Her bow was lost to the fire. The cracking of its familiar frame was no more than an afterthought in the face of the wall of flames that ate it.
‘Water,’ Ambergold thought through the panic. ‘We need to get to water!’
Her mind was a mess of sendings, just as her world was a mess of heat and light. Many of the sendings were calling for her, speaking of burning lungs and skin.
She wanted to send back, but her mind wouldn’t let her. The cacophony was a mere backdrop to thoughts of cool, clear water and blinding fear.
Where was the chieftess? Her tribe, how many of them were lost to this fire already? Had Ripple made it safely away from the deadly smoke and fire, the cub inside of her safe? Had precious little Hawkcall been spared the flames? Had the destruction reached to the heart of their home? Had it come from all sides at once? Had this guard task been a complete failure?
Ivy’s coughing broke through the sendings, the roar of the flames and Ambergold’s panic. It even dispelled the thoughts of water for a heartbeat.
**We won’t make it, will we?** Ivy lock-sent, the raw despair and horror in her mind voice hitting Ambergold like the horns of an angered buck.
**The flames will not get us,** Ambergold answered with total conviction. Her grip on Ivy’s hand tightened, sending healing magic to strengthen tired legs and push the poison in the air out of their lungs. **I promise you they will not.**
Ivy looked so much younger in that moment and Ambergold felt every season she had seen weighing on her. How strange, but this was no time for reflection.
Ivy never questioned. Ambergold took the lead, steeling herself to the heat and the smoke. She could feel herself and Ivy breaking and she did her best to mend all ills. ‘Just until we get to the water, just until we get to the water, just…’
**Mother?** The mind touch was Owl’s, or was it Harmony’s? For a dizzy moment she could have sworn it had been Spider’s. **Mother, can you hear me? Foxsly has us all gathered at Badger’s Lake, please, you must come here! Blackbird and Ivy failed, please come back!**
Badger’s Lake. The name brought back pleasant memories that jarred against the burning trees and black air. Memories of fishing and bathing, of washing clothes together with friends after a muddy adventure upstream, of chasing Squall out into the deeper part and —
She could hear his spirit breathe her soul-name into her ear.
Behind her, she knew Ivy was crying. She didn’t have the energy to look back, to send or speak comfort.
Instead, she stubbornly called forth more memories of sweet, soothing water. Of pushing Reedweaver into the Den’s creek, only to have Smoke do the same to her. Of cleaning bloodied arrowheads until they shone in the light of the setting sun. Of gathering water for soup and broth for a sickly tribe mate. Of searching for the best place to lay a trap for a marsh beast, seeking out small sink-holes in the wet ground to chase the prey towards later.
She’d picked up her pace, dragging Ivy behind her. Ivy, poor Ivy, silently crying over a lost sister, far too stubborn, far too enamored with all things green and growing.
If Ivy and Blackbird hadn’t insisted that they could help guard against another fire, would Blackbird still live? Would Streak have lived had he not insisted on coming along when they saw the skyfire strike? Would the chieftess had let them go if she’d been present to tell them yes or no before they’d left? Should she herself have tried and stop, instead of joining to keep an eye on them?
Such silly questions. Ambergold brushed them aside as one might a cloth over a door-hole, turning her eyes to the ground. The air was too dark, the trees too burned to show the way, but the ground here was not set ablaze yet. The familiar trail would lead them to Laughing Creek. To safety. No fire could cross water.
Her skin wanted to blister. So did Ivy’s. It took all power she had to keep track of where she was going, as well as keep both of them intact enough to walk. The sendings had become a low murmur at the back of her head. Maybe Ivy was answering them? No matter. They would soon be where they should be.
Swimming. She’d never been too fond of swimming. Not without Squall and he’d been gone even longer than Spider. Lovely Squall, mate of her soul. And beloved cub. Cubs should not die before their mothers.
Ambergold looked up.
Her heart sank. No fire could cross water, but embers could travel on the breeze. The wall of burning trees on the other side of Laughing Creek spoke the truth of it.
Silently, she led the shaking Ivy into the water. Her ears had long since grown deaf to the crackling, breaking forest around her. The noise came back like a howling wind once she’d dunked her head, but died down again. She was so dizzy.
The run and then walk had been too long. Ambergold felt her magic fail her, slipping from her grasp just as Ivy was slipping into darkness. The smoke tasted thicker, clogged her lungs.
At least they would not burn. She had promised they wouldn’t.