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 Story: "Howl for Shade" 13,399, Season of New Green

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Westering Holt
Holt Mistress


Posts : 131
Join date : 2011-06-15

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PostSubject: Story: "Howl for Shade" 13,399, Season of New Green   Thu Jun 16, 2011 1:15 pm

Howl for Shade
13,399: Season of New Green

Sunsong was singing. Of course. As always.

She’d wandered away from the forest’s edge, searching out new plants to know, new seeds to try. There were so many wonderful things in this new holt of theirs that she’d never encountered before. A glorious blend of the familiar and the strange. She’d become so fascinated with the plant-life she sensed all around her that she’d ceased paying attention to anything else. The tree line faded behind her as Shade carried her further onto the grass plains.

Overhead, the stars pricked through the black velvet of the sky like distant fireflies caught out of time. The moons were full, spilling silver light gently over the rolling grasslands. With a laugh of pure delight, the scent of prairie flowers surrounding her, Sunsong rolled off of Shade’s back and spread her arms wide. She twirled around, wrapping the gossamer threads of light and scent around her. With another laugh, she began dancing to the music of her own birdsong. Shade heaved a sigh and eased her body down into the grass.

The old wolf’s senses were truly age-dulled, or she’d have smelled the dusty-cold scent of rattler. She’d have heard the warning shake of its tail. She would never had lain still, calm and placid, so the venomous beast could strike.

The snake didn’t live long past that bite, but the harm was done. The poison was already coursing through the old wolf’s system and she was feeling the effects by the time Sunsong realized something was wrong. The elf hurried to her wolf-friend’s side, reaching her just as the paralysis of the venom overcame Shade and she collapsed to the ground, helpless.

“Shade! Oh, Shade!” Sunsong fell to her knees, pulling the she-wolf’s dark grey head into her lap. “Oh, my dear one - !” Frantically she searched the wolf for wounds, but the puncture wounds were hidden by the dense fur. Only when she spotted the dead snake did Sunsong guess the problem. “Oh, no,” she whispered, tears trembling on her lashes before breaking through to slide down her cheeks.

*Mist! Oh, Mist, please, hear me! I need you!* Sunsong’s sending was desperate, strengthened by fear and grief. Faintly, oh so faintly!, she heard a response. She latched on as tight as she could.

*Sunsong? Cub, where are you?* The healer’s sending was a golden mist, a warming blanket soothing her fear.

*Oh, Mist! She’s dying! It’s a rattler bite. Please! You must heal her!*

*Where are you, Sunsong? I’ll come right now!*

*The grass plains. I – I cannot see the forest’s edge. I wasn’t paying attention as we rode – there are just so many plants! The night is so lovely! Oh, please, hurry, Mist!* Sunsong brushed trembling fingers through Shade’s ruff and her tears fell on the wolf’s muzzle. Shade managed a faint whine in response.

Mist’s answer was long in coming. *Oh, child. You are too far. Shade will have long passed by the time I reach you. Rattler venom moves quickly through our wolves. If I were there when it happened, I could save her. But…*

Sunsong’s shoulders slumped, and she bent over, burying her face against her beloved friend’s shoulder. She drew a deep breath, drawing the scent of Shade deep into her lungs, impressing it forever upon her memory. She knew what she had to do.

*Stay at the holt, Mist,* she sent sadly. *Stay. I will do what must be done.*

*It is too far, cub. We will come for you.*

*No,* Sunsong sent firmly. *No. I … want to be alone.*

Mist sent no words, but she could feel the complex weaving of concern and understanding, fear and acceptance that he sent to her. He would not come. He would keep Stormfire from coming – for a time. They had not lock-sent. Any who wanted to listen knew the situation.

Sunsong drew her knife, hesitating briefly. But then Shade began shaking and she knew the unfeeling paralysis would very quickly become excruciating pain. There was only one thing she could do to spare her dear friend that, and it was to hasten death for her.

