Firecat looked around one last time at the den she had shared with her mother since birth. She noted the soft silken blankets Cubmaker had weaved, small wooden toys her father had fashioned for her when she was a child, furs that lined the bedbowl. Little things, like a pair of earrings Fisher had given to her once, and a necklace from the string of her first bow, caught her eye, pulling at her to stay home. Firecat shrugged off the thought, determined in her course. It wasn’t like she was leaving forever; she was taking a long, solitary walk, and when she returned, she would know herself better. She was certain of it.
The young elf picked up the travel pack she had prepared and grabbed her staff from against the wall. Heading out the den door, her exit was prevented when Cubmaker appeared, standing in her way.
“You’ve made up your mind and you’re going, then?” Cubmaker asked. Then she pointedly added, “You’re determined to search for a name you don’t have?”
Firecat sighed. The conversation wasn’t a new one, and she wasn’t inclined to revisit it now, at the start of what she hoped would be an enlightening adventure. Her parents said she didn’t have a soul-name, that she was Firecat, and that was all; but was it? She wasn’t ready to accept it. Still, Cubmaker’s face was set, so the younger elf backed up, allowing her entrance. Her hopes sank when Redmane, her father, appeared in the doorway next.
Firecat didn’t wait for them to say anything, choosing to argue in advance, “I need to do this, and I’m going to. Even if I don’t have a soul-name, just like you say, I have to do this.”
Her parents stood shoulder to shoulder before her, and she worried they were going to insist that she stay in the Holt. To her surprise, they reached out and pulled her into a hug. Her father spoke, his voice muffled in her hair. “We know we can’t stop you, but that doesn’t stop us from loving you, or being concerned. What you’ve proposed means you’re going to be on your own for a long while and potentially defenseless if circumstances turn on you.”
Cubmaker then voiced her concern, “Once you’re out of sending range, we won’t know if you need help, or if anything happens to you. Please… be careful.”
Firecat almost laughed at that - combined, their range would stretch past Elder Peak; she wasn’t sure she would even go beyond their sending range. She knew that her mother was just speaking out of concern and love. She tried not to think about what her father had said - she would be defenseless. When others went out to search for their soul-names, they always had their wolf-friend, and sometimes even had more than one wolf with them. She would have none - could have none, really. As a pureblooded elf, she couldn’t bond with the pack. Even though she spent a lot of time watching them and they tolerated her, there was yet to be one that she felt was genuinely friendly toward her. No, this would be a solitary walk.
She met her mother’s eyes first, then her father’s. “I’ll be as careful as I can,” she promised.
Redmane smiled, his brown eyes full of concern, along with fatherly pride. “You’ll be all right, I think. I packed some travel cakes for you, along with other essentials like thread, bone needles, arrowheads, and some pouches with teas and herbal remedies. The sack is at the base of the Dentrees.”
Firecat’s eyes widened. She hadn’t expected any assistance for her venture. Her father’s thoughtfulness was both touching and humbling. She had packed some essentials, but she knew that her father’s thorough nature would ensure that she had exactly what she needed. “Thank you, Father,” she said.
Her mother took her hand. “I have a gift for you as well, daughter. Beside the sack that your father prepared, I’ve made a cape for you. It should be lightweight, but it will shield you from rain. It can act as a ground cover or blanket, depending on your need.”
Firecat loved the clothing items her mother made, and she was happy to have a new cape. She clapped her hands in exuberance and threw her arms around her mother. “Thank you,” she whispered.
Firecat released her mother and stepped back. “It’s time,” she said. Then, stepping past Cubmaker and Redmane, she headed out of the den.
Firecat followed the Clickdeer River north and east for about six days, walking steadily, singing to herself when her mind began to wander, hunting small game when hungry, and generally enjoying the peace of solitude. Around dusk of the sixth night, clouds began rolling in, and Firecat knew she would need to find shelter from the rain. She had been fortunate that the weather had been so good for so long. She wondered how long the rain would last, but didn’t waste time standing around wondering; instead, she followed the fork of Brownbear River toward the northwest and ran toward the base of the mountains, hoping to find a cave.
Thoughts of the Dentrees and home passed through her mind as she ran, and she allowed images of beloved tribemates to linger. Surprisingly, thoughts of Fisher seemed to linger longer than the others.
