(This story begins the "Suddendusk & Quick Fang's Recognition" storyline - see listing for more related stories.)
Neither moon had quite risen yet, but the sun had set and that was early enough for Suddendusk. Windsong must have been up until not too long ago with Crackle; both were still asleep as he crept as quietly as possible out of the den. It must have been a busy day for his insomniac little cub -- she only stirred once before turning over and pulling the furs up to her chin. He paused for just a moment to enjoy the rare sight of mother and cub curled up together in sleep, but then silently slipped out. It was time to check the traps he’d set the night before.
Once outside in the crisp early-evening air, he stretched and then laced his boots tight, looking around the Holt to see who was up and who he might be able to recruit to help him on his rounds. It was always easier to check the snares with two. He never knew how many animals to expect to have to carry back. On a good night, it could be quite a handful for just himself.
Evervale was up already, but the traps in which the animals hadn't yet died could upset her, and that was the last thing he wanted to do. There was Otter, but he was young and Suddendusk wasn’t currently in the mood to spend the time teaching. Besides, he seemed engrossed in a project with Beetle. His eye fell on Quick Fang who was sitting on a branch outside of Thornbow’s den, wrapped in a very worn and tattered clickdeer blanket impatiently fidgeting with something. She’d do. She was efficient when it came to hunting and killing, and there was little chance that her temper would come into play on the trap trails. So long as he held his tongue.
“Quick Fang,” he called. “Will you come with me to check the traps? I could use another pair of hands.”
Quick Fang’s lupine eyes flashed wide and quickly darted over to where he was standing, in reply to his question. Suddendusk couldn’t help but notice that she seemed annoyed. It wasn’t until he saw exactly what she was fidgeting with, that he was able to understand her annoyance. Somebody, most likely Notch or Chicory, had tied all of her bracers and shin guards together, being sure to incorporate several knots and a generous amount of preserver spit. Quick Fang’s fingers were sticky with wrapstuff and she began to growl. Before Suddendusk could offer his services, the huntress leapt from her perch to the ground where he was standing. She moved so quickly that she left her tattered blanket in a crumpled pile behind her. Quick Fang shoved the wrapstuffed entwined bundle into his chest and stated very matter of factly, “You help me, I’ll help you.” Her ice-blue eyes burned with frustration and the trapper couldn’t help but chuckle.
“It would be my pleasure. Now let’s see what we can do with this mess,” he offered. Suddendusk squatted, gingerly laying his own gear on the ground at Quick Fang’s feet. Digging through his satchel he found a skin of water and delicately poured droplets on strategic locations of the bundle in order the dissolve the sticky preserver spit without completely soaking the other items. He reached back into his satchel and pulled out a walnut shell that had been tied closed. He opened it up and dipped his finger into the ointment that the shell contained, placed some on his dry chapped lips and then placed the rest on various knots. Quick Fang sniffed the air to try and determine what this concoction was; it smelled of bear fat, bee’s wax, and a hint of honey.
As he continued tugging and loosening the knots, he asked, “Any ideas on who would do such a thing?” He knew who the most obvious culprits could be, but he was wondering if Quick Fang knew who it might be. The huntress did not say a word but sent to him an image memory and a name **Chicory**. Several elves had gathered for some frolicking and sharing of dreamberries the night before. Quick Fang and Thornbow had left the gathering together but not without Chicory wanting to join with them. Everyone knew that Quick Fang did not share but that didn’t seem to stop Chicory from trying anyway. Quick Fang promptly stopped Chicory in her tracks by growling and baring her fangs. From the looks of the mess that Suddendusk held in his hands, Chicory obviously did not take it well.
It didn't take very long for the patient net-mender to loosen the knots enough to free the rest of Quick Fang's things. "There we go," he announced triumphantly. "Now, can you help me check my trapline?"
The huntress took her belongings and stared at them with great awe. She was simply amazed out how quickly Suddendusk was able to untangle her mess. Her ice blue eyes softened slightly as she smiled, her eyes were the only thing that offered some form of gratitude. "Yes," she responded to his question. In her mind, there was no reason for debate or discussion. They had made an agreement, he had held up his end, and it was now turn to hold up her part of the bargain.