*High Ones, keep her spirit well. She has been…a good friend!* Sunsong cast her please to the open air, the spirits of her ancestors – and of Shade’s own ancestors. Closing her eyes and lifting her face to the moons, Sunsong sang a mournful howl as the sharp bladed ending the pain that Shade had just barely begun feeling.

As the rich copper-scent of blood filled the air, Sunsong’s throat closed and her howl weakened and wavered. No breath moved through Shade now. Her body’s heat began to cool and there was no gentle vibration of a heartbeat.

Her wolf-friend was gone.

*Who’s spirit? Who passes from flesh this night? Who are you?*

The sending swept through her, not so much words as concepts and images, intent and emotion. Sunsong gasped as she swirled within the patterns of thought both alien and familiar. A textured tapestry of meaning and personality enfolded her, and her grief briefly overshadowed by wonder of the rich complexity of the mind touching hers. It swirled her around, no more than a leaf on a storm wind, and Sunsong thrilled in the wild flight. It explored her, knew her, and very nearly found her soul name.

*No. That you may not take, for it is mine alone to give.* The touch hesitated, gentled. Sunsong’s loss slammed into her once more and she gasped for breath. *I am Sunsong. Who are you? Where are you?*

*You are a child! What has passed, Sunsong, that causes you such grief?*

Sunsong bowed once more over Shade’s body, and her loss stabbed through her like a spear. And guilt… She knew Shade was old, and she should have taken more care of her friend. She should have seen the rattler. She should have paid more attention, and not wandered so far from home. Without thought, she maintained the light contact with the stranger and lost herself in her memories and her mourning.

Shade had been such a sweet puppy! So eager and bold, and showing signs of dominance early. In her prime she had ruled as alpha female and born several litters before age began to slow her and another female challenged and won her place as alpha. But always she had been steadfast friend. Always willing to give her company to her silly, thoughtless, noisy elf-friend. Sunsong pulled the memory of the warmth of their bond around herself, feeling it almost as tangibly as the wolf’s pelt beneath her cheek.

She remembered Shade’s first step towards her. The silent call of the wolf-bond that drew her from her tree den, across the holt glen, to the wolf-den. The stumbling, bumbling progress of a creature that was mostly a bundle of fluffy fur.

She remembered the yearling’s leggy awkwardness, heading out on her first hunt.

She remembered the young female’s sure, supply power and grace as she established her place within the pack.

She remembered the stripetail that doused a too-curious nose in stink scent that took forever to fade.

She remembered a mother wolf, nudging a newborn pup to nurse.

And, far more recent, she remembered the steady, patient companion on the long, long trek to find a new holt.

She howled again, singing to the moons the spirit of her wolf-friend, honoring the faithful life that had stayed by her side. She know feel no life within the shell beside her; it was now meat to be fed to the scavengers of the world, to continue the cycle of life.

*It’s a wolf!*

Her wolf-song had covered the soft sound of someone’s approach, but the sending could be heard through any noise, being in her head and not her ears. The wind shifted and the distinctive base scent of elf, but an elf unknown to her, and another unfamiliar scent – one distinctly that of prey – came to her. She turned, although her vision was blind with her tears, and barely made out a tall – very tall! – elfin male and an animal the like of which she’d never seen before.

“My friend. My dear wolf-friend, my Shade,” Sunsong whispered, then picked up the knife that was still darkened with Shade’s blood.

The tall elf drew a sharp breath, then reached down and wrested the knife from her grasp. “You killed her?”

Sunsong silently pointed to the dead body of the rattler. “I could not let her suffer, but I never should have brought her here. It’s too far; we could not have gotten back to the holt by sunrise.” Sunsong bent over her wolf’s body again, laying her forehead against the broad skull. “My dear one, my patient one – you were to go in your sleep after seasons where I could care for you. You were to be with the pack, to feed them and nourish them one last time, as is the Way.”

