(This story is a part of the "Wrapstuffed Tribemembers are Healed and Rejoin the Tribe" and the "Fadestar emerges from wrapstuff, and Aftermath" storylines -- see listings for related stories.)
The den was quiet, too quiet. Nervously, grey eyes flashed from the one side to the other, drinking in the still unfamiliar surroundings of the den she shared with her sister, Snowfall, and True Edge. Right now, there was nobody there but her, but the strange sounds put Fadestar on edge. She had known all the sounds in her father’s den, and when she was forced to stay inside because of sickness or bad weather, she had entertained herself by making up stories surrounding those sounds. But this typical cracking of the tree, the way the wind sounded around the den; it was all new and awkward.
Both her sister and Snowfall and True Edge had left; the Recognized couple had gone out to hunt, and Kestrel went out to… she forgot what her sister went out to do, only remembered that she had promised not to stay away for long.
It was fine with her, either way. Fadestar had looked at her sister with a blank stare, not saying anything. She’d barely spoken a word after the first day of her unwrapping, when she had kept on calling for her father. Her father, who had passed away such a long time ago. For her, it seemed like yesterday. It just added to the confusion.
The night was maturing, but Fadestar didn’t come out of her hiding place, and kept quiet. She heard the chatter from below, and knew everybody was up and running, but she couldn’t get herself to move. The fact that nobody came up to check on her made her almost believe that nobody cared to see her. She figured that the threesome – Kestrel, Snowfall and True Edge – had told everyone to leave her alone, but she felt slightly uncomfortable after all the efforts her tribesmates had done to make her feel welcome. Pathmark had come to visit like many others, but she had turned away from him, like she had turned away from all visitors. After the initial shock after she was unwrapped, she hadn’t said or sent a word.
However, feeling lonely wasn’t new to Fadestar. Even though she never had to complain about attention, she had often felt frustrated that she wasn’t like other cubs. The tribe and the cubs, too, had cared for her, played with her, but there had been fixed boundaries that the girl-cub could not cross. The feeling of being an outsider had weighed heavily on Fadestar’s shoulders, despite the fact that she was almost never physically alone.
But now, she wasn’t sick anymore. She felt stronger than she had ever felt. It confused her. It was like her body wasn’t hers anymore. Fadestar’s gaze turned sad and her eyes filled up with tears. She wanted her father, she missed Leather so much. But instead of a little while ago, he died moons and moons ago. It didn’t make any sense to her.
In her young life, Fadestar had learned about the wrapstuffed elves; elves sleeping till the tribe found a healer again. These elves didn’t grow up or age, but were wrapped in an everlasting sleep. She’d often wondered how they would feel in a changed world, a changed tribe… she had just never expected to be one of them. And she felt that being in wrapstuff had changed her. She knew Willow had healed her, and that nobody could have prevented Leather from dying, but Fadestar felt differently. She knew there was another elf out of wrapstuff, Honey, who had always been somewhat weird, Fadestar remembered, recalling the odd behavior Honey already showed before either of them was wrapped. But Honey, too, seemed different, according to what Fadestar had seen peeking from the den and from what Kestrel and Snowfall and True Edge had told her.
The threesome had called it the shock, and had assured Fadestar that time would heal all wounds. Fadestar just needed to adjust, but she wasn’t sure she could. The tribe had moved forward, but she had stopped in time. Everything had changed, but her.
A soft sound outside the den made Fadestar aware of her surroundings again, and she ducked away, pulling one of the sleeping furs over her head when the sound came closer by. “Kestrel?” she heard someone calling, “Kestrel, are you there?”
The den flap moved, and Fadestar crawled further away under the furs, until only her eyes were visible. They reflected the moonlight coming from outside, when Nightstorm looked around in search of the eldest elder. When the tanner didn’t spot Kestrel, she shrugged and wanted to turn around, but stopped when she noticed the shy creature in the corner of the den.
“Fadestar? Are you hiding?”
The eyes didn’t move, barely blinked, while the cub kept staring at the tanner with a blank face. She knew Snowfall’s sister. She and Leather had often exchanged new ways of tanning or simply exchanged leathers and equipment. She held her eyes on Nightstorm’s face, feeling slightly anxious and wishing the tanner would go away. Nightstorm stared back, in a locked gaze, and the moment seemed to last a lifetime before Fadestar turned her eyes away in submission. After some hesitation, the cub crawled from under the fur.
“There you go,” Nightstorm smiled in satisfaction. “What are you doing in here? The night is comfortable, you should go out. Maybe meet up with Otter or Crackle. Remember those other cubs you saw?”
Fadestar stared blankly into the violet eyes. She remembered, and after a moment she nodded.
“Then come outside! I’m sure Crackle can keep you busy.”
The cub shook her head. She didn’t want to play with Crackle. She wanted to play with Snowflake and Mouse, her friends. But Snowflake was now Quick Fang and she had a cub of her own, and Mouse was Pathmark and spent his time with the plantshaper Evervale, whom she didn’t know. A soft sigh escaped her, when she got up to her feet, smoothing an invisible wrinkle out of her short, brown leather dress.
