Sunlight was such a fickle thing, Nightfall pondered as the blistering warmth on her skin softened. A thin cloud passed overhead, the sun's rays dulled on their path to her tanned skin. She closed her eyes and took in the sensation's around her, the gentle breath of the wind whispering past her ear, the stirring of the grass against her skin, the smell of the damp earth beneath her napping fur.
Faintly Nightfall could hear Redlance, her lovemate, working a few strides away in the open field. Warmth of a different kind filled her to the brim, overfilling until she couldn't help but smile up at the sky.
The cloud passed. Sunlight poured undisturbed onto her body once more.
Redlance inhaled sharply and Nightfall's eyes were wide open instantly, her instincts screaming that her mate was in danger. Dizzily she jerked upright as the scent of Redlance's terror filled her nostrils. The smell was pouring off her lovemate in crashing waves, his gaze locked on something in the tree line.
The lithe huntress twisted to follow his gaze and felt electricity shoot through her heart. Lurking just within the shadows of the trees was a monstrous bear, starved into something with pure and simple intention. Any predator, any Wolfrider recognized that need.
The bear was here to eat, on whatever looked easiest. That, of course, was peaceful and defenseless Redlance.
"Redlance run!" Nightfall screamed, as she rushed to stand. 'To me!' The huntress sent, her call traveling to more than just her lovemate. She needed the pack, she needed the Wolfriders. 'To me!'.
Starfell felt powerful on nights like these, nights that were saturated with magic and secrets. It was a night like this that she'd been conceived and it was a night like this that she'd been born.
The wind brushed past the trees, like an animal creeping through the forest, the stirring leaves betraying it's quiet travel. The stars shone bright, piercing the canopy to peer down at her, their missing sister fallen to the earth.
Least that's what her mother had always whispered to her as she had fallen asleep. That the stars were her siblings, the moons her guides, the sky her home. Not the forest that her father had emerged from, nor the village of smoke that she'd been chased from but the all enveloping sky.
Starfell peered up at it now, as it studied her from above. They winked down at her, thousands of silvery eyes watching her aimless journey.
She imagined reaching out for their guidance and the sky reaching back, it was easy to see in her minds eye. The sky sinking downwards to accept her into its gleaming ranks, her inner light shining free from its casing. It was dreams like that, the ones were she was so obviously meant to be there in the night sky, that made her forget that she was two halves that couldn't make a whole.
Part wood spirt, part human. Part her pointed eared father and part her dull featured mother.
It was ease to ignore the horror of their joining, the wrongness that had created her. Knowing that it was against his will, that- Starfell leaped to the nearest hanging branch as a mass of fur, teeth and claws barreled through where she had once stood.
Allowing the momentum to carry her, Starfell swung off the branch, landing hard on the grassy earth. Without pause she sprang into a dash, trading stealth for speed.
The beast's outraged roar echoed around the tree trunks, muffled by the tall overgrown ferns. The creature crashed through the underbrush after her, the sound of its heavy footfalls reverberating through the earthy forest air.
The sound grew louder, surrounding her in a thunderous clamor and the beast's damp harsh breath splashed across her bare back. It was close enough to smell, the sweetness of rot and the tang of dried blood filled her nose.
With a shout of terror Starfell launched herself into the nearest tree, her fingernails bending painfully to cling onto the rough bark of a low hanging oak branch. The snap of a massive jaw, teeth clacking closed on empty air just below her feet set her stomach churning.
Lifting herself up she didn't pause and leapt to the next branch. Glancing back she looked just in time to see a huge bear stand, his claws scouring deep furrows in the tree branch as he struggled into the oak with her. The entire tree heaved under the bears weight and Starfell nearly stumbled straight over the branch she stood upon, the world tilting beneath her.
Crouching Starfell regained balance only to stagger to her feet as the monstrous bear swiped at her. Sharpened reflex's and her swift eyes the only thing keeping her from being the creatures dinner, that and it's desperation. It's attacks were shaky and frantic, the wild swings were easy to avoid. The only problem being how quickly she was running out of branch.
