The elf approaching had been as silent as she could possibly be, and yet the elder knew she had company. Annoyed, she looked up and her eyes shimmered fiercely in the pale moonlight. She had chosen the river bend to be alone for a while, to shake the façade off of her for just a moment. She didn’t care much about the cold wind playing with her hair at this time, but now she had been disturbed, she realized it was hard to push her emotions away again.
She had hoped to have some peaceful time with her own thoughts. The burbling water had eased her senses and finally gave her some time to be alone with her feelings. Alone in the dark, with just the reflection of the moon in the soft streaming water: this is how she wanted the situation right now. But even that seemed too much to be asked.
**Come out. I know you’re there.**
Silence. A very familiar scent tickled her nostrils and her eyes narrowed.
**What do you want?**
The send was almost a growl; a defending stance against an intruder, and she could sense a flinch. But not long after that, she could see her daughter appearing from behind a couple of trees. She watched her while she shortened the distance between them. Of everyone, she was the last one Snowfall had expected to seek her out.
Quick Fang. Her only child still alive, and yet the bond was more troubled than it had ever been before. She refused to turn her eyes away when the wolf-like huntress approached.
Did Snowfall blame Quick Fang for Whitestag’s death? After a short hesitation she had to deny her own thought. Snowfall knew what had happened; her fellow hunters had told her so. And she also knew Whitestag’s pride could result in the kind of actions which had led to his death. But Quick Fang had been there with him.
The story they had told her was one of words only. Cold, flat words, because Snowfall had refused to see the mental image. A shiver ran through Snowfall’s spine as she thought of the returning hunting party. Did she blame herself for not being there to stop him? She wasn’t sure, but the frustration about the matter slowly built up inside her.
It seemed her daughter slowed down with every step in her direction. Snowfall narrowed her eyes. The shadows falling over Quick Fang’s head made her face darker, but Snowfall refused to look away first. Quick Fang approached almost reluctantly. Perhaps the way Snowfall handled her grief had been the toughest for her daughter with her wolf-like personality, which ran on impulses and emotions. Snowfall was not like her. She would not show emotions like her daughter did. Reason always prevailed, at least most of the time.
The moment at which Whitestag died, Snowfall had unconsciously known. A strange feeling had nested itself around her stomach and wouldn’t go away. She had refused the knowledge for a while, until the hunting party returned with the horrific message. She had shed a tear or two, and then pushed the strong feelings away. It took her only a few days to be able to control her grief, and it seemed as if nothing had happened. Tears were no help for anyone. It was the Way, she reminded herself over and over again. It wasn’t like this hadn’t happened before; her uncle Fletcher was the cocooned proof.
But she couldn’t deny something had happened, and the comparison wasn’t the same. Although faintly, Fletcher was still alive and awaiting a healer, but Whitestag was no longer here and would never return. She knew that with all of her being, she felt the raw, horrendous pain and emptiness which was all that was left behind. No mother should be allowed to out-live her children! There was nothing that could have prepared her for the intensity of her feelings, the horror, the torment and the memories. Her cub had died and nobody would ever be able to replace him.
And yet, the outside world could hardly see.
Not even a question, but Snowfall felt the hesitation.
Quick Fang was hurting, too. Snowfall knew this, and could sense the doubt in her mental voice.
Her daughter seemed to want a confirmation. She wanted to hear that what had happened was indeed an accident and that there had been nothing that Quick Fang could have done to prevent it from happening. Whitestag and Quick Fang seemed to be best friends. There was nothing the one did that the other did not try to copy, the arguments between the two were rare and they had formed an excellent team during games as well as hunts. Quick Fang had loved Whitestag and it was the same the other way around, despite the many differences between the two.
Quick Fang stared at her mother and Snowfall stared back, pulling herself together for her next demand.
**I want to see, Quick Fang.**
Snowfall saw her daughter shiver when she heard the torment in her mother’s mental voice. If her daughter really had been a wolf, the hair of her neck would stand straight up and she would have growled, Snowfall thought bitterly. She expected that Quick Fang would refuse the demand.
