burn as well. But when he heard Jyushimatsu's voice he instantly knew something was up. "What is it Jyushimatsu?" he asked tensed up.

 

Jyushimatsu's gaze was empty. "I found something. There is some useful stuff but I wouldn't call it a treasure." His voice was calm and serious the opposite of his normal yelling. "I found the remains of someone else."

 

"What?" Ichimatsu asked surprised and hurried over to Jyushimatsu's side. There truly was someone's skeleton. Now, Ichimatsu wasn't someone to get scared or disgusted easily but that certainly was disturbing. He took Jyushimatsu by arm. "Go back to our supplies. I'll see what they had. You don't need to see it more than this," he said to Jyushimatsu trying to push him away from the skeleton.

 

Jyushimatsu did as his brother told him to. He sat near the fire and stared at it. " It looked so lonely and empty. What if someday I'm the one whose skeleton is found or I find someone I know? " A shiver ran down his back as he thought. He pulled the garland deeper into his head like he tried to use it to block those uncomfortable thoughts. " I need something to do. " He grabbed the flowers from the ground and started making garland. It seemed to help him calm down.

 

Ichimatsu watched his brother to move farther away and then he went closer to the skeleton. It was impossible to tell what had caused poor persons death. However, he did found nicely crafted pickaxe and a worn out trap lying there. Ichi took them and went back to where Jyushimatsu was sitting. "He won't need these anymore," he said and dropped both items next to Jyushimatsu and sat down himself. "Are you okay? Should we move the camp?" he asked.

 

Jyushimatsu focused on garland making. He was brought back from his thoughts by the sound of items hitting the ground. He quickly glanced at them before returning back to crafting. He stopped and kept quiet for a while. "What If we'll find someone we know?" Jyushimatsu asked not really looking for an answer. "Is it wise to move the camp anymore?"

 

Ichimatsu put his hand on his brother's shoulder. His heart felt heavy seeing Jyushimatsu like that. "We won't find anyone we know dead cause we are gonna find them soon and alive and we are gonna take care of those idiots. I don't know how good they are surviving in the wilderness but we are. And if we want, we can move around fast so looking for them is easier. So hey, don't let your smile falter," he said and poked Jyushimatsu's cheek. "And if you want to move, it's fine. We just light up torches and go."

 

Jyushimatsu smiled. It was a tiny smile but still a smile. "We could do that. I miss the others." He looked to the direction where he found the skeleton. "It would be nice to move a little."

 

Ichimatsu was glad to see he could make his brother feel better. He stood up and lit up two torches and hold one out for Jyushimatsu. "Take as much firewood as you can, I'll carry these items and the turkey," he said. “Hey, I bet I can call for the others louder than you," he said grinning playfully.

 

Jyushimatsu took the torch and a big pile of firewood. He smiled playfully at his brother. "I bet you can't." He took a very deep breath and shouted "Osomatsu-niisan! Karamatsu-niisan! Choromatsu-niisan! Totty!" He panted a little. "Your turn Ichimatsu-niisan!"

 

"Heh, nice!" Ichimatsu said and took a deep breath. "Oi, Osomatsu! Shittymatsu! Choromatsu! Todomatsu! " he shouted.

 

"Damn. I think you won," he said then. "Now let's get moving. I have to sleep at least a little tonight."

 

"Yes! Woohoo!" Jyushimatsu cheered. He hadn't forgotten about the skeleton he had found but tried not to think about it. "Don't worry niisan. I'll keep watch this time." He smiled at his brother.

 

"Hmmm good. But you have to wake me before morning so that you can get sleep also," Ichimatsu said and was happy that Jyushimatsu looked more like his normal self.

After they had walked few hundred meters they stopped and made a new campfire. "Will you be fine if I try sleeping now?" he asked his little brother.

 

Jyushimatsu smiled. "The sooner you sleep the sooner I get to sleep." He was cleaning the bat with his sleeve.

 

"Good night Jyushimatsu!" Ichimatsu said, laid down and fell to sleep.

 

"Good night Ichimatsu-niisan." Jyushimatsu spent the night thinking lots of things as he guarded his brothers sleep.

 

---

Karamatsu hadn't got much sleep during the night. He had been worrying over his brothers and crafting stuff. In the morning he had once again left to look for them but in vain. He had come back to his camp to chop down trees with his new axe. He had gathered grass and sticks for next crafting session. Now Karamatsu was trying to make some sort of containers or pots out of clay. Sadly he wasn't too good with potteries but it would probably do. He needed to be able to boil water after all. When it was getting darker, Karamatsu started weaving traps to catch small animals. He hadn't eaten very much during the day but he was doing fine, though, he was lonely.

 

He had had a productive day but he couldn't help the feeling of anxiety steadily rise. Karamatsu was not good at staying alone. He was always trying to get even some attention from his brothers and these two days had been even harder because he worried over them so much. It was night already but Karamatsu left his camp to go set one more trap that he had just finished making of. On his way he suddenly stopped when he saw a small and distant light shining behind the forest. He immediately started running towards it.

 

Karamatsu's heart was pounding like crazy in his chest. " Please, god, let it be my brothers! " he thought as he ran towards the light source. He ran and ran until he was about to pass out from exhaustion. He wanted to shout but decided against it in case it was someone else - someone who Karamatsu would rather not to meet. When he had almost reached the border of light and darkness his heart was filled with overwhelming joy. There was Totty standing close to the fire, spear in his hands, looking at Karamatsu's direction. Sleeping on the ground was his beloved older brother Osomatsu.

 

"Brothers! I found you!" Karamatsu shouted tears burning in the corner of his eyes as he took the final spurt towards them.

 

---

 

Totty was startled out of his thoughts when he heard rustle and steps closing in from the darkness. Totty jerked to his feet glancing wildly around. He leaned down to pick up his spear which he hold steadily with his both hands. He was scared but he hoped that he had imagined it.

 

Todomatsu kicked Osomatsu lightly and said quietly: "I think there is something out there..." Then he saw a light coming closer. Someone was definitely coming. Totty hold his breath and tried to take as intimidating pose as possible even though he was terrified and wanted to scream.

 

When he heard voice shouting to them, he let out a scream until he realized it was Karamatsu who was about to dive into a hug with him.

 

"Karamatsu-niisan!" Totty shouted, dropped the spear and opened his arms to welcome his older brother into an embrace. Todomatsu couldn't help it. He started crying out of happiness. "Karamatsu-niisan!" he sobbed, "I'm so happy to see you!" he said hugging his brother tightly.

 

---

 

"Mmmh." Osomatsu mumbled when Todomatsu kicked him. " Just few more minutes. Wait. Did he say that something is out there. Oh shit! " Then someone shouted and Todomatsu screamed. Osomatsu jumped to his feet and looked around in full alert mode.

 

"Karamatsu!" Osomatsu jumped next to his brothers. He was so happy to see him. He seemed to be okay too. " That's one lost little brother less. "

 

"Osomatsu! My dear brother!" Kara said and pulled Osomatsu to the same hug with Totty. "I have been so worried! Good that you seem to be fine. When did you came here? I think I came to this part of forest yesterday but surely you were somewhere else then?"

 

Osomatsu returned the hug to his brothers. "I'm glad you are alive. Have you been okay?" Osomatsu scanned his brother looking for any kind of injury. Then he nodded. "We arrived here this evening."

 

"Heh, I see," Karamatsu answered. "Luckily I left my camp and found you. It must have been your hearts calling for mine to lead me to you my brothers. I've been fine physically but my soul and heart have been suffering from the crushing loneliness and the suffocating fear for your well being." Karamatsu made dramatic hand moves and poses while speaking.

 

"Heh," Totty laughed a little and wiped away his tears. "I see you are fine since you are as painful as ever." He felt much better. Now half of them were together and maybe the rest had found each other as well.

 

Osomatsu grinned at Karamatsu's painfulness.  "Have you been doing okay? Any signs of the others or something else useful?"

 

"Sadly I haven't seen anybody. I have set out a humble camp few hundred meters away from here. Would you like to move there now or spend the rest of the night here, brothers?" Karamatsu asked. "But how have you been? Everything okay?"

 

Osomatsu's smile dropped. "I have been fine. Little stressed and frightened. Especially when Todomatsu...well..." Osomatsu didn't know how to put the incident to words. He looked at Todomatsu. "Maybe you can explain it better."

 

Totty shivered from the thought of last night. "Uh, well, some creature attacked me last night when I lost my source of light. It sliced my side," Todomatsu explained and raised his hoodie to show the wound. "Osomatsu-niisan made it just in time and saved me."

 

Karamatsu was lost at words. "What?! You were alone in the darkness? Oh Totty, it must be horrible! I think I heard someone scream last night, maybe it was you. I should have continued the search. What if it gets infected??" he asked worried and looked at Osomatsu. "We should go to my camp. I just made some pots so I should be able to boil water. We can clean the wound again, it looks pretty messy." Karamatsu knew a lot about tending wounds since he always ended up hurt. He just wished Choromatsu was there because he was often the one to patch him up.

 

"That sounds good to me. And Totty really needs to clean his wound so lets move." Osomatsu said and started to put everything in his backpack. Maybe everything would be okay in the end.

 

"I'll show you the way," Karamatsu said. "Totty, are you okay walking?"

"Yes, I should be fine, Karamatsu-niisan," Todomatsu answered. He was with two of the oldest brothers now. They would take care of him, Totty knew that. They started gathering their stuff again.

 

Osomatsu threw last sticks into the backpack. "That should be everything." He put on the backpack and picked up his axe. "Are you two ready?"

 

"Yes!" "Yeah, Osomatsu-niisan." both Totty and Karamatsu said. "Let's get going then," Karamatsu said and started walking.

After some time they arrived to Karamatsu's camp. The fire was almost dead and Karamatsu went putting more wood into it. In the camp there were fire pit, logs, branches, sticks, grass and stones. Also an axe, a spear, a knife and some containers made of clay and wood.

 

"I'll boil the water," Karamatsu said. "I have left few traps to the forest as well. Food is what I don't have that much, sadly."

 

Osomatsu looked around. He was amazed. "Wow. You have done a lot during these two days." " Karamatsu must have worked hard for this. " "I have some food in my backpack," he said as he took some carrots out of his backpack.

 

"Only the best for my brothers," Karamatsu said but was actually proud of himself. "I've been thinking about making a lean-to next but it would require a lot of work if we want to do it well. I think it should be big enough for six of us together. What have you been eating these two days?"

 

"A lean-to would be nice even though it would take a lot of time." Osomatsu would feel much safer if he had walls and roof around him. "We have been eating carrots and berries. It haven't been so enjoyable but that’s all we have found."

 

"Mmm, me too," Karamatsu said. "Okay Totty, let me see your wound now."

 

Totty walked over to Kara, sat down and took of his hoodie. The bandages really didn't look so nice with all the blood. "We should try washing them,"  Karamatsu mumbed and inspected the wound. He cleaned it up using the boiled water and soon it looked much better. " I wish I knew which herbs would help avoiding infection, " he thought. Totty has been behaving well even though he whined a lot and occasionally hissed if it stinged. Then Karamatsu washed the bandages and left them drying next to the fire. "You should wait until they are dry before going to sleep so that I can tie your wound up again," Kara said.

"Okay Karamatsu-niisan," Todomatsu answered. "So I will be staying awake a little longer. If you two want, you can try sleeping."

 

"Okay but wake me up when you're ready." Osomatsu had earlier slept for a while. " I don't need much sleep anymore. " He looked for a good spot to lay down. "Night Karamatsu. Night Totty." He slowly fell back to sleep.

 

Both wished Osomatsu good night. "You too Karamatsu-niisan," Totty said and after some time, Karamatsu accepted the offer. "But you have to wake me to tie the bandages," he said.

 

"Don't worry. Osomatsu-niisan can do it as well when I woke him up to take the watch turn. Just go to sleep." And so Totty was the only one awake and keeping watch.

Chapter Text

It was already the fifth day in this weird wilderness. Ichimatsu and Jyushimatsu had been on the move most of the time. They had no worries for the food and before night they would always gather enough wood to last for the night. During days they looked for their other brothers and played games to keep Jyushimatsu happy. When Jyushimatsu was happy, Ichimatsu was happy.

 

Jyushimatsu and Ichimatsu were walking around in the darkening evening looking for a place to spent the night. They hadn't found anything remarkable, just normal stuff. Jyushimatsu laughed at his brothers joke when he suddenly stopped. "Huh?" He stopped and looked around confused. " I'm sure I heard something. " Jyushimatsu turned to his brother.

 

"Ichimatsu-niisan? Did you hear that?" He looked around but didn't see anything out of ordinary. " Maybe it was nothing. "

 

"Grr! Bark! Bark bark!"

 

Jyushimatsu was sweating. It surely was something.

 

Ichimatsu stopped to listen. He definitely heard something and his cat ears popped out as he tensed up looking around. "I did hear that and I don't like it. Stay at full alert. Let's try to look for some big tree where we can climb," he said and moved closer to his younger brother protectively.

 

Ichimatsu had stopped to light up torches for him and his brother. They couldn't let darkness surprise them. "Do you think we should make a campfire?" he asked Jyushimatsu. "It would provide more light."

 

"That would be good. But we need to keep torches available if we need to escape." Jyushimatsu was getting nervous. They didn't know what was coming. All they knew was that they didn't sound friendly. "Ichimatsu! Is that tree big enough?" he asked and pointed towards a big pinetree.

 

Ichimatsu glanced at the tree Jyushimatsu had pointed. "Yes I think it should be fine as long as it, whatever is coming, can't climb. But it sounds like a dog or a wolf so I think it will be fine," he answered. He was feeling really nervous because they could hear the growling clearer now. It was coming closer. He started making a campfire.

 

Jyushimatsu collected branches and other stuff he found to the campfire. The fire needed to be big if they wanted to see more. The growling was getting near them. "Niisan! They are soon here!" Jyushimatsu grabbed his bat and quickly climbed to the tree.

 

"Yes, just a second," Ichimatsu said and ripped branches from trees and threw them into fire. "I'm coming,” he said and climbed after Jyushimatsu. Not many minutes after that three big and scary looking hounds ran from the darkness towards them.

 

They beasts were huge. Their hunched backs reached to the brothers’ heads. The hounds fur was almost pitch black and drool was dripping from their huge open jaws.

 

Jyushimatsu gasped. " They are so big. " The hounds ran under the tree and tried to reach for brothers above them. Jyushimatsu was terrified when he saw one hound under him snapping its jaws up and down while making horrible growling noises.

 

"Uhg." Jyushimatsu didn't like this at all. "Niisan! What should we do?!" he asked panicking. Then he saw how one of the hounds smelled the air. It went to their stuff and tried to look for something. " The turkey! " He tightened his hold on the bat and shouted. "Hey! That's our food!"

 

Ichimatsu was now in full cat hybrid form. He was terrified but he kept growling back to the hounds.

 

"Jyushimatsu no!" he said and took a hold on his brother's hoodie with his claws. "Don't you dare to even think going down there!" he shouted. "I don't think we should fight them. We only fight if that's our last chance. If they are not leaving. Even then we could probably outrun them."

 

"B-but..." Jyushimatsu started but realized that his brother was right. They shouldn't risk themselves for little pieces of meat even though it was sad to watch how hounds devoured everything that was left of it. Jyushimatsu's grip loosened a little and he shifted closer to Ichimatsu. "Sorry Niisan." He felt so stupid for almost jumping in there. "Hopefully they go away soon.

 

"It's okay. I wouldn't want to let them have it either but it's not worth risking us," Ichimatsu said, loosened his grip for his brother's hoodie and hugged him. "I hope so too," he said. "It will be fine."

 

---

 

During the passed days Osomatsu had wondered around the camp looking for different food sources. He had found lots of berry bushes, few bonds and also some seeds. He wanted to try planting them to see what seeds they were. He was worried about the others as well as Todomatsu's wound. The wound still hurt but it seemed to be okay.

 

Karamatsu on the other hand had focused on making the lean-to which required lot of chopping down trees. It was maybe half way done. He had been also teaching Totty how to weave. Kara's traps seemed to work all right and they had gotten a rabbit and some smaller bird to eat. Getting some meat really lifted up the spirits. Otherwise Osomatsu was responsible for food so Kara could focus on crafting. Sure Karamatsu was a much better cook but there wasn't really much cooking to do yet.

Totty had been mostly crafting stuff, not going far away from the camp. First crafting seemed impossible to him but now, with the help of his big brothers, it was going fine. He was proud of himself. He had made backpacks for him and Karamatsu, some rope, couple of traps and a straw hat. He liked hats even though later on he felt like it was stupid to waste time doing it when he could do something more useful. Besides Totty had his beanie so he wouldn’t be using it now, only if it got hotter he could use it. Luckily his wound was healing fine. Actually it was surprising how fast it was healing. Maybe one third of it has already closed up and Totty wasn't so worried of it opening again. He still avoided doing physically hard work.

 

---

 

Totty was sure he heard it again. Something was growling in the distance. He wasn't just imagining it. He stood up and went to tug Osomatsu from his sleeve. "Hey, Osomatsu-niisan. I hear something. I think it's something bad coming towards us," Todomatsu said little scared. It was already getting darker. Karamatsu was still chopping down a tree which he said would be the last for the day.

 

Osomatsu had just returned from picking berries. "Huh?" He looked at Todomatsu, confusion on his face. "Are you sure?" He listened closely. His eyes widened as he heard the growling. "Grab your spear," he said and took his axe. He looked to the direction where Karamatsu was chopping a tree. " He haven't heard anything else than the chopping sound. "

 

"Karamatsu!" Osomatsu rushed towards his brother.

 

Karamatsu was tired and sweaty from chopping whole day. Then he heard his brother's shout and rushing to him. "Huh? What is it, my dear and only older brother?" he asked.

 

Osomatsu stopped next to Karamatsu. "Something is coming! Listen!" The growling was now clearer and louder. " There is many of them. " He was nervous and looked around. "Come on! We need to decide how we'll react," he said and jogged back to Todomatsu.

 

Karamatsu listened. " Shit! He's right. " He could easily hear the growling. Karamatsu ran back to the camp after Osomatsu where Totty was glancing around scared holding his spear for his dear life. "Osomatsu-niisan, Karamatsu-niisan! What do we do," he asked scared.

 

"We shouldn't fight if it isn't necessary." Osomatsu paced around the camp trying to figure out something. "What do you two think?"

 

Karamatsu looked at Todomatsu who had started to breath faster. He wouldn't let his brother get hurt again. He just wanted to take him away from all the horrors there were. Then he spoke:

 

"I agree. We should escape. Totty can you run well?" he asked.

Todomatsu snapped out of his thoughts and looked at Karamatsu. "Y- yeah. Yeah, I think so," he answered.

 

"Good. Everyone should take a torch or two and a weapon." Osomatsu grabbed torches and held them out to his brothers.

 

Todomatsu already hold his spear and he lit up one torch and put another one in his pocket. Karamatsu took his axe and burning torch in his hands and to his pocket he put two torches and a knife. "We are ready," he then said after checking up that Totty had everything.

 

Osomatsu lit his torch and put one in his pocket. "Okay. Let's move." He held his axe tightly and showed the way with the torch. " Hopefully we can get away. "

 

They started jogging. However, it wasn't much help because after few minutes they heard panting behind them and saw four big, blood-thirsty hounds chasing them. Todomatsu screamed and started running faster. So did Karamatsu. He shouted while running: "Do you think they won't catch us?? Should we do something?"

 

Osomatsu glanced behind them. "They are getting closer!" He picked up more speed. "We can't outrun them! They are too fast! If we don't get to safety soon we're forced to fight!"

 

There wasn’t any safe place where they could run. The hounds were closing in behind them and Karamatsu was really starting to fear for their lives. They could possibly try climbing to some trees but not many of them were suitable for that and it would take so much time that they could get caught. There was nothing they could do. " Why? It was going so fine. It can't end like this! " Karamatsu thought. " No! I will protect my brothers! " Karamatsu had made up his mind.

 

"Run! Keep running!" he shouted, took good hold on his axe and turned around. " If it's the only thing I can do, I'll risk my life to save theirs. " "Keep Totty safe!" Karamatsu shouted and swung his axe to the nearest beast.

"KARAMATSU-NIISAN!!!" Totty screamed.

 

"KARAMATSU NO!" Osomatsu shouted and stopped on his tracks. He took better hold of his axe. "Totty! Climb to that tree for safety!" Osomatsu shouted as he ran back to help his brother.

 

Todomatsu was torn in to half when his brothers turned to fight the hounds. He wanted to escape so badly but it was his brothers! He didn't want them to get hurt. Totty saw one of the beasts to bit into Karamatsu's leg while the man screamed in agony.

 

"FUCK!!!" Totty screamed tears falling from his eyes when he watched the battle. He didn't climb to the tree. He stayed ready to run for their help if it turned out really bad. But it looked like his brothers might be able to do it.

 

Karamatsu fought against the hounds filled with burning determination. He saw Osomatsu joining his side which he was grateful. Karamatsu swung his axe to keep the beast away while he finished off the first one he had hit. Then he felt large teeth digging into his thigh and he screamed in pain. He took out his knife and smashed it into the hounds eye.

 

Osomatsu tackled a hound away from Karamatsu. He cut its leg with his axe before ending its suffering. Second hound jumped pushing him closer to the ground. He fought with it when he heard Karamatsu's scream. Osomatsu was filled with rage when saw the creature biting his brothers leg. "NO!" He kicked the hound off him and smacked his axe to its neck, leaving it to bleed out.

 

"How fucking dare you?!" He rushed to his brother and cut the hound's side. The hound yelped and let go of Karamatsu's leg. "Yes you!"  Osomatsu took advance of this and kicked the creature away from his brother. "FUCK YOU!" He jumped onto it and sliced it's belly few times to end it.

 

After Osomatsu got the hound away from him, Karamatsu fell to the ground hissing and panting. He tried to push wounds with his hands but it was nearly impossible because bite marks were so big. Wounds were deep and bleeding a lot.

 

"Ah, fuck!" he shouted because it was hurting so much. His left thigh was nothing but a bloodied mess. "Osomatsu! Help me take my pants off and wrap them around my leg. The bleeding, it must be stopped," he said letting out pained breaths and unzipped his trousers with shaky hands. " I need to act quick before the blood loss starts affecting. Or I start panicking " he thought.

 

Todomatsu ran next to Karamatsu when Osomatsu was killing off the last beast. "No Karamatsu-niisan, I'll help you," he said and started pulling off Karamatsu's pants. He was panicking and crying but he needed to stay strong. "Osomatsu-niisan!" he shouted for his older brother, begging for help. Begging that he would some way make it all better and help badly bleeding Karamatsu.

 

Osomatsu was finishing off, or more like slaughtering, the last hound. He was blinded by anger but was brought back to reality by his brothers shouting at him.  "Karamatsu!" He ran to his brother’s side. "Stay calm. I'll help!" He quickly but carefully pulled Karamatsu's pants off since Totty hadn’t yet managed to do it. " Who am I to tell him to calm down when I already lost it. "

 

With Osomatsu's help (or mostly done by Osomatsu) they got the wound tied and Totty was wiping off sweat from Karamatsu's forehead. He didn't cry anymore as he tried to stay focused on helping his brother. "Osomatsu-niisan, can we move him back to the camp or should we stay here for the night?" he asked.

Karamatsu was panting, sweating and shaking. He still hold the wounds with his hands to bring more pressure and stop the bleeding. He let out a hiss due the pain. "I- I'm sorry," he said. "I didn't want to become a burden to you."

 

"Shut up. You aren't a burden." Osomatsu said to Karamatsu. " He is painful but still our brother. And I am the oldest so it's my duty to care for the others. " Osomatsu looked at Totty. "The wound is bleeding badly. We shouldn't move him if we don't have to."

 

"Right. Of course not," Todomatsu answered and started making a campfire. "Should I run back to the camp to get supplies? We need water at least..." he asked Osomatsu.

 

"That is true." Osomatsu took a deep breath. "Okay go. But be careful and if you hear something, like those hounds again, come right back." He didn't want to let Todomatsu go but right now he needed to stay on Karamatsu's side.

 

"Mmm," Todomatsu nodded. "Got it," he said and ran to the darkness, torch in his hand.

 

"Don't worry. You are going to be okay. We'll take care of you." Osomatsu talked to Karamatsu trying to keep him calm. "Totty will be back soon." He rose to his feet and grabbed his bloody axe. "I'll chop few branches. It'll take only a minute. Are you going to be okay?"

 

Karamatsu nodded. "Yes, I will. If you just help me to move under that tree so that I can lean on it," he answered.

 

"Of course." Osomatsu said and helped his brother. He quickly chopped some branches and came back. He was relieved to see Karamatsu where he had left him. He lit the branches with a torch and sat next to Karamatsu. "I'm sorry. If I had been quicker you wouldn't be hurt. At least not this badly."

 

Karamatsu sighed. "Don't blame yourself, Osomatsu. Maybe if I hadn't tried to do it all by myself but actually talked the plan through with you this would have been prevented.”

 

"I guess you have a point." " I still feel guilty though. " Osomatsu looked at his brother. " I can't save him anymore. All I can do is to make sure that he'll heal. And that's what I'm going to do. " "Tell me when you need something."

 

"Mmm. Thank you, Osomatsu," Karamatsu answered. He knew he would be taken good care of.

 

After a while Todomatsu ran back to them supplies in his hands. From their camp he had grabbed something to eat, and two containers holding water, one of them being a pot so that they could boil water. "Is everything okay here?" he asked and started boiling the water.

 

"Yes. Everything as good as they can be right now."  Osomatsu said to Todomatsu. He was upset. " First Todomatsu and now Karamatsu. Why can't I keep them safe, " he thought and added more branches to the fire.

 

"Good," Todomatsu answered. Then another thought came to him. "Hey, niisan... Do you think others have met beasts like these as well...?"

 

"I don't know." Osomatsu said with a serious face. "But they attacked us so it is possible. Hopefully they managed to escape and are okay..." he said while looking into the fire.

 

---

 

During these few days, Choromatsu had been at his camp most of the time.

He had made a firepit, more torches, a spear, an axe and a fishing rod. The string of the rod was vomited by Catcoon. Choromatsu had eaten things from the pig village and fish. While staying close to the pig village he had noticed that pigmen didn't care about him if he didn't bother them. So it was easy to get food from there.

During the time Choromatsu and Catcoon had gained a strong bond. He always gave her some parts of the fishes that he caught.  She was really playful and clever for an animal. It almost seemed like it understood what Choromatsu felt. Catcoon vomited gifts for Choromatsu every now and then. Sometimes it was something really useful.

Choromatsu missed his brothers a lot. He worried if something had happened to them. Luckily Catcoon eased his pain and brought him hope. He would find his brothers eventually.

 

It was evening and Choromatsu was fishing in peace. Catcoon sat next to him waiting for her dinner. Suddenly they heard growling in the distance. Catcoon jumped to Choromatsu's shoulders and dug her claws into his hoodie.

 

Choromatsu jumped up. "What the fuck was that?" He took his fishing rod and walked back to his camp. Catcoon shifted closer to Choromatsu's neck. "Shh. It's okay. Calm down," Choromatsu said to both of them. " She isn't going to let go of me anytime soon. " He grabbed his spear. "What should I do?"

 

" This isn't good. What are they? Are they going to eat us? " Choromatsu was shaking from fear. He heard growling all around the camp. " They have surrounded us. Already?! " He took a deep breath and started a big campfire. He saw a hollow stump. He put Catcoon and some fish in there."You stay here. I don't want you to get hurt."

 

Then Choromatsu heard something running towards him. " They are here. " He held his spear thightly and rushed to grab a torch from the fire.

 

A huge, monster-like hound rushed towards Choromatsu. He let out a terrified scream and tried to drive the creature of. " It wont back down... " he thought. His eyes widened when he saw one more hound running towards him. " I have to either fight or flee. "

 

Choromatsu turned around and ran as fast as he could. First hound was right behind him and the second wasn't that far either. He ran and ran like his tears ran down his face. He and his brothers had ran away many times before but this was different. Choromatsu knew that those hounds wouldn't give him any mercy.

 

Then it happened. Choromatsu's whole world paused. He had tripped onto a tree's root.

 

Choromatsu let out a scream of agony and horror as the first hound's jaws dug into his left shoulder. "Stay away!" He pushed his torch into the monsters face. The hound let go of Choromatsu's shoulder and started running around terrified. The second hound was now really close too. Choromatsu swung his spear cutting the first hounds snout. It growled and jumped at him again. Choromatsu quickly put the spear between him and the beast. The spear went through the hounds chest. It yelped and collapsed.

 

Snap.

 

" M-my spear! " he thought horrified as the spear snapped in two.

That's when the second hound bit into his right ankle and started to shook its head from side to side. "AAAA!" Choromatsu felt like his leg could rip off any second. "LET GO! LET GO!" he cried out and swung his torch at it. The hound dodged and let go only to attack his leg again. But instead of his ankle the beasts jaws meet his knee area. Choromatsu screamed and cried in agony when he felt its teeth dug into his flesh.

Just as the hound was about to shake its head again a loud roar was heard. It was made by Catcoon as she leaped to bite the hound’s neck. " Catcoon?! " The hound let go of Choromatsu's leg and tried to shook Catcoon off. She jumped close to Choromatsu and hissed furiously. The hound growled back and was about to attack.

"CATCOON NO!" Choromatsu acted fast. He took the sharp half of the spear from the other hound’s chest. He dashed forward and stabbed the hound to its throat. Choromatsu felt how the hound's purple blood ran down along his arm and some dropped onto his legs and hips. The hound fell to the ground and was dead silent.

 

Choromatsu took off both his shirts. He tried to wipe off the hound's blood from his injuries with grass but soon gave up when it didn't make any difference. He wrapped his hoodie tightly around his injured leg. " It doesn't even look like a leg anymore. It's bleeding pretty much too but not as much as I thought it would. " His t-shirt he wrapped around his shoulder. " This bleeds but luckily not that much. " He had done all he could.

 

"Thank you Catcoon. I wouldn't have survived without you," he said to the creature that rubbed herself against Choromatsu's back. " I need to get to my camp. But I can't walk with a leg like this. Damn! Adrenaline's effect is starting to wear off. I need to hurry. This is going to be painful and take a while. " Choromatsu held his torch in his mouth and slowly and painfully crawled back towards his camp, Catcoon following close behind.

Chapter Text

Ichimatsu and Jyushimatsu had spent the night in the tree. At last the hounds had left them. They were scared to come down in case that the beasts would come back but eventually they would have to. "Should we go now," Ichimatsu asked. "We need to go hunting."

 

Jyushimatsu's belly made a weird growl sound. "I think we should. I'm getting really hungry," he said with a smile. They climbed down from the tree. Jyushimatsu grabbed half of their stuff and said. "Niisan I'm ready to go!"

 

Ichimatsu grabbed other half and so they started going. "We need to catch something today. What do you think we should try?"

 

Jyushimatsu thought for a moment. "We should try to catch some fishes! I think I saw a river last night when we walked here," he talked to his big brother while smiling happily.

 

"Sounds good!" Ichimatsu answered. "So you wanna try catching them with bare hands?" he asked as they started walking towards the river.

 

Jyushimatsu nodded. "I need to know if I'm able to." It had really bothered him since Ichimatsu had said that he could do it. Now he wanted to know if it was true.

 

"Heh," Ichimatsu laughed humored. "I knew you would do it."

 

"Oh there it is!" Jyushimatsu exclaimed as he pointed towards a river ahead of them.

 

Ichimatsu could see it too. "Race me," he said and started running.

 

Jyushimatsu laughed and ran to the river. He jumped and sat down onto a rock that was halfly in the water. "Niisan. There are some fishes," he said and looked to the water.

 

Ichimatsu took off his shirts and trousers so that he was wearing only his underwear. Then he also jumped to the river. He swam to his brother and took a place next to him. Ichimatsu then let his cat ears pop out and his hands turn into paws. " It's not very good for me to change form this often but it can't be helped now, " he thought as he started prowling the fish.

 

Jyushimatsu stared at a fish with wide eyes. It was big and grey. It also looked kind of cute but they had to eat. It swam closer to them not knowing about the danger it was in. " Just a little closer and we'll get you. "

 

Patiently Ichimatsu waited for the fish to come closer. He slammed his paw to the water missing the fish by an inch and scaring all of them away. “Fuck,” he muttered and started waiting again. After a while the fish returned. Ichimatsu stared at one focused holding his hand ready in the air.

 

Now!” Ichimatsu quickly attacked with his sharp claws, snatching the fish out of water. " Damn, it's sometimes hard without thumbs. " He couldn't really take a hold of it to break its neck so he sliced its throat almost taking off the whole head. Then he jumped back to water to take the first fish to the river bank.

 

Jyushimatsu continued waiting. They would come back again eventually. He waited for a moment. Then one came close. He grabbed the fish from the water and broke its neck.

 

"Yes! I did it!" He brought his fish to the river bank next to the other one.

 

"Great job, Jyushimatsu," Ichimatsu praised him. "Are you okay if you continue catching fish and I'll start a fire in the meantime so that we can cook them?" he asked.

 

"I'll be okay. I'll catch us many more!" Jyushimatsu said to him and ran back to get more food. Now that the hounds were gone Jyushimatsu felt like everything would work out.

 

Jyushimatsu was proud of himself. He really could catch fish using his bare hands. Everything was so well. He was full of hope.

 

Ichimatsu watched Jyushimatsu catching fish while he cooked them. Everything seemed to be fine. He could only hope that others were doing okay as well.

They ate the fish and after that walked still a little further before setting a camp for the night.

 

---

 

Choromatsu felt pain as he opened his eyes. " Damn! It hurts. " He flinched at a sudden and sharp pain coming from his leg. "Fuck." He slowly raised his back so that he was sitting. He looked at his shoulder. The T-shirt had red spots over the teeth marks. It hurt but it wasn't even close to the pain coming from his right leg. He turned his gaze to it and his eyes widened. His hoodie was mostly red from blood that had come from him. The pants' right leg was ripped into pieces below his knee and there was no trace of his shoe. " I don't want to see how bad my leg is. But I should wash my shirts before the blood dries. "

 

He took his hoodie off of his leg. "Holy fuck! That is disgusting!" His leg was covered in dried blood - his own and the hound’s purple blood. His ankle was badly damaged. There wasn't almost any healthy spot left. It hurt even when he tried to relax it." That is not going to work normally any time soon. " He flinched when the sharp pain hit him again. He hissed and gazed at the source of the pain. "Huh? What's that?" he said as he took a closer look at his knee area. It looked a little swollen and red. When Choromatsu gently touched it, he felt that it was hot compared to other parts of his body. His eyes showed horror as reality hit him. " It's infected! And just getting started at it! " "FUCK!"

 

Choromatsu thanked himself for making his camp to the lake's shore. He reached out and dipped his shirts in it. He saw how red colour spreaded to the water. "How nice..." he said sarcastically. He tried to clean his wounds but in his current state it made no difference. After that Choromatsu washed the clothes as well as he could and examined the results. There were still lots of blood stains but they weren't coming off. Choromatsu squeezed most of the water from his shirts before once again wrapping his wounds with them. " Now before the infection gets any worse, I need to gather firewood and other stuff to survive. "

 

"Meow! Meow!"

 

Choromatsu looked as Catcoon carried a huge dead mole towards him. She dropped it next to him and purred loudly. "Oh. Thanks!" Choromatsu said and petted the creature. " I have to eat what I can get, " he thought as he grabbed the mole while holding a sharp flint in his other hand.

 

---

 

Choromatsu had gathered big pile of sticks, grass and branches. During that time Catcoon had left somewhere. She did that sometimes so Choromatsu wasn't too worried. " These should last for few nights if I use them with care. " His wounds hurt badly from moving all around. He couldn’t use his injured leg at all so getting from place to place was hard. " It hurts so much. But I'm not ready yet. I need to fish so that I have food for Catcoon and myself if I get too sick to do anything. "

 

Choromatsu reached for his fishing rod, threw and waited.

 

---

 

"We'll have to deal with these." Choromatsu said as he took the third fish from the hook. Catcoon had come back and was looking closely to every move Choromatsu made. The man wrapped grass around his fish. The day was turning into night. " Now I'll start a campfire, eat something and go to sleep. " He dragged himself close to the firepit and after a while it was burning. " I never thought that I would eat a mole, " he thought as he fried its meat on the fire. He had given the nasty parts to Catcoon and she ate them happily. Choromatsu ate his meat and then fell into restless sleep.

 

---

 

Karamatsu woke up. The first thing he noticed was his leg hurting. "Hhhn," he mumbled sitting up carefully. He looked around and after a moment last night's events came crushing back to him. He took his head in his hands and breathed slowly. He was getting a headache. " Some water would be nice, " he thought looking around if he could see either of his brothers.

 

Osomatsu was cleaning his axe. It was covered in purple blood. " Those creatures weren't normal. Normal hound's blood is red not purple. " He had been watching over his sleeping brothers for quite a while now. Sun had already risen. Osomatsu didn't know if he should wake his brothers up already or let them rest. Then he heard mumbling. " Oh Karamatsu is waking up. " Osomatsu walked closer to Karamatsu and asked. "Morning. How are you doing?" He kept his expression neutral but his eyes showed that he was worried.

 

"Well... as good as I can be with my leg like this," Karamatsu answered. "But don't be too worried for me. I will be fine with you taking care of me, dear brother," he said and made a clumsy pose. "But could you get me some water?" he asked.

Totty started shifting when other two men spoke. He was waking up as well.

 

Osomatsu grinned at Karamatsu's painfulness. "Sure thing. Wait a minute." He grabbed a container that had some water in it. "Here," Osomatsu said and put the container down next to his brother. Then he noticed that Totty was waking up. "Morning Todomatsu," he said to his little brother.

 

"Hmmm," Todomatsu mumbled and after a while he sat up. "Morning niisan," he said rubbing his eyes. Then he noticed Karamatsu who was drinking the water and his expression turned anxious. "How are you holding up, Karamatsu-niisan?" he asked to which Karamatsu tried to assure him being fine.

 

"What do we do today?" Totty asked then looking at Osomatsu.

 

Osomatsu thought for a while before he answered. "We need to get more food. Either me or Totty will go. The other stays here with Karamatsu." He looked at his brothers while he talked. "Karamatsu if you feel like you want to, you could craft something useful but don't push yourself too much."

 

"Of course I'll help you by using my incredible talent to crafting what we need," Karamatsu answered and Totty brought him some stuff that he could use for it.

Osomatsu looked at the youngest brother. "Totty do you want to stay here or look for food?"


"Umm... I'd rather stay here with Karamatsu-niisan," Totty answered to Osomatsu. "Are we going to eat those hounds?"

 

"I think those creatures are suspicious. Especially after I noticed that the blood on my axe was purple." Osomatsu talked and scratched the back of his neck. "We should try to look for something else. But of course we can try it if we want to or need to."

 

"What?" Totty said and went looking at the bodies. "Okay. No way I'm gonna eat those!" he announced. "Geez, that's disgusting!" He backed away from them like they could infect him if he stayed too close to them. "Okay, we will be grafting here. Try to find something good, Osomatsu-niisan."

 

"I'll do my best." Osomatsu grabbed his axe and walked away. First he checked their traps. One of them had caught a small rabbit. " This is good but not enough for everyone. " He continued searching and found two carrots and few berries.

 

---

 

The sun was setting. " That's all I'm going to find today. I might try the hound meat if I get hungry enough, " he thought and walked back to the camp.

 

When Osomatsu came back Totty and Karamatsu had weaved wooden containers and a basket as well as some crafted rope from grass. "Welcome back, my dearest brother!" Karamatsu greeted and Totty hummed to let Osomatsu know that he had noticed him. "How was it, brother?"

 

"Not very good. I found a small rabbid, two carrots and few berries." Osomatsu said and showed the food to his brothers. "We really should figure a way to secure our food sources. This method is very unreliable. What if at some point we don't find any more food."

 

"Oh, how unpredictable this life on earth is. One day you have food but the next day-" Karamatsu started rambling on but then Todomatsu cut in.

 

"I know. I've been thinking the same thing. Do you have any ideas, Osomatsu-niisan? Could we grow anything?" he asked.

 

"Oh! Actually I found these few days ago." Osomatsu said and took some seeds from his pocket. "We could make a farm to our primary camp and see what seeds these are. Hopefully something eatable."

 

"It might actually work. But it will take a long time for plants to grow. I wish we wouldn't have to be here so long..." Totty said.

 

"I think we should try it," Kara said. "There is nothing to lose. Now, why wouldn't we make some soup out of the rabbit and the carrots?"

 

"Good. I'll go get water." Osomatsu said. He took a container and left. Soon he came back and started fire.

 

Chapter Text

Todomatsu had had the last watch turn so he was awake when other two were still sleeping. He took his phone from his pocket and turned it on. He was saving the battery and kept the phone off but from time to time he needed to do this.

 

Once again he went to phone’s gallery to look at all the pictures he had. In the pictures their lives were so easy - they were smiling and safe. " Why it hurts so much? " Todomatsu wondered as he felt tears starting to built up in the corner of his eyes. Then he heard Osomatsu waking up and he quickly wiped off the tears, turned the phone off and put it back to his pocket. " I can't let them see me weak again. I am already the most pathetic and weakest who they are always helping and comforting. I should be stronger, " Todomatsu thought.

 

Then he faked a smile for his brother: "Morning, Osomatsu-niisan!" he greeted. "I think we should move back to our actual camp today."

 

Osomatsu had slept like a log. "Morning," he greeted his brothers as he rose up. "Maybe today's food will be better. But I agree with you. Hopefully Karamatsu's leg has healed enough to move." Osomatsu came and sat next to Todomatsu. "Should we try to make some kind of farm today? What do you think?"

 

"Yeah, I think we could," Totty answered. "If only we could have rice. I miss that so much!"

Karamatsu woke up to the talking and he greeted his brothers: "Good morning my dearests brothers! I wish today will be a good one. Once again the Sun has risen to provide life for everything under it gaze while we humble men-"

 

"Niisan, please stop! It hurts!" Todomatsu cut in, shutting his eyes and blocking his ears with his hands but he was smiling. It was good to see Karamatsu painful as ever. If he was that painful it meant he would be fine, right? "Me and Osomatsu-niisan thought about going back to the camp today. Do you think you would be fine?" Totty asked.

"Ah, yes, of course. I can't use my left leg but if you help me, I'll be fine," he answered.

 

Osomatsu grinned and rolled his eyes when Karamatsu was being over dramatic. It was painful but he was happy to hear him talk like he usually did. "Good. Then let's gather our stuff and go," Osomatsu said and piled up containers so that they would be easy to carry.

 

They gathered the stuff and started walking. Totty helped Karamatsu while Osomatsu carried most of their stuff. When they arrived, Karamatsu was really tired from all the limping and he sat down immediately, panting heavily.

"We need to get some food before we start planting the seeds," Todomatsu said.

 

Osomatsu nodded. "Will you two be okay if I go look further away for something. Maybe I could find more seeds on the way," he said and waited for his brothers to answer.

 

"We will be fine," Todomatsu assured and Karamatsu nodded. "I will gather more wood nearby and keep an eye on Karamatsu," he said.

 

"Okay. See you later then." From his trip Osomatsu found some food and later they started to built the farm. Over all they had a pretty normal day.

 

---

 

Choromatsu woke up feeling only pain. He tried to move his leg but stopped immediately and winced in agony. "Fuck!" Catcoon looked confused at him before she continued to eat her fish. Choromatsu slowly rose up and removed his shirts over his wounds. His shoulder was looking a little better but then he looked at his leg.

 

"Holy hell!"  He was frightened. His leg looked like a sausage that had been dipped in ketchup but the ketchup had dried into disgusting formations. " So ugly and painful. " Choromatsu bit his lip and laid down again. He sighed. Catcoon rushed to him and curled up in a ball next to his head. "What am I going to do? I'm useless and I can't even move." He took his notebook from the ground and opened it. He saw the map he had drawn. "I never even left this pink forest." He put it back to the ground.

 

Choromatsu looked to the sky and listened to the sounds of the forest. He felt like a mess. He didn't know what to think or feel. He wanted to cry and scream but kept himself calm. "I'm going to die soon, aren't I?" Choromatsu asked. "My brothers will never know what happened to me." He turned his head and petted Catcoon. "Thank you for being here with me. I probably can't feed you much longer." Catcoot purred and head pumped his hand. " It's too much. " Choromatsu couldn't hold his emotions any longer. He broke down in tears and pathetic hiccups. He was horrified and shouted for his brothers as loudly as he could not caring what he sounded like.

 

Silent tears rolled down his cheeks as he wrapped his arms around Catcoon. " I don't want to die here. But it seems to be inevitable. "

 

---

 

Ichimatsu's cat ears popped once again out from his head to strengthen his hearing. "Quiet, Jyushimatsu!" he said quickly and seriously. Ichimatsu's eyes widened in fear. He was hearing his brother shouting and it wasn't the way you shout when you are looking for someone but the way when you are crying for someone to save you. Something was very, very badly wrong! Then Ichi looked at his younger brother gravely: "It's our brother. We need to go now!" he said and started running towards the screaming. " Please, please, whatever god there is, don't let us be too late! " he thought biting his teeth hard together.

 

Jyushimatsu was confused of his brother’s sudden outburst. It must be something important if Ichimatsu suddenly told him to be quiet. Then Jyushimatsu heard it. He didn't hear it well so it just sounded weird to him. "Niisan wait!" Jyushimatsu dashed after his older brother. " There is something seriously wrong. "

 

As they ran the shouting became louder and more desperate. Jyushimatsu managed to catch up with Ichimatsu as they entered strange, pink forest. The last shout came somewhere further away before it faded away.

 

They ran. When the shouting stopped Ichimatsu started to feel desperate and anxious. " Fuck! FUCK! " Ichimatsu shouted in his mind. " Where? Where is he?! " They had entered a new biomi but he barely paid any attention towards it. Then he suddenly stopped running. "What the hell?!!" he gaped at the sight before him - multiple pigs walking around in two hooves in some sort of village. He could only stare for a moment and wonder that what the fuck was he seeing. Had he accidently eaten one of those suspicious mushrooms he had tried to keep Jyushimatsu away from?? Then a different thought came to him and he gripped his hands into tight fists. " These disgusting creatures have done something to my brother!! I will kill them all!!! " he thought and took few steps ahead.

 

"Jyushimatsu," he said ominously, "These fucking abominations must have hurt our brother. I'll kill them all!" Ichimatsu said as he suddenly started running, snarling furiously.


Jyushimatsu's jaw hit the ground when he looked ahead of them. Pigs living in a village like humans. This was new even to him.

 

"No Niisan! there is too many of them!" Jyushimatsu ran after his brother.


However, before Ichimatsu could do any damage he saw something in the corner of his eye which caught his attention. Further away there was a bloodied mess lying on the ground but behind that he could recognize Choromatsu's green hoodie. "Choromatsu!!" he shouted.

 

Suddenly Ichimatsu turned his head and shouted Choromatsu's name. Jyushimatsu followed his brothers gaze and saw one of their brothers lying on the ground, all bloody and green hoodie wrapped around his leg. "Choromatsu-niisan!"

 

Choromatsu held Catcoon close and cried. He was sure that he would die. Not today but soon. " I won't survive infected and without food or fire. "

"Huh?" Choromatsu's eyes widened as he heard familiar voices. " Could it really be? " He turned his head. His eyes widened and more tears ran down his face. But now they were tears of happiness.

 

"Ichimatsu! Jyushimatsu!" Catcoon jumped out of the way when Choromatsu instinctually made a fast move towards his brothers. "Fuck!" he yelled at the strong pain coming from his swollen leg and ripped ankle. Despite the pain he desperately reached his arms towards his brothers.

 

"Choromatsu!" Ichimatsu shouted again as he ran towards him. " Thank god! Thank god! He's alive and we found him, " he thought as he rushed to his side. He looked really bad!

 

"Choromatsu! What happened to you? You look like shit," he asked as he stroked the older brother head a little, happy finding him alive.

 

"Niisan!" Jyushimatsu ran right after Ichimatsu. He was about to tackle Choromatsu into a hug but he seemed to be badly hurt so Jyushimatsu slowed down and gently hugged his brother.

Choromatsu smiled happily at Ichimatsu and slowly hugged Jyushimatsu back. It took a moment for him to calm himself enough to talk. "I'm so glad to see you two. I thought I would never see any of you again," he said as he wiped his tears. Choromatsu tensed up at Ichimatsu's question. "Well...Two days ago I was suddenly attacked by two huge and furious hounds during the night. I tried to run but I tripped to a tree root." Choromatsu kept a little pause before he continued. "One bit me to my left shoulder and the other tried to rip my right leg of." He grabbed onto the shirts that covered his wounds as he talked. "And it would have succeeded if Catcoon hadn't saved me," he said and pointed at Catcoon sitting few meters away looking towards them curiously.

 

Ichimatsu listened the story about hounds. "We met them too but we stayed in a tree," he said. " Damn useless-matsu. Why does he always have to trip? " Ichimatsu looked at his wounds and grinned from uneasiness. They have to start treating the wounds immediately.

When Choromatsu pointed at Catcoon, Ichimatsu's eyes widened from delight. You could almost see his eyes sparkling. "Hello there!" he cooed, "thank you for saving my brother," he said and was now petting the creature. “ When have I last time seen something this pretty?” "Jyushimatsu! You get food for us. I'll see if I can do anything to the wound," he then said.

 

Jyushimatsu smiled widely as he looked at the now purring Catcoon.  "Okay! I'll be back soon!" Jyushimatsu said and ran to the forest.

"Ichimatsu," Choromatsu said before his brother did anything to his leg. He felt so pathetic. "Please be gentle. It has swollen pretty badly and hurts easily."

 

"Yeah yeah. I can see that," he said as he carefully opened clothes around the wound. He was pretty shocked at seeing how horrifying the leg looked but he was master of hiding his feelings so you could barely see him flinch. "First we should try to clean it properly. We shall see if we should try to take out fluids or pus from the swollen part or not. Good thing is that I don't think we can make it any worse. Blood poisoning is most likely the biggest risk here." " Then you would probably die, " he thought but didn't want to say it. "I don't know... Would amputation help as a last option?" he wondered. Better losing one leg than life. "Okay. I'll go get water and then I start cleaning them," Ichimatsu said. "Okay?" he finally asked as if to ask if Choromatsu would survive that time.

 

"Do what you think is the best. Even if it is amputation," Choromatsu said. He didn't like the idea but he wanted to stay alive to be with his brothers. "Heh. Don't worry, they won't kill me while you are gone." Choromatsu smiled at Ichimatsu. He should probably be more worried but he was just so happy that he was with Ichimatsu and Jyushimatsu now. " Maybe I won't die after all... "

 

Ichimatsu looked at Choromatsu for a while longer before he hummed and started running towards the river.  They had made some containers with Jyushimatsu from wood so now he was filling them up. The water looked clear and clean. It would be better if they could boil it but they didn't have suitable containers and they didn't have too much time. Besides the leg was already infected so it couldn't turn worse with just water, right?

 

After a while Ichimatsu came back next to Choromatsu and kneeled down. "This will hurt," he said as he started wiping off the dried blood carefully.

 

Choromatsu nodded. " Here it comes, " he thought when Ichimatsu was about to clean the wound. When he started Choromatsu visibly stiffened and bit his lip. It was hurtful but had to be done. He stayed still and quiet not to disturb his brother.

 

Ichimatsu continued his task and eventually he was done with cleaning. The leg was badly swollen, red and hot. He didn't want to do anything more now but if it worsened he would have to do something. " I wish I knew plants better! Something here might help... " Then he took off his shirts and tied his t-shirt around the wound. Choromatsu's clothes had to be cleaned. Luckily his shoulder looked better. After cleaning it, Ichimatsu could tie it again with his hoodie. He would ask if they could change it to Jyushimatsu's t-shirt since it would be pretty cold during the night.

 

"Thank you Ichimatsu." Choromatsu felt thankful. " I'm lucky to have brothers like them. "

"Hmm, it's nothing. We are brothers after all. Just tell me if something feels different," Ichimatsu answered to Choromatsu. He started to make a fire because he believed that Jyushimatsu would bring something back that could use cooking.


After a while Jyushimatsu came back. He had found carrots and some berries that resembled grapes. He was also carrying a rabbit. "Ichimatsu-niisan! Choromatsu-niisan! I'm back!"

 

"Welcome back, Jyushimatsu. Good job," Ichimatsu answered. Then they started preparing the food. "Now Choromatsu, what have you been doing during our time in here? Any sign of the others?" he asked.

 

"I have been in this forest trying to find useful things and other people." Choromatsu sifted as he tried to find a comfortable position to sit in. "Sadly no. I haven't seen anyone except you two," Choromatsu said and frowned. "But they must be here somewhere. We just need to find them."

 

"Mmm. I found Jyushimatsu the first day and we have been on the move the whole time," Ichimatsu told Choromatsu. "I thought we will make a stretcher to carry you around. We can't move your legs too much or it will hurt so that's the best option we have because you won't be walking in weeks or months."

 

Ichimatsu then tried if the meat was cooked. "You just try to rest. Me and Jyushimatsu will take care of everything now."

 

"Yeah Niisan. Don't worry. We'll do the work and take care of you," Jyushimatsu added. He tried to stay positive and happy. They had found one of their brothers. Soon they would find the others too.

Choromatsu frowned. “I probably should. But I feel so useless like this. I could try to craft something," Choromatsu said. He was deep in thought as he looked around his camp. His gaze stopped few times to study some items that were lying all around the camp. "I don't have anything special here except fishing rod and some kind of a map in my notebook," he informed his brothers.

 

"It's okay. We don't really need that much supplies with Jyushimatsu. It's easier to move that way. But you shouldn't do any crafting. You need to let your shoulder relax, okay?" Ichimatsu answered. Then he handed Choromatsu piece of rabbit meat, a carrot and berries. "Here," he said.

 

Choromatsu sighed. " Ichimatsu is right. I shouldn't do anything but relax and let the wounds heal. " "Thanks." Choromatsu said and ate his food. He yawned. For the first time he felt truly relaxed when he fell to sleep.

Chapter Text

The next morning Ichimatsu wanted to go hunt with Jyushimatsu but they couldn't leave Choromatsu alone helpless. Hunting with Jyushimatsu was just so easy.

 

"Jyushimatsu," he said as he woke the other up. "I'm going to find us food. You stay here with Choromatsu and help him with what he needs. Okay?" he waited for Jyushimatsu's answer that he had understood.

 

Jyushimatsu woke up. He noticed Choromatsu still sleeping on his spot with Catcoon and Ichimatsu was right next to him. "Okay niisan. I'll look after the camp," he told him and waved as Ichimatsu left. Jyushimatsu looked around for something to do. His eyes locked onto a big pile of sticks and grass. " I'll continue to make the stretcher, " he thought and bounced to the supplies.

 

After about two hours Ichimatsu came back to the camp. He had a big sting mark on his cheek and he emitted gloomy aura that said "don't. ask.". In fact he had just wondered if he could get some honey.

 

Not a chance.

 

The bees have been about the size of a palm and they didn’t like if someone tried to steal their honey. At all. However, he had found a berry bush and catched one fish for everyone. On his way back to camp he had realized that the birch-like trees held a lot of edible nuts or acorns or something. He had climbed the trees with his claws and gathered a good pile of them. It wouldn't be the best of food but would do. After putting down everything he had, Ichimatsu asked Jyushimatsu: "How has it been?" Poor Choromatsu was still sleeping which was good. He would check on his wounds when he woke up.

 

"Pretty normal. I have continued with the stretcher and Choromatsu-niisan has been sleeping," Jyushimatsu told his brother. The stretcher would still need lots of work but little was still onward. Jyushimatsu gazed at the food Ichimatsu had placed down. "What did you find niisan?"

 

"Good! I found three fish, berries and a lot of these," he said and showed Jyushimatsu the weird birchnuts. "We can eat them. They might taste bad though." Then he looked at the stretcher. "I hope it would be ready tomorrow," he commented. "I hope to get moving again."

 

"They look funny." Jyushimatsu said as he inspected one birchnut closer. "If we work hard it shouldn't take much longer," he said and smiled at Ichimatsu.


"Good,” Ichimatsu said and ruffled his brother’s hair a little.


Choromatsu woke up when he heard his brothers talking. His leg hurt but it felt a little better now that it had been cleaned properly. "Morning," he greeted the two men before him. He looked around him. His eyes widened when he saw the sun far up in the sky. "What? How long have I slept?" he asked confused.

 

Ichimatsu shrugged to his question. "Don't know. Quite a while. But that's good. How is your leg feeling? I'll check it as soon as you are ready," he said.

 

"Good morning niisan." Jyushimatsu greeted Choromatsu. "Oh! And you too Catcoon," he added as he saw her yawning next to Choromatsu. " She is so cute~ " he thought when he continued his task.

Choromatsu petted the creature next to him and answered. "Not big changes but I think it feels little better. The cleaning must have had some kind of positive effect." He analyzed his leg. "I'm ready when you feel like it," he said to Ichimatsu " I don't have anything useful to do anyway. " He smiled as Catcoon came even closer to him and curled up in a ball.

 

Ichimatsu nodded and kneeled down next to Choromatsu. After petting Catcoon a bit he opened the clothes around the wound. It looked the same than yesterday after cleaning up. "Well good news is that most likely we don't need to amputate. But I can't see any difference for better either. We should still give it time for the infection to heal," he spoke while inspecting the wound. Then he also checked Choromatsu's shoulder which was healing fine. After he was done he tied them again with clothes. "Jyushimatsu, do you want to cook or continue making the stretcher?" he asked.

 

Choromatsu was relieved when Ichimatsu did his job. " Hopefully it will heal soon. I just have to wait, " he thought as Ichimatsu tied the clothes back.

"I'll cook!" Jyushimatsu jumped up and stretched himself. "I need a break from making the stretcher. It's boring." He left to make a fire.

 

"Okay!" Ichimatsu answered to Jyushimatsu and turned to the stretcher.

 

---

 

It has been a normal morning. Karamatsu sat leaning to a tree like he had been doing after the hound attack. He had crafting supplies before him but he wasn't currently doing anything but looking at the forest and sky and humming some tune. Todomatsu in his part was grumpy because now he had to do physically heavier work. He was building the lean-to which constructs haven't continued much after Karamatsu's injury. Totty wasn't very good worker, though, as he was always complaining. However, miraculously he was fully healed not to mention the scar and some aching in his side.

"My dear brothers, can you see how differently the sky keeps looking down on us everyday? The wind, once so gentle and sweet, is turning into harsher, colder. Can you see how the life is fading away from the trees around us?" Karamatsu rambled on.

 

"Ow ow stop, Karamatsu-niisan! That's painful and I don't understand at all!" Todomatsu said annoyed and muttered some curses to the lean-to.

 

Karamatsu's expression and voice turned serious. "No I mean it seriously. The trees are dropping their leaves."

 

Osomatsu gringed at Karamatsu's words. He was slaughtering two rabbits that he had caught. "Even though he is painful to listen he has a point. I have noticed it in the forest too." All of the wilderness around them was going through a change. Tree leaves had dropped to the ground  and colored it reddish-brown and even the rabbit in his hands was paler than usual. "We should make something warm if the air gets colder. I'm worried if it gets too cold for berries and other plants to grow. How are we going to get enough food then?"

 

"Of course we need something warmer! But from where?! We are in the wilderness!" Totty shouted abandoning the work he was doing. He was afraid of the idea of winter now. "We can't just walk to a shop and buy what we need. Winter can't come this quick, we wouldn't make it! We won't survive!" He was panting a little from the shouting. " No. This can't end like this... "

"Totty calm down," Karamatsu said calmly. "We will survive, no matter what. Winter can't be the worst we have faced, right? But Osomatsu has a point. We need to hunt more to get leather and fur. If we could only find bigger animals... We should also gather a lot of grass and wood."

 

Osomatsu nodded. "We can start with these rabbits." They wouldn't get much from them but it's better than nothing. "Hey!" Osomatsu's eyes got brighter. "We could skin the hounds."

 

Karamatsu's eyes started to sparkle: "We should skin them! I can do that if I can just get there. It would be something I could do without moving," he said.

 

Todomatsu nodded too. "Yeah, we should start with those. At least it's better than nothing."

 

"Me and Totty could collect everything useful around that area while we are there," Osomatsu said and finished with the rabbit. "How about we eat and then get moving?" he suggested. They should prepare as soon as possible.

 

"That would be perfect, my brother!" "Sure!"

They continued doing their things and once finished they started going back to the place where the hound attack had happened.

 

It took some time to get there with Karamatsu's leg but eventually they made it. Karamatsu started skinning the hounds and Totty went to gather grass. Osomatsu took his axe and went to look for sticks, branches and wood. The wilderness around them was mostly untouched so he didn't need to go far.

 

After about two hours Karamatsu had skinned all the hounds. It was roughly done and he would need to continue working with them back at base but now they were off from the bodies so they could be carried rather easily. Totty and Oso would need to make few trips to carry everything they had gathered to base. Soon the day was turning into evening.

 

Osomatsu carried a big pile of wood next to the other stuff they had found. He swiped sweat from his forehead and looked around.

 

"The sun is starting to set soon. What do you think? Should we go back to base or gather little more stuff and spend the night here?"

 

"I think we could as well stay here," Karamatsu answered. "How about it Totty?"

Totty looked to the sky which was slowly getting darker. "I think that's for the best," he answered. " Then at least darkness can't surprise us while walking. "

 

"Okay then." Osomatsu said and gathered branches for a campfire before he left one more time to loot everything useful. He returned little before the dark.

 

"Guys. I stumbled across a small pond that was surrounded by many berry bushes and carrots." To prove it he had a handful of said goods.

 

"Oh nice, Osomatsu-niisan!" Totty said. "We should pick rest of them tomorrow." While Osomatsu was gone, Karamatsu had lit up the fire. "Should I take the first watch turn," he asked.

 

Before he got the answer the darkness fell. "Huh??" Totty and Karamatsu said and looked around. This was different. It wasn't pitch black like usually because full moon above them shone eerie light to the forest around then.

 

Osomatsu gasped as he saw the strange phenomenon. He had never seen anything like it. "It's kind of spooky. What is that?" He saw something glowing red in the direction he had returned earlier. "There wasn't anything glowing when I came back." He wanted to know what it was.

 

Totty quickly went next to Osomatsu taking a grip from his hoodie. "W-what is that?? It's freaking scary! I don't even know which is scarier, this or darkness. We should stay here and be ready for everything," Totty said. He didn't want Osomatsu wandering anywhere. He was the only one who could protect him while Karamatsu was still injured.

"Whoa...," Karamatsu gaped at the sight. "It's so beautiful. Also a bit creepy but so poetic. I want to see where that glow is coming from!" he said making a finger gun. "But I think we should still keep the fire with us when moving during night time. We don't want to take any risks."

 

"Sorry Totty. It seems to be two against one. Besides that glowing can't be far away." Osomatsu felt little sorry for Todomatsu as he knew how much he was scared of the dark and stuff like that. But his curiosity was too strong. He needed to know where it came from. "I'll help you Karamatsu," he said and walked closer to him. "How about you Totty? Do you want to come too?"

 

"Like fuck I'm going to stay alone!" Todomatsu squeaked and went after Osomatsu. Fine, he would go with them but he was going to stay really close to them in case something would happen. But he hated it still.

"Ah thank you, brother," Karamatsu said as Osomatsu helped him to stand. "Let's go then!" he said as three of them started going towards the glowing.

