"Promise you'll tell me everything, Fadestar."
Fadestar hugged Newt, and he returned the embrace tightly. "I will," she whispered, ruffling his hair. Both of them were of an age to go on their Very Long Walk, and now it was Fadestar who had decided she was ready, and was saying her goodbyes. When Newt let go with some hesitation, Snowfall stepped closer. Fadestar was about to close her arms around her adoptive mother, when Snowfall lifted a finger and gently pushed Fadestar's chin up to meet her eyes. "Learn from what's out there, cubling," she said with an earnest face, but with soft eyes. "There is so much to see, and so much to understand. You chose your guide well."
Snowfall raised her eyes for a moment to meet Kestrel's, and the lovemates exchanged a smile. Then, Snowfall's eyes widened, as Fadestar had fallen into her arms. "I'll miss you, too," Fadestar softly said, "And I promise I'll do it well." The cub was determined to do well, even if she didn't exactly know what it meant to do so. Knowing she would be further away from the Holt than she'd ever been filled her with both excitement and anxiety. But she was determined to prove that she could learn from this very important experience.
"It's about time!"
Fadestar looked up and whirled around, while Snowfall stepped forward to embrace Kestrel. Crackle was leaning against a tree, one foot against the trunk, chewing on a long blade of grass. "You weren't going to leave without saying goodbye, were you?"
Fadestar snorted. "You're here, aren't you? I sent to you before!"
Crackle grinned and changed the subject. "You think your wolf will let you ride her after you return?" Her bright eyes drifted to Autumnleaf, who was testing the air. Everyone knew that the wolf still didn't allow herself to be ridden, even though she had finally bonded with an elf. Fadestar rolled her eyes, and Crackle laughed, while pulling Newt closer to ruffle his hair.
"Hey," Newt protested, before pulling in Fadestar, who had come closer, as well.
The three young elves shared some thoughts, before Crackle gently pushed Fadestar in Kestrel's direction. "Go, you. Tell us everything. I want to hear the scary stuff, too!"
Fadestar grinned, and waved them goodbye, before moving closer to Kestrel. The older elf was was saying her goodbyes to True Edge now. Hesitant, the cub looked up at the male elf, unsure if he expected a hug, too, and not sure if she wanted to give him one. But True Edge smiled and nodded, and relieved, Fadestar smiled back.
The weather promised to be fair that night as Kestrel and Fadestar set out from the Holt, with a cool breeze brushing past their faces and ruffling their bond-wolves' thick fur. Kestrel glanced over at her younger sister, who, although never one to be overemotional, appeared to be excited to set out on this journey. The elder herself was pleased that Fadestar had requested that she be the one to escort her on her Very Long Walk. She knew that her sister wanted to visit places that had been important to her family, and Kestrel, as her last remaining immediate family member, was the perfect one to take her to those places.
The first stopping point that the sisters came to was a clearing at the edge of the forest. Kestrel and Fadestar sat down for a short while under the shade of a large oak to rest, while Starlight and Autumnleaf took the opportunity to hunt for themselves. As Fadestar looked around her to absorb all the details of their whereabouts, she couldn't help but look up at the sky, too.
"Do you wish you were gliding instead of walking?" Fadestar asked her sister, giving her a sidelong glance.
The elder smiled and shook her head. "There are many good things to be said about walking, too," she replied.
"You're just saying that... I know if I could fly, I wouldn't ever want to walk again," Fadestar sighed with a dreamy look in her eyes. She knew rationally that such a thing would hardly be possible in the woods, but it was a nice idea to cherish.
"You sound just like I did at your age. I used to watch Mother gliding in this very meadow and wish with all my heart that I could be up in the sky with her."
Fadestar was silent for a moment, absently playing with a blade of grass. "Do you think it will ever happen for me?"
At first, the elder wasn't sure what to say. Her mind drifted back to a time long before Fadestar was born, when another had asked her the very same question.
"Kestrel, do you think it will ever happen for me?"
The glider knelt down in front of little Moon, who had seen barely five turns of the seasons, putting her hand on the girl's shoulder.
"Of course it will. You just have to be patient, that's all," she said with a reassuring smile.
"But I don't want to be patient!" Moon shouted defiantly, running around in circles and flapping her arms as if that would somehow cause her to lift off from the ground. Kestrel chuckled; she should have realized that her strong-willed sister would never be content to just wait.
"I'll take you flying as much as you like until you can do it for yourself," she promised, catching the little girl up in her arms and kicking off into the air, bringing her giggling up to the treetops.