Quick Fang growled softly, as her mother had predicted she would. **I can’t.**
**You don’t understand. I need to see.**
Her daughter’s reluctant face revealed too much. The grief of re-living all of it again, wondering why on earth her mother wanted to see such thing and why she would pain herself by living through it.
Snowfall ignored her and like a branch-horn, coursed the straight path to achieve what she wanted. **Don’t ask me why. Show me.**
The stubborn conviction of Snowfall’s send could hardly be ignored. The last paces to shorten the distance between them seemed to last forever. Was Quick Fang sorry for seeking her out?
**We are alone. Yes, here.**
The send had a hint of desperation, and Snowfall wondered if Quick Fang would flee with her tail between her legs. She answered with a simple nod. They barely needed words to understand each other.
Quick Fang didn’t flee. Without breaking the visual contact with her mother, she bent down on her knees on a safe distance away.
**Not a good idea,** she tried once more, but her mother wouldn’t hear it.
When she suddenly opened her mind, Snowfall was overwhelmed.
**This is going to be fun, little sister. Mountain goats! And not so few, either. This should be easy.** Whitestag’s blond mane waved in the wind when he looked down at his younger sibling and stretched his hand to help her. She felt the adrenaline running through her veins; the rush was almost overwhelming. Quick Fang very much enjoyed the hunts with her brother. Together, they could do anything. She sent a confirming mental nod, and followed her brother up the cliff, ignoring the helping hand. She could climb the cliff herself.
Snowfall gasped. The image was so clear, it made it seem she could almost touch her son while he reached out his arm to help Quick Fang up. She closed her eyes, for the first time breaking eye contact with her daughter since Quick Fang first arrived.
Whitestag grinned. The hunting party of Windburn, Thornbow, Notch, Bowflight, and the two siblings had been on their way for a day and a night already. When the others had tried to get some rest, Whitestag and Quick Fang had sneaked away. The chief would be outraged when he noticed their absence, bu the achievement would be well worth the punishment they would certainly have to undergo. They had asked for this opportunity and Whitestag had talked about hunting mountain goats many times. Windburn had told them no over and over again. It was the hardest prey to hunt because they moved through the rocks so swiftly and the cliffs were dangerous. Quick Fang was supposed to be guarding the perimeter while the others slept, but Whitestag had convinced her to take this chance.
**Look, over there.** The excitement of finally having a clear shot at the herd lifted both their spirits. For a moment, they watched in awe and satisfaction. It was their hunt, the herd was their prey. Wordlessly, they knew what to expect of each other, and Quick Fang moved away from her brother. They would begin at opposite sides, herding the goats together and then take their best shot. Like they always hunted together.
Quick Fang nocked an arrow to her bow, and Whitestag did the same. He let the arrow go, and his bowstring sang. But something had startled the goats, just before he had released the arrow, and they fled without one going down. They seemed to jump to higher ground lightly and easily, and Quick Fang growled mentally. They would have to climb further up.
But a quick mental snarl of her brother made her freeze. ** It’s mine.** Swiftly, he climbed upwards, leaving his sister behind at the steady cliff. She almost growled out loud in frustration. But soon, he was too far up to take any notice of her, fully concentrated on his prey. Again, he raised his bow, stretched his arm, narrowing his eyes and leaning over to have a slightly better view …
The moment he let the arrow loose he knew he had hit, and both Whitestag and Quick Fang growled in satisfaction. They had hunted a mountain goat and succeeded!
The following moment was chaotic and terrifying. By shifting his weight in order to have a better view, he had imbalanced himself. Unable to correct himself – it seemed if he had trouble standing straight. Fear and desperation mixed with a scream followed, as Quick Fang leaped over to try and reach her brother before he lost his balance, but she was nowhere near him when he fell. She saw the surprise in her brother’s eyes when he fell backwards, off the cliff. His horrific scream mixed with her mental voice: **WHITESTAG!!**
It was over in a heartbeat. Filled with disbelief Quick Fang trembled, forcing herself to look over the edge of the cliff. Below her, she saw Whitestag’s body, lying in a strange position. Not caring about the hard rocks which cut her arms open when she hurried down, she sent to him, fiercely, but all she reached was a faint soul, a dying soul--
“ENOUGH!” Snowfall barked. She was shaking uncontrollably.