 

They walked through the forest guided by the strange glow. Osomatsu felt amazed. The forest looked magical in the full moon's shine. The glow was getting stronger on every step they took. Osomatsu spotted something unusual on the ground. "Wow! What are those? Look at them," he told his brothers and pointed to the ground. There was strange dark colored "flowers". They looked kind of cool but at the same time they made him feel anxious.

 

Todomatsu and Karamatsu felt it too. A sick feeling creeping in. "Let's get away from them," Totty pleaded his older brothers. "Or we could burn them," he suggested.

 

"They look so dark. Bad flowers. Evil flowers!" Karamatsu declared with his broken English.

 

"Let's go! They make me feel bad!" Todomatsu said his voice stronger than before.

 

"Yes, I don't feel so good myself," Kara answered. "We should continue."

 

"I agree." Osomatsu took last glance at the flowers before continuing. Now the glowing was just behind the trees. "Okay let's find out what makes that glow," he said as they pushed through the branches.

 

"Oh wow!"

 

His jaw dropped as he saw a big red mushroom that glowed and was as tall as a tree and even looked like one. It was like the tree had a few mushrooms instead of leaves.

 

"Oh, what a majestic glow!" Karamatsu said as Totty screamed: "What the heck is that?!!” and grabbed onto his brothers and hid behind them.

 

"Totty calm down. I don't think it will hurt you in any way," Karamatsu tried to calm him.

 

"Okay, now you have seen it so can we please go back??" Todomatsu asked.

 

"In a moment Todomatsu," Osomatsu hushed to his younger brother. He inspected the mushroom amazed. "I swear it wasn't there when I walked around here." But how it just suddenly appeared there. " Huh? " Osomatsu looked around and saw more glowing everywhere around them. There were blue, red and green colors. "Look into the horizon," he told to his brothers.

 

Todomatsu whined at the sight. True, he couldn’t deny that in some way it was pretty and amazing but it wasn't natural so it would be bad!

 

Karamatsu let out an amazed "Wow!" and limped a little closer to the weird glowing. "We gotta go see them!" he said to his brothers.

 

Osomatsu helped Karamatsu onward. "Let's go little further. I want to know if the green and blue are also mushrooms." He was really curious and thoughtful. He and Karamatsu continued towards the colorful glow.

 

Todomatsu was basically stomping on his feet and looking back to where they came from and then where his brothers were heading. He looked like a puppy who really wanted to go somewhere but whose owners were going to another direction. Totty let out a groan and ran after them and took again a steel hard grip on Osomatsu's hoodie.

 

After a while they could see more mushroom trees growing in different colors. "It's so cool!" Karamatsu said in wonder.

 

Osomatsu looked at all the different kinds of mushroom trees. " So many colors and shapes. " The wilderness seemed completely different in the magical glow. "You won't see stuff like this everyday." He wanted to stay there but they would have to go back to the campfire soon.

 

"No, this is wonderful!" said Karamatsu.

 

Todomatsu snorted. "No you won't because this is not normal. So do you still want to go see something or are we going back to the camp and try to get some sleep? There is lot to do tomorrow. Winter is coming and we need to get the lean-to ready," he reasoned.

 

Karamatsu sighed. "I think you are right, Totty."

 

Osomatsu sighed. "Yeah. Let's head back." He took a last glance around them before leaving.

 

After a while they arrived back to where they had left. The fire was small but Osomatsu managed to get it burning brightly again. "You two should try to sleep. I'll take the first watch."

 

"Okay. I can take the next one. Good night brothers!" Karamatsu said and laid down.

 

"Good night Osomatsu-niisan, Karamatsu-niisan," Totty said and curled up to sleep.

 

"Good night!" Osomatsu said. Soon he fell in deep thought. " This whole thing is something I could never have imagined. " He looked towards the glowing forest. " I wonder where the others are. " His gaze moved from Todomatsu to Karamatsu. " Those two were injured so suddenly. " He added a log into the fire. " Ichimatsu. Choromatsu. Jyushimatsu. I hope you are okay. "

 

---

 

After eating Ichimatsu and Jyushimatsu had finally gotten the stretcher ready. In the evening Ichimatsu was gathering wood for the night but something was not right. He was feeling anxious somehow. He was shivering and feeling like he could throw up.

He walked back to the camp, tossed the branches to the ground and sat down next to some tree in his usual position, knees up. For these days he had tried to act less grumpy for the sake of his brothers but now it came back twice as hard. He took his mouth mask out from his pocket and put it on. Now he was also sweating. He hoped that his brothers would get the clue and not bother him with stupid questions whether he was fine. They should be just taking care of themselves. " Fuck. Me getting a fever is the last thing we need for now, " Ichimatsu thought bitterly as he shivered.

 

Choromatsu was drawing a picture of Catcoon into his notebook when he noticed Ichimatsu's unusually angry behaviour. He lightly tugged Jyushimatsu's sleeve and tilted his head towards Ichimatsu.

 

"Huh?" Jyushimatsu turned around and saw Choromatsu's serious look and Ichimatsu sitting grumpily under a tree. The two didn't say a word but when you know someone as well as the sextuplets knew each other, you could have a conversation with small gestures.

Choromatsu shook his head a little. " Something isn't right with him. "

 

Jyushimatsu nodded. " I have noticed it too. "

 

Choromatsu raised one eyebrow. " Should you check on him? "

 

Jyushimatsu hastily shook his head. " No! He is too angry! "

 

Choromatsu looked into Jyushimatsu's eyes. " Okay. But if it gets worse you have to. "

 

Jyushimatsu huffed before looking at the sky. Darkness would soon come around them. "I'll light the campfire," he said and made a nice fire.

 

Darkness was soon falling around them and Ichimatsu was feeling worse than before. He was still sweating and shivering but now he also felt weird burning feeling growing inside of him. He had been sitting alone quietly and still for quite a while but now he couldn't keep it all under control anymore. He was glancing around nervously trying to make it look like he wasn't but he was pretty sure his brothers had noticed it. His breathing was getting heavier and he was gulping repeatedly. And as if that hasn't been enough, now he was itching. Ichimatsu was subtly scratching his hands and neck but he felt like he wanted to scratch hard enough to break his skin.

 

It was all just too much! He couldn't take it any longer! So Ichimatsu did one of the most desperate things he could do - he turned to his brothers.

 

"Hey... I'm feeling kinda horrible," he said. He tried to use his normal monotone voice but his voice was betraying him.

 

Both Jyushimatsu and Choromatsu were stunned. Ichimatsu had willingly come to them for help and his normal voice cracked. If that happened, he must feel really bad.

 

"Ichimatsu." Choromatsu didn't know what to say. He wanted to help but in his situation there weren't much he could do.

 

"Niisan! What's wrong?!" Jyushimatsu dashed to his brother’s side worried look on his face.

 

Ichimatsu hold his head in his hands. "I don't know... I feel like a crap. Like fever but worse. Like I'm burning from the inside, I'm itching and I feel like I could throw up. It's getting worse," he said and shook his head like he tried to get rid of it. " I'm gonna die if this continues, " he thought. Feeling so hot he took off his shirts trying to cool himself down.

 

Choromatsu got frustrated even more. " Why do I have to have this shitty leg? " he cursed in his head as he sat up and moved Catcoon out of the way. "Come here and let me look at you. Jyushimatsu add more wood in the fire. We need light."

Jyushimatsu nodded and ran to the fire. "Yes Choromatsu-niisan!" He wanted to do the best he could for his niisans. Soon he had made a big and bright fire.

 

Ichimatsu looked briefly at Choromatsu. He felt a little bad that Choromatsu would have to worry about him in that state. But he was feeling so horrible that if there was anything Choromatsu could do to help him he would take it. So Ichimatsu rose up and walked next to his older brother and sat back down.

 

Jyushimatsu had sat next to his brothers rocking himself from nervousness. He didn't know what he could do to help so he tried to not get in the way.

 

Choromatsu looked closer at Ichimatsu. He looked feverish and sick all around but Choromatsu didn't find anything else unusual by just looking at him. "You look really sick. Where does it feel the worst? " Maybe I could find something that tells what is wrong. "

 

Ichimatsu hugged himself and shivered. "I don't know. Somewhere deep inside of me but also just under the skin trying to get out," he said and groaned. Then suddenly he put his hands to the ground before him to support himself. He was gasping for breath and coughing. " Fuck. That's it, I'm gonna die. Did I eat something poisonous? " he thought scared.

 

Then he felt like his blood turned into a liquid fire and it flowed in every part of his body. He realized he had fallen to his side and he was juddering and screaming horribly. Something was happening.

 

"Ichimatsu!" "Niisan!" Choromatsu and Jyushimatsu were terrified when Ichimatsu fell and started to have some kind of a seizure. "Try to hold his head steady!" Choromatsu yelled to panicking Jyushimatsu.

Jyushimatsu had been yelling and panicking around his brothers. "Right!" He quickly jumped to Ichimatsu and took a good hold from both sides of his face to keep Ichimatsu's head from hitting anything bad.

 

Ichimatsu was distantly aware of his brothers and their doings but he could only focus on the pain that was ripping through his body now. He screamed and his every muscle was jerking when finally the darkness fell except for this time it was different as full moon shone an eerie light around them.

Suddenly Ichimatsu's eyes snapped open and he yanked his upper body up. He scratched his face and neck when thick hair started to grow from every part of his skin. Ichi was still screaming in agony when cat ears and tail appeared from him. He wriggled when his body changed less human and more animal as well as his face. This was totally different from his usual cat form. When his normal range of change was from having only cat ears to being covered in grey fur with ears, eyes, tail and paws, now his legs and arms had changed to be like cat's - strong and good for running. His head was shaped like cat's and he clearly had a snout and even his midriff had changed form. His fur was longer, more ruffled and darker than usually.

The creature that was Ichimatsu was sitting on the ground, staring blankly in front of him. Its forelegs were shaking a little while it panted heavily its deathly sharp fangs glittering in the moonlight. It strongly resembled at some kind of panther.

 

Choromatsu was filled with worry and terror for Ichimatsu. He cursed to himself and to whatever was wrong with his brother. " Why the fuck does this happen to him? We need him! He can't fucking die on us now! " Then full moon shone light every part of the forest. He didn't have time to think about it when Ichimatsu's yells got louder and his form less human. The worry and terror from Choromatsu's eyes were soon devoured by pure horror. He held hissing Catcoon close protectively and watched the scene. "Werecat!" he shouted in terror. " What if Ichimatsu don't remember us and is aggressive!? Jyushimatsu may have to save himself... " Normally he would be terrified but in his current situation Choromatsu was filled with panic. It took a lot for him to stay still.

"Niisan! Snap out of it!" Jyushimatsu cried and hiccuped while he held his brother’s head still. He was sure that Ichimatsu would die but then he suddenly jerked out of his hold. "Niisan!" Jyushimatsu was about to grab a hold of his brother again but was stopped by the sight of him transforming into a werecat. His eyes widened and tears continued flowing from them. He watched Ichimatsu and was scared for him and himself. Then he noticed how terrified Choromatsu and Catcoon were and remembered his brother’s injury. " Choromatsu-niisan can't protect himself! " Jyushimatsu quickly grabbed his bat and stood between the terrified pair and the werecat. Soon Ichimatsu stopped and was panting heavily. Jyushimatsu didn't want anything bad to Ichimatsu but he would protect Choromatsu if he had to.

 

"Ichimatsu-niisan?" he asked calmly but ready for anything.

 

The big feline was panting for a while more before it slowly rose to its feet and turned to face Choromatsu and Jyushimatsu. Its eyes were hard, cold and dark and it looked like Ichimatsu wasn't there. The werecat looked straight into Jyushimatsu's eyes as it started to creep closer letting out a low but strengthening growling noise.

 

Jyushimatsu's hands shook but they had a tight grip to his bat. "Niisan. Y-you are a good kitty aren't you?" He tried to sound cheerful like he normally did but his voice cracked a little here and there.

Choromatsu hold Catcoon tightly and watched in horror as the werecat came towards them. He saw how Jyushimatsu tried to reach for Ichimatsu. " Please hear him Ichimatsu. "

 

Werecat Ichimatsu took steps closer to Jyushimatsu its body tensed as if ready to jump at any moment. The creature growled and was now baring its teeth. It took few running steps before it stopped abruptly and shook its head and blinked its eyes whining a little. The look in its eyes were shifting back and forth between cold animal eyes and something else, almost a familiar look.

 

However, that look only stayed for a short moment before its eyes were again harsh and animal. It showed its teeth furiously and its growling turned into a loud roar as it attacked towards the two brothers. With few long leaps werecat was already right next to them and it opened its jaws ready to bite.

 

Jyushimatsu reacted fast putting his bat in between of him and the werecat protecting Choromatsu behind him. He couldn’t attack Ichimatsu but he would need to protect himself and his injured brother. Furiously werecat bit its teeth into the bat growling at the same time. It yanked its head to snatch the bat from Jyushimatsu but was unsuccessful. With its other paw it started to reach to the second youngest to claw him.

 

Choromatsu let out a horrified scream when the werecat tried to reach Jyushimatsu.

 

“Aaa!” Jyushimatsu yelled as werecat’s claw barely missed him. “Niisan! Ichimatsu-niisan! Please, don’t do this!” Tears were forming in Jyushimatsu’s eyes as he looked into the werecat’s cold ones trying to find his brother in them.

 

Something seemed to snap in werecat’s head upon hearing Jyushimatsu’s scared scream. It stopped its yanking and growling and lifted its eyes to meet with Jyushimatsu’s. For a few long seconds it just stared quietly at him before it lowered its ears in ashamed manner its stare unceasing. There was something about that creature in front of it that made werecat unsure of everything. It released the bat letting out a whine and took few steps back, lowering its head.

Then weird and frightening howling noise was heard and the look on Ichimatsu's cat face hardened and turned furious. Creature growled and jumped towards Jyushimatsu claws out only to pass him and Choromatsu. It took few leaps further before it halted growling threateningly towards the pig village. Werecat had realized the danger that was looming in there and it didn't like it.

 

Jyushimatsu and Choromatsu watched at the creature fighting with itself. " Ichimatsu must still be in there somewhere. " Then they heard a loud howling behind them and the werecat leaped towards them ready to attack. Choromatsu yelped and buried his face into Catcoon's fur. " That's it, we are going to die. " Jyushimatsu quickly put his bat in front of him to block werecat's attack again but was surprised when the creature passed them. He looked where the werecat looked and noticed something moving in the distance. It looked like the pigs but more dangerous. "Choromatsu-niisan. There is something bad in the pig village."

 

Choromatsu rose his head and looked to the village. There indeed were something threatening in there. Then he noticed how the werecat was growling towards it. " Even though he is right now a werecat he is still our brother. " "Ichimatsu do you understand us?! Don't go to the danger on purpose!" he tried to reason with the creature.

 

Werecat responded to Choromatsu's voice by turning its face to meet his gaze and hissed almost like annoyed. However, the creature seemed to understand enough and jumped back to them and took a protective stance in front of them. It was still growling but not so loudly anymore. Having a real possible enemy had helped werecat to see that these two were not. Werecat knew from somewhere that they were important and should be protected. And so it would.

 

Choromatsu was relieved when the creature came back to them. He was even more relieved when the creature stood protectively between them and the pig village. " It isn't quite Ichimatsu but reasonable and seems like it isn't going to hurt us, " he thought as he relaxed a little and loosened his grip on Catcoon but still held her close.

"Niisan heard you!" Jyushimatsu stated happy to find the creature on their side. He heard the howling in the village get louder and more aggressive. His face turned into serious one as he took few steps towards the sound and tightened his grip on the bat. He would be ready to fight if needed.

 

Werecat Ichimatsu saw Jyushimatsu moving towards the danger. It stepped in front of the second youngest brother and pushed him back with its head. The creature wanted to go further away from the village but one of them seemed to be unable to move. Werecat could carry him if needed but maybe if they stayed down they wouldn't have to fight. The feline would stay on full alert as long as needed and protect its pack.

 

Jyushimatsu was confused at first when the creature pushes him back. Then he understood what it tried to say. "Oh! Okay niisan," he said and moved next to the injured brother. Choromatsu was petting now calmer Catcoon. He wasn't sure which the petting calmed more, Catcoon or him. He watched as the werecat pushed Jyushimatsu away from the danger. " So he isn't aggressive to us. That's a relief. "  The howling was still strong in the village. "If we stay quiet they shouldn't notice us," " I hope... " he said.

 

After a while the beasts in the village howled more aggressively and rushed away from the village and away from them. The beasts must have found something to chase.

 

"Whew," Choromatsu said relieved.

 

"Aah." Jyushimatsu relaxed and collapsed next to Choromatsu. They wouldn't get eaten by those creatures.

 

Also werecat relaxed a bit when the animals left the village. It then turned back to Jyushimatsu and pushed him affectionately. Then it went to Choromatsu and licked his face and also pushed Catcoon gently. Werecat wanted its pack to feel safe. It would protect them from the dangers.

 

"Awww! You truly are a nice kitty!" Jyushimatsu smiled at the werecat. He felt comfortable with the creature now that it showed them affection. Choromatsu still felt a little scared but not threatened. "O-oh okay," he said confused at the sudden affection from the creature. " The creature isn't Ichimatsu. He would never lick my face, " he thought and saw how Catcoon pushed the werecat back.

 

"Try to sleep Choromatsu. I'll keep watch," Jyushimatsu said to his older brother.

 

"Okay. I'll try," Choromatsu replied. He lied down and tried to rest. Catcoon curled into a ball next to him. Jyushimatsu added two branches to the fire and eyed the werecat with a curious expression.

 

It took few seconds for werecat to notice Jyushimatsu's stare. It turned to meet it. " What are you thinking? What do you want? " Then the big cat laid its other paw down to Jyushimatsu's leg and meowed. " I wish I could go hunting. I can smell the tracks of a big prey. "

 

" Aww." Jyushimatsu's eyes sparkled when werecat meowed at him. " He loves me! " He barely managed to keep himself quiet. He didn't want to disturb Choromatsu. Jyushimatsu took in the form of werecat. It was huge. If Jyushimatsu and the werecat were standing next to each other, werecat’s head would be a little higher than Jyushimatsu’s. Like any other felines, werecat was about twice as long as it were tall. The creature's dark grey fur looked beautiful not to mention its eyes. The eyes were cat’s but they showed that the werecat was thinking something. "I hope I could talk to you. To know what you were thinking." Jyushimatsu laughed a little.

 

This yellow friend made werecat feel good and warm inside. It responded to Jyushimatsu by yawning. The creature wasn't tired but it was frustrating because they couldn't really do anything. Rest of the night was peaceful.

 

Chapter Text

Todomatsu had taken the last watch turn and he was now sitting next to the fire watching how darkness slowly turned lighter and the creepy glow of full moon vanished. He was tired after all the stress of last night but luckily nothing bad had happened. They had enough things to worry already. It was definitely colder than yesterday and not many trees had leaves anymore. It was crazy how quickly it has happened but then again, this wasn't their world. First thing they would have to do today was to carry all the stuff they had gathered to their camp. Then they would need to finish the lean-to and collect all kinds of stuff for the winter. Who knew how long it would last? Todomatsu pulled his beanie further down and continued watching the fire.

Osomatsu yawned as he started to wake up. First thing that he noticed was the coldness around him. "Winter is coming and fast." They had a lot of stuff to do and to organize. He sat up and noticed Todomatsu near the fire. "Morning," he said and moved closer to the warm fire.

"Morning Osomatsu-niisan," Totty answered. "We should head back to the camp as soon as possible, I think," he said and went to wake Karamatsu up. "Karamatsu-niisan. Wake up," he said as he gently shook him from shoulders.

"Huh? What?" Karamatsu asked sleepily as he blinked his eyes.

"It's morning. We need to go soon," Todomatsu answered.

Osomatsu rose up and took a deep breath of the cool air. He looked at the stuff they had collected. They made a big pile made of all sorts of useful things. "We need to make at least two trips here to get all our stuff. Totty could you help Karamatsu if I carry the hound skins?"

"Mmm," Totty said and nodded but Karamatsu raised his hand to stop his plans to pull him up. "I think I will be fine on my own. I'll just use your spear as a walking stick if that's okay," Karamatsu said to which Totty agreed and went to get the spear. "My leg really feels much better already and I can put some weight on it so that I can walk. It's probably going to take a longer while for me to walk back there though but it's still more efficient that Todomatsu can carry some stuff as well," Karamatsu explained.

"Okay if you think so," Osomatsu said and took the hound skins and walked towards their camp. It took a while with Karamatsu's leg but eventually they arrived. Everything was as he remembered except for leaves that had fallen from the trees. He put the skins down on the ground and spoke: "Now to the second trip. Oh! Karamatsu are you okay alone or do you want me or Totty to stay with you?"

Karamatsu sat down exhausted. "I'll be fine, brother. Believe me," Karamatsu said and winked. “I'll continue working with the skins. And while you are there, could you bring some bones to make needles and hooks and such?" he asked. He had only remembered now.

"No way I'm gonna do that!" Totty said, "But if Osomatsu-niisan will, then fine." Of course Totty would do it if no one else could but he wouldn't unless he had no choice. He didn't really fancy digging through beasts' purple meat, collecting and carrying meaty bones. No thanks. These kind of situations was why he had brothers.

"Sure. I'll bring you some." Osomatsu said and turned around to leave. Later when he and Todomatsu arrived to their destination he grabbed his axe and dug into one of the corpses. "Eww." He grinned when he cut the flesh. The purple colour was nasty enough but now the flesh had began to rot. It felt squishy and slippery. "Totty, you sure you don't want to try this?" he teased his brother and held one piece of flesh in front of him with a big grin on his face.

"Aaaah!!!" Todomatsu screamed and jumped further away. "Stop it Osomatsu-niisan!! It's not funny!" he shouted and kicked Osomatsu to leg avoiding the gross piece of meat. "I swear to god that if that touches me, I'll make a jacket from your skin!" Totty gathered stuff he had dropped when Osomatsu had started teasing him. "Stop fooling around and do what you need so we can go back."

Osomatsu laughed at Todomatsu's reaction. "Worth it," he thought before once again digging into the corpse. He sliced the flesh few more times before he saw the creatures ribcage. He took a good hold of the ribs and began to bend them. They made a loud cracking sound as they came off. Osomatsu took few more bones and some teeth before grabbing as much of other stuff that he could carry. "Totty are you ready?" he asked his brother.

When Todomatsu heard the disgusting ‘crack’ he turned to look where it came from and regretted it immediately. "OH MY FUCKING GOD, that's horrible!!! Aaahh stop it, stop it, stop it!! I'm gonna be sick!" he screamed, turned around and covered his eyes and ears with his arms. He hurriedly gathered all the stuff he could and answered to Osomatsu: "I'm ready and you know what? I'm gonna go ahead. Fuck it's disgusting! Keep it away from me!" And with that he started jogging back to the camp.

Osomatsu shook his head and watched Todomatsu go before walking after him. Not long after he arrived at the camp. "I have bones and teeth for you Karamatsu. They should be washed before use thought," he said and looked at the bones and teeth that had some blood and tissue attached to them. "Ewh. My hands are all sticky," he said to himself while looking at the bones.

Karamatsu's smile fell a little at the gross sight of bloody bones. "A-ah thank you brother. Could you carry them to the river when you go washing your hands anyway. I'll wash them then," he said and stood up carefully. "The hound skins should be good for now to use as covers when sleeping. As clothing too if we don't have anything else. I'm afraid that the skin will dry and harden instead of staying soft..." he spoke while looking at the hound skins in thought.

"Sure thing," Osomatsu promised to take the bones to the river. He looked at the hound skins and was surprised how good they looked. "Karamatsu has done good job," Osomatsu thought and walked to the river to wash his hands. "We still have lot of work today."

Karamatsu went washing and cleaning the bones. After he was done he went back to the camp, sat down and started working with them. It took him a while to understand what was the best way of crafting stuff from bones but after few tries he was learning quickly.

When Todomatsu had come back with Osomatsu he had went straight to continue making the lean-to. He believed that if he worked hard, it would be ready before night. Or ready enough to use - it would still need some fixing later. Maybe someday they could actually sleep properly. Todomatsu couldn’t even say how much he missed his spot on the futon in between the two oldest. He had felt so safe....

Osomatsu walked back from the river when his hands were clean. "I'll go get some food. After that I'll come help you Totty," he informed and grabbed his axe. "I should probably try to clean this in some pond," he thought as he eyed the bloody blade before leaving the camp.

"Okay, Osomatsu-niisan!" Todomatsu answered as Osomatsu left. "I need to wash my clothes in the evening. I feel so gross. Besides if winter is coming, washing and especially drying clothes will be much harder. Osomatsu-niisan and Karamatsu-niisan should wash their clothes too.... I wish I knew how to make soap," Totty thought as he continued his job.

---

Rest of Jyushimatsu's, Choromatsu's and werecat Ichimatsu's night had passed without problems. However, as soon as the first rays of light shone over the horizon Werecat jumped to his feet, started shaking and wailing. The change this way was luckily much quicker.

Jyushimatsu jumped up when Werecat suddenly moved. "What is wrong?!" he asked but kept a safe distance from the creature.

Choromatsu woke up when he heard Werecat’s wailing. He rose up and held Catcoon with a concerned look on his face. "He is turning back!" he thought relieved but worried.

Werecat's shape turned back into human, fur melting back to human skin and ears and tail disappearing. Before long Ichimatsu, again back to his normal form, was there on all fours breathing heavily, gagging and shaking.

Like waking from a dream Ichimatsu found himself on the ground on all fours feeling terrible. He had no idea what was going on or what had happened. "Where am I? What happened? Where are my brothers?" Ichimatsu couldn't yet really get a grip of his surroundings. All he knew was the ground that was under him and his distress. He felt so drained, weak and just horrible. He tried to speak, to ask what happened, but only a pained whine escaped his lips. Then a sudden over taking feeling of nausea took him and he throw up. Ichimatsu's head was spinning, he was hurting and it was all just too much! He was panting and sniffling when he finally managed to muster enough strength and will power to raise his gaze to look for his brothers. He needed them so badly. "Please. Help me," he tried to speak with his eyes searching for other familiar eyes to meet.

Choromatsu’s worry grew when he met Ichimatsu's gaze. "Ichimatsu!" he shouted and was about to continue but Jyushimatsu cut him off.

"Niisan! You are back! Do you remember anything?! Do you need something?!" Jyushimatsu shouted more similar questions as he rushed to Ichimatsu's side to check if he could help his brother.

"Choromatsu," Ichimatsu thought and opened his mouth to talk but nothing came out. Then Jyushimatsu ran next to him asking questions. Ichimatsu looked him in the eyes and took a weak hold on Jyushimatsu's hoodie's hem looking for comfort. "They are here. They will help me." It took a while to register what Jyushimatsu was talking but soon he shook his head slowly "Ah... I....Hurts. Water," he said weakly.

"Okay!" Jyushimatsu ran to get some water for Ichimatsu.

"What happened?" Ichimatsu asked his voice nothing but a whisper.

Choromatsu thought for an answer. "Well... How should I say it." Jyushimatsu returned to Ichimatsu offering him a small container of water. Choromatsu hesitated a little before saying. "To say it shortly. You turned into a werecat."

Ichimatsu took the container from Jyushimatsu and carefully drank. Thankfully it soothed the burning feeling that throwing up had left him. When Choromatsu said that he had turned into a werecat he froze. "I what?" he asked eyes wide. "What? How could I... That's not how this works. Why? It's not possible. What the hell is this place doing to us?!!" questions flashed through his mind. "Did- did I do something bad?" he asked not really sure if he wanted to know. It was scary that he couldn't remember anything of it. "I just remember pain and then nothing."

"No no! Luckily you didn't," Choromatsu said hastily. "You were very threatening at first. But when we heard terrible howling from the pig village we got some kind of connection to you. After that you showed us that you meant no harm to us and stayed up to keep watch with Jyushimatsu," Choromatsu told him about last night.

"Good," Ichimatsu said. He was relieved to hear that he hadn't killed anyone.

"You were so cute! Especially when you meowed at me and when you licked Choromatsu's face!" Jyushimatsu told to Ichimatsu with stars in his eyes.

Ichimatsu almost choke on the water. He was coughing as he nearly shouted: "What? That creature wasn't me! Something else was controlling my body. I would never lick Choromatsu!" He was feeling much better already. At least physically. Luckily it looked like the sick feeling wouldn't last so long. "Anyway," Ichimatsu continued, "I don't know what the fuck happened or what this place has done to me or us but I sure hope this won't happen every full moon now on." Then he rubbed his face. "I'm feeling better now. Just got a huge headache and kinda strange feeling."

Jyushimatsu and Choromatsu smiled at Ichimatsu's reaction. "He is back to normal all right." It was a big relief to see their brother act normally again. Luckily he was only feeling little bad but nothing worse. "Should we stay here for today and let you rest?" Choromatsu asked.

"No no," Ichimatsu answered and shook his head. "I'm sick of this place," he shot a meaningful glance towards the pig village. It made him nervous. "We have the stretcher ready so let's just find the others. Besides, it's freaking cold! If we can't find them soon we might need to put up a permanent camp."

Jyushimatsu followed his brothers gaze. "Me too. I don't even want to know what howled there last night." He shivered at the thought.

Choromatsu shook his head to get the memory of last nights howling out of his head. He was petting Catcoon when his eyes widened when he realized. "Oh no... I have to move my leg. It hasn't been that bad since I haven't moved it. It's gonna hurt." "When should we leave?" he asked looking at his brothers.

"Let's eat something and then go," Ichimatsu answered. "How is your leg Choromatsu?"

"It's painful but I manage if I don't move it," Choromatsu responded and looked closer at his leg. "I actually think it's less swollen than it used to be." Hope of the infection’s healing eased his mind as he continued to pet purring Catcoon.

"Mmm. That's good," Ichimatsu said. They still had something left from yesterday to eat. After eating Ichimatsu kneeled down next to Choromatsu and petted Catcoon. "Are you ready?" he asked. "Jyushimatsu bring the stretcher here right next to Choromatsu so he have to move as little as possible. However, carrying you around might hurt as well but I still think we should go."

"Okay niisan," Jyushimatsu said and fetched the stretcher. He placed it as close to Choromatsu as possible like he was told to do and stepped back. Choromatsu moved Catcoon out of the way and took a deep breath. First he carefully moved his upper body and kept lower body still. "Here goes." Right when he moved his leg he felt how horrible pain shot through him. He bit his lip hard as he slowly and carefully positioned himself onto the stretcher. He closed his eyes and breathed deeply as he tried to get the agony away from his mind.

"That's good. You ok?" Ichimatsu asked Choromatsu who clearly was in pain. "Say if you need anything."

"Y-yeah. The p-pain should go away s-soon." Choromatsu answered and turned his attention to Catcoon. He tried to keep a straight face but failed."It hurts like hell!" He petted Catcoon to keep himself occupied.

The fourth brother nodded and turned to Jyushimatsu. "Let's gather everything we got and then get moving." Ichimatsu stood up and put small things to his pockets. Bigger ones, like the axe and containers, he tied to his back with rope. Their hands would need to be free to carry Choromatsu.

Jyushimatsu's smile wasn't as bright as usual when he watched Choromatsu being in pain. He nodded and stuffed some grass and sticks into his pockets and attached his baseball bat to his shoulders with rope. "Ichimatsu-niisan! I'm ready to leave," he said with a smile.

Ichimatsu nodded. "Good." Then he lowered himself to the ground level to be able to lift the stretcher from the other end. "Let's try then if this thing is strong enough to carry Choromatsu."

Jyushimatsu grabbed a hold on the other end of the stretcher. Catcoon suddenly jumped up and climbed to Jyushimatsu's shoulders. Jyushimatsu's smile grew. "Aww! Don't worry Catcoon. I'll carry you." He then turned to Ichimatsu. "Ready?"

"Mmm," Ichimatsu nodded. He was jealous of Catcoon’s attention but now was not the time. "Okay. One, two, three," he counted and they lifted the stretcher with Jyushimatsu. It was heavy and not really easy to carry but they would be fine. They had to. "I think we try going to that way," Ichimatsu said and pointed to the opposite direction than the way he and Jyushimatsu had come couple days earlier.

Jyushimatsu nodded and they walked onward. Choromatsu turned his head to look around them. It was hard to tell where they were going but he didn't care that much. "As long as we don't stumble across those hounds I don't mind where we go." Lying on the stretcher wasn't pleasant but it had to do.

Chapter Text

In the next morning Karamatsu had been in the last watch turn so he was waiting for the others to wake up. Osomatsu and Todomatsu were sleeping peacefully in the now finished lean-to and Karamatsu had been sleeping there too before his watch. It felt so good to have walls and roof around you! The cold wind couldn't bother them so much and it was maybe a bit warmer. The hound skins they had left out to dry more but now in the early hours Karamatsu had took one of them and wrapped it around his shoulders fur side towards his body. He was sitting there crafting more rope and going through some stuff in his head. " I've got the needles ready now but we need some string so that I can start making clothes. We should use rabbit skins to make mittens and beanies and use bigger animals for other stuff... " The fire crackled and Karamatsu jumped a bit startled. He sighed and returned to his work. It would be again a long day ahead of them.

 

Osomatsu yawned as he woke up. He rose up and looked around. He saw Todomatsu still sleeping on the floor. The oldest turned his gaze and walked out of the lean-to. He shivered as the cold air hit him. "Morning Karamatsu," he said lazily and sat next to the fire.

 

Karamatsu turned to look at Osomatsu and greeted him with a finger gun and a smile. "Good morning, brother! I hope you slept fine." Then he pointed at the drying skins. "Take one for you if you want. Fur side is fine but the other could still use some more drying."

Soon after that Totty scrambled out of the lean-to scrubbing his eyes. "Good morning niisans! God it feels good to have roof and walls! When we have more skins we should put some here as curtains," he went on. Then he shivered. "It's freaking cold!" he whined and went under the same hound skin where Karamatsu was. "So, what are the plans for today?" Todomatsu asked.

 

"Good morning Totty," Osomatsu greeted his younger brother. He grabbed one of the skins and wrapped it around himself. The fur was a little rough but still better that nothing he thought as he sat next to Todomatsu. "Luckily we have these skins. But we need more warm things especially when we find the others." He sighed as he thought of his lost brothers. " Please be safe. " Osomatsu smiled a little as he turned to his brothers and spoke. "Should we go look for some good stuff?"

 

"Yeah, I think so," Todomatsu answered. "We could go little further today and try to find something useful." Then he turned to Karamatsu. "How is your leg?"

"Heh," Karamatsu chuckled "because of your tender care, my beloved brothers, my leg has healed well. It's a miracle really. However, I'd slow you down if I come with you," Karamatsu said. "I think you should go without me if you think you will be fine. I can stay close to camp and do something useful."

Todomatsu eyed the second oldest and spoke: "Yeah, maybe you are right. That would be most efficient. Right, Osomatsu-niisan? Should we go?" he asked.

 

Osomatsu nodded. "Take care Karamatsu. We might stay out for a long time." He grabbed his axe and tightened the hound skin around him. "You wouldn't mind if I borrow this, would you?" he asked from Karamatsu with an innocent smile.

 

Karamatsu blinked at Osomatsu before giving him a wide smile. "Of course not, brother! That's what they are for. Anyway, take your time but I would like you to be back for the night so I know you are okay."

"Sure," Totty said, stood up and pulled the hound skin around him off and better around Karamatsu. Karamatsu whined a little because of the cold air but smiled when Totty wrapped the skin around him. "You take care of yourself too Karamatsu-niisan," Todomatsu continued and took a hold on Osomatsu's sleeve pulling it. "Come on niisan! Let's go."

 

After Osomatsu and Todomatsu had left, Karamatsu started crafting. From wood he made larger container, almost like barrel but it would leak if you put water in it. Karamatsu wasn't that talented in the end but it would do since it could be used for storing for example food. After that Karamatsu pulled a hound skin again around himself and sat down. He took out some flexible branches, like willow or something similar, and cut then in half lengthwise. " I think I'm okay at weaving. I'll try making us new shoes from wood. It's not the best we could have but once we get more skin I can line their insides with it so that it would be warmer and hopefully waterproof. Of course we still need something as thread to really make clothes... But little by little, " Karamatsu thought as he continued his job. His stomach was rumbling. " I sure hope they bring something to eat... "

 

---

 

Osomatsu and Todomatsu had walked for a while. They hadn't seen anything super useful. Some berries were the only thing Osomatsu had gathered from a frozen bush along their way.

Osomatsu looked around them. The forest seemed lifeless, empty and quiet. These things combined made him feel uneasy. " This is so weird. It's calm and beautiful but silent and deadly. Especially in this world when you can't know what roams around these grounds. " Osomatsu shook his head and looked at Todomatsu. "So Totty, what would you want to find?"

 

Totty walked on, not looking back at Osomatsu. " The way back home. Others. Civilisation. Shampoo. A piece of candy. Anything but this!!! " he thought. However, he only sighed and answered: "Something to keep us warm and something to eat." As they walked they came to place where the forest turned into a grassy field. They had been here few times but they hadn't gone far away from the border of the forest. Todomatsu waved his hand towards the grassland. "Do you think it's worth going further there?" he asked.

 

Osomatsu inspected the field. He saw only grass as long as his eyes could see. "Huh?" He tried to focus on some small and white things in the horizon. " Did one of them just move? " He took few steps closer before realising. He pointed at the things and said: "Look Todomatsu! Those white things in the distance are rabbits. It definitely is worth it to go there. We can get both food and warm clothes from them."

 

Todomatsu squinted his eyes when he looked the way Osomatsu had pointed. "Ah! That's true! We should leave some traps here at least. I'm not sure we can catch them with our weapons but we can try together."

They walked closer and Totty lifted his spear a little. Then he seemed to be thinking hard. "Actually, you know, I'm pretty good at hitting things with objects I throw," he said and took a knife out of his pocket, inspected and weighed it in his hand. "At least we should give it a try," Totty said and thought about the time he had thrown a Sutabaa menu perfectly in the middle of Karamatsu's forehead. Oh those were good, happy times. "Do you think you want to try throwing knives too?" he asked Osomatsu. "Or if you prefer spear or axe. Of course those can be thrown too."

 

Osomatsu looked at the knife in Todomatsu's hand. It looked like it could be alright for throwing. Then again Osomatsu wasn't professional in this area. But it wouldn't hurt to try, would it. "I could give it a try. But I keep the axe close if I don't like the knives," he said and slowly walked deeper into the field. "I think we should first leave the traps next to the rabbit holes so that when they all panic, they might get trapped."

 

Todomatsu nodded. "Okay." They set some traps close to holes which scared rabbits further from them. They seemed like normal rabbits except they had horns. But they were still food. When they were ready they took some distance and sat down to wait. Todomatsu took the knife again to his hand and played with it keeping close eye to the rabbits. Minutes passed by and finally Todomatsu raised his hand and moved it back to get strength to his throw. " That one! " Totty thought and throwed. The knife flew really close to one of the rabbits which shrieked and run to its hole. "Fuck!" Totty shouted and went to get his knife back. Then he sat down next to Osomatsu again annoyed but determined.

 

"That was really good throw. You'll get one soon." Osomatsu commented while keeping his eyes on the rabbits. " Aww man. They are so far away. I don't think I can throw that far. " He moved his eyes so that he could see Todomatsu. " Totty will eventually get one but at this rate I won’t get anything... " Osomatsu felt annoyed as he turned his head back to the field. " That one is actually close! This is my change! " he thought as he raised the knife. " Go! " The rabbit shrieked as it ran away. Osomatsu's throw hadn't been even close. "God damn it!" he mumbled more curses as he fetched his knife and sat back to his spot on the ground.

 

Todomatsu mumbled something like "Yeah, I guess, maybe" when Osomatsu had said he would get one before long. When Osomatsu had done his ridiculous throw, Totty smirked. He always felt happy when he was better than his brothers at something. True, he was the weakest but he was sly and could bite hard if provoked. Once the rabbits had calmed down he threw his knife again. And few times more. Finally his knife hit its target piercing through it. "Yes!!" Totty cried out happily and ran to get his catch. Luckily the rabbit was already dead so Totty wouldn't need to do more. He would leave skinning for his niisans. He took the rabbit by its legs and ran back to Osomatsu. "Look! Look, Osomatsu-niisan! I did it! By just throwing a knife! That's so cool!" he exclaimed as he jumped around Osomatsu like a happy puppy.

 

Osomatsu bit his teeth together and smiled. "Good job Todomatsu. I knew you could do it." He was so pissed off. " Seriously?! I have thrown my knife so many fucking times without any progress. It's so dirty that it probably won’t even cut anything anymore. What the hell do you want me to do to get one rabbit?! " Osomatsu's face showed how irritated and angry he was at the whole ‘throw a knife at rabbits’ thing. He clenched his fists until they were white. It was a miracle that the knife in his hand didn't break into million pieces. His eyes looked hastily around the field until they locked onto a rabbit close to them. Osomatsu rose up and hold the knife high in the air. "You! Prepare to die!" he yelled and threw the knife. The throw was even worse that the others he had made and the rabbit quickly headed back to it's hole. "No you fucking won’t!" Osomatsu yelled. He grabbed his axe and ran to block the rabbits path. The animal changed direction and tried to escape in fear. "Come back here you little shit!" Osomatsu shouted furiously and ran after the rabbit.

 

Todomatsu was so close of bursting into spiteful laughter when he saw how pissed Osomatsu was. It was one of his bad sides he admits that but oh how good it made him feel. Before Totty could say any mean comment about Osomatsu's throws the eldest started fierce running towards the rabbits. "Osomatsu-niisan! Are you stupid?!" he shouted and ran after him. "You are not gonna catch them like that! You are just wasting your energy!"

 

Osomatsu didn't listen to his brother's shouts. He ran behind the rabbit not letting it get too far away from him.  "I'll get you! Just you fucking wait!" he yelled and sped up. He was getting close to the rabbit but couldn't caught it. Osomatsu tightened his hold around the axe. "I won’t stop until I catch you!" He raised the axe and threw it at the rabbit as hard as he could. The rabbit shrieked when the axe's handle hit its back of the head knocking it unconcious. "Yes! Eat that you little shit!" Osomatsu yelled and quickly picked it up. He laughed happily as he turned the animals neck around releasing a nasty cracking sound.

 

Todomatsu stopped on his track and watched Osomatsu catch the rabbit wide eyed and bewildered. " You just fucking didn't... " Totty started running again towards his brother. "No way!! You really did it! That's so insane!!" he exclaimed as he reached him and patted him on the back. Then Todomatsu suddenly yelped and jumped behind Osomatsu's back. He was looking further ahead and he pointed his finger towards there. "What are those, niisan??" he asked. In the distance some creatures could be seen pasturing in the grassland.

 

Osomatsu turned his head to where Todomatsu was pointing. He eyed the pasturing animals curiously. "They look kind of cool." He threw the rabbit over his shoulder and picked up his axe. "Let's take a closer look," he said and walked calmly towards the animals. He kept the axe low trying to look as harmless in the animals’ eyes as possible.

 

Totty eyed the animals warily but then decided they didn't look too threatening so he walked behind Osomatsu. Once they got closer they saw that they were some sort of buffalos. "They actually look kind of normal. Just really big," Todomatsu said. As they got closer some of the animals raised their heads to look at them and let out a deep almost humming sound. Totty tensed but once he realized that they weren't aggressive he relaxed again. "I wish we could hunt then," he said. " All that wool! It looks so warm! "

 

"I wish the same. But they are way too big. And the herd probably wouldn't like that," Osomatsu said as he looked at one buffalo's horns. " Those are huge horns. Luckily they aren't aggressive. " He walked among the animals memorising the surroundings around them. Osomatsu knew that they would come back for the wool when they were ready to get it. "We should head back to the camp and think of someway to get the wool," he said and walked back to Todomatsu.

 

"Mmm," Todomatsu agreed and nodded his head. On their way back they realized that one rabbit was caught in their trap. They carefully took the rabbit and Todomatsu left the honour of killing to Osomatsu. Then they walked back to the camp.

 

---

 

The sun was already beginning to set when Osomatsu and Todomatsu arrived back to the camp and the air was freezing around them. "Hi Karamatsu!” Osomatsu greeted and placed the two rabbits, berries and the axe on the ground before he sat down next to the fire pit.

 

Karamatsu lift his head from his work and greeted his brothers happily: "Welcome back my brothers! Oh, I see you've succeeded," he said as he watched Totty drop down one more rabbit. "Karamatsu-niisan you should have seen us! I'm good at accuracy when throwing stuff so I figured why not try it with knives. And I killed this just like that!" Totty explained excited and threw a knife to a nearby tree to demonstrate which it hit perfectly. "And oh man you should have seen Osomatsu-niisan getting pissed off and running after the rabbits and the idiot caught one!!" Todomatsu continued and sat down laughing.

Karamatsu beamed. He was so proud of them. "I would have loved to see that! You did really good job!" Then he turned to the fire where was a pot already filled with boiling water. "I already put some water to boil in hopes that you will bring something," he said, took the nearest rabbit and started skinning and slicing it. He was starving!

 

Osomatsu laughed little and smirked as he watched how Todomatsu excitedly explained earlier events. The slightly carefree atmosphere was very welcome to Osomatsu. He missed the times when all six of them did their own things lazily in their room. "After eating we should rest. I can take the first watch."

Chapter Text

Ichimatsu had the last watch for the night. It would soon be morning but yet it was still completely dark. The previous day had been like any other except that it has been really tiring to carry Choromatsu around. They had gathered some berries on the way as well as catched two fish to eat. Only difference has been the lowering temperature and killer headache he had. He felt buzzing in his head and he could swear the world around them looked different somehow. Like it had been drained from colors and someone had put on a darkening filter. Ichimatsu had shrugged of the thoughts and thought it would have to be because of the coming winter. However, when he kept watch he couldn't help the growing nervousness.

 

There were glowing eyes watching him from the darkness. He could swear that, although he kept trying to reassure himself that it was only because of lack of sleep that his mind was playing tricks on him. Ichimatsu shivered and put on more wood to the fire. The eyes kept staring, some of them blinking, some of them squinting.

 

After some time Ichimatsu almost had a heart attack and he jumped to his feet. He heard super creepy noises which he soon recognised were like the noises from music box, but these were slow, creeping and threatening. " Holy shit holy shit, what the hell?!! " There shouldn’t be that kind of voices in the middle of wilderness!

 

Then he caught something moving from the corner of his eye. There was a pitch black shadow in a form of a hand creeping closer to them. Ichimatsu let out a horrified scream and scrambled back, his cat ears, paws and tail now present. Backing away as fast as possible he heard a different kind of music box sound right behind him and terrified turning his head to take a look he saw another hand to which Ichimatsu must have stepped on. Panickedly screaming he stumbled back close to the campfire and the other two brothers engulfed by horror.

 

Jyushimatsu jumped high up when Ichimatsu let out the first scream. "What?! What?! What?!" he yelled and shook his head around looking for the reason of Ichimatsu's screaming. His eyes widened when he saw the hands slowly crawling towards them. "Aah!" Jyushimatsu rushed close to his brothers' side and watched the shadow hands anxiously.

Choromatsu felt like he was having a heart attack. He quickly sat up while holding Catcoon and panicked as he tried to internalize the situation. "What the hell?!" he yelled and held hissing Catcoon protectively. " T-this can't be real! " The fear had frozen him to place as the hands grawled closer to them.

 

After realizing that his brothers were panicking around with him Ichimatsu got somewhat of a hold on himself. "What the fuck are those?!! What do we do? What do we do?!!" he shouted and swung his head around to look back and forth from both of his brothers. Then he rushed forward and grabbed a burning log from the campfire. He charged to  take a stance in between the hand and the fire trying waving the burning wood in front of himself. "Jyushimatsu!" he shouted sure that the second youngest would understand to take the other side.

 

Jyushimatsu got the idea and grabbed a burning stick from the fire. But unfortunately  the hand had already reached its destination. It took a strong hold on around the fire and pulled part of it out into the darkness which suffocated it immediately. Jyushimatsu and Choromatsu both yelled when their fire suddenly got weaker. Jyushimatsu quickly ran in front of the hand before it could attack the fire again. Choromatsu watched helplessly how his brothers tried to stop the shadows around them.

 

Like his brothers, Ichimatsu shouted as well when the fire suddenly got weaker. " No god damn it, don't you dare! " Ichimatsu thought and lunged forward snarling to meet the shadow hand. The bright light of the burning stick in his hand seemed to stop the hand from creeping closer. Ichimatsu gathered his courage and started waving the stick around more violently while taking steps closer and closer to the hand. The hand backed away making scary music box noises and soon Ichimatsu had driven it away from the light of the campfire and shadow hand vanished making a broken sound. Then he turned around to see how Jyushimatsu was doing. "Use the light to drive it away!" he instructed.

 

Jyushimatsu had stopped the second shadow hand a few times when it had tried to creep to the campfire again. "Okay niisan!" He held the burning stick low and walked straight towards second shadow hand. It made similar music box sounds as it backed away before vanishing with the broken sound. "Waah!" Jyushimatsu made a relieved noise. He placed the stick back to the fire and sat down. After the second shadow hand had vanished Ichimatsu sat down next to the fire and put more wood into it to let the fire grow again. He shivered scared and shocked of the events.

Now that everything had calmed down Choromatsu managed to think straight. "Can I be the one to ask it out loud?" He waited a while before shouting "What the fuck were those?! Where did they come from and more importantly why?!"

 

To Choromatsu's outburst Ichimatsu jumped a little surprised. "I- I don't know. Without warning I just heard the noise and saw them creeping here. Now I'm more worried about those eyes than before," he said and gestured around them. "Everything is just wrong in here. What- what the hell were those, I-I... I still feel horrible from the full moon..." Ichimatsu confessed and took his head into his palms.

 

Choromatsu and Jyushimatsu both looked hastily around them. Then they locked eyes with each other sharing concerned looks. " Did you see any? " " No I didn't Choromatsu-niisan. " Their expressions changed to be even more concerned when they turned to Ichimatsu.

 

"Umm... Ichimatsu..." Choromatsu started. "We can't see any eyes around us," he said with a worried expression. Jyushimatsu slowly shook his head to verify Choromatsu's words.

 

Ichimatsu blinked at their words. After few silent moments: "What?" He looked around and pointed to the eyes he clearly saw staring at them. "There and there and there." Ichimatsu looked back to the others expecting their expression to be turned now into understandment. However, it wasn't. "What the hell? You can't tell me you don't see them!"

 

"We can't see them niisan," Jyushimatsu replied. He didn't like the idea of something invisible staring at them.

 

Choromatsu shot a quick glare at Jyushimatsu. " You can't just say it like that! He'll panic! " He turned to Ichimatsu and said: "H-hey don't worry...I think it's caused by your cat things...Y-you know...They can see in the dark unlike normal humans." Choromatsu looked confident but on the inside he wasn't. " I'm only making this up in hopes to calm him down. "

 

Ichimatsu felt horrible sinking feeling in his stomach when he heard the other two really couldn't see them. " Fuck. This is not good. " But when Choromatsu gave his explanation he calmed down a bit. "True. That would make sense, right?" Ichimatsu said and looked around. "Though I still don't feel any better at them staring at us." He shook his head trying to clear it and muttered: "Damn it's noisy with all the buzzing..." Then he focused on more practical things. "So I guess no one's gonna sleep anymore? Maybe we should just gather our stuff and leave at the first light."

 

"That would be the wisest thing to do," Choromatsu said. They gathered all their stuff and waited for the sun to rise. Catcoon got lots of attention now that the brothers had nothing to do. The air around them had once again got colder than before.

After some more time the morning finally came driving the darkness away. Choromatsu looked around to the first rays of light. "Finally. I thought it would never..?" He was interrupted by something falling from the sky. He followed the white spots with his eyes and grabbed some in his hand before he stated: "Shit. It's snow."

 

Ichimatsu 'tsk' ed and grimaced annoyedly. "Fuck. That's the last thing we need right now. It's fucking cold already and soon we might not be able to move around anymore like this." Then a new, alarming thought came to him. He turned around to face Jyushimatsu. "Hey, Jyushimatsu. Let's go, okay?" he said smiling nervously to the second youngest.

 

Jyushimatsu had frozen to his spot when he heard what Choromatsu said. " Snow. " His irises widened and his smile disappeared. He felt how snowflakes hit his bare skin at his legs and face. " Cold. " The snowflakes melted to freezing water that started to flow down his body. Jyushimatsu's expression turned to one that could make anyone wet their pants. " FREEZING! "

 

"BOEHBAA! AAAA! COLD! FREEZING AND COLD!" Jyushimatsu shouted from the top of his lungs. He ran and jumped around frustrated and angry. He hated cold. Little was okay but when it was freezing he couldn't stand it. He shouted random things as he rampaged all over the place.

 

Ichimatsu stared Jyushimatsu's fit in horror. He had bad memories of them... "Jyu- Jyushimatsu! It's okay. Calm down! Please!" His other hand was hanging in the air half heartedly trying to reach his bouncing brother but he didn't want to get in his way. "Jyushimatsu let's go. We need to find a place to stay and hunt some animals to get warm skins. Calm down Jyushimatsu. You need to keep it together to help Choromatsu," Ichimatsu went on trying to get through to him.

 

Choromatsu was terrified as he watched Jyushimatsu's rage. The second youngest was unpredictable and when he was feeling angry that had proven to be dangerous. "He-hey! Let's move and find something to make new pants for you and me. Right Jyushimatsu? We need to act to make it better." Choromatsu tried to calm him down.

 

After a while Jyushimatsu's movements got slower until he stopped. He wore the same horrifying expression and stared silently to the ground. Suddenly he walked straight to sleeping Catcoon and picked her up. " Jyu-Jyushimatsu! You couldn't... " Choromatsu thought filled with horror. He was about to leap to save his animal friend but stopped when he saw how Jyushimatsu placed the confused feline onto his shoulders in hopes of keeping himself warmer. He threw his hood over his head and walked to the other end of the stretcher.

 

Ichimatsu watched terrified as Jyushimatsu walked closer to Catcoon. He readied himself to jump there if needed but let his muscles relax a bit after seeing that Jyushimatsu wasn't about to make mittens out Catcoons skin.

 

"Then let's go," Jyushimatsu snapped. Choromatsu sighed in relief. It seemed like they had managed to get through him. Jyushimatsu's irises were still wide and he wore a scary straight face but he acted calm to help their situation. He truly wanted to get pants instead of his shorts.

 

Ichimatsu also walked to stretcher and nodded. "Yeah. Let's go." " Oh thank you thank you thank you! All the gods out there. This could have ended much worse. Now we just have to do something to keep ourselves warmer. "

 

---

 

Osomatsu and the others had had a morning like any others. They had decided to stay at the camp since they didn't have any need to leave right now. Osomatsu had gathered some grass and used it to patch some holes in the lean-to so that the cold breeze couldn't get in there. " I'm getting hungry. Hopefully the rabbit soup will be delicious when it's ready, " he thought while continuing his work.

 

Todomatsu stirred the soup lazily. If you asked him the morning had been awful. It was still getting colder and it had started snowing. The whole day was ruined already. Totty sighed as he waited the meat to cook. " I guess I could do something useful. Well maybe after the food. "

Karamatsu was working with the rabbit skins. Now they had four of them which would maybe do two pairs of mittens. Still they would need the god damn thread! However, Karamatsu had collected and cleaned tendons from the rabbits which they could use to tie the skins around their hands or something. He hoped they would get some bigger animals. Karamatsu raised his head from his work. It was snowing. "Oi my brothers. Tell me if I can help you in some way. What do you think we should do today?" Karamatsu asked.

 

Osomatsu peeked out from the lean-to and looked around their camp. "We don't need anything special right now. We should collect more wood and other stuff to burn in the campfire. The traps should be checked. Crafting and camp improving are always useful," he listed things that came to his mind.

 

Karamatsu nodded. "You are right my dear brother. But first let's enjoy a meal together, shall we?"

After eating Totty left Karamatsu and Osomatsu to do their stuff and went to check the traps. It was an easy job so he had volunteered to do it. He looked through all the traps and found one rabbit and two birds. " Lucky~~ Then again I don't think anyone had checked these in couple of days. "

 

---

 

" My leg is freezing, " Choromatsu thought as he laid on the stretcher. They had been on the move for quite a while. Ichimatsu and Jyushimatsu would soon need a break for carrying him. Jyushimatsu wore the same scary expression and had stayed dead silent for the whole time. It was so abnormal behaviour for the fifth brother that it made Choromatsu feel creeped out.

 

Jyushimatsu moved his sharp stare to every part of their surroundings looking for anything that could ease his coldness. He turned his head to look at something colorful little further away to their right. Jyushimatsu felt cold but warmth grew inside of him making his eyes to turn normal. The sight returned his usual wide smile to his face.

 

"TOTTY!" Jyushimatsu's sudden shout gave Choromatsu a heart attack until he realized what his little brother had shouted. " Could it really be... " he thought and tried to see around them from his position on the stretcher.

 

Totty lifted his gaze from the animals startled when he heard a familiar voice. " Huh? No way! Could it really be? " Totty thought as his eyes widened and he searched the source of the voice. He couldn't help it when a huge smile made its way to his face.

 

"Jyushimatsu-niisan!!" he shouted when he saw the familiar yellow hoodie through the forest. He started running immediately towards Jyushimatsu. "Jyushimatsu-niisan!! You are here!" Totty shouted again and felt tears forming in the corner of his eyes. When he got closer he saw Ichimatsu as well, "Ichimatsu-niisan!" but then he realized they were carrying Choromatsu on a stretcher between them and his smile faltered. "Choromatsu-niisan!!" he shouted alarmed. " Please don't let him be dead or dying! Please! Not now when we could all be together again! Please, I couldn't take it, " he thought as he made his way to them.

 

Ichimatsu was startled by Jyushimatsu's sudden shout. Immediately he started frantically search for the youngest with his look. A second before Ichimatsu saw Totty running in the forest towards them he heard him shouting for Jyushimatsu's name. And then his and Choromatsu's. However, when shouting for Choromatsu, Totty's voice switched into more scared and worried. Todomatsu ran towards them wearing his pink hoodie, pants and beanie. He seemed to be alright but his clothes were torn and they had stains some of them from blood. Ichimatsu couldn't help himself feeling happy and relieved when seeing Todomatsu. " Two to go. " "Oi, Todomatsu!" Ichimatsu shouted to greet him as Totty sprinted to them.

 

"Totty! Totty! We are here!" Jyushimatsu over flowed with excitement as he saw Todomatsu approaching them. If he wasn't holding the stretcher he would already have tackled his little brother into a tight hug. He was moving impatiently which caused Catcoon to bury her claws to his hoodie to keep herself steady.

"Totty?!" Choromatsu couldn't see to the distance where his brothers were looking. He raised his head and heard a familiar voice. "Totty!" he shouted happy to hear his brother’s calls. " At least four of us are still alive. "

 

"Niisans!!" Totty shouted and when he made it there he went straight to check on Choromatsu. "Thank god you are alive, Choromatsu-niisan!" he said tears of happiness glimmering in his eyes as he attacked Choromatsu with a hug which caused stretcher to wobble and Ichimatsu and Jyushimatsu put it down.

 

Choromatsu hugged Todomatsu back. "I'm so happy to see you again."

 

Quickly Todomatsu shifted his focus to Jyushimatsu and he jumped to hug him. "I'm so happy to see you! If something would have happened to you, I don't know what I would have done," he went on just feeling so happy that his brothers were there with him.

 

Jyushimatsu was beaming as he hugged or more like crushed his little brother. Catcoon had had enough of the yellow brother's rocking and she jumped down and laid on Choromatsu's chest. "Totty! You are safe!" Jyushimatsu continued happily after Todomatsu had retreated from the hug.

 

After hugging Jyushimatsu, Totty moved to hug Ichimatsu which the other accepted without complains. Then Todomatsu turned back to Choromatsu. "What happened to you? Are you okay? Can't you walk?"

Choromatsu looked at his injured leg with an uneasy expression and talked: "No, I can't walk. It happened when two horrifying hounds attacked me a few days ago." He petted Catcoon as he turned happily back to face Todomatsu. "But we can talk more about that later. What have you been up to Totty? Are you alright? Any signs of Osomatsu or Karamatsu?"

 

Todomatsu listened Choromatsu with a worried expression. At the mention of the hounds he shivered. "Hounds, huh," he said and gritted his teeth but didn't have time to continue before Choromatsu went on. When he asked about Osomatsu and Karamatsu Totty brightened again. "Oh right, Yes! Both of them are with me and we have a camp right there - about 400-500 meters that way," he showed the way as he explained. "We could be doing better but we have survived. But what are we doing here? Let's go back. They would really want to see you as soon as possible! We have been worried but ah, I'm so glad we can all be together again!" Totty stood up and picked up the animals he had tossed away when he had rushed to hug Choromatsu. "Right, Niisans?" he said and gave a sweet smile, for once sincere.

 

It felt like a huge boulder was lifted from Choromatsu's shoulders when he heard Todomatsu's words. " Both Karamatsu and Osomatsu are safe and they have a camp. " He almost couldn't believe it. "Such a releaf~" he said while petting Catcoon happily.

 

Jyushimatsu was getting even more excited. "Both niisans are okay?! And you have a camp?! I want to see them and get away from this cold! Let's go already!" he yelled and impatiently grabbed a hold of the stretcher.

 

Ichimatsu let out a sigh he hadn't realized he was holding. " Thank god they are all okay. " He nodded at Jyushimatsu's words. "I want to see them too," he said and lifted the stretcher again with Jyushimatsu. " I can't pretend I don't - even Karamatsu-niisan. "


"Show us the way, Totty."

They had agreed that they would talk the serious things through when they were all together to avoid telling the same things multiple times. Totty was basically running around the other three and telling them stuff like what they had in their camp and what could be found in the surrounding wilderness. When there was only about 30 meters left, Totty spoke: "I'll go ahead. I want to tell them!" he said and started running.

Chapter Text

Todomatsu rushed to their camp where the two oldests were working on their things. Frantically waving his hands Totty exclaimed: "Guys, oh my god, you don't believe what I found!!" He was beaming.

"Huh?" Karamatsu looked at Todomatsu surprised. At least he was happy so it couldn't be anything bad. "Well done brother. I see you've got a lot of food for us," Karamatsu said with a finger gun.

"What? No no!" Todomatsu said and tossed the dead animals to Karamatsu. "I found them!! I found them all! Choromatsu-niisan, Ichimatsu-niisan and Jyushimatsu-niisan!" Totty couldn't stop the tears again and he wiped his eyes with his sleeves. "They are all here and safe. They are all alive." As from the clue three of them came to the camp. "They are here!"

 

---

 

Jyushimatsu had to hold himself back to not ran after Todomatsu. His joy was undescribable as they walked closer to the camp where their brothers would be. On the stretcher Choromatsu held Catcoon steady on his chest when Todomatsu went ahead. " I-I really can't believe it. It's almost to good. " His thoughts were interrupted when they arrived to the camp.

 

He turned his head and saw both his older brothers there safe and sound. "Os-Osomatsu-niisan! Karam-matsu-niisan!" The tears of happiness broke Choromatsu’s voice but he didn't even notice.

 

Jyushimatsu’s smile grew to be the brightest smile he had ever had on his face. "Karamatsu-niisan! Osomatsu-niisan!" he called happily as they arrived to the camp.

