It seemed unusually bright tonight. The stars lit up the night sky as they guided Mother Moon and her Cub across the sky and filled the forest with a magical glow which slid across broad leaves and speckled low cropped grass in a frosty shine. Starlight wanted to just stare at the view and not do anything for as long as possible that evening. She heard Moon pacing around the base of the tree she was sitting in restless to go on a hunt. Starlight was unwilling to leave her spot with such a wonderful view of the night sky and forest so she encouraged her wolf friend to go on without her. Moon whined briefly sending her wishes to hunt together, but Starlight was insistent that she wasn't hungry so Moon left on her own. Starlight tilted her head back against the tree and wished once again that her daughter inherited her love of the stars. But Ripple was more interested in what she could see and touch and not what floated safely out of reach above her. She was a lot like her father that way. She felt her chest tighten with a familiar pain at the memory of Fisher. He had been gone for a full turn of the season and though she tried to live very much in the Now, sometimes unbidden memories stumbled forth and dragged her into the past again.
"Your thoughts look as distant as the stars, soul-sister" a voice called from below.
Starlight looked down at the figure waiting below. Her blond head was tilted up and her blue green eyes danced. "Almost, Twig" she agreed
The figure wrinkled her nose "Do you still have to call me by my cub name?"
Starlight smiled. "Only because it bugs you, Softfur."
Starlight lowered herself down a few branches with a practiced ease so Softfur would not have to crane her neck so far up. "What brings you by my little corner of the sky?"
Softfur shrugged. "Just looking for Freespirit, have you seen him?"
Starlight thought a moment. "Not recently," She admitted "But isn't he going out on Nightshade's hunting party tonight?"
Softfur smiled "He is, but I was hoping to spend some time with him before he left." Softfur looked closely at Starlight, studying her dark brown eyes. She could pick up on the subtle change in colour that betrayed the emotions she tried to hide, not even Fisher was as attuned as Softfur was. Her soul sister truly was because they knew each other almost as well as they knew themselves. Discovering each other's soul name seemed a natural part of their bonding. "There is something more, isn't there?"
Starlight shifted her gaze, trying to hide the memories that she felt dancing in her mind and reflecting in her eyes. "No, why do you say that?"
Softer gave her a look "Don't get that way with me, is it Tracker?"
"Tracker, why do you think he is the reason something may be wrong?"
"Because he has been spending so much time with you since Fisher went to the Palace of the Highness, I thought maybe you and he…"
Starlight's eyes darkened. "He has just been here to help me deal with Fisher's loss, nothing more."
"If you say so." Softfur said in that tone that meant she did not believe a word Starlight was saying and it drove Starlight crazy.
At that moment Moon burst through the brush with Softfur's wolf, Cloud. Both romped around her like they were excited about something but before the images they sent could be made clear a shadow appeared behind Softfur. Starlight let out a gasp and reached instantly for the knife at her hip. Softfur spun around and launched backwards, her own blade already in her hand. The figure stepped forward and the shadows parted to reveal Freespirit's grinning face. A blade flying past, nearly nicking his ear, caused his expression to become less cheerful.
*What do you think you are doing?* Softfur snarled. *Trying to get yourself killed?*
*Didn't Cloud tell you I was coming?* he asked looking over at the Wolf.
Softfur stepped forward to yank her knife from the tree behind Freespirit and shoved it angrily into her sheath. "No," she snarled "She didn't get a chance to."
Freespirit glanced from one to the other and frowned. "What has you two in such a jumpy mood anyway?" he asked.
Softfur looked to Starlight who looked away. Softfur sighed "We were discussing Fisher" she said finally.
Starlight was thankful she did not mention Tracker. Freespirit might be a little too free with the information and Softfur knew it. Freespirit's eyes softened as he looked at her. "I'm sorry, I know you still mourn. But we are safe here. The human's haven't been seen since…"
"I know" Starlight cut him off "Nightshade gave them something to think about, but their memories are as short as their lives and they may decide to test her conviction one of these nights."
"Hopefully on a night in a far distant future." Softfur said "Now," she turned to her lovemate "We need to have a discussion on your need to make me jump like a treewee."
Starlight decided to take this opportunity to slip away. She didn't feel like much company and she knew the two of them would like a little time alone before Freespirit left on the hunt. She crossed the branches of the tree and headed to another favourite spot of hers. With the sky this bright she was sure it would be just as lovely. She found it soon enough. The lake was in an open area of forest so it reflected the sky on a surface so smooth not even a breeze rippled it. Starlight felt like she could almost step out onto it and dance among the stars. But instinct kept her back from the open area where she could be exposed. She settled down on a rocky outcropping near the edge of the forest that protected her and gave her a great view of both the lake and the stars.
*I thought I would find you here* a voice whispered in her mind.
Starlight looked up to see a pair of dark eyes looking at her from beneath locks of equally dark hair. The smile on his face was warm as he leaned up against a tree a short distance away with one booted foot propped against the tree. His arms crossed over his chest which was partially hidden by his vest.
