"Hurry!" Moss yelled from the riverside. "Haul him out!"
"I'm trying!" Cloudfern yelled back. He lay on his belly on the thin ice, his hands locked with Farscout’s. Farscout had managed to crawl halfway up and out of the freezing water. Around them, ice groaned and cracked. "Rot! Someone better give me a hand, or we're both going to go in!" he shouted over his shoulder.
We won't let that happen, sent Snowfall. Cloudfern caught her scent behind him. Strong, slender hands reached around his waist, securing a length of vine tight around his hips. Cloudfern chanced a glance back, and saw that the same line was tied around Snowfall’s waist and was held in turn by Chicory and Rainpace.
Cloudfern gritted his teeth, turning his attention back to saving his soul-brother. When he had seen Farscout go through, Cloudfern had been the first to throw himself out onto the treacherous ice; it was only luck that had kept them both from going in and being swept away by the current.
“Hold on," he said to Farscout, hearing his own teeth chatter around the words. Farscout’s grey eyes were frightened, and ice was already forming in his grizzled hair. Hold on, Cloudfern repeated. We'll get you out.
“Weak ice,” Farscout said around chattering teeth. He pulled himself higher up out of the water, and struggled to manage a smile. “I’m a fool to trust the--”
Whatever he had been about to say was cut short as the ice groaned beneath him, and then the whole shelf snapped, sliding his weight back into the river. Cloudfern gave a wild cry, which was silenced as his soul-brother dragged him after him into the freezing river.
Pryn! They held onto one another as the river current pushed them away from the ice-hole above. The rope around Cloudfern’s waist held and began to drag them both back. Rope! Cloudfern sent, blasting his soul-brother with the image and feel of the vine-rope about his waist. Climb!
Farscout scrambled to climb. He clawed his way up to the rope, inadvertently shoving Cloudfern further under as he did. Cloudfern treaded water, even as Farscout’s kicking foot drove the air from his lungs. Then Farscout had surfaced; Cloudfern felt the echoes of that sweet shock, and struggled to swim up himself. The demand for air was lung-searing, the weight of panic like a stone encasing his feet –-
There was a great yank at his waist, and he rode that pull, letting it carry him to the surface. Air! It froze his lungs, but he gulped for more, joyous at the welcome pain of it. Cloudfern saw the seat of Farscout’s breeches appear out of the water and over the lip of the ice shelf -- Snowfall had Farscout now, and was hauling him to safety. Cloudfern waited his turn, each sweet breath of air a life-giving dagger in his lungs. Then Snowfall was back, and he hugged her tightly as she pulled him from the hungry river.
Moments later, the hunters were gathered on the icy rocks of the river bank, panting for breath and shivering violently.
Fools, sent Snowfall. Farscout was closest; she cuffed his ear hard enough to sting.
“Wet fools,” Cloudfern panted, managing a sheepish smile for his friends.
“Freezing fools,” Farscout agreed. “We’ll turn to ice if we keep sitting here. You might have all left me to drown; that was a cub-fool mistake.”
Snowfall snorted with mingled relief and annoyance. “Aye, but I suppose we’d miss you,” she retorted. “Let’s get you home, before you freeze.”