The bristle boar snuffled among the dry grasses at the base of the rock, skinnier after feeding poorly during the dry season, and oblivious to the elf maiden perched on her haunches some ten feet above him. She watched him from the top of the red stone with her spear poised in hand, ready to strike. Her muscles rippled as she sent the point home, so quickly that the boar didn't even cry out as his life slipped away from him. She leaped fluidly down from her vantage and began to clean her kill.
This should make the Sun Villagers happy, she thought to herself. They haven't had fresh meat in a moon's turn.
The dry season had come early that year and had lasted much longer than any even Savah could remember. The village had ample stores of food to help them survive such lean times, but even they were running low after many moons of baking heat and no rain. The jackwolf riders tried their best to bring back their kills, but more often than not the meat went to their famished mounts.
She sent to her wolf, Swiftheart, who loped over to her from behind another boulder and began her descent into the village as dusk was gathering.
The sending caught her off guard. It had been a long time since anyone had sent to her that wasn't her wolf, but she still recognized its source. She turned and faced the young elf lad, shading her eyes from the westering sun. He was lithe and limber, with blue-black hair and deep blue eyes that stood out against his dusky skin. She was his opposite in appearance, with still-fair skin despite the years she had spent in the blistering sun of Sorrow's End, her light blue eyes and unruly mane of flaxen hair the mirror of that of her twin brother. His own jackwolf walked silently beside him and she felt Swiftheart begin to growl low in his throat. The older wolf no longer ran with the pack, but she managed to end what would have been a fatal fight for her aging friend before it began with a soothing touch of her mind.
**Kimo,** She responded cooly. **I would have expected you to be with the other jackwolf riders.**
**We had a successful hunt while the sun was still high, but I chose to try my luck alone to see if I could catch more game. I see you've done better than I have.** He smiled easily, as he always did.
She grunted and turned away from him, continuing to make her way down to the valley below. He had taken to following her recently, so she doubted his appearance was a coincidence. He'd ask her to go on hunts with him, just the two of them, or invite her to sup with him in the hut he shared with his family. She had refused every time, finding the offers more confusing than anything else. She had convinced herself long ago that she didn't need the company of others.
**What's your hurry?** He asked as he caught up with her, his long legs making up the distance quickly. **Night hasn't even fallen yet. Why don't we watch the sunset from up here?**
**Because I barely know you.** Thistle sent bluntly, not bothering to stop walking.
**No, but I'd like you to.** He caught her shoulder to slow her down.
His hand was dry and warm, pleasantly so, and feeling it there on her bare skin made a flicker of emotion go through her that only made her more irritated. She spun around, scowling.
**Why have you been dogging my heels lately? You never gave me much bother before. Did someone put you up to it? Is someone in the village concerned how surly a she-elf I've become?** Her sending was tinged with her irritation and she saw him flinch from the force of it.
**No, nothing like that. I'm worried about you. You're so alone all the time. You hunt alone, you sleep and eat alone. And you don't want to be, I can feel it. You miss your brother and your tribe. Scouter and Dewshine are here and even my mother, but it's not the same, is it?** His sending was so full of concern that it almost brings tears to her eyes. It had been a long time since anyone sent to her like that and it hurt more than she would have imagined.
**I don't need anyone looking out for me, especially a pup like you. I'm alone because I want to be.**
She hadn't meant for her sending to wound him so, but the sadness that filled his eyes was enough to tell her otherwise. An apology was almost on her lips before guilt overcame her and she turned away.
**I need to get this boar back to the village.** Her sending was a weak attempt to soften the blow of her thoughts and she could sense that Kimo knew it.
He didn't respond, but she heard him retreat back up the side of the valley and disappear into the rocks. She stood there for several heartbeats longer, her ears strained to hear any sound of him returning, but there was only silence until Swiftheart whined and nudged her hand with his nose.
Kimo was right, of course. She was lonely, incredibly so, but she felt humiliated by even admitting it to herself and that humiliation had turned to anger. How could she be lonely in a village full of elves, some of whom had been part of her tribe since before they fled from the fire that burned the Father Tree so long ago? How could she rationalize being lonely when it had been her decision to remain behind when Rayek had spirited the Palace away to follow the screaming elves inside little Suntop's head?
Because none of them are Cutter and Skywise, a piece of herself whispered. None of them are your soul brothers.
The three of them had been inseparable since she and Cutter were old enough to trail after Skywise and before that it had been she and her twin against the world, causing trouble and being each other's shoulder to cry on. Cutter had used to tease her and call her "little sister", even though they were only born minutes apart. She knew their soul names, they were her Fahr and Tam. Even after the death of their parents and Cutter becoming Chief, nothing had changed, they were still brothers and sister.
But then Rayek learned to fly the Palace and the screaming had begun in Suntop's head and after three turns of the season the Wolfrider's had returned to Sorrow's End. That was where everything changed, where the unidentified yearning to be in that desert oasis had first blossomed inside of her for reasons she still had yet to discern, so she had stayed, stayed when the rest of her family had flow into the unknown. She had never regretted a decision more.
She slept fitfully that night, her mind filled with swirling images that melded into one another and confused her as she tossed and turned under her furs. First her parents appeared before her gesturing for her to stay where she was, to remain while they walked endlessly away from her into a blinding horizon of bright light that hurt her eyes. She tried to follow, begging them to come back, but they continued to stray from her side until they disappeared into the light. The image melted away she saw Cutter, Skywise, Leetah, and the twins laughing as they splashed happily in a woodland stream. She called to them until she felt like her throat was bleeding, but they never looked up, never saw her screaming. It was only then that she realized she was watching them from the other side of a barrier made of clear glass and when she pounded on it, the image of her family shattered into sharp pieces that sliced at her skin. All around her was blank and empty and she felt the crippling loneliness that she felt in the darkest part of the night when everything seemed the most hopeless. Then, out of the nothingness, figure wavered ahead of her in the black, a weak light in the void that became stronger with each passing moment. It surrounded her with a sense of companionship and love that she had not felt in many turns of the season. The figure extended his dusky-skinned hand to her, his dark blue eyes soft with compassion and when she took it her own skin blazed with a fire that melted her sadness like snow in the season of new-green. He whispered to her a name, her own soul name, and when she woke in the darkness of the chamber beneath her hut she knew what she must do.