 

Osomatsu was carrying firewood to their camp when Totty rushed back to tell the news. " He found all of them?! " Osomatsu stared at Todomatsu in disbelief. "Really?!" he asked but didn't need an answer when he saw his three missing brothers arrive to their camp. It was so sudden and without any warning. It took a while before he could process it. " They are okay! " He threw the logs to the ground and ran towards the others with a happy smile. "It's so good to see you all! Ichimatsu! Jyushimatsu! Ch-Choromatsu!" Osomatsu's smile changed into a worried expression when he realized Choromatsu's state. "Are you alright Choromatsu?!" " Someone will fucking pay for that later, " he cursed to himself as he arrived next to his brothers. "At least you three are all alive," Osomatsu said while Jyushimatsu hugged him tightly. He couldn't help it when tears made their way into his eyes. Not that he minded it now.

 

Karamatsu's eyes and mouth widened open upon hearing Todomatsu's words. For a brief second he just stared at his missing brothers appearing to the camp. Quickly he snapped out of it and shouted already tearing up: "Brothers!!"  and he rushed forward to greet them. His over taking happiness and relief was soon plagued by the sight of Choromatsu on a stretcher. "My dearest Choromatsu, are you okay? What happened?" he asked worried as he hugged him. "Oh, Jyushimatsu, my little sunshine. You seem well." Karamatsu gave him a hug too.

 

"Karamatsu-niisan! Osomatsu-niisan! You are here! Yay! We are all together again!" Jyushimatsu couldn't hold his happiness down when he met his niisans after such a long time. He hugged them tightly and jumped up and down excitedly.

 

Then Karamatsu rushed to hug Ichimatsu. "Ichimatsu my dear brother! How glad I am to see you!"

Ichimatsu was victim of Karamatsu's sudden hug attack and as soon as he could he pushed him away grunting. "Don't you fucking touch me," he snapped but it was somewhat half hearted and he already regretted the words as they left his mouth. Then he shoved his hands into his pockets and avoiding everyone’s eyes mumbled: "But yeah, I guess it's good to see you too." Light blush made its way to Ichimatsu's cheeks and he snapped again now facing Karamatsu: "But only cause you are my punching back!" Then he turned to greet the only brother left. "Osomatsu-niisan."

 

The oldest gave him a bright smile as he greeted back. “It’s good to see you!”

Ichimatsu gave Osomatsu a pat on the back. "We are here," he said and gave one of his rare smiles. He was happy that his brothers were happy for the moment and somewhat safe.


Karamatsu couldn't stop talking. "Thank god you are now here with us! We were so worried. I'm sorry I didn't find you sooner. As your big brother I should have been able to do more. Oh brothers, I'm just so glad." Finally his expression turned serious again as he laid his gaze to Choromatsu's leg. "Choromatsu. I need to see that. I'll see if I can do something about it," he said. "Oh, just a second!" he added and ran away. After couple of seconds Karamatsu ran back with three hound skins, tossed one of them to both Jyushimatsu and Ichimatsu and then covered Choromatsu with the last.


"Thank you Karamatsu-niisan!" Jyushimatsu buried himself in the skin to keep himself warm. They had found their brothers and had a warm skins around themselves. He felt so much better now.

 

"Let's get you closer to the fire for me to take a look and probably clean the wound, okay brother?" Karamatsu said to Choromatsu as he adjusted the skin better on him.

Choromatsu wanted to talk to his brothers. Tell them how happy he was to see them again but the tears and sobbing made it almost impossible to talk. Catcoon watched the scene from her spot next to Choromatsu's side. She had moved out of the happy brothers way to a safer place. " We are all here. They are all okay. I'm so happy. "

 

"Th-thank you Karamatsu."  Choromatsu calmed his sobs and nodded. "Ichimatsu? Jyushimatsu? Could you carry me to the fire?"

Jyushimatsu was about to agree when Osomatsu spoke. "Don't worry about it Jyushimatsu. I got this," he said and took Jyushimatsu's place at the other side of the stretcher.

 

Ichimatsu kneeled down to help Osomatsu to carry Choromatsu but Karamatsu cut in. "Non non non my brother. Let me help," Karamatsu said and lifted Choromatsu with Osomatsu. He had completely forgotten his still healing leg but it wasn't slowing him down.  As they made their way next to the fire Karamatsu immediately started unwrapping Choromatsu's clothes around his injuries. When he saw the wound he winced a little and frowned worriedly. " Who? Who dares to hurt my brother?! "

 

"It doesn't look nice but I assume it was worse?" He gave a quick look to Choromatsu. "It looks like it is already healing. How bad was it?" Karamatsu asked as he started cleaning the wound with boiled water and a rag. After that he went to fetch the bandages made from Totty's t-shirt and tied them around the wound. "Don't worry, they are washed. Just blood stains." After he was ready he covered Choromatsu again with furs and he took one of the birds Totty has brought and started skinning it looking at the hustle around him. Oh how much he had missed this.

Ichimatsu walked next to Choromatsu and Karamatsu and took a rabbit to skin. When Karamatsu opened his mouth to speak he only shrugged. They would all want food so Ichimatsu could do something. Karamatsu shut his mouth and gave Ichimatsu a sparkling smile which Ichimatsu chose to ignore.

Totty bustled around his brothers happily. "So, I guess we should all gather together and talk through this thing. Like what have happened to us and such," he said. "Everybody wants to know everything anyway."

 

---

 

The matsuno brothers had a happy reunion despite the circumstances. Now they were gathered together into the warm lean-to to catch up and relax. They were eating rabbit-bird soup and had hound skins around them. Osomatsu had taken the first skin. The second was shared between Todomatsu and Karamatsu. Ichimatsu and Jyushimatsu were under the third skin and the fourth was over Choromatsu. Catcoon was peacefully laying next to him. They had stayed in comfortable silence for a while before Osomatsu broke it.

 

"So, Choromatsu. I think we all want to know what happened to you. And also what is that cat-like creature that is laying next to you?" he said and looked at Todomatsu and Karamatsu for agreement.

 

Both of them nodded. "Yes, we should all share what we know to make it easier to survive here. Besides treating the wounds would be easier if I know what was the cause and how bad it was," Karamatsu said his hand under his chin as he talked seriously.

 

Totty nodded his head next to Kara. "He’s right. You already told me it was the hounds," Karamatsu visibly tensed and grimaced, "but we need to observe this harder because we faced them too. Maybe we can figure out what made them attack or something," Totty said and looked the round of his older brothers. "But yeah, Choromatsu-niisan, you should start."

 

"Okay then." Choromatsu shifted to better position before starting. "I woke up in a pinkish leaf three forest. I tried to call your names but I realized that it was useless so I moved onward until I found a road made out of rock. I followed it in the hope of finding civilisation. Oh right. I have drawn a simple map on my notebook. You can check it out to get a better picture,” he said and placed the map in the middle of them. "The next day when I arrived I was disgusted. The road led to a village full of hunchbacked pigmen.  They were creepy and rude and selfish but their village had lots of food and a lake next to it. Luckily the pigmen didn't mind me as long as I didn't bother them so I decided to stay for a few days. On the first night there I met Catcoon," he told and petted the feline making her purr. "She turned out to be kind and useful. I have fed her and she has vomited and brought me gifts. But that’s not all." Choromatsu's face showed a serious expression. "She saved my life."

 

Todomatsu looked disgusted. "Vomited...?! Eww!" But when Choromatsu said she had saved him Todomatsu's expression turned into confusion. "Wow really? How?" he asked. "Well, she is kind of cute."

Karamatsu listened Choromatsu's story frowning. He hated seeing his brothers struggle but this was worse. They were hurting. "Pigman? Can they be reasoned with?" he asked to which Ichimatsu answered. "We will avoid them as much as possible. They are creepy."

When Karamatsu heard Catcoon had saved his little brother he gave it a bright smile. "Truly what a wonderful creature! Thank you for saving our Choromatsu. You are my hero!" he said with sparkling eyes and the last line with broken English as he gave few more pieces of meat to her.

 

"Wow! You have picked a great animal friend Choromatsu. But how did she exactly save you?" Osomatsu looked at Choromatsu curiously.

Choromatsu took a deep breath before he continued the story. "It was the fifth day evening when I was peacefully fishing with Catcoon when we suddenly heard a loud growling all around us. I felt trapped and scared and I didn't know what to do. Then I realized that I couldn't leave Catcoon to danger so I hid her in a big and hollow stump." Choromatsu's eyes showed uneasiness as he told the earlier events.

 

"Right after that I saw a huge hound rushing towards me. I grabbed a burning branch and tried to drive it off but it was useless. When I saw another hound I knew my best bet was to flee. But I managed to trip on a three root and immediately the first hound bit me in my left shoulder. I pushed the torch to its face and it jumped back. I managed to turn around and cut its snout before it leaped straight towards me. Then I put my spear between me and the beast. The first hound died but in the process the spear snapped in half. Immediately the second hound buried its teeth to my right ankle and shook its head violently trying to rip my leg off. I tried to use the fire again but it let go and bit me again at my right knee. That’s when Catcoon roared and fearlessly attacked a hound many times bigger than her. She bought me enough time to stab the hound to its neck. I tried to clean my wounds from blood both mine and the hound’s and then I slowly and painfully made my way back to my camp. Unfortunately my ankle was useless and the wound around my knee got badly infected. It got worse and worse and I got more hopeless. I thought that I was going to die there. And there I stayed until Ichimatsu and Jyushimatsu heard my shouting," Choromatsu ended his story and shook his head to get the image of his swollen and bloody leg out of his mind. He hadn’t meant to talk so long and in detail but the words just kept coming. But somehow now that he had let it all out he felt much more at ease.

 

Karamatsu's and Todomatsu's faces had turned into horrified expression. "God Choromatsu-niisan, why you have to be so graphic?" Todomatsu asked shaking his head disgusted. "But it's better now, right?" he asked waiting for Choromatsu to confirm.

Karamatsu was fighting to hold back the tears (and losing) when hearing Choromatsu's fate. When he ended, Karamatsu rushed to hug him again tears flowing freely now. "Oh my brother, my dear Choromatsu! It must have been horrible. And to think that you've needed to suffer all alone - with Catcoon I mean. Don't worry brother. We are here now and together we are stronger!" Karamatsu said passionately. "Don't hesitate to tell us if there is anything we can do for you.

 

"You'll need to rest and focus on getting healthy again," Osomatsu said with worry in his voice. He turned to face Catcoon and petted her. "Thanks for being with Choromatsu." " First Karamatsu and now Choromatsu. I swear I'll kill every hound I encounter, " Osomatsu swore to himself and felt strong hatred for the word hound itself.

Choromatsu was surprised when Karamatsu suddenly hugged him again but hugged back. "Don't worry. I'm much better now. My shoulder has healed almost completely and the infection has calmed down letting my leg start the healing process too," Choromatsu said with a smile. "But enough about me. Who wants to go next?"

 

"Good," Karamatsu said and ruffled Choromatsu's hair gently. "I hope you’ll get well soon. It's not safe here and ability to move is important." Then he smiled affectionately. "But of course we are here for you," he said before going back to Todomatsu's side.

Ichimatsu sighed. "Well I guess it's most logical if we continue." He shifted little uncomfortably under everyone's gazes. "Umm, so I woke up in some grassland and spent the first day looking for you guys. Luckily just before darkness I found Jyushimatsu," he said and looked at said man with a tiniest hint of smile. Then he shrugged. "I guess we did pretty well when we were on the move. We had enough to eat but yeah, the hounds attacked us too during the fifth day."

 

Jyushimatsu smiled at Ichimatsu when he told their story. He wrapped the hound skin better around himself and moved closer to Ichimatsu hoping to feel warmer. When his brother finished Jyushimatsu waved his hands around to get everyone’s attention. "I was on an empty field where was only flowers and bees as big as my palm. I followed pretty flowers until they led me to Ichimatsu. We stayed on the move to find you faster until we found Choromatsu-niisan," he continued the story.

 

Ichimatsu nodded. "Mmm and he wasn't doing so good but you heard about that already. We stayed at the same place a little longer because we were waiting for Choromatsu to get little better and making the stretcher." Ichimatsu averted his eyes and 'tsk'ed. "Fullmoon was a pain in the ass. Apparently I turned into a werecat and I swear to god I'm gonna kill myself if it's going to be a thing."

 

Osomatsu's eyes widened in confusion. "What? Really?" he asked in disbelief and saw how Choromatsu nodded confirming Ichimatsu's words. " That is so weird, " he thought as he fell silent so that Ichimatsu could continue.

 

Karamatsu and Todomatsu shared the same expression with their mouths hanging open and eyes wide. "What?" Todomatsu shrieked with high pitched voice. "That can't be good, my brother," Karamatsu said eyeing Ichimatsu warily but worried.

Ichimatsu shrugged again still not looking at anyone. "When I woke up here I got the feeling that my cat part was getting stronger and, well, I guess it was because of that. So yeah, I don't really know what happened because I don't remember anything. But it hurted like hell and next day I felt pretty awful. Oh and then last night or early morning some shadow hands attacked us."

 

Osomatsu's expression turned to show slight distress. " S-shadow hands? Was it the same creature that attacked Totty? " "Did the hands like really attack you?" he asked and little bit of worry could be heard in his voice.

 

"No. They tried to put out our campfire," Jyushimatsu replied to the oldest's question.

 

Osomatsu nodded and felt even more distress building up in himself. " Those hands are deadlier than they seem, " he thought and turned his face to see how badly Todomatsu would react.

 

Todomatsu's eyes widened with pure fear when he heard Jyushimatsu's words. Then he jumped up to his feet (as well as he could with the low ceiling) and he waved his arms vigorously and shook his head. "NO! There's no way I'm gonna stand some freaking shadow hands lurking in the darkness too! I was fucking this close to get killed by the night monster and I just can't fucking take this all!" he shouted distraught, voice wavering with emotions.

 

Karamatsu reached his hand to try to pull Totty back down. "Todomatsu please calm down. This won't help you."

 

Todomatsu shoved his hand away: "Like fuck I will! I hate this! I hate this so fucking much! Aargh!!" he shouted and hold his head in between his palms and gripped his hair. "One day I will lose it. I swear to god, I will lose my mind and there won't be coming back," he shouted hysterically. Then he dropped his hands to his side and hang his head. "I've always been the weakest," he said now quietly and walked out of the lean-to. It was almost dark already but the campfire was burning. Todomatsu sat down next to it his back turned to the others.

 

Jyushimatsu had flinched at Todomatsu's sudden outburst. He didn't know what to do and looked helplessly at his brothers to see how he should react.

Choromatsu was too shocked to say anything before Todomatsu had already left. " Damn. Why does this world have to be so cruel. " If his leg wouldn't be injured he would have already gone after the youngest brother. He stared after Todomatsu hoping he could do something.

Osomatsu wasn't surprised that Todomatsu reacted the way he did even though he hadn't expected the reaction to be that strong. But Osomatsu couldn't blame his little brother. He had faced the danger of the darkness and now felt uneasy when surrounded by it. And to think how badly Todomatsu was scared of the dark before. Osomatsu saw how Choromatsu gazed after their little brother. "Leave him be. He might need to be alone for a while," he said plainly while staring blankly at the floor.

 

Karamatsu looked Totty go and sat down next to the fire. He couldn't watch his brothers hurting so he stood up. " I need to do what I can, " he thought.

Ichimatsu seemed to lose his temper at that. "Why can't you just let people be, Shittymatsu?"

 

Karamatsu was used to hear his brothers snapping at him and he didn't even look at Ichimatsu. "My brother needs me," he only said as he left the lean-to taking the hound skin with him.

Karamatsu walked behind Totty and sat down next to him. Todomatsu was holding his face in his palms and shook a little. Karamatsu put the skin around both of them and Totty raised his head to look at him. Silent tears were streaming down his cheeks. "It's okay, Totty. It will be fine. We are together now," Karamatsu said as he pulled him into a hug. Todomatsu let out a stifled sob and leaned to his older brother.

Ichimatsu looked at the two figures outside. He grunted and switched his gaze back to the others. "He will take care of Totty," he said. " As long as he keeps his painfulness in check he is actually the best at comforting others. " "So," he continued directing his words to Osomatsu, "do you want to continue?"

 

Osomatsu raised his head to meet the others. Karamatsu and Todomatsu weren't coming back right now so he had to do it. "So, I woke up in at a place full of trees, berry bushes and carrots. When I was about to start campfire for the night I heard a faint shout. I recognized it to be Todomatsu so I grabbed a torch and rushed towards the voice. When we were about to reach each other, the darkness fell. I could already see his phone's flashlight when it suddenly disappeared and was followed by Totty's scream of agony. He was attacked by some strange hissing creature that came only when it was completely dark."

 

Ichimatsu frowned. "By a what? Do you have any idea what was it?" he asked. "Anyway, good that you found him. I thought this all would be hardest for him."

Jyushimatsu listened closely to his big brother’s story. " Hissing shadow monster... " A single drop of sweat rolled down his face.

 

"B-but what was it? Do you know anything more about it?" Choromatsu asked concerned. "Any information could be useful."

Osomatsu frowned too. "Sadly I don't know what it was. But apparently it’s deadly." He returned to his memories and continued the story. "Anyway, I managed to stop the wounds from bleeding and we walked back to my camp."


It didn't took so long for Karamatsu to return to the lean-to with Todomatsu. They took the place they had left without saying anything but Totty's eyes were red. Karamatsu nodded to the others and asked: "Where are we going?"

"Me and Todomatsu have just settled for the first night," Osomatsu answered to his brother’s question while eyeing Totty to make sure he was alright.

 

Todomatsu avoided Osomatsu eyes. He hated that he was always the one crying but he couldn't help himself. Totty took a deep breath and started talking: "I don't know what it was but everyone should always have light during night. It cut my side but it's healed by now - only the scar remains," he said and lifted his hoodie to give a glimpse of it. "The next day we were on the move trying to find something useful or a good place to stay or something. That night we found Karamatsu-niisan," Totty said and looked at the said man expecting for him to continue. "Or he found us."

Karamatsu nodded and stroke a pose. "Oh yes, I found my beloved brothers and led them here to my humble camp. We started improving it, crafting stuff for ourselves and collect food and things to burn. It continued like that until the hounds attacked."

 

Osomatsu grasped tightly to the hound skin. "We tried to run but it was no use. Karamatsu stopped to fight and I followed close behind. One of the monsters managed bit his leg." Osomatsu felt bad when he remembered the stress of that night. "We decided to spent the night there where we had fought."

 

Ichimatsu's eyes widened a little. " He got hurt too? " "How bad was it?" he asked trying to sound uninterested.


Karamatsu smiled stupidly. "Don't worry my brothers. The creature bit me in the thigh but now it's almost healed. It doesn't slow me down that much anymore."


Choromatsu let out a relieved sigh. " Luckily he didn’t get the same fate with me. "


Todomatsu continued: "After that we continued doing our normal stuff; crafting, collecting food and building the lean-to. Taking care of Stupidmatsu-niisan. Just as normal as things here can be. But then was the creepy full moon and these two insisted on going to look at some freaking mushroom trees."

Jyushimatsu's eyes lit up when Todomatsu mentioned the mushroom trees. "I want to see them too!" he announced excitedly.

Osomatsu laughed a little. "I have to admit that they were really cool. After that Karamatsu skinned the hounds and me and Totty finished the lean-to. I think that is pretty much all," he ended.

 

"Yeah that's about it," Todomatsu confirmed.

 

"And then came this beautiful day that we got reunited," Karamatsu said and beamed.

"Tsk," Ichimatsu said and grimaced. "Don't even start being painful. Anyway, I'm still fucking tired after the full moon and the shadow hands. We should decide the watch turns and start sleeping." There were now six of them so they could get much more sleep every night.

 

Jyushimatsu jumped up. "I'll take the first watch!" He had too much energy to sleep so he could as well take the first watch.

 

"Thank you my brother," Karamatsu said and reached to pat Jyushimatsu on the shoulder. "I can take the second one, then the order should be Totty, Osomatsu and Ichimatsu," he looked at Ichimatsu. "So that you get the best and most continuous sleep." Then he looked at Choromatsu. "And you are not going to take a shift. You need sleep the most from us to heal. Besides it would be too troublesome for you to move outside to put more wood to the campfire."

 

"Okay Karamatsu," Choromatsu said. He laid down and Catcoon curled up into a ball next to him. "Good night."

Jyushimatsu took his bat and one of the hound skins. "Sleep well!" he said before he walked out of the lean-to and took his place next to the fire.

Osomatsu laid down to his spot in the lean-to. They didn't have much personal space in there but it reminded him of their futon. "Good night."


"Good night!" Todomatsu said and for the first time in long time he felt like something was better. He scrambled to take his place between the two oldests like every night back in their home. It was crowded but that was the best thing - it made him feel safer and warmer.

Ichimatsu took one of the skins to himself because he was not going to share one with Karamatsu if he had a choice. Karamatsu and Todomatsu were sharing another and the last one was left for Osomatsu and Choromatsu. Ichimatsu closed his eyes taking in the warmth and scent coming from his brothers. He turned up his nose and sneered. " They could all really use a bath, " he thought smiling to himself.

It was good to be back together.

Chapter Text

Todomatsu woke up when Karamatsu shoved him in the sleep. For a moment he could have thought that he was lying on their futon but then he realized the hard floor and rough hair of the hound skin. Totty grunted but opened his eyes. It wasn't dark anymore so he decided to leave the lean-to because he really needed to pee.

Crawling outside he saw Ichimatsu sitting next to the fire sharpening some of their weapons. "Morning niisan," Totty called out to him and walked little further.

After he was done he came back to the fourth brother and sat down next to him. "Can we share the skin?" he asked trying to use his 'I'm so cute and you know that' card on Ichimatsu who only “hmph'ed” in response and lifted the skin so that Todomatsu could shift under it.

"Thanks," Totty said and gave a smile. "So, what should we do today?"

"We need to hunt. Hopefully something bigger because we need more skin to keep us warm," Ichimatsu answered. "Should we wake them up already?" he then added seriously thinking about it.

 

Choromatsu woke up and rubbed his eyes. " Almost feels like a normal morning. " "Purrr?" Catcoon released a confused purr as the man sat up. Choromatsu looked to his left and saw Jyushimatsu fast asleep. " He seems to be in deep sleep but he could wake up any second now. " To his right he saw how Osomatsu drooled next to him. Further away Karamatsu was also still asleep. " It's nice to be together again, " he thought and petted Catcoon’s soft fur. His leg felt like the infection was gone. " I should ask someone to look at it later. "

Suddenly Jyushimatsu jumped up. "Good morning Choromatsu-niisan and Catcoon," he cheerfully greeted.

 

"Good morning Jyushimatsu. Slept well?"

 

Jyushimatsu nodded and petted the purring feline between them.

 

"We need to find bigger food sources. We can manage with current amount but more would be welcome," Choromatsu said.

 

"Don't worry. We'll figure out something," Jyushimatsu replied with a smile.

 

Karamatsu jerked up from his sleep because of Jyushimatsu's always loud voice. He wasn't the lightest sleeper but during the last few days his body seemed to be always ready to run away or grap the weapons. Seeing that it was only Jyushimatsu he relaxed, yawned and said: "Good morning, brothers!" Then he left the lean-to and walked to his brothers sitting next to the fire. He ruffled their hair to which Ichimatsu snarled and shoved Karamatsu with his hand. "How was the rest of the night? No shadow hands I hope?" Karamatsu asked.

Ichimatsu felt a shiver go down his spine. "No," he simply replied before Totty started speaking: "Let's wait for everyone to wake up and then share what we have left for yesterday's dinner. Then we should decide what we do today."

 

After a while beaming Jyushimatsu and yawning Osomatsu walked out from the lean-to. They carried Choromatsu on the stretcher and Catcoon followed close behind.

 

"Good morning!" Jyushimatsu said with his usual smile.

 

"Morning," Osomatsu sleepily mumbled. He really wasn't a morning person.

 

"Good morning," Choromatsu said as Osomatsu and Jyushimatsu put the stretcher to the ground.

 

Jyushimatsu laughed when he saw how Catcoon failed to hunt a bird. "Maybe next time." He picked up the feline and sat next to his brothers.

 

"So, any plans for today?" Osomatsu asked while he sat down next to Choromatsu.

"We need to figure out a way to get food for everyone," Choromatsu answered while opening the bandages around his leg.

 

Immediately Karamatsu appeared next to Choromatsu to take a look at the wound. "I think it's best for me and Choromatsu to stay here. Do you think you could catch something if you went hunting?" he asked the others.

Ichimatsu let out a little laugh. "Heh, you know we have the ultimate weapon. We got Jyushimatsu," he said and grinned.

 

"Huh?" Jyushimatsu made a confused sound and tilted his head to one side.

 

"Hah! That is true," Osomatsu laughed. "If we just get you to want it enough you will surely get it. Then you wouldn't even need our help," he said and playfully hit Jyushimatsu's shoulder.

 

"Okay okay. Now everyone take some food and maybe we should start going then?" Totty said. "I mean the day is much shorter now than it was a week ago."

 

Osomatsu and Jyushimatsu agreed. The brothers ate and were ready to leave. Osomatsu held his axe as he turned to Karamatsu and Choromatsu. "See you later," he said.

 

"We'll be back soon!" Jyushimatsu yelled and waved.

 

"Take care," Choromatsu called after them while cleaning Catcoon's fur.

 

"May the Lady Luck be with you," Karamatsu said and fired a finger gun.

"Ugh!" groaned Todomatsu and rolled his eyes while they started walking. "I don't even know why did I decide to be in the hunting party. I mean I won't probably be any help unless I get to throw my knife. Oh, Osomatsu-niisan! Why don't we go throwing knives again? Or you could just run after the prey?" Todomatsu said trying to sound innocent but a mocking smile tugged the corner of his mouth.

 

Osomatsu shot a quick glare at Todomatsu. "We can do that another time. But I won't be throwing any knives," Osomatsu had missed these kinds of conversations with his brothers.

 

Jyushimatsu bounced next to the two. "I could run after the prey!" he said before dashing ahead of his brothers.


"Maybe we find something useful and at least you can help us to carry it back. Anyway, what are we trying to look for?" asked Ichimatsu. He hoped to get something else than rabbit or fish. Not that he didn't like them but big, warm skins would be welcome.


"I guess any kind of signs of bigger animals would be good," Osomatsu replied to Ichimatsu's question. Ahead of them Jyushimatsu laughed as he made strange foot and paw prints to the snowy ground.

 

Todomatsu showed an innocent looking grin at Osomatsu and leaned on his shoulder. "Come on niisan, I'm just joking a bit. But seriously that's pretty unique way of using axe. Impressive though," he said. "And I don't think my throwing skills will help us too much with big prey."

"You have a spear in your hand. Throw that," stated Ichimatsu.

 

"Yeah, but I have never tried it with things like this. It's so long and kind of heavy," Totty answered.

Ichimatsu just shrugged and raised his voice to reach Jyushimatsu: "You find anything, Jyushimatsu?"


Jyushimatsu turned to face his brothers. "Nothing unusual," he said and continued his journey and left the strange footprints behind him.

 

"You just need a little practice and you'll throw the spear as well as the knife." Osomatsu grinned and ruffled Todomatsu's hair before taking a short look at the ground. "What kind of creature’s footprints are those supposed to be? They look weird," Osomatsu said as he inspected the footprints. Jyushimatsu just shrugged at Osomatsu's question and looked proudly at the footprints around him.

 

Totty let out a little laugh and pushed away Osomatsu's hand. God he too had missed this kind of chattering. He could almost forget for a moment the situation they were in. "And if you practise hard enough you might get your anger in check," he said and jumped away from Osomatsu's arm to avoid any possible attacks. "Just joking," he laughed and dropped all the innocent act to grin slyly.

"I don't know what you are talking about. My anger is totally under control," Osomatsu laughed. It felt good to forget all the stress and just joke around. Even if it wouldn't last long.


While the oldest and the youngest fooled around Ichimatsu went to Jyushimatsu to look at the footprints. "They look good," he told Jyushimatsu. Then something different caught his eye. "Huh?" he said as he walked next to a dirt pile. "What's this," he wondered out loud. "Jyushimatsu did you make this?" He pushed the dirt away with his hand and it revealed a footprint. A big footprint. "Uh, hey guys?"

"No I didn't," Jyushimatsu answered to Ichimatsu’s question and moved next to him to see what he had found. His eyes widened when he saw the footprint. "That is so big!" he shouted.

Osomatsu shifted his attention to the two looking at the ground. "What did you find Ichimatsu?" he asked and lazily walked towards them.

 

Ichimatsu was still inspecting the footprint when answering to Osomatsu. "We might have found our prey," he said and gestured with his hand to Osomatsu and Todomatsu to come closer.

Totty came next to Osomatsu to look at it and his eyes widened. "But that's huge! I mean it could probably eat us whole!"

Ichimatsu glanced quickly at Todomatsu's face before he answered: "Look at the shape. I'm sure it's a herbivore, look at the claws or the fact that it doesn't have them. And it's heavy. I don’t think it’s a hunter."

"Yeah, but have you seen the animals in this world? They are different than in our world, big and dangerous!" Totty yelled.

 

"Come on Totty. We haven't even seen the creature yet. Just imagine how much meat we could get from it," Osomatsu said. He would be grateful to get meat for few days. Then they could stay at the camp and craft something useful.

"I want to see what made that!" Jyushimatsu announced and knelt next to the print to take a closer look. It was big and clearly showed where the creature had went.

 

Todomatsu closed his eyes and sighed. "Yeah I guess. We can decide whether to try to kill it or not when we see it."

Ichimatsu stood up. "Then let's go. We should be back at the camp before night."

 

Osomatsu nodded. "Jyushimatsu let's go," he said.

 

"Yes niisan!" Jyushimatsu said and followed the tracks with his brothers behind him.

 

After a long time of walking Ichimatsu finally stopped and lifted his hand to quiet the others’s chattering. "Shut your mouths. I think I can hear something," he said as his cat ears popped out from his head to aid his hearing. Sure enough he could hear some big animal walking slowly around somewhere ahead of them. "The creature is close. Take your weapons and be ready. Once we see it we decide whether or not to attack. If we do, surrounding it might be the best strategy."

Todomatsu gulped nervously. "Yeah, okay," he said as he gripped his spear.

 

Jyushimatsu hold the bat in front of him as they walked towards the sound. "The creature must be huge," he stated as they got nearer. Soon they could clearly hear the creature’s heavy steps and deep breathing.

 

"I think it's behind these trees," Osomatsu said as he moved closer. "Shall we inspect what creature we caught in our net?" he asked playfully from his brothers.

 

"Sure! You do that and I'll wait here," Todomatsu answered as he slowed his steps.

 

"Come on," grunted Ichimatsu as he grabbed a hold on Totty's hood and started dragging him along.

 

"Eeee, niisan stop it," Todomatsu whined and pulled himself free. "I'll walk on my own," he spit annoyed and shoved his hands to his pockets as he continued walking with others.

Pushing away some willows Ichimatsu suddenly stopped his mouth hanging open. There was a huge weirdly colored elephant looking creature in front of them. "Well, that's a lot of meat..." he said slowly.

 

"Waaaah?!" Jyushimatsu's jaw dropped when he saw the colorful elephant in front of them. "That is huge!" he yelled as he eyed the creature.

"Wow!" Osomatsu had expected some kind of monster but this creature looked almost normal. At least compared to other beings they had encountered. " Let's hope it doesn't have the same kind of meat as the hounds. " He turned to look at his brothers and spoke. "I'm ready for the hunting if you are. What do you think?"

"I'm in!" Jyushimatsu stated and waved rapidly with his arms.

 

Ichimatsu tightened his grip on the axe he was carrying and grinned evilly. "Always ready," he said. Then he turned to look at Totty who was stammering.

 

"Ah... I... I..." he gulped loudly, "Yeah, I guess. Just don't let it come too close to me!"

"Good," said Ichimatsu and patted Totty on the back. "Now I think we should surround it and perhaps start the attack by throwing a spear or something at it. What do you think? Also by the look of the creature you can tell that the tusks are the most dangerous thing we should look out. Then the trunk and its mass itself. It's so big so I don't think we need to worry about it kicking but it can walk over you. Aim for the head and neck I think. If you can, avoid damaging the skin too much."

 

"Okay Ichimatsu-niisan!" Jyushimatsu said as he held his bat tightly and quickly sneaked to the other side of the animal.

"You should get the honor to get the first throw since you are so good at it Totty." Osomatsu grinned at the youngest brother.

 

Todomatsu squeaked quietly. "Why me??" he whined defeatedly. "Okay yeah, I can throw a spear to its throat but I want you to be by my side!" he said pointing at Osomatsu.

 

Confusion took over Osomatsu's features. "Huh? Why me? But I guess it doesn't matter so... okay." He nodded at Todomatsu. Osomatsu shared a meaningful look with Ichimatsu before he and Todomatsu moved to their position.

 

Todomatsu walked with Osomatsu to the place where he could get the best shot at the creature. He was not going to tell the eldest that he trusted him to protect him and wanted to be by his side because of that. "You are the best target for it is all," he said instead.

Todomatsu took a steady stance and lifted the spear in a throwing position. He took some deep breaths and weighed the weapon in his hand. He would only have one try and he couldn't screw it up. Concentrating hard he took the spear far back and then with all the strength he could muster, he threw it.

A heart beat and then the spear pierced into the side of the creature’s throat, just were Totty had aimed.

"Yes!" he exclaimed proud of himself but before he could celebrate his victory further the animal let out a loud angry noise and started to charge towards him and Osomatsu.

 

Osomatsu felt how a shiver went through him as the huge animal charged straight towards him and Todomatsu. He quickly pushed Todomatsu down behind the grass before he ran out of their hiding place. "Hey you! Look at me! I'm the one who you should chase!" he yelled and waved his axe around while still running. The animal turned on its tracks and charged after Osomatsu. Luckily the animal wasn't that fast so it couldn't catch him.

 

" Shit! Fuck! " Totty screamed in his mind as the beast rushed towards them. He didn't have time to say anything out loud before Osomatsu pushed him down. Shoved to the ground Totty watched with wide sparkling eyes as his oldest brother ran ahead to get the creatures attention. " I can't believe this. This is why I wanted to be with him. I can trust him! " he thought as he watched Osomatsu wave his arms in front of the angry creature. " Why is it that we have be in a place like this before he acts like the oldest we can trust?! " Then Todomatsu snapped out of it. He stood up and looked over the situation to find best way to act. First thing, he needed his spear back which was currently sticking out of the animal's throat.

Ichimatsu watched as the spear flew to pierce the creature's throat and soon after the idiotic eldest brother ran to get the creature's attention. It was time to act so Ichimatsu let his cat part to surface and on all fours with his powerful legs he darted forward roaring. Few seconds and he lept on the creature's back sinking his claws into its skin. The animal bellowed angrily but kept its focus on Osomatsu since Ichimatsu was hard to reach. Ichimatsu bit his teeth together and started to scrabble his knife to his paw. Not an easy task with paws but it could cut deeper than his claws.

 

Jyushimatsu followed close behind. He dashed towards the creature. When he was close he noticed Todomatsu's spear hanging from the creatures neck. " Totty needs that ." He took a tight hold of the spear and pulled it out of the creatures flesh. The creature let out a pained sound and turned to charge towards him. "Wah!" Jyushimatsu shouted and ran the creature following behind. Jyushimatsu tossed the spear to the side so that Todomatsu could pick it up. He ran and kept a tight hold of his bat.

Osomatsu saw how the creature turned to attack Jyushimatsu. " Fuck! " He turned around and ran after the creature ready to strike it with his axe when he would get close enough.

 

Todomatsu watched how Jyushimatsu tossed his spear aside and led the creature away. " Well done, Jyushimatsu-niisan! " he thought pleased with his brother as he ran to the spear and took it to his hands again. " Okay Totty. You could throw it again but it probably wouldn't help much because chances are you wouldn't hit very weak spot. It would be best to just stick it to its throat. " Totty hardened his grip and ran after the others. He had decided to try it.

Ichimatsu hold tight on the bolting animals back as he finally got a grip on the knife. With roar he swang it and with all his strength he stabbed the animal to its neck. He had a blood thirsty grin on his face as he pulled the knife out for the next stabs.

 

Osomatsu was now right behind the creature. He raised his axe. " You won’t chase anyone anymore! " He hit the creature behind its knee with full force. The axe dug deep into its leg. The creature let out a loud groan as it stopped on its tracks and turned towards Osomatsu. Osomatsu quickly ripped the axe off its leg and barely managed to dodge the massive tusk as the creature tried to ram to him.

Jyushimatsu turned on his heels. When he saw that the creature wasn't after him anymore he rushed to help the others. "ATTACK!" he yelled and hit the creature on the head with his bat and quickly pulled back before the creature could attack him.

 

Ichimatsu swayed as the creature suddenly changed its direction and it made him drop the knife. " Stupid cat paws! " he grumbled and switched into plan B. He outstretched his claws and then thrust them into the knife wound and dug them as deep as he could slicing through animal's flesh.

Todomatsu ran to where the others were fighting. He watched his brothers attack the animal as he took a steady grip on the spear, hold it in front of him and sped up his pace. Letting out a battle cry Totty ran past Jyushimatsu and pushed the spear as deep into the creature's throat as he could. He let out a triumphant exclaim while the creature wailed in pain. Before Todomatsu had time to move, he was forcefully slammed aside by the animals trunk. Letting out another pained wail the creature fell to the ground with a huge thud.

 

"Totty!" Jyushimatsu immediately appeared next to his younger brother when the trunk hit him. "Totty are you hurt?" he asked worried for his brother.

When the creature fell down Osomatsu quickly checked that it was truly dead. He was relieved to know that they had been successful. He turned around and hastily moved towards Todomatsu and Jyushimatsu. "Totty! Are you okay?!" he worriedly questioned when he got next to the said pair.

 

Todomatsu was knocked out of the air by the slam but otherwise he was completely fine. He was gasping for breath and hold his stomach with his other hand and held the other one out as a way to tell that he was fine and they could stop fussing about it. After a short while he had managed to steady his breathing and he spoke: "I- Oh my god! We were amazing! Who's useless now?" Todomatsu was just sparkling. This was an important kill and they had managed so well. Totty smiled widely and looked at their kill. "Damn, that's a lot of meat!"

Ichimatsu looked worriedly at Totty but saw quickly that the youngest was fine. He slid down of the creature's back and turned back to fully human. His hands and arms, especially, were covered in blood and there were some splatters all over him. Ichimatsu grinned darkly. Hunting made him feel so good and alive.

 

When it was clear that Todomatsu was okay Jyushimatsu radiated with glee. "Haha! I know right! This was as easy as striking a home run!" He laughed with a wide smile. They were a great team. Jyushimatsu felt like nothing could stop them if they were together.

Osomatsu let out a relieved sigh. He smiled as he looked at the scene around him. "We made it! And we are all okay!" He laughed and ran next to the fallen creature. " That is so much food and crafting materials. " "We won't be hungry for days!" He put his arm around Ichimatsu's shoulder and cheered for their victory.

 

Ichimatsu let Osomatsu to cling on him and smiled with him. "I know! This is really good!" he said. He squirmed out of the eldest grip and went to pick up his knife. "I'll start cutting. I'm already bloody," he said and kneeled down next to the creature's stomach and cut it open. Creature's entrails flowed to the ground and heat radiated from them.

Todomatsu jogged closer to Ichimatsu and Osomatsu and frowned in disgust when Ichimatsu started gutting the creature. "Uh, we should probably help to get this done. It's best we get back to the camp as fast as possible, my toes are freezing," he said and took out his knife. "I could try skinning it?" he continued bit unsure and inspected creatures neck looking for a spot where he could take the first cut.

 

"I'll help too!" Jyushimatsu said as he ran to the others. He watched closely how Ichimatsu and Todomatsu worked. He restlessly tried to find someway to help them.
Osomatsu noticed this and poked Jyushimatsu's shoulder. "What is it Osomatsu-niisan?" Jyushimatsu asked. Osomatsu smirked and turned to look at the crearure's head.

 

"Could you help me to get those tusks?"

 

Jyushimatsu's eyes brightened. "Of course!" he said and ran straight to the creature's head.

 

"Wait Jyushimatsu! We don't want to break them!" Osomatsu yelled as he ran after his brother.

 

After some time working they were ready to take the first pieces of meat as well as the skin and tusks. They were all bloody and messy when they started to prepare themselves for carrying them.

"So I guess we just need to leave the rest of it here?" asked Todomatsu.

 

"It will take more than one time to carry all of the meat to our camp," said Ichimatsu sounding fed up already.

 

"Aww man! I wish we had a truck or something. But it should be worth the trouble," Osomatsu said with a sigh.

 

"Could we move already? I'm getting cold," Jyushimatsu impatiently said to his brothers. He was moving around to keep himself warmer. With that they started to carry the resources back to their base.

 

---

 

Back at the camp Karamatsu was carrying more firewood for the campfire. He set them down close to it and then went back to his weaving. Karamatsu's stomach rumbled. He wasn't yet worried about the others but he wished they would come back already. "Hey, brother. What do you think they will bring back?" he asked from Choromatsu trying to start a conversation.

 

Choromatsu was sitting on the stretcher next to the fire. He was making more rope since they needed it for almost anything they crafted. He was happy that his shoulder had healed so that he could be useful again. His work was occasionally interrupted by Catcoon. She didn't mean anything bad but she wanted to play with the rope. Then Choromatsu would just get her to play with some stick or a pine cone.

Choromatsu moved his gaze to the older brother and answered: "If I had to guess I would say that they found a turkey. Or they might have hunted rabbits. What would you want them to bring back?" Choromatsu asked.

 

Karamatsu nodded. "Mmm, sounds likely. But to be honest I just want them to bring some skin and more than that thread. We need warmer clothes," he said and sighed.

It didn't took long before they could hear cheery chattering from the woods coming closer. Karamatsu stood up and spread his arms in welcoming manner. "Welcome back our brave brothers! I hope your trip was successful and you came back with lot of food so we can feast together."

 

"We were amazing!" Jyushimatsu yelled and ran to Karamatsu with a huge smile.

 

Osomatsu followed close behind him. "We are amazing," he agreed with a smirk.

Choromatsu looked to the direction of the sounds. His eyes widened when he saw the others returning with only parts of their prey. "Nicely done! What on earth did you manage to kill?"

 

Karamatsu's smile dropped and his eyes widened with fear. His brothers were covered in blood. "Oh my god! Are you okay? What happened?!!" he asked. They had meat and other stuff with them and they were smiling so the trip seemed to be successful but Karamatsu couldn't help but worry.

Ichimatsu smirked evilly. "It's not our blood," he answered. Then Todomatsu pushed past him and Osomatsu and ran towards Karamatsu and Choromatsu dragging the huge skin along with him.

 

"Karamatsu-niisan! Choromatsu-niisan! We were incredible! It was this huge elephant like creature and I was so good, like I actually was useful and not just in the way! I did actually hunt and we were so good!" he rambled on excited. "And I skinned an animal! Can you believe that?!" he told them with a huge grin and laugh. Totty hardly could believe it all himself. "Anyway," he continued, "we are gonna feast tonight!"

Chapter Text

The brothers were enjoying their deserved meal which they had prepared together. Osomatsu was telling jokes to Choromatsu and Todomatsu who were sitting next to him. Jyushimatsu was smiling as always and Ichimatsu sat quietly by his side. At that point no one had idea what Karamatsu was talking about and thus he was ignored like usual. All in all they were having a great time or as good as they could considering the situation.

 

After eating Ichimatsu asked from Osomatsu: "Do you think there is enough day time left to go get more of the meat? I don't want it to go to animals."

"Me neither." The idea of all the meat going to waste felt unbearable to Osomatsu. "Will anyone else join us?" he asked.


"Oh right. You said there is a lot more!" Karamatsu commented. Then his eyes glimmered. "I'm so proud of you, my brothers! You did well!"

Totty let out a tired whine and rolled himself tighther into the hound skin. "Nooo. I'm so tired. I don't want to go back there anymore today!"

Jyushimatsu turned to Karamatsu and Choromatsu. "Do you need help with something at the camp?"

"Well we need firewood sooner or later as well as other basic resources. It might be good if you stayed here," Choromatsu listed.

"Okay!" Jyushimatsu smiled.

 

"Thank you, Jyushimatsu," Karamatsu said smiling. "I'm sorry, I can't leave Choromatsu's side. Dear brother needs someone to take care of him while still hurt."

Totty grumbled under the skin. "Don't even look at me," he said with a voice that told him being serious.

Ichi humphed but nodded. Then he turned to Osomatsu. "Let's go then. Take extra torches with you," he said, turned around and started walking again where they had returned earlier. Over his shoulder he shouted: "Look after them, Jyushimatsu."

 

"Try not to wreck the place while we are gone." Osomatsu smiled to the others as he took a few torches and followed after his brother.

"See you soon!" Jyushimatsu waved rapidly at the two. He was warming himself by the fire before he would go to work.

"Good luck," Choromatsu said and waved with Jyushimatsu but much calmer.

 

Ichimatsu raised his hand as an answer to them but didn’t turn to look back. Not long after they were gone with Osomatsu.

Karamatsu was working with the meat, slicing it to better sized pieces and taking off not so good looking parts. He also collected tendons he could find so that he could work with them later. If they wouldn't find something to make string from, they could at least bind things together roughly with tendons. While he was working he started talking to Choromatsu: "Brother, do you think we could try drying some of the meat?"

 

Choromatsu took a quick look at Karamatsu before turning his attention back at crafting. "I suppose we could. We should try at least. We can't afford for it to just go to waste." He turned to his brother and smiled. "Good thinking Karamatsu-niisan."

Karamatsu felt a wave of warmth spreading through his heart. "Thank you brother!" he said looking at Choromatsu with shining eyes. Then he nodded determinedly. "I'll do it then!" he said and started figuring out how he would tie the meat to trees to dry. He hoped it would work.

Jyushimatsu stretched himself. "I'll be off now!" he said while smiling to his brothers.


Totty groaned and pulled the skin tighter around himself. " I just want to rest and forget all this, " he thought. He wanted so badly took out his phone and turn it on for few minutes but he needed to save battery. He groaned again. Then Karamatsu turned to look at him.

 

"Totty I know you are tired, we all are. But please could you start preparing next meal? When Oso and Ichi come back, they will be hungry," he said.

 

Choromatsu frowned. " Karamatsu is correct. Everyone has do their part of the work, " he thought as he was tying two sticks together. He was hoping that he could walk soon and do more. That is why he had decided to craft himself a crutch so that his brothers wouldn't need to worry about moving him anymore. He turned to Todomatsu. "I can help you if there is something I can do."

 

Totty groaned even louder but sat up. "But I don't want to..." he wailed half heartedly. He sighed and stood up holding tight on the skin around himself. Then he walked closer to the campfire, sat down and took out his knife. Reaching for a piece of meat he asked: "Do we have anything else to cook with this?"

"Thank you Totty," Karamatsu said as Totty stood up groaning. He was tying meat to hang from trees with the rope that they had crafted from grass. It seemed to work ok. “I think it will be just meat now,” he answered to Todomatsu’s question.

 

---

 

Day turned to early dusk. Jyushimatsu had returned to camp with lots of firewood and crafting materials such as sharp flints. He had also found few frozen carrots to cook with the meat. He was now sitting next to a blazing campfire wrapped in a houndskin.

After hard work Choromatsu had managed to cut the carrots into suitable pieces to help Todomatsu. It wasn’t as easy as expected as they were frozen.

 

"Thank you Choromatsu-niisan!" Todomatsu said as Choromatsu helped him to cook food. He was not feeling that tired anymore now that he was doing something but he was always glad when he got help.

 

Choromatsu had just finished his own crafting project. " It's ready! "  He smiled brightly at the finished crutch. " Now I just have to try it out. Hopefully I won't get hurt all over again with it. " He leaned on to the crutch a few times before he took a firm grip. It was slow and shaky but there he was standing with the help of the crutch while keeping his injured leg in the air.

 

Karamatsu was looking at his work proudly. " Good. Now I need to start working with the elephant-creature's skin. I think it might be big enough that we can all fit under it like our futon back at home, " Karamatsu thought and went to clean up the huge skin. " This will take some time... " Then he saw Choromatsu trying to walk and he jumped up to go to his side. "Brother!! You're standing?! That's great, I'm so relieved. Are you okay? Does it hurt?" he went on fussing around the third oldest brother.

Totty too saw Choromatsu standing and taking few shaky steps with crutch. "Eeh Choromatsu-niisan, you can stand? And almost walk! That's great!! How is it?" he asked. He was happy that Choromatsu seemed to be doing better.

 

Jyushimatsu quickly turned his head towards the sudden voices of his brothers. He had been grumpy after his trip to the cold winter forest but this sight made him feel much better. "Choromatsu-niisan! You are walking on you own!" Jyushimatsu yelled and dashed next to Choromatsu whose body wobbled from the sudden effort.

Choromatsu shivered as the cold snow brushed his bare foot and the cold dusk air caressed his bandaged leg. “ How can Jyushimatsu survive while wearing shorts and slippers? " He was more than happy that his efforts paid off. The crutch was a bit too tall for him but he would modify it later. "It feels weird and unsteady but it doesn't hurt as much as I expected. After some practice I think I can move pretty well," he said smiling to his brothers. Catcoon looked at the green brother with curiosity as Choromatsu shifted to better and more steady position. Choromatsu started his journey towards the campfire while keeping his right leg from touching the ground. Catcoon skittered and brushed against Karamatsu's leg looking for attention.

Relief washed over Karamatsu. "I'm so glad to hear that! Please let me help you brother!" he said as he rushed to give more support to Choromatsu. Karamatsu turned to look down at the purring Catcoon. "Well good evening to you too my furry friend," he said and started petting the creature. "Ain't you a good thing!" he babbled as he lifted Catcoon to his arms. "Let's go find you some meat, yes? Yes! Good girl. Or I don't know if you are a boy? Well it doesn't matter, I love you anyway!"

 

Todomatsu followed with a small smile struggling Choromatsu and Karamatsu who was helping the former. It was such a relief that things seemed to turn better now that they were all together. However, Totty had an idea he wanted to try because they really needed whatever they could find to keep them warm. "Can we eat before Ichimatsu-niisan ja Osomatsu-niisan come back? I was thinking on leaving the camp little bit," Todomatsu told the others waiting for an answer.


Choromatsu stopped on his tracks and turned to face Todomatsu. "I suppose we could but what are you planning to do?" he asked and continued walking towards the fire.

"Totty! I want to come too! It's boring at the camp!" Jyushimatsu waved his arms towards his younger brother.

"Oh, there are buffalos over there and I was thinking if we could find something useful from there. See the situation if we could be able hunt them some day," Todomatsu answered Choromatsu. Then he turned to smile at Jyushimatsu. "Thanks! Actually I was going to ask you to come with me. I'm not going to go alone anywhere. At least not in the dark! So let's eat and go then. Adventure of the youngest ones's, right?" he said and winked cutely.

 

Choromatsu gave Karamatsu a tankful smile for his help. "Oh, it would be great if we could gain any resources from them," Choromatsu thought out loud as he slowly and carefully sat himself next to the fire. A shiver went through him as he sat on the cold ground while he was being extra wary of his injured leg.

Jyushimatsu’s smile widened. "Adventure of the youngest ones's! Totty and Jyushimatsu’s adventure!" he shouted happily from the bottom of his heart.

 

Totty smiled. "Okay then! Collect everything you might need and let's eat then. When we are ready, we'll leave," he instructed. "I think we will be away for about three or four hours. Take a lot of torches. Can you start a fire?" Totty asked nervously thinking of the darkness that would fall in few hours.

 

"Yes I can Totty!" Jyushimatsu said proudly and ran to gather his stuff for the trip

 

Todomatsu nodded and gave a smile to the second youngest. "Good! Also I would want that me and Jyushimatsu-niisan could take hound skins with us. It's so cold," Totty said and made a cute pouting face in order to convince his older brothers.


"That would be wise especially for Jyushimatsu," Choromatsu answered to Totty’s request. "Be careful. One can't know how cold it can get out there," he said.

 

"Thanks! We'll be careful. If it gets too bad, we'll come back." Todomatsu stood up and went to gather his stuff as well.

 

Choromatsu let his gaze move to his leg before turning to Karamatsu. "Hey Karamatsu! Have you any idea how we could make some new clothes or fix the current ones?"


Karamatsu took a look at Choromatsu's mostly bare leg. You could see him inhale strongly before he started speaking: "Brother!! You should have said something before!" he exclaimed and started looking around. "I'm so sorry brother, I haven't been able to make anything yet. Once we get something to use as string I can start sewing properly. Now we just got new tendons that we can also use for sewing if necessary. I'm sorry, I'm doing my best. Try to hold on. If you want we can switch?" Karamatsu offered, ready to take off his pants. "They have quite a big hole but are still better than yours."  He sighed. "I've been thinking about new clothes all the time but right now I just can't do much... Jyushimatsu needs pants as well. And Totty's hoodie needs to be fixed..." It seemed like it all was really paining Karamatsu.

 

"N-no! Keep your pants to yourself," Choromatsu hastily told his brother. "I was just thinking ahead for the time when I'll be actually leaving the camp. I can manage because I'm constantly in the camp’s warmth." He turned his head to the second youngest brother. " I seriously hope it doesn't get super cold... " Then he turned to look at his leg. He "hmmm"ed, grabbed the bandages and began to remove them for good.

 

"I'm sorry Choromatsu. I know my pants are not good enough for you," Karamatsu said. "Thank god we have these hound skins. Please stay warm. And say if there is anything I can do to help you, my brother." When Choromatsu started removing his bandages Karamatsu started fussing over it immediately: "Brother, let me help you! We should clean the wound again and if it looks good, let it breath. These bandages are so filthy. I'll try washing them." Karamatsu took a look at Choromatsu's clothes. "Maybe we could wash your clothes as well? Probably mine too."

During the time when Karamatsu was focused on Choromatsu, Todomatsu and Jyushimatsu had got everything ready. Shouting "We are going now" the two of them left the base started heading to the darkening evening.

 

Choromatsu took a moment to inspect his healing process. After his infection had calmed down and the wound had been properly cleaned his healing had been amazingly fast. " In normal circumstances there would be no way I would be this good already. " His leg was mostly covered in scar tissue and there was still eschars around the worst areas. Choromatsu handed the bandages to Karamatsu. "I doubt I need these anymore. Besides, it would be good to have some clean bandages ready for use."

Choromatsu looked down at his blood stained hoodie. He had tried to clean it back at his camp next to the lake. " We can never get the dried blood off it. My T-shirt isn't any better either. " "It would be nice to have them cleaned even though the blood stains will remain." Choromatsu smiled at Karamatsu.

 

"Understood, my brother!" Karamatsu said and took the bandages. "You're right. Blood stains will stay but it might be still the best that we are having. Same goes to my clothes.” Karamatsu stated taking his clothes off. "Oh so cold!" he said to himself and wrapped a hound skin around himself. "If you take off yours, I'll wash them," he said to Choromatsu. "Or do you need help?"

 

"I may need help with my pants but I want to try myself first," Choromatsu said and started to take off his clothes. "After this we should eat too," he said.

 

---

 

Todomatsu and Jyushimatsu were on their way to the buffalos. Complete darkness would be falling really soon. "I think we should light one torch already,” Totty said looking nervously at the dark forest around themselves. "I think it's only 15 minutes walk anymore."

 

"On it." Soon Jyushimatsu held a burning torch in his hand and they pressed on. Jyushimatsu moved subconsciously closer to Todomatsu as the darkness fell around them. Todomatsu was grateful for that and he grabbed onto Jyushimatsu's hoodie. He could feel something evil lurking in the darkness.

 

Long and frozen grass was rustling under their feet. Jyushimatsu stopped on his tracks as he could hear a loud sounds coming ahead of them. "Do you hear it Totty? Is it the buffalos?" he asked impatiently from his little brother.

Totty started listening more carefully after Jyushimatsu had heard something. Then he felt little relieved. "Yes, niisan, I think it's them," he answered. "I was thinking that we’ll see how close to them we can get. There could be something useful like fallen horns or something.  And if they don't show any signs of aggression, we should try if we can pet them. Then we might be able to cut and collect some of their wool. What do you think? Sounds like a plan?" Totty asked.

 

Jyushimatsu nodded and they carefully moved towards the noises. Soon a herd of huge snoring buffalos appeared in the torchlight. "They are huge Totty!" Jyushimatsu stared at the animals with wide eyes.

 

Totty hardened his grip on Jyushimatsu’s hoodie. "They are scarier than I remembered!" he squeaked quietly. He pushed Jyushimatsu onward before himself. "But they are still sleeping so let's try sneaking closer." Then he swallowed. "If they attack, you won't leave me behind, Jyushimatsu-niisan, will you?" he asked trying to use all of his youngest brother powers.

 

"I won't. I'll pick you up and run," Jyushimatsu whispered while smiling reassuringly. "Hold this." He gave the torch to Totty and wrapped his own houndskin better around himself. He freed his hoodie from Todomatsu's grasp and quietly moved next to the closest buffalo.

 

Todomatsu nodded and smiled back. "Thank you niisan!" Then he took the torch that Jyushimatsu handed to him. "Be careful," he whispered.

 

Curiosity was shining in Jyushimatsu’s eyes but his body was tensed up and prepared to flee if needed. He reached out his hand and lightly brushed the animals wool.

Totty was holding his breath as Jyushimatsu moved closer and closer to the buffalos. When he touched them, nothing happened. Todomatsu took few careful steps closer. "Is it okay? They are still sleeping?"

 

"Yeah, I think so." Jyushimatsu relaxed remarkably when the buffalo still snored next to him. The wool in his hand was itchy but warm. " I want to make pants from this. " He wanted it but he didn't have anything except his bat and a few torches with him. "Totty do you think we could get a little wool somehow?" Jyushimatsu asked.

 

Todomatsu took out his knife and lifted it close to his face. With a sly smile he said: "I'm sure of it." Then he walked next to Jyushimatsu slowly and carefully but determinedly. Once he was next to him, he placed the knife close to the root of buffalo’s fur carefully. Then he looked at his brother, waiting for confirmation.

 

Jyushimatsu nodded and smiled impishly. " If this goes well, I could search around for something else. " He stood close to Todomatsu and watched closely for some kind of reaction from the buffalo.

 

Todomatsu nodded back to Jyushimatsu and then holding his breath he cut off a small tuft of the hair. Nothing happened and he exhaled relieved. Then he looked at Jyushimatsu and showed the hair smiling triumphantly. Totty then took another look at the hair and then Jyushimatsu and then he stuffed it to Jyushimatsu's pocket and turned to cut off more.

 

Jyushimatsu giggled as Totty turned to cut more wool. " This will turn out so good. " It seemed that the animal wouldn't wake up if they continued like this. "Will you be okay if I look around?"

 

Totty considered it for a moment. "As long as you stay that close that you know that you will be able to save me if they attack," he answered quietly. Then he continued cutting and hair started to fall to the ground. "But be careful."

 

Jyushimatsu quietly lit himself a torch and sneaked among the sleeping herd. " How many of them are here? " He took a good look around and counted the animals he saw. " Seven but there may be more. " Then he noticed something peeking out under the snow and grass. Jyushimatsu knelt down and picked it up. " Wow! " He barely managed to keep himself calm as he speed walked back to Todomatsu. "Totty. Totty. Look what I found." He smiled widely and held a slightly curved buffalo horn about the side of his arm high in the air.

 

Totty startled a little and nearly cut the buffalo’s skin when Jyushimatsu called him after a while. However, he recognized it to be Jyushimatsu's excited voice so everything 'should' be fine. (Though, Jyushimatsu could be excited of things that Totty would be horrified...) Then he saw what Jyushi had. "Wow," he whispered with wide eyes. "It's huge. Can you carry it back to the camp?"

 

"I think so," Jyushimatsu replied and put out his torch since they would be okay with just one torch burning. Earlier he had tied his bat around his back with rope so that it would be easier to carry. He shivered as he took of his houndskin and took the rope off. He quickly tied the horn to the rope, put it back around him and let out a relieved sigh as he wrapped himself in the houndskin once again. "Are you done soon Totty?" Jyushimatsu breathed out vapor. He was getting sick of this weather.

 

"Well it depends how much we want," Totty answered and kicked lightly the growing pile of buffalo hair. "But I think we can't stay much longer or the others will worry. Besides we can always come back for more now that we know it's super easy."

 

Jyushimatsu nodded and started stuffing his pockets with the buffalo hair. "I counted at least seven buffalos," he informed Todomatsu.

 

Todomatsu nodded and copied Jyushimatsu, stuffing hair to his niisan's pocket. He tried to avoid getting any hair on his clothes. So when Jyushimatsu's front pocket seemed to get full, Todomatsu smiled cunningly. He playfully tickled Jyushi a little and then he started stuffing hair into his hood. Maybe Jyushimatsu wouldn't mind since his younger brother was so cute.

 

Jyushimatsu giggled. "I'm becoming a fluffy monster." His eyes sparkled as he filled the pockets of his shorts.

 

Totty continued stuffing hair. "You feel warmer now, right? We'll find a way to use this. Or maybe you should learn how to grow hair like this," Totty joked and tickled Jyushi's nose with hair. Then he quickly stiffed and said seriously: "But that was a joke. Don't do it actually." Jyushimatsu should never be given any crazy ideas even if they should be impossible. He was Jyushimatsu after all so who knew what he could do.


In the end Jyushimatsu’s clothes were completely stuffed with the hair. He smiled widely and turned to Totty. "Should we go?"


Stuffing the last tufts Todomatsu answered: "Yeah, let's go back. I want to go to sleep. It's a long day ahead of us again tomorrow."

 

"Agreed." Jyushimatsu lit another torch since the one Todomatsu had was burning out. They made their way back through the night.

 

---

 

"We are back!" Osomatsu called as he and Ichimatsu appeared to the campfire’s light. He put out his torch and put down a big pile of meat he was carrying. "I think our trip was successful. Oh, and I brought this." He opened his backpack and took out a huge bladder that he had rolled so it would fit. The rest of the backpack and Osomatsu’s pockets were filled with tendons.

 

Karamatsu was tending fire when Osomatsu and Ichimatsu returned. He stood up and spread his arms to welcome them: "Ooh, brothers! Welcome back! Thank you for your hard work. Now please come have something to eat." Karamatsu took another glance to them and added: "Though, it would be best if you cleaned yourselves up a bit before that."

Choromatsu was feeding Catcoon some meat when the two returned. "Good job you two."


Ichimatsu dropped the meat he was carrying to the same pile than Osomatsu. "Shut up, Shittymatsu!" he snapped but walked to the river to clean off most of the blood anyway.


"Yea yea yea. I should probably wash this too." Osomatsu grabbed the bladder and walked after Ichimatsu.

 

When Ichimatsu and Osomatsu had cleaned themselves the best they could, they went back to the camp where Karamatsu served them food. Before long they could see a torch light getting closer as the youngest ones returned as well.

"Oiii! We are back," Todomatsu shouted.

 

Jyushimatsu dashed next to the fire to warm himself up. " It's so cold! "

 

"Welcome back. Did it go well?" Choromatsu asked.

 

"So where have you two been anyway?" Osomatsu asked from Totty who arrived shortly after Jyushimatsu.

 

Totty sat down next to Osomatsu and wrapped him under the same hound skin with him. "It went surprisingly well," Totty said. "Jyushimatsu-niisan, show them."

 

"Yes sir!" Jyushimatsu took off the houndskin and revealed the loot. Choromatsu’s and Osomatsu’s eyes widened.

 

"I don't know how you managed to get that hair but you two did a very good job," Choromatsu praised still amazed.

 

"Wait. Is that hair and horn from a buffalo? How in hell?!" Osomatsu yelled as he watched how Jyushimatsu turned his pockets inside out.

