(This story is part of the "The death of Whispersilk, and Aftermath" storyline - see listing for related stories.)
Something was not right, elusive, gone. Her black peppered nose twitched once, twice, three times before Soot finally opened her eyes. Wolf den, her nose told her, her eyes confirmed; she was not in her elf’s den. This was not right. Soot tried to remember why she had not fallen asleep in her elf’s den, why she would have gone to the wolf den, but the memories were foggy and just out of reach. Lifting her head she peered out of the entrance. Her jaws opened wide, her tongue curled and her ears flattened to her head in a yawn. This was not right. She should be in her elf-friend’s den and should have woken much earlier to curl up in the room that was heavy with the smell of dye and web-goo to take another nap. Not in this cool, damp place that seemed to cut through to her very bones, making them ache. Sneezing, Soot tried to puzzle it out. It was not something she usually had to do. Her schedule was very set, and rarely varied, so when it changed it took the older wolf a while to figure out why. Perhaps Soot’s elf-friend and her mate had shooed her out. It seemed that her elf-friend’s mate liked to mate without Soot watching. But it was still not right. Soot preferred to sleep in her elf-friend’s scented room, and her elf-friend never kicked her out of there.
Standing, Soot shook herself all over. She would have to find her elf-friend and figure this out. Something was not right. Trotting out of the wolf-den, Soot ignored her litter-mates and the cubs that were playing near the entrance. She was not particularly social with the other wolves, preferring the company of her elf-friend to the pack. This did not make her many friends within the pack, but Soot didn’t care, she had her elf-friend so that was all right.
Sticking her nose in the air, Soot searched for her elf-friend’s scent to pinpoint where the black-haired elf female was precisely. But something was not right. She could not pinpoint where the scent was strongest. Shaking herself, Soot picked up on her elf friend’s cubs’ scents. She choose one and followed it.
Hooking a finger into Cinder’s mouth to detach him from her breast, Quick Fang sighed. Cinder gave a contented burp and curled up against Quick Fang for a moment before the huntress wrapped him up and laid him next to her own cub. Her breasts ached and her nipples were becoming slightly sore with each feeding. She had plenty of milk for the two cubs, but she was not sure if she would be able to keep up with the double feedings for long, between the time that it took and the tenderness which started, much to her surprise, shortly after taking up the task of nursing Whispersilk’s cub. Making a mental note to speak to someone, possibly her mother, to see if there was anything she could do, she carefully rubbed salve onto her aching nipples when she heard a tentative noise. Quick Fang quickly lifted her face, wolflike, to take in the scent of her unexpected visitor. The scent that came to her could not have been more surprising.
“Soot?” she asked, then sent the mental images of Soot entering her den, along with the feelings of welcome and enter.
The mostly-white wolf peeked her head into the den, obviously searching for something, her nose twitching furiously, her black ears perked forward. Quick Fang frowned a bit. What was Soot doing here? Though Quick Fang would never turn a wolf out, she couldn’t remember the last time she had spent any time with Whispersilk’s bond. It was particularly strange because the climb up to her den would have been harder on the wolf than simply staying in Whispersilk’s den which was on the ground level. It wasn’t unheard of, but it was strange. Curious, she waited to see what the she-wolf would do.
Soot continued to search, her nose now to the floor rooting around the scents that filled the elf-den. The scent led her to the small bundle that held her elf-friend’s scent but was not right.
**Cub,** she sent to Quick Fang. Quick Fang nodded and slowly reached over to unwrap Cinder enough that Soot could get his full scent. The scent on the cub held the remnants of Whispersilk, it was on the blanket that Cinder was wrapped in, even in Cinder’s hair from when Whispersilk often rested her cheek against her son’s head.
Soot sneezed and shook her head, causing the baby to jump and hitch in his breathing which was a precursor to a cry. It was not right.
Quick Fang quickly scooped the cub up and comforted him, thankful that the noise did not wake Rill as well.
Soot looked at the two with large, dark, sad eyes and left the den, making her way to the next scent-marker she was chasing.
Quick Fang watched the older wolf leave and shook her head.
The next cub’s scent was easier to follow, it wound its way down to the ground, to the base of the Dentree. Soot didn’t mind being up in the trees, the bark was hard under her feet, gave easy purchase where needed, but she was much more comfortable on the ground. Finally, at the bottom, she followed the scent until she found what had led her here. Peering her head around a gnarled root, Soot made a soft “Wuff” sound before approaching.
