(This story is related to the "Wrapstuffed Tribemembers being Healed and Rejoining the Tribe" storylines, and is also a prelude to "Fadestar being unwrapped" -- see listings for related stories.)
The stairs leading below the gathering den gaped before Snowfall like a large maw, ominous and almost forbidding. Cool air vented up from that maw, smelling of dampness, mildew, and something with which Snowfall was familiar, but never could quite name. That something had different names at different times, but on this afternoon, perhaps it could best be called anxiety.
Neither she, nor True Edge, nor Kestrel had slept well this past morning. They'd curled together in their den. They'd tossed and turned and tried to sleep – after all, this would be their last night together as a family of three. When the moons rose, they hoped to welcome Fadestar back with them and make her a part of their family. But nothing came of the efforts to try and get some rest. There was too much at stake when night fell to treat this like any other ordinary night.
Kestrel and True Edge had finally drifted off to sleep – their rhythmic breathing told Snowfall as much. And when Snowfall found that sleep still eluded her, she decided to leave her family for just a while so her continued tossing and turning would not disturb them. She would not find sleep today.
As Snowfall peered at that gaping, dark maw before her, she realized that stepping within would mark a change from which none of her new family would be able to return. No matter what happened below, their lives would never be the same.
She stepped toward that cool darkness and descended. The stairs wound down, down, down, until they reached the level below the Dentrees the elves used for storage. When the elder's foot left the last step, she headed toward a room that had become all too familiar to the tribe over the turns and even moreso over the past eves. Scents of who had paid visit still drifted here. Some were more faint than others. However, there were very few who hadn't paid a visit to this room since it had been announced the sleepers would soon be healed and unwrapped.
Now it was Snowfall's turn to do so, alone.
Snowfall's eyes drifted to the platform to the right of the den's door that had only recently been emptied. The spot Honey had slept was now vacant, save for strands of silken wrapstuff that had been abandoned just as quickly as Honey had been able to flee from the wrapstuff den.
That empty spot held Snowfall's attention for only a moment. To reflect on Honey's recent awakening was not the reason she had come here, even though the memories were heavily on her mind. She stepped further into the room, then, toward one of the two smaller cocoons – the one that had been carefully lain on a platform in the middle of the room. She walked over to it, but didn't dare touch it or sit next to it. Instead, she stood before it and studied the fine, yet sticky, strands of wrapstuff that had kept Kestrel's little sister so safe for so long while the tribe waited for the time to be right.
Her brow furrowed with worry. There was so much that could go wrong. Willow was a capable healer, but she was still relatively new to her abilities. It was hard to believe that just a hand of turns ago, the ruddy-haired elf was reckless and had little care for duties or routine, and with no clue that her healing powers were brewing just under the surface, ready to erupt, geyser-like, into a realm of responsibility that would have been heavy on even the shoulders of one who had been more prepared. Willow had come a long way in a very short time, but still... Fadestar was young and had always been sickly – illness had hounded the cub for her entire life. Would that illness complicate matters to where something could go terribly wrong the moment she was unwrapped?
No, no. Snowfall shook her head. It was best not to think of such things. The elder chided herself for even daring to think such a thought and did her best to push that negativity from her mind. All would be well... at least with the healing. She had to believe that.
But after... that was the part that was more worrisome. Snowfall's gaze drifted back to the platform where Honey had once been. The day Honey was unwrapped and healed was to have been an occasion for celebration. However, that didn't go as planned at all. Honey was still at odds with Greenweave over his actions and decisions following her wrapping. Snowfall could understand that, even though she might not agree with the method Honey was using. But the recently-unwrapped elf was still also – wrongly in Snowfall's opinion – railing at others who held no blame in her current situation! It was understandable to be frustrated and confused when one woke up to a changed world, Snowfall reasoned, but to take that confusion out on the very ones who helped and cared for you was not right.
Snowfall tore her eyes away from Honey's platform again and returned her focus to the small form lying next to her. Fadestar, poor cub. No sooner had she lost her father than she grew ill and needed to be wrapped in order for there to be hope for her future. Not only had the cub not had time to mourn, but her world would be quite different, too. She would have a new family waiting that would love and care for her, but how hard would it be on the little girl to wake up and have old friends grown, old family gone, and everything she had known be completely unfamiliar?
Snowfall took a deep breath, trying to still the seed of worry that was growing in her heart. There was no place for worry in times like these, and yet these times were when it threatened to grow the most quickly. She stubbornly refused to let more than just a pinch of it take root.
**We'll be there for you, little one,** she sent to the small, wrapped figure. **Whatever comes of your unwrapping and healing, you will have ones who love you and care for you at your side.**
She knew the sleeping child probably could not understand her. Perhaps Fadestar wasn't even aware she had just been spoken to.
**Where are you?**
The mind-voice was unexpected and made Snowfall jump. No, it wasn't Fadestar's response, but rather an inquiry from Kestrel, who must have awakened and realized Snowfall wasn't there.
**I'm on my way back to you and True Edge,** she answered, casting one last look at the little cocoon before she turned to ascend back into the daylight. There was still quite some time before darkness fell, and even if she couldn't sleep, she could at least be there with the ones she loved.
She knew the next time she left this place, there might be new uncertainties and unknowns, but there was also a new family waiting to face them together.