*And why did you think that, Tracker?* she asked returning her gaze back to the lake.
Starlight heard Tracker shift off the tree and walk towards her. To just about any creature in the forest he would have been soundless but to not the Wolfriders; very little escaped their hearing. "I ran into Moon a short time ago, she got Sniffer into quite a state. It took me a bit to sort out the images." He sat down next to her and she could see him looking at her out of the corner of her eye, but she didn't turn. "Can you clear some of it up for me?"
"Why, is it that important?"
Starlight felt his hand touch her arm which made her turn and she could see the concern in his eyes. "Is it Fisher?" he asked "I was getting some images of him as well as Softfur and Freespirit."
Starlight shrugged "Not much really. Softfur and I were talking about Fisher when Freespirit snuck up on us. It put me a little on edge and I needed some time to calm down and this seemed the best place to go."
"You still mourn for him, I do too." Tracker leaned back against the rock and followed Starlight's gaze over the lake, "But we can't mourn forever. One day we have to return to Now, it's The Way and the only way we will survive."
Starlight felt a stab inside her chest at the mention of the Now of Wolf Thought. Every Wolfrider knew it's call and had heard it for as long as they could remember. It helped them to focus on the present so as not to become trapped in the past. It was needed for the survival of the pack. She opened her mouth to respond but she found the words were not there so she sent instead. *I don't hear it's song.* she said softly.
She heard Tracker gasp and turn to her suddenly "How is that possible?"
Starlight lowered her head, she couldn't bring herself to look at him. She felt so incomplete without the song and not a true member of the pack. But she trusted Tracker to help her through this as he helped her through her grief. Starlight felt Tracker place his finger under her chin and lift up her head. She hesitated a moment and thin lifted her eyes to look into his. There was no rejection in his dark eyes only worry.
*I think it is because I can not bring myself out of the past.* she said at last *As long as I grieve for Fisher the song will be silent to me.*
*And how long do you think that will take?*
Starlight saw her vision blur slightly the memory of the pain she felt the moment Fisher died. She quickly blinked her eyes to dispel the tears. "We were Recognized, Tracker," she reminded him. "I can't seem to get past the feeling part of my soul is gone and I feel lost without it. It's getting easier to live without him but I still miss him."
Tracker let out a small smile. "It sounds like you may be on your way to hearing the Wolfsong soon."
Starlight bit her lip "You think so?"
"Yes. You are recognizing your need to let go of the past and return to the present. I'm sure when you have fully done that and no longer dwell on what was lost you will hear the song again."
Starlight looked into his eyes looking for the truth of his words. Tracker stared back he touched her face and smiled and she found the truth of them in that moment, plus something else. She heard the sound of a distant song humming almost out of hearing. She strained to listen, wanting it to so much be the missing wolf song she hadn't heard in what seemed like forever. Starlight became lost in the depths of Tracker's dark eyes as she searched to hear the song better. It grew louder entering her mind and harmonizing with her soul. By the time she realized there was a word the song was forming she had embraced it and it was too late. Starlight saw Tracker's eyes widen and the hand on her face begin to shake. Starlight knew what this meant, but it had never happened to Tracker before.
Starlight began to shake fear gripping her as she felt tears sting her eyes. She started to back away as if thinking the distance could change what happened. Tracker grabbed her arms and looked her straight in the eye **Kiele?** He whispered in her mind.
Starlight gasped. There it was, what she feared had come true. It had happened again. **Y-y-yes, Mael, it's me**
Tracker shook his head. **I never knew. Never knew what this was like.** He seemed to realize Starlight was in his grip, and he let her go. *I'm sorry,* he said *I forgot this is something you have been through before.*
*And hoped never to go through again.*
The dazed look of Recognition disappeared from Tracker's face and he moved back a little to give Starlight some space. "I'm sorry," he said again "I didn't mean for this to happen."
Starlight wanted to scream, to yell, to blame someone for what had happened to her, but there was no one, least of all Tracker. He was just as much a victim of Recognition as she was. She wanted to fight this with every fibre of her being, but she didn't know how successful that would be. The whisper of her soul name brought her out of her angry fog.
Starlight shook her head. "I didn't think it would happen again, at least not so soon."
"What do you want to do?"
Starlight was momentarily speechless. When she and Fisher Recognized, they gave in without question. She thought that was what was best and what was expected. But here Tracker was giving her a choice and she had no idea how to respond. Finally she had an answer. "I don't want to do anything about it at all. I just want it to go away."
"I don't think it's that simple. We have to answer the call wether it is sooner or later. The alternative is fatal."
"I will not give into a mindless urge like a she-wolf in heat," Starlight snarled "This Recognition can find someone else for you to bond with. If I am not mistaken, Sunflower has been eyeing you for a while now. Go Recognize her."
"It doesn't work that way,"
"I won't do this."
