Eyes Meet Eyes

Chapter I: Contrite Intuition

Ember groggily opened her eyes to prepare for the long trek ahead of her & her tribe.

The sun's not up yet, but it's definitely early enough to go back to sleep…Oh! Who am I kidding?

Languidly stretching from her furs and observing nothing was obstructing her daily morning ritual, she noticed that something – rather someone – was missing.

She jolted awake at the thought and quickly started to look under the cover although she knew he wasn't there and scanned the perimeter frantically.

A soft chuckle reached her acute hearing before she turned towards the direction of the source. Her features and body instantly relaxed as she recognized the timbre of his chortle and replaced her panic-stricken façade with a smile.

Looking for something, Beloved? The silhouette asked rhetorically as he stepped into their makeshift home, leaving their own breakfast at the entrance.

As a matter of fact, I am. Not quite the feeling I'd like to wake up to in the morning, seeing how I almost became frenzied in my search Ember glared playfully, turning her back away from her lovemate as an emphasis as Teir plopped himself beside her.

Well, did you have any luck? He asked wrapping his arms around her stomach.

I'm not quite sure. I may have to check under the covers once again She answered mischievously.

I'll help you

"Is everyone together?"

"Yes, Chieftess"

"Thank you, Kimo." Ember then turned to address her makeshift tribe "Alright, everyone lets move out before the Black Witch's pets catch our trail."

The Wolfriders trailed behind their chieftess with heavy hearts on the backs of their wolf friends knowing that this midmorning journey will be neither easy nor brief. Trailing in the back beyond ear or sending range, an elder Wolfrider could not hide his distaste for their journey from the younger JackWolfriders.

I don't like this one bit. It reeks of ill intent and feels like a trap!

I agree, father, but we knew what we were getting into before we agreed to follow our Chieftess Dart tried to calm his sire, Strongbow's, agitation lest the rest of the tribe heard his sendings.

But not without Cutter's coercion to protect his cub!

And had you been in his place, you too, would have done the same had it have been me or my baby sister?

A scowl creased Stongbow's usually stoic features as his son's words hit home, causing the later to cringe and the forgotten elf trailing behind the two to suppress a smile.

Kimo had been quietly observing rare father-son interaction between his soul brother and Strongbow; missing his own father in the process.

A comforting hand on his shoulder startled him out his nostalgia as he was greeted with Dart's reassuring smile and a knowing look in his eyes. Kimo smiled back to set his mind at ease

You always seem to know what I'm thinking even before I realize it, Dyrr

Heh, I could say the same about you, but I could tell by your wistful expression you were thinking of the past. he paused briefly and saw Kimo avert his eyes Do you miss him?

Yes, but the void he left within me is filled and I know that his spirit is still with us…Do you miss them…him?

Dart knew exactly who he was referring to and his features transformed from that of comforting to an affinity that Kimo wore earlier.

…Very much. I especially wish I could have watched Bowki grow-up and probably even find a mate and have cubs but…the tribe is family now and I'll always have you by my side

You can count on that, brother. Broadening his smile

Sunstream looked over his shoulder and watched as Dart, Strongbow, and Kimo were flanking the pack train. Pike was trailing the main group but chose to keep his distance between them and Dart's co. Shaking his head, he turned to Rayek and Mender to see if they sense it too.

Rayek just nodded his head in affirmation and Mender threw a glance over his shoulder to confirm what was in Sunstream's eyes.

I know what you are thinking. We are all worried about him too, after what happened to Krim. If he keeps on suppressing his grief and shakes off his depression, I'm afraid that they will eventually rule him.

Is there nothing you can do, Healer? His only answer was a regretful of a head. The worst part is, he didn't even dance for her. According to Ember, he honored Skot's memory with the Go-Back's dance but I fear he is waiting for something almost.

He'll wait until there are two deaths to dance for.

Both Mender and Sunstream turned their head towards the normally discreet and sullen Rayek who's built is that now that of a Human's.

Pike's character is not like that!

For a very gift young lad, good enough to be my legatee, you obviously have a lot to learn about character

And I suppose you are speaking from first hand experience because you seem to be the best judge of character and irrational action.

As a matter of fact, I am.