 

Todomatsu chuckled. "They were sleeping all the time and didn't notice anything. It was easy. Even I’m surprised that we didn’t have any problems at all. Maybe the buffalos are just that stupid."

"Good job Totty, Jyushimatsu," Karamatsu said proudly. "I can take the first watch. You rest should go to sleep. It's been a long day again."

 

"Good night Karamatsu-niisan!" Jyushimatsu called before he disappeared into the lean-to.

Choromatsu placed Catcoon to his shoulders and once again shakily rose up with the help of the crutch.

 

"Wait when did that happen?" Osomatsu questioned not believing his eyes. " There just is no way. Those wounds should take weeks or months to heal. " Choromatsu turned to the oldest brother with a faint smile. "It's hard to believe isn't it. It sounds crazy but I think that if the healing stays this strong, I'll be able to walk after a few days."

 

Ichimatsu's eyes widened as Choromatsu managed to somehow walk. "That's good. Do you think it's because of this place that you heal so fast?" he asked.

"I can't think of any other reason," Karamatsu said. "My leg also healed in no time and so did Totty's side too, right?"

 

"Mmm," Totty nodded in response but didn't comment.

 

"It may be so," Choromatsu responded. He yawned and started to walk towards their lean-to. His walking seemed much steadier now that he had modified the crutch further but he still looked quite pathetic. "Night Karamatsu," he called.

 

"Wait Choromatsu. Let me help you." Osomatsu went after the third oldest brother.

 

"Good night my brothers," Karamatsu said, smiling. Todomatsu stood up as well. "I'll go to sleep too. Don't wake me for the next watch shift," he said and yawned.

 

Karamatsu chuckled. "Don't worry. The next watch goes to Osomatsu."

Without saying anything, Ichimatsu stood up as well and walked after his brothers into the lean-to.

Chapter Text

Todomatsu hunched under a hound skin next to the fire. Luckily it wasn't completely dark anymore so he could relax a bit. Nights were so scary. The temperature was still dropping and Todomatsu was starting to be afraid that it would be not monsters but coldness that would kill them. He slid his hand to his front pocket and caressed the smooth back of his phone. He didn't know if it made him feel better or worse but he loved the familiar feeling it gave to him.

Todomatsu sighed quietly and tossed another wood into the fire. He felt kind of bad that he was so useless here in the wilderness. He knew that his brothers would take care of him but he was only a burden.

Totty jolted back to reality when he heard crunching steps on the snow and he saw Ichimatsu walking towards him. "Morning," Ichi mumbled to which Totty replied the same way. Ichimatsu sat next to him and readjusted the skin so that it would cover both of them. Todomatsu leant to the warmer brother.

"It's cold," Ichimatsu stated.

 

"I hope it doesn't get much colder anymore or we will seriously be in trouble," Totty answered gloomily.

 

Soon the noise of hastily skittering Catcoon and stumbling Choromatsu approached the two. "Good morning." Choromatsu was feeling more alive now that he was able to move again. He took a hound skin, sat next to his brothers and wrote stuff to his notebook. Catcoon went to prowl a bird that was singing nearby.

Shortly after Jyushimatsu’s voice was heard. "Good morning Choromatsu-niisan! Good morning Ichimatsu-niisan! Good morning Totty!" he yelled and dove under the same hound skin with Choromatsu while being surprisingly careful not to make the other’s leg hurt.

 

"Good morning," "Morning," Totty and Ichi answered.

 

“Should we warm up yesterday’s leftovers now? I think Osomatsu-niisan and Karamatsu-niisan will wake up soon," Totty said and rose up to move the pot above the fire. "What should we do today?" he then asked.

 

Choromatsu was about to answer when he suddenly tensed up. " No! It c-can't be! " He hastily turned his head and stared into the horizon with wide eyes.

 

Bark

 

Choromatsu was filled with panic. "NO!" The hound skin fell to the ground as he instinctively rose up so fast that he fell over. "Ah fuck! No! Not again! I can't! I just can't!" He held his head between his hands as tears streamed from his eyes.

"Niisan?!" Jyushimatsu yelled in concern. He knelt next to Choromatsu and tried to figure out what was wrong when he was freaking like that.

Catcoon dashed at full speed from the forest and ran straight to Choromatsu, as close as she could get. The man took the animal in his arms and hugged her close.

"What is going on?!" Osomatsu called. He had been half awake when Choromatsu had started screaming.

Choromatsu’s eyes widened even more and he yelled from the bottom of his lungs. "They are coming! The hounds are coming!"

 

"Choromatsu!!" Karamatsu shouted as he dashed over Osomatsu to see what was wrong. Hearing his brother scream had woke him instantly. "What is it? What is it, my brother?" he asked as he got next to Choromatsu. Ichimatsu was sweating while helping him up. Todomatsu was taking nervous steps next to the fire, holding his hands close to his chest and looking like he was tearing up.

 

"H- Hounds," Ichimatsu said. Karamatsu's eyes widened and he gasped. Then he could hear it as well. Barks, snarls and howling. Karamatsu looked at his brothers worriedly, Ichimatsu startled and his cat ears popped out and Totty cried out.

 

Jyushimatsu started to run around the camp in panic. "What do we do?! What do we do?!" he kept yelling and waving his arms.

Osomatsu felt the cold sweat flow down his back. The sounds came from everywhere and it was getting stronger by the second. He quickly picked up his axe and looked worriedly at his brothers.

Choromatsu grabbed Catcoon and hastily walked to the closest tree. "I'm sorry! I would only be a burden to you!" he shouted through his tears as he took a hold of a branch and desperately tried to climb to safety.

 

"Jyushimatsu, calm down! We will survive, okay," Karamatsu tried to calm the second youngest down. Then he turned to Choromatsu and rushed to help him. "Don't worry brother," he said as he helped Choro to climb. "It's best that you stay up there safe."

Ichimatsu was shaking lightly and sweating. He went and picked up an axe next to the lean-to. His every muscle was ready to bounce and he could feel how close the cat part of him was coming to the surface.

Totty was panicking. He had took out his small knife and he was holding it close to himself like it was his last lifeline. Few sobs escaped his lips as he followed his niisans and prayed that they would know what to do and told it to him.

 

Osomatsu hastily grabbed weapons. He ran to Totty and forcefully handed the spear to his brother. He did the same with Jyushimatsu’s bat and Karamatsu’s axe. There was no way he would let his brothers stay unarmed.

Choromatsu wrapped himself around the tree with tensed up Catcoon. He didn't want her to jump into danger. He hiccupped and gave terrified gazes towards his brothers. He could already hear the rushing hounds coming to them.

Jyushimatsu took his bat from Osomatsu and ran to his brothers. He hastily looked all around them while waiting for instructions from them.

 

Karamatsu took the handed axe and nodded as a thank you to the oldest. He looked around at his brothers. At least Choromatsu was now in safety but he didn't know if Totty belonged down there with them. "So we are fighting?" he asked Osomatsu the worry evident in his voice.


"I doubt we can do anything else." Osomatsu hated the idea but there was no way they all could escape plus he couldn't leave Choromatsu behind.

 

Karamatsu nodded seriously. "Then I will fight alongside with you," he said to Osomatsu and gripped the axe tightly in his hands.

Totty looked at Osomatsu, when he brought the spear to him and with his eyes he was pleading him to do something. He had tears in the corners of his eyes but he was trying not to cry. It was really hard. He could tell that all of them were more or less afraid. And Choromatsu's panicking was so scary. Totty walked next to Osomatsu and grabbed on his hoodie to get the oldest attention. "Osomatsu-niisan," he said quietly, "I'm scared. Will we be okay?"


The look in Todomatsus eyes brought back painful memories to Osomatsu - when he was useless and couldn't get to Todomatsu in time during their first day in this world. He looked into Todomatsus eyes and said "I won’t force you to fight but we can't all get away without a fight."

 

Todomatsu looked into Osomatsu's eyes. " No, no! This is wrong! It shouldn't go like this now that we are finally all together and doing okay! Why?! " he was biting his teeth together and felt how tears finally started to fall down his cheeks.


Ichimatsu jogged next to Jyushimatsu. He had now tail as well and his hands were really close to change in to paws. His whiskers were shivering in tension. He looked around with fearful eyes. This would be first time for him and Jyushi to fight against the hounds. Ichimatsu would really like to run away, the two of them were so fast, but they needed to fight alongside their brothers or they might get badly hurt or worse. Plus they had so much meat and other valuable stuff in their camp that they should protect. He almost jumped out of his skin when he heard Karamatsu shout: "Coming!!"

 

Karamatsu saw a hound running towards them looking eager to savage them all. "Fight with me brother!” Karamatsu shouted to Osomatsu. “We must protect our brothers!" he looked at him with fiery, determined eyes. Then he dashed to meet with the hound. "For my brothers!!" Karamatsu let out his battle cry as he swung his axe to hound’s shoulder.


Totty jumped when he heard Karamatsu shout and he saw the hound coming. He took several steps back. It was huge! He could see how drool came from its mouth and eyes only wanted to kill. Totty let out a whimper. They were going to be eaten. There was no escape.


Jyushimatsu jumped high in the air when he saw the hound Karamatsu ment rushing from the forest. He didn't have time to think about it as he heard running behind him. He just barely managed to dodge the jaws of a huge hound and another slightly smaller and blue one’s.

 

"Fuck you!!" shouted Ichimatsu as he swung the axe to meet hips of a hound. When it turned to him angrily growling he jumped out of the way. The hound stopped on its tracks, turned to face Ichi again, barked and attacked. Ichimatsu lost his grip to the axe as his hands turned into paws and he jumped to the hounds back. "And shut the fuck up!!" he roared as he slammed his claws into its eye.

 

"Aah!" Jyushimatsu shouted as the blue hound tried to bite him. He jumped backwards and swung his bat. The hound dodged Jyushimatsu’s attack whose panic crew as he saw two more hounds coming towards him.

Two blue hounds and one normal hound appeared and ran towards Todomatsu. Osomatsu ran between his brother and the beasts. "Hey shit heads! Don't you dare hurt him! Come at me!" Osumatsu’s fear turned to determination and anger as he ran to meet the hounds.

Choromatsu watched in horror as the hounds started appearing around his brothers. He held hissing and growling Catcoon in his arms preventing her from getting in danger. The hounds just kept appearing from the forest. He had no idea how many of them there was nor would be.

 

Todomatsu screamed as three hounds ran towards him. Then Osomatsu dashed to protect him. Totty looked at his oldest brother with shining eyes. " Osomatsu-niisan. Again you save me. Waaah, you look so cool! " However, the other one of the blue hounds circled around Osomatsu and faced Totty. "Aaahh!!" he shouted and raised up his spear, scratched hound’s cheek and dodged. The beast growled and attacked again. Todomatsu raised his spear again but this time the hound bit his weapon, yanked its head and the spear snapped in two. Todomatsu looked at the useless piece of wood in his hands with horror. He looked at the now barking hound in front of him and screaming in terror he threw the stick to its face and started running to the opposite direction. The hound started the chase but collapsed almost immediately with an axe buried deep into its skull. Its dead body exploded with freezing air spreading from it and forming ice pillars near it.

Panting Karamatsu stood a few meters away from the dead blue hound. He had thrown his axe to it filled with fury when it had tried to harm Totty. "No, bitch, you don't!" he shouted but was forced to turn back to his fight when another beast attacked him. Karamatsu dodged, stabbed it to the side with a knife and dashed to grab the axe Ichimatsu had dropped. He stood up straight again and hissed to the hound: "Now, come get me you demon."

Ichimatsu was still on the hound’s back. It was hard to do much damage when he needed to avoid the teeth that were trying to reach him. He once again started to savage hound's throat the best he could. He needed to dig deeper. Ichimatsu clawed his way through beast's flesh and with a roar finally ripped its windpipe and carotid. The hound let out a pained cry and stumbled to the ground. Ichimatsu panted and hissed next to its body. Then he heard next one coming from behind him. He jumped to a tree to avoid its attack and from there Ichimatsu immediately leaped to its back attacking it.

 

The morning was filled with shouts, howling, yelling, growling and cursing. Choromatsu couldn't keep up with everything that was happening right under his eyes while he was unable to do anything. His eyes widened as he saw how in the middle of all that chaos Todomatsu screamed and ran away from the scene. Unarmed.

Osomatsu shouted and kicked the hound’s snout after the beast’s jaws had missed his leg. He jumped back to dodge the blue hound rushing towards him and dug his axe into its leg. The blue hound whined as it collapsed before it growled furiously and rose up. Osomatsu tackled the beast and cut its throat open releasing an icy explosion. As the shock wave swept over Osomatsu, he felt sudden freezing numbness grow inside of him. However, he didn't have time to think about it since the normal-looking hound attacked again. The sounds of battle kept growing louder.

Jyushimatsu swung his bat with all his might.

 

Crunch.

 

One of the hounds had its neck broken and fell dead to the ground. Jyushimatsu blocked the other hound’s attack with his bat and hit it but the beast wouldn't back down. He didn't notice the blue hound bouncing toward him in time.

 

"AAAHH!" Tears fell from his eyes as he felt the sharp teeth dug into the side of his neck just under his right ear. The blue hound jerked Jyushimatsu closer and growled as it opened its jaws. All Jyushimatsu saw was the deadly jaws approaching at full force.

 

Crack.

 

He let out a scream that was more freezing than the air around them. Horrifying pain was all Jyushimatsu could think of. His warm blood soaked his hair and flow down his face. His sight got blurry and he went limp.

 

Karamatsu ran away to avoid hound's teeth and grabbed a spear on his way. Hastily he climbed on the top of the lean-to. The hound leant to it with its front paws and barked up to Karamatsu. With an angry roar Karamatsu jumped down and thrust the spear to the beast's open mouth with the whole weight of his body. The hound growled and coughed very disturbingly taking unsteady steps before it collapsed with blood coloring the snow around it. Karamatsu panted still pushing the spear to the ground. He heard another hound closing in and took out his axe again that he had shoved to his pants to be out of the way. It was time to slaughter another dog.

Ichimatsu was dropped from hound's back and with a roll he landed on his all fours. He spat and stood up to face the creature again. Then he heard a cry that stopped his heart. Ichimatsu jerked his head to the direction of the most horrible sound he had ever heard and if possible his eyes widened even more with horror. He saw how a beast hold Jyushimatsu by the back of his head, pulled him closer and bit him to the head again.

 

" No. " Ichimatsu didn't realize that tears were streaming down his cheeks while he was staring at the horror before him with narrowing pupils. Shaking strongly Ichimatsu bit the inside of his cheek so hard that blood could be seen in the corner of his mouth. He raised his hands to the sides of his head shaking even more forcefully and he screamed from the bottom of his lungs. Ichimatsu’s form started to change and thick, dark grey hair started to grow from his skin. In a blink of an eye he was running towards his brother and the demon tormenting him. He took a sharp breath and screamed more but now his scream turned into animal's roar as he dropped to all fours. His shirts ripped from their seams as his body grew and they dropped off him. Then big and very angry feline jumped to the neck of the hound that had Jyushimatsu and bit it with all its might.

 

Werecat's attack made the hound to let go of Jyushimatsu and to fell to its back from the force and mass of Werecat. Werecat took a better hold on the hound's throat and with its back legs clawed its stomach open. The hound wiggled and died quickly, bleeding a lot.

Werecat pushed Jyushimatsu's shoulder softly and whined quietly. It didn't have much more time to see its friend before it heard a new hound coming to challenge it. Werecat turned around and took a protecting stance before Jyushimatsu. It let out a deep warning growl which turned into terrifying roar when the hound came too close. Werecat made a leap to avoid the jaws and scratched hound's eyes to a bloody mess. Blinded the hound rushed forward and managed to bite werecat to its front paw. The feline let out a furious roar and attacked to the hound's throat, ripping it open.

 

Choromatsu screamed in horror as he saw the blue hound attack Jyushimatsu’s head. " No! It can't end like this! " The sight of Ichimatsu running to the scene was a huge relief for him until Ichimatsu’s clothes ripped and fell to the snowy ground. Choromatsu’s breath was stuck in his throat and his eyes widened as he realized. " The werecat! "

 

He went completely silent as he saw a hound running towards Werecat. A hound that came from the direction where Totty had gone. A hound which chest and jaws were covered in red blood. Silent tears streamed down his cheeks. " No. "

 

"No!" Choromatsu could not get on the dangers way. Still he quickly climbed as close to the ground as he dared, while still holding Catcoon, so that he could call to his brothers as soon as they would hear him.

 

Werecat licked the purple blood from around its mouth as it stood before its third victim. Its ears twitched to catch the sound from his side. Another hound. Werecat put back its ears and hissed as it turned to face the new hound. They ran to meet each other and in the last moment Werecat jumped to the side and then to the hound's back. It bit its neck and clawed as much as it could. The hound tried to drop werecat from its back and finally Werecat jumped off and scratched the hound's snout to make it move its head and jaws away from the feline. Werecat then dashed to bite the hound's throat and soon killed it.

Covered in blood Werecat walked back to Jyushimatsu. Its paw was hurting and it was limping it but now only thing it could focus was its friend lying in the bloodied snow unmoving. Werecat whimpered as it stood above its friend. It pushed Jyushimatsu again lightly and let out a meow. No answer. Werecat meowed again and started licking its friend's wounds. They needed to be cleaned. After a very short while Werecat stopped and just stared. It didn't like that yellow friend didn't move. Werecat pushed him again and whined. He didn't smell dead but he might not survive for long.

Werecat would protect him! It wouldn't let anyone touch him. It knew that this friend was the most important thing. Werecat just knew. Werecat licked Jyushimatsu's wounds little more and then raised its head to let out a sad growling cry.

 

---

 

Osomatsu ripped his axe off of a hound’s back and left it to bleed out. The racket had been and still was too strong to focus any further than few meters. He had no idea what was happening around the camp or how were his brothers doing. His gaze locked onto the first one he saw, Karamatsu and two hounds that rushed from behind the second oldest.

 

"Karamatsu!" Osomatsu yelled and ran to attack the two approaching beasts from their side. He swung his axe. It didn't hit neither its targets but made them to stop on their tracks. Osomatsu stood back-to-back with Karamatsu and looked into the eyes of two bloodthirsty monsters.

 

Karamatsu swept off the sweat from his forehead to his sleeve. "Thank you, brother," he panted to Osomatsu when Oso blocked another beasts' attack. Karamatsu had no idea where it had come but there were so many of them and everything was happening so quickly so it was no wonder. Karamatsu swung his axe to a hound which jumped out of the way. It barked and charged again. Karamatsu dropped to the ground to dodge it and managed to slice beast's side open but not deeply. He stood up and readied for another attack. "How big this pack can be?!"

 

Osomatsu’s axe flew from his hands as a running hound ran into his hand. Straight away a different hound bounced onto him pushing him to the ground. "Fuck!" Osomatsu hastily placed one hand on the hound’s neck and buried his fingers in its fur holding the hound back. The beast’s jaws snapped up and down only few inches away from Osomatsu’s face. Its drool fell down to him and the hot breath sent shivers down his spine. He reached for anything with his free hand. The first thing to meet his hand was a cold and sharp flint stone. Osomatsu grabbed it and mashed it to the hound’s neck. The hound let out a pained howl as purple blood started to flow. Osomatsu repeated the attack a few times before he threw the stone away and took a good hold of either side of the beast’s neck and ripped the wound wider. The hound whined as it went limp and Osomatsu immediately pushed it off of him and ran to get his axe before another hound would attack him. " That was way too close. "

 

Karamatsu continued his fight. Hound's last attack had been too close to his hand. Karamatsu dodged again. His every muscle was shaking and aching. He had barely had time to wake up before he was fighting for their lives.

Karamatsu gasped when he saw a hound looming over Osomatsu. "Osomatsu!" he shouted and started running towards his older brother. " Fuck! " Karamatsu thought as he lost his footing on icy ground and he fell. Second after a hound grabbed his foot in its jaws.

 

"Fuck you!" Karamatsu shouted as he slammed his axe to the hound's skull. The hound dropped to the ground as Karamatsu panted more. " Thank god, it bit only my shoe! " he thought as he stood up once again. Osomatsu seemed to have handled his problem as well. Karamatsu heard barking from his side and he turned to face a hound again.

 

"Could you please stop already?!" Karamatsu shouted as the new hound ran towards him. The hound jumped to him growling and Karamatsu swung his axe. It landed perfectly to the hound's mouth doing great damage. The hound howled in pain and Karamatsu pulled his axe free. With another swing he hit it to its throat and watched how the creature took its final breaths before dying.

Karamatsu looked around but didn't see any more hounds jumping on him right away. Osomatsu was close to him so he wanted to go check if he was okay. Also if more hounds were coming they were good at fighting back to back.

 

"Osomatsu!" Karamatsu panted as he ran to him. "Are you okay? Did you get hurt? Where's your axe?"

 

"I'm okay. It is here. Don't worry," Osomatsu answered as he picked up the axe and breathed deeply. He was out of breath but it seemed like the battle was over. He was about to ask how Karamatsu was but jumped around as he heard a loud growling cry.

 

"What the fuck is that!" he shouted and pointed at Werecat. Then he noticed purple pieces of clothing, bloody ground and Jyushimatsu laying limp in a puddle of blood. The rage evidently boiled in Osomatsu. He gave Karamatsu a look that said: “ Lets kill this monster. ” Osomatsu held his axe tightly in his hands as he tensed up. He was ready to kill.

 

Karamatsu startled when Osomatsu suddenly shouted. His jaw dropped as he saw the creature. He was about to ask what was the plan when he saw bloodied Jyushimatsu lying on the ground unmoving. Karamatsu tightened his grip on the axe and his face twisted with pain and rage.

 

"What did you do, you monster?! Get away from him!!" he screamed tears forming to his eyes. He saw Osomatsu's look and couldn't agree more. It was time to kill. Roaring he started running.


"Die!" Osomatsu screamed as he ran right after Karamatsu.

Werecat heard different kind of voice slicing the air. It turned its head and saw two creatures acting aggressively towards it and they were probably reading for attack. Werecat turned its body so that they were straight in front of it and it hissed an angry warning. No one were to touch its wounded friend. Growling threateningly it stepped over Jyushimatsu and took a stance in front of him, protecting him. Werecat showed its sharp teeth and growled louder. If the creatures were cleaver, they would back down. But then the blue one started running towards Werecat the red one right behind him and Werecat readied itself to bounce any moment. There would be few more kills for it.

 

---


The last hound was killed and everything went silent. Right away, Choromatsu let go of Catcoon and dropped to the snowy ground. " I have to tell them. " Before he could shout for his brothers, angry shouts and growled warnings filled the air. Eyes wide Choromatsu understood the situation that was about to escalate in front of him. Then the two oldest brothers started running and Werecat prepared.

 

"NO!" The crutch laid forgotten in the snowy ground as Choromatsu, despite his injuries, ran as fast as he could. "STOP!" Choromatsu shouted as he halted between his brothers and Werecat and spread his arms wide. His back was turned to his brothers and his right leg trembled from the sudden stress and pain. As his eyes saw the furious feline running towards him the realisation sunk in. His gaze was full of terror but he kept his position and prayed for their lives.

Chapter Text

Werecat was triggered by a sudden movement and growling it started running. However, before it could kill the creatures threatening it and the yellow friend, another one ran between them, facing Werecat.

 

Werecat knew this one! He was the injured, green friend. Werecat made a leap so that it was about one meter from Choromatsu and it roared angrily. It stood there staring at Choromatsu, letting out deep growl and showing its teeth. " Move out of the way! Why don't you let me kill them? "

Karamatsu stopped on his tracks when suddenly shouting Choromatsu ran between them and the monster. Karamatsu raised his hand towards his brother and shouted:

 

"Choromatsu! NO!" Why couldn't Choro just stay in the tree?! Did he came down just to be slaughtered by this creature. Would one beast kill three of his brothers? Surprisingly the monster halted but looked like it would attack any moment. "Choromatsu," Karamatsu said trying to sound calmer. "Back away here behind us. We will kill the creature, don't worry."

 

Choromatsu stood his ground and looked into Werecat’s shining eyes. His heart raced as the creature roared at him. "No!" Choromatsu said loudly and firmly after Karamatsu had spoken. Choromatsu turned his head to give his older brothers a dead serious look. "It's the werecat. Ichimatsu transformed. It is him," Choromatsu repeated the same things to make sure the others would understand.

Osomatsu halted. "Choromatsu!" " What the fuck is he thinking! " He was about to pull him off the way but then he saw the seriousness in Choromatsu’s eyes that made him stop. "What?!" Osomatsu stared in disbelief and horror at the deadly creature in front of them.

 

"What?!" Karamatsu shrieked as well, looking back and forth between Choromatsu and the monster. He couldn't believe it. There was no way this could be their Ichimatsu, a savage beast covered in purple and red blood. Karamatsu gripped his axe tightly. "Choromatsu, come here. It will kill you. Look at Jyushimatsu and what it did to him. Our little Jyushimatsu!! Ichimatsu would never!" he shouted in pain, tears falling from his eyes.

Werecat looked at green friend's eyes, growling. It stood still, breathing heavily from all the fighting and its tail's tip waved a little. Werecat let out a short, deep meow, looked at Choromatsu, then behind it at Jyushimatsu and then again at Choromatsu. Its eyes were sad for a moment before Karamatsu shifted and caught Werecat's attention again. Then they turned again cold and deadly and Werecat hissed.

 

"Out of the way Choromatsu. Jyushimatsu needs us. Now!" Osomatsu took a step forward. He wasn't going to play around while Jyushimatsu was bleeding on the ground.

Catcoon had ran next to Choromatsu who wasn't backing down. The sad look in Werecat’s eyes was a huge relief to the man. " He seems to remember. " Choromatsu shifted most his weight from his injured leg to the other.

 

"It was a hound. Ichimatsu could not stand the sight. It is protecting Jyushimatsu." Before Oso or Kara could protest Choromatsu turned his teary but dead serious gaze towards them. "But that is not important right now. Totty might be very badly hurt! He needs help!" His voice got louder and the tears streamed faster as he pointed to the direction where the blood covered hound had ran from. "Take the bandages and go! I will handle this." He turned his attention to Werecat and hoped the two would go.

 

Karamatsu's eyes widened in fear and realization. Where was Totty?! He frantically searched for any sight of pink but didn't see anything. "Where is Todomatsu?!" he asked panicking. How could he have let him get out of the sight. He might be dead! "Please Choromatsu. Will you be okay? You won't get eaten. Please, I- I- Jyushimatsu is so hurt. We have to help him. But Todomatsu, he's alone somewhere, I have to find him!" he rambled on as his heart was tearing him to two.

 

All the colour was drained from Osomatsu’s face. In the chaos they couldn't keep up with the things that had happened around the camp. Still a voice shouted in his head. " How could you let him out of your eyes! " The image of Todomatsu’s scared eyes begging for safety made Osomatsu’s heart break. Distress shone in his eyes as he waited for Choromatsu to answer.

Werecat stared at its green friend. It could sense the fear. Then something changed in the way all of them were acting. Much from the hostility changed into fear that Werecat didn't really understand because it didn't know what was the reason for it. Werecat wanted to go back by its yellow friend's side but waited for the others to make their move. If they came closer, he might need to attack.


Choromatsu made his best confident expression and said calmly. "He won't hurt me." " I hope... " "If you stay it will only get more aggressive. Just GO!"

It didn't feel right to leave Choro alone but they had to. Osomatsu ran to get the bandages, grabbed Karamatsu by the arm and dragged him towards the direction Choromatsu had pointed out.

 

For a second longer Karamatsu looked at Choromatsu, Werecat and Jyushimatsu before he finally made up his mind and ran alongside Osomatsu to the direction Choromatsu had pointed.

 

---

 

Earlier

 

Todomatsu ran. He had lost his spear and was defenceless. He needed to get away, somewhere safe. He was crying as he panicked and run further from the camp.

Totty skidded to halt when a new hound leaped in front of him. He shrieked and started running to a different direction. He cried desperately when he heard the hound closing in behind him and he tried to muster all the strength his legs had to run faster.

 

"Niisans! Niisans!!" he cried terrified as he could feel the hot breath of the hound with his left hand. "No, no, nononon-" he was cut off his panicked muttering as the hound grabbed his hand with its jaws and pulled him to the ground. Totty cried out and the hound barked to him and grabbed his right leg. The beast shook its head and started  to drag him. Todomatsu screamed now from pain and he twisted his body so that he was facing the ground. He tried to stop the hound from dragging him with burying his fingers to the snow or grabbing anything but it was no use. Only then he realized to took out his knife which he threw to the hounds snout. The creature let go with a yelp but attacked immediately after, now angrier, and bit Totty's right side, close to hips, and raised him to the air.

 

Totty screamed, tried to fought back and fidgeted in the hound's jaws. Blood was spilling to the ground and Totty was sure he would die. The hound shook Todomatsu in his jaws which made its teeth dug even deeper to his belly. Finally Totty gave up, stopped moving and just hanged from hound's jaws bleeding and gasping for breath. The beast shook him once more before it dropped him to the bloodied ground and with a bark left him to die.

 

---

 

The two oldest brothers ran little further from the camp before they could see pink and red lump on the ground. It was blood covered Todomatsu lying on the snow covered ground and who seemed to fight to drag himself closer to the camp with his uninjured arm and leg. Behind him on the snow was a bright red trail of blood, about ten meters long. With his injured arm he was holding his bleeding side. He was facing the ground and hadn't yet seen the oldest brothers.

"Todomatsu!!" Karamatsu screamed and rushed towards his brother. Weakly Totty raised his head and looked at them with fearful, pleading eyes, red from crying. He gasped for breath as he recognized them. "Ni- niisan..." he whined with shaky voice and reached towards them with his hand. Tears flowed from his eyes as he cried and wailed.

 

"Totty!" Osomatsu ran as fast as he could pushing himself pass his limits. " Thank god we listened to Choromatsu! " He held hysteric Todomatsu in his arms. "It's going to be okay Totty. You are going to survive," Osomatsu hastily told the youngest brother. He couldn't tell how fatal the wounds were because he needed to calm Totty down even a little. He turned to look at the blue brother while panicked tears started forming in his eyes. "Karamatsu! You know better than me. Do something!" Osomatsu yelled and forcefully handed the bandages to him.

 

Karamatsu was kneeling next to Todomatsu, petting his hair with shaking hands. He looked at Osomatsu, eyes filled with panic as he took the bandages. "I'm sorry Totty," he said as he lifted the torn hoodie which made Todomatsu to twitch in pain. Karamatsu inspected the wound.

 

"I can't see! There's too much blood!" he said unsure what to do. He was so scared. Two of his brothers. He had to save them but if he wasn’t good enough, how could he continue on with his life?! He could not fail.

 

Karamatsu looked closer and started to figure out the wound. "I- I can see the marks from the teeth. I think some of them have pierced the abs. The marks are deep, not too wide." He looked at Osomatsu in the eyes. "We don't have anything to stitch them with. He needs to make it with just bandages." Karamatsu quickly took off his hoodie and tied it around Totty's bleeding leg. He used his hand and snow to wipe off some of the blood and then he started to tie the bandages around Todomatsu's side. "We need warmth and water," he said.

Todomatsu was lying on the cold ground his head on Osomatsu's lap. "Niisan. Niisan..." he sobbed and gripped Osomatsu's hoodie with his good hand. He knew he would die. Totty knew his niisans tried to stay calm for him but he had seen the wounds and without hospitals he would die.

 

"I-" he swallowed and sobbed, "I thought I would d- die alone," he sobbed looking at Osomatsu. This was better. He didn't want to die but if he had to, he wanted to be with his brothers. "Niisan, I'm scared!" he cried weakly.

 

"Don't say that. Just stay with me," Osomatsu said looking into Totty’s eyes. He copied Karamatsu and took off his hoodie placing it over Todomatsu’s upper body in a desperate attempt to give him warmth. On the very first night he had been too far away to keep Totty safe. Now Osomatsu had been right next to him and this had happened. " Why! Why! Why! " he screamed in his mind.

Todomatsu's eyes were becoming heavier and he found harder to keep them open. "But it's so c- cold and it hurts... If I just close my eyes..." he said quietly between sobs. His crying was also quieting down when he was losing his strength.

 

"No. Focus on me now," Osomatsu told his brother with wavery voice. He pressed his palms to Todomatsu’s side trying to add up the pressure.


Warmth and water. ” Osomatsu cursed. Of course they needed the two things that they couldn't just carry with them. "We need to carry Todomatsu to the camp." Osomatsu grabbed Karamatsu’s shoulder to make their eyes meet and he simply said: "The stretcher!"

 

Karamatsu's eyes widened. He jumped up and started running to get it. On his way he shouted: "Give pressure to the wounds!"

Karamatsu ran to the camp and grabbed the stretcher. Werecat and Choromatsu were over Jyushimatsu and as much as Karamatsu wanted to go see them, he couldn't. Not yet. Quickly he ran back and slammed the stretcher to the ground next to Todomatsu. "Okay, let's do it," Karamatsu said and was ready to lift Todomatsu from under his legs and lower back. Osomatsu could handle upper body.

"Prepare yourself," Osomatsu warned Totty before he and Karamatsu lifted their younger brother onto the stretcher. Totty wailed louder as he was lifted and his breathing was fast and shallow because of the pain. He tried his best to keep his eyes open. With his hands he tried to push his side once again. " Please, somebody, make the pain stop, " he pleaded in his mind. Osomatsu and Karamatsu quickly raised the stretcher from the ground and rushed towards the camp as fast as they could.

 

As they arrived to the camp and lowered Todomatsu to the ground, Karamatsu dashed to get water and hound skins. He put a skin on top of Totty the best he could and he started washing the wound on his lower belly. He tied few layers of bandages, then he put soft, dry grass in between to absorb the blood and then he tied rest of the bandages above them. "Don't worry, Totty! Just stay here with your niisans. Don't give up. Don't give up!"

 

As Karamatsu worked Osomatsu kept telling Todomatsu to stay with him and that everything would be fine. He didn't even understand what he was saying or if it made any sense. He anxiously petted Todomatsu’s hair and caressed his cheek. " There isn't much more we can do ," he thought painfully. He gave a questioning look to Karamatsu. " What do we do now? "

 

Karamatsu caught the look in Osomatsu's eyes. "Clean the wound in the hand and wrap it with something. I'll start the same with the leg."

 

Osomatsu nodded and did what he was told. After he was done with the cleaning he wrapped it with his hoodie. Totty looked so small and fragile. " Why do these things keep happening? "

 

When Karamatsu was done he wrapped a hound skin around himself and carefully took Todomatsu to his lap and readjusted Totty's hound skin to cover him better. Humming a calming tune he petted Totty and hoped he could warm him up with his body. " How could this have happened?! " Then he turned to look at Osomatsu grimly. "Jyushimatsu," he said to him. He didn't know how badly he too was hurt. But it sure didn't look good.


As the panic over Totty was loosened another panic started to grow. Osomatsu hastily rose up, kept his axe at ready, just in case, and jogged towards Choro and Jyushi. He would have run but the presence of Werecat made him feel insecure.

 

---

 

Werecat's hostility calmed down a lot when Osomatsu and Karamatsu left. Quickly it turned around and leaped next to Jyushimatsu meowing and pushing his unmoving body. Looking around its shoulder Werecat looked at Choromatsu and meowed sadly. Then it started to lick Jyushimatsu's wound.

 

"Jyushimatsu!" Choromatsu ran and collapsed next to his bleeding little brother. "Out of the way," Choromatsu said as he pushed Werecat’s snout away. " Oh please please please... " He quickly turned Jyushimatsu to face the sky and tried to feel Jyushimatsu’s breathing with the back of his hand. He felt light and broken air flow. " He is still alive! "

 

Werecat growled, annoyed when Choromatsu pushed it away but let him. It circled to the other side of Jyushimatsu and started pacing around not being able to do much. Every once in a while it meowed, pushed or licked Jyushimatsu, hoping he would wake up.

 

Badly bleeding teeth marks started from Jyushimatsu’s right cheekbone, curved across his broken nose and ended in the middle of his forehead where the skin was ripped open and a part of Jyushimatsu’s skull was visible. Similar, bleeding pattern were in the right side of Jyushimatsu’s skull’s backside. White bone could be seen there as well. His neck was also bleeding but not as badly. The teeth had barely missed Jyushimatsu’s big arteries and windpipe.

Choromatsu hastily felt Jyushimatsu’s skull. Miraculously he didn't find any other severe damage to the bones other than the broken nose. He quickly twisted it back into its place as well as he could. The bleeding was so strong that infection was very unlikely but Choromatsu would need to get it under control. Fast.

 

Choromatsu took off both his shirts and roughly ripped his already blood stained T-shirt into suitable bandages. He tightly wrapped them around the injured side of Jyushimatsu’s head. Choromatsu moved Jyushimatsu to lay on his side, injured side up so that his breathing would be easier. " Oh please. Let him live. " His thoughts were full of panic. Choromatsu didn't dare to wrap Jyushimatsu’s neck tightly so he left his hoodie little looser over the bleeding neck. He took snow to his hands and added pressure and coldness to the wounds trying stop the blood flow. He desperately hope it could save his brother.

 

Now that Choromatsu could think again he took in Jyushimatsu’s form with teary eyes. Jyushimatsu was pale and sweaty. His hair, the bandages and both their hoodies were soaked with blood. Choromatsu was scared. He was afraid that Jyushimatsu would die of blood loss or brain damage. Choromatsu frequently checked Jyushimatsu’s breathing and kept the pressure on. He stopped adding coldness in fear of Jyushimatsu getting too cold. Catcoon sensed his anxiety and affectionately poked Choromatsu with her head.

 

The most terrifying thing was how silent and unmoving Jyushimatsu was. Choromatsu couldn't hold his tears as he begged for his brother’s life. At least Jyushimatsu didn't bleed through the bandages.


Suddenly with an angry roar Werecat jumped over Jyushimatsu's legs, passed Choromatsu and took a defensive, intimidating stance in front of jogging Osomatsu. It stared at the creature who earlier wanted to fight it and posed a threat to its friends.

 

Osomatsu stopped in his tracks when the werecat stood in his way. He still couldn't believe that that creature according to Choromatsu was Ichimatsu. He looked past it and yelled. "Choromatsu!" His eyes met with Choromatsu’s teary gaze and his heart skipped a beat.

"Don't risk it with Werecat! I have already done everything there is to do!" Choromatsu hastily yelled as he saw how Osomatsu was about to rush to him. "Jyushimatsu is unconscious and bleeding! I have to keep up the pressure!"

Osomatsu had hard time to keep himself from running to Choromatsu. He bit his cheek and squeezed his wrists until they were white. "Keep us updated," he said and run back to Karamatsu to look for something he could do. He felt so useless.

 

Werecat relaxed a little and walked back to its friends. Then it laid down as close to Jyushimatsu as it could guarding and warming him. It started to lick away the blood from everywhere that wasn't bandaged.

At the other side of their camp, Karamatsu was holding Todomatsu who was finding it harder to stay awake. "Karamatsu-niisan, can I sleep? I want the hurting to stop for even a short while," the youngest asked quietly his eyes half closed.

 

Karamatsu looked at him sadly: "No, sorry Totty but you need to stay awake little longer.”

 

Todomatsu fell silent again. Then he asked: "Can I have water?" Karamatsu shouted immediately: "Osomatsu! Water!"

 

Straight away Osomatsu took a clay pot and ran to fill it in the icy river. He came back and handed the pot to Karamatsu. "Do you need something else Totty?" He wanted to do more but he wasn't sure if there was anything to do.

 

Karamatsu helped Totty to drink a little but his position was quite hard for it and they stopped when Totty started to cough. Todomatsu looked at Osomatsu with half closed eyes and asked sleepily: "Where are the others?" Karamatsu looked at Osomatsu not sure what they should say.

 

Osomatsu met Karamatsu's eyes before he swallowed and turned to Totty. "Choromatsu is... tending Jyushimatsu. Ichi is... with them." He didn't lie, just left some things unsaid.

 

That made Totty's eyes open little more and some life came back to them. "He's hurt? Will he be okay?" he asked.

 

Karamatsu answered: "He was bitten but Choromatsu will take care of him. Jyushimatsu is strong so don't worry."

 

"Osomatsu! Karamatsu! Bring a hound skin closer!" bare chested Choromatsu shouted while he removed his hoodie from Jyushimatsu’s neck and pressed a clean spot to the wound. " Luckily the neck isn't bleeding that badly anymore. The bandages around his head are soaked with blood but the blood doesn't flow through them. " Now that the worst bleeding was under control Jyushimatsu required warmth.

 

Osomatsu jumped to his feet and ran to get the skin. He picked it up and started running but stopped as he realized that Choromatsu was wearing only one shoe and his halfly ripped jeans. Osomatsu quickly grabbed another skin and ran towards Choro. He stopped at a safe distance, rolled the skins tightly and threw them closer. "Put one on yourself before you freeze to death!" he firmly commanded.

Choromatsu hastily limped to pick the skins up, quickly nodded as thanks and started limping back.

 

Werecat was starting to get interested about the other creatures. One of them was wounded badly as well. Werecat didn't know why but something was tugging him there.

Werecat put back its ears and looked at Osomatsu badly when he brought the skins to Choromatsu. However, the creature was clever enough not to come too close.

When Choromatsu came back, Werecat stood up and started to take slow steps towards the others. It held its ears up high, curious and picking up all the sounds. When Karamatsu turned to glance worriedly at Choromatsu, he saw Werecat creeping closer. Immediately Werecat put back its ears and lowered closer to the ground. Karamatsu looked away and the feline continued its walk. When Karamatsu looked again the same thing happened.

Karamatsu was getting nervous. "Osomatsu," he said and looked at the suspicious werecat. "Osomatsu. Osomatsu!" he said again louder glancing his older brother and the beast which supposedly was his brother.

 

Osomatsu followed Karamatsu's glances and noticed the werecat lurk low to the ground. Osomatsu walked and came to a halt between the feline and his two brothers. He simply stood between Karamatsu and the creature. He still had his axe in his pants but he didn't take it out. He looked straight at Werecat to tell it that it had been spotted.

Choromatsu had wrapped one hound skin around Jyushimatsu and the other around himself. He had been so focused on tending Jyushimatsu that he hadn't noticed Werecat moving until Catcoon suddenly turned her head towards the other feline with a curious meow. Choromatsu’s eyes widened as he saw the scene. "Osomatsu are you crazy?!" he yelled as the oldest brother just stood still and stared at the creature.

 

"Be careful brother!" Karamatsu said to Osomatsu and followed the situation worried.

After few seconds of staring each other, Werecat straightened itself. It stared at Osomatsu, not really hostile but trying to read the other. Then it slowly took steps forward, so close to Osomatsu that if he reached, he could touch it. A short while of staring, then Werecat blinked, snorted and then circled around Osomatsu. It wanted to see the injured one.

Osomatsu stood his ground when werecat walked in front of him. He stared into the creature’s eyes with a neutral expression. He wasn't sure if it was Ichimatsu or not but something in the way it stared was similar. " Even if it isn't Ichi, I can still feel it thinking. " Since Werecat didn't seem hostile right now, Osomatsu let it circle around him, waited for a moment and walked after the creature. He intentionally gave the werecat some space. He didn't want it to feel cornered. But he went after it and kept an eye out for any signs of trouble.

"Osomatsu?!" Karamatsu shrieked weakly not wanting to be too loud. His eyes were wide with fear and he didn't know what to do especially because he had Totty in his lap. " Choromatsu is better be right about that it's Ichimatsu, " he thought as the feline walked closer.

Choromatsu followed the events from afar. He would have went to the others but he wasn't sure about Jyushimatsu’s wounds so he still kept them under pressure and his leg hurt badly from all the hasty moving. " Please Ichimatsu. Recognise them. "

 

Werecat circled around so that it was now facing Kara and Todo straight in front of it and then started to walk closer careful and vary but trying not to be threatening.

 

However, Karamatsu would think otherwise when the big beast came closer as he held maybe sleeping Todomatsu in his lap. Finally Werecat was so close that it could touch them. It started to sniff Todomatsu carefully and after a while it let out few whines and continued the sniffing but more frantically.

Karamatsu looked at the creature with wide, fearful eyes. He was afraid to do anything in fear that the werecat would attack. Behind his back he hold a knife ready in his hand.

Todomatsu stirred awake because of the noise and Werecat's sniffing. He blinked few times and after realizing what was in front of him, shrieked and started waving with his hand, hoping to get away from the beast.

 

Werecat froze holding its head and ears high, surprised by the sudden outburst. Then it quickly laid its head onto Todomatsu's chest and looked at him in the eyes. Totty went quiet and stared back eyes wide with terror. After few long seconds he said: "Ichimatsu?" Werecat meowed and creeped a little closer.

 

"Fuck. You gave me a heart attack," Totty said with raspy voice, relaxed a little and started to lightly pet Werecat's head.

Werecat didn't understand what any of those words meant but the tune and feeling was what it wanted. It purred a little and started licking Todomatsu's wounds carefully.

 

Choromatsu was relieved when Werecat acted friendly towards Totty. " If its behavior stays the same, Kara and Oso could carry Jyushimatsu to the lean-to ," he thought as he once again removed his hoodie and pressed a clean spot of it to Jyushimatsu’s neck. He would have done the same with the bandages but they simply had no clean spots left. " Besides it's too risky to ease the pressure this early, " he reassured himself as, with shaky hands, he checked Jyushimatsu’s breathing again. " Whew, still breathing... "

Osomatsu moved next to Karamatsu. He came from the opposite direction than Werecat so that the feline could see him getting closer. Osomatsu noticed the knife in Karamatsu's hand. He couldn't blame him. Osomatsu glanced worriedly at Jyushimatsu. He wanted to go there so badly but he could not leave Kara and Todo especially since Werecat hadn't yet given any reaction towards Karamatsu. And Ichimatsu had always been the most aggressive to the second oldest.

 

"Ichimatsu? Is that really you?" Karamatsu asked. He was still worried but was relieved that the feline gave Totty something to think about. Karamatsu's voice caught Werecat's attention and it squinted. It started to make weird noise that mostly resembled annoyed grumbling. When Karamatsu raised his hand to pet the werecat, it hissed and moved so far that Karamatsu couldn't touch it.

"Karamatsu-niisan," Totty said and scratched under Werecat's chin, "you know that Ichimatsu is quite violent towards you..." Karamatsu looked hurt as he always did but kept quiet.

Werecat wanted to have both of the injured friends at the same place so it could protect them. It took a hold on Totty's hood with its teeth and tugged lightly.

"Choromatsu? Can we move Jyushimatsu? It would be best to have him and Totty at one place. Closer to the fire or in the lean-to. I need to see Jyushimatsu!" Karamatsu yelled.

 

Choromatsu caressed Jyushimatsu's left, unbandaged, cheek wiping off blood with his fingers. " He is so cold and pale from the bloodloss ." He was afraid for his little brother. It seemed that Choromatsu was getting the bleeding under control but he feared that Jyushimatsu might have already lost too much blood not to mention the other damages.

"You have to!" Choromatsu shouted to Karamatsu as he kept the pressure up.

"Come on!" Osomatsu said to Karamatsu and ran towards Choromatsu. His eyes widened in horror as he came closer. Everything was soaked in blood. The ground, Jyushimatsu's upper body, Choromatsu's hands, Choro's hoodie pressed to Jyushimatsu's neck, the bandages around the right side of Jyushimatsu's head. " Please tell me that that isn't all from Jyushimatsu ."

 

"I'm coming!" Karamatsu said but didn't stand up yet. "Choromatsu, can't you come here with Totty? I- I don't really know about leaving him alone with... Werecat," Karamatsu said glancing nervously at the werecat.

 

"Osomatsu keep the pressure up!" Choromatsu said and lifted his blood covered hands from Jyushimatsu's wounds.

"Right!" Osomatsu knelt down next to Jyushimatsu. A shiver went through him as his hands made contact with the blood soaked fabrics.

After Osomatsu had taken his place, Choromatsu rose up, tried to take a step but his right leg gave way and he fell. "Shit!" Choromatsu cursed from the pain and hold his leg. In his panicked state he could ignore the pain but not anymore. His adrenaline rush was over.

"Choromatsu!" Osomatsu worriedly shouted.

 

"I'm okay," Choromatsu answered.

 

"Choromatsu use my axe," Osomatsu said and hinted towards the blade that was visible from his pants.

"Thanks," Choromatsu took the said tool and, with its help, made his way towards the youngest brother.

 

"Choromatsu, don't strain yourself!" Karamatsu shouted. Then he laid Todomatsu to the ground. "Choromatsu will come here now. We will move Jyushimatsu with Osomatsu." Todomatsu nodded to show he had understood. He was again starting to fall unconscious.

 

Karamatsu helped Choromatsu to walk the last meters and put his hound skin around his shoulders. Then he glanced at Werecat. "Be careful," he said to Choro as he went to fetch the stretcher.

"Totty? Are you conscious?" Choromatsu questioned as he sat down and pulled Totty to his uninjured side and to his lap. Catcoon had followed after Choromatsu. She purred a greeting to Todomatsu and curled up as close to the two as she could and kept making a uneasy purring sound.


Werecat meowed a welcome to Choromatsu. However, its stare wondered where Jyushimatsu laid and where Osomatsu now was. Quickly it dashed there and stopped when it was basically standing over Jyushimatsu. Werecat looked at Osomatsu badly and snarled deeply. " What are you doing with my friend? "

 

"Hey!" Choromatsu worriedly yelled as Werecat suddenly dashed to Osomatsu.

"Mmmm" Todomatsu mumbled in response to Choromatsu but didn't open his eyes. Couldn't they just let him sleep already?

 

"Stay with us for a while longer, okay? We have to make sure that everything is okay. Then you can rest," Choromatsu talked to Todomatsu to keep him awake. It also helped to ease Choromatsu's panicky thoughts. "Kara and Oso went to get Jyushimatsu. They'll be back soon."

 

Totty shifted a little but didn't open his eyes. "What happened to Jyushimatsu-niisan? Is he okay?" he asked whispering quietly.

 

Choromatsu shot a worried look towards the others. " There is no use in lying. He'll know sooner or later ." "He got bitten. Badly. He is currently unconscious." Choromatsu tried to sound calm but uncertainty was clear in his voice.

 

Todomatsu opened his eyes. "But... No..." he started. "Will he be okay?" he asked.

 

"The bleeding has slowed down but... We are doing our best," Choromatsu spoke. He was petting Totty's hair with one hand and Catcoon with the other.

 

Todomatsu looked at Choromatsu with glimmering eyes reading his expressions. "So he might die?" he asked with broken voice.

 

"I don't know," Choromatsu said honestly. "Jyushimatsu is strong and we all have healed amazingly in here," Choromatsu said his voice sounding serious and sad. He was hoping for the best.

Chapter Text

Osomatsu twitched from surprise when the werecat suddenly appeared in front of him. " Oh great. I don't have a weapon, not even my axe. " All Osomatsu had was his stubbornness. He boldly kept his hands on Jyushimatsu's wounds and faced the creature. " Let's see how intelligent you are. " Osomatsu slowly moved his gaze to Jyushimatsu and then to Totty. He also tugged Jyushimatsu's hoodie towards the other two. He repeated it a few times before he looked at Werecat to see if it had understood.

 

Werecat looked from Jyushimatsu to Todomatsu and then did the same again. It seemed to think for a few seconds. Then the feline tugged Jyushimatsu's hoodie carefully, made few leaps towards Totty and Choro and then looked at Osomatsu tilting its head a little.

 

Osomatsu smirked sadly at the creature. " At least it understands. " "Hurry Karamatsu!" Osomatsu shouted. His anxiousness rose every second he sat next to Jyushimatsu unable to do more than keep the pressure high.

 

"Here,” Karamatsu said as he again dropped the stretcher to the ground. His face turned to express pure horror as he saw Jyushimatsu. "Jyushimatsu! Oh my little Jyushimatsu," he exclaimed and kneeled next to him. "Why did this happen? Please Jyushimatsu! I know you can make it!" He caressed his cheek. "My brother." Then he looked at Osomatsu. "Let's do it. Carefully," he said and readied himself. Werecat stood next to them and followed every movement.

 

Osomatsu nodded and took a good grip around Jyushimatsu's arms. He tried his best to keep Jyushimatsu's neck and head from moving with his arms. "Ready? Go."

 

They lifted Jyushimatsu carefully to the stretcher and then started carrying him to the lean-to while Werecat paced around them.

As soon as the stretcher was on the ground next to the others, Osomatsu pressed his bloody hands to Jyushimatsu's wounds again.

"Osomatsu, I thought we would carry him to the lean-to?" Karamatsu said but it sounded like a question as they arrived to the others. He also started to give pressure to the wounds and pet Jyushimatsu softly.

 

"We should do that at some point but I don't know if Werecat will like the idea," Osomatsu answered. " It wanted them both in the same place. It may be a bad idea to carry the other further away. At least this early. " He met Karamatsu's eyes. "We can make a fire for now."

 

Karamatsu nodded. "Fine. But do it quickly." Their campfire from the night had already died down. Karamatsu sat down next to Jyushimatsu and started to inspect how Choromatsu had done the bandages. Then he went to get some water but he wanted to heat it up a little before starting to clean his brothers again.

Osomatsu ran to get firewood. He also took some grass to use as tinder and returned to light the fire.


Werecat sat down next to Choromatsu and followed what was happening. It still didn't know about the two males who had been hostile at first. However, they truly seemed to be worried over the injured ones so maybe they were okay. Werecat just needed to stay alert and keep watch. Who knew, maybe this would become its pack.

 

"Jyushimatsu-niisan!" Totty said as the others came back with the second youngest. He started to reach with his hand towards Jyushimatsu and tried to turn to see him. That was a bad choice because twisting his body made a wave of pain came from his wounds in his belly. Totty gasped and whined quietly "Fuck, shit." He returned to the same position he had been breathing heavily. "Choromatsu-niisan, help me see him."

"Totty! Be careful." Choromatsu worriedly fussed over the youngest brother. With a nod he pulled Todomatsu closer so that he was almost sitting in Choromatsu's lap and could look around freely.

 

Totty gasped again when Choromatsu moved him. "It hurts, I'm seriously going to pass out," he hissed painfully. When he finally saw Jyushimatsu properly, he stared him in shock. "Jyushimatsu-niisan," he whispered. "Oh, niisan," he reached to touch his sleeve. "Don't leave me, okay? We need you. I promise I'll play with you all the boardgames you want without complaining. Right? And all the adventures of the youngest ones? What about them?" he continued whispering. He would have teared up but he was so dry from all the previous crying that there just weren't any tears left.

After Choromatsu had moved Todomatsu he sifted the two hound skins that were on his shoulders so that they both were wrapped in them. His gaze focused on the second youngest next to him. He followed Jyushimatsu's chest move lightly as he breathed.

Jyushimatsu's breathing was still very light. But Choromatsu's work with his nose had helped the blood flow out so that his breathing wasn't as broken as it had been.

Choromatsu's mind was haunted with pictures of Jyushimatsu's visible skull and teeth marks that barely missed his little brother’s windpipe and fatal arteries. With tears in his eyes Choromatsu turned his head away.

Catcoon sensed the emotional distress of both men. She meowed and gently pushed both of them with her head trying to offer emotional support.

 

---

 

Karamatsu wanted to scream. He felt so guilty and frustrated that there was nothing else he could do. He looked around of their camp. There were huge hound bodies lying everywhere and snow was coloured with purple blood. "How many hounds were there? What's the kill count?" he asked. " So many hounds to skin. Well at least we will get a skin for everyone and many more, " he thought.

 

Osomatsu rose up. Since he had nothing else he could do, why not count the bodies? " One. Two. Three. " He walked around the camp. His eyes widened as the number increased. "Thirteen?! That is like a whole fucking pack!" he finally shouted.

 

Karamatsu's eyes widened as well. "Wh- what? Really?! Shit! How many did you kill?" he asked. "I think I killed... four?" he counted. " How the fuck did I kill that many without getting hurt?! "

 

"Three if I counted correctly even though that last one was way too close," Osomatsu answered placing his hand to his cheek. When his hand made contact with his cheek he jumped and hastily looked at his hand. " Purple blood..? " Only now did Osomatsu realise that his arms and upper body had purple blood splatters all over them from the one hound he had brutally slaughtered. "Eww!"

 

"That's so many!! Who killed the rest? Ichimatsu?" Karamatsu asked.

 

Osomatsu shrugged. "I think so. There were many savagely clawed hounds. Except one only had it's neck broken. That must have been Jyushimatsu," Osomatsu almost whispered the last sentence.


Karamatsu looked the bloody oldest in shocked awe and then he realized he wasn't that clean himself either. He had also spatters of purple blood everywhere and red blood stains in his hands and lap. "Clean up yourself. Though, we don't really have anything where you can dry yourself," Karamatsu said to Oso.

"It doesn't matter," Osomatsu stated simply and started to go towards the river but kept speaking as he moved. "You need to also wash and it's probably best to do it before we open any bandages."

 

Karamatsu nodded sadly and bit his lip looking down. "Fair enough. We don't want anymore infections. But I'm not leaving their side before you're back," he said. "Then we need food. We still have yesterday's leftovers, right? Or do we need to prepare some more? More water needs to be carried from the river..." Karamatsu went on the list of things that needed to be done. Then he sighed and looked sadly down at his brothers. There were so many things to do but he felt too bad to move anywhere. "Can you carry me all the things for food and I can prepare it here?" he asked from Osomatsu.

 

"Sure, right after I'm back," Osomatsu said as he started jogging.

"Karamatsu, let me make the food," Choromatsu cut in. "Jyushimatsu and Totty need caring and I can't be of much help when I'm hurt myself," he continued in serious tone. " But I need to do something. "

Karamatsu looked at Choromatsu like he was a life saver. It gave him a possibility to stay with the youngests. "Thank you, brother! I really appreciate it."


After a while Osomatsu came back. He was shivering as he twisted freezing water from his T-shirt. His hair and pants also had some wet spots from the water and water drops were visible on his skin. He grabbed their left overs and some new meat from their food container. He threw his soaked T-shirt over a tree's branch and brought the food to the others. "Let's change Karamatsu," he said ready to take his brother’s place in caring for Jyushimatsu.

Karamatsu looked at the soaking Osomatsu. "You're going to catch a cold," he stated. Then he stood up and was about to go to the river but he sat down again and brushed both the youngest ones' cheeks softly, lovingly. Then he stood up and hurriedly ran to the river.

 

"Karamatsu is right you know," Choromatsu said as he gave one of the two hound skins to Osomatsu and arranged the other better around Totty and himself. He would start making the food after Karamatsu returned.

"Thanks Choromatsu," Osomatsu said as he gladly wrapped the skin around his wet body. "There should be a hound skin for Karamatsu if he'll be able to find it," Osomatsu thought out loud and let his gaze wander around their camp that now looked more like a battlefield.

 

Karamatsu washed his face and hands as well as hoodie and pants in the freezing water. " Shit, it's cold! " Luckily he still had his t-shirt mostly clean and dry. After he was done he ran back to the others and realized they didn't have the fourth skin so he needed to run to the lean-to to get it. He arranged his clothes to dry on the branches next to the fire.

"I'm back," he informed as he sat down. This time he petted the youngests’ hair, not wanting to disturb them with his cold hands. His face fell a little. "Totty is sleeping," he said with serious voice. Then he continued: "Maybe we should let him sleep for an hour or so? He did lost a lot of blood and must be feeling it. Besides he's been awake quite awhile now." He looked at Osomatsu and Choromatsu waiting for their answer.

 

Choromatsu nodded. "You can clean up his wounds while he is asleep. I can look after Jyushimatsu while you do it," he offered.

Osomatsu nodded thankfully and the two carefully switched places. Osomatsu would have wanted to start with Jyushimatsu but it would be best to keep the bandages still on their places just to be sure.

 

All this time Werecat had been following them with a sharp stare. Finally it started to relax more. Then Werecat started to lick its wound on the paw clean. Now that all the heat of the battle was gone, it remembered it again and would limp it when walking. It wasn't a bad wound but still painful.

 

After Oso and Kara were done with Todomatsu they had left him to sleep next to Choromatsu who was watching over the youngest brother while he was making some meat stew.

"Here goes," Osomatsu said and carefully took Choromatsu's blood soaked hoodie off of Jyushimatsu's neck. His eyes widened in shock when he saw the bloody teeth marks. " An inch and Jyushimatsu would have been dead on the spot ." Osomatsu couldn't stop the terrifying thought from getting into his head. The area around the wound were covered in drying blood but fortunately it didn't bleed anymore.

 

Karamatsu looked at Osomatsu in fear and shock. That was way too close to killing their Jyushimatsu.

Karamatsu helped Oso to untie the bandages. His eyes widened in horror and he breathed: "Jesus!" They could see part of the white skull in the wound. Karamatsu looked at Osomatsu in distress. "It need to be stitched!" he shrieked in panic.

 

"Holy fuck!" Osomatsu yelled. He hastily ran to their supplies and throwed useless stuff out of his way. "Do we have any needles!?" he yelled as he kept digging. His eyes widened as he came across Choromatsu's fishing rod. He removed the string from the rod to take a closer look. It seemed to be made of some kind of silk. " This will have to do. "

 

"Osomatsu! Osomatsu-niisan?! What do we do? Oh my god, we have to save him!!" Karamatsu shouted hysterically. Tears started streaming from his eyes. "Osomatsu! What do we do?!"

 

Osomatsu's panic was increasing and Karamatsu didn't help it. He grabbed a hold on Karamatsu's shoulders and looked him in the eyes. "Clean the wound as well as you can but be careful not to open it again!" he commanded. Tears were starting to build up in Osomatsu's eyes as well but he didn't even notice them.

 

"Choromatsu!" Osomatsu shouted and ran to the said man. "Clean this in boiling water!" he firmly instructed and handed out the string.

 

"Okay!" Choromatsu straight away began to do as he was told.

 

"I'll go find the needles!" And with that Osomatsu ran back to the supplies.

 

"Okay, okay, okay..." Karamatsu talked to himself starting to clean the wound. He focused on the task at hand, praying for every god he knew to spare his brother.

Werecat had stood up when the sudden fuss started. It paced around following the situation restless. Something was happening. It didn't know what but it was not good.

 

Choromatsu had washed his hands before he had started preparing the food. He changed the water and used the same clay pot and boiling water to clean the string as well as he could. Then he removed the string from the water and removed all the water he could with his fingers.

"Found it!" Osomatsu shouted holding a needle in his hand. He had thrown their stuff all around and finally found it. He quickly ran next to Choromatsu and dipped the bone needle into the boiling water to clean it. Choromatsu handed the string to Osomatsu and Osomatsu brought the equipments to Karamatsu.

 

"How does it look? Will you be able to stitch it up?" he hurriedly asked Karamatsu.

 

"Me?! Ah, right, yeah. Yes, I think I can. I'll do it. It looks that it should be pretty easy to stitch but I've never done it so... we'll see. But I've seen it a few times when I've ended up hurt..." he rambled on as he took the string and needle and inspected them. Then he took a deep breath and with wavering hands but determined stitches started to stitch Jyushimatsu's head.

When he was done, he took a deep, shaky breath and gave the needle and the rest of the string to Osomatsu and changed his position to little further from Jyushimatsu and to more relaxed one. He was shaking strongly and had sweat drops everywhere.

 

Osomatsu petted Jyushimatsu's hair and looked at his little brother with a sad look. "Now we just wait and hope for the best," he quietly said to himself. " How could this happen. Well... I won't let anything like this happen again if I can stop it! " Osomatsu's thoughts were filled with furious hatred towards this world and its creatures.

