(This story is related to the events in "An Interlude".)
Longshot ran along a well-worn trail between the Craft Trees and the Dentrees, moving as fast as his legs would carry him. He leapt over roots and ducked low-hanging branches covered in new leaves. His blue vest flapped against bare skin in counterpoint to the steady beat of his feet. A few pink petals from a redleaf tree were stuck to the wet, half-finished mud design scrawled across his chest and stomach. The archer dodged a blackberry bush that was encroaching on the path. He winced as several strands of his long, black hair pulled painfully from his scalp, snagged on one of its thorny branches. His chest heaved like Goldspice's bellows and his heartbeat thumped loudly in his ears like his father’s drum.
Tonight was supposed to be good night. Tonight it was finally warm enough to go without the tunic under his vest. Tonight he was supposed to chat with his father and try out a new design. He could make out Moss’s footfalls behind him but dread made the younger elf’s feet fly faster.
**Hurry, Longshot!** Evervale's send was tinged with fear and worry.
He could hear the snarling ahead. Not knowing if he would be bursting into the middle of the fight, Longshot slowed as he neared the cleared area surrounding the Dentrees. A loud yelp sent him surging forward again. But he was too late and he knew it.
It was silent as he moved closer to the scene. The stillness brought him to a walk. It was done. Many stood in a loose circle, momentarily blocking the visual proof of what he knew had occurred, but he couldn’t seem to bring their faces into focus right away. However, at the base of Mother Tree, near the entrance to the storage dens, he could see Evervale standing in the circle of Pathmark’s arms. Her face was pale and her hand covered her mouth. Her bright, green eyes were opened wide. Longshot thought he could see wetness on her cheeks. The corners of Pathmark’s eyes were pinched and his gentle mouth was pressed into a thin, tight line.
The elves in the circle closest to him, Rainpace and Thornbow, parted to let him through, sympathy in their eyes. The first thing he noticed was the red-colored fur around the normally white portion of Halfmoon’s muzzle. The wolf lifted his dark head as Longshot neared and stared at him for a moment. The archer stopped a few steps away and that seemed to satisfy Evervale’s wolf friend. Halfmoon sneezed once and shook himself to settle his fur. Then, he ambled away toward a small gathering of watching wolves, head held high and licking his chops. The other wolves gave way to him, eyes averted.
Now, Longshot could focus on the object of his worry and dread. Blood soaked the ground around a pale grey and white wolf. Icestalker lay absolutely still on the ground before him. His feet squelched as he took the last few steps to his bond’s side. He felt the warmth of the blood under his knee when he knelt to run his fingers though the soft fur along Icestalker’s side. There was no breath there, no movement. Only limp lifelessness.
Longshot closed his eyes and buried his face against his friend’s side. He knelt there for a while breathing in the scent he knew so well, a scent that was now tainted with that of blood. Tears seeped from between his lids and his throat began to ache and burn. Finally he could take it no more and he lifted his head skyward, howling his goodbye. Voices joined him, blending into mournful song. When the breath left him, he just listened as the cry was picked up and echoed by elves and wolves in the distance.
He felt a hand on his shoulder. Longshot looked up at his father. Moss’s normally warm eyes were sad and solemn. The black-haired elf rose and hugged his father tightly, wetting the shoulder of the other’s vest with more tears.
Moss whispered, “Do you want the fur?”
Longshot clutched his father more tightly and nodded soundlessly into his shoulder.
“Why don’t you go with your friends then? Your mother and I will take care of that.”
Longshot looked up and met his mother’s blue-violet eyes. He released his father to embrace Nightstorm. She held him softly and reached up to stroke his long hair soothingly. She whispered, “It’s all right, my little earth-shaker. We’ll take good care of him. Soon you’ll have a warm fur to wrap yourself in and remember the good times.”
She pulled back a little, and indicated Evervale and Pathmark, who were still standing where he had last seen them. “I think you need them right now. And Evervale surely needs you. She’s never been in this position before. It’s frightening when your wolf kills another.”
Longshot nodded and left his parents to face an unpleasant duty. When he neared Pathmark and Evervale, the plantshaper suddenly ran to him and threw her arms around him. “I’m so sorry!” she sobbed. “They both wanted to rest on the same sun-warmed rock. Neither would give way and I couldn’t distract Halfmoon or call him away!”
**Not your fault,** Longshot lock-sent to her. He wanted her to feel the truth behind his words despite his grief. **This night was coming. We both knew it. Icestalker was too old… too stubborn.**
**I’m sorry for you both.** Pathmark enfolded them both into his embrace, sadness coloring his send. His tender heart was reflected in his tear-filled eyes.
Longshot shook his head at his friend. “Don’t do that… I’ll start crying again too.” Tears were already welling, so close to the surface.
Pathmark replied, “It’s all right if you do. We will be here for you.”