Yet again both Wolfriders were floored by such admittance from a proud elf such as Rayek.

He wants revenge and it smolders in his eyes. The one thing I will give you Wolfriders for is your tenacity to get whatever it is that you set your mind to. He will not rest or have closure until he buries the one responsible along with his fallen one.

Ember and Teir were at the head of the tribe and could practically feel the weight that each of them carry for going on this mission. Teir was looking back at the rest of the tribe and felt that the wolves were as anxious as their riders but also picked up something else that the others didn't notice. The wolves were scanning the tall, grassy terrains but could only see dry, brown grass that stretch before them endlessly; though it cannot be seen doesn't mean that danger is not present.

Teir tilted his head upwards a bit and inhaled deeply.

'Something was definitely not right.' He thought as he scanned the plains around them. 'I can't quite put my finger on it, but something is misplaced in the air…almost as if it is foreign or doesn't belong'

Teir then felt a soft grip on his palm and saw the fragile hand of his lifemate.

What is it, lovemate?

I can't quite say. I don't think the wolves know either but we pick up something peculiar in the wind.

Ember sniffed the air but couldn't quite pick it up.

"That's strange. I can't pick up anything."

Cub, be on the look out! I sense something amiss up ahead

Ember's eyes scanned the perimeter and found nothing but she then turned her attention to the tallest figure in their pack; taking in his very serious yet cautious demeanor.

What do you sense, Rayek?

The Black Snake's powers. It's not very strong…but its seeped deep into the land. She came this way.

Ember nodded her head in affirmation and 'Sent' a warning to all those within the tribe.

Everyone, be on the look out. Teir and Rayek both sense that something is amiss. Teir says that the wolves picked up something ahead of us. We'll continue on until nightfall but be on guard.

Yes, Chieftess.

Two days of continued wandering lead them from the plains of Howling Rock to grassy Greenland and finally bringing the Wolfriders to outskirts of lands that they have yet to reside in the outskirts of Marshlands.

"UGH!" Grunted Dart in frustration that everyone around him shared. "We should have turned back as soon as we noticed the land and air dampening with each step!"

"I have to agree with, Dart, Ember. Could there have been a better route to travel instead of this land that seems to be saturated in its own waste. The wolves are having a hard time as it is getting though this muck and traveling with such surroundings as these, I don't think any other elf has braved it before." Suntop said stated calmly knowing how heated his elder sister get yet pointing emphatically to the mire clinging to their boots and the wolves' fur.

Hmph, They probably didn't do it for a good reason and had enough sense to turnaround when the foul stench of this place reached their noses. Strongbow, the ever opinionated on stated with a sneer as he eyed the unfamiliar setting yet the elf Chieftess chose to let his comments fall upon deaf ears before replying her brother.

"I know this is unfamiliar grounds for the tribe but Teir senses that we are getting closer and the dark vibes are actually getting stronger."

"We are nearing her lair, but that doesn't mean not to proceed with caution. From the looks of things, she may have been here long enough to feel at ease in this bog, and that can also mean that she has an advantage over all us are presenting a weakness."

Don't talk to us about weakness when it was your own for that Black Witch that released her in the first place!

Strongbow! Enough! What's done is done, but now we need to focus on getting the tribe out of here as fast as possible and back to safety.

Ember looked from Rayek to Strongbow and they both had strong resolves to finish the dispute, yet her word was final. Rayek just strode away without another look back but Strongbow stared at his back as if his own glare would pierce through Rayek's back; a grimace was etched into his features and "humph" before turning away.

Ember sighed in relief when the tension decreased dramatically upon Rayek's stalking away but still felt as if the load off of her shoulders were yet to be lifted. Glancing over her shoulder, she could see all the Wolfriders and Sunfolk trudging through the murky substance beneath them. Many of them were on wolf back, but even their swift agile companions were having trouble trekking though the thick morass.

Huge trees whose bulk seems to be comprised of smaller tress all amassed into one – roots hanging from their branches instead of below, grounding the tree – littered the quagmire. Curious creatures swooped down over head or slithered beneath the murky layer, starting some of the new comers by their presence.