"The meat stew is soon ready. We should also give some meat to Catcoon and Werecat," Choromatsu said with drained voice. The stress had seriously worn him out.

"That reminds me. Choromatsu, have you any idea when Ichimatsu will turn back to human?" Osomatsu asked curiously.

"Last time he turned back when the night turned to morning. But I have no idea since it's late morning right now." Choromatsu shrugged. "Guess we just have to wait and see."

 

Werecat laid next to Jyushimatsu and Todomatsu and looked the other men curiously tilting its head a little.

Karamatsu placed a light kiss on Jyushimatsu and Todomatsu's cheeks. Then he stood up. "Choromatsu, could you look after the food a while longer?" Karamatsu asked. "And please take care of yourself as well," he added. Then he looked at Osomatsu seriously. "Osomatsu. I want to talk with you over there," he said and jerked his head towards the forest, away from the others.

 

Choromatsu simply nodded and kept stirring the stew. " I should wash my hoodie soon. "

Osomatsu looked at Karamatsu trying to read the other. "Okay." He stood up and went with the other man. " I wonder what it is. "

 

Karamatsu led Osomatsu further from the others and when they were behind a big tree he stopped. He rubbed his face with his palm and then looked at Osomatsu with teary eyes. "How did we let this happen?! We were supposed to take care of our younger ones! I didn't even see anything, we should have had! It's our job to watch over them but we failed and they might die because of that!" Karamatsu rambled on hysterically. While talking he took a hold on Osomatsu's hound skin and buried his face in it. He had wanted to talk alone with Osomatsu so that he could for once be the little brother.

"Without Choromatsu Jyushimatsu and Todomatsu might have both bled to death and we could have killed Ichimatsu. We still don't know if they’ll survive. Besides we have no fucking idea what's going on with Ichimatsu or how to help him and Choromatsu is still hurt and should rest but he needs to push himself over the limit. Osomatsu, if some of them dies, I couldn't- I can't live with myself," Karamatsu stopped, breathing heavily and waiting for some answer.

 

Osomatsu watched with wide eyes as Karamatsu buried his face into the skin. " Let him let it all out, " he thought as he waited. When Karamatsu had fallen into silence, Osomatsu wrapped him into a tight hug. Karamatsu couldn't see the silent flow of tears from Osomatsu's eyes. "I know. I didn't see either. We couldn't have seen. We shouldn't have panicked in the beginning," Osomatsu spoke and drew calming circles to Karamatsu's back with his hand.

 

Karamatsu started crying even more when Osomatsu rubbed his back. After a while when he had calmed down a bit, he started talking again: "Wha- what do we do now? We can't let this happen again. We have to protect them better. We have to survive together..."

 

"We need to stay put and keep watch. And take care of the others the best we can." Osomatsu raised Karamatsu's chin and looked him in the eyes. "I promise that next time I won't let the others get hurt," Osomatsu vowed. His eyes showed that he was serious. " I promise. No matter what ."

 

Karamatsu looked at Osomatsu's serious eyes. "Mmm," he said and nodded wiping away his tears. "Sorry. You know I'm sensitive. This all is just too much," he said and took a deep breath. "I promise, I'll also do anything for my brothers as always. I'll be stronger." After a while he said: "We should go back, see that they are okay."

 

Osomatsu nodded and gave Karamatsu a few pats on the back before they returned to the others.

 

---

 

The sun was already setting when Karamatsu had skinned the second hound. He was progressing slowly because he always came back to sit next to his brothers and watch over them. They had woken Todomatsu in the afternoon. He was annoyed as hell because waking up meant feeling the pain again, but it seemed like he was not going to die as long as his wounds didn't get infected or he didn't get blood poisoning or something. Now Karamatsu sat next to the campfire and worked with the skins, scrapping of meat from them and washing them. They had all eaten meat stew (leave unconscious Jyushimatsu and Werecat which had eaten its meat raw) when it was done and they were soon about to eat again. Karamatsu was worried because he had noticed how Werecat limped its paw but he didn't dare to touch it and due to all the fur he couldn't see much. He was also worried of when they would have Ichi back.

 

Choromatsu was sitting close to Karamatsu and was adding last details to a knife he had made. He wanted to do something useful with the time he had. Occasionally he watched closely at Jyushimatsu's breathing. He found it hard to focus on crafting. Catcoon had been sleeping for quite a while but now she watched closely at Choromatsu's hands that worked on the knife.

Werecat was lying on the ground. It pulled Catcoon between its front legs and started to lick it clean, purring lightly. Werecat had been cleaning Jyushimatsu and Todomatsu many times during the day but there were still many spots it couldn't reach because of clothing. It needed to clean green friend as well.

 

Catcoon purred loudly at werecat as it was being cleaned. It gently licked the bigger feline back.


Osomatsu had brought the crutch back to Choromatsu and went to cut more wood. They would need a lot of stuff to burn especially now that they were at the camp all day. He carried yet another pile of wood next to the fire pit. He warmed his hands next to the fire and asked: "Should we try to move into the lean-to?"

 

Karamatsu nodded. "I think we should," he said and looked his little brothers. Jyushimatsu was still unconscious and Totty had been mostly quiet and half asleep. Then there was the werecat. "Who should we start with?"

Osomatsu looked around. "We should probably make sure that Werecat is okay with the lean-to." " We don't want any more trouble. " “Choromatsu, can you get to the lean-to by yourself?" he asked.

"Yes, now that I have my crutch," Choromatsu said, put the knife into his pocket, picked up his now washed hoodie and rose up with the help of the crutch.

 

"Be careful," Karamatsu said to him. Then he turned to Osomatsu. "I think we should carry Totty first. Werecat would probably stay with Jyushimatsu that time and then come with us to the lean-to as we carry Jyushimatsu."

 

Catcoon tilted its head as it watched Choromatsu walk into the lean-to. It purred and skittered after him. Werecat looked unapproving as Catcoon escaped its cleaning.

 

Osomatsu nodded and moved the stretcher next to Todomatsu. "Are you awake Totty?" he questioned.

Karamatsu shook Totty's shoulder lightly. "Mmmm...." Todomatsu mumbled and squinted his closed eyes. Then he sleepily opened them. "What it is, niisan?"

 

"We are going to move into the lean-to. It will be better for us all to be there." Osomatsu bit his lip as he continued. "So we need to move you again."

 

Todomatsu groaned. "Then you better be fucking gentle with it. And I'm not moving a muscle. Like I have said, I can only move my arms and head without making my side hurt more," he snapped to them. "Seriously, don't you have anything for the pain?! This makes me want to scream or cry." His voice was still weak and raspy but it had its sharp edge.

"Ah, Todomatsu, calm down. We will be careful but it will hurt. You can't stay the night outside, you know that," Karamatsu tried to reason.

Totty sighed. "Yeah yeah. Whatever. Just be quick about it."

 

"We'll try our best," Osomatsu reassured. " We need to find some way to prevent infection and pain .” With that Oso and Kara started moving Todomatsu to the stretcher and then to the lean-to.

 

With a lot of cursing and yelping from Todomatsu and carefulness and patience from the other two, they managed to move Totty. They arranged him the best they could to reduce the pain.

"Okay! Next Jyushimatsu," Karamatsu said. "Choromatsu, could you make sure that Totty will be fine?"

 

"Of course," Choromatsu said and moved closer to the said brother. A yawn escaped from Choromatsu's mouth. They were all mentally and physically drained from the days events. But there would be more harsh days ahead of them.

Osomatsu gave Choromatsu a thankful look before he exited the lean-to. He brought the stretcher next to Jyushimatsu and turned to look at the werecat. "You will come too, won't you?" Osomatsu seriously hoped so. It would be problematic if Werecat changed back to Ichimatsu while it was out in the dark.

 

Werecat meowed and stretched itself. It kind of had the idea of what was going on and it let the two male proceed with what they were doing.

Karamatsu kneeled down next to Osomatsu and followed him and Werecat. Then he said: "Let's try lifting him. Will you take the head?"

 

"Okay." Osomatsu took a hold around Jyushimatsu's shoulders and secured his head. Slowly and carefully they got the limp Jyushimatsu onto the stretcher and into the lean-to.

 

Werecat followed Osomatsu and Karamatsu into the lean-to. It looked around and decided it would be nice place to sleep. Then Werecat saw Choromatsu and remembered its task. It walked next to him and pulled him little further away from Todomatsu by taking a hold on his pants with its teeth. Then it wrapped its both front legs around Choromatsu's chest and laid down pulling the poor man down with it. " Time for a clean up, " Werecat thought as it started licking Choromatsu's forehead and hair clean with its rough tongue.

 

"H-hey!" Choromatsu cried out in confusion as he felt something pulling him. He was dumbfounded when he found himself trapped in the big feline's forceful affection. "Wait! What are you..!" Choromatsu's voice cut off and he yelped when he felt the rough tongue brush across his skin. "Osomatsu! Karamatsu! Do something!" he called out as he tried to escape Werecat's iron grip.

Osomatsu just chuckled and watched the scene in front of him.

 

Todomatsu watched surprised as Choromatsu was suddenly dragged away from his side. He started to giggle weakly as he realized what was happening. "Ichimatsu-niisan is going to kill himself when he hears about this!" he giggled. "Oi, Werecat, I think you missed a spot."

Karamatsu looked at the scene before him fondly. "Choromatsu, you are incredibly lucky. You should accept Ichimatsu's love and embrace it." Karamatsu was also really happy and relieved to hear Todomatsu's small giggles. He should be fine eventually if he was able to mock his brothers.

Werecat continued licking Choromatsu. It kind of enjoyed seeing the other struggle. It purred a little and tightened its grip.

 

"I think Werecat likes you Choromatsu," Osomatsu said with a mischievous grin.

Soon Choromatsu realized that his struggling was useless. He blushed deeply as he gave up, letting the creature continue.

The daylight was fading away and the darkness would soon fall. Osomatsu stretched himself as he spoke. "Try to sleep. I'll take the first watch. I'll be able to look after Jyushimatsu and Todomatsu at the same time."

 

"Are you sure?" Karamatsu asked and looked worriedly at Todomatsu and Jyushimatsu. "Well I guess I have to sleep a little to be able to take care of them better. But you have to wake me up immediately if there is any change in their condition and after couple of hours it's my turn to keep watch," he said to Osomatsu.


"Yeah yeah." Osomatsu was about to go to the campfire when he noticed Choromatsu beckoning him closer. He came next to the man and the feline that was still cleaning him.

"Wake me up for the next watch turn," Choromatsu said quietly. "You and Karamatsu need more sleep than me and Karamatsu wouldn't wake me up even if I asked."

"Are you sure?" Osomatsu asked with slight worry in his voice. Choromatsu nodded. "Well, go to sleep then," the oldest said and exited the lean-to.

Chapter Text

A few hours before the morning Choromatsu poked Karamatsu with his crutch. "Wake up Karamatsu. It's your watch turn," he whispered.

 

Karamatsu blinked his eyes open confused. “ Choromatsu?! " "Choromatsu?!" Karamatsu shrieked quietly. "What? Why? Where's Osomatsu?" He looked around and saw the eldest snoring in the lean-to. Karamatsu looked at Choromatsu with hurt eyes: "Why brother?! You shouldn't be awake. Don't strain yourself," he whispered hastily. "Go to sleep. Now!" Karamatsu ordered and laid Choromatsu down carefully but determinedly. Then he put the hound skin over him and tucked him to bed.

 

"You had to sleep better so that you can work during the day," Choromatsu explained, pulled Catcoon closer to himself and fell asleep almost instantly.

 

Karamatsu looked at Choromatsu, smiling sadly. "Oh brother. It's only my poor heart that needs some rest. Because of you, I am strong," he talked mostly to himself as Choromatsu was drifting to sleep. "Good night, brother," he said and went to check the campfire.

 

Karamatsu looked at the night sky above him. " Please, let tomorrow be better day. No more pain and fear, " he wished in his thoughts.

" Well, now is good time as ever to continue working ." He went to skin the next hound.

 

---

 

Osomatsu rose up and yawned. The sight of the three injured brothers sleeping and the two felines curled up next to them weren't a pleasant reminder of their situation. " Might as well start working. " He left the hound skin to Choromatsu, who he had shared it with, and went outside.

The chilling air made him shiver as he exited the lean-to's warmt. It wasn't quite morning yet but soon the light would return. "Morning Karamatsu," he said as he walked to the said brother.

 

"Morning Osomatsu," Karamatsu answered as he sliced meat to small pieces. He had skinned two more hounds and now he was preparing food. "I think after today the elephant-creature's skin will be dry enough to use," he said and waved to the direction where the huge skin was. "I'm worried over our nutrition since we are missing all the fibre and so many vitamins. Also salt."

"I don't know about those but I miss the spices," Osomatsu said and rubbed his nose.


In the lean-to Werecat started to twist as if it was having a fit. It stood up groaning and whining but soon collapsed to its side, legs and back twisting and head jerking from one side to another. After couple of minutes of that instead of Werecat heavily panting Ichimatsu was lying on the floor.

" Shit... What the hell happened? Ugh, I'm gonna throw up, " he thought as he gasped for breath on the ground. Suddenly his eyes widened in horror and he jerked up screaming: "Jyushimatsu!!" Frantically he searched for his younger brother and saw him lying close to him. Ichimatsu saw immediately that he was not okay, honestly he looked dead. Ichimatsu screamed louder as he dashed even closer to the second youngest.

As Werecat started to change form, Catcoon suddenly jumped on Choromatsu's stomach and watched at Werecat with wide eyes. The heavy weight of the feline woke up the man. " Mmm..what now? Wait! That sounds like..! " Choromatsu's eyes snapped open when he realised that Werecat was transforming. He anxiously followed the scene. Before he could reach out to Ichimatsu, the other started screaming and panicking.

 

"Ichimatsu!" Choromatsu yelled in distress.

Karamatsu and Osomatsu's conversation was cut off by the screams of Ichimatsu. Before Osomatsu could even realise, he was already rushing into the lean-to. " Oh shit oh shit oh shit. Please don't let it be something bad with Jyushimatsu or Totty ."

 

Karamatsu was running right behind Osomatsu. " No no no no!!! " When they arrived to lean-to they saw Ichimatsu looming over Jyushimatsu, staring at the younger brother in desperate panic. He let out broken sobs and tears streamed from his eyes. With his shaking hand Ichimatsu brushed along the stitched wound before he stopped and hold his hands in the air above Jyushimatsu, frozen in disbelief and horror.

Ichimatsu grabbed his head into his hands and started screaming again. " No!! No! Not him!! I couldn't save him! Why?! Please, not him!! " Ichimatsu was lost in his mind and completely blind for everything else but his fragile, broken looking brother in front of him. His breathing was getting alarmingly fast and he continued screaming frantically almost ripping off his hair and scratching his face. " Nooo!!! " Once again cat ears appeared on his head.

Karamatsu stumbled next to Ichi. "Ichimatsu calm down! Calm down, please! This doesn't help him!!" Karamatsu pleaded shaking Ichimatsu's shoulder. Ichimatsu didn't pay any attention on him.

Todomatsu laid on his place and looked at Ichimatsu with teary, fearful eyes. He had woken up to the screaming. "What's happening?" he asked afraid from anyone who would listen.

 

"Ichimatsu please!" Choromatsu yelled. When Ichimatsu's cat ears appeared he felt horror race in his mind. " N-no! Not again! " "Ichimatsu!" He desperately hoped that his voice could reach his brother.

"Get a hold of yourself Ichimatsu!" Osomatsu shouted but nothing seemed to get through to their panicking brother. " Fuck! " He pushed Karamatsu out of the way. Osomatsu took a tight grip of Ichimatsu's shoulder, forced his brother to face him, drew his arm back and slapped Ichimatsu hard on the cheek.

 

Instantly Ichimatsu went silent and still as he stared Osomatsu in front of him, breathing heavily. From his eyes one could see how after few seconds he finally recognized the eldest brother. Then his jaw started to wobble and Ichimatsu collapsed to the ground. He was burying his face to his hands as he cried. With broken voice he started talking: "Wh- what's going on? Jy- jyushimatsu? I don't- I can't remember. Only the bite."

 

Osomatsu stood next to crying Ichimatsu. He wanted to make it better but didn't know how to.

Choromatsu bit his lip. "You- the full moon night... It happened again."

 

Ichimatsu stared at Choromatsu with blank expression. It was easy to see how the realization came to him as his pupils shrank and mouth opened slightly.

"I- I- Werecat? N-no. Not again. Jyushimatsu. I- I couldn't save him," he sobbed everything buzzing in his head as he tried to process so many things at the same time.

Karamatsu kneeled down next to Ichimatsu and put a hand on his shoulder. "Ichimatsu... I know it's horrible. Yesterday was... I've never been so afraid, I still am. I know-" he was cut off when Ichimatsu suddenly shoved him away.

"Don't touch me Shittymatsu!" Ichimatsu screamed still crying. "Leave me be! You have no idea what I'm feeling!!"

Karamatsu looked sad and lost but backed away. He tried to catch Osomatsu's or Choromatsu's gaze if they could say something to help Ichi.

Todomatsu looked at Ichimatsu not knowing what to do. He would leave it to his niisans and hope for the best.

 

The brothers fell into a heavy silence. Osomatsu wanted to tell that everything was okay but it truly wasn't. So he too choose to stay silent.

"That isn't true," Choromatsu said, finally breaking the silence. "What you said." His serious gaze was directed straight at Ichimatsu. Choromatsu raised his voice to make his point more effective. "Without you Jyushimatsu wouldn't have survived!" Tears could be seen in the corners of his eyes. "You saved him from certain death, Werecat or not!

 

Ichimatsu stared at Choromatsu and sobbed. "R- really? What- what really happened? I can't remember anything," he asked between hiccups and sobs as he creeped even closer to Jyushimatsu and started to carefully pet his hair.

 

"It's best if you tell him Choromatsu. You were the only one who saw everything," Osomatsu said as he sat down. " We are going to stay here for a while. "

And so Choromatsu started to tell Ichimatsu the events of the hound attack and its aftermath. During his story he anxiously petted Catcoon's fur. When he was done he looked up to see Ichimatsu's reaction.

 

There was so much information that Ichimatsu didn't know how to react. First he listened dead silent everything Choromatsu had to say about Jyushimatsu while petting the unconscious younger brother. He realized that maybe Jyushimatsu would be dead without him transforming into Werecat. He hated the idea of transforming, it was scary, but he would become to which ever monster for Jyushimatsu.

Ichimatsu turned to look at Totty, shocked as Choromatsu continued filling him up. Before Ichimatsu was able to panic that much, Totty quickly told that he was alive and conscious so Ichimatsu shouldn't panic.

The avoided fight between him and their oldest brothers bothered Ichimatsu a lot put he pushed it in the back of his mind. He would deal with it later. Now he had his brother to take care of.

"I'm sorry I lost it," Ichimatsu mumbled. By now he had mostly calmed down because knowing what actually had happened yesterday helped. "I won't leave Jyushimatsu's side so if you want to do something else, you can. Of course I'll watch over Totty as well."

Karamatsu looked at Ichimatsu. "Fine. Just remember to take care of yourself as well." After a small pause he continued: "Jyushimatsu is strong. Tell us when he wakes up." " He has to wake up! " Karamatsu thought as he stepped out of the lean-to, giving a last worried glance to his younger brothers.

 

Osomatsu let out a relieved sigh when he saw that Ichimatsu had calmed down. "Call if you need anything," he said and went to chop more firewood.

Choromatsu watched Ichimatsu. " I need to talk to him about this. But now is not the time. It has to wait ." "I'll go to prepare some food," he said and went after the two oldest brothers. As usual Catcoon followed close behind him.

 

After Choromatsu had also exited the lean-to, Todomatsu was unsure what to say. He wanted to say something to make Ichimatsu feel better so he quietly started talking: "Ichimatsu-niisan... I kind of liked your werecat form. I mean I was scared at first but I saw that it was you and you just wanted to take care of us. I- I guess I felt safe with you guarding?" he finished. Then he turned to look at the fourth brother.

Ichimatsu looked sad and in pain but he lift his hand and ruffled Totty's hair a little. "I see... Thanks," he mumbled.

Karamatsu sighed as he had exited the lean-to. "I didn't know what kind of reaction I was expecting but that was bad." Then he walked to the next dead hound, taking out his knife for skinning. "Call me if you need something. Choromatsu, you'll be next to lean-to all the time so please check that they are okay every once in a while," he called out to Choromatsu.

 

"Right," Choromatsu said and took meat from their food container. He sighed and turned to Karamatsu. "We don't have anything to cook with the meat."

 

Karamatsu stopped his doing and looked at Choromatsu sadly. It pained him that he wasn't able to feed his brothers better. "Do you want me to go try to dig up some roots? I know that some of them are edible. I think something like cow parsley is related to carrot? Also some weeds like dandelion are edible. Or maybe we could catch something from the river? We don't have a working fishing rod though... I wish we could find seaweed, not to mention rice..." Karamatsu talked trying to decide what was the best course of action.

 

"Few days won't matter but in the long run it will," Choromatsu answered, trying to calm Karamatsu down.

Osomatsu joined the conversation with a smirk. "I can go look for something. I was thinking of checking the traps anyway. If I take a different route than usual, there could actually be something." He smiled to the other two.

Choromatsu looked at Osomatsu in surprise. "Thank you Osomatsu," he thanked the oldest brother.

 

Karamatsu looked at Osomatsu gratefully. "Thank you brother. Then I will continue the skinning," he said and returned to his task.

 

---

 

Few hours later Osomatsu returned from his trip. He was holding one bird and a trap in his hands. He held the trap upside down and eyed skeptically at something inside of it. "Karamatsu. Choromatsu. Look what had got caught in our trap," he said and turned the trap around. A big four-legged and hairy spider fell to the ground. It was about the size of Osomatsu's head.

 

Karamatsu had came to see what Osomatsu had. When the other man dropped a giant monster spider to the ground he instinctively jumped back shouting: "What the hell is that? Is it alive?"

"Aaah! What the fuck?" Choromatsu yelled as he saw the spider.

 

"I would surely bring a giant beast spider to run around at our camp," Osomatsu said sarcastically and poked the dead beast with his axe.


"Oh my god, I really hope that we don't run into these kind of creatures. It's so freaky." Karamatsu took few wary steps closer. "Could we use any parts of it?" he wondered.

"I guess we must find out," Choromatsu said. Digging into a giant spider's carcass didn't appeal to him but they could get something useful from it. "Bring it here Osomatsu," Choromatsu said and pulled out his knife.

Osomatsu lifted the spider from one leg. "I don't like how it stares at me with its huge mouth open," he complained.

 

Karamatsu eyed the creature in disgust. "Eeww. Are you sure you want to touch it? What if you catch something from it? Can't we just burn it?” he asked and then sighed. "I wish we don't ever have to tell Totty about it..."

 

The other two ignored Karamatsu's cries and gave their attention to the carcass.

A shiver went through Choromatsu as he touched the spider. Its hair was like hound's but much harsher. " I don't like this ." He frowned in disgust and turned the spider around in his hands to look for a place to start cutting.

"That beast is nothing more than four-legged hairball with pointy teeth and staring eyes," Osomatsu commented.

 

"Oh yeah? You want to see it wander into our lean-to some night? What if it's venomous?" Karamatsu asked not liking his older brother's tone.

 

"That would be nasty!" Osomatsu shook his head.

Choromatsu finally decided to cut the spider open from its downside. He pressed the knife through the spiders skin and cut. He instinctively pulled his hands back as purple blood flowed from the cut.

 

"Be careful!" Karamatsu said. "I don't think that thing is healthy to touch." He stared at the process. " I don't think we can use the skin for anything... It doesn't seem to be that flexible or warm. "

 

"It's like the blood of the hounds," Osomatsu wondered out loud. "I have been elbow deep in hound's corpse so it's probably not bad to touch it," he said confidently.

Choromatsu looked at the blood with wide eyes. It reminded him of the last time he had been in close contact with it. He shook his head to get a hold of his own thoughts. "Just don't let it be in contact with your wounds," he said firmly and carefully continued to open up the corpse in silence. Then he suddenly continued. "I got some hound's blood to my wounds when it got injured... I don't know if it had something to do with the infection but better to not take the risk."

 

"It got into your wounds?" Karamatsu asked. "Well I think that at least it didn't do any good to them.”

 

"I'm just going to dismantle it. Then we can see what parts are usable," Choromatsu said and started to cut the spider into pieces.

"Well if you want to do it, I'm not going to stop you," Osomatsu said. "Oh, right. Besides that thing, I found this one bird, some seeds and some pinecones," he listed and showed the said items. "I don't know about the pinecones but we can always try the seeds they carry."

 

Karamatsu smiled at Osomatsu. "Well done, brother. It's not much but it's still something different. I think we should give the best nutrition to the healing," he said.

 

Choromatsu looked around him. To him everything seemed little different from yesterday. Sightly grayer. " Winter makes this world look dead. And why wont this buzzing in my head stop, " Choromatsu thought and rubbed his head.

 

In the quiet lean-to Jyushimatsu was slowly regaining consciousness. " Wwh...What... " His mind was blank and he didn't have any idea of where he was or how he had gotten there. Then suddenly all of his mind was screaming from agony. His breathing changed from calm to infrequent, fast and sharp inhales. The pain felt unbearable. He was cold but his body was burning from the pain. Jyushimatsu managed to slowly open his eyes. The world seemed foggy and he felt like he could throw up or faint at any moment. Jyushimatsu would have cried but his body was too weak. He stared at the lean-to's roof above him with an empty stare.

 

Ichimatsu was alarmed when Jyushimatsu's breathing changed suddenly into pained and restless one.  Immediately he was looming over the second youngest as he stared him even more intensively than before. "Jyushimatsu?" he whispered trying to think of any way to help him. He was holding his breath without realizing it and when Jyushimatsu opened his eyes he shouted: "Jyushimatsu! Thank god, Jyushimatsu, you're awake!" Tears were forming into his eyes. "How are you feeling? Tell me how I can help you!" He had taken Jyushimatsu's hand in his and was holding it tight.

 

When Ichimatsu shouted the spider carcass was left forgotten to the ground as the three oldest brothers rushed to the lean-to to see what was going on.

" Huh ." Jyushimatsu tried to focus to the foggy silhouette and voice he heard. It was hard for him to focus on anything else than his agony. Jyushimatsu needed someone to help him. To take the pain away. He weakly gripped Ichimatsu's warm hand. "N-Nii...san?.." he managed to whimper.

 

Totty had hastily scrambled so that his upper body was up and he could see Jyushimatsu the best he could when Ichimatsu had started shouting. "Jyushimatsu-niisan?!" he shouted.

Tears were streaming down on Ichimatsu's cheeks. "I'm here, Jyushimatsu. I'm here," he told him as he hold Jyushimatsu's hand tightly and petted his uninjured side of head carefully with his other hand. "Don't worry, niisan is here. I am here. I will help you."

 

"Jyushimatsu!" Osomatsu shouted as he ran to Jyushimatsu's side. Choromatsu had clung to Osomatsu's hoodie and was kind of dragged behind him. He hastily shifted and watched the scene with worried eyes.

 

Karamatsu had immediately rushed to the lean-to for the second time that day. He arrived there side by side with Osomatsu and Choromatsu clinging to the oldest. Ichimatsu was looming over Jyushimatsu and Todomatsu tried his best to see so Karamatsu quickly scrambled next to them to see the second youngest. He felt his heart burst from relief when he saw that Jyushimatsu's eyes were tiredly open. "Jyushimatsu, thank god! We have been so worried!"

 

The presence of his brothers made Jyushimatsu to want to talk but the agony was draining his energy. "Cold..." he whispered.

Instantly as Jyushimatsu had said that Choromatsu hastily with hurrying Osomatsu took off his hound skin and carefully placed a second skin on top of the second youngest. "It will be okay Jyushimatsu. We'll take care of everything," he reassured.

 

Immediately as Jyushimatsu had opened his mouth, Ichimatsu left his hound skin behind and slid down to lay next to Jyushimatsu. He was still bare chested from the transformation which was even better for sharing his body heat with the younger. "Jyushimatsu, can you drink anything?" he asked.

 

Jyushimatsu didn't get what his brothers were trying to say to him. The more he tried to stay with them the more his pain grew. Jyushimatsu was sure that his skull would explode at any moment. His lips formed a weak smile as the warmth of Ichimatsu and the second hound skin started to build up.

The world was fading around Jyushimatsu as he was slipping back to unconsciousness. "It-it hurts..." he whispered as his eyes slid close.

 

"Jyushimatsu..." Ichimatsu looked at him with pained eyes as he started to fall unconscious again. Ichimatsu brushed his cheek lightly. "Just promise you'll be back. For me. Please," he pleaded quietly.

"Jyushimatsu! No no, just stay with us!" Karamatsu shouted. "It will be okay! We will take care of you! You'll be fine!" Karamatsu was crying. He was scared.

 

" Why must these things keep happening?" Osomatsu thought as he watched Jyushimatsu with pained eyes.

"Jyushimatsu?" Choromatsu slid his hand under the skins and tried Jyushimatsu's pulse from his wrist. His eyes followed how the second youngest's breathing turned back to deep and slow. " Steady and calm rhythm ," Choromatsu thought and let go of the other’s wrist.

Osomatsu took a deep breath to calm himself. "Well, this should be a good sign," he said and looked around waiting for a confirmation from his brothers.

 

Karamatsu nodded, wiping away his tears. "Y- yes, I think so. We just need to wait some more." " But he has to wake up soon. He lost too much blood and needs water and energy. "

Todomatsu watched with teary eyes as Choromatsu checked Jyushimatsu's pulse. "Is it okay?" he asked. "Is there anything we can do for Jyushimatsu-niisan?"

 

"His pulse is stable," Choromatsu said. He let out a relieved sigh and dried a few tears from his eyes with his sleeve. "If nothing bad happens, he should be okay." ” Most likely. Dare I hope…

 

"Okay," Todomatsu said quietly. He hoped that Choromatsu was right. Ichimatsu had hidden his face against Jyushimatsu and remained silent.

Karamatsu started talking again: "I take it that you will continue to stay with him?" he asked Ichimatsu and got a nod in response. "Okay, but you need to eat something and move a little. Call us anytime." He turned to look at Osomatsu and Choromatsu. "Then I'll return to my chores. Do you need me anymore to deal with the..." he glanced towards Totty "ummm.... trapped creature?"

 

"Don't worry Karamatsu. If that creature still moves after what Choromatsu has done to it, there wouldn't be anything you could do." Osomatsu playfully smirked and went outside to chop some trees.

 

Well that's a disturbing image, " Karamatsu thought grimacing. "Well then my brothers, I'll be outside," he said and left the lean-to. "Oh, so cold!" he mumbled to himself.

Chapter Text

After the situation had calmed down a little, mischievous grin creeped on Todomatsu's face. " I can't hold this back anymore. It's too good! " He turned to look at Ichimatsu even though he couldn't see his face.

 

"Ichimatsu-niisan~ Seems like you have a thing for licking your brothers," he started and Ichimatsu tensed. "You were so careful when you tried to clean my and Jyushimatsu-niisan's wounds. After that you gave a thorough wash for Choromatsu-niisan," Totty said as he turned to look at Choromatsu with his most fake innocent face. "Ichimatsu-niisan really did some serious licking. How was it Choromatsu-niisan?"  " Oh god, I'm gonna start giggling any second! "

 

Choromatsu looked at the purple blood and tissue that was covering his other hand. " I should wash away the spider slatters before they dry. " He was just about to leave when Todomatsu started talking. Choromatsu's eyes widened and an embarrassed blush started to grow on his cheeks. " Totty you sly devil you wouldn't ."

Choromatsu's face was redder than Osomatsu's hoodie and the colour kept deepening. The man was a mess. He tried to somehow answer to Todomatsu. "I...It...He..." Choromatsu let out an embarrassed whine and hid his face behind his palms.

 

Ichimatsu sat up and stared at Todomatsu in horror and disbelief. "I didn't," he said severely.

"Oh yes you did!" Totty chirped happily.

All the color had left Ichimatsu's face as he turned to look at Choromatsu. Then he started to scrambled towards the lean-to's exit. "I'll just go quickly drown myself. Take care of Jyushimatsu for me," he informed in his calm monotone voice.

Totty was giggling now. "Oh come on niisan. It was super cute."

 

Ichimatsu didn't show that he had heard Totty as he exited the lean-to. He breathed the cold winter air and realized how cold it was without anything to cover his upper body. He glanced at the river. " If it wasn't for Jyushimatsu, I would do it, " he thought.

Karamatsu noticed bare chested Ichimatsu standing outside. "Ichimatsu! Put a hound skin around yourself!" he shouted. "And while you're there, eat something."

 

"Shut your face, Shittymatsu," Ichimatsu grumbled. Now that he was standing again he realized how much his head was hurting. Ichimatsu went to fetch some cooked meat.

 

After a while Choromatsu came out off the lean-to. He still had a light blush on his cheeks. " I really want a new shoe and pants as soon as I can, " he thought as he carefully limped a few meters and sat down next to the spider parts. " Now lets see if we can use something ."

Catcoon had been playing in the forest but she rushed back when she noticed Choromatsu working on something. She sniffed the spider but quickly jumped back, snorted and eyed the carcass suspiciously.

 

Ichimatsu saw Choromatsu kneeled to the ground, doing something. He walked up to him. "You left Jyushimatsu alone with only Totty," he more like stated, not happy. Then he saw the slaughtered mess on the ground. "What the hell was that?!" he asked surprised.

 

"I'm checking on them frequently. Don't worry." Choromatsu understood Ichimatsu's worry but he was sitting literally only few meters away from the lean-to. "It was a four-legged spider creature. Osomatsu found it dead in one of our traps," Choromatsu answered as he inspected one hairy leg. "I haven't yet found any poison glands but I still haven't examined all the organs," he spoke and switched the leg to some weird looking organ.

 

Ichimatsu raised his eyebrow. "Spiders have eight legs. Are you sure it was one and not something else?" he asked as he kneeled down next to him. He put the still not eaten piece of meat away to wait and then he started poking the remains of the creature. "What is this?" he asked and took a pink gland to his hand. However, he grabbed it too hard and it broke, its liquid splashing to Ichimatsu’s hands and chest.

"Aaa, fuck!" he shouted and automatically threw the gland away. "Shit!" he looked at his injured wrist that was bitten by a hound yesterday. " That's not good... " Before he was able to go wash the liquid away, he realized that it actually felt really good on the wound. He sighed in relief.

 

Choromatsu's eyes widened when the gland exploded. " I hadn't examined that yet! What if it's poisonous?! " "Quickly! Clean it with water!" Choromatsu fussed and waved towards a water filled clay pot close to him.

When the other man let out a relieved sigh Choromatsu's panic turned to confusion. "A-are you alright? Are you getting light headed?"

 

"Nnn. It feels good. I don't know if it actually does good but feels like it. Cooling and easing the pain..." Ichimatsu answered Choromatsu and examined his hand. "Actually it would be good if you could check my hand," he said. "But I'm gonna get a hound skin. I'm fucking freezing," he told, fetched a skin from lean-to and came back. Under the hound skins Totty had curled next to Jyushimatsu and both of them seemed to be sleeping peacefully.

 

"Of course. I'm just going to wash first." " At least he somewhat takes care of himself ," Choromatsu thought as he put the weird looking organ back to the ground. He would continue its examination later.

Choromatsu looked closely at Ichimatsu's hand. Because of the spider gland's liquids, the wound area felt cool. "The teeth marks are quite deep but it's nothing serious. It doesn't show any signs of infection so, in this world, it should heal pretty soon. Do you want to cover it up with something?" Choromatsu asked from the other man.

 

"Nah, it's fine," Ichimatsu said and pulled his hand away. He then took the piece of meat that he had left earlier. " Ugh. I don't feel good and I don't really want to eat anything but I guess I have to... " Ichimatsu thought and took a bite. Then he looked at Choromatsu, embarrassed. "Mmmm... You know that I don't know what I'm doing when I'm Werecat. I don’t remember any of it. I'm not in control. Otherwise I would have never lick- done that what Totty said!" he finished face red. Ichimatsu took another bite, not looking at Choromatsu.

 

Choromatsu's face reddened. "I- I know. You don't have to explain," he hastily reassured and waved his hands before turning away. After a while he started talking without facing Ichimatsu. "Werecat has accepted at least me and Jyushimatsu."

 

Ichimatsu blushed more. "That's good," he finally said. He sat there in awkward silence with Choromatsu for a while, eating the meat. In his mind he was thinking if he should say something more or not. Honestly he just wanted to escape the situation but there were many thing he probably should say.


Choromatsu was getting nervous when the silence continued. He knew that he needed to talk with the fourth brother. Even Catcoon got bored and ran to the forest to play.


Suddenly Ichimatsu tensed. He felt his stomach twist harsher than before. Quickly he covered his mouth with his hand and stood up. " I'm gonna throw up! " he thought alarmed and started taking quick steps further from the center of their camp. Ichimatsu didn't make it far before folding his body forward as he vomited.

After emptying his stomach he stood there hands resting on his knees facing down as Ichimatsu panted and coughed. His throat was burning and he kind of felt worse than before. " Shit... I don't know if I have ever had a worse day. I should have just jumped to the river. "

Choromatsu was in his thoughts. "I should ask him but how should I start? And seriously what is this buzzing sound?" Choromatsu pressed his hands to his ears but it didn't help at all. He placed his hands to his knees and took a deep breath. "Here goes." Before Choromatsu could say anything Ichimatsu ran further away and threw up. "Ichimatsu! Are you alright?!" he asked worriedly.

 

"I'm fine," Ichimatsu grumbled and wiped his mouth with the back of his hand. "I've been feeling little bad whole day but it's fine," he said and went to get some water from a container.

Karamatsu ran to the other two brothers. "What's going on? Ichimatsu are you alright?" he asked worried and went next to slightly shaking Ichimatsu.

 

"Fuck off, Shittymatsu!" Ichimatsu shouted as he pushed him away. "I'll go back to the lean-to," he hissed and left Karamatsu and Choromatsu behind him.

 

"T-try to rest," Choromatsu said after him. He was worried for Ichimatsu. "Later, I need to talk to him," he thought and returned his attention back to the weird looking spider organ. He cut it open and his eyes widened. "Oi, Karamatsu! Come look at this," he excitedly shouted. "The creature had a spinneret," he said as he took some of the sticky and silky material in his hands.

 

Karamatsu was left to look worriedly after Ichimatsu. When Choromatsu called him, he went to look what the other had found. "Huh? What's that?" he asked and kneeled closer. "Is that spider web?"

 

"At least it's something similar." Choromatsu turned to look at Karamatsu. "With some work we may be able to make string from it."

Karamatsu's eyes started to shine. "Oh perfect! Let me see it brother," he said and took some of it to his hands. It was soft and sticky. Especially when shaped to string-like, it became really strong. "I think it could work! Good job Choromatsu! I'll start working with it," he said excited. Karamatsu hadn't been this excited for a while. He could repair their clothes and make new ones from animal skins. Finally something good.


Choromatsu picked up the spider gland that had bursted over Ichimatsu. It still had some liquid in it. "Does this really help." His injured ankle had been sore after yesterday's events. He took a little of the liquid to his fingers and spread it to his ankle. Almost instantly the soreness began to ease. Choromatsu turned to Karamatsu and smiled. "We may have found a solution to pain relief," he said and gestured towards the gland.

 

Karamatsu was examining the web so eagerly that he had missed Choromatsu testing the gland's liquid. "Really?! That would be amazing! We would need it so much," he said even more excited and looked at Choromatsu's leg. "Do you know what it is? Can we trust that it's safe?" he asked.

 

"It feels like it helps," Choromatsu answered. "I have to ask Ichimatsu what he thinks. He got some in his wound as the gland broke. We'll see then."

"Keep an eye on it to see if it has some effect on you," the second oldest told Choromatsu. "I'll take all this web. Maybe I will be able to sew soon." He went and kneeled down next to the fire. After some trying and practicing he find out a good way to work the web into strings that could be used for sewing and stitching. " Yes! This will help us so much. I want to start with Ichimatsu's torn shirts, " Karamatsu thought happily.


After a while Choromatsu had checked the hole carcass. "That spider was way more useful than I could have imagined." He saved the gland since it had turned out to be important. "I should prepare food for us," he thought and looked around their camp. There were dead hounds, already skinned hounds, the spider parts and so on. "I need to clean this place when I have time."

 

During rest of the day the brothers had continued on their tasks.

Osomatsu had collected so much firewood that tomorrow he could do something else. Choromatsu had made them meat stew. After that he had started cutting the first skinned hound corpse to get everything useful from it, mainly bones, teeth and claws.

During the afternoon Jyushimatsu had woken up for the second time. He was conscious long enough to drink a little meat stew before falling back to deep sleep. That had been a huge relief to his brothers. Drinking was a good sign.

 

Karamatsu had been able to repair Ichimatsu's hoodie with spider web which he had given back to Ichimatsu who was happy to wear it. He had also sewed Choromatsu's hoodie shut from the shoulder as well as his own pants. From one spider they didn't get that much web and that was all he was able to do. After that he had skinned two more hounds before going to sleep. He had taken the elephant-creature's skin with him and laid it down for everyone in the lean-to in the similar way to their shared futon back at home. The skin was big enough to cover all of them.

Todomatsu had barely left the lean-to during the whole day.  He had been happy to eat whatever food his niisans brought to him but most of his day he had been sleeping, trying to regain his strength.

It was already dark when Ichimatsu left the lean-to to go outside again. Now that everyone was going to sleep he felt safer to leave Jyushimatsu there. " Jyushimatsu will be fine, " he told himself over and over again and was feeling more hopeful now that the other had been awake again and able to drink. Ichimatsu needed to drink and try to eat again. He had also volunteered to take the first watch since his older brothers had really been pushing themselves hard these days. His head aching still, he sat near the campfire and started chewing a piece of meat again.

 

As the four other men had began to sleep Choromatsu sat up. His mind was too restless to sleep and the buzzing sounds, that had continued throughout the whole day, didn't help. " I could go talk to him now. "

Catcoon was woken by the man's movement and she let out a confused purr. The man petted the creature, picked her up in his arms and limped out of the lean-to. " Has the campfire always been that bright? " he thought and squinted his eyes. He blinked a few times before sitting next to the fire. " Ichimatsu should know why I came here. "

Choromatsu anxiously petted Catcoon's fur while he tried to think of a way to start. " This has become a habit. But it really helps to calm me down, " he thought as he scratched Catcoon under her chin. He shot a look at Ichimatsu to see if the other seemed like he would start talking, which Choromatsu doubted.

 

Ichimatsu only kept staring at the fire not showing that he had noticed Choromatsu. He only glanced at Catcoon longingly. He knew that Choromatsu wanted to talk or something as stupid but Ichimatsu surely wasn't going to open his mouth.

 

" Like I assumed. " Choromatsu sighed. " I need to make ichimatsu feel more comfortable. But how? " Choromatsu smiled a little as a thought came to his mind. He shifted closer to Ichimatsu and moved purring Catcoon to his brother's lap. Catcoon looked at Ichimatsu with her big eyes and softly meowed a greeting.

 

Ichimatsu looked at Choromatsu and Catcoon in surprise. Happily he started petting the creature. It made him think of home and his friends. He wondered if they would find food without him feeding them. With Catcoon on his lap, Ichimatsu relaxed a lot. However, he still wouldn't start talking. Maybe if he just ignored Choromatsu, he would leave him alone. Catcoon purred louder and pushed Ichimatsu's hands with her snout.

Choromatsu let out a sigh. " At least he feels better. " He took a deep breath. "Ichimatsu...You know that you should talk about it. And I guessed that you prefer me to Karamatsu," he said and followed the other man's body language as he spoke.

 

Ichimatsu snorted and grimaced. It was absurd. Why would he talk to anyone. He had always kept his things to himself so why not now. Looking at the fire he said: "I don't know what you are talking about. Just go to sleep." His voice was tired and low.

 

"Normally I would do that, especially if it included only you. But this is different. This is big. And it affects us all," Choromatsu said. Concern could be heard in his voice. "We don't know why it keeps happening to you or what could happen with the werecat if it gets out of control and becomes aggressive towards us."

After a short silence he sighed. "I can't force you to say anything but I hope you would." Choromatsu turned his gaze away from Ichimatsu and stared into the surrounding darkness. " The darkness makes me feel unusually restless tonight. Almost like something is staring at me, " he uneasily thought and rubbed his head.

 

Ichimatsu squinted before he looked at Choromatsu with a blank face. "Oh. You want to talk about the fact that I'm apparently cursed into being a werecat? Also that I could have killed at least two of my brothers yesterday?" Ichimatsu was starting to lost his cool and his voice became faster, higher and more powerful. He petted Catcoon more frantically. "It's also really funny how I might have only transformed during the full moon but oh no, it happened again! It happens without a warning or who knows maybe I'll just turn into Werecat permanently! Or like you said I might kill you all! But you know what? I don't see what's the point of this topic because there is not a fucking thing we can do about it!" Ichimatsu shouted. He breathed heavily from the outburst, turned his head away from Choromatsu and pulled up his hood, trying to hide. He felt horrible.

 

Choromatsu flinched at Ichimatsu's harsh tone and continued to stare into the pitch black night. " I don't know what I expected to come out of this conversation. " He started to feel guilty for bringing out the topic of Werecat. He knew how touchy Ichimatsu was with these kind of things but he still did it. "I...I'm sorry," he finally said without looking at the other. "I just thought that maybe you wouldn't need to carry all the weight of it on your own."

 

There was a short silence before Ichimatsu let out a sigh and buried his face behind his hands. "What should I do?" he mumbled. "Answer honestly, could I hurt someone? Could I kill my brothers?" Ichimatsu asked and turned to look Choromatsu in the eyes with a piercing look. " I need to know. I can't take the risk that I would do something. "

 

Choromatsu stayed silent for a moment to think his words carefully. "When you transform you become powerful and fearless. You are an animal but a very intelligent one. Something in you kind of gets what is going on and that we are important. You have behaved well when we act calmly and try to communicate with you."

 

Ichimatsu listened Choromatsu talk. He was positively surprised how good things Choromatsu found to say about the topic or was it only the way he represented it? However, there was something annoying him. "You avoided my questions," Ichimatsu said little too harsh. "Could I hurt you?" With softer voice he added: "I need to know."

 

Choromatsu glanced away before he looked back at Ichimatsu. He wouldn't have wanted to say it to Ichimatsu's face but the other left him no choice. "Honestly, yes, you could."

 

Ichimatsu looked back at the fire. "I see," he said quietly. "If I hurt one of you, would you be able to kill me? Or otherwise stop me?" he asked with clear voice.

 

Choromatsu's eyes widened. "We wouldn't kill you! We just could not do it!" he spoke and looked Ichimatsu seriously in the eyes.

 

Ichimatsu looked straight back at Choromatsu's eyes. "I mean, would you have enough power to do that? If I go out of control as Werecat, could you stop me?"

 

Choromatsu seemed to calm down a little as Ichimatsu clarified his question. "W-we could stop you." " If we could really attack you. "

 

Ichimatsu studied his older brother's eyes little longer before he nodded. "Good," he said and remembered to start to pet Catcoon again.

The darkness around them felt really suffocating and Ichimatsu could swear he saw again those staring empty eyes in the darkness. They made him nervous but at least they hadn't yet caused any trouble.

Suddenly Ichimatsu jumped to his feet, Catcoon dropping from his lap. He had heard again that creepy music box voice that he had heard once before.

"Shit!" Ichimatsu said and grabbed a torch which he lit right away. He held his breath while he frantically searched the ground for shadows.

 

Choromatsu let out a panicked scream when he heard the sudden noises. He hastily rose up and copied his brothers actions. " No no no no. "

Two black shadow hands creeped towards them from the darkness.

 

"Shit! Choromatsu, they can be chased away with light, right??" Ichimatsu shouted the question. He was standing close to the fire holding a burning torch in his hand. With the eerie sound the hands crept closer.

 

"That worked last time, right?!" Cold sweat started to flow down Choromatsu's back as one of the hands came closer. He swung the burning torch towards it. The hand retreated while making different, faster music box sound, and stopped to prepare for another approach.

 

Ichimatsu followed how Choromatsu forced the shadow hand to retreat. " It seems to work. " Ichimatsu held the torch in front of him like a weapon. He took a deep breath and then with a battle cry suddenly dashed forward towards the other hand. "Die!!" he screamed as the hand retreated with the music box jingle and finally disappeared with a broken sound. Sweating nervously Ichimatsu turned to look if Choromatsu needed help.

 

"Go away!" Choromatsu yelled as he forced the hand to back down. He took a few more steps before the hand made a broken sound as it disappeared. He quickly turned to look how Ichimatsu was doing. When he didn't see any hands he shifted his weight to his uninjured leg. "Why do they come for us?!" he yelled. Choromatsu hated the fact that they didn't know.

 

In the lean-to Karamatsu's eyes shot open to the sound of Choromatsu's scream. Without thinking he dashed out from there, Osomatsu right after him. Behind him he heard Totty's scared whines: "What's going on?! Don't leave me alone with Jyushimatsu-niisan!"

Karamatsu saw Choromatsu and Ichimatsu standing there scared and bewildered, holding burning torches. "Brothers! What is it? Are you okay?!" he asked looking around the camp for any potential danger.

 

"The hands came back," Choromatsu said as he took deep breaths.

Osomatsu blinked a few times in confusion. "Hands? The ones that try to put out your campfire?" he asked worriedly.

 

"Are you okay? Are you sure that's what happened? Are they dangerous? What should we do about them? Can we do something?" Karamatsu rambled on, asking more and more questions.

"Shut up Shittymatsu!" Ichimatsu said and walked back to the campfire throwing his torch there. "We are fine. Just startled," he grumbled and slumped down to the ground. "Last time it happened it was also after I had transformed..."

 

Osomatsu let out a relieved sigh. "I'm glad that you are fine. Ichimatsu, can you continue your watch turn?" he asked.

 

Ichimatsu hummed, agreeingly. "Yeah, I'm fine. Just go to sleep."

Karamatsu looked at Ichimatsu worriedly. "No, maybe it's better that I take the turn," he said and took few steps closer to the fourth brother.

"I said go to sleep!" Ichimatsu shouted, looking straight to Karamatsu and making him jump.

Only then they heard Totty's scared shouts from the lean-to. "Niisans!! What's happening?! Somebody tell me!"

 

"Don't worry Totty! It's okay!" Osomatsu shouted. He took a few steps towards the lean-to but then he stopped. "Choromatsu, what were you doing here anyway?"

"Huh?" Choromatsu glanced quickly at Ichimatsu before he turned to Osomatsu. "I couldn't sleep so I decided to stretch myself a little." Ichimatsu had actually talked to him so Choromatsu wouldn't tell the others about their conversation. At least not without the other’s permission.

"Okay then. Just try to sleep soon," Osomatsu said and went back to lean-to.

 

Ichimatsu gave a grateful look to Choromatsu. It would be a pain if he needed to have a conversation about the same topic with Osomatsu and Karamatsu. Karamatsu wouldn't let it go so he would need to kill him.

"W- well if you are sure you are fine," Karamatsu said and followed the eldest to the lean-to.

 

Choromatsu knelt down to pet Catcoon. "Will you keep company to Ichimatsu?" Catcoon answered with a meow, lazily moved next to Ichimatsu and laid down. Choromatsu smiled. "I'll go then. Try to rest when you can," he said and limped back to the lean-to.

 

Ichimatsu was glad to have Catcoon to stay with him and he petted the creature which started to purr. " 'kay," he simply mumbled back. It had been a horrible and way too long day…

Chapter Text

It was late morning.

Osomatsu was preparing for a trip to the woods. He hoped to find berries, carrots or anything else that they could eat besides meat.

Choromatsu had continued to clean their camp. He had finished with the first hound corpse and was elbow deep in the second one. He had taken off his hoodie so it wouldn't get messy.

 

Choromatsu's injury was finally easing up. He was now able to limp around their camp without the crutch. But for a longer distance or running he would need it or he would feel the pain afterwards. " Two or three days and it should be alright, " he estimated.

Jyushimatsu was still sleeping in the lean-to. Ichimatsu didn't leave Jyushimatsu's side and Todomatsu couldn't move without help and even then it hurt. On top of that he didn't really have anything to do outside of the lean-to so he stayed inside laying under the skins. He only asked one of his brothers to help him when he needed to take care of his business.

 

Karamatsu had been skinning another hound and after finishing it he jogged to Osomatsu. "Osomatsu. You are leaving soon right? Can I come with you? I hope you could show me where you found the spider monster. We need more of that spider web for clothes!" he told the oldest.

"Of course if Ichi and Choro think they can handle things here." Osomatsu smiled at Karamatsu. "This could be the journey of the oldest brothers."

 

Karamatsu's eyes started to shine brightly. Those kind of words from his brother meant so much to him. "Yes my brother! We can explore through the forest together! The journey of the oldest brothers!!" He turned to look at Choromatsu. "Do you think you would be okay?" he asked him.

 

Choromatsu turned to face the two brothers who eagerly waited for his judgement. "We'll be okay. Just return before dark," he said and turned back to the hound corpse.

"Woohoo!" Osomatsu cheered and playfully ruffled Karamatsu's hair. "Take two hound skins. We are going to be out there for a while."

 

Karamatsu smiled happier than he had been for a while. "Thank you Choromatsu! Be careful then," he said and jogged to the lean-to. Peeking inside he saw that  Ichimatsu sat the same way watching over his younger ones like yesterday. Totty and Jyushimatsu were asleep which was probably for the best. "Ichimatsu. Me and Osomatsu are leaving the camp to go see if we could find something useful. I would like to find more of those spiders. Do you think you will be fine?" he asked.

 

After a few quiet seconds Ichimatsu shrugged. "Yeah, we should be fine if you won't stay too long," he said.

 

Karamatsu showed him thumbs up with a smile. "Thanks brother! We'll be back in the evening. Take care of them," he said and looked at the two youngest sleeping. Then he grabbed two hound skins and ran back to Osomatsu. "I'm ready,” he said as he tossed other skin to him.

 

Osomatsu threw his backpack over his shoulders and the hound skin on the top. He picked up his axe and smiled at Karamatsu. "Let's get going," he said and led the way to the forest.

 

"Right behind you," Karamatsu said as he put the skin over his shoulders.

 

---

 

The two oldest brothers had walked for a while already. Karamatsu had been talking some nonsense all the time and seemed to be in the better mood. When they arrived to the area, where most of the traps were, he asked: "So where did you find the spider? Would you search the area with me to see if we can find something?" he asked and swung his axe lazily in his hands. "And what was that you wanted to find?"

 

"Food. Something besides meat," Osomatsu answered and kept walking forward.

Then Osomatsu finally stopped. In front of them the forest kept growing thicker. "We are here," he said and took the trap, which he had carried the spider in, from his backpack and set it again.

 

Karamatsu looked around. "The forest starts to look rather grim. Let's move on," he said and continued walking. "Remember to check all the trees and other plants for spiders. We don't want any of them surprise us and fall onto our necks. Also be careful where you step. I really hope that the web that that kind of spiders can make are not strong enough to trap us," Karamatsu said and gulped nervously. He didn't know if he wanted to find the spiders anymore.

 

Osomatsu tightened his grip on his axe and went deeper into the forest with Karamatsu. "I don't like this," Osomatsu said uneasily. "We are literally looking for monsters," he continued speaking as he carefully eyed their surroundings. He really didn't want to become dinner for those spiders.

 

Karamatsu's breath got little lighter from nervousness. "Heh, hmm, yes... I suppose we are," he said.

After a while of more careful walking, the forest only seemed to get darker and creepier. "Osomatsu, I don't know how much I like this," Karamatsu said, glancing  around. "I bet that the adventure of the youngest ones was better," he said as he circled around some bushes.

Suddenly Karamatsu's eyes widened in horror. He had stepped on something suspiciously silky and sticky substance. He didn't want to look down but he couldn't avoid it. Holding his breath, he lowered his gaze and saw his feet caught on thick looking web that covered a large area. Before Karamatsu could do anything else, a pair of angry, rough shrieks pierced the air.

 

When the sound of Karamatsu's walking suddenly changed Osomatsu knew right away that something was wrong. He hastily looked at the source of the shrieks and his eyes widened. " Oh no! " Two spiders were coming straight at them. "Karamatsu!" Osomatsu panickedly shouted.

 

Panic filled Karamatsu. "Osomatsu-niisan! I stepped on spider web!" he shouted scared and started to yank his feet free. He could move it but it was hard and slow with the sticky web.

 

"Oh fuck!" Osomatsu quickly slid his axe to his pants. The spiders were getting closer. "Shit!" Osomatsu wrapped his arms around Karamatsu's torso and tried to pull him away from the spiders. The web didn't break but it stretched.

 

"Waaah, they are coming!!" Karamatsu shouted and kicked with his feet. He hold his axe close and managed to scratch one of the spiders. Immediately another angry shriek could be heard and a spider with black and yellow stripes exited the nest and creeped closer.

"Shit!" Karamatsu shouted and was finally freed from the web and he backed away, quickly scrambling to his feet. "I think we should run!" he yelled and was already on his way.

 

"Agreed!" Osomatsu yelled and ran after Karamatsu. The striped spider let out another shriek as it leaped towards Osomatsu. Luckily the spider didn't reach the oldest brother and landed on the ground. "Holy fuck!" Osomatsu yelled and sped up.

They continued running until the rustling steps of the spiders stopped. Osomatsu turned around and saw the spiders walk back towards their nest. "I liked the dead one better," he said between his heavy breaths.

 

Karamatsu steadied himself to his knees, panting heavily. "Yes... I- I agree," he breathed. "Whew, that was scary! Thank god they went back to their nest. What should we do now? We kind of still need that web...."

 

"Did you see how that striped one leaped at me?" Osomatsu asked and shivered at the thought. "If we want the web we need to be very careful."

 

"I did!" Karamatsu said, rubbing his face. "I'm not sure if we should risk it. Should we try using more traps? One of them left the nest and got in your trap so why not another?"

 

Osomatsu's expression turned to a impish grin. "Let's go get them," he said and went to fetch the said items. Together they gathered few traps from the area close to them and set them near the spider nest.

"We should lure them out," Karamatsu said. They had a safe distance to the nest so he took a branch and tossed it to the webbed area around the nest. Immediately two black spiders shrieked, exited the nest and went to see what had caused the disturbance. When they found nothing else but a branch they turned around and went back to the nest.


Osomatsu huffed when the spiders went back to their nest. " Of course this can't be easy. "


Karamatsu sighed deeply. Looks like they had to go closer. He took careful steps closer and when he was close enough, he started to move his axe around in the web.

 

"Be careful," Osomatsu said as Karamatsu moved towards the nest.

 

The movement got the spiders to come out again and this time Karamatsu stayed around longer, luring them closer. The spiders shrieked angrily again before creeping closer for the third time. It looked like he had caught their attention. Karamatsu started running away from the nest and passed the set traps on his way.

" Come on. " Osomatsu eyed how the spiders passed the traps as they followed Karamatsu. The spiders let out annoyed shrieks and crawled back. One of the beasts went back to the nest but the other triggered a trap. It let out a shriek as it was caught.

"Yes! Good work Karamatsu!" Osomatsu cheered.

 

Karamatsu stroke a nervous pose. "Thank you brother. Now, what do we do with the monster we caught?" he asked as he walked closer to the trap carefully. "Should we kill it through the trap which obviously would break it or lift it a little and attack at the same time?"

 

Osomatsu walked next to Karamatsu and watched the trap shake as the spider moved in it. "I say we strike through the trap," he spoke and shifted the axe in his hands. "We haven't actually fought with them and I'd rather not if I don't have to."

 

Karamatsu nodded. "I agree," he said as he lifted his axe and hit it into the trap and the spider inside it. The spider let out a loud groan and stopped moving. Carefully Karamatsu lifted the trap away and exposed the dead spider to the daylight. The blade of the axe had made quite a mess but they didn't need anything else but the web and the weird gland so it didn't matter.

Karamatsu looked at Osomatsu. "We need to carry that back. Should we leave traps around here as well? Though we need to weave more."

 

"Let’s leave the other trap here and make more when we go back to camp. We need web but food is our main priority," Osomatsu said and patted Karamatsu on the back.


"That's true. Of course," Karamatsu answered to the oldest. They collected the important parts of the spider and started moving out of the thick forest.

"Huh?" Osomatsu turned his head to look at something that had caught his attention. "Oi, Karamatsu! Look!" He excitedly yelled and pointed towards a berry bush in the distance.


Karamatsu's eyes widened with delight. "It's a berry bush!! Thank god, we can get some vitamins! It's important especially to those who are recovering," he told Osomatsu and went to pick the berries. "They are frozen but that's okay. They are not rotten which is all that matters. Even if they are fermented, we can still eat them."

 

Osomatsu nodded at Karamatsu's words. "I'll look around. There could be more food around," he said and lazily walked among the trees.

 

When Karamatsu had picked all the frozen berries and put them in his pocket he started walking after Osomatsu. "Oi, Osomatsu! Did you find anything?" he asked as he looked around, trying to locate his brother between the trees.

 

"Yes, I did!" Osomatsu's shout could be heard. "Ah fuck. Why does it have to be so heavy." Osomatsu kept complaining as he struggled. He had found an animal carcass that reminded him of some kind of deer but he couldn't be sure from all the damage the animal had taken. The carcass was covered in deep bite wounds that seemed to be ripped wider. Osomatsu took the carcass by its legs and tried to lift it over his shoulders and failed. "Damn it!"

 

Karamatsu jogged to Osomatsu and got surprised to see torn animal carcass lying on the snow. "Wow. What was that?" he asked eyeing the dead animal. "Osomatsu I think it's just best to leave it be. It's most likely killed by the hounds and it has been lying here for two days already. Besides, I would rather not eat something the hounds have killed if I had the choice," he explained.

 

Osomatsu raised an eyebrow at the other’s words. "You just said that all that matters is that it is not rotten. Besides I can't just leave meat lying here," he said and tried to think how he should get the carcass to their base. "I'll just drag it," Osomatsu mumbled to himself.

 

Karamatsu stared at Osomatsu with open mouth. "But..." he started. Had he really just reasoned against himself? "But you do realize that meat is completely different thing from berries. It might cause much greater damage if it's spoiled," he tried to convince him. Sadly there usually weren't talking reason to the oldest when he had decided something.

 

" I wish I had rope, " Osomatsu thought as he dragged the carcass behind him. It was heavy but Osomatsu was determined to complete his task. He had put his axe to his pants to ease his work. "Should we go back to camp? At least I can't carry anymore stuff along with the carcass," Osomatsu questioned from his brother.

 

Karamatsu was still eyeing the carcass disapproving. Then he closed his eyes and sighed. "Sure. Let's go back," he said. He still had some space in his hand so he gathered fallen branches and sticks as he needed to wait for Osomatsu all the time.

 

---

 

Ichimatsu was sitting outside, making a new spear for Todomatsu. He was in better mood now that Jyushimatsu was starting to show more signs of life. Most of his time he spent sitting next to the two youngests and watching over them. However, now he was outside because he needed to talk to Choromatsu.

"Choromatsu," he started eyes still on his crafting, "my wrist feels better. I think that the spider liquid helped it and I can't see any down sides," he said and slid his hand out from under a hound skin to show it. "If they get more of it, do you think we should try using it on Jyushimatsu or Todomatsu?" he asked.