She quickly finished getting dressed and waited for further instruction without saying a word about how trapping was her least favourite form of hunting. Snaring an unsuspecting animal and then holding it captive until it bleeds to death, starves to death or until the trapper could claim it, in her mind seemed to be disrespectful to the prey. There was no hunt, no thrill of the chase, no victory in the kill. At least with traditional hunting the prey had an honourable chance to fight for their life. To Quick Fang the whole act of trapping seemed cowardly and cruel, but she could not deny that this form of hunting had saved her and the tribe from starvation on more than one occasion. However; as far as she was concerned any day you could hunt, was a good day, even if it was trapping.
As was his nature, he waited patiently for Quick Fang to ready herself -- not that she took too long. “I was going to check the Big Rock trail,” he said, pointing in the right direction. He had a handful or two of trails he liked to keep up regularly, and he had his own personal names for each of them, to keep them straight in his own head. “It’s a medium-length trail. It shouldn’t take us much past midnight to check them all and circle back with what we’ve found.” He ensured his own hunting knife was secured to his belt and once Quick Fang was ready, he headed to the forest, and the trail that would take them over wooded hill and dale, through two large boulders that guarded a particularly good spot for snares. He suspected a large rabbit warren was likely nearby, as the the three-leaf flower they liked grew in the shade of those two boulders.
Suddendusk couldn’t help but smile. Although he had never tied someones belongings with Preserver spit, he certainly had played his fair share of pranks on people. He huffed good-naturedly. “It’s just not fair,” he said. “Almost all your age-mates are like-minded. When I was your age, more often than not I just got a dunking in the river care of Blacksnake and Axehand for my trouble. It would have been wonderful to have more than one prankster in the tribe.”
Well. Wonderful for him, certainly. Perhaps not so wonderful for all the others. The current plethora of tricksters was amusing on one hand, yet a part of him looked forward to them all eventually maturing, and a day when he wouldn’t have to check his boots for thistles before he pulled them on.
Quick Fang simply looked at him in agreement, but did not say a word. She was after-all a hunter first and foremost. Regardless of whether she was stalking or trapping, stealth was a skill she understood and lived by. Unfortunately for Suddendusk, the huntress lacked the skill of conversation, and he came to the sad realization that this would be a long and quiet trip along the trap line.
He led them through the woods along the trail that was marked only in his own memory. The word “trail” was sort of misleading, actually – it implied that someone else could follow it without a guide. It was only partially on the ground; much of it was from branch-to-branch in the treetops as they skirted particularly swampy patches made worse by the spring thaw. He shimmied down the tree trunks to find solid ground and the snares and traps he’d set. “I’d tried to set traps in the trees once,” he mused aloud. “But the tree-dwellers are too agile and too small for the most part. The amount of effort it would take to catch one really isn’t worth it for the amount of meat and fur you get in return.” Again, Quick Fang looked at him with nothing more than stoic expression, and Suddendusk felt like he might as well be talking to the trees and rocks.
They both had a pair of weasels to carry by the time they were at the half-way point in the trail, and at the twin boulders that shadowed a glade of three-leaf clover. “We’ll have more to carry after this part,” he said. “The place is thick with rabbits here.” With a sly grin, he added, “Mating season is a trapper's busy time.”
Within the next few paces, the two hunters heard noises coming from the direction of the traps that made them both take an alert stance of fight or flight. Suddendusk’s hand rested cautiously on the hilt of his knife as he sniffed the air for danger. The wind shifted and his fears were confirmed, a stinkbear had come to raid his traps. Stinkbears were unpredictable and cunning creatures that walked the knife’s edge between predator and scavenger. These animals had the size and intelligence of natural wolves, the strength and long retractable claws of a bear, the tenacity of a badger, and the nasty disposition of Quick Fang after she’s been baited by someone like Notch. Out of the corner of his eye he saw Quick Fang drop everything she was carrying including the weasels, then draw both of her knives from their sheaths with deadly speed. “Wait—” he said in futility, but before he could get the rest of the words out of his mouth, the huntress was already in motion.
Quick Fang ran ahead to where she could face the cunning thief eye to eye with only a few wolf-lengths between them, and then she began to growl; challenging the animal. She paused long enough for Suddendusk to caution her, **Quick Fang, no. This stinkbear is half-starved and crazed. It can have those rabbits, we will find others. It’s not worth the risk.**
The huntress’s ice blue eyes shifted momentarily to look at Suddendusk and she said, “It’s worth it to me.” As she returned her gaze to focus on her prey she sent, **MINE!** and then leapt into the air above the stinkbear. Her body twisted in mid-air to land squarely on the back of the enormous scavenger as if she had simply mounted her wolf-friend. As she landed on its back she drove both knives onto either side of its thick neck. The scavenger instinctively clawed at his attacker but could not reach her; she was too swift for him. Too stubborn to give up, the creature rolled on its shoulder in an attempt to crush the elf riding his back. The tactic was its fatal mistake. As the stinkbear rolled onto its back, Quick Fang held on and slipped one hand under its chin to expose the vulnerable neck, and slit its throat with the knife in the other hand.
