The Two Moons were high in the sky, bathing the harsh landscape in a magical silver glow. Instinctively, the two elfin shapes steered clear of the patches of light, where they would be easily spotted from miles afar. Instead they crept in the shadows, treading cautiously along the tricky mountain slopes.
The smallest of the two wasn't really keeping up; it lagged behind, and now and then shuddered as if in pain. The other, who was slightly taller and moved in a strange crouched stance - not unlike a prowling animal - threw a look at its companion from over its shoulder.
No. I can manage. The smaller figure slightly clenched its teeth, and its pointed canines gleamed in the dark.
I'm just struggling with an old foe that won't give me a break. Don't worry about me, dear packbrother.
Old foe? The other was instantly on alert.
Yes. But nothing that you have to worry for its companion calmly assured.
It's the fear... the same fear that has pursued relentlessly ever since we left the Holt. I... It
- she - hesitated
I don't want to believe that it might have all been in vain. Hope has carried me thus far... but the night is so cold, and it's been so long.
When you want us to return... you only have to say so.
I will she replied firmly,
after we've found what we're looking for.
Alright, alright! Don't bristle.. it's not like you at all.
Crestfallen, she trodded after him with her head hung low.
Sorry? For what - oh, that? It was nothing. I'm used to have our chief growling my ears off...
Hush! Suddenly, the female came to an abrupt halt. Her entire body was stiff, and yet she quivered like a wolf pup who had sensed the return of the pack.
It was here... I can scent it.
Her companion said nothing, but the laugh died on his lips like a will-of-the-wisp. He, too, had picked the strong salty scent. Blood, freshly spilled - so much blood, in fact, that it made the wolf in him stir. But there was something else... something that he wasn't sure she had noticed, something faint and barely perceptible. The hair at the nape of his neck rose. Slowly, he pinned back his ears and growled.
The female looked at him in confusion.
You won't be the only one fighting an old foe tonight, packsister he hissed.
Riled by his words, she paced nervously back and forth.
Let's get going. It can't be very far from here.
It's useless. Don't you feel it in the air? Death...
NO! The female doubled over, burying her face in her hands.
Please, no. You have trusted my instincts for so long... trust for a little longer.
But - it' s too late.
It needn't be. And if anything else - we'll have tried! Oh, please!
He should have told her no, he knew that. Everything in him was urging to turn back from this madness. It was the Way - and not just the Way of the Wolfriders, but the way of the vast world at large. But he couldn't simply meet her eyes and let her down.
She broke in a run, and he took off reluctantly in her tow, willing to let her take the lead now that they were so close. Not that she seemed to mind for the swap of roles - on the far contrary. Magically, her energies seemed to have redoubled overnight, together with the old fervor. And yet... for all her show of bravado, he couldn't shake off the feeling that it was the fear she wanted to outrun.
At length, they came upon a little niche in the rocks where the female halted, out of breath.
Look - we did it! High Ones be praised! Already she was kneeling by the crumpled bundle of blood-spattered clothes and long hair. In a flash, the male was at her side.
Give her to me... there... easy. He let his hands run over the cold skin, looked desperately for even the feeblest spark of hope.
High Ones have mercy...
It's not too late, is it? The female's sending was garbled with concern.
You can do it, I'm certain you can...
I-I dont' know. I've never... not with someone so far gone...
But it's not too late. She still has some life left in her. We can't have made it thus far just for nothing!
It'll be difficult... I don't think I can do it!
You can! Look at her. You are all that she has got... and she needs you the female urged him.
Paralyzed, he looked at her first - and then, almost reluctantly, his eyes fell on the lifeless form in his lap.
From a youngest age, he had learned that everything perished, that it was simply in the nature of things - and in the nature of the Wolfriders - to lay down and die at the end of life.
Death, when it comes, is neither friend nor enemy, his elders used to say.
But there in his arms was a mere cub whose life was slipping away with each passing moment. A cub who should have long been dead, and yet refused to die young - a wild, restless cub who refused the Way and the teaching of the elves altogether, a cub who just wanted to be free.
The healer's lips set in a grim line. Within him, the wolf snarled and sprang into the darkness, lashing at it with his fangs and paws.