She reached out and reclaimed her knife. She would take Shade’s pelt home. Evenstar would prepare the hide for her, she knew, and the dearly familiar coat would not be wasted when the scavengers came. She ignored the tall elf and blocked out her memories as she set to work. He didn’t speak; he watched. When she was done, she turned away from shell that had once been Shade and rolled the skin into a compact bundle. It was not the best thing to do, but she had a long walk before her and no one would come for Shade while she lingered near.

“I do not understand.”

Recalled to the other elf’s presence, Sunsong looked at him and was once again stunned by his height. He was taller even than the humans, but obviously an elf. His dark hair stirred in the breeze, but the ends disappeared in the still short grass. His face was sharp and the light of the moons cast it into high relief: light and dark, making it difficult to read. He looked distant and hard, but his sendings had not been.

*It is the Way. Life returns from whence it came, to feed new life again. From her empty shell, bellies will be filled and plant life will be nourished. Her pelt will warm me in whitecold, and remind me of our seasons together. But I must go; it is a long walk home and my tribemates will worry. Mist will have told Stormfire what has passed.* She hesitated, then asked again. “The Wavedancers did not mention you. Who are you? Are you a wanderer from their tribe? You do not smell of the sea – you smell of sun and grass and that prey-beast you ride.”

“I am Oreg, of the Plainsrunners. I do not know these Wavedancers.” He glanced at the animal and it snorted and pranced up to them. “This is … a horse. We ride them; they’re strong and swift and carry us easily over the grass plains. Come, child; you can stay with us this night, and in the morning we will take you home.”

Sunsong frowned. “But there are many hours of the night left, Oreg. I can get most of the way home before dawn, and then shape myself a den to sleep for the day.”

Oreg knelt before her, bringing his eyes level with hers. As he searched her face without ever meeting her eyes, his mind brushed lightly over hers, seeking to understand. Sunsong gasped as she realized what she faced; she’d felt t his immense span of years, experience, and knowledge before when she’d met the High Ones among the Wavedancers. She closed her eyes and gave herself over to it, shielding only her soulname from Oreg’s curious exploration.

*You do not fear my touch, little one?* Oreg asked, a sigh of sound within her mind.

*Fear?* Sunsong asked dreamily. *What is there to fear?*

Startlement, hesitance, the beginning of wonder and amusement. *Many born on this world find my touch to be too much. It overwhelms them and they fear to lose themselves. Minds cannot easily touch when one is fighting to keep themselves separate.*

Sunsong sighed and leaned against him, resting her head on his shoulder since he was no so much closer to her own height. *I cannot lose myself. If I am but one leaf in the forest of your experience, I am still my own leaf, with my purpose and place, and a part of the whole. Being small, or even insignificant, does not change that.*

But she pulled away as she heard the faint calls of her tribe, their sending thin and strained with distance. “I must go. My chieftess calls and I want to go home.” She knelt and gathered up the Shade’s pelt.

*We will take you, Star and I. We can travel more swiftly than you, and have you at forest’s edge by daybreak.*

Sunsong smiled at Oreg, but eyed the animal curiously. *It is very tall. And nervous,* she added, when the mare jerked back from her approach. “She is prey. She smells the wolf in me, High One.”

*I will thank you not to view my friend as food, child,* Oreg requested drily, then swept her easily onto the mare’s back and mounted behind her.

A soft chirrup, a nudge of his heels and a tightening of his legs around the animal’s girth, and they were moving. Sunsong instinctively adjusted to the movement of the beast, finding the rhythm of its walk. Quickly the animal increased until it felt like they were flying over the ground. Shade could move so fast in a hunt but sustaining the speed for a length of time was beyond the wolf. How long could the animal keep this pace?

*Hours. We breed them for speed and stamina. This pace we call canter. A gallop is faster, but can only be maintained for a short period of time. We normally prefer to travel at a trot, which is slower but swifter than a walk, and which our horses can maintain for greater lengths of time. I can feel your need to be home, however, and so we will see you home.*

*You are kind to me,* Sunsong responded, leaning back against him and turning her head so that the skin of her cheek rested against the sun-touched skin of his chest. She drew his scent in, storing it in her memory to share with her tribe. He was friend. They would all remember his kindness to her.