To her surprise, around the time she found a small overhang that might offer shelter, Fisher sent, **How are you, Firecat?**
She smiled at his inquiry, **Finding shelter from the rain. shadows lengthening, crisp damp night, no fear, distracted. .** She filtered out thoughts of home, and the sensation of desire that crept up, making her wish he was there to snuggle with. She didn’t want him to even guess at those feelings, so she tucked them away, choosing only to share what she could see and hear and feel from the world around her.
Fisher hated it when she did that. **Stop!** he sent, adding, **You know I hate when you do that. Your sends are so real that I forget where I’m at for a moment. I need to focus here.**
She laughed out loud, though there was only the night to hear her. **You sent to me!** she reminded him, teasing.
**Just to make certain you are all right. Where are you?** he asked.
Firecat rolled her eyes. She knew that he was only showing his concern, just as her parents and siblings had done during her first days of walking. She had welcomed the point when she was out of range, just for the silence. Thinking of sending ranges made it dawn on her, and she replied, **I just showed you where I’m at. North of the Holt, along Brownbear River. Where are you, and how can you be reaching me with your shorter range?**
**hunting, just northwest of Stoneback Lake, plenty to eat**
She laughed. Of course they were hunting. Her stomach growled at the thought of fresh meat. **You’re not that far from me, then. You know, this was supposed to be a solitary walk, but it’s hard to be alone when others reach out at every opportunity.**
His send showed that he was disappointed by her lack of enthusiasm. **I only thought I’d try. I didn’t really expect to reach you.**
Firecat responded, **It’s just that, I might as well have you along with me if you’re going to be trying to reach me**
He teased her, **If that’s what you want, I’ll ride up there tonight and join you on that ledge. And I’ll bring you some food, dear heart. And maybe some comfort. you, me, snuggled close, warm, comfortable, me nibbling at your ear**
Her heart skipped a beat at the thought, and she could feel her face flush and her mouth water. **NO!** she responded, too flustered to filter out all of her feelings. Waiting a moment, she added, **I need to do this alone. Please?**
Fisher allowed her to sense his knowing smile, then shared a promise of reunion when the walk ended. He also pointed out, **I was only teasing; we both know it would have taken me past this night to reach you.** He paused, and she wondered what he was thinking. Finally, he said, **I’ll leave you be for now, Firecat.**
Curled up under the overhanging ledge, Firecat pulled her cloak tightly around her, blinking back tears. She didn’t know why she was crying, but she allowed herself to imagine Fisher was with her, arms around her, and fell asleep.
Though it was early summer, the area around Icebound Lake was surprisingly cool. Firecat had tried swimming in it the day before, but the temperatures had taken her breath away, and she’d exited quickly, then set to building a small fire to warm herself by. Still, the area was beautiful, and she felt calmed by the solitude and scenery. Something about being even this far from home brought an unexpected peace - maybe it was that she was no longer comparing herself to anyone, and maybe it was that she no longer felt out of place. Firecat wasn’t sure, but she wasn’t complaining.
She neared the mountains on the north edge of the lake, hoping to explore, and even more, hoping to find fresh meat, when a flash of movement attracted her attention. She caught sight of an antlered deer rushing through the woods, and it dawned on her that it was being pursued. ‘Predator. What kind?’ she wondered, but then her thought changed to one of preservation - ‘If it doesn’t catch the deer, or if it senses me and that I’m weaker….’ Firecat considered her position in the open and then made way for the trees. If she could get higher, she might spot the pursuer and have an attack advantage if needed. She hoped for the best and made way for a better position.
Reaching the treeline, Firecat found the first climbable tree and made her way up it. Once she was safely among branches in the middle of the tree, she began making her way from tree to tree toward what could only be described as the sound of attack. ‘Something got the deer!’ she said to herself. The thought of fresh venison made her stomach rumble. She had seen several deer on her walk so far, but hadn’t wanted to kill one because she didn’t want to waste meat or attract scavengers.
Still, she was hungry, and if there was a way to get some of the kill from the deer’s attacker, she might enjoy some of the meal. But how to do that, she wondered, without killing the predator? The thought made her heartbeat quicken. She’d not killed any big game before; actually, most of the time, tribe members avoided killing other predators - some sort of implied understanding that all had the right to hunt in the forest. The only times they’d gone after bear, or big cats, was when necessary - for safety or for something like the pelt.