 

Choromatsu was finishing with the fourth hound corpse. He had finished the latest ones faster now that he knew which body parts of a hound could be useful. He hummed to let the other know that he was listening.

Choromatsu took the last useful tendon from the corpse before he turned to Ichimatsu. "I also tried the liquid to my ankle. It really does seem to help," he said. "We could try it," Choromatsu answered and fell to his thoughts. "But let’s not use it for big injuries yet. Maybe we could try it to Totty's hand."

 

Ichimatsu nodded. "I agree. Let's hope that they will get more of it. But we should not tell what it is to Totty, I think. He wouldn't like it," he said.

 

Choromatsu nodded in agreement. "I'll prepare some food after I have cleaned up," he said and got to work.

 

Ichimatsu hummed and went back to the lean-to. He had just finished the spear so he took new materials with him. He tossed the new spear to Totty.

"Here," he mumbled and sat down. Ichimatsu would start making a new knife. Those were always useful. Before starting he needed to check on Jyushimatsu to see if he was awake.

 

Under the covers, Jyushimatsu was slowly waking up. " My head is killing me, " was the first thought that came to his mind. He shifted and held his head in his hands. Catcoon, who had been sleeping next to the second youngest, purred and turned to look at the man.

 

Ichimatsu's heart was filled with gratitude every time he saw his brother waking up. He laid his crafting aside and petted Jyushimatsu lightly. "Jyushimatsu, how are you feeling?" he asked softly. " I love you. I promise I'll be here next to you every time you wake up. " "Do you think you could try to eat or drink something?"

Todomatsu turned to look at the second youngest with a sad smile. "How are you Jyushimatsu-niisan?" he asked. He moved his hand so close to Jyushimatsu's that they touched and he petted it with his finger, telling that he was there, laying right next to him.

 

Jyushimatsu's head was still very painful but it was little better than it had been. "Sli-slightly better." His throat felt sore and he coughed lightly. A sharp pain went through him as his body moved. Jyushimatsu opened his eyes and met Ichimatsu's gaze. "Water, please."

 

Ichimatsu looked into his little brother's beautiful eyes. They were full of pain which made his heart break. Petting Jyushimatsu once more he said: "Of course. Todomatsu is here right next to you if you need anything while I go and get it. Just a second." Quickly he went to fetch some water and came back.

"Here. Jyushimatsu I'm going to raise your upper body a little to ease your drinking. Okay?" he asked.

 

Jyushimatsu nodded as a sign to let the other know that he had understood.

Catcoon watched the two men move restlessly next to her. She yawned, moved next to Todomatsu, curled into a ball and continued sleeping. Totty hugged Catcoon with his other hand. He never really was a fan of Ichimatsu's cat friends since he didn't want dirt, hair or nasty bugs to his clothes or inside their house. However, he must admit that the warm ball of fur felt nice curled next to him. The feline started to purr calmly at Totty.


Carefully Ichimatsu lifted Jyushimatsu and helped him to drink. After he was done, he lowered him back down slowly and readjusted the hound skin above him. "Did that help? Would you like to try eating?" he asked.


Jyushimatsu smiled slightly. "Yes, it did." Water felt good after a long time. "Maybe later, if I don't have to chew."


"I can chew it for you," Ichi replied seriously.


Jyushimatsu’s head was pounding. Especially the right side. Without thinking he touched it. His body trembled from the sudden wave of pain that went through him and he quickly pulled his hand back. Jyushimatsu breathed deeply to calm down. He closed his eyes and carefully touched the wound on his right cheekbone. " Stitches? " he thought as he slowly brushed his fingers along them, to his broken nose and finally to the top of his head. Jyushimatsu assumed that there were similar stitched wounds on the back of his head from the similar feeling it radiated. Jyushimatsu slowly opened his eyes and looked into Ichimatsu's. "Niisan, what happened?"

 

When Jyushimatsu tensed in pain, Ichimatsu petted his cheek even more as he followed his every move. "Ah...," Ichimatsu said when Jyushimatsu had asked him the question and fell silent. "How much do you remember? There is a chance that you are having concussion and your memories even some time before you got hurt might be hazy.”

 

Jyushimatsu kept feeling the stitches with his fingers. He closed his eyes, trying his best to remember. "I remember the hounds." The images in his head were foggy. Jyushimatsu frowned as he tried to reach his memories. "I fought with them. Then I felt a strong pain from my neck before-" Jyushimatsu's eyes snapped open. He moved his palm faster to feel his wounds better. His eyes widened. He gave a scared and questioning look to his niisan.

 

Ichimatsu took Jyushimatsu's hands in his owns to calm him and kissed them lightly. "Don't worry. I'm here," he said, looking at him reassuringly.

"I'm here too niisan," Totty said as well, squeezing Jyushimatsu's arm.

Ichimatsu took a deep breath. "So... When the hounds attacked, you were bitten badly to your neck and head. You fell unconscious and we killed the hounds. Apparently the fight triggered me to turn into the werecat again," he told Jyushimatsu. "Totty got also hurt pretty badly," he added. Ichimatsu wanted to be honest with Jyushimatsu but he didn't want to tell everything in detail. He shouldn't worry his mind with anything now.

 

Jyushimatsu moved his gaze slowly from Ichimatsu to Todomatsu, there to purring Catcoon and back to Ichimatsu. He tightened his grip around the other man's hands. "So... How is it now?" he asked with worry in his voice.

 

Ichimatsu smiled to him. “Better now that you are getting better. It will take a longer while before Totty will be on his feet," Totty hmmm'ed in agreement, "but I think you will be up and going before you know it," he said. "The older ones are really having it tough, I think, because they are doing now all the work," Ichimatsu said with a frown. "We need to get more food soon," he added.

 

Jyushimatsu's smile slowly grew. "We are lucky to have such good niisans." His wounds hurt but Jyushimatsu would get better when he was with his brothers. "Will you keep me company until I feel like eating?" Jyushimatsu asked from both Ichimatsu and Todomatsu. He also reached to Catcoon and petted the feline, which responded by purring louder.

 

"We are lucky," Totty agreed. "And well, I'm not really moving anywhere."

"Of course. I just brought crafting materials here. I was thinking of making a new knife. I can't really weave," Ichimatsu answered.

"Actually I could weave something," Todomatsu said. "It's so boring." With that Ichimatsu gave him grass and flexible branches.

 

---

 

It was late afternoon when Oso and Kara came back to the camp. Karamatsu dropped the sticks close to the campfire then he went to greet Choromatsu. "Brother! How has the day been? How are the younger ones?" he asked, shivering slightly from the coldness. "We got one spider. Oh, and berries!" he said and showed them to the third oldest. "Sorry for taking this long. Osomatsu, he…” He sighed. “I don't even know," he ended, turning to look at the oldest again.

 

"Welcome back," Choromatsu greeted the second oldest. "Nicely done," he said as Karamatsu told about his and Osomatsu's success. "Things have been pretty normal. Except one thing." A smile crept to Choromatsu's lips as he told Karamatsu the good news. "Jyushimatsu was awake for a long period of time. He willingly ate and drank.”

 

Karamatsu smiled even wider upon hearing that. "I'm so relieved to hear that. You have taken good care of him."

 

"Don't thank me. Ichimatsu did most of the work," Choromatsu hastily corrected.


Then another thought came to Karamatsu. "Oh wait a second!" he said to Choromatsu and went to the place where they kept their stuff. After a short moment he came back holding the pair of shoes he had weaved many days ago as well as some buffalo wool.

"I know it's not good and will probably feel pretty uncomfortable but would you use these since you only have one shoe currently. Here," Karamatsu said, stuffed the wool inside the shoes and gave them to Choromatsu. "The wool should make it softer and warmer. I hope you try it on," he ended.


Choromatsu looked at the weaved shoes in amazement. He had had no idea that Karamatsu had made new shoes. "Thank you!" Choromatsu happily took off his old shoe and put on the new weaved ones. They weren't high quality but he couldn't complain. "Now I don't need to fear of getting frostbites to my bare foot anymore."


"No problem, dear Choromatsu!" Karamatsu answered to Choro.

"Oh fuck! Well this is close enough." Osomatsu had once again stumbled with the heavy carcass. He left it at the far end of their base and walked towards his blue and green brother while having a victorious grin on his face.

Choromatsu turned towards the cursing. When his eyes focused on the disgusting sight of the carcass, his mouth opened from disbelief. "Osomatsu. What are you doing?" he asked the oldest brother.

 

Osomatsu's smile only widened as he announced. "I'm bringing food to our table!" Osomatsu laid down next to the fire and breathed deeply. Dragging the carcass had drained a lot of energy but he had made it. "I'm a winner!" he shouted proudly.

Choromatsu couldn't do anything else than stare after the oldest brother. " Osomatsu is an idiot but this is absurd. " Choromatsu looked at the carcass in the far corner of their base. He couldn't even tell what the animal had looked like. "He can't be serious, is he?" Choromatsu asked from Karamatsu in disbelief.


Karamatsu sighed tiredly and shook his head. "That's what I've been trying to ask our whole way back." Then he raised his voice. "For the last time Osomatsu, it's not safe to eat that! Say something to him Choromatsu."

 

Osomatsu's smile turned into confusion as he sat up to face his brothers. "I still don't get that what would be so bad about it."

"What would be so bad?!" Choromatsu walked closer the oldest brother. He had trouble finding words to describe his brothers stupidity. "Firstly, it has been laying dead in the forest for few days and probably has started to decay. Secondly, we don't-"

"Few days won’t matter when it's freezing here," Osomatsu argued.

"Don't interrupt. Just listen what I say and think about it."

The oldest mumbled protests but fell silent.

Choromatsu let out an annoyed huff. "As I was saying. We don't know what that creature was or if it was healthy. It could be poisonous. It could carry a deadly disease or parasites. I don't even want to know what this world’s parasites are like. And thirdly, some predator killed it but didn't eat it. That alone should be a huge red light. Not to mention that the predator could have been venomous and in that case the carcass may still carry the venom. To say it shortly it is a very bad idea," Choromatsu ended. He had listed everything that he could think at the moment. Hopefully it would be enough to get through to Osomatsu's thick skull.

 

Karamatsu had crossed his arms and nodded in agreement as Choromatsu spoke. "You're exactly right! Osomatsu, listen to your cleverer brother."

 

Osomatsu was quiet for a moment. He stared at the ground and seemed to think about his brother's words. He expression changed into offended as he lifted his gaze to his brothers. "I brought food for all of us but if it isn't fancy enough for you, I can eat it myself."

"No you won’t! Nobody is going to eat that." Choromatsu didn't show any signs of backing down on this.

Osomatsu rose up and faced the third oldest. "Why can't I eat it if I want to!? If I get sick it will be my own fault. So why not?" He was getting tired of this.

"We can't afford any more injuries or sicknesses. We need to be healthy and able to work, hunt or fight if we need to," Choromatsu spoke more calmly than before. " Yelling won’t help with Osomatsu. " He looked at the oldest brother seriously in the eyes. "We had rather eat less than have you die because you ate something bad."

 

"Osomatsu please," Karamatsu pleaded. "You know he is right. We need to be able to work to take care of our brothers. They need us." Karamatsu stared into the oldest's eyes trying to get through to him.

 

Osomatsu's gaze softened and his muscles relaxed. " They are right... " "Fine. I won’t eat it. But I'm going to use it for something," Osomatsu said calmly as he sat down again.

Choromatsu let out a sigh. " He finally gets it. " "There is some stew that you can heat up. I needed to take it away from the fire so that it wouldn't overcook."

"Oh yes! Thanks!" Osomatsu immediately jumped up and went to get the said food.

 

Karamatsu sighed, relieved as well. "I could eat something as well," he said. “Well done Choromatsu.”

As the two of them started eating, Ichimatsu exited the lean-to. "We heard some shouting with Todomatsu. Seemed like you came back," he said, walking next to them.

"Ah sorry brother. It was nothing," Karamatsu said.

"So... Did you find  anything?" Ichimatsu asked.

Karamatsu smiled. "Yes! Our trip wasn't a great success but we got little food and killed one spider. Now I have more of their web and we also have this... spider gland? Something...?"

"Good," Ichimatsu said. "Give me the gland," he said and took it from Karamatsu.

 

"Hey, Ichimatsu," Karamatsu said surprised. "Use it well and be careful."

Osomatsu didn't pay attention to the others. He was too focused on snatching the last pieces of meat from the pot.

Choromatsu stopped crafting and came next to Ichimatsu as he noticed what the other man was doing. "Are you thinking of testing the gland’s liquids like we talked?" he asked.


Ichimatsu nodded. "Totty's wounds should be cleaned. He has been asking for it for an hour or two. We could wash them and add some of this," he said lifting, the gland in his hand, "to his arm and leg."

 

Choromatsu nodded. "I'll come with you. Jyushimatsu's wounds should be checked and cleaned as well."

 

Ichimatsu hummed in response. Then he took a water container and went back to the lean-to, Choromatsu close behind him. That made Todomatsu to lift up his head.

"What was going on out there? Oh, Choromatsu-niisan, what is it?" Totty asked. Choromatsu usually only came there when he had something to say or do.

"I went to get the water. We'll clean your wounds now. Choromatsu came to help," Ichimatsu explained, sitting next to the youngest.

 

"How are you feeling?" Choromatsu asked as he sat to the other side of Todomatsu.

 

Todomatsu shrugged. "I can't move. The pain is killing me. If not that, then boredom. I already weaved a trap but it irritates my wound so I don't know if I should continue," he said as he slumped his head back down.

Ichimatsu started opening the bandages around his leg. "If you can complain that much, you will be fine," he said.

 

Choromatsu knew how Totty felt. He had been in the same position with his leg. "Well, the more you rest, the quicker you'll heal," Choromatsu said before he leaned over Totty's bitten hand to started cleaning the wound.

 

Totty grumbled something in response. The third and fourth brother cleaned the wounds. After a while Ichimatsu looked at Choromatsu meaningfully before he carefully took some of the gland's liquid and lightly brushed it to the wound.

Totty jerked when felt different kind of cold sensation. "What?-" he started but ended up gasping in pain holding his side.

"Calm down. It's fine," Ichimatsu said and pushed Totty down as he added more liquid to the wound.

"The fuck is that?!" Totty asked but then sighed in relief, closing his eyes. "Fuck it feels good..."

"Don't worry. Me and Choromatsu made it from some herbs."

 

Choromatsu let out a relieved sigh as the gland's liquid didn't kill their youngest brother. However, they should keep a close eye over him. "Tell us if anything changes, okay?" he said, looking at the youngest for confirmation.


"Okay..." Totty mumbled happy to feel even little better.

Jyushimatsu had woken up by the sudden noises in the lean-to. He let out a quiet whine as he turned his head to see his brothers. "What are you doing?" he asked curiously.


"Jyushimatsu," Ichimatsu said happily and petted his younger brother. "We are just cleaning Totty's wounds. Could we clean yours as well?" he asked.

 

"Sure," Jyushimatsu said and petted Catcoon which was stretching next to him.

Choromatsu rose up, looked outside to their camp before he turned to Ichimatsu. "I should go back to work. You can handle Jyushimatsu, right?" Choromatsu wanted to stay but he had things to do outside.

 

"Of course," Ichimatsu said. Quickly he added some spider liquid to Todomatsu's arm, little bit to his own and then he gave the rest to Choromatsu. Then Ichimatsu started to open Jyushi's bandages and started cleaning the wounds.

Chapter Text

" That should do, " Osomatsu thought as he added a log to the fire, last one for tonight. The sun would rise in about an hour. Then the first beams of light would cut through the black curtain of darkness.

Osomatsu was bored. He had already cleaned his axe, played with a sharp knife, barely missing his fingers, and crafted more rope. "Waah! There is nothing to do," he whined to himself and laid on the snowy ground and wrapped himself in a hound skin. He wasn't even tired at the moment.

Osomatsu let his gaze wander around their camp, looking for something to do. Then his eyes stopped. He stared into the darkness towards the corner of their base where the animal carcass was.

Without thinking, Osomatsu sat up. One at a time his thoughts disappeared from his mind and his gaze turned from one that searched for something into an empty, glassy stare.

Without tearing his eyes away from the darkness, Osomatsu took a branch and lit it in the campfire. He slowly stood up and walked to the carcass.

The oldest Matsuno brother just stood there, holding a burning branch in his hand, and stared at the carcass with those empty eyes.

 

---

 

Ichimatsu woke up. He looked around in the lean-to and saw that everyone else but Osomatsu, who was in watch, was still sleeping. Slowly he stood up and dragged himself outside, taking a hound skin with him that he wrapped around his shoulders.

He searched for Osomatsu with his eyes for a while before he saw the eldest standing little further away almost burned out torch in his hand as he stared at something. Raising his eyebrows in confusion Ichimatsu walked next to him. What the hell was up with Osomatsu?

"Osomatsu?" Ichi asked and saw the animal carcass in front of him on the ground. He looked at Osomatsu's face and his eyes widened even more. The oldest's stare was blank. Clearly he wasn't seeing or hearing him, maybe not anything.

"Osomatsu?" he asked again with little louder voice this time. "Oi! Snap out of it!" he shouted, took a hold of Oso's shoulders and turned him to face him.

 

The oldest blinked a few times before some life came back into his eyes. "Huh? What?" he asked surprised as if he hadn't noticed that Ichimatsu had taken a hold of him.

 

Osomatsu was acting so strange that Ichimatsu didn't know how to react. "What?? What are you doing Osomatsu-niisan? You okay?" he asked puzzled.

 

"Oh, yeah," Osomatsu said hastily. "Just...thinking," he said as he turned his gaze back to the carcass. The same emptiness returned to his features.

 

Ichimatsu stared at him, his mouth slightly open in confusion. " What the fuck??! " "Osomatsu!!" he shouted to his face and yanked his arm. "What's wrong with you?!"

 

Osomatsu quickly looked back to Ichimatsu. He looked surprised and confused as their eyes met. "What is it?" he asked from the other man.

 

Ichimatsu didn't get this joke. It wasn't funny. "What are you doing?" he shouted, waving his arms around to put more emphasis on his question.

 

"I'm... I..." Osomatsu frowned as he tried to remember the answer. "What am I doing?" he finally asked halfly from himself. Osomatsu's eyes were losing their focus again and he dropped the burning branch to the ground. It made a hissing sound as the small flames got in contact with the snow and went out.

 

"Shit!" Ichimatsu shrieked. The sun hasn't yet risen even if it wasn't completely dark anymore but he'd rather take no risks. He grabbed Osomatsu by the shoulder and dragged him next to the campfire, where he pushed him to sit down. "Stay right there!" he said sharply and went into the lean-to.

 

Osomatsu made no complains as he was dragged by his brother and sat down. "Oh, okay," he calmly said and looked into the fire.

 

Ichimatsu shook both Karamatsu and Choromatsu awake and said to them: "Osomatsu has gone crazy. I don't know how to deal with it." His voice was monotone but from his eyes you could see that he was startled.


Choromatsu mumbled unintelligibly as he sat up. " Isn't it normal that Osomatsu is crazy? Why does he need to wake us up this early? " he thought annoyed. But then he noticed the look in Ichimatsu's eyes and was immediately alarmed. "What happened? What is wrong with Osomatsu?" Choromatsu asked rapidly as he jumped to his feet.

 

"Huh? Brother, is he okay?" Karamatsu asked alerted immediately as he followed Ichimatsu outside.

"I have no idea! See to yourself. I would guess that he had found some drugs," he told them. Then he froze as he saw that Osomatsu wasn't anymore where he had left him. "Fuck!" he muttered, lit up a torch and ran to where the animal carcass was, Karamatsu and Choromatsu following him confused.

 

However, there was no sign of the oldest brother near the carcass.

Choromatsu looked at Karamatsu with a questioning look before he turned to Ichi. "Where is Osomatsu?" he asked worriedly.

 

Ichimatsu turned his head from side to side looking furiously for the oldest. "I don't know!" " Where is that idiot?! " "He's going to get himself killed!" he said and started walking around, shouting for the oldest. "Don't just stand there!" he shouted for his older brothers.

Karamatsu blinked his eyes, still not sure what was going on. "Ri-right. Sorry," he said and started looking for Osomatsu from another direction.

 

Choromatsu started to call for the missing brother as well. He didn't like what was going on.

Suddenly a loud noise ringed from the edge of the forest. It was so sudden that it nearly gave Choromatsu a heart attack. Then it echoed again. And again. Then the third oldest registered what the sound was. " Chopping wood..? " he thought as he ran towards the noise. Ichimatsu was quick to arrive after Choromatsu and behind him came Karamatsu.

There was Osomatsu, wielding his axe and chopping down a tree. His expression was once again hollow and soulless.


"Brother? Ichimatsu was worried about you. Looks like you were only chopping trees to help our- Brother?" Karamatsu asked confused as he saw his face.


Choromatsu was just as confused as Karamatsu. This was very unusual behavior. They couldn't even read his emotions since Osomatsu didn't show any.

Ichimatsu stared at Osomatsu in disbelief. He was close to explode but he didn't know with what. Anger? Frustration? Stress? "Osomatsu!" he shouted and grabbed Osomatsu's hand and tore the axe away from him. "What the hell are you doing?! I told you to stay there!" he shouted, pointing towards their campfire. He had shoved his torch to Karamatsu but now it was quickly getting brighter as the sun rose.

 

Osomatsu jumped a little as Ichimatsu grabbed the axe from his hands. "Ichimatsu?! Don't scare me like that. Oh, Karamatsu. Choromatsu. When did you appear there?" Osomatsu's eyebrows rose in slight confusion as he didn’t remember any orders that Ichimatsu claimed to be given to him. "...No you didn't," he said in monotone voice while turning back to the tree. As his eyes met the evergreen, his gaze emptied and he tried to reach for his axe.

 

"See what I mean," Ichimatsu growled. "He's gone crazy!!" He kept the axe away from Osomatsu as he turned his face to meet his again. "Hey! I'm getting tired of this bullshit! Did you eat something weird?"

 

"Nah, I'm not hungry," Osomatsu mumbled without removing his eyes from the tree. He didn't even seem to blink. Suddenly he stopped reaching for the axe. Instead he jumped at the tree, trying to break its trunk by using his bodyweight. His efforts were, unsurprisingly, futile. He fell back to his feet and slowly dragged his fingers across the marks left by the axe. His hollow stare followed closely at every move his hands made.

 

Once again Osomatsu had left Ichi to stare at him in disbelief. "Aaaargh!! What am I supposed to do with you?!" he shouted, slapping Osomatsu’s hand away from the tree.

"Okay, good that you woke us," Karamatsu said eyes wide. "Brother," he said as he stood in front of Osomatsu and took his hands into his own, "why do you want to cut the tree?" he asked kindly.

 

Choromatsu was starting to believe Ichi's drug theory. This was so weird.

Osomatsu seemed to struggle in his mind for a moment. "Planks. I need planks."

Before Osomatsu could disappear into his own mind again, Choromatsu came next to Karamatsu. "What do you need planks for?" he asked calmly.

Osomatsu took a few sharp breaths in frustration and shook his head. "I...I don't know. I just need them, okay!" His voice got louder in the last sentence. Frustration was clear in his words.

 

Ichimatsu rubbed his face with his hands, mustering all the patience he could. He pushed his older brothers out of the way as he walked in front of Osomatsu. "Here!" he barked and offered the axe to him. "Make your stupid planks." He backed away few steps. "The idiot has eaten a mushroom or something. Let's him have his way as long as he isn't putting anyone in danger. At least I'm not going to stop him anymore," Ichimatsu said.

As soon as Osomatsu took the axe in his hands, he flowed back to his weird distant state. He continued to chop down the tree with a stable pace.


"Ah- ah yes. Maybe that's for the best," Karamatsu said. Then he looked back to the lean-to. "I'm sure they woke up to this shouting. Take care of him Ichimatsu," he said and jogged back to the lean-to, going inside.

"What?! I'm not the one babysitting him!" Ichimatsu shouted after the second oldest.


"I'll prepare the food," Choromatsu said and dashed away from the scene before Ichimatsu could prevent his escape.

 

"What?! Fucking Fappymatsu get back here!" Ichimatsu shouted and threw a pinecone that he found from the ground after him. He shouted from frustration before turning to look back at the oldest again. It was so creepy. This was the worst job ever, he thought as he sat down to follow Osomatsu's work.

 

After a while the tree cracked and fell to the ground. Without a reaction, Osomatsu stared at it for a while before he took a better hold of the axe and started to chop the tree's trunk into rough plank-like shreds with the same stable pace.

 

Ichimatsu followed his every move. Even if the oldest was clearly in his own world, he still seemed to be working okay. Looked like there wasn't danger that he would swing the axe to his own leg. At least Ichimatsu hoped so. He huffed annoyed. The fourth brother really just wanted to crawl back into the lean-to.

 

---

 

"Totty, what have you been doing these days?" Jyushimatsu asked from the youngest. He had been awake for a few hours, but now he was getting bored of laying on his spot in the lean-to. Even Catcoon had gotten bored of sleeping and went outside.

 

Todomatsu rolled his head around his shoulders fed up on everything. "Uggh. Nothing! It's so boring. And Ichimatsu-niisan has been the only one keeping me company. He isn't exactly talkative. Yesterday I weaved one trap and that's everything I have done in three days," he told the other. "My stomach was almost torn open so I can't do much...."

 

Jyushimatsu had hoped that Totty knew some way to spent time in the lean-to but apparently not. He would need to go outside to get away from this boredom, like Catcoon had done. The second youngest held his breath as he sat up. His head ached and banged in protest but Jyushimatsu would rather take it than die of boredom. He took a moment to steady his breathing. It seemed to help with the pain a little.

 

"Woah. Carefully," Totty said, stretching his hand toward Jyushimatsu. "Take it easy okay. If you go outside, make sure that you see one of the niisans and they see you, okay?" he said, not really able to stop Jyushimatsu from leaving.

 

Jyushimatsu giggled to himself as he carefully rose to his feet. His head protested louder but Jyushimatsu didn't care. He was able to move, go outside and be happy for his brothers’ sakes again. He needed to show them that he would be okay. "I'll try to come up with something we could do when I come back," Jyushimatsu said and smiled happily at his little brother.

The second youngest exited the lean-to with a little shaky but confident steps. The cold breeze played with his hair and the snow called for him to play. Jyushimatsu was happy to be outside again. The only complain he had was about the cold weather and that is why he headed towards the burning campfire.

 

Karamatsu looked up from his work of cleaning one of the hound skins as he heard someone moving behind him. He had managed to skin rest of the hounds previous evening but there was still much work to do with the skins before they could use them. When he saw Jyushimatsu outside of the lean-to, he immediately abandoned his work and went to the second youngest’s side. "Jyushimatsu, what are you doing here? Do you need something? Are you sure you are fine standing up?" he fired questions after questions. Hastily he wrapped the hound skin, he had been wearing, around Jyushimatsu's shoulders. Karamatsu looked his little brother's happy face and he smiled to him. "It's good to see you back on your feet."

 

Jyushimatsu's smile widened as the warm skin was wrapped around him. "I couldn't stay still anymore so I came here. My head aches more when I move but it's much better than it was," he explained in his normal, loud voice.

 

"Heh! I see," Karamatsu said. "Now, why don't you eat something?" he asked.

 

"If we have something soft. Chewing still hurts," Jyushimatsu answered.


"We still have few berries from yesterday," Karamatsu said and went to fetch them for Jyushimatsu.


Choromatsu came to the fire. He had heard Jyushimatsu's voice and was relieved to find the second youngest radiating happiness. "How are you feeling Jyushimatsu?" he asked.

"Pretty good. What have you been doing?" Jyushimatsu asked curiously. He hadn't seen the third brother much.

"Nothing special. Cooking and cleaning mostly. I just finished with the last hound corpse," Choromatsu told. "We should move the useless remains away from our camp." Who knew what creatures they might attract.

"So what are you planning to do now?" The tone of Jyushimatsu's voice told that he wanted something from his brother.

 

Choromatsu was getting confused from all this questioning. "Probably craft. Do you want someth-"

Choromatsu couldn't continue further as Jyushimatsu interrupted. "Could you craft in the lean-to?”

Choromatsu blinked a few times. "Yes. Why should I craft in there?" he asked confused.

Jyushimatsu nodded. "Totty's been really bored since he can't do anything. Could you keep him company Choromatsu-niisan?" he asked, hoping that the other would agree.

"Sure thing," Choromatsu said and gently petted Jyushimatsu's hair. " Like I could say no to that face. " He picked up sticks, tendons, other crafting materials and went to the lean-to.

 

---

 

After Jyushimatsu was gone, Totty sighed. He was alone again. Sighing, he leaned back again, dwelling in boredom.

After some time Todomatsu heard rustle coming closer. He raised his head to see Choromatsu coming into the lean-to. "Hi, Choromatsu-niisan! What's up?" he asked, slumping his head back down.

 

"I just finished cleaning up our camp. Now I can focus on crafting again," Choromatsu said as he sat down next to Todomatsu. "Jyushimatsu said that you could use some company," he said and smiled slightly.

"Meow!" Catcoon leaped into the lean-to. The green human had been too busy to give the feline much attention but now she saw her chance and jumped to Choromatsu's lap, purring loudly.

"Well, hello to you too Catcoon," Choromatsu cooed at the creature and scratched behind Catcoon's ear.

 

"Oh. Aah yeah. That would be nice," Todomatsu answered, smiling. After a while he started talking to his big brother. "Did you feel this useless? At least I have you all taking care of me. But I still feel kind of bad..." he ended, his voice quiet.

 

Choromatsu turned to look at Totty with a little sad look. "Yes, I did," he said calmly. "It feels bad when you can't do anything even if it's for the better," he continued.

 

"But I can never do anything," Todomatsu said and turned to look away. "No matter if I'm healthy or not but I just can't do anything the way I should, the way you’re handling things. I'm useless here in the wilderness and weighing you all down... If I hadn't been so stupid and ran off like that... I'm so grateful for you all for taking care of me but sometimes I just wonder..." He went quiet. After taking a deep breath he turned to look at Choromatsu again. "Ah, sorry. I didn't mean to say anything like that," Todomatsu said and put on a weak smile.

 

Choromatsu stared at the youngest with his jaw slightly open. " Does he really think that way? " "Don't you even think like that," Choromatsu said in a serious tone. "We need each other. And about you supposedly being useless, I saw the trap you made yesterday. You did very good job," the third oldest tried to encourage the other.

 

Totty smiled weakly. "Thanks. But Karamatsu-niisan is still better than me, maybe you too," he said and fell into silence. "Maybe staying in one spot makes me overly negative." He sighed. "Hey, do you want to see something?" he asked then from Choromatsu.

 

Choromatsu didn't like Totty's negativity so he was glad that the other changed the topic. "Sure," Choromatsu said. He had no idea what the youngest had to show.

 

"Okay," Totty said and smiled more sincerely. Quickly he took out his phone and turned it on. While waiting it to start working, he spoke to Choromatsu: "I don't have much battery left. I've been saving it the best I can so that every few days I could turn it on and watch the pictures," he said and opened the gallery. "Here," he said and started showing the pictures to Choromatsu.

A selfie that Totty had tried to take but all his brothers were making faces behind him. A picture of their whole family in their living room, for once everyone trying to act proper. Selfies that he had taken with everyone separately. A selfie of Totty and Atsushi. Totty and some of his friends. A picture of the sextuplets that their mom had taken.

They looked all so happy. Their worries had been so small then. Tears started to form in Todomatsu's eyes like they always did. "Do you think they are missing us? What do you think mom and dad are doing?" he asked from the third oldest.

 

The brothers had had so hectic time recently that they had barely had any time to think about home, their past or any of such things. Now that Choromatsu could see the pictures of their carefree past, that felt so long ago even if it had only been two weeks, he could barely hold back his tears. They shouldn't be in this terrible world. They should be home, being their old NEET-selves again.

Choromatsu shifted closer to Totty, placed his little brother's head on his lap and started to pet the other's hair affectionately. Catcoon moved to better spot close to both men.


Todomatsu let out a surprised sound as Choromatsu lifted his head and placed it on his lap. For a beat he was confused as his older brother started petting his hair but soon he relaxed and focused on the pleasant touching. It felt so nice and comforting. Todomatsu didn't know what he would do without his brothers. It was unbelievable how they always knew what to do. He could never do as good job if he was a big brother.

"I bet they are. We have been here over two weeks already." Choromatsu's voice wavered as he spoke. "The worst thing is that they have no idea what happened to us."


"I know. We didn't leave a trace. If we had had any clue what might happen... Maybe the police is looking for us? Sextuplets and suddenly they all disappeared. Do you think we hit the front page? I think we do. But seriously two weeks?! I would think much more," Todomatsu said, letting the soothing touch of his brother's caress his worries away. If it helped even for a moment, he would be grateful.

 

"I know. It feels like we have been here forever but I have been keeping a kind of journal in my notebook along with the map," Choromatsu said and fell into silence but kept petting his brother. "Mom and Dad are probably getting desperate..." he quietly continued.

 

Todomatsu felt sad hearing those words because he knew they were mostly likely true. He turned to meet Choromatsu's eyes and gave him a compassionate look. Todomatsu took his brother's hand into his own and squeezed it. "I know... I wish we could just let them know we are alive," he said. He gave one last look on their family picture on his phone before turning it off again.

 

Choromatsu sighed. He could have looked at the photos forever but understood why his brother wanted to save the battery. " It's a shame that we can't charge the phone. "

" I should start crafting... " Choromatsu then thought to himself while he kept petting the younger man. Then he smiled gently and asked. "Totty, could you do me a favour?"

 

Totty looked up at Choromatsu again. "Hmmm? What is it? You know I'm not much of a help right now."

 

"Well, I should craft but there is one big distraction. Just watch." Choromatsu reached for the crafting materials, he had brought with him, took one tendon in his hand and started to lift it up from the lean-to's floor.

The slight sound made by the crafting materials caught Catcoon's attention. As the feline saw the tendon hanging in the air, her eyes widened and she leaped towards it. Catcoon slapped the tendon with her paws, bit it and kicked it with her back paws. She thought this was one of the best games.

Choromatsu giggled slightly. "See? She is cute but it's hard to craft when she is playing with my materials. Would you want to keep her busy? And off course it would be nice to talk as I work," Choromatsu said, got the tendon away from Catcoon and offered it to Todomatsu.

 

Todomatsu chuckled too and took the tendon. "Sure thing! That I can do," he said and started slowly dragging the tendon which made Catcoon to bounce towards it, trying to catch it again. Totty let out a laugh. "She is cute! Just look how serious she looks when prowling at it," he said, looking happier. "But I think I'll try crafting another trap today at some point. I think because of whatever herbs it was you and Ichimatsu-niisan used in my arm and leg, they feel little better now. Especially my arm. It's healing fast," he ended.


"Good to hear that," Choromatsu said before he started working. " Maybe we can now trust the spider gland's liquids as a healing method. "

Chapter Text

Osomatsu had been chopping various of different sized planks. There still was about one third of the tree left when he suddenly froze. He stayed like that for a minute before he turned to his planks, took them in his arms and started walking back towards their campfire while dragging the axe behind him.

 

Ichimatsu had been babysitting him the whole time. When Osomatsu suddenly lost interest in the tree, he stood up and jogged in front of him, grabbing a hold of his face again. "Hey now! Where are you going?" he asked. "And give me the axe!" Ichimatsu snapped, taking the said item from his brother.

 

Osomatsu just stared with unfocused eyes at his brother in front of him. He made no struggle when Ichimatsu took the axe from him.

 

"Hey!" Ichimatsu shouted at his brother's face. " Seriously, this is so wrong! " “Answer!" he shouted and slapped Osomatsu on the cheek not too hard but hoping to get some reaction.

 

As soon as the slap landed on his cheek, Osomatsu jumped back. "Ouch! What did you do that for?" He was more startled than angry and rubbed his cheek with his free hand. The oldest looked around them until his gaze met the planks in his arms. "...Why am I carrying planks?" Osomatsu sounded confused for real. But it didn't last for long as his strange state visibly returned and he started slowly walking towards the campfire again.

 

Mouth hanging open Ichimatsu stared at the oldest who left the real world again. "....!! That's what you should be answering!!" he screamed and gripped his own hair, boiling from frustration. "Aaaahhh!! Shittymatsu!! You watch after this airhead or don't, I don't care but I'm done with this! I'm going to get us something to eat!" Ichimatsu shouted and stomped towards the river.

Karamatsu looked up from his work with the skins, scared by the sudden outburst. "A-ah. Sure thing brother. I'll watch after him," he said and turned to follow the eldest's doings.

 

Osomatsu walked to the pile of rope that he had crafted last night and dropped the planks to the ground, causing a loud clattering.

"Ichimatsu-niisan?" Jyushimatsu tilted his head as he looked after the man stomping away. When he heard the loud clattering he hastily turned around and saw Osomatsu standing completely still and staring at the planks on the ground. "Osomatsu-niisan?" The man didn't give any kind of response. Jyushimatsu tilted his head to the other side and was even more confused. "What is going on?"

 

"Ah don't worry my little Jyushimatsu. Osomatsu seems to be currently little out of this world. I suspect maybe Osomatsu is experiencing a trance or something similar. He clearly has a mission he is fulfilling with determination but seems like he doesn't realize that himself. Maybe the gods of this world are guiding him to a great destiny," Karamatsu told his theory, waving greatly with his hands. "You have heard about people who have for example written a book in trance, not knowing what or why they are doing it but still doing it," he continued but then fell more serious. "...There is also a change it might be the same voice that guided us to build the ungodly machine that got us here in the first place. Or something else bad this world holds but I'd rather think that it's a holy mission he's in. Or that he had simply taken drugs," Karamatsu ended, glancing at the oldest worriedly.

 

"Oh, okay." Jyushimatsu didn't fully understand what Karamatsu spoke of but it was enough.

Suddenly Osomatsu knelt down, picked up a knife from the ground and started walking away again, towards the animal carcass.

 

Hastily Karamatsu stood up and lifted a hand outstretched towards Osomatsu. "Hey hey wait brother! Be careful with that!" he shouted. Then he turned to face Jyushimatsu. "I'm sorry brother but you shouldn't be outside alone. Maybe you should go back to the lean-to," he suggested and smiled apologetically. "Oi wait up!" Karamatsu shouted and jogged after the eldest. 

 

"Awww fine." Jyushimatsu would have wanted to stay outside a little longer but he didn't argue and went back inside.

 

When Karamatsu arrived next to his brother, he spoke: "Don't worry brother. Ichimatsu is busy so I will be looking after you in his place. Now, why don't you give me the knife before you hurt yourself," he said almost like he was talking to a child as he reached towards the knife and gently tried to take it from Osomatsu.


When he was about to get a hold of the knife, Osomatsu quickly turned to face the other and moved the knife away from his brother's reach. He stared at Karamatsu hollowly but his expression seemed to have something new in it, like some kind of warning to not disturb him.

 

The new look got shivers go down Karamatsu spine. "Okay. Seems like you want to keep that brother. T-that's cool as long as you don't hurt yourself," he said and moved his hand away from reaching the knife. "Carry on dear brother. I'll- I guess I'll just watch after you then," Karamatsu said and smiled nervously.

 

The warning look left from Osomatsu's eyes as Karamatsu backed away. The oldest moved to his destination, knelt down and opened the carcass's stomach. The smell of starting spoilage filled the air but Osomatsu didn't seem to care as he started to roughly slaughter and skin the carcass, mostly using his hands.

 

Karamatsu followed eyes wide as his brother got to work. " What's with him and that damn dead animal?! " "Okay brother, you can play with that if that is what you want as long as you don't eat it. Understand?" Karamatsu said but didn't really believe his brother heard anything he said. "But we are going to move," he said, grabbed the carcass from one of its limbs and started dragging it closer to the fire. "Sorry to disturb you but I want to work as well while looking after you. Besides I need to take care of the fire."

 

Osomatsu's eyes opened wider as the corpse was getting out of his reach. He crawled after the carcass, dug the knife and his fingers into it and was dragged along with it. He seemed to have no intentions of letting go of the carcass for the second time.

 

Karamatsu put all his strength to drag the heavy carcass and his brother with it through the snowy, frozen ground. "Haaah... Osomatsu you are not making this easy," he huffed through his teeth as he struggled forward. When he was few meters away from the campfire, he let go and tiredly sad down next to the pile of hound skins. "There. Now, do what you must and I continue my work. But I'll keep an eye out for you, know that. No funny business," he said and continued cleaning the skins.

 

Osomatsu let go of the carcass and continued his dirty work. Some pieces of organs and hair tufts were left behind in the vague process.

When he was done, Osomatsu cut the meat into big chunks. He didn't seem to mind the bones and tendons left inside the chunks. The oldest gazed upon his work for a while and reached out for a cooking pot.

 

At that moment Karamatsu jumped up and grabbed Osomatsu by the outstretched hand. "No!" he said strongly and determined. "You are not ruining our pots that I made with hard work in your own plays. There goes the line," he said and let go of his hand but stayed ready to grab it again if the oldest tried something.

 

Osomatsu slowly moved his eyes to meet Karamatsu's. He let out a slow slightly irritated breath. Instead of the pot he took branches and used them to cook the meat chunks over the fire. While waiting for the meat to cook, Osomatsu stared in front of himself into the flames.

 

Karamatsu was relieved when Osomatsu left the pots to be. However, he wasn't happy seeing him cooking. "Ichimatsu! I need your assistance!" he shouted.

It didn't took too long before the fourth brother jogged to them from the river his arms wet. He had been trying to fish. "What? If you called me for nothing, I'll gut you," Ichimatsu snarled.

"I'm sorry to brother but Osomatsu is cooking that meat," Karamatsu said, pointing to the eldest. Ichimatsu's eyes widened in understandment. "I'm afraid that if he takes a piece and runs away to eat it, I might not be able to stop him," Karamatsu continued.

"Then why the hell did you let him touch the corpse?" Ichimatsu asked angry. Karamatsu was good for nothing.

"Yes but I think it's no harm to let him do what he wants as long as he doesn't hurt anyone," Karamatsu said. "You don't know how badly he looked at me when I tried stopping him."

"Ugh whatever. I'll watch him with you for a while. I can warm myself up at the same time," Ichimatsu grunted and sat down close to the fire.

 

After a while, Osomatsu took one piece of the meat away from the fire and poked it with his finger while inspecting it closely. Apparently he thought it was good enough as he took all the meat chunks away from the fire and moved them next to the pile of planks and knelt next to them. He reached for the knife again and, before his brothers could stop him, crabbed a big amount of his hair, just above his left ear, and cut it off.

 

Both Ichimatsu and Karamatsu stared in disbelief. "The fuck are you doing?!" Ichimatsu shouted as Karamatsu just stared unable to find the words. "Give me that!" Ichimatsu shouted as he dashed forward and yanked the knife away from the oldest.

 

The empty eyed man made no objections as Ichimatsu took the knife.
Osomatsu was way too focused on his cut off hair to notice something like that. He split the hair roughly and started to stuff the hair in the meat chunks, one hair tuft per meat chunk.

 

"Brother... what the fuck are you doing?" Karamatsu asked, gaping at him. "I'm starting to believe in the theory that our beloved brother has just lost his mind," Karamatsu said.

"I think so too." Ichimatsu for once agreed with Karamatsu. Then he grabbed Osomatsu's both hands and pinned them together. "What the hell is going on in your head?!" he shouted. Then Ichimatsu aggressively grabbed all the hair that Osomatsu had cut off and threw it into the fire. Satisfied he turned to look back at Osomatsu.

 

The oldest was dead silent. Osomatsu's eyes widened as he watched the hair burn and he let out a blood chilling frustrated shout. He kept shouting like a mad man as he teared himself out of Ichimatsu's grasp and started to frantically rip off his hair and stuff tufts of it into the meat chunks.


As Osomatsu started his rampage, Ichimatsu jumped back alerted while Karamatsu dashed forward scared for his brother. "No no, please stop! That's not good!" he shouted as he tried to stop Osomatsu.

"He is crazy!! He's fucking crazy! What do we do?!" Ichimatsu shouted. He was scared because he couldn't understand what was going on. "I'll fetch some rope!" he said and went to their supplies.


Then suddenly, as quickly as Osomatsu had started, he stopped his tantrum, fell silent and visibly relaxed. He almost looked like he was relieved. Osomatsu had successfully put some hair into every chunk.


Karamatsu stopped his shouting as well when Osomatsu had calmed down. "Bro- brother? Are you better now? You just wanted some hair to your meat? Is that it?" Karamatsu talked carefully to the man. Then he inched little further, giving Osomatsu some space. "Now, what would you want to do next?"

 

Osomatsu just took deep breaths for a moment to calm his breathing. Then he took the planks and walked next to the right back corner of the lean-to. It would be a good spot for his work.

"What the hell is happening out here?!" Choromatsu had emerged from the lean-to. He and the two youngest had been terrified when they had heard horrible shouting.

 

"Osomatsu has lost it!" Ichimatsu barked. Moment after he walked back to the campfire holding a rope in his hand. "Where is that crazy piece of shit? I'll tie him up!"

"Ah Choromatsu, Osomatsu is still acting the same and he got angry when he didn't get his way," Karamatsu explained nervously. Then he walked to Ichimatsu. "No Ichimatsu. Let him do what he wants. I don't want him to scream again!"

"What? You would be a terrible parent! Fine you watch after him then! Don't bother calling me again!" Ichimatsu said and again went to the river. Why couldn't they have a normal, peaceful day??

Karamatsu sighed. "I'm sorry brother. I'm doing my best but he isn't making it easy. Tell Jyushimatsu and Totty to not to be afraid." Karamatsu walked where Osomatsu was. "Okay. What now?" he asked from the oldest and sat down.

 

Choromatsu gave the second oldest a few unsure nods. "Right...Call me if....if you need help," Choromatsu said and went back to the lean-to.

Osomatsu fetched the rope and the meats. He shoved two planks to the ground, they were tilted towards each other. He gently pushed at the planks but they didn't move. The oldest put meat around the planks, tied it with rope, added more planks and meat, secured his work with rope and kept on going. He seemed to be building something big and it would probably take a while.

 

Karamatsu followed the other's work. "That's... weird. I must say creative in some way but honestly I have no idea what you are doing," he sighed. Then his stomach made a weird noise. " Uuh, I haven't been eating enough today... "

 

---

 

It was dusk when Osomatsu was done. He had no materials left to use and he backed away to look at his work. It was done. He had fulfilled his task.

In front of the oldest was a statue made of planks and meat tied together with rope. It seemed to represent Osomatsu but it was bigger and way uglier. It was scrappy, few bones were hanging here and there and the materials were roughly placed, but cautiously secured with rope. The whole thing seemed like it should be put out of its misery.

 

Karamatsu covered his mouth with his hand as he looked at Osomatsu's work. "Well... It's... It's... I don't have the right words to describe it," he ended lamely. It was hideous and grotesque.

"It's the ugliest thing I have ever seen," Ichimatsu stated and made Karamatsu to jump. He hadn't realized that Ichimatsu had come behind him. "I got a fish," the fouth brother said and tossed it to Karamatsu. "I'm starving."

"Ah- I'll cook it," Karamatsu said and went to the campfire.

 

Osomatsu sat down and watched at the meat-wood statue like a child would watch television. He had managed well. A hint of satisfaction appeared to his features before the oldest rose up and made his way inside the lean-to.

 

Ichimatsu followed him like a very annoyed shadow. He still had his rope ready. He would not take any more of the oldest shit.

 

The three brothers inside the lean-to had been chatting when Osomatsu entered and stopped in front of his spot in the lean-to. His hands were covered in liquids and other nasty things from the carcass, there were loose hair all around and he still had that strange distantly satisfied expression on his face.

Jyushimatsu's jaw dropped and he stared at the oldest.

"Osomatsu-niisan?! What the hell happened to you?!" Totty shrieked little shocked and tried to inch further from the dirty man. 


Choromatsu's eyes widened as he saw the oldest. "What the hell did you let him do!?" Choromatsu yelled as he jumped next to Ichimatsu.

"Don't yell at me! I didn't see you looking after him!!" Ichimatsu shouted as an answer. Then he said calmer not wanting to scare the youngests too much: "Osomatsu has weird ways of expressing himself. He's been an ass today. Best to let him be."

 

As the others talked Osomatsu started to slowly lean forward and finally faceplanted to his spot on the hound skins.

"Osomatsu-niisan!" Jyushimatsu yelled confused and worried.

"Osomatsu!" Choromatsu shouted and rushed panicking to his brother's side. He was about to check on him when the oldest suddenly started to snore loudly.

 

Ichimatsu jumped forward, holding the rope in his hands. Roughly he slid the rope under the oldest's stomach and then tied it so that his arms were tied together with his midriff. "I'm not going to run after you anymore today. Stay here and sleep." Then he turned to face the others before leaving the lean-to. "If someone opens the rope, he has the responsibility of watching after him."

 

Choromatsu checked on Osomatsu and stated: "I think he is not going to wake up anytime soon."

 

Ichimatsu stepped outside and Karamatsu started waving at him. "Oi brother! The fish is soon cooked. It's big enough for everyone to have a nice portion but I don't think it's enough to fill our almost empty stomachs."

"Osomatsu is sleeping. He don't need any," Ichimatsu replied coldly. His irritation and frustration were clearly visible.

"Oh. I see." " I will save him a little in any case. " After a while Karamatsu gave most of the fish to Ichimatsu. "Here. This is for the four of you. Go to the lean-to to warm yourself up. I'll take the first watch tonight."

Chapter Text

It was early morning. Choromatsu was shaving a stick by the fire. Yesterday he had managed to make a bow but he still had many things to improve and test before it would work. He was making testing arrows to get better understanding of the bow's nature. Catcoon was, unsurprisingly, curled up on Choromatsu's lap under the warm hound skin.

 

Ichimatsu came out from the lean-to hound skin wrapped around his shoulders as he stepped next to the fire. He sat down and stared the fire quietly for a while. You could tell by looking at him that there was something on his mind. 

 

Choromatsu noticed Ichimatsu's behaviour but didn't want to pressure the other so he just kept working. Pressuring wouldn't help with Ichimatsu.

 

Finally the fourth brother glanced towards Choromatsu but quickly looked away again when he opened his mouth. "It was new moon last night," he stated. Even moon cycle was different here. The full moon would be around the corner faster than they realized and Ichimatsu dreaded that.

Choromatsu's heart skipped a beat as he registered the other's words. "Already?!" He put down the stick and turned to Ichimatsu. He could tell that the other was serious. "Oh..." He would have wanted to comfort Ichimatsu. Tell him that it would be okay. But he would either have to lie or Ichimatsu would get angry. All Choromatsu could do for his brother was to be by his side and listen.


Ichimatsu was grateful for the other that he didn't pry anything or force him to talk. "So uh... Just wanted you to know..." he said and fell quiet. He knew that Choromatsu understood what he meant. 


Choromatsu was stunned from the fact that Ichimatsu had willingly talked to him. He hadn't said much but it was still a lot coming from the third youngest. " Maybe our latest talk helped a little. " If that was the case, Choromatsu would have to thank his past-self.

Choromatsu's eyes widened a bit as he realized. " I have to figure out the moon cycle. " Catcoon let out a confused meow as Choromatsu suddenly digged his notebook and pen from his hoodie's pocket. He flipped to a new page and began writing. His earlier entries helped a lot in this. Choromatsu finished quickly and took in the information. " If the moon cycle is logical and the new moon is a halfway point, there is only eight days between new and full moon, sixteen days in total. "


Ichimatsu took a peek at the other's notebook. "What you got there?" he asked in monotone voice.

 

Choromatsu nervously turned the notebook for the other to see his writings.

 

Ichimatsu's eyebrows lifted a little as he read it. Then he turned to poke the fire with a stick. "Yeah, I counted the same," he said.

"Morning brothers!" Karamatsu said as he stepped out of the lean-to. "Any ideas what we could eat today?"

 

Choromatsu put his notebook back into his pocket before he greeted the second oldest. "Morning Karamatsu. Someone should check the traps. They could also leave some new traps for the spiders," Choromatsu said thoughtfully.

 

"Heh, understood!" Karamatsu said and turned towards Ichimatsu. "Dear brother would you allow me the pleasure to pair up with you to go see the traps?"

Ichimatsu stood up and shoved Karamatsu with his hand. "The pleasure is all yours. But if you promise to be quiet," he said.

"Ah thank you brother. Let me take the new traps we have made and then I'm ready to go. It's good to go now when the others are still sleeping.

Ichimatsu just grumbled something. However, he had to admit that it would be nice to leave the camp for a little while.

After few minutes Karamatsu came back. "I'm ready to go if you are," he announced.

"Yeah yeah. Let's go," Ichimatsu said unenthusiastically as he started walking.

"We'll be back soon," Karamatsu told to Choromatsu before he went after Ichimatsu.

 

"Be careful," Choromatsu called after the two. They didn't need anyone to get bitten by a spider. Choromatsu continued making the arrow and thought: " Hopefully they get some prey. We have fresh meat for one stew. After that, we need to change to the dried meat. "

 

---

 

"Holy shit..." 


Ichimatsu stood mouth hanging open staring at a huge spider nest. Karamatsu was close to him checking the trap he had left there with Osomatsu but it was empty.

"They are quite scary. Too bad that they are so valuable..." Karamatsu said.

Ichimatsu shivered and helped to set up two newly weaved traps there. After they were done with the spiders, who luckily had stayed inside the nest, they went to see the traps that were left to other places. They had one more new trap to set in hopes of getting more food. Because it was cold and both of them wanted to be back at the camp as soon as possible they had split up to check the traps faster.


"Brother, any luck? I only got a bird," Karamatsu told once the two of them met up again.

Ichimatsu lifted up a huge mole, almost the size of their head, from its back feet. "This," he mumbled.


Karamatsu frowned suspicious. "What is that? Well, as long as it's safe food..." he said as he started to follow Ichimatsu, who had started to walk back towards the camp.


After few moments of silence Karamatsu started talking more serious than normally: "How are you brother? I feel bad because I haven't had time to properly talk with many of you."


"I never talk with you," Ichimatsu grunted but Karamatsu ignored it.


"It's really good that you left the camp even for a little while. It's healthy. It's better now that Jyushimatsu and Todomatsu are healing. Choromatsu's leg is fine. We learn new things about this place. However, I wish you would talk more," Karamatsu said and looked at Ichi who was determinedly looking at the ground looking bored. "These are hard and heavy things that keep happening around us. Like when you turned into that werecat-" 


Suddenly Ichimatsu froze tensed up and his pupils shrank. Still avoiding Karamatsu's look he tightened his grip on his axe and the mole.


Karamatsu had stopped as well. "Ichimatsu?" he asked carefully.


When hearing his name Ichimatsu's head snapped up and he met Karamatsu's eyes for a split second before he looked to his other side glaring. He bit his teeth together and 'tsk'ed annoyedly.


"I'm going ahead," Ichimatsu snarled and started walking again but faster. Like hell he was going to talk with anyone, especially Shittymatsu, about that. He almost jogged back to the camp.


"Ah! Ichimatsu! Wait up!" Karamatsu shouted after him and started following him.

 

---

 

Jyushimatsu had been awake for a while but he had stayed in the lean-to with Todomatsu. They had been chatting to pass time.

 

Totty continued his rant to Jyushimatsu. "So it's been many days since I've last washed my clothes. Or myself! And everything is still covered in dried blood stains. So I'm just feeling disgusting," he said and glanced at Osomatsu. "He stinks!" Todomatsu added, turning up his nose.

 

Jyushimatsu glanced at Osomatsu before turned back to Todomatsu and asked: "Do you know what he did?" he asked confused. Jyushimatsu had seen Osomatsu only briefly so he didn't know how the oldest had gotten himself so dirty.

 

Todomatsu shrugged. "That's what I would want to know. I know only what Ichimatsu-niisan told us and some nonsense Karamatsu-niisan said from which I didn't understand anything," he said. Totty looked at Osomatsu. "Do you think he's okay?"

 

"I don't know. We'll see when he wakes up," Jyushimatsu answered. Just after he said that, Osomatsu groaned. The oldest was waking up.

 

Osomatsu had no grasp of the world around him as he was drifting into consciousness. " Mmm... I think I have never slept this deeply... Wait a minute. " Osomatsu opened his eyes and tried to move but the ropes made his efforts futile. "H-hey! What's going on?! Why am I tied up?!" he yelled stunned.

 

Totty tensed up as he realized that Osomatsu was waking up. When the oldest spoke, he looked at him suspiciously. "Osomatsu-niisan, you're awake. Uh... Are you um... back to your normal self?" Todomatsu asked. Luckily he had Jyushimatsu next to him in case Osomatsu started doing something weird.

 

Osomatsu shot a confused glance at the youngest. "What do you mean back to my normal self?" Then the oldest realised that his hands and hair felt more filthy than usual. He made his hands into fists to feel them. A shiver went through him as he felt the slimy gut juices covering them. "Eww! Which one of you thought it would be funny to tie me up and rub guts all over me?" he asked. He would pay back for this. "And untie these ropes. Now."

"None of us thought that," Jyushimatsu said as he rose up. However, he walked past Osomatsu towards the exit.

"Hey! Where are you going Jyushimatsu?" Osomatsu tried to see what the second youngest was doing.

Instead of facing Osomatsu Jyushimatsu turned to Totty. "Totty. I'll fetch Choromatsu-niisan, okay?" he asked smiling.

 

Totty looked at Osomatsu like he was a mad man. Without moving his gaze from him he answered to Jyushimatsu: "Yes. Please do that." Then he spoke to Osomatsu: "So ummm... just wait there for Choromatsu-niisan and don't try anything."

 

"Do I have to open these ropes myself? Fine then." Osomatsu murmured curses as he tried to twist his hands to reach the knot but was unsuccessful. "Ahh fuck!" he yelled.

 

Todomatsu felt like laughing at his brother's miserable tries but he was still too wary of him. "Calm down niisan! You're just going to hurt yourself. Wait a second more."

 

"Fine." Osomatsu huffed in annoyance. " I still have no idea what happened though. "

 

---

 

Choromatsu was returning from the river with a pot of water when Jyushimatsu came looking for him. The third oldest could tell that Jyushimatsu didn't just come out because of boredom. Catcoon was on Choromatsu's shoulders. She liked the perspective it gave her.

"Choromatsu-niisan! Osomatsu-niisan woke up!" Jyushimatsu called for his brother.

The third oldest's eyes widened. "Oh. Hang on. I-I'll be there in a second," he said and walked faster. " Of course Osomatsu had to wake up when Ichimatsu and Karamatsu aren't here. "

"Okay," Jyushimatsu said and went back to the lean-to. He wouldn't wait out in the cold if he didn't need to.

Choromatsu placed the pot near the fire, added logs into it and went after Jyushimatsu.

Catcoon moved to the man's arms when they were free. Shoulders were great but couldn't beat arms and the constant petting they offered.

 

Todomatsu looked up to Jyushimatsu when he came back into the lean-to. "Is he coming?" he asked. "How about Karamatsu-niisan and Ichimatsu-niisan?" The oldest ones should handle this since him and Jyushimatsu didn't know what had actually happened yesterday.

 

"He'll come." Jyushimatsu shrugged as Totty asked about the two others. "I didn't see either of them." He had looked especially for Choromatsu since he was almost always nearby.

"Could someone just tell me what's going on?" Osomatsu asked with a sigh. He didn't struggle anymore. The ropes were tied too tight for him to untie them without help.

 

After a moment Choromatsu stepped into the lean-to. He was petting Catcoon in his arms as he came next to the others.

 

"Choromatsu-niisan," Totty greeted the third oldest as he came. "Please do something about him," he said meaning Osomatsu.

 

Choromatsu turned to look at the oldest. "Have you come back to your senses?" he asked trying to find out if Osomatsu was still in his weird trance or not.

"Yes I fucking have! Why are you all acting so weird?! I'm getting tired of this bullshit!" Osomatsu shouted and wiggled in the ropes.

 

Choromatsu was relieved. " I don't have to babysit trance Osomatsu. " "He is definitely back," he said to the two youngests who waited for his judgement.

Jyushimatsu let out a sigh as he heard Choromatsu's words. "So he won’t act weird anymore?"

 

Totty seemed to relax a bit upon hearing that. "What the hell happened to him yesterday?"

 

"Karamatsu-niisan said something about a trance," Jyushimatsu said and stared at the oldest curiously.

"I prefer the drug theory," Choromatsu stated.

Osomatsu stopped his struggles and processed his brothers words. " Drugs? Trances? " "Wait. What has happened?" he asked. A hint of worry could be heard in his voice.

 

Choromatsu turned to Osomatsu. "Do you remember what happened yesterday?" he asked raising an eyebrow.


Osomatsu took a moment as he dug through his memories. "Didn't I have the last night watch?" He tried to look at his brothers’ expressions for confirmation. " If that is the case why was I sleeping? "

 

Choromatsu mentally facepalmed. " Of course he doesn't remember anything. "

Jyushimatsu didn't know what to say. He tried to look at Totty or Choro for how to act. Totty only looked back at Jyushimatsu mirroring his confusion and shrugged.


Osomatsu could tell from the silence that his words were incorrect. "So... What happened?"

 

Since the two youngest stayed quiet Choromatsu had to do the explaining. "Well.. You already heard us talking about drugs and trance. To say it shortly, you were very absent yesterday and busy working on your own project," Choromatsu said while petting Catcoon.

Osomatsu eyes widened. "Wait was I out the whole day?!" he yelled in disbelief. How was it possible? There wasn't even a way for him to get drunk with their resources. "What did I do?" Despite his disbelief the oldest wanted to know what he had been doing a whole day.

 

"I'm not entirely sure. Maybe you should just see...it," Choromatsu said. He placed Catcoon next to Todomatsu and started to untie the ropes. "Kara and Ichi were the ones looking after you so you can ask them to explain it better," he continued.

 

"Are you sure about this?" Todomatsu asked as the third brother opened the ropes.

 

Osomatsu shot a warning glance at the youngest. He wanted to get off these ropes and wash himself. Now rather than later.


Todomatsu swallowed and sank further under his hound skin. He didn't like the glare he got from possibly crazy and dangerous oldest.


"He seems okay. Besides he wasn't dangerous yesterday just weird." Choromatsu said. His tone got more serious as he spoke to the oldest. "You had better behave or Ichimatsu is going to kill me." After he had spoken, the untied ropes fell off of Osomatsu.

 

Osomatsu quickly stood up and stretched himself. The ropes had nastily rubbed at his temples. His attention moved to the strange bare feeling around his head. Osomatsu brushed his hands across his slimy and scrappy, roughly cut and ripped, hair. Some lose hair got stuck to the oldest's dirty hands. "I suppose I did this?" he questioned with a sigh.

 

Choromatsu nodded as a reply. He turned to leave and motioned for Osomatsu to follow him.

Osomatsu quickly glanced at the two youngest and Catcoon before going after Choromatsu. As he exited the lean-to he couldn't deny that he was very curious, and a little scared, to see what he had created. " Brr. The air has turned colder once again, " he thought as a gust of wind blew around him.

 

Choromatsu led the oldest around the corner to the meat statue. "Here it is," he said although it sounded more like a sigh.

 

As he saw the statue, Osomatsu stopped in his tracks and his eyes widened. A chuckle escape his mouth. " Seriously. This is what I used a whole day on. " He grinned, trying to hold back laughter, as he walked closer to the statue to take a closer look. He could handle the hanging bones and the scrappy appearance but the suffering expression on meat-Osomatsu's face was too much. "That is so ugly!" he yelled and burst out laughing.