Twisting she stepped out of the Bears reach and faced the forest, trusting herself she sprang into the dark. Landing with a startled grunt, she shakily stood, the bear letting loose a roar of outrage at her escape.
Fear crept up her spine as the bear shook itself free from the aged oak, panting with exertion she broke into another run. She needed to get out of the bear's reach, it was frighteningly clear she wouldn't out run it.
Starfell broke from the forest, a meadow washed out by the moons light stretched before her. The looming trees closely encircled the open land, a small cluster of their thinner brothers stood guard in the middle of the swaying grass.
Another roar had her racing to the small cluster, she picked the thinnest and tallest of the bunch. It's branches were narrow and would never support the bear's weight but it was thick enough that it would not topple under the bear's strength.
With an ease that she prided herself over, Starfell scaled the tree she now recognized as a young but strong pine. The scent welcomed her and she climbed to the very top where it swayed beneath the slight wind. From her she watched the bear gallop into the meadow, a dark shadow amongst the pale grass.
Even from her perch she could hear the animals labored, discordant breathing. It struck her as odd but as the bear neared understanding dawned upon her.
The bear was stunningly massive which made its narrow sides so much more prominent, the animal was starving. Glistening in the moonlight was a clump of dried blood across its shoulder and Starfell recognized the sweet smell of rot from before. The wound was infected, made worse by lack of food no doubt. The bear had been chased from its territory, by man or fellow bear mattered not only that it was dying because of it.
It was a part of life yet still Starfell felt a pang of sadness for the old bear, even as it attempted to pull itself up her tree. It's glinting eyes, intent and predatory as it glared up at her.
Starfell watched as its claws dug into the pine, it's bark crunching in protest. Grunting the bear tried to pull himself up but his once powerful forepaw's trembled with effort and exhaustion. With a agonized bellow the bear's strength waned and it toppled from the tree, falling hard onto its side.
The creature lay their perfectly still and Starfell bent to consider it, the thought that it might be dead crossing her mind. Although sad as it would be to be witness to such a mighty animals meager death, it would be best for both of them.
A deep groan of pain seeped from the bear's parted maw and Starfell sat back with a sharp snort. She shouldn't be so pleased to know the animal lived, as it had moments ago tried to kill her, yet she felt pleased none the less.
Still, she was not pleased knowing she would be forced to sleep in a slender pine tree, as they made awful nest's she'd long ago deemed. The ancient ones were nice, their branches capable and sturdy, but as Starfell searched her pine over for the best place to sleep she noted that this one was far from ancient.
Finally she picked an area near the middle, where a close gathering of branches grew together. Sleepily she wove the branches into each other, using the thin strips of leather around her waist to hold them in place. Once finished she lowered herself into the newly made nest, making sure to move her dagger so it wouldn't bother her hip while she slept.
The stars sang above her and the bear breathed heavily below, somewhere far off a pack of wolves began to sing along with the stars. Starfell let the subtle music soothe her to sleep.
That night Starfell dreamed of stars walking beneath her nest, wolves, the star's earthen brothers at their sides. They sent to her, using only her true name. 'Nim, Nim!'
Starfell was startled awake, she jerked upright and sat gasping for air. The sun hung high over head, the sunlight burning her freshly opened eyes. Something had woken her, she swore-
Starfell gasped in shock at the sending, it was so powerful and overwhelming. Fear that wasn't her own filled her senses and she staggered to her feet, her best groaning with the movement.
From her perch she could see the bear from before charging a stiff figure. He was going to die and their was nothing she could do, no that wasn't true. That thought was not her own.
Starfell leapt from one tree to the next until she landed in the tall grass, drawing her dagger she raced to intercept the bear.
Misjudging it's speed she met its shoulder instead of its head. With a angered cry she sprang at the bear, her dagger embedding itself in the beasts back.
