"Father! Look at me!” An excited voice called.
Suddendusk cringed. He hated those words. They scared him senseless. Those words meant that his darling youngest cub, a child more precious to him than his own life, was most likely about to do something incredibly dangerous. He glanced around, looking for the owner of the voice. The forest around him was bright green with hints of blue sky peeking through the trees. The daystar at its zenith dappled the ground with spots of light and shadow. Crackle was nowhere to be seen though, nor could he scent her. In fact, he didn’t smell anything at all. It was like his nose was stuffed with preserver webbing. Becoming concerned, he called out. “Crackle? Where are you, cubling?”
Her giggle echoed off the trees surrounding him. He spun in place, head twisting in every direction as he tried to spot her. She giggled again.
“Look, Father. Look up here!”
With his heart sinking into his stomach, Suddendusk turned his upward to the tree tops. His head tipped back, and back, and back until his spine bowed to maintain his balance. A shaft of sunlight stabbed at his good eye making it water uncontrollably and his vision blur. The top of one tree was strangely bare of any leaves but the limbs appeared supple and alive as they bent in the wind. He saw a dark shape amidst the twisting tiny branches. Squinting, he made the shape come into focus and then wished he hadn’t. It was Crackle up there, up so high that his back was cracking in order to see her. Her white teeth gleamed from her nut brown face as she grinned at him happily. Her hair stood out from her head in a halo of static. Suddendusk felt his face grow tight with fear. His mouth constricted itself into the tiniest of thin lines.
“Watch me dance, Father.”
His voice was too big to come out of a throat constricted by dread. His horrible squeaking gasps resonated in his ears as the small elf girl released her hold on the upper limbs and began to prance about on a supple bough. She sashayed, twirled, and stood poised on one leg. He could see her bare toes curled around the branch, gripping like a treewee. Her joyous laughter boomed through the forest.
Then all he could see was black as a gust of wind came whistling through the trees and flipped the ends of his hair into his eyes. Suddendusk heard his Crackle call out in surprised horror and he started moving toward the base of the tree before he could even clear his vision. He peeled the hair off his face only to witness his cubling loose her tenuous grip. Time seemed to slow to a crawl. He had plenty of time to plot his next move as she tumbled and spun in the air. It was a piece of the High Ones’ own luck that there were no branches between her and the ground for her to slam into. Of course that also meant she had no way to catch herself. Crackle was only two wolf lengths from the ground now. The time had come to do something. His strong legs coiled beneath him and he launched himself into the air, arms outstretched.
Suddendusk crashed into his daughter midair and caught her under her arms. He began curling his body around hers to offer what little protection he could but the impact with ground didn’t come. He glanced around thinking that time surely had returned to its normal pace by now. Judging by the quickly retreating ground, he decided that time was indeed functioning normally but now the world itself was behaving oddly. He looked up to see a green wall of foliage speeding toward him. “Puckernuts,” he sighed.
Father and daughter burst through the forest canopy in an explosion of leaves and peals of childish laughter. They hovered there a few wolf-lengths above the trees with the deep blue sky stretching on forever. The green of the forest rolled beneath them like a bed of soft moss intertwined with blue ribbons of water. Elder Mountain and Lookout Mountain poked their heads above the canopy but the forest clung to their sides like so much algae on a still summer pond.
“Oh, Father, it’s beautiful.” Crackle whispered.
They began to move toward the coast, slowly at first and then swiftly. They cut through the air, a pair of elven blades through Whispersilk’s finest cloth. Patches of green, blue, and brown rushed along beneath them. Suddendusk shifted crackle in his arms for a better grip and Crackle, ever adventurous, flung her arms out like a bird’s wings. Her giggles accompanied them as they swooped and turned. Suddendusk grinned at her excitement. Soon their combined laughter reverberated off the nearby Elder Mountain. They zipped through a cloud. It was cool and damp against his cheeks and nose. Suddendusk closed his eye to let the coolness caress his eyelid.
There was an odd, ticklish poke in his side suddenly. He cringed and flinched away. Opening his eye, he glared blearily at Windsong who grinned shamelessly at him. She leaned forward and nuzzled his nose. Her tiny blonde braids slid against his face, tugging slightly at his beard as they passed. Gently, she pulled the sleeping furs from his tight grip and slid into the void. “I wanted to say goodbye before the hunt left.”
Suddendusk held his lifemate close for a few moments breathing in her pleasant earthy scent. After a short while, he asked, “Where is Crackle?”
Windsong smirked and flicked her head to shift the curtain of her hair. She looked meaningfully at the far side of their piled bedding. “Sleeping, thank the High Ones.”
Suddendusk smiled softly as he gazed on his peacefully slumbering cubling. Crackle sprawled on her belly with her arms and legs spread, taking up as much space as possible for a child her size. Her hair was thoroughly tousled and a little drool pooled in the corner of her mouth. He chuckled.
Windsong gave him one last squeeze before rising to pull on her leathers. **I should be back well before dawn, beloved.** She fastened her belt, arranged her pouches, and quietly slipped out of the den.
He scooted across the bedding and curled up next Crackle. Suddendusk adjusted the furs to cover them both. She shifted until her back was pressed against him and let out a soft snore. Wrapping and arm around her, he grinned indulgently. He whispered, “Thanks for the adventure, little one.”