Nicholas Siphonaptera gestured for his younger siblings to come in closer. The five of them - two more boys and three sisters - sat body to body in a semicircle on the ground, their eyes fixed on their elder brother.
He tried to calm his heart and look at ease. If Nicholas was certain of anything, it was the need to instill confidence in his siblings. The worst scenario would be for fear to dominate their hearts and paralyze them, leading to their destruction. Their own parents had lost their lives when panic overtook them. Nicholas himself had barely escaped with his life.
I don't have much time, either. He knew neither he nor his siblings would survive very long without their food source. They had a trek to make, and they needed to get going much sooner than he'd like. He had to prepare them, and do so quickly.
"Okay, guys, I think we should review what our parents taught us. Who can tell me one of The Three Rules?"
All of his siblings raised their limbs, and Nicholas couldn't help but smile. His mother had taught them the rules before she died. She'd used a little trick to help them remember - each rule began with one of the letters from a word that was central to their lives.
Nick gestured toward Oliver, the middle brother. He lifted his head and spoke calmly and clearly, like a student reciting a lesson.
"'O' is for 'out of sight, out of danger.'" Oliver glanced toward Nick. Seeing the approval on his older brother's face, he cleared his throat and continued. "That means we need to stay hidden. Right, Nick?"
"That's right, Oliver. Staying out of sight is a big way to keep ourselves protected." Nick winked at his brother. "You picked the 'O' rule because your name starts with 'O,' didn't you."
Oliver smiled sheepishly and nodded.
"Okay, that's one. Who can tell me another?" Nick scanned the limbs waving wildly, finally deciding on Ginger, the middle sister.
"'G' is for 'gravitate toward others.'" She smiled confidently.
"What does that mean?"
Ginger blushed crimson. "Um, I don't remember."
"It's okay, sis. I'll bet Margaret knows." The oldest sister nodded.
"It means we need avoid being alone." Margaret's tone was serious. "That way we can look after each other, and help one another."
Nick nodded. "Just one more, guys. David, do you remember the first one?"
The youngest boy smiled. "'D' is for 'distance yourself from the mist.'" As soon as he said it, his smile changed into a grimace.
"I know what it means, too." The whole group nodded.
"I'm scared, Nick." Sarah, the youngest, bowed her head slightly. Nick came closer and rubbed her back.
"I know, sis. We all are. But we can die from starvation here, or take a chance and head in. If we stay, we'll die for sure. But if we go in, we could have all the food we need and a wonderful life. Sure, we may die there too, but think of what we will gain if we survive. And besides, we have The Three Rules, and each other."
Nick opened his front limbs wide. His brothers and sisters gathered in his embrace. Kissing each on the head in turn, he brought a smile and a touch of confidence to every one of them.
Stepping back, he smiled. "So, are we ready?"
The entire brood nodded and fell in line behind him.
"Okay then. Here we go."
The Siphonapteras marched watchfully up the hairy leg of Fido, looking for the perfect spot to sink their teeth into.
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