Foxtail had wanted to be alone for a moment. She had howled for her mother, she had held vigil with her father, she had made sure that her brother was safe, she would be with her friends again soon, not wanting to be isolated in any way, but for right now she just wanted to be alone. The ‘wuff’ startled her, but she just turned her head slightly to watch in surprise as her mother’s wolf-friend crept toward her. Her first thought was to shoo the she-wolf away, but it occurred to her that Soot could very likely be hurting as badly as she did. Though the wolves lived in the Now of wolf-thought, surely somewhere inside of Soot she missed Whispersilk.
Scooting over, Foxtail indicated that Soot could join her if she wished. Soot crept forward but instead of sitting next to Foxtail, she sat in front of the huntress. She started breathing deeply, her nose twitching, as she moved her breath over Foxtail’s face. Foxtail sat very still, curious as to what Soot might be looking for.
**Cub,** Soot sent, and sneezed. Her elf-friend’s scent was on the cub’s clothing, but it was not right. Foxtail reached out to run a hand over Soot’s fur as the wolf’s body sagged at the realization that this was not, after all, her elf-friend hiding in different skin. Soot didn’t stay long, there was another scent to follow.
Foxtail sighed as Soot left and wrapped her arms around her knees. At least this strange appearance of her mother’s wolf-friend had given her something else to think on.
Soot was feeling a strange feeling in the pit of her stomach. It felt like she had eaten some bad meat. It made her feel a little sick. All she wanted to do was to find her elf-friend and curl up next to her to take a little nap. That was Soot’s whole world. Elf-friend, sleep, eat. Her life had rarely deviated from her daily activities, and rarely changed, and the older wolf had liked it that way. Now, it was not right.
The scent tugged her toward her elf-friend’s den. The scent was not as strong as it should be, but Soot followed it. Stepping carefully, Soot entered the dark den. All the scents here were cooler, staler, though stronger than anywhere else. Soot followed the scent to Whispersilk’s workroom. Taking in a deep breath, having the scent of her elf-friend, though faint, finally fill her senses, Soot felt the fog in her head that had clouded her memories clear and she remembered.
She remembered the howl, the dead-meat smell of her elf-friend, the river, the gathering. It was not right. It was the Way, but it meant that her life was disrupted, and that was not quite right.
Soot padded deeper into Whispersilk’s workroom and put her nose down, finding the scents. Long strands of black hair that had come from her elf-friend's head, an unfinished silk wrap, a pillow that Whispersilk often sat on, particularly when she was heavy with cub and shortly after the birth of Cinder. Soot gathered them all up. Starting with the hair, she scooped it up in her mouth and looked around for a place to put them. Seeing her favorite corner, Soot set the hair down and looked at it. It smelled of her elf-friend, but it was not finished. Next she gathered up the pillow, and it joined the hair. Finally, careful with the silk, remembering the chastising she would get whenever she sunk her teeth too far into her elf-friend’s work, she dragged it, still connected to its lap loom, and it joined the rest. It smelled of her elf-friend now, it made her feel comfortable, though it was still not quite right.
Letting out a long sigh, Soot curled up in the nest of web-silk, her head on the pillow with the hair under it, and drifted into a nap as she had done so many times before, when things were right.
**Was she in there?** Blacksnake sent to Snowfall.
The two had heard of the strange actions of Whispersilk’s wolf from Quick Fang and Foxtail and had decided to investigate. One could never tell how a wolf would react to the death of an elf-friend, just as one could never tell how an elf would react to the death of a wolf-friend, though the latter was slightly more common with the short lives of the wolf pack. Blacksnake had recalled stories of wolves acting strangely when the grief after the death of an elf-friend had overcome the poor creatures. The tales were passed down as a warning that the wolves were enough “more” to keep an eye on when emotions could over-ride the Now of wolf-thought.
**She’s taking a nap,** Snowfall answered, coming out of the chief’s den. They had not wanted to bother Windburn about this until they were sure there was a problem. Windburn had enough on his mind right now. Snowfall sent the mental image of the little nest that Soot had made with some of Whispersilk’s belongings. **I didn’t have the heart to make her move.**
Blacksnake grunted. **She can stay there I suppose, as long as Windburn is fine with it. But, we will have to keep a close eye on her,** he added, the old stories ever present in his mind.
Snowfall nodded and sent one last sad look toward her sister’s den. She couldn’t blame Soot, who was probably closer to Whispersilk than anyone, with the exception of Windburn. Snowfall felt the pang of loss clutch at her heart again and she turned away from the den.
“I need to talk to you about another problem that has come up,” Snowfall said, changing the subject. “Feeding Cinder.”
Blacksnake quirked a brow and followed after Snowfall. Their voices faded as they left the den with the sleeping wolf inside, the den that was bereft of Whispersilk’s presence and was not quite right.