At the cost of every bit of strength and magic that he had in himself, he wouldn't let death claim this spirited cub who so desperately willed to live.
Sorry for the long wait, tribemates! Had to do a lot of files cleaning in my computer and RL was being uncooperative as it can be. Here's chapter two - hope you like it! :)
Chapter Two - Like the last time
Many turns of the Mother Moons later...
The Go-Back-turned-Wolfrider sat by herself on a low branch, kicking out her legs absent-mindedly. For once, she wasn't singing or whistling, and her eyes hadn't fled to the sky in that typical Skywise way that was so familiar to the other Wolfriders. But even though she sat with an air of casual ease, Tyleet could make out the tension in her shoulder, her head hung low, even from afar.
She had never seen her tribe-sister so upset, before. It was puzzling that Yun
- Yun who had always been the strong one, and who took everything in stride - could look fragile and hurt like a lost little duckling.
"Yun...?" she repated, a little louder.
Hearing her name, Yun turned halfway. For a moment she struggled - and failed - to hide the disappointment that it was Tyleet, not Mender, who had come to seek her out. Then she smiled sadly. "Hey."
"I'm not bothering you, am I?"
"Not at all. Anything the matter?"
Tyleet gave a soft shrug of her shoulders. "Nothing particular. I just wanted to sit with you for a while. We can talk... or we can just wait together. But only if you don't mind", she added quickly - realizing, a moment too late, that her words could have rubbed Yun the wrong way.
But Skywise's daughter merely nodded, patting the branch next to her.
"Alright. Hop on."
Tyleet perched down at her side and smiled uncertainly. "Teir and Scouter took the cub out hunting. We can always use more food..."
"Hmmm. And Krim?"
"She's with Pike. Not sure what they're up to... and I feel I shouldn't even be asking."
Yun averted her stare, pretending to observe her lace-up boots with great interest. "I guess... she doesn't really think the world of me right now, does she?", she mumbled.
"We understand what you're going through, packsister", Tyleet assured her. She wanted to pull Yun in her arms and hold her in a fierce embrace, but she knew better. Yun was half Go-Back, even if right now, it was the she-wolf in her... no, the mother wolf in her - who pined, who paced restlessly outside the den and wasted away with worry. "There's not one among us that doesn't love Khorbasi. Pike understands... and so does Krim."
Yun turned and scrutinized her pensively, as if struck by a sudden thought.
"The howls about your human cub..." she said at length.
"Pike always puts so much emphasis on the love... the acceptance... the happy times."
At those words, Tyleet couldn't hold back a wistful smile. "That's how I still remember my Little Patch. A cub finding his way in the pack... but never too big not to cuddle under mother's wing, now and then." If she closed her eyes, she could almost hear her own mother Nightfall repeating those words to her.
"But what about - the rest?", Yun urged. "About the times that weren't happy, about..." She half-nodded, half-shrugged toward the hill that concealed the opening of her den. "For you, it must have been..."
"... dreadful?", Tyleet concluded for her. "In a way... I knew, since the day I took him in, that he would someday lay out his life like a wolf. That it was part of who he was... of what he was. But I had an hard time accepting it fully. It - never feels right - that a cub should die before his parents..."
"Yes!" Yun looked up, eyes glistening. "That's just it! Elders tread this world... and then they lay down to rest. The fawns - the pups - carry on after they're gone... that's how it should be. But our human cubs... their lives are so short. So poised! Khorbasi isn't even that old for their race, is he?"
Tyleet could only shake her head doubtfully. To the elves, even to the mortal Wolfriders, a human's lifespan always seemed exceedingly short, no matter how they looked at it.
Yun turned away stiffly, as if to lower an invisible curtain between them. "Excuse me. I should - act more like a Go-Back. High Ones know you don't want to hear my whines..."
I'll always run to comfort a whining tribemate
, Tyleet corrected her. Her sending had the faintest echo of a surprised laugh to it. I'm me, remember? You don't have to hide the pain you're in. Don't carry this burden alone - share it with me!
But you didn't have the choice with Patch... that I have with Khorbasi. I wouldn't fault you for walking off on me...
Don't even mention it.
Tyleet took her hand firmly in hers and grinned. That was then, and this is now. Think how many things have changed around us...