After a whole day of slogging in the very humid and wet environment, the young Chieftess noticed that her tribe was becoming weary and need a place to rest. Though they didn't have to worry about the arid desert sun beating on their backs as they would at Sorrow's End or Howling Rock – and many of them welcomed the shade for a change – everyone was getting dehydrated since their skins were running low and needed some fresh water. Unfortunately, having never been in lands like these, she doesn't know where or how to start until she heard a very shrill cry from above in the trees.

Ember followed its origin and spotted a brilliant Mauve colored bird that resembled a Kingfisher sitting majestically in the treetops. An idea just sparked into her head and she quickly turned to Teir but found his own gaze on hers with a hint of a smile, knowing that he must've had the same train of thought as she did.

Setting to work, Teir focused his energy towards the bird and imitated a call that it produced just moments earlier. The willowy creature extended its long neck in askance towards Teir as he continued to weave his energy into a call that only it would respond to. Suddenly, the bird took flight and descended from the tree canopy to land gracefully onto Teir's extended arm; crooning blissfully as he stroked under its neck. He then proceeded to talk in the creature's speech in hushed tones, creating a calming affect radiating off of him and soothing the creature as it faintly replied with twitters and chirrups.

'No matter how many times I see it, I am still amazed by his ability to communicate to them perfectly as if he were talking to me or any other elf.'

A faint smile snuck onto Ember's lips as she watched the interaction and noticed that they both turned to her at one point. Being under the stately bird's scrutiny accompanied by her lovemate, she couldn't help but feel as a slight blush crept upon her cheeks. Teir chucked before he concluded his interlude with Mauve bird and watched as it emphatically took off to perch a few trees east from its original location. He turned to Ember where his gaze was locked and threw her a charming smile before she could ask,

"What just happened back there?"

"We were going the wrong way or at least the long way. If we head east, we should hit the outskirts of this wetland by nightfall."

"You know that's not what I meant." Ember stated succinctly with a curious grin and raised eyebrow.

"Ohhh…yeah, that. There is also a waterhole just beyond the border."

"Teir!" She shouted in exasperation and his total delight in keeping her in the dark. He chuckled a bit before continuing on with what he was saying.

"Alright, alright. Ahem, Well, since it was helping us get information, it wanted to know what I would give in return and I said companionship."

"What!"

"Well, not from me, but…" Teir trailed off as he looked off the top of the trees and saw another bird landed and was identical in everyway except it had dark indigo plumes. Teir just grinned at the pair and waved his thanks before turning to Ember who had a big smile one her face.

"We should get going if we want to make it before the Sun rests." Teir said grabbing a hold of Ember's hand as they continued Eastbound.

Ember squeezed his hand in reassurance and looked skywards towards the two new companions taking flight.

Timmorn's Blood! I see water! Mender sent elated for those that would finally relieve their thirst.

The elves finally cleared the heart of the everglade and now looked down at the small spring as if it were an oasis in the middle of a barren desert. All raced down to quench their thirst and possibly find food as three stayed behind and watched the others bask in the spring.

…Good job, soothsayer. Strongbow sent before giving him an affirmed nod and headed down towards the others.

"Strongbow just paid me a compliment." Teir said stunned.

"That in itself is a compliment; something he does rarely if ever. He will always be one to give constructive criticism but it is a rare feat when he would come to commend you." Ember commented, putting a comforting hand on his should, which he covered with his own.

"Still, I say that Shuna had the greatest honor of all."

"When Strongbow spoke in order to thank her?"

"Yes, but even if he wanted to thank her through sending, she wouldn't have understood at that time."

"Yet another honor he bestowed upon her. He could have just conveyed it through a handshake or told someone else to express his gratitude; however, he chose to communicate to her personally so that she would understand how appreciative he was."

"After all her years with your sire, I'm sure that she now understands what a great honor was at the time and also how uncommon it was for Strongbow to express himself, let alone his gratitude."

Would the two of you stop blather about me and join the rest of us in this dew pond you lead us to!

Both Teir and Ember got as red in the face as Ember's tresses while the rest of the tribe laughed at their expense. It was a good to hear laughter among everyone…all but one. Although everyone needed a good laugh, Pike – who was normally the one with such gaiety from filling his stomach with too much Dreamberries – was the only one not splashing or playing in the water.