Quick Fang snarled at the sudden intrusion into her memory. **You wanted it.** Her eyes shone with tears of pain and frustration, and she jumped up. **You WANTED this!** She stormed off, leaving her mother behind.
Yes, she had wanted this, and she had received everything she had asked for. The image seemed to be burned on her mind forever, the surprise, Whitestag’s last moments of enjoying the hunt’s rush. She tried to get control over her body and sat until the shivering lessened. Still trembling, she pushed herself from the ground, leaning against the tree till she trusted her legs enough to walk. It was time to go back to the holt, to True Edge.
The first sunrays lit the roof of leaves far above her when she reached the tree their ancestors had shaped for her tribe. The long walk had made her able to lock her feelings away and regain control over herself, which she so desperately wanted – no, even desperately needed, to face her tribesmates. But she noticed that most of them were already in their dens and apart from some faint noises from within the tree, it was silent around her. She swiftly and without making any sound made her way to the den she shared with her lifemate. She needed his comfort, longed for his harsh way of saying it would be all right and that it was the Way.
But she froze when she lifted the flap that withheld the sunlight from coming into their den. True Edge sat in the middle of their sleeping furs with a bowed head. True Edge had been waiting for her to return to him. And she realized she had made a mistake to run off on her own.
She was not the only one who had lost her son. In her desperate attempt to push away the feelings that overwhelmed her so, that she hadn’t controlled herself anymore, she had forgotten about her lifemate. Instead of sharing her grief, she had pulled away from everyone, including him.
**Zeik?** The send asked for understanding, forgiveness, and held the pain to see him like this.
He lifted his head slowly, but in the faint light she could see the shimmer in his eyes. The carefully built wall around her heart broke apart immediately, and a sob escaped her throat. Before she could even blink, he had jumped up and shortened the distance between them, wrapping his arms around her and forcing her to sit down.
Her legs gave way as the big knot around her heart started to dissolve. With a cry of pain she threw herself to the sleeping furs and felt True Edge’s tears dripping on her face, as well. **He’s gone, he’s gone!** she sent with a despair he had never heard before, and he pulled her close.
**I know, Yuki,** he sent while holding her firmly, **I know.**
**I saw it … happen… Quick Fang… I forced her..** The incoherent send made enough sense to True Edge to understand what she tried to say.
He swallowed heavily. **You shouldn’t have done that, love.**
**I had to… understand…**
While another tear escaped his eye he held his thoughts for himself. He had lost his son but in time, he knew, he would accept it to be a part of the Way. But Snowfall’s grief was so overwhelming and so desperate; he couldn’t say these words to her. Whitestag had been more her son and her friend than he could ever have been to True Edge, who took more interest in their daughter. While Whitestag had been his mother’s favourite, he tended to spend more time with Quick Fang, instead.
And now, that part of her life was gone. Snowfall had held everything inside of her for the last couple of days ever since the hunting party had returned with the horrendous news. She had taken it well, with only a few tears when Windburn had told them. Notch’s, Bowflight’s, and Thornbow’s faces had been covered with grief, while Quick Fang had seemed in shock, -- ridden with guilt.
Here, with True Edge beside her, was the first time that she had broken down completely.
**He looked… so real,** Snowfall cried in frustration, hiding her face in their furs.
He touched her hair gently and lovingly, comforting her with the warmth of his body and his mental presence. **Let it go, Yuki. Let it out.** This would be the only time she would allow herself to do so, he knew, and it was something she needed now more than anything.
She howled in pain, and True Edge heard another, distant, howl, further away from the Dentrees. His daughter was grieving, too, and she had joined her mother’s farewell.
In time, the sobs lessened, the tears stopped flowing and her heated body cooled down as she curled up next to him in his arms. Exhausted and overwhelmed by her emotions, she fell asleep restlessly. Wrapping his arms around her to protect her from everything, True Edge knew this would be the beginning of her recovery. Snowfall still had a long way to go, but tonight had been a good start. They had each other for mutual support.
He sighed deeply and closed his eyes, pulling his lifemate closer. It was time to get some rest. The pain would always stay, but the sharp edges would fade over time, he knew. Tomorrow, they would face another day and they would take things one step at the time...