Some things never change
Yun pointed out. She hesitated, then licked her lips nervously and asked; Then... you think it will work? Just like the last time?
A part of her did not even dare hope.
I trust Mender
Tyleet simply replied.
Even a hunt can go wrong
Tyleet pointed out. And other times, it goes well. Right now, what Mender needs most - and Khorbasi too - is that you believe.
If it works... do you think...?
Before Yun could formulate that thought, there was a rustling noise from the hill. The two elf maidens turned, to see Mender make his way out of the den. His golden hair was damp with perspiration, his skin ashen under the tan. But there was a look of wild, hard triumph in his steely gray eyes when he looked straight at Yun and grinned in spite of himself.
"It's done, lovemate! My magic will keep your human cub healthy and fit through many, many seasons..."
Yun didn't even say a word; she leaped down the branch and sprang in Mender's arms, pulling her to closer to him, crushing her lips against his own with all the desperate relief of a mother who had feared the worst. Then she untangled herself from the embrace and made her way past her lovemate, crawling into the dark entrance of the den.
Caught off guard by that flurry of actions, Mender shook his head slowly like an old wolf trying to get rid of a parasite. "Well... I had expected that she'd be happy, but not something like this... at this particular moment", he chuckled.
Tyleet grinned softly from atop the tree. "You have brought a tribemate back to us, dear healer. The tribe will have so much to celebrate tonight!" She tilted back her head and let out a triumphant howl, which was quickly echoed by Mender and the wolfpack.
Once again, the wolf had challenged the enemy - and came out the winner. The darkness had succumbed to light, and all was well again.
Khorbasi! It was him both times. :)
I know that you fleshed a story that was only mentioned in TFQP in the second installement. I love how you laid the emphasis on Yun, her worries for her cub and her struggle with her Go-Back ideals. The interaction with Tyleet was perfect - they had similar experiances, at different times under different circumstances - I loved them together.
Mender's reaction to Yun's Thank You is the humoristic spice . ;)
I wonder .... have you "retold" the story of young Khorbasi? If so - you did tell it so much better then it was in the comics. If not ... you've made up a great emotional tale, Christina.
BOTH were a capturing, enjoyable read!
@ Embala - or was it? ;)
The flashback with Khorbasi in Final Quest intrigued me greatly... so glad you like my take on what led to that particular moment. The story moves on from there, but is a long way from finished, and I hope the following chapters will keep living up to your expectations ^^
Chapter Three - A dark reflection
Later that night...
She leaned against a wall of the small cave and watched as her mother unwrapped the small bundle. "I've heard the howls, earlier on. What happened?"
"The human cub had fallen very ill."
"Cub? Oh, please! How long it has been since he was taken in? Certainly he's not a cub any longer, is he?"
Keeping track of time was effortless in the wild. She knew it, and her mother knew it also. But she still tried, whenever she got the chance. It was one of those little things that prevented her from going mad. Moreover, it still made her feel somewhat like herself. She clung at whatever little sign of time's passing she could find - yet she also felt the very notion of it slip from under her fingers in the same thought.
Disconcerting! Maddening! Let it go, don't try to wrap your mind around it. It doesn't matter, at any rate.
She didn't like the way her thoughts tangled over certain things. It was much better to move past.
As if she had sensed her uneasiness, her mother looked up.
"What's biting at you?"
"Nothing." She gave her a forced smile, well aware of how terribly empty and false it must have looked like. Well, sorry, but she couldn't really do anything better than that, right now. "How about biting something ourselves, instead? I'm starving."
"Of course." Her mother's hazel eyes turned back to the bundle. "I'm sorry that you had to wait."
"No, it's alright", she assured, waving off her concerns nonchalantly. "I've watched after the fire while I waited... and carved myself some new tools. The old ones were falling in pieces. But I wish... I could have come with you."
"Don't ever say such a thing", her mother warned her. She had spoken quietly, but her shoulders gave a slight shudder and the younger female realized that she was thinking about what would be of them, if they were ever caught trespassing. Instinctively, she reached out and pulled her delicate mother in a fierce embrace.
"Shhh...", she whispered in her hair. "I know. Oh, mother, I know! And I hate that you have to go through all this for me. Would that I could pull my own weight!"