Moon had waited and waited, the seasons passed countless times, and still the gliding ability never arose in her. Kestrel had felt an ache in her heart every time she saw the envious expression on her sister's face whenever she or Stormdancer used their ability to scout or hunt. She realized that she should never have promised something that was so uncertain.
"Only the High Ones know for sure," Kestrel finally responded to the forlorn Fadestar. "But you mustn't live your life waiting only for that. If it's to be, it's to be."
Fadestar nodded; she had been told about the sister she had never met by many in the tribe. Though Moon died without ever developing the ability, she had spent her entire life hoping that it would happen. Sometimes, that hope became an unhealthy obsession. But Fadestar knew her possibilities, and also knew her limits. Gliding would be a wonderful addition to what she could possibly do, but she was happy with the abilities she already had.
"At least I have my sister to take me flying," Fadestar said, grinning innocently. Kestrel chuckled softly.
"Moon acted a lot like our mother, character-wise. We both are much more like Father." Kestrel and Fadestar were in a part of the woods where the trees stood further away from each other, in territory where Fadestar had never been before. This part of the forest was light. They were close to sunrise -- the purple and orange sky was changing colors quickly. Around them, birds whistled their morning song -- the woods were waking up. Kestrel had told Fadestar that this was the spot where Moon was killed.
"She sounded like a handful," Fadestar smiled, but at the same time, the youngster felt guilty. She hadn't made living easy for Kestrel and her lovemates, especially not after she was unwrapped. Both Brightwood and Newt seemed to have adjusted far more easily than she had.
"Oh, she was, sometimes," Kestrel smiled. "She was very confident about herself, and had a temper." Her smile faded slowly. "It is what got her killed, eventually."
"It is so odd to talk about her," Fadestar said softly. "I know she was my sister and yet, I cannot picture her, because she was already gone when I was born. I… never knew her, despite the stories." She looked around her. "Father told me Moon's story many times but it didn't mean anything. I... I still feel so... disconnected, even while I'm standing here." She rubbed her arms, and directed her dark grey eyes to Kestrel's face. "Will you tell me, this time? While we're here?"
Kestrel lowered her gaze. Though the pain of losing Moon had long since been softened by time, her death still stuck like a thorn in the elder's memories. Still, she knew that sharing the story again with Fadestar, now that she was older and in the very spot that it had happened, would help her to better understand the sister she had never known.
"It was very windy that day," Kestrel began, closing her eyes and willingly calling up the memory. Once again she could see the faces of all who had been in that fateful hunting party. Some of those faces were still very clear in her mind, such as Blacksnake and Brightwood, while two others, Riskrunner and Ringtail, were slightly hazy at first. "There were some in the hunting party who thought that perhaps we should wait until the weather cleared a bit... but our sister, always impatient and reckless, was among those to insist that a little wind was no danger. I was always so indulgent of Moon... she seemed like such a child to me. If I had known then what I know now, I never would have let her have her way so often."
"I guess that's why you were always so strict with me," Fadestar interjected with a teasing grin.
"Not that strict," Kestrel responded, returning the smile. "But you could say I've learned from my mistakes." Kestrel directed her gaze around the clearing - it was almost as though she was looking for something in particular, but Fadestar could not tell yet what it was.
"It was not long before we came across a great branch-horn, and Moon had laughed, saying that we would have missed out on such a great beast if we had decided not to hunt that day. As the rest of the party gave chase, I took up my usual scouting position and traveled somewhat away from the group, keeping a lookout for other, more predatory beasts. I remember that at that point, the wind began to pick up even more, but still I did not return to the rest of the party as I should have."
The elder paused for a moment in her narrative, and her sister knew that it was because this part of the story was the hardest to tell. Kestrel seemed to have found what she was looking for; she walked over to a large boulder, partially hidden between two trees and covered in vines.
"I will never forget the frantic sendings, all seemingly coming at once. It was an enormous grizzly bear, one that I had failed to see and that everyone else had failed to smell because of the shifting winds. I was a little ways from the rest of the group, so I did not see this happen, but I was told that Moon had been particularly reckless in chasing after the branch-horn, and had urged her bond ahead of the group so that she might be the first to spear it. The grizzly lunged at her first, and by the time I arrived, it had her pinned against this very boulder, which was not so hidden then as it is now. We worked together to kill the grizzly, but by the time we pulled it off of Moon... she was already gone."
Fadestar tried hard to imagine what it must have been like for her sister, like a second mother to Moon, her father, so kindhearted and loving, and her mother, who she had been told was so alike in personality to the rash Moon, to lose the young elf in such a way. She felt a small ache in her chest, and knew that she was beginning to understand a little bit better how the death of Moon had changed her family. She took her sister's hand reassuringly, as if to say you may have lost her, but you still have me.