Ember looked down at Pike sitting alone on a rock at the edge of the pond, just staring off in to space. It tore at her heart how Pike was engulfed by his melancholy and the life's fire in his eyes had died down to a dull coals.

Suddenly, there was a loud monstrous growl coming from within the swamp that they just exited from Pike's head shot up. His eyes now burned with a new inferno but one that was consumed with death and pain.

"AYOOOOOOYA!" Pike howled as he jumped up from his rock and onto his wolf, chasing after beast, reacting fasten than Ember could register.

"It's one of Winnowill's creatures!" Rayek shouted after Pike's sudden departure and chased after him before he did something rash.

Puckernuts Pike! For once, can you think about your actions before you act them out, you dunderhead! vented the ever silent elf.

Ember ran after the Rayek and Strongbow as swift as Choplicker could take her.

'!#$&!#$ Pike! Now's not the time to go chasing after a ghost!'

Teir! Sunstream! Keep everyone at the waterhole!

Ember dashed through the forest trying to catch to the elder Dreamberry connoisseur before he did something rash. A sudden shrill yelp pierced through the forest as Rayek and Strongbow were finally able to catch up to run along side each other.

Branches and bushes were colliding into them as they rushed to their friend's aid until they found themselves in clearing on the damp ground. Pike had his spear in a defensive stance, propelling it towards his opponent with unmatched skill.

All the Wolfriders know the excitement and thrill of a hunt and kill but something in his eyes clouded over his wolf instincts and he was blinded by his own rage and frustration. Going in for the kill, the warped creature that was once a wild cat before its gruesome transformation, stealthily dodged his attack and ran off.

Ember, Rayek, and Strongbow finally reached Pike only to find him running off after Winnowill's pet.

"Pike! Stop!" Ember shouted in vain but yet again her calls went unheard.

That Dunderhead is going to be the end of us all!

The band of them followed their kin's trail but suddenly heard a startled shout and speed as fast as they could towards the source of the cry. The three elves finally found Pike but he was far from safe at that point.

Pike was waist deep in the wet bog, clutching his spear defensively against the morphed feline on its haunches, ready to spring for the kill. With each of his struggle, he sank a few inches deeper, making it harder to keep a proper hold of his spear.

Not needing to be told what needs to be done, Strongbow swiftly took out a quiver strapped to his back and aimed for its eye. His aim reflecting his very name was true and his the creatures left eye, causing it to writhe in pain and leaving itself even more vulnerable to attacks. Both Strongbow and Ember took the opportunity to strike, aiming both arrow and dagger towards its jugular and heart, putting the poor beast out of its misery.

Rayek didn't waste time as he went to Pike's aid to get him out of his sticky situation (literally). He took a few steps towards him only to stop short before taking another stride.

"WATCH OUT!" He warned tersely "How do you think I ended up here?"

Rayek nodded in understanding but look around for means in which to pull out their comrade from the muddle he got himself into.

'Puckernuts! I left the weapons that I acquired posing as a human back at the waterhole. That whip would have come handy right about now.'

Frantically raking his brain for a solution to enlighten him on a way out of the current situation, his head suddenly shot up as remembered something.

'Of course! Why didn't I think of that before!'

"Hurry up, Brown One! I'm not going to be sinking upwards anytime soon!"

Rayek closed his eyes ignoring the comment that Pike just made and held his hand outstretched and palm up, concentrated his energy to flow about him. What once used to come so easy, so natural, now took a lot of deliberation and effort after a long period of abstaining.

After he took Winnowill into his mind and body as a punishment to her and maybe even himself for all his past transgressions, he had to refrain from extensive uses of his power lest she took over him as she did when he guised himself as a human. She was the one that morphed his body to that akin to a High One but in return alienated him from all other elves and making him more alone than he has ever felt in his entire long life. He wasn't willing to let her loose into the world and hurt those around her; not if he could do something to prevent it from happening again.

Even after Winnowill was freed from her bounds within his mind, he continued to live as if he had no power out of habit and many years of wandering as a human. Rayek isolated all the noise around him (including Pike's ranting, complaints, name calling etc.) until he was able to let his power flow though him like a torrent from within. Being out of practice was draining him more than when he was just learning to delve deeper into his powers. Once he felt he had a grasp on it, he directed it towards Pike and engulfed him with it.