"In your own way, you are already doing so", her mother assured. It was a good-natured lie, but a lie nonetheless.
"How? I'm just a pathetic lump... a burden."
"No, dear one. You're a survivor, a fighter, a seeker. Never... a burden."
"Not even for you?"
"Especially not for me." Smiling, her mother brushed a rebellious tawny lock off her face. "Someday you'll find your place in your world."
"I don't... I have given up thinking about that
", she quickly corrected herself. It wasn't a subject that she wanted to discuss, much less with her mother. She bent over to tale a small bowl and took a handful of strips of jerky meat from the bundle her mother had sprawled on the ground. "Care for some hot brew, mother? I can make you some."
"I already ate", her mother said diplomatically. "But thank you, anyway."
"Hmmm, I see you still haven't forgiven me for nearly burning that stew", she said, raising an eyebrow in mock offense. "That was an accident! How much longer will you hold it against me? I haven't burned anything else since then, have I?" At that, even her mother couldn't keep up a serious face and burst out laughing.
"Don't be silly. I had forgot that old thing until you brought it up."
"Yes, you have", she grinned teasingly. "I've seen the way you look at me when I get anywhere near the fire."
"Mothers will be mothers."
"And clumsy daughters will stay clumsy... So, uhm, you said that straw has fallen ill? How ill?" She tried to make it sound like a casual question of no real importance.
"He contracted a very strong fever. It nearly killed him."
?" she repeated, narrowing her eyes. "That's why they howled, then? Of course, I should have known... what else could get them so worked up?" She smiled, but her voice was dripping with sarcasm. Something, in the bitter curve of her mouth, sprang up an unpleasant memory in her mother's mind... a dark reflection, a shadow seeping over her features, corrosive like poison, like magic gone foul...
Without thinking, the older female jerked back. Her daughter looked up at her quizzically.
"Please..." In a flash her mother had taken her hands in hers and was holding them tightly. "I know you're still over it. I know you're confused and angry. But please, let it all steam off!"
"Look at what you have. Is that not enough?"
She flinched, lowering her stare. How could she expect her sweet mother to understand, when she herself could barely make a head or tail of it? How could she explain that what she had wasn't enough
, not by a long shot - and maybe it would never be - without coming off as petulant, demanding brat?
"What startled you so much? What did I say wrong?"
"It wasn't something you said", her mother whispered. "It was more like... the look in your eyes."
She offered her a sad, apologetic smile. "Sorry. I try to keep it light, I really do... and most of the times, I succeed. Just... not always. Not today."
Suddenly, she felt a great weariness heave on her. She just wished that the day - the night, she inwardly corrected herself - could wrap up already. Maybe everything would look different... better... once the dust settled.
"Let's not talk about this anymore, shall we? I don't want to upset you more than I already have", she said, trying to push all thoughts out of her mind for the time being. "You know what I'd really like?"
"Remember when I was still frail and sickly, and you taught me a new howl every night? I miss that." I miss you
, she wanted to say - but caught the word before it left her lips.
Her mother smiled softly. "And which howl would you like to hear tonight?"
"I don't know. One that you haven't taught me yet. Something fun, something that will make me laugh and forget about everything else", she said, moving closer to the small fire. The shadow had lifted from her dark brown eyes; they sparkled with curiosity and affection. If there was any lingering trail of wistfulness to her gaze, she was trying hard to conceal it.
"Then I will tell you about that time when a little curious cubling wanted to know if she'd grow face-fur like Treestump when she was old..."
I love that I will have to reread this when characters are revealed. Clever.
ChristinaRaibert said: @ Embala - or was it? ;)
Reading your last chapter ... it could have been this mysterious female as well. Even more likely... another human cub maybe?
Your last chapter is intriguing, excellently written and a complete riddle. Okay, I can guess, make assumptions ...
The daughter is possible a human girl ... she tries to count time to feel "more like herself" - she does not fit in their community (Ember's tribe?) well.
The mother should be an elf - time does not count, of delicate build. I have no clue about her identity besides one - that goodnight story. It could be Tyleet.
What puzzles me - is the daughter hidden from the tribe?
No idea how much AU your story actually is ... for now it's a pleasant mystery. :)
EDIT: Gifa? ... What-If ...