The meadow, full of many-colored wildflowers, reminded Fadestar of the Broad Meadow closer to the Holt, which was a favorite spot of many of the Holt's children. Kestrel and her lovemates had gone to Broad Meadow occasionally with Fadestar, who had delighted in making bracelets and crowns out of the beautiful flora. They had not gone there much as of late, now that Fadestar was often occupied with learning to weave and hunt. This particular meadow, where the sisters now stood, was unfamiliar to Fadestar, but she sensed that Kestrel had chosen it because of its similarity to the one she remembered.
"I want us to make a memento together," Fadestar said, "something that I can take back from this journey." Kestrel smiled and nodded in agreement, and the two began to gather flowers to put together a necklace. Of course, Fadestar knew that a flower necklace certainly could not last forever, but hopefully she could dry it and turn it into a keepsake.
"While we're doing this, will you tell me that story about Father?" Fadestar asked with a giggle.
"Which story was that?" Kestrel asked in mock innocence, though she knew very well which story Fadestar was referring to. Fadestar put her hands on her hips, giving her sister a look, and Kestrel had to laugh, but began the story.
"When I was a cub, several years younger than you are now in fact, Father would often take me to this meadow. I had no other cubs my age to play with, though I think I would have preferred adult company anyway." At this point in the story, Fadestar always tried to imagine her sister as a cub, but it was very hard to do. To her, Kestrel had always been her elder, wiser sister.
"One particular night, I decided that I wanted to make a surprise gift for Father, so I asked Mother to take me to the meadow instead. Once there, I immediately began to make an entire set of flower and vine jewelry - wrist and ankle bracelets, necklaces, rings, a belt... and the piece that I was most proud of, the crown. It took me the better part of the night to finish, but I was so excited to give them all to Father. He was absolutely delighted to receive my gift." Fadestar had no doubt of this, for she herself could remember giving gifts to Leather, and all were received with his gentle smile.
"Father didn't waste any time putting every single piece on, until he was covered in flowers. Mother laughed and told him how silly he looked, but it didn't matter to him. He spent the rest of the night proudly wearing all the jewelry." Fadestar giggled, as she always did at the end of the story.
"We couldn't have asked for a better father," the younger elf commented.
"No, we couldn't have. He was always happiest around his children," Kestrel agreed.
"You're a lot like him in that way," Fadestar said, glancing at her sister."I... I hope it happens again for you someday."
"I hope so too, Fadestar," the elder said, a far-off look in her eyes for just a moment. Then, looking at the bunches of flowers that she and Fadestar had picked, she smiled and said, "Well, shall we get started?"
The area was dark; only a few moonrays touched the leaves as the wind rustled through them. Every once in a while, a beam of light hit the forest floor and the two elves who silently stood side by side. It seemed as if a pressing blanket lay over the area - both of them were deeply in thought, but they were thinking the same thing. Fadestar felt different here than in the spot where Kestrel had shared her memories about Moon.
"Nothing is left of what happened." Kestrel was the first to break the silence.
Fadestar raised her head - eyes shining with unshed tears. "I can't believe it has been so long," she whispered, barely audible.
Kestrel shivered. "It is strange for me, too," she softly replied. "As a wolfrider, you live a long life, and no one in the tribe is as old as I am. Memories fade in time, but some of them linger deep inside you, only to surface at times like these."
"Is it because of me?" Fadestar asked. She would hate it if she was the one causing her sister to feel pain.
"When you were woken up, we all remembered the cause of why you were wrapped in the first place. Father's death was...." Her voice drifted away.
Fadestar breathed shakily. "I'm sorry," she muttered. Her voice drifted over the scenery. Kestrel was right -- nothing in the area held any trace of their father's death. Kestrel placed a hand on her younger sister's shoulder to give her some physical support.
"Don't be sorry," she replied. "None of it is your fault. Emotions surface sometimes... they just do." The elder knew all too well that they could be impossible to control or subdue even after a long lifetime of practice.
Fadestar nodded absently, and sunk down to her knees, touching the moss on the forest floor. A shiver ran down her spine and she looked around, trying to memorize every bush, every tree, and every leaf around her. Then, she closed her eyes and inhaled deeply, but there was no scent besides their own and the forest around them. She knew it was impossible, but part of her was disappointed not to smell even a hint of her father's scent.
"Do you think he sees us?" she then softly asked.