" – you useless, troll! Stop standing there an-aaAAHH!" Pike bellowed as he suddenly felt an unfamiliar sensation grip him and felt his body rise out of the wet silt that he was up to his chin in.

"Put me down, right NOW!" He continued to yell as he was now floating mid air and into a safe distance away from what could have been his last resting place.

As if on queue, Rayek collapsed and dropped him unceremoniously as the extent of his powers reached it limit and gave away before he regain control over it again. Pike dropped a good 15 feet, crashing into a really dense thorny bush, hollering and cursing about anything and everything.

Shut it, Pike! It's your own fault that you got yourself in this whole situation. You were just as reckless as a boastful cub if not worse. I thought you grew out of that stage! Strongbow chastised him as they returned back from investigating the creature.

Ember was not far behind Strongbow but went directly to Rayek to see if he was all right before casting a piercing glare at Pike. He cringed as he looked on at his Chieftess' imposing stance and could practically fell the area around them going up in temperature.

'She's like Cutter in more ways than one and that look was definitely a trait that she inherited from him.' He thought immediately as Ember slowly advanced towards him menacingly.

Ember stopped before him and stood there looking down at Pike. If he had no clue how infuriated she was with him, he definitely knew know as she stood there as her anger seemed to radiate and project towards him. He only stared at her with wide eyes before he was yanked up by the collar and face to face with a very irate Chieftess.

"What in Timmorn's Blood where you thinking!" She demanded lividly. "Have you any idea how close you could have been to being that beast's last meal for today? Have you thought about what that would do to Sust? Do you want him to be like you? Just as reckless, running headlong with fewer brains than a Zwoot into danger? What have you got to say for yourself?"

Pike opened his mouth to comment only to be interrupted before he could get a word in edgewise.

"No! I do NOT want to hear what you have to say! I just know that it was plain foolishness that made you do what you did and there is nothing else to explain your actions! Your recklessness almost cost you your life and endangered ours yet all you have behind your actions is your motivation for revenge! We are Wolfriders and Krim was a Go-Back! She was prepared for death all her life but are you doing her or Sust honor by acting so rash and heedless. Your actions have consequences on not only yourself but those around you and I thought that you learned that after incident when you were captured and was about to be fed to another of the Black Witch's mutants. If you pull a stunt like that again, I am going to send you back to the Great Holt with Dart as an escort where you will have to deal with Father."

Pikes features morphed from anger, stunned, guilt and finally to complete shock and horror after Ember's last comment. He would have to hang his head in shame as he was being 'escorted' back to the others and nothing to show for his pain.

"I will not compromise my tribe for someone that is as careless about his life and actions as he is about others around him." Ember concluded rather coldly before turning around and heading back to the tribe.

The last comment hurt and seemed to hit home as clarity filtered into his eyes again, leaving all the anger and grief to pour out in the form of heated tears. Pike suddenly thought about his Chieftess' words, swiped at his eyes with the top of his arm and was finally able to feel the weight he was carrying in his heart lighten immensely but still leaving a small shadow to be remembered. He never felt as tired as he did at that moment, yet now that he didn't have his rage and sorrow fueling his every action, he felt his like the very energy he lives on was draining out of him, leaving him practically empty with nothing to fall upon.

Still, the tears continued to cascade down his cheek, making him feel weak and vulnerable to anything that would come his way, when he suddenly felt a warm hand placed on his shoulder. Pike looked over his shoulder to find his longtime tribe mate Strongbow with no expression on his face, yet his eyes conveying the understanding he felt as he, too, had a history with the Black Witch. Pike was always the carefree and impulsive one, as opposed to Strongbow's very stoic and logical mannerisms yet he gave him a weak smile as now, they finally have a common foundation of each other and what the other has gone though in order for them to be there and who they are now. He was not alone anymore and he knew that he could fall back on Strongbow for support while he tried to regain himself again if not for him, for Sust and the tribe.

Let us go back before they start to worry for the worst.

Pike only nodded and started to walk on before Strongbow stopped him once again.

Pike! Pike turned and found Strongbow with a sincere grin. Welcome back.

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