“You can’t stay here forever,” Nightstorm told the cub, placing her hands on her hips. “Eventually, you’ll have to come out of your hiding place. Why not start now?” Violet eyes drifted over the skinny cub, from head to toes, while Fadestar seemed to think it over, before shaking her head.
“All right, then I’ll stay here. I needed to see Kestrel, and I’m sure she’ll be back sometime soon. In fact, it’s about you, Fadestar. Your tunic looks all ragged, and your sister asked me to fix you up with some new clothes.” Nightstorm wondered how it had gotten that ragged. Fadestar wasn’t the most active cub; never had been, either. “So, actually, I don’t need Kestrel, but I need you. What do you say?”
Grey eyes wandered over the ceiling to the den’s exit, anywhere but at Nightstorm, but the tanner didn’t go away, so Fadestar shrugged while she took a step backwards. Nightstorm seemed hardly bothered by it, and told her: “I’ve got some clothes with me. Softer than the leathers you’re wearing now. Try them on, so I can adjust them.” The tanner caught Fadestar’s gaze and the cub knew that it had only sounded like a request, but that Nightstorm was determined to push through. After some hesitation, the cub took a few steps forward as Nightstorm held out blue and black pants, and a blue shirt with black hems.
To satisfy Snowfall’s sister, Fadestar pulled them on quickly. Maybe then, she would go away, she figured silently, and she held her arms wide when Nightstorm inspected it. “I like it, and though they might seem a bit wide, I’m sure you’ll grow into it when you gain some extra weight.” Confident, the tanner folded her arms in front of her chest, but her eyebrows lowered in a frown. “Something’s missing,” she pondered. “We should give it some decoration. What do you like? Butterflies?”
Fadestar shrugged. Not particularly.
A simple shake of the head told Nightstorm enough.
The cub hesitated, then she slowly nodded.
“Great!” Nightstorm clapped her hands. “I like flowers, too. What color do you like, which will fit with the colors of your outfit? Light blue, or yellow?”
The word had been hardly more than a whisper and it had slipped Fadestar’s lips by accident, but for Nightstorm it felt like a major step forward. Her violet eyes started to shimmer. “A very wise choice. It’ll contrast with the blue and the black. I like it. Here, give me your shirt.”
Obediently, Fadestar pulled it out again, and while Nightstorm started to search in a large pouch she had brought with her, the cub slowly came closer. “We can do it together,” Nightstorm told her. “I know you can do this, because I’ve seen you do it before. You should help me. Let me work on your pants, while you stitch a flower on your shirt. We’ll make three, which is simple but effective. They’ll stand out then, for sure.”
Fadestar nodded, and for the first time today the left corner of her lips pulled up in a half-smile. “All right,” she said softly, which made Nightstorm’s smile even wider.
“Excellent,” the tanner purred, handing over some pink cloth of which Fadestar could cut out the petals. The both of them went to work.
When Kestrel returned not much later, Fadestar had managed to stitch four pink petals on her clothes, while Nightstorm had finished a whole flower on the pants already and was nearly finished with the second. The glider raised her eyebrows in surprise, while Fadestar looked up and out of habit, wanted to slump back into the den’s corner.
“No you don’t,” Nightstorm warned her, and Kestrel felt even more surprised when her young sister obeyed.
“What happened?” the glider asked, and Nightstorm shrugged.
“I came to show you the leathers I had for Fadestar, but I found her here. Fadestar agreed to help, so we’ve been decorating them. Mind if we finish our work, before I go?”
”By all means,” Kestrel answered, while she gently ruffled Fadestar’s dark hair. For once, the cub didn’t even pull back, but looked up with something that was the base of a smile. Kestrel softly sighed, a mix of joy and relief. Fadestar had been so withdrawn, ever since she had woken up and had discovered that the world around her had changed.
Nightstorm winked at her. “I think I’m going to borrow Fadestar from you from time to time. She does great work, and she and I are kindred spirits when it comes to color schemes. She picked one of the brightest colors to decorate her clothes, the way I like it best. I think I made a friend today, and I got myself an apprentice,” she winked.
Fadestar surprised the both of them by saying: “I would like that.” The cub lowered her head and started to work in concentration at the final petal, taking pride in how the flower had turned out. She had soon noticed that no matter how long she had slept in the wrapstuff, she hadn’t forgotten how to sew.
Nightstorm and Kestrel looked at each other for a brief moment, and Kestrel nodded lightly. The tanner smiled, and returned the nod with a light, mental touch. The silent communication between the two had gone unnoticed by the concentrating cub, who finished stitching the last petal. Fadestar looked up with pride in her dark grey eyes, and even a hint of arrogance. Nightstorm shot an apologizing glance at Kestrel, which lost its meaning with the wide grin accompanying it.
**See? Kindred Spirits.**