 

"You don't say," Choromatsu responded and watched how the oldest pointed at the statue and broke down again.

It took a while for Osomatsu to get himself to calm down. Still he couldn't keep a straight face when he looked at his masterpiece.

Choromatsu waited until the oldest had calmed down. "You done? Feel free to take it down when you have time," he said and went next to the campfire to continue crafting.

 

Osomatsu felt a strange tug in his chest when his brother said those words. His expression turned serious and he turned to the statue. " It is ugly but...I don't want to get rid of it. " He felt weirdly distressed from the thought. "Maybe later," he muttered and went after the third oldest.

 

The feeling was driven away as a new feeling crept to Osomatsu. It hit the oldest hard. " I didn't eat yesterday, did I? " "I'm starving!" he yelled and rushed to Choromatsu. "Choromatsu! Do we have anything to eat? Please, say we do." Osomatsu was begging for every higher power he knew for a positive answer.

 

Choromatsu was startled when the oldest suddenly yelled and ran to him. They didn't have much food to spare but Osomatsu would need something to be able to work without complaining. "I'll get you a slice of dried meat. But you should wash yourself before you eat," Choromatsu said.

 

"Yes!" Osomatsu cheered and quickly ran to the river. As he came back Choromatsu had the meat waiting for him. The oldest quickly devoured it but it wasn't enough to satisfy Osomatsu's waking hunger. "Don't we have anything else?" he hopefully asked.

 

Choromatsu had started to prepare meat soup from the last fresh meat they had. "Look for yourself," he said and motioned towards the food container.

 

Osomatsu's face fell when he looked into the container. It was almost empty. There were only a few frozen berries and pinecones. " I'm desperate enough to try the pinecones. " He took the said food items and sat next to the fire. He digged out few seeds and bit into them. Osomatsu quickly swallowed them before he could spat them out. "These taste like garbage," the oldest stated but kept on eating them anyway.

Choromatsu turned to look what the oldest was doing and asked: "Are they edible?"

"Barely," Osomatsu responded.

Choromatsu nodded and focused back to making the soup.

 

At that time Ichimatsu speed walked back to the camp Karamatsu not so far behind him. When he was few meters away from the campfire he stopped as he had spotted Osomatsu. Ichimatsu's eyes widened in disbelief and dread. " No... Fuck! Why did this happen?! " Karamatsu ran next to the fourth brother and was about to say something but he stopped as he saw Osomatsu eating the pinecone and his expression turned to resemble Ichimatsu's.

Ichimatsu pointed at the oldest with a shaking finger. "He's still crazy... Shit!"

Karamatsu took few steps closer to the two brothers sitting next to the fire and leaned down a little. "Hello Osomatsu. How are we doing? You've washed yourself, that's a good boy," he praised smiling at the oldest. "Are we going to build something again today, hmmm?"

 

Choromatsu was about to tell the two that everything was alright but when Karamatsu approached Osomatsu he couldn't help but watch the scene, smiling maliciously.

 

Osomatsu stopped eating and slowly turned to face Karamatsu. His expression twisted in confusion and disgust. "Why the fuck are you talking like that? Makes me feel like a toddler." " I might actually prefer the painful Karamatsu over that, " he thought and turned back to his lunch.

 

"Huah!" Karamatsu jumped back straightening himself. "I just... I thought-" he stammered. Then his eyes brightened. "Brother! You're back! Praise the heavens!" he shouted and dashed to hug Osomatsu.

Ichimatsu couldn't say how happy he was seeing Osomatsu back to his normal self. He also walked next to the oldest and asked: "Are you okay?"

 

Osomatsu let the second oldest hug him without complains. "I'm okay. Just really hungry and confused." He hoped that the two could tell him what really had happened.

 

Ichimatsu nodded eagerly with a weird smile on his face, biting his teeth together. "Good good," he said before he kicked Karamatsu out of the way and punched Osomatsu in the chest. "That's for all the fucking bullshit you put me through yesterday!" he shouted and pointed down at the eldest with a threatening finger.

"Ah Ichimatsu! Stop!" Karamatsu shouted and scrambled on his feet but when he tried to touch the fourth brother he was only shoved away harsly.

 

Osomatsu coughed a little from the sudden punch. "It would be nice to know what exactly happened!" he yelled and turned to the fourth youngest.

"Calm down both of you!" Choromatsu told with a ordering tone.

 

"Sorry," Ichimatsu said to Choromatsu. "Just had to let that out." He smiled satisfied. Then he turned back to the oldest. "Yeah, that's what I would like to know! What did you do? Did you eat the rotten meat and get some infection? Or don't tell me you touched those fucking blue mushrooms! What did you do?! Don't you understand where we are? You can't just do whatever stupid comes to your mind! I don't care if you kill yourself but it would affect all of us! Think about Jyushimatsu and Todomatsu!" Ichimatsu ranted on not giving anyone a change to shut him before he had said what he wanted. " This is serious and I seriously don't want yesterday to happen ever again. We need Osomatsu. If something irreversible had happened... But how to get it through to his thick skull?! " Ichimatsu thought.

 

"I haven't done anything like that. At least I have no memory of doing it," Osomatsu defended himself. " Normally I might act stupid on propose but here I couldn't do it. This is too serious. Everyone else has been injured or sick or whatever that werecat thing was. I need to be here for them and carry my own weight, " Osomatsu thought  as he cast a serious look at Ichimatsu.

 

Ichimatsu looked Osomatsu hard in the eyes. The oldest looked serious. "Promise?" he asked seriously.

 

"Yes," Osomatsu answered just as serious. He sighed as he turned away from the fourth brother. "Why would I eat those mushrooms? Just look at me. I'm rather eating a pinecone," the oldest said trying to lighten up the mood.

 

Ichimatsu huffed. "I wouldn't be so surprised if after finishing that you would eat them." Then he crossed his arms and raised his voice again. "Then what the fuck was yesterday about?!"

 

Osomatsu shrugged. "I don't know. The latest memory I have is being in the watch during the night."

 

Ichimatsu rubbed his face frustrated. Karamatsu put a hand on Osomatsu's shoulder and smiled. "Whatever it was, I'm glad you're back brother!" he said. Then his face lit up as he remembered something. "Oh! I saved your share of the fish we had yesterday," he said and ran off to go get it. 


Osomatsu's eyes lit up. "Karamatsu you're the best!" he called after the said man.


"What?!" Ichimatsu barked after the second oldest. "I said he wouldn't need any because he was sleeping!" Then he turned to Choromatsu. "We found a bird and this weird mole-whatever." After that he shifted his focus back to the oldest. "So... Did you see the shitty piece of art you spent your entire day yesterday?"

"Good job. Don't worry about the mole. It tastes surprisingly good," Choromatsu answered to the fourth brother.

A smile appeared to the oldests face at the mental image of the meat statue. "Yeah. It is amazing."

 

Ichimatsu stared at Osomatsu intensively. "Good then. I have a feeling that Totty is just going to love it."

Karamatsu jogged back to them with one sixth of the fish. He also brought the head and guts of it. "Here you go brother. I kept everything since you never know when it will be the only thing edible."


Osomatsu didn't need to be told twice. He put the pinecone to the side and dug in.


Ichimatsu looked at Karamatsu with a sour expression. "I could have eaten that yesterday. Or the youngest ones. By the way, do you think it would be good if we brought Totty to stay outside for a change?" he asked. Now the youngest was helped out by one of his older brothers only to take care of his business. It couldn't be good to stay many days in a row in a gloomy lean-to.

When Ichimatsu started to talk about the youngest Choromatsu joined the conversation. "Totty seems to be bored in the lean-to so it would be good. In fact we could all eat outside today," he said while cutting meat into a stew pot.

 

"I think that's a great idea!" Karamatsu said nodding his head.

"So, did Choro already tell you everything about yesterday?" Ichimatsu asked from Osomatsu.

 

"Not really," Osomatsu said mouth full of fish. He swallowed before continuing. "He said that you or Karamatsu should tell me since you were the ones looking after me."

 

Ichimatsu took a deep breath. "Fine. So I woke up and when I came out, I saw you standing creepily next to the animal carcass lost in your own world or something...." Ichimatsu started and explained what the oldest had done previous day with Karamatsu's help.

"I must say I was really scared when you started suddenly scream and rip your own hair off," Karamatsu said and you could still see the faint distress in his eyes. "If you did that, maybe you would do something worse to yourself as well... B- but you're fine now so it's good!" he added quickly and smiled nervously.

"Yeah. Never do that again," Ichimatsu said. "I tied you down to for the night. It was for your own protection. Cause I would have strangled you sooner or later if you would have continued the same way," he stated.

"Well I sincerely hope as well that this never happens again," Karamatsu said. "But if it does, you can trust us to take care of you."

 

Ichimatsu glared at the second oldest. "You can handle him by yourself next time..."

 

"Yeah... Lets hope this won’t happen again," Osomatsu said anxiously. The thought of doing things without having any control over himself was scary. If things had gotten rough who knows how bad things could have gone. To Osomatsu or his brothers. " I can't let this happen again. But I don't even know why it happened, " he thought while fiddling his roughly cut hair.

 

Karamatsu stood up and stretched. "The new hound skins should be okay to use now. Osomatsu could you help me to hang two of them in front of the opening of the lean-to? Or are you feeling okay?"

 

"I'm okay." The oldest gave a reassuring smile and went to help the second oldest.

 

When the two of them went to get the skins, Karamatsu started talking to Osomatsu: "Osomatsu. I've been thinking that we should talk. All of us together. About what have happened during this week," he told more serious as usual.

 

Osomatsu raised his eyebrows at the other man. Now that he thought about it they really should talk. "You're right. If we bring Totty outside to eat that could be a good time for it."

 

Karamatsu nodded as he started carrying the skins and rope. "Okay. I'll tell Choromatsu. No need to tell the rest before hand, right? At least Ichimatsu might decide to escape from it.” They arrived to the lean-to and Karamatsu greeted the two youngests inside. "Hello Jyushimatsu, Todomatsu. We will be taking you to eat outside today Totty, so be prepared.”

"Hi! Oh, finally something to block the opening! Yeah, okay then," Todomatsu answered. "How are you feeling Osomatsu-niisan?"

 

Jyushimatsu greeted the two oldest and smiled widely.

"Calmer now that I know what happened," Osomatsu answered. "Otherwise pretty normal."

"Good that you are okay niisan." Jyushimatsu smiled at the oldest.

 

After they were done putting up the skins, Karamatsu went back to the campfire where Choromatsu was. Ichimatsu had went back into the lean-to. Osomatsu decided to make himself useful again and went to chop firewood.

"Choromatsu. I just talked with Osomatsu that we should all have a talk together. About all the things that have happened."

 

Choromatsu eyes got brighter and he turned to Karamatsu. "I have thought the same. There is many things we need to discuss. Especially... the last hound attack." He spoke while stirring the soon boiling soup.

 

Karamatsu nodded grimly. "Even more how to avoid it happening again. It would be probably for the best to fill in Jyushimatsu and Totty about yesterday. Of course our current situation and plans. And we need to talk about that werecat thing with Ichimatsu. It feels like the whole topic has been just shrugged off," Karamatsu said frowning worriedly.

 

Choromatsu's expression changed completely as Karamatsu mentioned the last topic. A flash of anger caused by frustration was visible in his being as he spoke: "No. We are not going to talk about that." He barely managed to keep his voice down.

 

Karamatsu was taken aback by the sudden anger. "Wh- what? Brother, but it's really important! We need to know more about it and Ichimatsu can't just keep it all locked within himself," Karamatsu explained.

 

" I shouldn't tell anyone but I have no choice. " Choromatsu grunted and started talking with a calmer voice. "Listen. I have talked to Ichimatsu about the werecat. Well sort of," he said.

 

Karamatsu blinked his eyes surprised. "You have? He has talked with you? What did he say? It's serious thing. We should all talk about it together," he said.

 

"We haven't had a direct conversation but he has asked me a few questions about werecat." Choromatsu looked Karamatsu seriously in the eyes and continued. "You can imagine how much it took for that to happen. This morning he came to me and made a short remark about the moon cycle which proves that at some point he might open up. But we can't pressure him or he locks it all inside of him. He almost did that when I tried to talk about it with him. So please, don't ruin this for Ichimatsu." Choromatsu's voice turned softer as he ended.

 

Karamatsu's frown deepened but the look in his eyes changed. Seemed like it really was bothering Ichimatsu. Karamatsu said with low voice: "I understand. Of course I won't. I'm glad I mentioned it or otherwise I would have brought it up. That’s already so much from Ichimatsu. Thank you for helping our brother. I would but, you know, because it's Ichimatsu this is better. I guess I can't do everything by myself even if I want to," he said smiling little sadly. "I wish you could talk to me about it but I understand if it's confidential. But you know that at some point you might need to talk even if you promised not to. If it's for his best. I... I'm worried about him. Just take care of him for me, please," Karamatsu said, his voice dripping emotions as he looked at Choromatsu in the eyes.

 

Choromatsu calmed down and his eyes returned the other’s emotions as he nodded. "Thank you. I promise to try my best and be there for him. At some point we might need to talk about it but Ichimatsu isn't ready for that. Not yet. But I'll tell you if something comes up," he reassured.

 

Karamatsu put his hand on Choromatsu's shoulder. "Thank you brother! Umm... do you think the others will bring it up? The werecat thing?" he asked.

 

"I don't know. Possibly." Choromatsu frowned. "Jyushimatsu likes werecat so he probably won’t. Osomatsu might but he has a lot on his mind from yesterday. But I'm not sure about Todomatsu," the third oldest wondered out loud.

 

Karamatsu nodded. "I think he could easily bring it up. I will tell him not to as I'll later help him out," Karamatsu said.

 

"Good," Choromatsu agreed.

Chapter Text

During the day Todomatsu had crafted a new knife. He wanted to have many so he could throw them when hunting or fighting and he wouldn't have to worry about losing his only weapon. His hand was doing miraculously better and it was healing fast.

When he had gotten bored on crafting, he had asked Ichimatsu to fetch him some teeth, bones and tendons. He had used his knife, axe and any tools available to cut suitable pieces from bones. He had carved simple symbols on them, such as their family's pine emblem, and after making holes in the bones and teeth, he had stringed them in a tendon and finally he had tied it around his neck.

The necklace of teeth and bones was completely not like Totty but so had been these past two weeks. He didn't know why he had made it. Sure it looked cool. And maybe it was a way to prove what beasts they had come across and survived. If he could find pretty stones or seashells, he could use them as well. He was proud of the new accessory he was now wearing. 


Jyushimatsu hadn't done anything special during the day. He would have wanted to go outside since he now could but he had rather stayed with Todomatsu to keep the youngest happy.


In the late afternoon Karamatsu had come to the lean-to and told the three youngests to come eat dinner. After Ichi and Jyushi were out, he had helped Todomatsu outside and next to the fire. On the way Karamatsu had quickly explained that they were going to talk but werecat should not be brought up. Todomatsu had understood.

The sextuplets were sitting around the campfire, eagerly waiting for Choromatsu to give them food.

 

When Karamatsu had sat down, giving support to Totty, who still could barely sit but needed to when eating, he suddenly remembered something. "Wait a minute brothers," he said. "Ichimatsu support Totty okay?" he asked and Ichimatsu did. Karamatsu stood up and went to his crafting/workplace.

After a minute or so he came back carrying heavy hound skins. "Here," Karamatsu said, dropping them to the ground. Then he took one and presented it to others. "I have tied three hound teeth to this part of the skin and here I have attached three loops made from tendons. When you put it on your shoulders like this," he said and demonstrated, "you can fasten it so that you can use your both hands without worrying of it dropping. It's like a rough version of a cloak. I made one for everyone," Karamatsu said and gave everyone one.

Other five stared at him surprised but very happy. "We definitely needed those. Good job, Karamatsu-niisan!" Todomatsu said and Ichimatsu nodded approvingly as the second oldest handed him one of the cloaks.

 

Jyushimatsu straight away snatched his cloak and hastily put it on. "Much better. Thanks niisan!" he said satisfied. Finally there was something to ease the coldness.

"Perfect!" Osomatsu stated and copied the second youngest.

Choromatsu studied the cloak. "Impressively done, Karamatsu." He gave the second oldest a smile.

Choromatsu poured soup into six clay bowls and gave everyone one. He also took meat scraps and gave them to Catcoon that appreciated it and purred as thanks before eating. Then Choromatsu sat down and started to eat his own food.

 

Everyone of them were hungry so they were devouring down their food in silence. When they were mostly done, Karamatsu cleared his throat to get attention and started: "So, actually we have a reason why we wanted everyone to be here together now," he said and took a breath. "We need to talk. About what has been happening lately. Things have gone badly wrong. That's why we need to talk about them and make sure to learn from them." He let his eyes roam around the others’ faces.

"Do we have to?" Ichimatsu asked, sounding uninterested but actually there was a hint of nervousness in his voice.

"I think we should," Todomatsu commented, still leaning on the fourth brother. "I don't know what you were planning on talking about but that last hound attack,” he sighed, “we really fucked up," he said and moved his hand to hold the big wound on his side without realizing it.

 

Jyushimatsu was too busy eating to comment but the others could tell that he was listening closely.

"That is exactly what we were going to talk about. That can't happen again," Osomatsu said, for once, in a serious tone.

"Yes. But there are lots of other topics we need to discuss as well," Choromatsu said and shared a look with all of his brothers.

 

Karamatsu nodded. "Yes. But why don't we start with this one and then move on to other ones? Sooo... The last attack was totally different. We barely had any warning and there were so many hounds. Thirteen wasn't it? Jyushimatsu and Todomatsu got seriously hurt and it could have ended much worse without Ichimatsu's successful killing and Choromatsu's quick acting. But still we screwed up badly. Why?" Karamatsu led them into the discussion.

 

"We weren't prepared," Osomatsu said. "We need better weapons and have them ready for use," he continued.

 

They were quiet for a while, humming agreeingly. Then Todomatsu let out a pathetic whimper. "I'm so sorry! I fucked up! I got so scared. There were so many beasts and no one told me what's the plan or what to do. I panicked and ran away without realizing what I was doing and I- and I just basically fed myself to a hound. I'm so sorry! I should have just been on a tree with Choromatsu-niisan. Next time I won't run," he said with watery eyes. It has bothered him a lot how stupidly he had acted.

"Todomatsu," Karamatsu said little taken aback. "Running is not the problem. Often it's the best course of action. What was bad is that you were in a state where you didn't think clearly. Because of that you ran away without a weapon, or telling us. We should have taken notice of your absence," Karamatsu said, petting Totty's hair lightly.

 

Choromatsu listened to the youngest talk. "From now on we need to agree on a plan and stay together. We have a better odds that way." He stopped and continued with a sigh: "I wish that I could have done something." " But I was pathetic. "

"Choromatsu." Osomatsu patted the third brother's shoulder. "Without you things would have gone a lot worse." He didn't even want to think about it.

 

Karamatsu continued: "Yes, Choromatsu, you did more than we could have asked from you. Me and Osomatsu are responsible. We should have seen what was going on around ourselves. Ichimatsu," Karamatsu said, turning to the third youngest, who had been very quiet, "thank you for saving Jyushi from certain death. You killed so many hounds that probably me and or Osomatsu could have gotten hurt as well without you," he said and smiled at him.

Ichimatsu shifted uncomfortably under everyone's stare. "Yeah..." he mumbled. Karamatsu gave him a sad look that Ichimatsu obviously missed, looking down on the ground. Jyushimatsu shifted closer to Ichimatsu and without thinking, touched the stitches on his cheek.

"So do we have plans how to prepare for the next time? What is the basic plan we go by unless otherwise decided if we think that everyone would more or less be able to run? What weapons we need the most?" Karamatsu asked.


"I think we should try to avoid fighting as much as we can," Choromatsu said.

 

"Agreed," Totty said now laying again, his head on Ichimatsu's lap. "But I don't think there is many safe places. A tree has worked for Ichimatsu-niisan and Jyushimatsu-niisan and now for Choromatsu-niisan but we might face something that can climb. There's no guarantee that we can avoid them."

"That is true but if we have any other choice but to fight, we will take it," Karamatsu said. "How much weapons do we have? Everyone has to carry one with them all the time."

 

"I have the bat!" Jyushimatsu yelled and motioned baseball swings.

"We have some tools and a few spears. We should make some stronger axes for combat," Osomatsu listed.

 

Karamatsu nodded. "We should. I'm mostly using my axe for fighting. We should have many different weapons prepared in case the ones we have break."

"I just got a new spear and I have now three knives for throwing. I want to have many. You know so much that the inside of my jacket or cloak or something would be full of them. And I want a dagger," Totty told the others, smirking. He was better with lighter weapons. And hitting targets was his speciality.

"Axe, knife, claws," Ichimatsu listed his main weapons simply.

 

"I have been working on a bow. It still needs a lot of practice and modifying but if it will work, it could be useful," Choromatsu told the others.

"That would be great Choromatsu," Osomatsu said. Catcoon was done eating and she decided that Osomatsu's lap would be a good sleeping spot. "Oh, hello there," the oldest said and petted the feline, which purred and curled up into a ball.

 

"I'm sure you can do it," Karamatsu said encouragingly. "So, to conclude, we need more and better weapons. Next time when something attacks, try not to panic even if I know it's scary. But most importantly, we can't split up." He let his eyes go around and meet with others’. "Okay, then the next topic: our current situation. Honestly. I'm worried about food," Karamatsu said, sighing.

 

"Me too," Choromatsu said. "We still have dried meat for a few meals but we need more. And we can't live on only meat. We need fruits or vegetables and minerals," he continued.

"I tried a pinecone. It tasted bad but I didn't die," Osomatsu mentioned. "We can eat them if there’s nothing else."

 

"In the other biomi, where we found Choromatsu, there were a lot of these weird tree nuts that were pretty okay to eat. You could get there in one day but it might be bad decision going in winter if there is another choice," Ichimatsu said.

"Because of winter I don't think there is much we can do about it now. We could try digging up some roots... I hope it's not very long winter," Karamatsu said. Still the thought of two or three months of winter was horrifying.

 

"I hope it won’t get much colder. The nights have also extended and days got shorter," Choromatsu said and looked around them into the soon beginning night. There was worry in his gaze.

"We need more warm things," Jyushimatsu said and moved even closer to Ichimatsu, looking for warmth. Ichimatsu snuggled against him.

"I'm doing my best but the thread is the problem! I would want to make mittens next from rabbit skins that we have but tendons are so big. I'll figure something out, though," he promised, sounding anxious. He was doing the best he could but he wished he could do even more.

 

"We should hunt bigger animals. Like that elephant thing. But that would mean a long trip in the cold," Osomatsu wondered out loud.

 

"Yeah but we probably wouldn't even find anything," Ichimatsu said.

 

"I really hope that we don't have to leave our camp..." Karamatsu said. "But if here’s no more food and that's the only option then we have to." A silence fell and so did the pitch black darkness around them.

"Creatures in this world are dangerous and meant to kill," Osomatsu broke the silence. "Oh, sorry Catcoon. You are an exception," he quickly corrected himself and petted the said creature.

Choromatsu nodded in agreement. "And who knows what we just haven't seen yet," he added.

 

Ichimatsu looked down, feeling uncomfortable. He felt like he was one of those creatures. Todomatsu leaned harder on him, glancing the darkness around themselves warily.

"I don't know what I'll do if there's something worse than the hounds or this darkness," Todomatsu said.

Karamatsu took a deep breath. "Well, actually there are these spiders but they are not as bad."

Todomatsu stared at the second oldest frozen. "The what?"

 

"Spiders. They are useful and we need them," Karamatsu told him.

 

"The normal ones aren't that bad. Creepy, as you would expect from a spider about the size of your head," Osomatsu talked. "But the striped, leaping spider was too much," he ended sharply.

 

Todomatsu stared at Osomatsu with wide eyes. "I'm sorry. We are not talking about some giant mutant spiders are we?" he asked and smiled a forced smile.

 

Osomatsu looked at the youngest and slowly nodded. There was no use in denying it.

 

Todomatsu took a deep breath and hid his face behind his palms. "You know, if I could walk, I would walk away saying 'Nope, I've had enough' but since I can't walk and it's so dark, I'll do this instead," he said and took a deep inhale. "What the fuck is wrong with this place?! Giant, let me guess, flesh eating spiders!! Where are they?! Can they come here?! Why haven't you told me?!!" Totty shouted, his eyes wide and the look in them wild.

 

A shiver went through Jyushimatsu as he thought of giant spiders. He shook his head and leaned closer to the fourth oldest like he was trying to bury himself under the other.

 

Ichimatsu petted Todomatsu calmingly with his other hand and his other arm, he wrapped around Jyushimatsu pulling him close. Some other time he might be uncomfortable for both of them being so close to him but now he was only glad for their company and wanted to do his best to comfort them.

"We didn't want to worry you or Jyushimatsu when you were recovering," Choromatsu said and gave Totty an apologetic smile.

"They have a nest quite far away," Osomatsu told. "I found the first one dead in one of our traps."

"Yeah, okay, so how dangerous are they? Are they venomous?" Todomatsu asked.

"They haven't bit us but Choromatsu couldn't find poison glands," Karamatsu said. “They are quite slow and they don't go too far away from their nest. I hope. But yes, the striped ones can jump long distances."

"So they are deadly monsters," Todomatsu concluded, nodding his head an unnatural smile on his face. "Why exactly are they useful?"

 

"We can get web to make clothes and they have some weird glands which's liquids heal," Osomatsu said.

Choromatsu gave the oldest a sharp stare. He would have told it little gentler. Todomatsu wasn't going to react well when he figures out that those liquids were the ones used on his wounds.

 

Luckily Todomatsu didn't seem to make the connection at the spot. It was way too absurd idea to even think about that he would have gotten some spider liquid on him. "Ewh, okay. Just so you know, I'm not going to do anything with those spiders. Best if I never see them," Totty said and made a disgusted face.

Ichimatsu wanted to laugh at Todomatsu's blindness but it would be maybe even more fun when he would find out it later. Instead he said: "So we have a way to heal ourselves better. Another topic, why do we heal so quickly?"

"Ah, yes that,”  Karamatsu said. “What is this world doing to us? It must have changed us. I mean, there is no way we could have killed so many huge, bloodthirsty beasts like that in our world, right?"

 

"No, we couldn't have. Time itself seems to work differently here. Just think how quickly winter began. It must be affecting our healing as well," Choromatsu thought out loud.

"But that doesn't explain our new powers," Jyushimatsu pointed out.

"Jyushimatsu is right," Osomatsu said. "We have all changed. It has affected our healing, fighting and... other things." All of them could tell what he meant by other things, werecat and his trance. Osomatsu wrapped his arms around himself at the thought of it. "Who knows what might happen to us," he said quietly.

 

Karamatsu sighed. "Yes. Who knows. But we can't do anything about it so no reason to think too much about it. Besides, it's not entirely a bad thing that this crazy world is giving us a chance to survive and fight back."

Ichimatsu hated how Osomatsu had said "other things". Now that he thought about it, it was weird that no one had actually brought werecat up. They were avoiding the subject on purpose. Well, maybe they knew him well enough that they knew it was best to leave it be. That worked well for Ichimatsu. "Do you think the time might be going different pace back home?" he asked then, thinking about what Choromatsu had just said.

 

"Who knows," Choromatsu answered. "I have counted the days and this is our 17th day here. If the days are as long as they are in our world we have been away for two and half weeks," Choromatsu finished, frowning.

"Waaah?" Jyushimatsu couldn't believe what he heard. "But what about mom and dad?" he questioned.

Osomatsu exhaled deeply. Two and a half weeks felt short but at the same time like an eternity. Without thinking he started to pet Catcoon to get a hold of his own thoughts.

 

"They think we are dead," Ichimatsu said, closing his hands into fists and burying his nails into his palms. " Mom and dad have done nothing to deserve this. Why are we six so stupid? "

Karamatsu’s expression was grim and pained. "They must be worried sick. We all disappeared at the same time without any tracks. I just hope that they don't find the machine and accidentally get in here."


Jyushimatsu shared the grim look and was unusually quiet.

Todomatsu's eyes widened. "No. That would be even worse than what this is now."

 

"I really hope that they won’t be as stupid as we were," Osomatsu said. In his mind he begged for his parents not to get trapped in this mess.

"They probably have done everything they can to find us. Why were we so stupid?" Choromatsu felt anger and sorrow as he pressed his hands to his face.

 

"We were incredibly stupid," Karamatsu agreed. "But no use crying over it now. We need to stay strong. Now, what do you think is our best course of action in long run?" he asked.

"We need to start moving more when we can or otherwise we are trapped here forever," Todomatsu said.

 

"I agree. At this rate sooner or later we'll run out of food," Osomatsu said.

Catcoon had been sleeping peacefully on Osomatsu's lap when she suddenly raised her head and looked into the darkness, keeping her ears high. Jyushimatsu noticed this and followed the feline's stare. In the darkness around them, just out of the campfire's light, were multiple small but very bright firefly swarms. They glowed in soft green colour. Jyushimatsu quickly jumped to his feet and took a few running steps towards them. He would have ran but his wounds still bothered him. "Wow! Look at those!" The second youngest voice was full of amazement.

 

Karamatsu's eyes shined as he turned to look at the fireflies. "Amazing! So beautiful how they are dancing in the air, shining light to the suffocating darkness. It's like they came here to bring hope and tell us that-"

"Don't go too far," Ichimatsu said to the second youngest warningly.

Totty frowned. "They are pretty but it's winter and freezing. Why aren't they frozen?" he asked, not liking how this world didn't act like the one they knew.

 

Choromatsu's eyes lit up. "Interesting. Their glowing might be useful if we could catch them."

"Cool," Osomatsu commented. They seemed harmless so he didn't mind.

Catcoon dashed from Osomatsu's lap to the closest swarm and began to prowl them. She tried to leap and catch one but wasn't successful.

Jyushimatsu went after the feline but stopped at the end of the campfire's light. He carefully reached out to the glowing light to test if it was okay. Nothing happened so he quickly stepped among the swarm. " They are so pretty! " The second youngest laughed as he playfully tried to reach the insects. Next to him Catcoon did the same.

 

"Jyushimatsu," Ichimatsu called him. Well maybe he was fine since the fireflies shone light. "Be careful."

 

"Jyushimatsu! Don't go too far," Choromatsu called for the second youngest as the other went to the fireflies.

 

Jyushimatsu laughed as Catcoon climbed onto his shoulders in hopes of reaching her prey. The second youngest took the feline in his arms and hold her high. "Get them, Catcoon! Get them!" he said, laughing.

 

"Huh?" Jyushimatsu was confused when the insects flew higher until suddenly they  flew upwards and left, leaving the pair in the darkness.

 

Ichimatsu tensed. "Jyushimatsu? Come here."

 

Jyushimatsu didn't have time to respond since he felt something threatening hissing and moving in the darkness towards him. It hissed louder as it came at him in rapid speed. "Aaaah!" He yelled in distress and dashed back to light. He held Catcoon close and looked into the darkness, breathing heavily. The hissing turned into annoyed and slowly disappeared to the night along with the presence.

 

"Aaaahh!" Totty screamed and for the first time after he had got injured, he scrambled to his feet without any help. Instantly he folded his body when his stomach protested against the rash movement and some agony was mixed in his scared scream. Quickly Karamatsu rushed to help him and calm him down. Choromatsu was right after Karamatsu and he hastily tried to help.

Ichimatsu in his part rushed to Jyushimatsu. "Jyushimatsu! Are you okay? What the fuck was that?!" Ichimatsu shouted worried as he checked that his brother was fine and then he took him by the arm and started leading him closer to the fire.

Osomatsu ran to the second youngest. He asked similar questions as Ichimatsu and scanned Jyushimatsu with his eyes for injuries.

Jyushimatsu swallowed hard. "I'm okay," he said, trying to sound cheerful but it was obvious that the second youngest had had quite a scare. He tightened his grip around Catcoon which had dug her claws into the man's hoodie.

 

Todomatsu was being hysterical as he clung onto his brothers. "No! Get me away from here! It's the shadow monster!” He sniffled. “Don't let it get me!" he cried in panic.

"Todomatsu! You're fine! It went away whatever it was. Jyushimatsu is here and he is fine! Nothing bad happened," Karamatsu tried to reassure him.

 

"Totty! It's okay. Let's just stay close to the fire," Choromatsu said in a calm voice, hoping it would calm the other as well.

When the three others arrived to the campfire, Osomatsu quickly added more wood to the fire.  " Hopefully the monster stays to it old ways and won’t come to the light. "

 

Karamatsu helped Totty to lay back down with Choromatsu. He petted his hair and whispered calming words to him. When Totty didn't shout anymore, Karamatsu lifted his gaze to meet with everyone else's. "The next topic: No one goes to the darkness without a light source. Always make sure to have enough torches. We know that there is something that wants to hurt us but stays only in complete darkness." Karamatsu looked down at the shaking youngest who mumbled something to himself. "I believe that was the same thing that hurt Totty during the first night," he said and looked at Osomatsu if he could confirm.

 

Osomatsu nodded as confirmation. "At least it is similar," he said and added one more log to the blazing fire just to be safe.

Choromatsu stayed next to the youngest and petted his hair calmingly. Jyushimatsu moved closer to Ichimatsu and petted Catcoon to calm her down as well as himself.

 

Karamatsu nodded to Osomatsu. "I'll help Todomatsu back into the lean-to. Could someone come and stay there with him if I come back to craft some more? The hound skins are so big that I can't really work with them inside," Karamatsu said as he helped Totty carefully up.

"I'm going inside with Jyushimatsu," Ichimatsu said.

 

"I'll craft inside," Choromatsu said and helped Karamatsu.

 

"I'll watch the fire," Osomatsu told the others. He would keep it burning brightly for now. Good thing he had chopped more wood.

 

A little later Karamatsu came back outside, grabbed some skins and sat down next to the oldest. He took a deep breath. "Well, that was something. I'm so tired..." he said and started working.

 

"Yeah. It was," Osomatsu answered and eyed suspiciously at the darkness around them.

Chapter Text

"Jyushimatsu, stay still," Karamatsu said patiently. He was in the middle of a task of removing the second youngest’s stitches. " This is going to leave a visible scar... It's a shame that it's on his face as well. Well, if, no when , we get home, he can get rid of the scar if he wants to, " Karamatsu thought as he worked carefully.

The last few days had been uneventful. Karamatsu had been working hard to clothe everyone and he had made knee high leg warmers for Jyushimatsu and new shoes, same design as Choromatsu's, for Ichi and Jyushi. He had made two pairs of mittens from rabbit skin, for Osomatsu and Ichimatsu. He had cut thin, long strings from hound skin that he had used as leather string as he didn’t have anything else.

Their biggest problem now was food. They haven't had anything big for a while and they were six adult men doing physical work, so they needed a lot food to get their stomachs full.

 

"Okay, Karamatsu-niisan," Jyushimatsu promised but began to squirm around as the other continued the process.

Jyushimatsu had been recovering, like all of them in this world, amazingly fast. He could work like he normally did, but his brothers had told him to avoid heavy physical work. He had big scars on his head and his neck. They were sensitive to touch and hurt a little if pressed. The removing of the stitches felt, as expected, uncomfortable and sent short waves of pain through him.

 

After some more time Karamatsu was done and he patted Jyushimatsu to the shoulder. "Good job, Jyushimatsu," Karamatsu praised as he stood up and went to fetch the skin that he was working on to make more mittens. When he came back to the campfire he asked from the brothers who were nearby: "Any ideas what we are going to eat today?"

Ichimatsu mostly followed Jyushimatsu wherever the other went, so he had been following as the stitches had been removed. The fourth brother, who had been quietly working on a new spear next to them, started speaking without lifting his gaze. "Do you think we could find something left from the elephant-creature? Like bone marrow or something?"

 

"That is possible. And there might be more food around that area," Choromatsu answered. Since his leg was now fully healed, he had started to join Ichimatsu and Osomatsu on trips to look for food. When he had time he practiced with his bow. He was hoping to catch some birds for them to eat as soon as possible.

 

Ichimatsu nodded. "I think it's worth a shot," he said. "Who wants to go? Jyushimatsu, how are you feeling?" he asked, lifting his head up to look at his immediate younger brother. Jyushimatsu was just about to answer but Karamatsu beat him to it.

"I'd rather stay here crafting and looking over Totty," Karamatsu said. The youngest brother was still spending the days in the lean-to. Karamatsu lifted the piece of skin he was cutting. "I'd like to finish making mittens for everyone by tomorrow if I can."

 

"Maybe it would be better if Jyushimatsu stayed at the camp," Choromatsu said and eyed the second youngest anxiously. Jyushimatsu seemed fine but he wasn't fully healed yet. "But I can come," he continued.

 

Ichimatsu hummed agreeingly. "Jyushimatsu, you should stay. The place it's not really close and it's so cold so it's best you stay here with Karamatsu and Todomatsu."

"Yes, Jyushimatsu, I would appreciate your help in the camp," Karamatsu said agreeing.

 

"Okay," Jyushimatsu sighed. He kind of wanted to go but understood the others' point.

 

"I'll come too," Osomatsu called, from where he was sitting, tending the fire. If they found food, they would need to get as much of it as they possibly could.

 

"Fine," Ichimatsu said and stood up.

"Are you going already?" Karamatsu asked.

"I don't know about the others but I am. The daylight is so short so it's best to get moving," Ichimatsu answered. "Are you ready to go then?" he asked from Osomatsu and Choromatsu as he picked up a few torches and his axe.

 

Osomatsu picked up his axe and some torches as well. "Let's go," he said. Choromatsu gathered his stuff too and nodded in agreement.

 

---

 

After some time the three of them were walking through the frozen forest. Last night it had been snowing again but despite of that the snow cover was really thin and they could see patches of uncovered ground here and there under the trees. The temperature was really low which meant that the ground would be frozen deeply. However, they should be thankful that it was still easy to move in the wilderness when there weren’t deep snow cover.

Ichimatsu was shaking in the cold air. "I think it's not too far anymore." " Unless we have been going in the wrong direction. " "Let's see what we can find and gather some sticks or something on our way back if we still have free space in our hands then," Ichimatsu finished.

 

Osomatsu hummed as a response. He wrapped his cloak tighter around himself. "Thank god Karamatsu made these. This mission might be impossible without these. Ach! Why did the trance made me cut my hair? The breeze feels nasty against my scalp! Stupid trance..."

Choromatsu scanned their surroundings as he walked. He would appreciate even one frozen carrot. He sighed, turning to his brothers. "Do you think there could be some carrots or berries around the remains of the creature?" he asked more from boredom than from curiosity.

 

Ichimatsu shrugged. "There could be. When we hunted the creature, we didn't collect anything else and that has been the only time we have been here," he answered.

 

Choromatsu truly hoped that his wishes would come true.

"Oi! Isn't it over there?" Osomatsu called, pointing a little further away.

 

Ichimatsu looked at the distance where he saw a vague pile of huge bones. "Yeah, I think so." What else could it be. Actually, he didn’t want to think about that.

They walked closer and were surprised of how clean the bones looked. There wasn't really any guts or anything else nasty left.

"Probably some animal ate the rest," Osomatsu thought as he got a better view of the clean bones. "Well, it should make our job less messy."


"I guess we should check if they have bone marrow inside," Ichimatsu said as he kicked one of the bones lightly. He really hoped so or they’d have a long day with empty stomachs. The other two nodded in agreement.

"Hammer would be the best tool for this but axe should work as well," Choromatsu thought out loud.

"Do you want the honor?" Osomatsu asked Ichimatsu with a playful smile.

 

Ichimatsu just rolled his eyes, not going along with Osomatsu's playfulness, as he thought that he was just avoiding to do the job himself. Ichimatsu took a better grip on his axe and started breaking a big bone that was from one of the creature’s legs.

 

After a few swings it broke. Ichimatsu dropped his axe and kneeled down to check what the broken bone looked like. Creature's leg bones were so thick that there were a lot of frozen bone marrow inside, luckily for them.

"Looks good," Ichimatsu told the others. "It will be a heavy job to drag these bones to the camp. I would only take limbs' bones because they should have marrow for sure."

 

"Nice," Osomatsu commented, grinning. "I hope it tastes good."

"Let's all take as much as we can and return to the camp. It's so cold out here," Choromatsu said and straightened his cloak.

 

Ichimatsu nodded and collected all the bones that he thought he could carry back to the camp. "Fuck, it's heavy," he grunted and started walking back to where they had just a while ago came from.

 

---

 

Karamatsu lifted his eyes from the rabbit skins as he heard footsteps coming closer and then he saw the three brothers returning with huge bones. "Brothers! Welcome back!" he greeted them.

Ichimatsu dropped the bones he was carrying when he was close enough and slumped next to the campfire, shaking from cold. "It's so fucking cold!" Osomatsu and Choromatsu followed after Ichimatsu example and went to the fire, dropping the bones to the ground.

"I can't feel my fingers," Osomatsu complained.

"If it gets any colder, we can't leave the camp for long times anymore," Choromatsu said as he rubbed his numb arms.

"Just try to warm yourself up the best you can. I hope there’s bone marrow inside those bones so that we'll have something to eat today," Karamatsu said hopefully.

"Of course there’s marrow inside. Why else would we drag these back," Ichimatsu snapped.

"Good. Great job," Karamatsu said and then he called for the second youngest: "Jyushimatsu! Could you help me breaking the bones so we can start making food?"

Jyushimatsu had been crafting when Karamatsu called for him. "Coming!" he yelled back and with a few leaps he was next to the other man.

 

"Get a tool with which you think you can break the bones," Karamatsu said and took his axe. With powerful swings he started breaking the bones and collecting the marrow to a clay container. With Jyushimatsu's help it didn't took too long for them to get enough bone marrow for them to be able to fill their stomachs.

Putting the container above fire, Karamatsu wondered out loud: "I wonder what this tastes like?"

 

"I don't care as long as it’s edible," Osomatsu said. "Although I wouldn't mind if it was good," he added and peeked into the pot with hopeful eyes.

 

"It should be fine," Ichimatsu commented. "Have you made more mittens?" he asked from Karamatsu.

"Ah, yes!" Karamatsu answered and fetched a new pair, made from rabbit skin, which he gave to Choromatsu. "Here. Next one will be for Jyushimatsu."

 

Choromatsu's expression brightened visibly. "Thanks. I'll definitely use them," he assured.

 

---

 

When the marrow was cooked, the brothers were pleasantly surprised to find that it wasn't too bad. At least it was something to fill their stomachs with. Getting enough to eat really lifted up the mood. They had brought Totty’s meal to him to the lean-to. When they were done eating, Karamatsu continued making the mittens. Ichimatsu sat next to the fire and sharpened his axe after cutting the bones. Osomatsu and Jyushimatsu were spending time together nearby.

 

Suddenly a scream split through the air and Karamatsu jumped to his feet reflexively. The shouting came from the lean-to and as Karamatsu dashed there he realized it sounded more angry than scared.

"Aaaaarrghhh!! No! You're fucking useless!! Why?! Aaaarrghh! Don't do this to me! Please!!" Totty shouted and screamed as Karamatsu appeared into the lean-to.

"Totty! Totty, what's wrong?!" Karamatsu asked and startled looking for a reason for Totty's distress. Todomatsu laid there and had covered his face with hands as he took in deep, erratic breaths.

"Todomatsu?" Karamatsu asked again this time a little calmer.

"My phone," the youngest started and pointed at a corner where Karamatsu could now see the tossed phone. "The battery is dead. It doesn't open anymore," Totty told him and sniffed.

"Ah," Karamatsu said. He had honestly forgotten the whole device and was surprised that the battery had lasted for so long. Totty must have been really saving it. Karamatsu came closer to him and started petting his hair. "I'm sorry. It must be hard for you."

Totty sighed at lowered his hands away from his face. "Well, it's not like I didn't know it was coming." Karamatsu was about to say something but Todomatsu stopped him. "Don't worry. It's fine. Just go continue your things."

Karamatsu looked at him, frowning. "Are you sure? I could stay here."

Totty sighed. "Do what you want."

"I'll be back," Karamatsu said as he exited the lean-to to fetch the skins that he had been working with. When Karamatsu came outside, Osomatsu and Jyushimatsu came to him.

"Is everything okay?" Osomatsu asked, worried.

"What's wrong with Totty?" Jyushimatsu questioned.

The pair had been making a snowman next to the meat-Osomatsu when they had heard Totty's screams.

 

Karamatsu sighed, nodding. "Yes. Luckily it was only his phone that has run out of battery. I hope he doesn't take it too hard," he explained them and collected his stuff.

 

"Oh, okay," Osomatsu said. The phone had always been important to Todomatsu and it was sad that there was nothing they could do about it now.

Jyushimatsu ran back to finish the snowman but Osomatsu went to the campfire in hopes of finding something actually useful to do. The day was slowly turning into dusk so they shouldn't go too far away from their camp anymore.

Osomatsu looked at the sun that was beginning to set and said: "Choromatsu should return soon."


Choromatsu had left the camp to look for anything they could use. He had taken his bow with him so that he could try to hunt birds if he encountered them. Catcoon had been happy to accompany the third brother during these shorter trips to the forest. To the feline it was much more fun to explore the forest if someone was with her.

 

Ichimatsu was now chopping firewood. They were burning them in a fast pace and they couldn't afford to run out of them. Luckily, chopping made him feel even a little warmer. Ichimatsu glanced towards Jyushimatsu, who was playing in the snow. The fourth brother smiled a little. It felt good to see Jyushimatsu energetic and happy again after he had recovered.

 

Not long after Choromatsu returned with Catcoon. He silently walked to the campfire and sat down. Catcoon noticed the opportunity and jumped to the man's lap that was much warmer than the frozen ground.

 

"How did it go?" Osomatsu asked but didn't turn his gaze from a torch that he was crafting.

Choromatsu let out a frustrated sigh. "Nothing."

 

Osomatsu let out a sympathetic sigh. 

 

Jyushimatsu stood up and shook the snow off of himself. "It's not that fun to play in the snow alone." He wanted someone to keep him company but everyone had things to do. "I'm getting kinda hungry too."  The brothers had still a good amount of bone marrow left but they were sparing it if the winter would go on for a long time.

"It would be nice to eat something else than meat for a change," Jyushimatsu thought. He turned around and walked into the forest. "Maybe I'll find something fun."

 

---

 

Ichimatsu was out of breath from all the chopping and he was walking back to the fire carrying an armful of wood. He had decided to take a break and warm himself up a little.

He dropped the firewood to the ground and sat down, lifting his hands close to the fire. He looked around for a short while and then asked from Osomatsu and Choromatsu: "Where's Jyushimatsu?"

 

The two men just shrugged. Choromatsu had started to craft rope with Osomatsu and they hadn't moved or seen anyone else since.

 

Ichimatsu frowned and stood up. He walked to the lean-to, pushed away the skins covering the opening and peeked inside. No Jyushimatsu. "Where’s Jyushimatsu?" he asked from Totty and Karamatsu.

"He hasn't been here," Totty answered.

Karamatsu frowned a little worried. "Is he not in the camp?"

Ichimatsu didn't bother to answer as he was already gone. "Oi, Jyushimatsu!” he shouted and went to the place where he had seen him earlier. No sight of him. None of them should go anywhere without telling someone, least of all Jyushimatsu. Ichimatsu walked further from the camp, calling for the second youngest. Just when he was starting to really freak out, he saw a familiar figure sitting on the ground.

"Jyushimatsu!" Ichimatsu shouted and started running towards him. "You need to answer!" Then he saw his face and for a second Ichimatsu froze in shock.

 

Jyushimatsu's face was twisted into a strange expression which screamed that something was wrong. His eyes were wide open and he was slowly chewing on something in his mouth. It seemed like he had something in his hands as well.

 

Ichimatsu stared at his little brother in horror as he ran the last few meters and kneeled down when he was right in front of him. "Jyushimatsu, do you hear me?! What did you do, you idiot?" he shouted his stomach tying in knots and heart beating fast in panic.

 

Ichimatsu took off his mitten and forced his fingers inside Jyushimatsu's mouth, taking away whatever he was eating. Ichimatsu examined the half chewed mess in his hand and flinched as he recognised it to be a green mushroom. "Jyushimatsu!!" Ichimatsu shouted terrified and wiped his hand clean with the snow. "Jyushimatsu!" he shouted again and shook the other's shoulders.

 

Jyushimatsu rattled and groaned. The mushroom had tasted only a little weird but then he had started to feel rapidly uprising nausea and headache. Everything had started to spin around him, buzzing and hissing in his ears was increasing and everything around Jyushimatsu was starting to lose colour. Finally Jyushimatsu looked back at Ichimatsu with wide eyes. "N-niisan. I feel horrible." His voice was calm but Ichimatsu could hear that Jyushimatsu was starting to get scared. "Everything is losing colour."

 

Ichimatsu felt like his heart stopped and a heavy, cold feeling spread inside him. Quickly, he touched Jyushimatsu's cheek and looked at him intensely in the eyes. "You will be fine, Jyushimatsu! Just stay with me!" he said firmly. Without a warning, Ichimatsu lifted Jyushimatsu up in bridal style and started running towards the camp as fast as he could. As he came closer, he started shouting in panic: "Help! Help me! Somebody please do something!!"

Chapter Text

Ichimatsu ran to the middle of their camp, full of panic and shouting for help. In his arms he was carrying Jyushimatsu. Everybody tensed up and turned to look at then scared.

Karamatsu had come out from the lean-to after Ichimatsu had peeked inside in search of the second youngest and he immediately dashed next to the pair. "Brother! What happened?!"

Ichimatsu's eyes were wide and full of fear as he scanned the faces of his brothers' for help. "Jy- Jyushimatsu! He ate a mushroom and I-I think it was poisonous!" Ichimatsu told them in panic. "What do we do?!" he shouted and sat down, holding Jyushimatsu tightly in his lap. Ichimatsu followed his younger brother's every move and sound, making sure that the other was breathing normally.

 

"He what?!" Choromatsu and Osomatsu shouted at the same time.

Choromatsu dashed to the others, leaving Catcoon looking after him in confusion. When Choromatsu saw Jyushimatsu, he started to pace around in panic. "What do we do?! What the fuck do we do?! What if we can't help him and he will - he will..! Oh god no! Please no!" Choromatsu talked himself deeper and deeper into distress.

Osomatsu was right after Choromatsu. He watched in horror as Jyushimatsu's wide eyes moved around unfocused. Osomatsu's panic turned to frustration because he didn't know what to do. "Choromatsu, shut up and do something!" he yelled.

"Don't you dare say that, Choromatsu!! Don't say that!" Ichimatsu roared at Choromatsu as tears started to fill his eyes. "Fucking get over you head and think of something!!"

The nausea and headache were causing sweat drops to form on Jyushimatsu's forehead. The symptoms were getting worse by the second. Jyushimatsu felt like he could vomit at any moment. "Why did I have to eat that thing?" Everything around him spun more rapidly than before. It made him feel even worse. "If I just close my eyes, maybe I'll feel a little better," he thought hopefully as he closed his eyes.


Karamatsu was fussing over Jyushimatsu. "Oh my god, what do we do?! Oh my god, what do we do?! How much did he eat that? Has the poison already absorbed?!" he spoke to himself and wiped away the sweat from Jyushimatsu's forehead. He got even more afraid as the second youngest closed his eyes. "No, Jyushimatsu, don't close your eyes!! My little Jyushimatsu, stay with us!!" Karamatsu panicked.

Ichimatsu noticed that change too. "No, Jyushimatsu!!" he shouted alarmed and shook him lightly. "Jyushimatsu, please, open your eyes! You have to stay with us!!" Ichimatsu shouted as he felt his pulse and checked his breathing which both were fast but otherwise normal.

All the panicked shouting had scared Todomatsu so badly that for the first time after he had gotten injured, he got out of the lean-to without anyone's help. He was taking careful, small steps towards the others around the campfire. "What's happening!" he cried afraid. "What's wrong?!"

 

Osomatsu tried to get Choro or Kara to do something. In his mind he was blaming himself. "Why did I leave him alone? I was with him a moment ago and when I left this happened!”

Ichimatsu was filled with panic. It was only a week ago when he had been staying awake during nights to watch over unconscious Jyushimatsu as he had prayed him to get better. So why? Why did this have to happen?! He should have kept closer eye on him as he knew something like this was possible to happen. Ichimatsu took a shaky breath as he hold Jyushimatsu's hand. " Maybe all of the poison hasn't yet absorbed? " he thought about Karamatsu's words and clung onto them. Without a word Ichimatsu took a firm hold on Jyushimatsu's jaw and forced it open. Then he suddenly stuffed his fingers deep into his throat. " I need to make him throw up! " Ichimatsu thought desperately but determined.


Jyushimatsu's eyes snapped open in confusion when Ichimatsu acted. He couldn't question it for long as his gag reflex kicked in. Jyushimatsu jumped to his feet and dashed a little further from the others, dropped to his knees and threw up. When he was done he stayed knelt down and took deep breaths between coughing.

Osomatsu watched the scene dumbfounded. "Good thinking, Ichimatsu," he said as he got control over himself and went to Jyushimatsu. "Jyushimatsu?" he asked in concern.

Choromatsu's pacing was cut off as Jyushimatsu moved. "Oh thank god at least he is still able to move." He ran to the second youngest and knelt next to him. "How do you feel, Jyushimatsu? Does it ease up?" he asked worriedly.

 

Ichimatsu jumped to his feet as well and ran next to Jyushimatsu. He petted the other’s back and tried to connect eyes with him. "Jyushimatsu? Say something."

Karamatsu watched in panic as Jyushimatsu threw up. He should go after him but three of his brothers were there already, so he should check on the other brother. Karamatsu turned around to face Todomatsu, who had finally reached him.

"Could somebody please tell me what's going on?!" Totty cried in high-pitched voice, teared up as he slowly walked next to Karamatsu. "What's wrong with Jyushimatsu-niisan?"

"Todomatsu, careful with your wound," Karamatsu said and tried to help Totty. "Jyushimatsu ate a mushroom that was probably poisonous," he explained shortly as they walked where everybody else was.

"What?! No no no no! He will be okay, right?" Totty asked afraid.

"He has to," Karamatsu answered. "Jyushimatsu how are you?" he then asked as they reached the others.

 

Jyushimatsu felt horrible. Throwing up didn't make him feel any better, it just gave him a bad taste in his mouth. The increasing volume of all the sounds, normal and new ear-splitting ones, felt like they filled Jyushimatsu's head and it was so distressing that he felt like they could make him lose his mind. All the spinning in his eyes, shouting of his brothers, loud buzzing, humming and rustling in his ears caused tears to form in his eyes. 

 

"Stop!" he yelled and covered his ears. "Please stop stop stop! Why is it so loud?! Why is it so loud in my head?! Please be quiet! Quiet! Quiet! Quiet!" Jyushimatsu kept yelling and shook his head violently as tears streamed down his face.

 

The brothers froze, shocked, as Jyushimatsu suddenly started shouting. Todomatsu whined scared and gripped on Karamatsu's chest hard as he tried to look him in the eyes for help. Karamatsu only stared back alarmed and hugged the youngest with a hand that he had wrapped around him.

Choromatsu watched the second youngest with wide, teary eyes. "J-Jyushimatsu!"

Osomatsu took an alarmed step back when Jyushimatsu shouted. Tears made their way to Osomatsu's eyes as his distress rose.


Ichimatsu felt like it was hard for him to breath because of how panicked he was and seeing was getting harder too because of the tears. He couldn't stand seeing Jyushimatsu in pain! He just couldn't! Carefully Ichimatsu lifted Jyushimatsu's head up and smiled at him sadly. He wiped away the streaming tears from his brother's face, then hugged him carefully at first but then tighter. "Jyushimatsu," he said in a low and quiet voice. "It will be okay. How can I make you feel better?" he asked and rubbed the other's back.


Jyushimatsu stiffened when Ichimatsu hugged him, but when he asked if he could help, it all became too much for Jyushimatsu. "Nii-niisan!" He hiccupped and broke down, crying. He hid his face to Ichimatsu's hoodie and clung hard to his brother.

 

Ichimatsu let him cry. He muttered calming words to him and rubbed his back in circling movements. "It’ll be okay. You’ll be okay. It feels horrible now, but it will get better. Would you take some water to rinse your mouth?" he asked.

 

Jyushimatsu's crying had turned into silent tears, which soaked Ichimatsu's hoodie. He made an agreeing sound, but clung harder to the hoodie that in his eyes seemed more gray than purple. Straight away Osomatsu ran to fetch a water container.

Jyushimatsu kept his face hidden as he started to talk in a muffled voice. "Can you make the voices to be quiet? And tell the world to stop moving so much?"

Choromatsu's eyes widened more when Jyushimatsu talked. The world around them was completely silent and steady, but Jyushimatsu seemed to think otherwise.

 

Ichimatsu's eyes widened in surprise for Jyushimatsu's word. However, he nodded slightly as he petted the second youngest's hair. "I can tell it to stop, but I doubt it would make any difference in this god forsaken place. And I don't think you want me to start yelling when you are feeling this bad." Ichimatsu turned to Osomatsu, who had come back, and took the water from him. He brought it close to the second youngest's mouth. "Here."

 

Jyushimatsu lifted his head from Ichimatsu's hoodie and wiped off the rest of his tears with his sleeves. He reached for the water, but froze in fear when he saw it.

Few meters behind Ichimatsu was an all-black serpent-like shadow creature the size of an adult man with its enormous jaw wide open showing its large teeth. The creature had a few spikes, almost like hairs, sticking out of its head. The spikes moved around slightly as the creature moved its jaws ominously up and down while staring straight at Jyushimatsu, unblinking.

The water splashed to the ground as Jyushimatsu screamed from the top of his lungs and jumped back. This caused the creature to hastily turn around and slither away, disappearing into the dusk. "What the fuck was that!? What was it!?" Jyushimatsu shouted in terror. He ran as fast as he could, grabbed his bat and returned to where the creature had been. He hastily looked around, but saw nothing. "I can't see it!" Panic rose in Jyushimatsu's mind. "Where? Where is it?! Is it stalking us from the shadows!?" he shouted in panicked voice and wildly turned around in fear of the creature attacking him from behind.

 

Rest of the brothers jumped up in scared surprise as Jyushimatsu suddenly started his shouting and swinging around.

"Jyushimatsu!" Ichimatsu shouted as Jyushimatsu left him so suddenly. Todomatsu let out a scared yelp and clung harder onto Karamatsu.

"Brother! Please calm down. There- there isn't anything," Karamatsu said worriedly in an attempt of calming the second youngest down.

Ichimatsu jogged after Jyushimatsu. "What's going on?! What do you mean??" he asked, confused.

 

"What the fuck?!" Osomatsu shouted in shock.

"Calm down Jyushimatsu!" Choromatsu tried to get through to the second youngest.

"I can't find it when my vision shakes this bad." Jyushimatsu faced Ichimatsu with wide, scared eyes. "I saw it! A shadow serpent! It-" Jyushimatsu's sentence was left unfinished when he heard a strange voice whispering. It felt like it was right next to him. He couldn't understand what it said, but distressed tears were making their way into his eyes once again. "I can hear it whispering. It’s somewhere in there!" he yelled and pointed to the forest.

 

Ichimatsu quickly glanced to the forest around them, but when he didn't see anything, he turned back to Jyushimatsu. He took Jyushimatsu's hands into his and squeezed them affectionately. "Shhhh. It's okay. You're just seeing things that are not real. It's because of that mushroom. It’ll be over after some time," " I hope. " Ichimatsu told him, trying to calm him down even if he was still panicking inside his own head.

 

Jyushimatsu tightened his grip around his bat. He refused to lower it even when Ichimatsu took a hold of his hands. "It feels so real. But was it the mushroom? I don't know!" Jyushimatsu thought and shook his head. "But what if it isn't?" he asked quietly. “What if it’s real?”

 

Ichimatsu looked at him reassuringly. "If it is, we are all still together. We’ll be okay like always," he said and offered him a small smile.

 

The second youngest tried to smile back but his attempt run short when a new whooshing sound caused him to jump and look around for its source. "What the fuck is that?!" he thought in panic as he saw how a giant tick-like shadow creature with many legs, lots of hair and big, staring eyes appeared out of thin air. It started to roam towards Osomatsu.

Jyushimatsu quickly freed himself from Ichimatsu's grip and ran to save his brother. "Niisan, watch out!" he yelled and tackled Osomatsu, causing both of them to roll on the snowy ground.

 

"Jyushimatsu!" Ichimatsu shouted and ran after him.

"Jyushimatsu, what's wrong?" Karamatsu asked alert as he pried himself free from Totty's grip and went to help the two. "Are you okay? You need to be more careful, Jyushimatsu," he said and offered his hand to pull them back to their feet.

 

Jyushimatsu was quick to jump up after tackling the oldest. "Go away!" he yelled at the still approaching shadow creature and swung his bat at it as a threat. However, the creature didn't stop. Jyushimatsu jumped back and tried again. "Help me!" he yelled for his brothers.

Osomatsu took Karamatsu's hand and rose up. "Enough already." He walked to Jyushimatsu and gripped his shoulders tightly, forcing the second youngest to face him. "Jyushimatsu! Calm down. There isn't anything."

 

"Jyushimatsu-niisan!" Totty whined pleadingly as he got a little closer.

Karamatsu glanced around nervously, trying to find what it was that made Jyushimatsu freak out so. He didn't see anything out of ordinary. "He is right," he said, referring to Osomatsu's words. "There is nothing here. We are safe for now."

 

"But-but it-!" Jyushimatsu started. How could they not see it?!

"Jyushimatsu, please." Choromatsu said in a soft voice as he walked to the others.

In Jyushimatsu's point of view Choromatsu had walked straight through the shadow creature without noticing anything. At this Jyushimatsu fell quiet and stopped. "He walked straight through it! Is it imaginary? Are we safe after all?" Questions flew in his head as he watched at the slowly crawling shadow.

 

Ichimatsu walked next to Jyushimatsu and took his hand in his own. Then he gestured towards the fire. "Let's go back to the fire, okay?" he asked as calm as he could but his voice had a nervous edge.

 

Jyushimatsu didn't move. Not yet. He needed to be sure that the shadow creature wouldn't do anything. As the creature crawled closer, he tightened his grip around Ichimatsu's hand and tensed up. Jyushimatsu let out a small whine when the creature stopped right in front of him.

 

Ichimatsu's reassuring smile faltered when Jyushimatsu whined, scared. He could see how serious the other was about all this, but he needed to calm down because everything was okay - at least as long as Jyushimatsu wouldn't die because of the fucking mushroom.

 

The shadow stood still for a while before turning around and crawling a little further away. Jyushimatsu loosened his grip a little and let his brothers take him to the campfire. However, he had to keep an eye on the creature that lurked around them.

Relief took over the other five men as Jyushimatsu finally agreed on going to the campfire and seemed to have calmed down a little.


"Good. It's okay," Ichimatsu said quietly to Jyushimatsu as he started leading him to the campfire.

Now that the panic had calmed down, Jyushimatsu could register the horrible feeling again. "I want to close my eyes, but I can't feel at ease when that creature is here." Instead, Jyushimatsu just sat down next to the fire and kept a close eye of the shadow creature.

Ichimatsu scooted as close to the second youngest as he could, when they sat down, and wrapped his arm around him. With his other hand he petted Jyushimatsu's hair calmingly. He really looked nauseous. "It's alright. You're doing fine. How do you feel?" he asked, concerned.

Totty had made his way to Jyushimatsu, Karamatsu following right next to him, making sure that the other was fine. The youngest leant forward to examine Jyushimatsu's face, looking worried as some tears still made his eyes watery. "Jyushimatsu-niisan? Are you okay? What happened?" he asked in worry.