When she neared the site of the kill, Firecat could see a cougar feasting on the deer’s belly. She had never actually set eyes on one, having only seen them through the sends of others. The mountain cat was a fierce animal. The young elf worried that if she let it be, she might be the next of its prey. That, or, should she actually take down an animal, it might try and steal it from her. Killing it now could prevent problems later - it wasn’t like she had a wolf-friend with her to warn her before the cat pounced. Another benefit would be access to the meat it was currently eating.
But killing it would require skill; and hers was not perfect. She would need luck, too. Firecat knew she could kill it, but she also worried - if she missed, she would absolutely become the prey; either immediately, or sometime over the next few days. If she didn’t want to be looking over her shoulder for this particular threat, she had to make the shot, and it had to count. There would be no second chance.
Firecat carefully moved her bow into position, then readied an arrow. She could almost hear her sister Sparrow, or her father, or her half-brother, Barkmoss, telling her how to breathe with her shot, how to focus in on the place she wanted the arrow to hit. She sensed their strength, felt their encouragement, and lost, for a moment, the doubts she often felt.
The arrow flew, lodging itself between the ribs of the cougar, and the animal fell. Firecat breathed a sigh of relief, but waited countless moments to be certain the beast did not rise. Then slowly, she climbed down from her perch in the tree and made her way toward both carcasses. She wished others were here with her, now, to bear witness to what she had just accomplished. The young elf decided to take only a tooth from the mountain cat, if one was loose enough to remove easily. She thought of trying to skin it and carry its fur home with her, but her skills as a skinner and butcher were not strong, and she didn’t have time to waste - the carnage would attract other carrion-eaters. She needed to get her own meat, take a tooth, and get moving.
In sending there was only truth - she would send of this with her family and friends and tribe, as well as show the tooth, when she returned home.
When she’d left Icebound Lake, Firecat had headed northward along a valley in between two mountain passes for days on end. When she reached the base of a very large mountain, she followed along the western valley toward the sunset and had eventually come the the coast. The sight and sound of the ocean waves was like music to her soul, and she spent one whole day perched on a rock, just looking out over the water. She saw sea wolves in the distance, blowing water out of their airholes, and watched as dolphins jumped and played. Once, she’d seen a seal come up on the beach near her, and she’d waited to see if it would realize she was there. It was not on land for long, and she felt almost sad when the beach was emptied again.
The setting of the sun that night was more spectacular than any she’d seen before. The reds and golds were more brilliant than the fires of the Holt’s forge, and Firecat realized how much she appreciated and longed for beauty. She also felt a pang of loneliness and longing for home, causing her to reach out in a send that reached no one.
Not for the first time on the journey, Firecat looked inward. She felt the familiar tears of frustration as she came up without something more than herself. Her siblings’ tales of finding their soul-names and what that was like for them had always intrigued her, and though she had known early on that she was different, a part of her still wanted to be like them. Not having a soul-name meant that she was… just Firecat. She didn’t understand what a soul-name was, though others had tried to explain it to her. Redmane’s words echoed within her: “You don’t need a soul-name, daughter. You are wholly yourself. There is no wolf within you, and you don’t need the protection the soul-name offers. Your sending ability is strong, rivaling my own; and as you grow, it will get stronger. Yet, even now, you have the innate ability of all purebloods to be completely open, and yet to keep yourself from getting lost.”
The words didn’t make sense, even now. Firecat wondered if it would take Recognition to truly understand - only then would she learn another’s soul-name, and only then might she realize what her father meant. She wasn’t in a hurry for Recognition and the resulting parenthood, though she didn’t find the thought unwelcome. Firecat briefly wondered whether she might Recognize early, as her mother had; then she wondered if it would happen to her as much as it had to Cubmaker.
