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Okay... this chapter went way longer than expected, so I decided to cut it in two. (Not that it will really accomplish anything. Shuddup.)

Here it is!

PART 10a

Pike couldn’t help but feel completely lost as to what had actually happened with the two Sun Villagers, and why he had apparently ”˜lost.’ All he knew now was that both Shenshen and Rayek were”¦ happy, and that made him feel much more comfortable to be traveling with them. Even Rayek smiled and his supposed dislike of Pike went away”¦ mostly.

But something still made him uneasy. They were still traveling away from the Sun Village, and the Wolfriders. Even if they turned back now, they would never reach the desert before”¦

“The white-cold is coming.” Pike said finally, catching the other three’s attention. “Can’t you feel it?”

“White-cold?” Shenshen was obviously confused. For a moment, Pike was surprised; didn’t she know what it was? But soon he realized that in her land of fire heat, they must never have a time where it snowed. “What’s that?”

Ekuar laughed. “Snow. I remember snow.” He looked up thoughtfully as if pushing through hazy memories. “Cold”¦ but fun.”

Pike seemed to be put on the spot. Shenshen, and even Rayek were looking at him curiously. “You’ve seen the green leaves turning colors, haven’t you?” Shenshen nodded, while Rayek looked at the trees around him as if only just now noticing, or caring. “That means the cold is coming. The food will be scarce; plants will die and animals will go into hiding. Then the snow comes. Snow; it’s like sand”¦ only cold. Very cold.”

Shenshen rubbed her arms. “Brrr. It’s already cold, Pike. You mean it’ll get colder?”

He nodded. “I thought you knew. I should have guessed you don’t have the white-cold in your land of fire, but”¦” He trailed off, not sure how to finish. “It’s too late for us to turn back now, but if we find a place to hold out for a while, we can wait out the season.”

“Yes.” Ekuar chimed in. “No traveling in the storms. Find warmth, and food.”

Shenshen looked almost frightened by the new concept. She had heard about it from Pike’s tales, but to be face with it in reality was something entirely different. She looked to the others and then back to Pike. “Wh-what do we do?”

Being faced with the lead role, Pike was thrown off guard. Even Rayek, though he didn’t say anything, was waiting to be told. Hesitantly, Pike replied. “We should find a place to hole for the next few moons. And we need water. And food. We don’t have a tree-shaper so a tree’s out.” He sighed at the thought of not living in a tree. “A cave will have to do”¦ if we can find one.”

The others took in the information for a moment, and then Rayek suddenly floated up above the trees. He stayed there for quite some time, looking around, and then slowly descended. “There’s a jut of rock, a cliff, in the distance where water flows as if the rock were breathing it.”

“A waterfall.”

“There’s our water, Wolfrider. And the cliff is our rock.” Rayek turned to Ekuar. “You can shape us a dwelling to use through this”¦ white-cold.”

“Of course, Brownskin.” Ekuar nodded.

“Well then,” The black haired Sun Villager grabbed his things and headed off in the direction of the waterfall, while the others followed. Pike was almost glad this time that Rayek had taken over. He didn’t want to lead this strange small tribe, and he certainly didn’t want to give Rayek orders.

It took the four of them the better part of the daylight to finally reach the river and then the Waterfall that it came from. Shenshen was most impressed of the group, exclaiming that she had never seen so much water without rain, just lying on the land like a snake. They soon discovered that too close to the falling water was far too loud, and so they picked a nice spot in the cliff, a little distance away to shape a shelter.

While Ekuar got started, Pike realized they hadn’t hunted in a while and their food was getting low. He walked over to the group and mentioned, “Well need to know the land if we’re to live and hunt in it.”

With the hint given, Rayek nodded. He ordered that Shenshen stay with Ekuar, while he and Pike scout the area; Rayek by air and Pike by land with his wolf. There was very little argument, except that Shenshen wanted to stay outside and get to know the nearby are while the two warriors were farther away. Although Rayek insisted that it would be better for the two of them to hole their selves up in the cliff and wait for he and Pike to return, he soon learned that Shenshen was almost a worse person to argue with than her sister, and he gave in only so long as she stayed within sight of Ekuar. She agree and the warriors left.