 

"I feel the same," Jyushimatsu answered simply. He felt like his condition wouldn't get much worse. At least the worsening had slowed down if not completely stopped its rapid increase. Hopefully he'd start to feel better soon. Whenever the shadow creature got too close to him, he tensed up and tightened his grip around the bat.

Choromatsu went to get more water for Jyushimatsu, which the latter drank quietly.

Osomatsu added some wood to the fire. The darkness was about to fall soon.

 

The brothers were unsure of what to do or say. Ichimatsu kept comforting Jyushimatsu and Todomatsu sat down at the other side of him and leant close to the second youngest. Encouraged by that, the rest of the brothers followed as well and surrounded Jyushimatsu, trying to provide safety just by sitting there close to him.

They stayed quietly like that for so long that the night fell. Finally Karamatsu broke the moment by standing up and hesitantly talking to Totty: "Todomatsu. I should take you back to the lean-to. You shouldn't push yourself too hard," he said and hold out his hand for Totty to take it.

Todomatsu sighed. "I guess," he said. Then he hugged Jyushimatsu tightly. "See? Everything is fine. Would you come to sleep with me, Jyushimatsu-niisan?" Totty asked softly and took Karamatsu's hand and let him help him to stand up. Then Todomatsu turned to wait for Jyushimatsu's answer.

 

Jyushimatsu shook his head slowly. He was exhausted but couldn't relax when he knew that the creature was near.

"Are you sure?" Choromatsu asked. He got a silent nod as an answer.

 

"Okay then," Totty said and let Karamatsu to lead him back to the lean-to.

Ichimatsu stared at the fire quietly for a while, focusing on following Jyushimatsu's breath that luckily had calmed down. "You can go to sleep as well," he said to Choromatsu and Osomatsu. "I'll keep watch with Jyushimatsu."

 

"Wake me up later, okay? You need sleep too," Osomatsu said and walked to the lean-to. Hesitantly Choromatsu followed the oldest.

 

Ichimatsu hummed in acknowledgement, but wasn't sure if he would do that. Then he turned to look at Jyushimatsu and while his other hand was wrapped around him, with the other he petted his brother's arm affectionately.

After a while Karamatsu came back outside and walked close to the other two. He looked at them, eyebrows furrowed worriedly. Ichimatsu ignored him. Karamatsu sighed and kneeled down to be at the same level with his brothers before he spoke up, looking at the fire: "I just had to come to see that you're okay," he said and then turned his head to look at them. "Are you?" he asked.

Ichimatsu glanced at him with his usual bored expression. "The best we can in this situation," he said and turned to stare again in front of himself. "You can go to sleep."

 

Jyushimatsu let out a small whine as an answer.

 

Karamatsu's worried frown only deepened at their answers, but it seemed like he couldn't be much of help. Just as he was thinking of returning to the lean-to, he heard a sound that made him almost jump out of his skin. He heard a sound of a slow and horrifying music box. And, whatever it was, it continued to make the sound.

Karamatsu whipped his head back to his brothers, his eyes wide with fear. "What the fuck is that?!" he shrieked in a high-pitched voice.

Ichimatsu had heard it too and immediately he had jumped to his feet, his eyes scanning the shadows as he expected the shadow hands to come into the light of the campfire. He took a half lit stick from the fire to ready himself to chase away the creatures.

 

Jyushimatsu's heart skipped a beat as he was scared by the sudden noise, but when he recognized what it was, he too took a burning branch and eyed the ground in search of shadow hands. "There!" "I got this one!" Jyushimatsu yelled as he dashed towards a shadow hand that had barely even emerged from the darkness.

 

Karamatsu was utterly terrified. There shouldn't be this kind of sounds in the middle of wilderness. He snapped his head towards Jyushimatsu when the other exclaimed. The second oldest froze momentarily in horror as he saw something creeping from the shadows of the night into the light. It was a big and terrifying shadow in a form of a hand.

"Aaaaaahhh!!" Karamatsu shouted and fell on his butt as he took frantic steps backwards and slipped on the icy ground. He scrambled further away from the thing, screaming and unable to know what the hell was happening and what the hell was he supposed to do.

Ichimatsu didn't want Jyushimatsu to go through anything more that night, but there was no helping it. He spotted another hand coming from the other side of the camp. "I'll take care of this!" he shouted back at the younger brother. He was distracted as he heard Karamatsu's screams. For a moment Ichimatsu instinctively thought that something had attacked his brother, but then realized that he was just shocked because of the hands. Understandable, but it still annoyed Ichimatsu. "Stop screaming, Shittymatsu!" He shouted at him, but couldn't waste more time on the second oldest as he had a shadow hand to take care of. Ichimatsu started running towards it, waving the burning stick in his hand.

 

It didn't took long before a broken music box sound rang through the air from the side where the second youngest had ran, signaling the others of Jyushimatsu's success. The said man ran back to the campfire and looked around for more threats.

 

It didn't take much longer for Ichimatsu to get rid of the other shadow hand as well. After he was done, he came back to the campfire's light, breathing heavily due to the sudden danger. Ichimatsu studied Jyushimatsu’s expression. Thankfully, he seemed startled but otherwise okay. Then he turned to look at the second oldest, who still hadn't managed to get back to his feet as he was staring intensely to the darkness around them. Ichimatsu walked closer to him and he met Karamatsu's wide eyes as he crouched down in front of him. Ichimatsu was startled as well, but he tried to look as calm and bored as he could. "Meet the shadow hands," he said simply to Karamatsu. The second oldest met his eyes, his mouth gaping open but no more than random sounds came out.

 

Jyushimatsu let himself relax a bit when the hands were gone, but he was quick to cast an even more suspicious gaze to the hairy shadow crawling nearby.

 

In the lean-to Todomatsu had been trying to calm down and relax after the scary evening, but then the loud, horrified screams made him to jump back up from under the elephant-creature's huge skin and he looked at Choromatsu and Osomatsu with wide, scared eyes. "What's happening?!" he asked in a high-pitched voice even if he knew that they wouldn't know any better.


Todomatsu didn't get a reply as both Osomatsu and Choromatsu ran outside to see what was going on, leaving only irritated Catcoon behind with the youngest.


Todomatsu let out a pitiful whimper as his brothers dashed out without a word, but he too scrambled out of the lean-to as fast as he could. He followed the others to the fire, his eyes darting from side to side, looking for what was the cause of the distress and what caught his eyes was obviously shaken Karamatsu.


"What?! What is it?! Where’s the attacker?!" Osomatsu yelled as he ran to the campfire with an axe in his hands.

Choromatsu was right after the oldest. He looked around for the cause of the panic, but when he didn't find it he gave a questioning stare to the three brothers that had been outside.

 

"It- it's- I- a- a-" Karamatsu was stammering as he glanced at the brothers coming from the lean-to before he pointed to the darkness with his shaking finger, still unable to collect himself.

Ichimatsu looked at Karamatsu with half lidded eyes. "Shut up, Shittymatsu. You're useless," he said coldly and somewhere deep within himself felt bad because of his harsh words. Karamatsu was only scared, but to Ichimatsu's defence, it had been a long and rough day. "Shadow hands," he said as an explanation to the others and gave a meaningful look to Choromatsu.

Todomatsu let out a pitiful whimper and swiftly walked next to the oldest and wrapped his arms around his arm and clung onto it for protection. "Shadow hands?" he repeated, swallowing.

"It's okay now, we got rid of them with Jyushimatsu. Karamatsu saw them and screamed," Ichimatsu said and glanced at the said brother, who was now working hard to make his breathing steady again. Ichimatsu took a deep breath, grabbed Karamatsu by arm and pulled him to his feet. "See? It's fine!" he snapped, letting out his own stress on the second oldest. "You just chase them away with fire. Scary but easy."

Karamatsu looked at Ichimatsu and nodded weakly. "Ah, I- I see. Forgive me my moment of weakness, dear brother," he said and gave a wavering smile. "It- they scared me," he said and hugged himself as an attempt of trying to comfort himself.

Ichimatsu looked at him and sighed again. The events of the day were taking their toll on him. He was exhausted. Ichimatsu put a hand on Karamatsu's shoulder and turned him lightly towards the lean-to. "It's okay. Just go to sleep," he mumbled.

 

"Well that explains everything," Choromatsu thought. He walked closer, took Karamatsu by the hand and gently tugged him towards the lean-to. The second oldest let him lead him and went back to the lean-to, but not before taking one last glance at the shadows around them.

Totty looked after them, then turned back to look at the others. "Are you sure it's okay now," he asked.

Ichimatsu nodded. "And if they come back, we know what to do," he answered.

Todomatsu frowned worriedly. "Okay then," he said a little unsure and turned to go back to the lean-to. Now that most of the adrenaline was gone, he walked much more carefully, holding a hand on his side. Osomatsu lowered his axe as he relaxed and went to help Todomatsu on his way to the lean-to. The youngest’s wound was throbbing lightly, reminding him that it was there. Totty cast a grateful look on Osomatsu and slipped quietly back inside.

When the others had returned inside, Ichimatsu turned to look at the second youngest. "Are you okay?" he asked quietly.


Jyushimatsu nodded slightly and sat down next to the fire. "Niisan..." he started.

 

Ichimatsu frowned, worry flooding his mind again. He followed his brother and sat down next to him and took his hand into his own. "Yes, Jyushimatsu?" he asked squeezing the hand reassuringly.

 

Jyushimatsu sighed. He was exhausted. “I don’t like the many eyes staring at us from the darkness.” he said quietly, fear present in his voice.

 

The older frowned. There wasn’t any eyes that he could see. However, it was probably like those eyes that he had seen after the full moon. “Don’t worry about those. Even if they looks threatening, they shouldn’t do anything,” he said. No need to say that they weren’t real because actually Ichimatsu wasn’t sure about that.

 

Jyushimatsu sifted closer to the third youngest and rest his head against the other’s shoulder. He stayed like that and looked into the fire. "What if I fall asleep and that shadow creature eats me?" he asked after a moment of silence.

 

Ichimatsu wrapped his arm around his brother. He hated that something made him feel like that. He would destroy everyone and everything that would dare to make Jyushimatsu stop smiling.

"Don't worry," Ichimatsu said soothingly. "I'll make sure that nothing eats you. If something tries to, I'll kick their asses and slaughter them. Then I'll feed their remains to the hounds before burning the hounds alive," he said, trying to brighten the atmosphere in his own weird, dark way. But it didn't mean any less that he wouldn't do what he was promising.

 

Jyushimatsu moved even closer to his brother and let himself relax a bit. His brother’s presence made him feel safer. Jyushimatsu let out another sigh. He really hoped that tomorrow would be a better day.

 

Ichimatsu looked at his brother and hoped that he would fall asleep soon. Hopefully the mushroom wouldn't affect him tomorrow anymore and he would feel better. Ichimatsu would watch over Jyushimatsu and keep him close and safe. The third youngest was prepared to stay awake the whole night.

Chapter Text

Ichimatsu woke up with a jolt, flinging himself to sat up. He looked to his side and saw how Jyushimatsu was sleeping calmly next to him under the big skin in the lean-to, which made him relax a bit. For one terrible moment Ichimatsu had thought that he had fallen asleep while guarding his brother's sleep at the campfire. Later in the night Jyushimatsu had finally managed to fall asleep and Ichimatsu wouldn't let him sleep outside on the snow. That's why he had woken Osomatsu up and ordered him to keep watch as he had carried Jyushimatsu carefully to the lean-to and obviously stayed there with him. While someone else was taking care of the fire and keeping watch, Ichimatsu decided that few hours of sleep might be good for him too. From the way his head was aching he knew that he hadn't slept a lot.

Quietly, Ichimatsu looked around and saw that Choromatsu was missing. Dim light was coming to the lean-to from the cracks between the skins hanging in front of the opening, telling that it was early morning and sun was about to rise.

Clumsily, Ichimatsu crawled out from under the skin, took the cloak that he had used as a pillow, then exited the lean-to. When he had more room, he wrapped the primitive cloth around himself and stuffed his hands into his pockets, from where he took out his mittens, putting them on. Then he walked close to the campfire, where Choromatsu was, and sat down there.

 

Choromatsu was petting Catcoon, who was curled on his lap, and staring into the fire ahead of him, when Ichimatsu came. "Morning," the third brother greeted. "I was thinking that we could try to eat some more of the bone marrow today." Catcoon let out a happy purr as she saw the familiar man coming closer.

 

Ichimatsu only grunted as a reply. He just didn't have any energy. From the corner of his eye he spotted Catcoon, who looked at him curiously.

The fourth brother stood up again, walked right next to Choromatsu and took Catcoon away from him into his own lap. Then he took a few steps further and sat down again, holding Catcoon closely and petting her. He was feeling edgier than he had in the past few days and he hoped that petting the cute fur ball would calm his nerves. Catcoon shifted to a better position on the man's lap and purred in satisfaction.

Choromatsu smiled a little as he watched the fourth oldest walk further away with Catcoon. " It's good to see that the others like Catcoon like I do. "

After a short moment Osomatsu stepped out of the lean-to. "I'm hungry," he mumbled as he sat down next to Choromatsu.

"If you help me, we could start making the food already," Choromatsu suggested.

Osomatsu's features brightened as he heard this. "Okay," he said and went to the food container.

 

Todomatsu was the next one to come out of the lean-to. He took a few careful steps at first to see how his side would feel, but when he decided it was okay, he started walking a little more carefree.

" God, it feels good to be outside. Even if it's freezing. I've been inside for so long, " Totty thought as he stretched his stiff muscles and started to walk idly around the lean-to. He didn't get far before he froze in disgusted horror.

He let out a startled yelp. In front of him stood an obscene piece of junk, made from planks and stale meat. Totty stared at it, his mouth hanging open in disgust. "What the fuck is that?!!" he screamed. His urge to vomit was powerful, but his need to destroy and burn the abomination was stronger.

 

"Oh, you mean that," Osomatsu said as he came next to Todomatsu. "I made it during my trance. I wish that I could make something like it on my own, but I'm not that talented," he continued with a wide smile. “Even sacrificed my hair for it.”

 

Totty looked at Osomatsu in dismay. "You gotta be kidding me. Why- why would you-?!" Totty said, trying to understand, why would anyone do anything like that in any state? "Fuck, it's ugly," he blurted. He grimaced and shook his head, not wanting to see the deformed human statue any longer. "Whatever. I'll destroy it now," Todomatsu said and turned around to go get a burning stick from the fire.

 

Osomatsu's smile fell and his eyes widened a little when Totty said that. For some reason he felt very uneasy about getting rid of his meat statue. He grabbed the youngest by his wrist to stop him. "No, you don't," he stated.

 

Todomatsu eyed the oldest like he had lost his mind. "I definitely will! It's hideous! I'm not going to watch it stand and rot there every day!" he said and tried to yank his arm free.

 

Osomatsu tightened his hold around Totty's arm. "Oh, come on. Even if I don't remember any of it, I still used a whole day working on it. My hair hasn't even recovered from it yet," he said defensively.

 

Totty looked at him uncertainly. "Would you really want to look at-" he waved his hand towards the thing, "that?!" he asked. "Are you proud of your work?! I would kill myself if I had done something like that!"

 

"It's ugly, I give you that. But it's still an accomplishment," Osomatsu said. "I mean, try to make something uglier that represents yourself," he continued and a grin made its way to his features.

 

Totty glanced at the thing and then again at Osomatsu. "It represents you?" he asked, disbelievingly raising his eyebrow. "I would never, ever, do that and I would kill anyone if they dared to claim that something like that would represent me!" He pulled his arm free and crossed his arms annoyedly. "But fine! Keep your dirty thing for the winter. But when the snow starts to melt and the meat will actually start to rot, I will burn it," he said strongly and looked at the oldest challengingly.

 

As the threat was gone Osomatsu relaxed again and got his playfulness back. "Okay. We'll see then. But thanks for sparing my artwork," he said teasingly.

 

Totty rolled his eyes. He was actually surprised that Osomatsu would make the effort of protecting something like that so headstrongly, but then again that was the eldest if he decided something. "Idiot," Totty muttered and fought back a smile. "I spare it, for now. Maybe I'll change my mind tomorrow," he said and finally let himself to smile slyly before he walked to the campfire.

 

Osomatsu watched after the youngest before he turned to his creation. It gave him a strange feeling. It wasn't negative, but he couldn't tell how he felt or what it meant, but he knew that he didn't want anything happen to the statue. "I guess I just kind of like it and don't want it destroyed. It's probably nothing, so I'll just try not to think about it," he thought as he walked after Totty.

 

A little later, Karamatsu came outside. After he had fallen asleep, he had slept like a rock. "Morning," he greeted his brothers as he walked to the campfire.

Ichimatsu gave him a look as he continued to pet Catcoon. "Slept well?"

Karamatsu scratched his neck. "Ah, yes actually. I could have taken a watch turn as well, but I must say that I feel good after sleeping well." He had a short pause. "I, uh, I'm sorry about the freak out I had last night," he said sheepishly.

Ichimatsu just shrugged. "There would be something wrong with you if you wouldn't freak out when seeing them for the first time," he said with his monotone voice. The shadow hands were undeniably creepy.

 

The sun had risen and the brothers would soon have their meal prepared from the bone marrow. That's when Jyushimatsu stepped out of the lean-to and took a moment to adjust to the brightness around him.

 

Immediately Ichimatsu stood up, putting Catcoon to the ground as he walked up to Jyushimatsu. The others at the campfire went quiet as well as they carefully followed the situation. "Hey," Ichimatsu said. "How are you feeling?" he asked from the second youngest.

 

Jyushimatsu finally got used to the light. He turned to his brother and smiled at him, not as strongly as normally, but it was still a smile. "The world still somewhat shakes and I hear buzzing, but I'm much better than yesterday," he explained and looked around him. "No sign of any of those shadow monsters either," he thought in relief.

 

Ichimatsu felt a weight lift from his shoulders although he was still worried. He smiled to his brother warmly. "Good. We’ll have food soon. Do you think you can eat normally?" Ichimatsu asked. Jyushimatsu really looked much better and at least he wasn't dying. Thank god whatever poison it was that the mushrooms had wasn’t lethal at least not with that amount.

 

"I think so," Jyushimatsu replied and was about to go to the others.

 

"Jyushimatsu, wait a minute," Ichimatsu said and grabbed him by the arm. "Listen," he started and took a deep breath, pulling the second youngest closer to him as he took both of his hands into his owns. He looked Jyushimatsu in the eyes caringly but seriously. "Promise me you won't eat mushrooms you don't know ever again."

 

At first Jyushimatsu seemed confused, but then he looked away from Ichimatsu in shame. He felt bad for acting so stupidly and worrying his brothers. Jyushimatsu turned back to Ichimatsu. "I promise," he said seriously. "There is no way I would touch those green mushrooms again. I never want to feel like that again."

 

"Good," Ichimatsu said. "If you want to eat something you haven't tried before, ask somebody first about it." Ichimatsu let go of his other hand and pulled the other. "Come on. Let's go to the others. I know they worry too," he said and started leading Jyushimatsu with him.

When the two of them came closer, Karamatsu stood up. "Brother. Are you feeling better?" he asked and the others listened closely.

 

"Much better," Jyushimatsu said and smiled.

"That's a relief," Choromatsu said and Osomatsu let out a relaxed sigh.

 

"That's great!" Karamatsu said, smiling kindly. Then he turned towards the youngest. "Totty, how are you? Are you sure you can walk now?"

Todomatsu had relaxed a little after seeing that Jyushimatsu was doing better. It really was a relief. When his name was called, he turned to face Karamatsu. "I guess so," he said and frowned a little. "I mean, I've stayed inside for so long even if I probably could have tried to move earlier, but you know I'm always over cautious. I'm worried the wound will open, but I don't think it actually will. It looks better than it actually should after a week." Todomatsu placed his arm on top of the place where the wound were. "It kind of stings and throbs, but it doesn't really hurt, so I guess it's fine as long as I take it easy," he said and smiled a little unsure.

Karamatsu felt even more relieved. "Thank god! Maybe things would turn better now. I'm so happy to hear that, dear Todomatsu. Be careful and remember not to strain yourself."

Ichimatsu looked angrily at Karamatsu. "Don't say that! Have you forgotten all the shit that happened the last time we thought things were looking better?!" Ichimatsu snapped, thinking about the last time they were attacked by the hounds.

Karamatsu looked a little taken aback. "Ah, of course not! I just-" he started but didn't finish as he just shook his head and changed the subject. "Anyway, I have mittens for everyone now," he said and tossed a pair for Jyushimatsu and Totty. "Next I'll see if I can do fur hats."

 

---

 

Some time went on. The brothers had eaten and were now doing their own things around their camp. Osomatsu and Choromatsu had chopped down a few trees and moved them to their camp and were now cutting them into firewood. Jyushimatsu was playing in the snow. His brothers wanted him to take it easy for now so he could recover from the mushroom better. Karamatsu was working with skins again and Todomatsu was sitting close by, crafting another new knife. Ichimatsu stayed close to Jyushimatsu and followed his playing.

Ichimatsu had been stressed lately. Yesterday had been bad, the winter was tough and the moon was growing. While his mind was elsewhere with his hands he was making snowballs as staying completely still was hard. At some point Ichimatsu looked at the snowball in his hand. Casually, he turned to look at the others and without a word he threw it to Karamatsu, who yelped in surprise.

"What?!" the second brother asked in surprise, turning his head around frantically until he spotted Ichimatsu looking at him expressionlessly. "Brother? That's not nice!" he said in a high voice as he rubbed the back of his head. Totty snickered next to him. Osomatsu was cracking up while Choromatsu only glanced at the pair, rolled his eyes and returned to his work.

Slowly, a dark and content smile spread on Ichimatsu's face before he turned back to the second youngest, sighing happily. Teasing Karamatsu was always worth a try if he needed to relieve some stress.


Jyushimatsu had followed the scene in front of him. He looked at Ichimatsu, who was close to him, then at the pile of snow that he had gathered in his arms. Jyushimatsu's smile widened and his eyes glimmered mischievously as the he threw all of the snow at Ichimatsu.

After seeing this Osomatsu glanced at Choromatsu, who had turned his back to all of this and actually tried to work. Snickering, Osomatsu put down his axe and sneaked closer to the third oldest. The oldest took a fist full of snow and jammed all of it under clueless Choromatsu's collar.

Choromatsu let out a high pitched cry when cold snow suddenly met his bare skin and he hastily shook the snow off of him. "Osomatsu, you devil!" he yelled as he turned around only to see the oldest running further away while laughing loudly. Choromatsu was pissed off and he threw a snowball and curses after fleeing Osomatsu.

 

Todomatsu had been chuckling before, but as the oldest started tormenting Choromatsu, he didn't try to hold back anymore and he started laughing loud and unrestrained. This was the best fun he could possibly think of having in a place like this. His brothers teasing each other was always amusing.

 

Ichimatsu shrieked as the snow was thrown on him and he got to his feet surprised. He stared wide eyed at the smiling second youngest and his surprised look turned into betrayed one before he seemed to process what kind of game this one was going to be. Then a dark grin took over his features and he lunged himself on top of the younger brother, pushing him over.

Jyushimatsu yelped when he was pushed to the ground, but giggled as he started to wrestle with Ichimatsu and made them both roll in the snow.

Meanwhile at the other side of the camp, Choromatsu and Osomatsu had a full on war. Snowballs were flying and when one of them was hit the other would get a ball thrown at him twice as hard. Osomatsu was laughing like crazy and Choromatsu couldn't hold back a smile anymore. This was what they all needed.

 

Even Ichimatsu couldn't hold back his laughs as he rolled on the ground with Jyushimatsu. It felt so good. Ichimatsu wiggled out of his grip and stood up, panting, before he turned to look around. Osomatsu and Choromatsu were fighting fiercely against each other and Ichimatsu saw that Karamatsu was still trying to do his things even if he was chuckling and shaking his head from time to time as he watched the others fight.

Ichimatsu glanced at Jyushimatsu to make sure that there wasn't any attack coming towards him, at least not right away, before he walked behind Karamatsu, gathered his hands full of snow and he grabbed him from behind pushing all the snow to his face. Karamatsu screamed and tried to fight Ichimatsu off, who just laughed and pushed the older face front to the snowy ground.

"Ichimatsu!" Karamatsu shouted high-pitched. The fourth brother only snorted and started throwing snowballs at him. Karamatsu shrieked and tried to shield himself, but after a while he started to return to the fire, throwing snowballs at Ichimatsu, which made him fight even more intensively. Jyushimatsu laughed happily and clapped his hands as Ichimatsu tormented the second oldest.

Todomatsu watched them from aside and laughed spitefully, holding his side with his hand as he laughed so much. He also made a snowball and threw it to Karamatsu, who winced surprised.

"Todomatsu!" Karamatsu shouted and made a dramatic hurt look as he turned to look at him with wide disbelieving eyes. Todomatsu only chuckled and smiled guiltily. He didn't throw more snowballs as he wanted to stay out of the fight.

Osomatsu had used all of the good snow around him and was forced to back down by Choromatsu. Luckily for him, Choromatsu rather enjoyed his victory than ran after him. The third oldest eyed his surroundings, trying to calm his breath.

Osomatsu halted after he had ran to a safe distance. Even after losing the battle, he was smiling. He hadn't had this much fun in three weeks. Osomatsu's gaze fell upon Totty, who was the only one who hadn't had his part of the war yet. Osomatsu chuckled as he made a big snowball and threw it at the youngest.

 

The snowball landed on Todomatsu's shoulder and he let out a high-pitched yelp, making Karamatsu and Ichimatsu to stop for a second to glance at him before they continued their fight, seeing he was fine. Totty spotted the smug oldest and he pouted, trying to make himself look as pitiful and vulnerable as he could. "Osomatsu-niisan!" he started his whining. "That hurts! Stop it. You know that I'm still recovering! It's not fun!" he shouted in a whiny voice, looked at Osomatsu with glimmering eyes and his lower lip quivered.

 

"Quit whining about it, Totty!" Osomatsu yelled as he threw more snow at him.

Totty's yelp had caught also Choromatsu's attention. At first he had been alarmed, but then he had realised that Totty was only playing the victim. He let out a surprised yelp as a snowball hit his back. When he turned around, he saw snickering Jyushimatsu looking at him with more snowballs in his hands. Choromatsu made a new snowball and prepared to fight.

 

Totty howled and wailed as more snow was thrown on him. "Stop! Stop!" he shouted and tried to clean his face off the snow. When realized that his act was not working on Osomatsu, he moved onto the next strategy.

"Ichimatsu-niisan! Jyushimatsu-niisan! Save me! Please, help!" Totty screamed.

Ichimatsu turned to look at the wailing youngest. " He really is playing the victim the best he can. But Osomatsu is certainly not going easy on him. Totty looks pitiful, " Ichimatsu thought, sneering to himself. " Might as well help him. "

Ichimatsu left Karamatsu to look after him as he ran to the youngest's aid. Without hesitating, he kneeled down next to Todomatsu imposing himself to the fired snowballs and swiftly scooped him up to his arms. Todomatsu yelped in surprise, but quickly flung his arms around Ichimatsu's shoulders as Ichimatsu started running away, taking them behind the lean-to. 

 

"Jyushimatsu!" Ichimatsu called his brother. Jyushimatsu dodged Choromatsu's attack and ran to Ichimatsu to covered him from the oldest.

Osomatsu smiled as he got a new opponent. Jyushimatsu would be a tough one to beat.

When Ichimatsu had gotten Totty to safety, Jyushimatsu threw his last ball at Osomatsu and retreated after the two of them.

 

Ichimatsu lowered Todomatsu to his feet. The youngest looked at Ichimatsu and Jyushimatsu, smiling gratefully, but there was also a playful hint there.

Ichimatsu gave him a grin back before he looked at Jyushimatsu. "Well done, Jyushimatsu. Let's fortify here. Totty, make snowballs. Jyushimatsu, defend us," Ichimatsu said as he climbed on top of the lean-to's roof, grabbing snow to his hand on his way and started to make a snowball. He threw it towards Osomatsu and duck to hide behind the roof again.

Todomatsu chuckled as he started making new snowballs. This was so much fun and with their fort they would be sure to win.

Jyushimatsu took snowballs, peeked from behind the lean-to and threw them at the three oldests, before taking cover behind the lean-to again.


Karamatsu followed wide eyed as Ichimatsu and Jyushimatsu saved Todomatsu. He glanced around warily in case Osomatsu or Choromatsu would attack him, but then his eyes darted to the top of the lean-to, where Ichimatsu threw a snowball at the oldest. Karamatsu chuckled before he threw a snowball back towards the third youngest.

 

Osomatsu tried to cover himself with his hands, but the multiple attacks coming from different directions were too much for him to stand his ground, so he backed away to where Karamatsu were. Choromatsu realized the new situation and moved to the two oldests.

It was on. They were fighting fiercely the older ones against the younger ones, everybody giving their share to the game. As the war went on, it became clear that the older ones couldn't beat the younger ones as they were working seamlessly together and they had the best fort while the others needed to take cover behind trees and wherever they could.

 

This annoyed Osomatsu, who hadn't gotten a good hit at any of the youngest in a seemingly long time. A thought came to his mind and an evil smile spread to his features. He made two huge snowballs and, without any warning, hit them to Karamatsu and Choromatsu's necks and ran away to avoid any soon to come attacks. He crouched behind a big tree further away and laughed spitefully.

Choromatsu yelled, caught off guard. "You fucking oldest!" he yelled angrily after laughing Osomatsu.

 

Karamatsu shrieked in surprise. "Brother?!" he shouted disbelievingly as he saw that the attacker had been Osomatsu. It only took few moments before he had recovered and started a fierce attack towards the oldest, throwing snowballs as quickly as he could. "Osomatsu!" he yelled spitefully, but gave a few laughs. "You traitor!"

Ichimatsu watched in mild interest how Osomatsu turned against his teammates and he smiled darkly. His team was working much better than the other. It was amusing to Ichimatsu, especially as he followed how their opponents fell into chaos.

 

Choromatsu was about to join Karamatsu, but then he smiled spitefully. "Karamatsu, wait. I have an idea."

 

Karamatsu stopped and looked at Choromatsu, confused. "Alright..." he said a little warily.

 

"Hey, you three!" Choromatsu called as he turned towards the lean-to.

Jyushimatsu peeked warily from behind the lean-to, before stepping into the sight of Choromatsu and Karamatsu. "What do you want?" he asked and stood proudly next to their fort.

"I have a proposition for you," Choromatsu told.

This caused Jyushimatsu to cast a questioning look to his teammates. Todomatsu blinked confused a few times, before turning up his nose. He didn't trust his brothers in things like this. Ichimatsu was still on top of the lean-to. He narrowed his eyes, but nodded curtly to Jyushimatsu.

 

Osomatsu was confused when snowballs didn't fly his way anymore. He decided to take the risk of getting hit and peeked from behind the three. "What's going on? Why aren't they fighting?" he thought as he noticed what his brothers were doing.

Jyushimatsu turned back to the pair in front of the lean-to. "Proceed!" he yelled to the third oldest.

Choromatsu's smile widened at this. "Let us join our forces and kill Osomatsu."

"Whaaat?!" Osomatsu yelled as he heard this.

 

Karamatsu's eyes widened in surprise and he walked a few steps closer to Choromatsu while waiting in anticipation for the answer. A depraved smile tugged the corners of his mouth in a way that would make everyone see that he was just as bad as his brothers. " Brother! You're a genius!! "

Todomatsu's mouth opened in surprise, but he didn't stop to think about it before he got back to his feet as fast as he could. "Hell yeah!" he shouted and gather his hands full of snowballs. "Now that's the spirit!"

Quickly, Ichimatsu stood up and watched the three oldests from the rooftop where he stood, looming over them. "Accepted," he yelled, smiling darkly, even sadistically, before he jumped down, landing in front of the lean-to almost in the superhero pose. He lifted his gaze to the oldest and grinned even wider, toothy grin, as he scooped snow to his hands, making a huge snowball.

Karamatsu's heart hammered in excitement. They were going to destroy Osomatsu! "Choromatsu. You're so clever!" he praised, before turning to the oldest. "Too bad, Osomatsu!" he said maliciously. "This is what traitors get!"

 

Jyushimatsu laughed loudly as he dashed from behind the lean-to and looked at Osomatsu. His smile seemed way too innocent to this situation.

"Perfect! I knew they would accept," Choromatsu thought victoriously and turned to face the oldest.

Osomatsu paled when everyone of his brothers turned against him and were now eyeing him like predators prowling their prey. "Not fair!" he shouted and ran to the forest at full speed.

 

"Hey! Wait, you shitty oldest!" Totty shouted and started walking after him before groaning in annoyance. He didn't dare to take the risk and try running. "Come back here, you coward!"

Ichimatsu dashed after the oldest. "Jyushimatsu!" he shouted and briefly met his eyes. Hopefully he would understand what he meant. The two of them should try to get in front of Osomatsu while the others would attack from behind him. They could surround him. Ichimatsu grinned madly and chuckled to himself as he continued his running.

Jyushimatsu got Ichimatsu's idea and was more than happy to join him. His manic laughter echoed in the forest as he ran forward.


Karamatsu threw few more snowballs towards the oldest, but missed. He laughed out loud as he started running after him and kneeled to scoop more snow. "Osomatsu!" he shouted threateningly. Choromatsu laughed as he made snowballs in his hands while running after the oldest.

"If I'm caught, I'm as good as dead," Osomatsu thought as he kept running. Cold sweat started to flow down his back as he heard Jyushimatsu's laughter and Ichimatsu's chuckling somewhere near him as well as the other three's shouts from behind him. "Oh god!" he shouted and pushed himself to run faster.

 

Karamatsu was running after Osomatsu, making and throwing snowballs every now and then. He grinned widely as the fourth and fifth brother were nearing their victim.

Totty had fallen behind of the others. He was still at the area right outside their camp while the others had ran far away with Osomatsu's desperate attempt to escape. Todomatsu couldn't really do anything but watch the hunt from afar and complain. "Come on! This is not fair! I wanna be part of Osomatsu's beating too!" he shouted, still holding his hands full of snowballs.

 

Ichimatsu's chuckling only got louder as they neared Osomatsu. Swiftly he got more snow and made a hard snowball, which he threw to the oldest's face. "Jyushimatsu, catch him!" he screamed, urging the second youngest to run faster.

 

Osomatsu yelped as the snowball hit his face. However, he didn't have time to whine about it as Jyushimatsu had ran right next to him. "Oh, fuck!" Osomatsu yelled as Jyushimatsu leaped onto his back.

To Choromatsu Osomatsu's yell was the sign that they would succeed. He shared a meaningful gaze with Karamatsu and hurried his steps.

Osomatsu couldn't run with Jyushimatsu on his back, so he tried desperately shook him off, but to no avail. Jyushimatsu only laughed more and tried to get a better hold of the wiggling oldest.

 

"Nice, Jyushimatsu!" Ichimatsu shouted as he too jumped on top of Osomatsu and started to scoop snow to the oldest’s face with both hands while chuckling sadistically.

Karamatsu laughed as he reached the three brothers. "Good job, my brothers!" Karamatsu said, walked next to Osomatsu and towered over his head. He smiled evilly down to him and singsonged: "Got you now~~!"

Todomatsu followed from further away how his brothers started beating Osomatsu with snow. He stamped his foot annoyed. "Unfair! I want to be part of that too!" he shouted.

 

"Jyushimatsu, help me to get these snowballs under his shirt," Choromatsu said with an evil smile, referring to the multiple snowballs he had made on the way. The second youngest laughed louder as he stretched Osomatsu's collar and watched how Choromatsu stuffed the snowballs in.

"Ahhhh! It's cold! Stop! Stop it! No no no no! Aghhh! Not under the shirt!" Osomatsu kept shouting and tried to fight back, but it was nearly impossible against his four brothers.

Jyushimatsu turned to look back at the youngest, who was shouting in annoyance. "Totty's shouting," he said to the others.

 

Karamatsu shifted his focus on the youngest and then turned to look back at Osomatsu. "What do you say, brothers, we let Totty have his part of the fun?" he asked, grinning.

Ichimatsu grinned darkly back to him. "I think it's only fair," he said and took a firm hold of Osomatsu's arm.

 

"What?!" Osomatsu shouted and tried to fight back.

"Agreed!" Jyushimatsu yelled and took hold of Osomatsu's leg

"Don't squirm so much," Choromatsu said as he took Osomatsu's other arm.

 

Karamatsu only laughed as he caught Osomatsu's other leg and together they started carrying frantically squirming oldest back to the camp.

"Just give up. You can't save yourself," Ichimatsu muttered to Osomatsu.


"Totty!" Karamatsu shouted. "We're bringing you a gift!"

Totty's eyes widened in surprise as his brothers started to drag Osomatsu towards him. "Oh my god, really? I'm so happy!" he shouted back and smiled his cute cat-like smile.

 

"Oh no. I can smell the upcoming revenge," Osomatsu thought when he saw the youngest. "Hey Totty, you wouldn't want to bully your niisan, would you?" Osomatsu tried to get himself out of trouble.

 

Todomatsu walked up to the oldest, smiling brightly. He was carrying the snowballs still in his arms. "Sorry, niisan. Everyone gets what they ask for," he said and threw a snowball hard to the oldest's face. He laughed wickedly before he started stuffing snowballs into Osomatsu's pants while the other brothers chuckled and laughed spitefully.

 

---

 

"Shit, it's cold," Osomatsu said to himself while smiling as he reached his hands towards the campfire’s warmth. After his brothers had finally let him go and he had dug all the snow away from under his clothes, he couldn't keep himself from laughing. His brothers had given him and his clothes a throughout wash. His clothes were damp from all the melted snow.

 

Karamatsu sat down at the other side of the fire. He was smiling a happy, almost dreamy smile. He looked at Osomatsu and chuckled. "Don't you want to make yourself believe even just for a moment that we are somewhere else." It was a statement more than a question. "That was maybe the most normal thing in weeks." He sighed and looked at Osomatsu, but then frowned a little. "Are you okay? You're wet. What if you catch a cold? Oh no. That would be too bad. Please don't. Maybe we went too far," Karamatsu ranted on, getting more worried and his frown deepened.

 

Osomatsu frowned when Karamatsu's mind wandered to darker thoughts. He walked next to Karamatsu and placed his hand to the other's shoulder. "I'll be fine. Besides, that was the most fun we have had in this world," the oldest said with a smile.

 

Karamatsu smiled lopsidedly before he pushed Osomatsu lightly on the shoulder. "It really was. But I don't know if you should think so," he said, chuckling in amusement. "Maybe you'll one day learn your lesson."

"Don't count on it," Osomatsu said and chuckled a little. The oldest would take a beating like that any day if it left smiles on his brothers' faces.


Ichimatsu walked then to the campfire and slumped down to warm up his hands. "Can we eat again already?" he asked, glancing at the two oldests. "Beating your asses made me hungry."

Chapter Text

Ichimatsu exited the lean-to tiredly. He hadn't been sleeping well during that or the previous night and the circles under his eyes were darkening alarmingly fast day after day. He shivered in the cold air and pulled his clothes tighter around himself as he walked to the campfire slowly. Two of the brothers were already there, Todomatsu, who had been in the last watch, and Choromatsu. They were quiet, both minding their own business.

Ichimatsu greeted them in his tired, monotone voice as he reached them and got mumbles for answers. For a while he just stood there unsure of what to do.

"Choromatsu," he finally said, sounding irritated even if he was actually just nervous. "Come check the supplies with me," he said and it turned out to sound almost like an order. He didn't stay to wait for an answer as he hurriedly turned around and started to walk where they hold most of their stuff.

 

At first the third oldest was confused, but he followed after Ichimatsu anyways. Then he got a suspicion of what this might be about. Choromatsu couldn't fully hide his concern as he walked next to the other.

 

Ichimatsu was biting the inside of his cheek as the two of them walked. He needed to say something about all the thighs concerning him, but he realized that he had absolutely no idea how to do that. How could he? He was a pathetic piece of garbage.

The fourth brother stopped when they were in front of the place where their thighs were lying on the ground. They really should built some storage or something for them. Swallowing, Ichimatsu turned to face Choromatsu, who looked back at him in concern. It made Ichimatsu's stomach tie into knots and he quickly averted his eyes from him. He felt more and more uncomfortable and nervous and his breathing got faster. However, he was good at keeping up his bored mask and anyone, who wouldn't know him better, most likely wouldn't be able to see through it. His brothers on the other hand were harder to fool.

"I..." he started, his mouth staying open as he struggled in his mind, trying to figure out what to say or how to make himself speak. Ichimatsu let his eyes roam around, looking anywhere else but at Choromatsu. "I... I think we need more food," he ended.

 

Ichimatsu clenched his teeth. He wanted to kick himself for sounding so stupid. Choromatsu was more clever than that. " Idiot! " Ichimatsu shouted to himself in his mind. Why would he drag the other here only to say that. Choromatsu wouldn't buy it. Ichimatsu was also mad at himself because he was too much of a coward to talk to people. Even if he so much wanted to keep everything inside of himself he couldn't afford to do that any longer. Not when he might put his brothers at risk by doing that. He needed help.

 

Choromatsu noticed how nervous the other was. "Yes, we need more," he agreed even though he knew that it wasn't the reason for Ichimatsu's behaviour. " Maybe it would be easier to him if I'm not watching him, " the third oldest thought and turned to look away from Ichimatsu.

 

Ichimatsu clenched his fingers into fists and bit his teeth harder, looking away. " Impossible! It's not going to work. We should just go back! " he thought. He glanced at Choromatsu, who was looking away now. "Y-yeah. That's all," Ichimatsu said in low voice and started to drag his feet back to the campfire.

 

Choromatsu bit his lip but didn't argue. He knew that he couldn't force Ichimatsu to speak up. Hesitantly, he started to walk back to the campfire.

 

The two of them hadn't taken more than a few steps before Ichimatsu abruptly grabbed Choromatsu by his fur cloak and stopped walking, making the other to stop too. Simultaneously he spoke in louder voice than before: "Wait!" Ichimatsu looked at Choromatsu with wider eyes than usual and he was basically radiating nervousness.

 

Choromatsu hesitated for a moment before he decided to give it a try. "This is about the moon, isn't it." he said considerately and turned to face his brother.

 

Ichimatsu visibly flinched and he stared back at Choromatsu, opening and closing his mouth a few times before he lowered his head, hiding his face, and nodded. He took a shaky breath. "Yes," Ichimatsu confessed and hardened his grip on Choromatsu's clothes. "I don't know what to do," he said quietly.

 

It hurt Choromatsu to see his brother like this. "Last time Werecat met the rest of us and it remembered me and Jyushimatsu from the first time," he said hopefully.

 

Ichimatsu didn't look up to Choromatsu as he answered with a louder voice. He sounded as if he was getting angry, but in fact he was feeling lost and didn't know what to do. "That doesn't mean anything. It's a beast." He met Choromatsu's eyes. " I am a beast! A monster," he said and let go of the other and hugged himself, averting his eyes again. Ichimatsu took a deep breath. "The risk is too high. If I hurt any of you..." he trailed off.

 

There was a short silence while Choromatsu thought of a way to handle this. "You’re not a monster," he finally said. "You yourself said that you’re not Werecat. You’re our brother and we need you. Nothing will ever change that," he firmly continued.

 

Ichimatsu looked at Choromatsu, the hurt in his eyes. He had said that and he knew Choromatsu meant what he said. Ichimatsu shook his head and masked his face with a bored expression again. "Whatever. It's not like anyone could do anything about it anyway," he said, turned away and started walking back to the campfire. He knew Choromatsu wanted to help him, but he couldn't. No one could. Ichimatsu pulled out his mask from his hoodie's pocket and put it over his mouth and nose, subconsciously trying to hide himself and shut away the world.

 

Choromatsu's frown deepened as he followed after Ichimatsu.

While the two had been talking, Jyushimatsu had gotten up and was making an impressive amount of noise as he played with Catcoon. Karamatsu was sitting next to the fire as Ichimatsu came closer. "Ah, morning brother," Karamatsu greeted, but quickly frowned after seeing his face and feeling the gloomy aura. "Is everything alright?" he asked.

"Peachy," the fourth brother hissed through his teeth and kicked snow. "I'll go see the traps in a minute," he said and went to see Jyushimatsu before that.

Karamatsu watched him go, then he turned to face Choromatsu, who was walking towards him. Karamatsu raised an eyebrow to him, silently asking about Ichimatsu. Choromatsu gave a meaningful look in return to the second oldest.

Before the two could engage in a conversation, Osomatsu returned from the river with a refilled water container. "Morning," he greeted, lowering the container to the ground. "Achoo!" the oldest sneezed loudly and wiped his nose to his sleeve.

 

Todomatsu just snickered at the oldest, but Karamatsu's eyes widened and he jumped up to his feet. "I knew it! You're getting sick! Oh no no no, not in here. Go back to the lean-to and stay there," he said, firmly pointing there with his finger.

"Karamatsu is right," Choromatsu agreed, eyeing the oldest.

"Nah. It's just a little cold," the oldest said in a carefree manner.


Ichimatsu came back then, visibly trying to keep distance between himself and Choromatsu as well as avoiding to look anywhere near him. "Why the hell are you being so loud Shittymatsu?! Anyway, I'm going to the traps now," he said and started walking, not wanting anyone to stop him.

 

Osomatsu's eyes lit up. "Hey, wait up Ichimatsu! I'm coming too!" he yelled, hastily fetched his axe and ran after the other.

 

Ichimatsu eyed the oldest, surprised. "Running away from mom's orders to go to bed?" he asked, a little amused. Osomatsu's company was something he could deal with.

 

"Worse. Karamatsu and Choromatsu's care," the oldest said, smirking.

 

Ichimatsu grinned back and chuckled. "Me too."

 

Osomatsu chuckled more at that. "Hey look! Someone has been busy." He snickered and pointed ahead of them. They could see multiple green mushrooms, all smashed into nasty goo.

 

Ichimatsu snorted. "Good. Maybe he learned his lesson. I swear to god if he does something like that again, I'll just die of a heart attack." He wasn't joking.

 

"I think he won’t touch the green ones again at least," Osomatsu replied.

 

---

 

Karamatsu watched as the two of his brothers disappeared into the forest. He frowned worriedly and turned to look at Choromatsu. "How stupid is he? He can't get a fever or something worse." Karamatsu rubbed his eyes tiredly. "Anyway, is something up with Ichimatsu or is he just in a bad mood?" Honestly it was surprising how much Ichimatsu seemed to push himself to work and stay active and not just dwell in his own depression.

 

Choromatsu turned his gaze to the forest where the fourth brother had disappeared. "Full moon is coming up," he said grimly.

 

Karamatsu's eyes shot wide open. "Oh," was the first thing he could say. "Already?!" he shrieked.

 

"Like everything in this world, moon cycle goes remarkably faster than back home," Choromatsu said as he went back to the fire and picked up his bow.

 

Karamatsu followed him. "When is it? How’s Ichimatsu handling it? If I just knew, I would have tried to talk to him. Do you think I should talk to him when he comes back? Or would it only make it worse? But we have to talk about it before the full moon. Has he talked to you? Is he okay?" Karamatsu bombarded his brother with questions. He felt bad that he hadn't knew that full moon was so close. It must have been rough for the fourth brother.

 

"In two days." No wonder Ichimatsu was a nervous wreck. "He approached me earlier, but he was quick to raise his walls again. If we make a big fuss about it, he might not talk at all," Choromatsu said with a sigh.

 

" Two days, " Karamatsu thought and bit his lip. "Shit," he muttered. "You're right, we should try to give him space. Besides, it might all just turn out fine again. Werecat hasn't hurt any of us. But of course we need to decide what we'll do the day after tomorrow... Well, at least he trusts you enough to talk about it with you, which is quite impressive. Thank you, Choromatsu. I hope he will talk to you again soon," Karamatsu said and smiled sadly to his younger brother.

 

A faint smile appeared to Choromatsu's features when Karamatsu praised him. "You know... Now that I think about it, I'm glad that Osomatsu went with him," he said after a short pause.

 

Karamatsu nodded. "Me too. It's not good to go alone and Osomatsu might actually cheer him up," he said. Then he turned to look at the second youngest still playing in the snow. "Okay then. I'll talk to you later more about our feline problem." Karamatsu said to Choromatsu before leaving. He walked towards Jyushimatsu, calling him. "Hey, Jyushimatsu!"

 

Jyushimatsu spun around to face his brother. "Hi, Karamatsu-niisan!" he greeted before he continued to pet Catcoon in his arms.

 

Karamatsu smiled and kneeled down next to him. "Are you feeling better today? Still dizzy?" he asked.

 

"Not really," the fifth brother replied with a smile. "Hey, Karamatsu-niisan, do you want to play with me and Catcoon?" Jyushimatsu asked hopefully.

 

"Well that's good," Karamatsu answered before his smile got wider. "Of course I want to play with you!" He laughed a little and scratched Catcoon under her chin. "But maybe not snowball fighting today."

 

"I doubt Catcoon would like that," Jyushimatsu laughed. "But she likes to run after snowballs. Look!" The second youngest made a small snowball and threw it. As soon as it was in the air Catcoon ran after it and bounced to the spot where it had landed.

 

"Hahah! Looks like it," Karamatsu said, made a snowball and threw it. Catcoon jumped after it and he laughed some more. "Do you wanna catch them too? Little bit like in baseball, right?" Karamatsu asked, smiling brightly.

 

Jyushimatsu's eyes sparkled. He hadn't had time for his baseball practice since they had more important things to do. He jumped further away from Karamatsu and waited for his brother to do his move.

 

Karamatsu made another snowball and stood up. He moved his hand back and then threw the ball for Jyushimatsu to catch.

 

The second youngest giggled when he managed to catch the ball. His long sleeves were a little troublesome, but not enough to stop him for playing catch. Jyushimatsu smiled as he threw the ball back at Karamatsu.

 

Karamatsu caught it and they continued playing like that for a while until the snowball hit Karamatsu's face. He laughed and wiped his face clear. "Hahah! More snow to my face! That's what I needed," he said sarcastically, joking. "Do you have your bat somewhere? Would you like to hit a few home runs?"

 

Jyushimatsu brightened and nodded wildly before fetching his bat.

 

---

 

Todomatsu came back from the lean-to where he had went to pick up some of his crafting stuff. He was making more knives. He wanted to make a lot of them. Totty went to the campfire and sat down next to Choromatsu. The youngest sat there silently for awhile, staring into nothing before letting out a content sigh. "It feels so good to move again. I don't know how you survived when you were alone sometime?" Todomatsu said, looking at the third oldest. "Is your leg now completely healed, by the way?"

 

"I was fighting against time and losing. I would have died rather sooner than later if Ichi and Jyushi hadn't heard me," Choromatsu replied. Not wanting to remember those miserable times, he was happy that Totty continued the conversation. "Yes, it has. I haven't had any trouble and yesterday's running proves that it's fine now," he said, smiling slightly. "How’s your side?" Choromatsu asked curiously, while fidgeting with his bow. He really didn't have anything to improve with it anymore, but he was adding a few finishing touches.

 

Todomatsu smiled a little sadly and apologetically that he had brought up some grim memories before his smile turned kinder one and he inched closer to his brother. "I'm glad to hear that!" he said and was soon snuggled up next to Choromatsu, huddling for warmth. Okay, maybe he was also having a moment and seeking for some affection, but if anybody asked, it was only for the warmth. "It's better," Todomatsu answered and let his hand unconscious brush over the wounds. "I'm still wary and I can feel it there, you know. I still wouldn't dare to run, but walking and normal moving seems easy enough. It's not going to tear open - I really hope not! But I think I'll avoid heavy work like chopping trees for a while longer," he smirked at Choromatsu.

 

"That's good," Choromatsu said and leant closer to the youngest. "How long do you think this winter will last?" he asked after a moment of silence.

 

Todomatsu looked up to the sky. "I don't know. It started so suddenly, so maybe it will end suddenly as well. Normally it’d take a long time since it just started, but here..." he said and shrugged, "I have no idea. I only wish not for long." Todomatsu played with the necklace he had made from teeth and bone pieces. "Do you think something triggers the hounds to attack us? Could we predict it?" he asked, wondering about the matter.

 

"I don't know and I hope that we won’t face them enough times to know why they come for us. At least they won’t attack silently," Choromatsu said quietly.

 

"Thank god no!" Todomatsu agreed. "Though, I wish that if we face them again, I would be able to do something. I've been pretty much useless so far," he said, smiling sadly. "I need to become stronger!" He glanced at the new blade that he was sharpening. "I guess that's why I'm mass producing knives," he said, chuckling halfheartedly.

 

Choromatsu let out a little chuckle. "I haven't been any better. But this could help me fight back," he said and motioned to the bow in his hands.

 

"Let me see that," Totty said and snatched the bow from Choromatsu. He inspected it closely, turning it around in his hands. "It looks surprisingly good. If it actually works, it could be a lot of help," he said before smiling playfully to the other. "But you do realize you need some muscle to be able to hunt with this?"

 

"I know that. Besides you need muscle for everything in here. You should worry about your own muscles, not mine," Choromatsu answered, sticking out his tongue and snatched the bow back to himself. "I have practiced quite much and I almost caught a bird," he told the youngest.

 

Totty sighed. "Yeah... I'm not meant for this," he mumbled to answer his brother’s comment. "People I can play and manipulate, but it's not helping here." He looked at Choromatsu, now smiling again. "Great. You'll catch one soon. I think you're the one most likely of us to learn how to use that. After me of course," Totty said and stuck out his tongue. He didn't really care for learning something new. He was good at throwing, so he’d focus on that and polish his skills.

 

"Thanks." The compliment brought a smile to Choromatsu's face.

 

---

 

Ichimatsu and Osomatsu had gone through all the traps except for the one closest to the spider nest. They had found nothing. Nothing at all and it was cold. Ichimatsu was feeling almost gloomier than before even if the oldest's company was okay. He’d talk about stupid things that could take Ichimatsu's thoughts away from the moon for short moments.

The two of them reached the part of the forest where it got darker and thicker. The last trap would be behind few bushes.

 

Their poor hunting luck was affecting Osomatsu's mood as well. However, he had noticed Ichimatsu's unusually dark aura and the oldest pushed his worries aside and tried to improve the other's mood even a little.

"After you," Osomatsu said playfully and moved the branches out of Ichimatsu's way.

 

The third youngest rolled his eyes and walked along. Now he saw the trap and that it had been triggered. Ichimatsu walked next to it and poked it with his axe. Not any sounds came out, but it felt like there was something inside.

Ichimatsu turned to look at Osomatsu. "I think we got something here," he said.

 

"Maybe this trip wasn't a waste after all," the oldest spoke as he came next to Ichimatsu. He lightly kicked the trap, just hard enough that it should cause a reaction from the trapped creature. However, the trap stayed quiet. "It's probably dead," he continued.

 

Ichimatsu looked tired as he pushed Osomatsu out of the way before he carefully with one swift move flipped the trap away, revealing what was underneath. On the snowy ground laid one of those monster spiders, laying on its side, unmoving.

Instinctively Ichimatsu backed away a few steps when seeing the scary creature before realizing that it didn't attack. He stared at it for few seconds before he answered to the oldest’s earlier comment: "Looks like it."

 

"Do you have a knife? We could take the useful parts and leave the rest here," Osomatsu asked. Of course, he had his axe, but it was more suitable for rough jobs.

 

Ichimatsu turned to look at him with half lidded eyes. "No," he simply answered, before glancing back at the dead creature. If they were to use an axe, it was likely that they would just destroy the parts they wanted as well. Ichimatsu sighed and kneeled down while making his hands turn into cat paws. He showed his sharp claws and said: "I can get them. Do you know where they are or can you recognise them?" he asked from Osomatsu.

 

Osomatsu nodded. "There was that gland and spinneret. They should be somewhere around its lower back side, I think." That was his best guess anyway.

 

Ichimatsu nodded and started slicing the spider with his claws. After sometime he and Osomatsu had figured out what it was that they needed and they were done. Ichimatsu grimaced and tried his best to wipe away the nasty purple blood and entrail mash from his paws. It wasn't that easy with fur, so he turned his hands back to normal and was able to clean them for the most part with snow.

The fourth brother took the organs he had cut out and he stood up. He looked at the dissected corpse. "That looks tasty," he said sarcastically with monotone voice.

 

"I wont judge if you have a taste," Osomatsu giggled, trying to cheer up his brother.

 

Ichimatsu looked at his brother, raising his eyebrow lazily. He looked at the nasty organs and the purple blood that was again staining his hands. He moved the two organs into his other hand and turned to look at the oldest expressionlessly as he lifted his free hand and calmly licked a drop of the blood while keeping the intensive eye contact. Ichimatsu just hadn’t been able to resist the urge to try it just to see Osomatsu's reaction.

Osomatsu watched in pure disbelief at Ichimatsu. He hadn't thought that the other might actually do it. " Is... is it edible? Is it good even? " he frantically thought.

The fourth brother tasted the pungent and foul taste of the spiders blood spreading in his mouth. Ichimatsu wanted to gag. However, he kept staring his brother quietly for a moment longer before he suddenly coughed, sticking his tongue out and yelled: "Fuck! Tastes like shit!"


Before the oldest could make an effort to taste himself, Ichimatsu started to cough. Osomatsu couldn't hold back his laughter at the others reaction. "Was it really that bad?" he asked, laughing.

 

Ichimatsu grimaced and made weird faces as he opened and closed his mouth, trying to get the disgusting taste away. "Horrible," he coughed and looked at the oldest, offering his bloody hand towards him. "Would you like a taste?" he asked and a small grin tugged the corner of his mouth upwards.

 

Osomatsu's laugh died down and he shook his head lightly. "I don't think I should," he said, but it was clear that curiosity was killing him.

 

Ichimatsu shrugged and tried to wipe his hand clean with snow again. "You'll have other chances." He glanced at the slaughtered spider. "We don't need anything else, right?" he asked.

 

"Nah. Unless you want to eat the rest of it," Osomatsu playfully said before he turned around and sneezed.

 

Ichimatsu snorted. "I'll pass," he mumbled and turned to look towards their camp. "Let's go back."

 

"Yeah, let's go. My fingers are getting numb," Osomatsu said.

 

---

 

Choromatsu let out a sigh. He would really want to continue his chattering with Todomatsu and keep fidgeting with his bow, but eventually they needed to return to work. "I should do something actually useful. Should we cook soon?" he asked.

 

Todomatsu lifted his head up from his crafting to the older brother. He had really enjoyed talking with him. "Do we have anything to cook?" he asked. Then he looked away, biting his lip. "We should catch something soon or..." Totty didn't finish the sentence.

 

"We still have some of that bone marrow," Choromatsu replied with a slight frown. "If the winter doesn't end soon, there might be nothing left for us to hunt."

 

Todomatsu scrunched his nose, but then sighed. "Yeah... We should cook that," he said and stood up, his hand instinctively wandering to his injured side. "Don't worry, I can do it. I'm tired of crafting anyway." He went to go fetch bone marrow and a bowl where to cook it.

 

"Okay." The third oldest looked around their camp, looking for something to do. " I guess more fire wood wouldn’t hurt. " But before he could get into action, he heard a noise in front of him.

A bird had landed next to Osomatsu's meat statue. " Might as well try, " Choromatsu thought and lifted his bow. He took a wooden arrow with a sharp bone tip, took his aim and shot. The bird let out a dying screech as the arrow pierced through it.

Choromatsu looked at his dead prey with wide eyes. "I... I did it?" he asked in disbelief.

 

Todomatsu came back with the marrow and he stared at the dead bird, his mouth hanging open as he turned his stare to the third oldest. "You can't be serious!" he shrieked, bewildered. Then his mouth turned up into an amazed smile. "You did it!!" As quick as he could, Totty dashed to his brother's side, warping his free hand around his shoulders while holding the bowl of marrow in the other. He was excited. For once he could actually feel happy for his brother's success. Even small thing like that could bring a glimpse of hope."Choromatsu-niisan, you're amazing!!"

 

"I can't believe it! It actually worked!" Choromatsu cheered. All of his hard work was finally paying off. He ran to get the bird and turned to Todomatsu. "This is great!" he yelled with a wide smile.

Totty looked at the bird. There was hardly enough meat to fill up even one of their stomachs, but it was still something. "That's so cool, niisan!" he praised.


"Hey! Why are you so happy?" Jyushimatsu asked. Him and Karamatsu's playing had been interrupted by their brothers' happy shouts.


Karamatsu eyed the other brothers curiously and walked closer. He truly enjoyed hearing them being in high spirits. "It fills my heart with joy to hear you so happy, but please brothers, let me share this happiness with you," he said. Then he saw the bird pierced by the arrow and his mouth opened wide. His eyes glimmered excitedly as he dashed next to Choromatsu and Todomatsu. "Oh brother!! Did you catch this?!"

 

Choromatsu nodded with a happy smile.

"You caught the bird! You are amazing, Choromatsu-niisan!" Jyushimatsu shouted as he jumped around the others.

 

"Wow, brother!!" Karamatsu shouted and patted the third oldest on the back. "You have such a talent! And you worked so hard. I'm really proud of you, Choromatsu! Before you know, you'll be hunting all of our food," Karamatsu said.

"Eeh?" Totty sounded. "Karamatsu-niisan, you should know you'll probably make Choromatsu-niisan anxious if you talk like that. He'll feel like you're expecting that."

Karamatsu's eyes widened a little. "Ah, no, I didn't mean that! Choromatsu, just do your best and I'll be proud of you," he said, smiling.

 

"Thanks, Karamatsu," Choromatsu thanked the second oldest.

 

---

 

Ichimatsu arrived back to the camp with Osomatsu. He was still gloomy, but at least the oldest hadn't asked any stupid questions. When they arrived, they saw that everyone else was gathered around the campfire and seemed to be cheerier than they should. Ichimatsu clicked his tongue. "Oi! What are you doing?" he asked them as they walked closer.

 

"Making bird and bone marrow soup," Jyushimatsu told them. Next to him Todomatsu was smiling brighter than he had after Osomatsu’s snow bath and Karamatsu was wearing a smile that was close to his usual cool ones that had been seen less often lately.

Ichimatsu raised his eyebrow lazily. "Bird? How did you get bird?" he asked.

 

"I shot it," Choromatsu told the two.

"What? You managed that? That's pretty amazing." Osomatsu grinned.

 

Even Ichimatsu looked surprised. "Really?" he asked and smiled a tiny smile. "Good."

The youngest was looking at the two arrivers with slightly narrowed eyes. "How were the traps? You found something apparently, but it doesn't look like anything good," he said, eyeing the purple blooded organs that Ichimatsu were carrying, suspiciously.

 

"We only found a spider carcass," Osomatsu told with a sigh. "It's useful, but we need food more."

 

Todomatsu grimaced. "How nice," he muttered.

Ichimatsu looked at the youngest expressionlessly. "I can wash my hands in your mouth," he said and started walking towards him threateningly. Todomatsu yelped and hid behind Jyushimatsu.

"Brothers, brothers," Karamatsu said. "Could we just enjoy our well deserved dinner? Quit the bickering and appreciate what Choromatsu has accomplished."

Ichimatsu glared at the second oldest and threw the organs at him. Karamatsu barely managed to catch them. Then the fourth brother went to wash his hands without another word.

 

Osomatsu didn't wait for a second request and sat down between Choromatsu and Todomatsu. He was very hungry. He barely managed to turn around in time to avoid sneezing to their food.

Choromatsu send a worried look after the fourth oldest. Sadly there was nothing they could do to the moon.