Missing Scene for "Circle of life"
(This occurs in between the conclusion of the fight between Dar and Ketzwayo’s three minions, and the tag when Dar and Tao are returning to their permanent camp at the waterfall. Some dialogue is taken from the episode)
Dar bent over, gasping for breath in the stifling heat of the burning forest. His heart pounded with the exertion and adrenaline of the fight. He warily eyed the prone bodies of Ketzwayo’s warriors. All of them lay face-down in the dirt--none moved.
He looked up and his eyes locked with Ketzwayo’s. The little demon’s face blanched with panic and he turned, fleeing farther into the burning forest. Movement caught Dar’s eye and he looked over to see Tao bending over to pick up a club. He straightened and the look on his face froze Dar’s blood. The Eiron stumbled forward a few steps.
He was going after Ketzwayo.
"Tao! No!" Dar commanded.
His friend looked at him, his eyes wild. One arm curled protectively around his side. "He’s getting away!"
"No," Dar said again, starting toward him. "He won’t."
Tao dropped the club. He leaned against a tree, then--as if his legs would no longer support him--he slid down to sit at its base. His eyes closed.
"Tao?" Dar knelt by his side. "Let’s get out of here where we can breathe...Tao?"
His friend’s eyes didn’t open. Suddenly alarmed, Dar shook him gently--and Tao crumpled forward into his arms.
Dar desperately searched for the pulse in Tao’s throat, sighing with relief when he felt the fast, thready beat. He studied his friend with anxious eyes. Tao’s face was pale and great drops of sweat stood out on his forehead. Dar remembered how hard Tao had been slammed into the ground by Ketzwayo’s long-haired henchman. In his mind’s eye he could see Tao staggering to his feet, his left hand clutching his right arm. Dar probed the arm carefully. The skin was hot and swollen to his touch, already coloring with angry bruises, but he could find no breaks. He ran his hands over Tao’s chest and ribcage. Bone grated underneath his searching fingers.
Tao stiffened, his breath catching in his throat. His eyelashes fluttered as he opened his eyes to look blearily up at Dar. "Hurts," he protested weakly. "Stop it."
"I know," Dar answered soothingly. "You have a couple of broken ribs. Just lie still. I need to bind them."
Tao’s eyes flickered around, then widened in remembrance. "Ketzwayo!" he whispered, trying to rise. Dar held him down.
"He’s gone, Tao. Just relax. You’re hurt."
The sound of a groan reached the Beastmaster’s ears and he turned quickly, seeing one of his erstwhile foes was stirring. ‘We need to be gone before they wake up,’ he thought. Turning back to Tao, he noticed with dismay his friend’s eyes were again closed. "Tao?"
The hazel eyes opened slowly. "I’m here." Tao coughed. "It’s getting hard to breathe..." His hand clawed at his chest.
Dar nodded. The heat and the smoke seemed more dense suddenly and his own eyes and throat stung. Making a sudden decision, he slipped one arm under Tao’s back and the other behind his knees, lifting him easily. Tao stiffened.
"I can walk," he protested.
"Not without falling," Dar teased gently. "But we need to get out of here. It’s not a good idea for you to jostle those ribs. Just relax, okay?"
Tao hesitated, a faint flush tingeing his pale cheeks; then he nodded and hooked his good arm around Dar’s neck. Smiling reassuringly, the Beastmaster carried his friend away from the smoke and the flames of the burning forest.
*** *** ***
"I really don’t like this place."
It was the first thing Tao had said since Dar had lifted him.
"We’ll be out soon," Dar assured him, coughing a little. His muscles screamed with the strain. Tao was heavier than he would have thought possible and the heat, the smoke and the aftereffects of his fight with Ketzwayo’s men, were all taking a toll of his energy reserves.
"I can walk, you know," Tao pointed out again.
Dar didn’t answer. The rancid smoke tore at his lungs and his chest strained with the effort of not coughing. The wounds inflicted by Ruh burned like fire as cold sweat mixed with the dirt on his body.
Slowly, almost imperceptibly at first, air grew cooler and cleaner, easier to breathe. Late afternoon sunshine sparkled on fresh green growth as they left the fires and the smoke, the death and the destruction of the Burning Forest behind them.
When the smoke was only left as an acrid stench in Dar’s memory, he started looking for a place to make camp. He finally selected a mossy clearing with a crystal-clear spring running through it. He lowered Tao to the soft moss and then collapsed next to him, breathing deeply, feeling the pure air flush the smoke from his lungs, his strained muscles relaxing gratefully.
After several minutes he rolled over and studied Tao carefully. His friend was still pale under his soot-stained skin and had his teeth buried in his lower lip. His eyes were closed.
Remembering Tao’s injuries, Dar pulled himself to his knees and put a hand on Tao’s shoulder. "Tao? Are you all right?"
To his immense relief, the dark eyes opened immediately. Tao managed a wan smile. "I think I feel better than you look," he said faintly. "Your shoulder is bleeding again." He acted as if he were going to sit up. "I can make a poultice--"
"Don’t move!" Dar commanded. Tao hesitated briefly, then relaxed back onto the moss. Dar went on, more gently, "My shoulder can wait. We need to bind your ribs. I should have done it before I tried to move you."