They traveled over the grassland fairly quickly, as any game to be found there was small and not worth their time. But there was another forest in the area and so, satisfied with their search of the open land, they headed for the trees. Curious more than anything, and now having an opportunity to do so, Pike sent to Rayek above him. **How long have you been able to send?**

The Wolfrider could sense a minor surprise from the desert elf, and a hazy reply. **Ekuar has been teaching me.** There was a pause. **But I first ”˜sent’ to your Wolf Chief during the trials for Leetah.** Pike could feel a twinge of regret from the other as he mentioned his old lovemate.

**You’re not bad for a beginner.**

Pike could sense some amusement then, and a wry answer. **I’ll be better than you by the time this ”˜White-Cold’ is over, Wolfrider.**

Pike didn’t doubt it, considering the other’s stubbornness, but did not reply. They continued their scouting in silence. He didn’t bother asking about the comment Rayek had sent when he ”˜won’ Shenshen; he didn’t think he’d receive an answer that made sense to him anyway. So he focused his energy now in evaluating the new forest.

It was better than that swampy one they had recently come from, but nothing could match the Holt. This one seemed quieter though. There was very little moving around and”¦

Pike let his senses rule. It was strange; not even a bird stirred. He could hardly sense any movement at all, save for Hotburr and himself. Even looking up, he couldn’t see Rayek anymore through the leaves and the strange spider-like webs that started with the trees and got thicker the deeper he walked into the woods. Soon he encountered cocoons, starting out small and only a few, but the number increased very quickly. He was tempted to call the Sun Villager down to him, but felt curiosity take him”¦ besides, he still didn’t like Rayek all that much.

Using the tip of his spear, he attempted to cut one of the cocoons open just to see what was inside, and was surprised when a squirrel emerged, blinked, noticed him and bolted. Pike stared at the shreds of cocoon that the creature left behind and mumbled, “Squirrels don’t spin webs”¦” He looked then at the cocoon next to it, and cut the threads for that one too. Inside was a tree frog that hopped away. The Wolfrider then looked around and scratched his head. It was too strange to take in. The only things he knew that had webs and/or cocoons were spiders and caterpillars wanting to be butterflies and moths. Why would a frog and a squirrel want to be any of those things?

He almost felt like he had been drinking some of the Trolls’ dreamberry juice, but he was as sober as he had been since they’d left the caverns”¦ unfortunately. Too confused to figure out the riddle, he gave in and sent a call out to the desert dweller, who arrived from above, cursing the branches that caught his clothes on the way down. The information was relayed with a demonstration as Rayek opened a cocoon himself, almost not believing Pike until he had done so. This time a rabbit emerged and Rayek’s levitation powers stopped it from escaping. At least they had made a kill.

“Something in this forest must catch these things to eat later.” Rayek guessed. “Keep the food fresh. We tried similar things in the Sun Village, but I doubt we were as effective as these.”

But Pike wasn’t satisfied. “So much meat?” He waved his hands, indicating all the cocoons nearby and more even in the distance. “None of it eaten. It doesn’t make sense. And where are the creatures that spin the webs?”

Rayek had no answer. Instead, he tied the rabbit to his belt and looked around. “At least we will have food for your white-cold, if every cocoon carries something edible.”

Pike only nodded as the desert elf continued his exploration on foot, with the Wolfrider trailing behind. After looking at the cocoons and following the other for some time, Pike said, “Nothing really big enough to make good decent out of. We’ll need good thick furs or else we’ll freeze.”

Rayek only gave him a nod and focused on finding the bigger cocoons. They had only found a few large enough to house large rabbits, a fox and one boar. The fox Rayek took care of, but the boar Pike wanted to take down himself, insisting that Rayek’s magic took the fun and honor out of the hunt.

They decided that after those kills, they would head back to the cave, but on the way there, something caught Rayek’s eye. He said nothing to the Wolfrider, just went off on his own, leaving Pike to try and keep up. They came to a small clearing where a rather large cocoon lay on the forest floor, slightly bigger than Rayek or Pike. The black haired elf reached for his dagger and mumbled, “Ready your spear, Wolfrider. You wanted a hunt.”