The encounter ended as quickly as it had begun. The animal was still convulsing in its death-throws as Quick Fang lay trapped beneath it. Suddendusk ran to her side. He gasped when he saw her face and hands were covered in blood, “Quick Fang, are you alright?”
She grunted under the weight of the beast, “Get it off,” she demanded breathlessly. The trapper heaved the dead weight of the animal until it slid off of his companion. Again the trapper asked the huntress if she was alright, with great compassion in his voice. She took a deep breath before finally answering matter-of-factly, “I am fine, now help me up.”
“I should have foreseen this,” Suddendusk said, offering his hand to her. “This is not the first time a stinkbear has come to raid my traps.” His voice was unusually hard, the compassion having left the moment he saw that she was unharmed. He helped her stand upright. As they rose to their feet, Quick Fang tried to turn loose of Suddendusk’s hand but he would not release her. Instead he squeezed her hand and pulled it in towards him, holding it close to his chest in an effort to restrain her. “Wait a moment,” he said. “Look at me.” Confused, the huntress struggled to pull away. As she looked at him, she noticed his normally compassionate looking calm green eye now seemed angry, the way her father’s eyes looked when he was about to reprimand her.
“That was completely reckless, cub,” Suddendusk scolded. Now that he had her attention he continued to gently restrain her and resumed his scolding. “Thank the High Ones you were not hurt, but you very well could have been. Bear-wolves are very unpredictable, no matter what time of year, which makes them extremely dangerous.” Quick Fang’s eyes began to narrow as her stoic expression contorted into a slight snarl. “There are too few of us as it is, to risk your life over a few rabbit pelts. Which reminds me, those rabbits in the trap do not belong to you alone, they belong to the whole tribe. Your selfishness could have cost you your life today. You really do need to learn how to share.” With that said the trapper released her arm and stepped away from her to keep a sharp eye on her notorious fangs, anticipating retaliation for his stern lecture.
A low growl began to form in her throat but this time she chose not to release it. Instead she exhaled sharply in disgust. Again she had been misunderstood. She had always felt that most of the elders never could seem to figure out her motives and that always caused a lot of frustration for her. Quick Fang turned sharply on her heel and bent down to retrieve her knives. She wiped the bloody knives on the coat of the unfortunate scavenger to clean them before returning them to their sheaths.
Suddendusk could hear her mumble something under her breath as she cleaned her knives. Being the conscientious type that he was, he did not want this confrontation to fester between them; otherwise this would be a very long trip indeed. The last thing he needed was an angry Quick Fang. With a calm and understanding tone he questioned, “I’m sorry, what did you say?”
A brief moment of tension hung heavy over the two of them before she decided to answer. “I did not say the rabbits were mine,” she huffed. The trapper’s head tilted in confusion, he did not understand. Before he could ask she sent to him again, **MINE**, this time with a mental image of herself, wearing the distinctive pelt of the stinkbear. “The last stinkbear pelt I had,” she continued, “was given to me by Whitestag; now they are both gone.” Suddendusk’s mind wandered back over the event. ‘She was claiming the stinkbear pelt for herself, not the rabbits,’ he thought to himself. When he thought about the few times he himself had actually seen someone tangle with a stinkbear in his long life time, he finally understood. Although the creatures were common enough, as a stinkbear pelt was a rare possession that was highly prized for its warmth and distinctive markings - yet as highly prized as the pelts were, the risk was simply not worth the reward. Most sensible elves gave the creatures a very wide berth.
Kneeling down, Suddendusk ripped a fresh piece of forest loam from the ground and began dribbling water into it using it as a sponge. He walked over to Quick Fang and gently began to wipe the blood off of her face. In his most fatherly, soothing tone he said, “I know you are a brave, fearless hunter, but it was still foolish of you to take on that stinkbear by yourself. We haven’t even got our wolves with us. You are extremely lucky you did not get hurt.”
As he wiped the blood from her face he looked at her to give her an understanding smile. He had only meant to look briefly into her lupine eyes, when he found himself inescapably drawn into them, igniting a thirst in his soul that was both achingly familiar and strangely alien in its unexpected source.