"We weren’t exactly in a good position for medical treatment," Tao pointed out.
He gestured to the satchel over his shoulder. Somehow, in spite of everything, he’d managed to hang on to that and the water flask. "I have some old cloth in here."
‘Of course he does.’ Dar had long since given up trying to figure out what all Tao carried around in that satchel, and where had he gotten half of the contents. He almost regarded it as a magical thing--anything they needed, be it herbs or soothing lotion, flint-rock or cloth for bandaging--Tao could produce it from his bag.
He found the cloth and helped Tao remove his tunic. The Eiron’s side was a mass of colorful bruises in vivid red and purple and black. "Does it hurt when you breathe?" Dar asked, concerned, as he tore the cloth into strips.
"Honestly? It hurts all the time," Tao answered, smiling wanly. "I’m trying not to breathe--ow!"
"Sorry," Dar apologized. "It has to be right, you know."
Tao simply nodded. He held very still until Dar was finished, then carefully leaned back against a boulder. His face was, if anything, even more pale. Dar eyed him, worried, then decided the best thing to do was build a fire. He said as much as he got to his feet.
Tao nodded again, his eyes still closed. "Oddly enough--given how hot it was back there--I’m getting cold."
"The sun is sinking behind the mountains. We’ll stay here overnight--head back to the plateau in the morning."
While he was gathering firewood, Dar managed to pick several pieces of fruit. It wasn’t much of a meal but he was too exhausted to look for more. Tao barely touched his share. He did drink the willow-bark tea Dar forced on him, complaining about the bitter taste and insisting the Beastmaster drink some as well. He wanted to care for Dar’s shoulder but after he tried to raise his arm and gasped in pained surprise, he weakly acquiesced to the other’s insistence that he lay down and rest. He was asleep before it was full dark.
In spite of his exhaustion, Dar himself couldn’t sleep. So much had happened since he had risen that dawn. His mind whirled with sensations, memories.
The still body of the dead tiger. Curupira’s face as she ordered him to find out what was happening. The carnage at the waterhole. Sharak, then the ferrets not responding when he tried to communicate with them. The rage burning inside him as he’d turned on Tao; the hurt and even fear in his friend’s face. The feeling of betrayal and abandonment as Ruh had turned on him and the realization that he done the same to Tao.
The fear churning inside as Curupira ordered Tao to accompany her--fear spawned by the certainty that the capricious demon would wreak revenge for her Beastmaster’s failure by harming or killing his best friend.
Tao moaned in his sleep and Dar rose quickly, going to his friend’s side and kneeling beside him. He laid the back of his hand on Tao’s forehead. Broken ribs could often bring on a fever and he was worried as well that he’d moved the other man without first binding and stabilizing the ribs. But Tao wasn’t coughing, which was a good sign, and his skin felt only slightly warmer than usual. He shifted restlessly and opened his eyes. "Dar?" he asked sleepily. "What’s wrong?"
"Nothing," Dar soothed. "Go back to sleep."
Tao frowned. "You’re not sleeping," he pointed out. "Is your shoulder bothering you?"
The concern in his voice warmed Dar. "My shoulder is fine," he smiled.
"I was just thinking. Remembering." Dar couldn’t meet Tao’s gaze. "About this morning, when I --"
"Dar." Tao’s voice was very soft, but firm. "It’s over. You couldn’t help that. Don’t keep thinking about it. Besides...you *saved* my life. Again!"
"And you saved my sanity," Dar returned simply. "I mean it, Tao...if it hadn’t been for your...understanding....our friendship...I would have lost myself just as the animals were--"
"Dar. You’re *not* an animal. The madness effected you, yes--because you are part of the animals as they are part of you. But in the end, your humanity saved you."
Dar shook his head. "You did it," he insisted.
"Then we’re even. Until the next time I get myself in a mess." Tao grinned. "Now, please...try to get some sleep?" He closed his eyes and added drowsily, "I am..."
Dar sat still long after Tao’s deep, even breathing told him his friend was sleeping restfully. Even after he curled up on the other side of the fire, it was a long time before he could close his eyes.
Tao was stiff and sore the next morning but insistent that he could walk on his own. He did, too, but slowly. The sun was directly overhead by the time they were on the last leg of the path leading into the Sanctuary.
The ferrets ran out in front of Dar, chattering a welcome. Dar stooped to pick up Kodo, sensing the reassurance of the ferret’s thoughts in his mind. Sharak soared overhead, sending his visions to Dar.
And, when the finally approached the cave, Ruh was there. Dar looked at the tiger, feeling their minds connect with the kinship he’d known for so long and missed so badly once it was removed. He stroked the tiger’s head, rejoicing in their renewed bond.
Tao dropped heavily to the ground. Dar knew his injuries were taking a toll; he knew also that Tao would rest better since they were home.
"I never want to go back to that Burning Forest place again," Tao announced heavily.
Surprised, Dar studied him, seeing the remnants of fear still in his eyes. He couldn’t help but smile. "Tao," he said sincerely, "that place is reserved for really bad people....and I somehow doubt *you* will *ever* end up there."