The young elf then let her mind wander to her siblings. Not to the wolflings, but to the others - the pureblooded ones in the tribe that the wolfriders had left. Cubmaker, Redmane, and the others never talked about the other tribe. Firecat wondered if they missed any of the other elves - especially the ones that were family. She hadn’t thought often about the others, though she felt a pang of longing for the ones she’d never met, the ones who she was actually more like. Or was she? Her mother and father had made a choice to stay with the wolfriders, to listen to the Preservers, and to pursue the place that the bugs insisted the homeplace was at. That neither of her parents were wolflings and that they had chosen to leave the purebloods was reassuring. They had chosen to make their home among the wolfriders. That meant that Firecat’s home was there, too, no matter what her blood was like. Thoughts of the purebloods that had been left behind floated away, and Firecat mentally followed her heart back to the Holt.
Firecat spent the night on the beach, looking at the stars. She wondered if any of her tribemates were stargazing that night as well, and felt a peace at the thought that they were stargazing together. Before she fell asleep, Firecat decided that she would turn south the next day.
Firecat cursed her own stubbornness as she paddled her crude raft toward the nearest tiny island. The water was choppy, and she was already soaked from spray. At this point, though, she didn’t want to turn back - she was more than halfway there, and she was determined to explore the islands before she returned home to the Holt.
She hadn’t set out on her walk with the intent of exploring the islands, but she had decided to when, as she headed south from the coast near the large northern mountains, she caught sight of them. It was as if they were calling her to discover their mysteries for herself. Others had visited them, and she’d heard the stories, but personal experience was something altogether different. And the peaks were just begging to be climbed. Firecat hadn’t felt the urge to climb until now - though climbing was one of her favorite things to do. The larger mountains and cliffs she’d passed by on her walk, she’d climb another time, probably with Sparrow and Feather, or maybe Bravestride and Fisher. Either way, those were climbs she wanted to make with friends or family. But the islands… those called to her, and she wanted to explore them by herself.
Firecat had considered swimming to the island when she first saw it, but she’d kept walking, wanting to see where the best place to cross might be. When she realized the proximity of the little islands - the babies, she thought to herself - it dawned on her that she might make a raft and paddle over. That way, she could bring her few belongings. So she’d spent a few days gathering supplies, mostly long strips of bark to use to tie small logs together, and some pitch to fill in between the logs.
She had to laugh at herself when the next wave crashed over the edge of the raft, soaking her legs yet again. What she wouldn’t given to have had Greenleaf shape an actual boat for her when she’d been back on land. Or to have Feather or Crow simply fly her over the water. She wasn’t sure her sisters could have flown her so far, but she knew that Crow could have. Thoughts of her tribemates had been washing over her with more frequency. It had been a while since she’d been in touch with them, and again, she reached out with a send, but no one was within range. The growing longing for home confirmed to her what she’d already decided - even without a soul-name, and without wolf blood, and without the abilities of the wolflings, the tribe was home, and it was where she belonged. Though she was determined to complete her adventure, the anticipation of returning to her tribe was growing with each day.
Her raft rubbed against a rock, bringing her attention back to the task at hand. She was close to the island, and judging by the small rock she’d just hit, there were others in the area. She would have to be careful, or the raft would be broken, or she could be thrown off and hurt. Firecat navigated carefully through the rocks, looking for a place to pull in.
Realizing, finally, that there was none, Firecat threw her bundle up onto the shore of the baby island, then clambered out. She watched as the water then beat at her raft until it broke up. Then, turning toward her belongings, she gathered them together and began exploring.
Firecat was grateful for the hot day. After swimming from the middle island, the bigger baby, she’d reached Lone Peak Island and laid her belongings out to dry. She’d then gone exploring, carrying only a water skin and a knife on a search for fresh water to drink, and some berries or other food to eat. Once she’d found a small stream, she had followed its path to a larger source, then drank deeply. Then, she’d set to catching a fish. It took her a while, but she managed to catch one bare handed - something she had tried many times before, but had rarely had the patience for. Hunger, she found, was a good teacher.
Satiated, Firecat returned to the shore and put on her finally-dry clothes. With night falling, she headed back to the woods to search for shelter and had finally settled on sleeping in a rather large tree near the edge of the woods at the base of the peak. Firecat climbed up and settled herself in.
The next morning, the traveler examined the peak. She wanted to head to the top, but she also wanted to find the best route. Where she stood was too steep to safely ascend and descend, so she decided to walk around it, looking for something easier - not that she wasn’t up to a challenge, just that she really did want to return home again in one piece; there was no healer here, nor were there any friends or family to help her, should she fall.