Kestrel smiled. "Wolfrider spirits are free to roam wherever they please. I am sure that his spirit watches over us."
"I hope he does," Fadestar said, while slowly getting on two feet again. She wrapped her arm around her sister's waist, and Kestrel returned the gesture by wrapping an arm around her younger sister's shoulders. The cub lifted her eyes to the sky. "I want him to know I'm not sick anymore."
The wideness of the area made Fadestar sigh. They were at the outer range of the Holt's territory, the boundaries that Farscout used to travel towards. Fadestar looked beyond their world into another. "Do you think it would be possible for me to become a scout like you and Farscout?" she then asked, raising her head to Kestrel with shimmering eyes. Although it was about time they should return to the Holt, this was something that Fadestar had asked of Kestrel to see.
Kestrel knew that it was part of testing one's boundaries, and Fadestar's limitations had severely influenced her earlier years. The elder thought it to be normal that Fadestar now wanted to go as far as she possibly could. "You might," she said with some reserve, "but remember that you're mostly alone out here. There is a lot you need to learn before you can do what Farscout did for a very long time."
Fadestar's eyes darkened shortly, and the elder thought her sister wanted to pout, but the cub withheld that sign. Kestrel continued with a serious glance in her eyes. **It is a hard life, Fadestar. You are on your own, and it is not always safe. In fact, it is your task as scout to make sure it is safe for the rest of us. Besides, it it can get very lonely.** She sent emotions and images of the life on the outer range with it, but to her surprise, Fadestar didn't even blink.
"I know," the cub simply replied.
"And what about your other tasks? You're getting pretty good at weaving, and your tanning skills are developing, too."
Now, Fadestar raised her chin. "Nightstorm knows weaving, Dreamflight is learning how to weave, and Foxtail tries, too. Unlike before, there will be more weavers. And there are enough tanners, as well. I am happy to contribute..." She paused, while raising a hand and tapping her chin pensively, "but I want to do more than that. And besides, both you and Mother did it."
"Even Mother had a hard time summoning the patience that being a scout requires. She would never say it, but I could tell that while she was performing her duties she would have rather been using her abilities how she wanted."
"Well, from what I've been told, you were always more mature than Mother was. I think I'm more like you in that way, and not much like Mother at all."
Kestrel had to concede to this. "In personality, you aren't much like she was, it's true. But every now and again, when your stubborn streak shines through," at this, the elder glanced pointedly at her sister, "I am reminded of her." Part of it may also have been the fact that Fadestar had that same raven hair and gray eyes. Still, the glider began to get the feeling that on this matter, Fadestar had already made up her mind. "Think it over, sister, but take your time. This isn't something you can decide lightly. If you still decide that it's something you really want to pursue, then I will help you all that I can."
The stubborn glance disappeared from Fadestar's eyes and a small smile appeared around her lips. "I know. I've just seen it all for the first time, but I think it'll be something that sticks."
The wolves seemed to realize that the journey was nearing its end, as was evident by their increased pace and excited panting. Fadestar's expression was subdued, quite a contrast to how she had been at the beginning of the Very Long Walk. She had much to think about now that the walk was over - but she was glad to feel closer to her long-deceased sister, to have received closure from the death of her beloved father, and to be more appreciative of the abilities she had instead of pining for ones that might never appear. She fingered the flower necklace that she now had around her neck, grateful that she had something which would remind her, in years to come, of all that she had learned. Feeling her sister's concerned glance, Fadestar looked up and smiled warmly.
"I'm glad it was you that I asked to come, Kestrel. I think this is the first time we have been able to talk so openly with each other - I wonder why that is."
Kestrel nodded. Something had certainly changed between the two of them, though what it was was hard to say. It was true that now Fadestar nearly matched her sister in height, and she had filled out greatly compared to how gaunt she had been. Her eyes, too, no longer gave the impression that they were too big for her face. Still, Kestrel knew those were all superficial changes... the biggest change, she realized, was that in those eyes was now a look of maturity, perhaps beyond her years.
"Why, Fadestar," Kestrel said, her voice quiet. "It's because you've grown up." It was perhaps because of Fadestar's long years in wrapstuff that Kestrel had begun to think of her as a perpetual child, frozen in time. But it was clear, now, that her sister had left that stage behind... and was very nearly an adult.
Fadestar nodded thoughtfully. "I suppose I have." She grinned and took Kestrel's hand. "Though I'll still always be your 'little' sister."
Kestrel returned the smile, squeezing Fadestar's hand. Yes, they would always be sisters... but somewhere along the way, they had become friends, as well.