But as Windsong’s soulname had blown through him like a gale, leaving him breathless and opening his innermost self to her, the name “Dehn” sank into that innermost self of his, piercing him, leaving him just as breathless, just as exposed. He was speared to the spot and frozen in place, he knew she would bolt if he reached out to touch her. High Ones, she’d probably bolt anyway. She was not ready for this.
Without warning, Quick Fang’s entire world folded in itself. Her peripheral vision began to fade as her entire being focused and was held captive by his one good eye. The only thought that could escape her brain was, Green. Green like the color of new life. Green…Life…Dhay. As she slowly came to the realization of what was truly happening, an instant darkness descended upon her. Like the eclipse she had experienced the previous summer the darkness overshadowed her but this time she felt it in her soul as ultimate fear gripped her. Utterly paralyzed, she felt like a rabbit caught in one of his traps, unable to escape and unable to fight. Again the name-sound announced itself as it surrounded her like a thick fog, **Dhay**. Her body began to grow feverish as the blood rushed to her skin. Then an unmistakable hunger in her soul consumed her body like a ravenous wolf. NO, she thought to herself. This was not supposed to happen to her, she wasn’t ready for this, she didn’t want this. By the time the name echoed through her body a third time, natural instinct told her to touch his body. But a much more primal instinct told her to run. Quick Fang tried desperately to tear her gaze away from his eye, but her body would not allow it. She tried to step backwards, again her body would not allow it. She could barely breathe and her breath began to come in quick sharp gasps. Finally in an attempt to gain control of her body she collapsed onto the ground, breaking the invisible tether that locked their eyes onto each other.
Suddendusk's body was already responding to Recognition’s call, aching for her, nowhere near as suspended in time as he felt his mind was; it knew exactly what it wanted. He swallowed hard, and had to fight down a laugh. It was the exact wrong thing to do at this moment, but the joy of another cub welled up inside him and threatened to burst out in mirth, as it had the last two times this happened to him. But with Windsong, merriment in the moment had been a good thing. Quick Fang might not be so understanding. He squeezed his eye shut, fighting down the bark of laughter. The last thing he wanted her to do right now was bolt.
Closing her eyes as tight as she could, Quick Fang began to crawl on her belly away from him. Each agonizing reach was slower than the last. She thought she had gotten away until something touched the heel of her bare foot: it was Suddendusk. “Quick F-Fang” he managed to say. “It’s all right, it’ll be all right.” He hoped he was reassuring. His touch stung at first and then the sensation spread through her body like sweet ecstasy, paralyzing her once again. Her inability to take control of her own body began to frustrate her. The elf and the wolf within her began to battle violently with each other; the elf wanting to succumb to the undeniable call, the wolf wanting to run to escape entrapment. Tears seeped out of her closed eyelids as she wrestled with her dual natures. Out of pure desperation, the frustration built up in the back of her throat and began to escape in a low rumbling growl. The growl grew louder and she quickly turned and snapped at him.
He jumped back, even though he knew that she would not, could not, hurt him now. But he also knew that above all else it was her freedom that she prized most. She would need some time to accept this unbelievable chain of events. And so, with a great aching in his soul, Suddendusk released his touch on her. Slowly she continued to crawl away until she could bring herself to her feet. When she was able to get to her feet, she bolted into the forest.
His first instinct was to chase her, or call after her, but he didn’t. She wouldn’t stay. He knew her now. He also knew, with his experience, that he could call her by her soulname and keep her here. But he didn’t. He didn’t want to do that to her. So... he let her go. His head throbbed with every step she took and all he could do was sit down hard on the ground. The soft, moist earth seeped into his trousers, yet he didn’t move for a very long time. He stared at the woods into which Quick Fang had disappeared and worked to get himself under control. He knew what he had to do. He had to stand up. He had to finish the snare trail himself. He had to get back to the Holt. And then he had to wait. For her.
As patient an elf as he was, however, he had no idea how he was going to manage it. His hands were shaking, his head spinning, and his body aching. But there was nothing else he could do. Suddendusk forced himself to his unsteady feet and made his first decision: puckernuts to finishing the trail. He’d get someone else to finish it. It would take all he had to get himself back in one piece, let alone emptying all the traps between here and there on top of it. He had to get home, and fast.
He had a lot of waiting to do.
(This story has several sequels, the most direct of which is "Gone to Ground"; the rest may be found in the "Suddendusk and Quick Fang Recognize" listing.)