And then she lost herself in her mourning again. The distance passed in a blur beneath flying hooves and slowly the deepest darkness came and went. Occasionally Oreg slowed his Star and let her walk until her breathing came easy, and then urged her to canter once more. As the sun’s light lightened the sky, and the black of the sky turned indigo, then lightened to deep blue, still further to light blue and pink and gold, they reached the forest’s edge.

Stormfire was there, together with Mist, Windsoft, Tallspear, and Whirlwind. Star’s canter slowed, the jerked to a halt as the wind shifted and the scent of wolf and danger reached her nostrils. She danced in place, training keep her from bolting and fear keeping her from moving.

Mist cared neither for his wolf’s interest in the prey-beast, nor the prey’s nerves. He threw his leg over Whitecold’s shoulder and trotted to the mare’s side. “Sunsong, cub, we were coming for you.”

“Not very quickly,” Oreg noted, his bland tone neutral.

Mist arched his eyebrow and looked at Oreg. Abruptly his sharp retort died as he realized who held his tribemate. “High One?” he asked instead, uncertain if what his senses were telling him were true.

“She sent that she was coming to us,” Stormfire said sharply, unwilling to be awed by meeting another High One. “The grass plains are vast, and it would be easy to miss each other if our paths were even slightly off. Healer? Is she well?”

Mist laid his hands on Sunsong’s calf, the only part of her body he could comfortably reach while she remained mounted. Sunsong opened her eyes when she felt his magic touch her. She smiled sadly at Mist, but her eyes teared again when she saw Stormfire’s tense face. She was off the animal before Oreg could blink – or fear for her safety in falling such a distance for her – and was in Stormfire’s arms as the tears came again.

“Oh, Stormfire! My Shade is gone!”

“She’s well, but exhausted with grief, chieftess,” Mist answered. Oakstaff and Tallspear gathered close to the two maidens, hands and voices offering soothing comfort. Mist looked at Windsoft, and the scout came to his side, eyeing Oreg warily. The healer turned back to Oreg. “For your care of Sunsong, you are welcome to den with us today. We might have a den big enough for you to bend double in,” he added wryly.

“And if not, Sunsong will shape one for you, whether you wish her to or not,” Windsoft added.

*I will return to my band,* Oreg responded, running a soothing hand under Star’s heavy mane. *We are day livers and they are not so far away.*

“Stop!” Windsoft threw on hand out to him, turning her face away in a physical rejection of his sending. “Too much!”

Mist groaned, swaying on his feet as the immense weight of Oreg’s mind touched his. He flinched back, separating himself from that infinite well.

Oreg straightened and frowned. “I…apologize. I did not realize that your Sunsong was unique among you. She did not fear my sending.”

“Sunsong is too silly and trusting to fear that which she should.” Mist winced and touched his forehead. He applied his own magic to himself, then touched a fingertip to Windsoft’s aching head.

“Silly she is not,” Oreg murmured. “I will return to my tribe. We did not know there were more elves. We will meet you here in an eight of days. I had feared that Timmain’s children had long since perished. I am glad to see her sacrifice was not in vain.”

He handed Windsoft the pelt Sunsong had taken from Shade and urged Star back. As Tallspear lifted Sunsong in his arms, the sun-haired maiden looked back at him. Her wordless thanks caressed through his mind, and even in her grief he could sense the playful, happy spirit that was her essence. He watched as they faded and vanished within the trees, leaving no sign of their presence.

He had touched minds with the young one, the plantshaper, and now the sense of her presence glowed as a small, bright spot within his mind. As with his bandmates, his descendents, he could find her wherever she may go now. Her welcome of his touch gave added warmth to her spark and he found himself, for the first time in more seasons than he wanted to recall, looking forward to the future.

**Nazari. Timmain’s children are here! The band must prepare to move so that they can meet!**
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