"Run!" Starfell screamed.
Nightfall screamed as the bear closed the distance between Redlance and itself. She wouldn't make it to him in time, she was going to watch her mate die. She was going to die.
A figure soared into the air, appearing from the tall grass and Nightfall lifted her gaze to the shape. Soaring through the air was an elf. Her pale gold hair shimmered in the sunlight and trailed behind her like a tail. With a strange grace she arced through the air. She looked like a shooting star.
Blood splashed across the meadow, raining across Redlance's cheeks like glistening freckles. The bear's blood gushed from under the dagger embedded in between its shoulder blades. "Run!" The she-elf screamed, her bright green eyes alighting upon Redlance and Nightfall.
Redlance gasped as the bear jerked its head around to where the she-elf's leg bounced against his bony flank. The newcomer didn't even have time to cry out before she was thrown to the ground. In a breathless groan the elf struggled to inhale, all the air pushed from her lungs.
Redlance's savior let out an agonized scream as the bear's claws bore down onto her, tearing into the flesh of the newcomers shoulder. Nightfall reached her mate and pushed him down into the grass where he could hide before leaping to the elf's rescue.
With a battle cry the huntress surged forward and slashed her dagger into the side of the bear's neck before darting away. Enraged the animal swiped wildly at her, only to grow more enraged as she danced just out of reach.
Nightfall taunted the bear, drawing it further and further from the other two elves. Just beyond the bear's shoulder she could see Redlance stagger to his feet and move to help the fallen elf.
The bear snarled in frustration, drawing the huntress's attention back to the animal. Unexpectedly it charged her, picking up speed. Shouting curses Nightfall leapt out of the creatures destructive path, feeling it surge past her as it overshot its target.
Rolling Nightfall struggled to get her feet under her, after finding her footing she turned to face the bear as it rounded on her. "Come at me!" She snarled, bearing her teeth at her mates attacker.
The bear charged once again, it's maw parted and eyes gleaming with excitement. Nightfall tensed prepared to dodge when an arrow sailed into her vision. It flew straight and true into the bear's left eye.
Rearing, the bear let loose an agonized cry, thrashing the it snapped the arrow and bellowed. Nightfall's relief was visible as her shoulders slumped and she howled to the fast approaching Wolfrider's.
'We're here.' The tribe sent as one to her. Nine wolves raced by, seated atop them nine wolfriders. The bear turned to face the wolfriders just before the first wolf sank it's fangs into the beasts hide. Arrows flew, spears stabbed, and New Moon tasted blood. Finally cutters blade sank into the spine of the bear. A shiver passed through the creature before it collapsed into a bony heap.
Silence blanketed the tribe, a pleased Cutter smiling at his panting tribe as the stood around their prey. Then, without warning, he threw his head back and howled.
The others joined in until it was one song, a song of life and of death. A song of the way and the new, a song that told of triumphs such as today and of warnings for tomorrow. It is the song of the Wolfriders.
'Enough!' Redlance desperately sent and the tribe turned as one to see their tree-shaper staggering under the weight of a strange elf. Gasping Nightfall rushed to her weights side, taking the she-elf from him and letting him kneel to gain his breath again.
"Who is this?" Cutter questioned as he neared the mates, a hand reaching out to steady the shaken Redlance. Following their chief the tribe surrounded the four, their eyes roving over the stranger.
"We don't have time for that." Nightfall snapped, her eyes traveling to where Redlance had covered the she-elf's mauled shoulder. Cutters gaze to traveled to the strangers shoulder, peeking under the fur the chieftain paled.
"To the holt!" Cutter commanded before whistling for Nightrunner. The sleek wolf came immediately and made no sound as Nightfall eased the stranger onto his back. Cutter mounted and wrapped one arm around the stranger to keep her steady. Without need for Cutters command, Nightrunner sprang forward and raced in the direction of the holt. The tribe hot on their Chief's heels.