"Look," Tracker rose to his feet with Starlight. "I know how you feel and I understand. The timing isn't very good. I won't force you, I will wait until you are ready."
"What if I'm never ready?"
"Then we die." Tracker answered matter of factly. "Those are our choices. So take the time you need to make your decision and I will be here when you do."
Starlight took a few steps back from him. For the first time in her life she wanted to be as far away from him as possible. She eyed him one more time like a wolf measuring up his competition and then she turned and ran into the woods.
Tracker watched Starlight disappear from his sight her Soul Name still echoing around in his head. He could already feel the pain of denying the Recognition and not acting on it the moment it happened. If this was how it felt now, how was it going to feel tomorrow night or the next night or the next. He could see Starlight's point of view that this felt like a mindless instinct. But he held back something he could not bring himself to tell her and wondered if that coloured the situation. He was in love with Starlight, had been for quite some time but she was with his best friend so he kept his feelings to himself. And When Fisher was killed by the human's all he could do was try and keep it together for Starlight because she was falling apart and he knew she needed him to hold onto.
Letting out a sigh he decided to seek some advice. He knew just who to go to. Willow and he had been love mates when Recognition called her. She tried to resist because she wanted to remain with Tracker, but she eventually gave in. She ended up staying with Quickknife after the bonding and raised the cub with him. If anyone had any advice it would be her.
Tracker sent out a sending in search of Willow. When she responded and let him know where she was he headed in that direction. It wasn't long before he found her standing before a charred oak tree with her fingers pressed to the bark. He knew she was focused on healing the tree from the last sky fire that had damaged it. Knowing she needed to concentrate he stayed a short distance away and didn't interrupt. It wasn't long before Tracker felt a tingling sensation passing over his skin letting him know magic was being used and as he watched the tree's blackened bark began to fade and the healthy growth to appear in the form of leaves along the once charred limbs. Before too long the tree looked healthy and whole once more and the tingling sensation faded away.
Now that the spell was concluded Willow could sense Tracker's presence. She turned and smiled when she saw him her happiness reflected in her green eyes.
"Tracker," she greeted warmly "How are you?" Her smile faded when she got a better look at him. "Oh High Ones, it's happened to you, hasn't it?"
Tracker frowned "How did you know?"
"You have that look, Tracker. The one I had when I recognized Quickknife and I wanted nothing to do with it. Who is she?"
Tracker sighed. "It's Starlight."
Willow let out a low whistle. "Not exactly how you wanted it to happen, is it?"
"Wanted it to happen?"
Willow shook her head. "You have been in love with Starlight for many seasons. I know Recognition might have caused her to see you in a different and hopefully better light but the timing is not good."
Tracker had said nothing of this to Willow,but she still figured it out. It seemed a gift, or the trees were spying for her. A smile flickered across his face at the thought.
Willow stepped toward him and rested a hand on his shoulder. "The one thing I have found with Recognition is it usually has something to coax it along. You love Starlight and it's likely she feels the same way for you but her grief keeps any other feeling buried. If there is nothing between you, then you will go your separate ways after you have answered it's call. But I think you are destined for something more permanent with her." Willow smiled and touched his cheek "When I realized this I knew we could not stay together. When I answered Recognition's call with Quickknife, I knew he was meant for me and I for him."
Tracker sighed. "I was hoping there was something I could do for her to help, I hate to think I am causing her such pain."
Willow gave him a sad smile. "I am sorry to say she is making herself hurt. You were obviously willing to, but she resisted. The pain is hers and she is the one causing you pain as well."
"She's not ready for this."
"The High Ones don't take that into consideration. I think they feel she has grieved long enough and it is time for her to find joy again."
"I only hope she doesn't blame me for this."
Willow shrugged. "She may. She might get angry and lash out at you, Softfur or anyone else she can think of. But it will pass. Just be understanding and weather the storm as best you can."
"It's hard already." Tracker admitted. ""I also have a sense of restlessness I can't explain."
"Your whole being is focused on Recognition. You will feel the need to be near Starlight or to seek her out and nothing else will matter until this has been resolved. Try to find something to burn some of that energy. Just about anything will work."
"Well. I wouldn't go out seeking another love mate to fill the void. Nothing will come of it, your body won't let it."
Tracker frowned. "That could be a problem."
Willow tilted her head. "Is it? Can you tell me if anyone else but Starlight is of any interest to you right now?"
Tracker mentally went over his various love mates past and present in his mind and realized that Willow was right. He was not the slightest bit interested in seeking comfort in their dens. The only one on his mind was Starlight. But that was not unusual, he thought of her often, but now it was more intense, more focused. As if any other thought was a waste of his time. "No, they're not."
"I would suggest you join the hunt, it might help take your mind off things for a while."
Tracker knew the value of her wisdom. The hunt would be a good way for him to take his mind off the situation and the adrenalin of it would stay with him for hours. Tracker left Willow and headed to the Holt where he knew they were getting ready.