Firecat smiled at herself. For once, she was being cautious! Her parents would be proud. So many times, she had pushed herself in a climb, only to fall and require Feverease’s touch. But something about pushing her limits, proving herself, to herself, made every rock face speak to her - she had to ascend. Reaching the highest heights she was capable of was something she loved to do - thinking on it, she realized she hadn’t felt that compulsion near the mountains back at the beach. Then again, there, the mountains were so large, Firecat knew she would need much more preparation, supplies, and company. Here, she felt confident that she could make the ascent.
Firecat reached the peak as the sun was setting. She knew she’d have to spend the night there, near the top, but she had an idea of where she might do that - there’d been a small cave a little lower, and it hadn’t seemed occupied when she’d examined it; she’d left her pack there so that she could finish the ascent unhindered. As she near the mouth of the summit - there was a deep recess that smelled of sulfur - Firecat looked toward the setting sun. She then raised her arms over her head and let them drift outward until her arms were spread in a greeting. The wind whipped through her hair, and Firecat smiled at the last light of day.
Carefully, Firecat made her way back toward her sleeping place for the evening, then sat under the night sky, watching stars chase one another, and thinking of Fisher.
The next morning, Firecat returned to the summit and took note of where she was at in relation to the island. She was at its center. She could explore to the north and make her way back past the peak and then south, or she could simply head south. For as much as she wanted to be thorough, Firecat couldn’t imagine that she would find anything much different to the north of the peak than she would to the south, and she did want to head home - going north and back to the center would add three or four days to her journey.
Though three or four days would not be much in relation to the time she had already been gone, Firecat decided to descend and head south toward the shore. The next island was a little further than the first one she had paddled to, and she wanted to make a raft again.
Morning dawned bright and early. The light of the sun on her eyes and the cries of gulls overhead woke Firecat from her slumber. She sat up and stretched, looking around her. She was at the southern peak of Twin Peaks Island, and today, she would ascend this final peak.
Over the past turn of the moons, she had explored the series of islands, swimming between some and fashioning rafts for others. She had hunted for birds or fish, had found berry bushes, and had feasted on those as well. After this ascent, Firecat would once more make a raft, only this time, it would be to head east, toward the coast along the west of Knife Peak.
Firecat hoped that once she neared Eagle Bay, she would be within sending range of a tribe member, and that she could again be in contact with those beloved elves whom she had taken for granted for most of her life. Perhaps, she hoped, one or more might even meet her along the walk from Knife Peak back toward the Holt. Firecat felt herself grinning at the thought.
Eager as she was to return home, the young elf had set herself to the task of the climbing this one last peak. She would not back away from the challenge, no matter how she longed for the sight, sound and touch of tribemates. Gathering her belongings, Firecat found the path of ascent she had chosen the night before, and began walking.
Once she reached a point at which carrying the pack was too difficult, the elf unloaded all but her waterskin, leaving her other items wrapped in the cloak her mother had made for her. Then, she began climbing. It wasn’t the easiest route to the top, but it was the most direct; and she wanted to start homeward tomorrow or the next day. That meant getting to the top as quickly, and as safely as possible.
Firecat reached over her head, her left hand grabbing at a ledge. She put her right hand on it as well, then maneuvered so her left toe could get hold. Then, she pushed upward. As her eyes passed her hands, she realized there was a large hole, possibly even a cave, right in front of her.
"Highthing! Highthing!" A flurry of wings and an excited voice startled her as a Preserver!?!? streamed out of the cave she was facing, its voice shrill as it trilled, "Highthing here for reals! Is good! Is good!"
Magenta eyes shone brightly and grew larger and larger as it flew toward where she peered from over the edge. "Chatterhop is much happy!" She saw the bright blue of its body and noticed its pale peach wings. "For-real Highthing help Snug-safe Highthing!" The unknown Preserver was almost in her face before Firecat realized she had lost hold of the rock in her surprise. "Take Chatterhop back to Home-place!" The voice only partially registered as Firecat began frantically reaching for the rock face. "Home to see Preserver friends! BREEEE-LEE-LEE!" She only vaguely realized what was happening as she slid.
"EEEEK! Highthing need help, too!" the bug cried, aghast. Its mouth kept moving, but she couldn't hear it. She'd started falling backward. Images of her mother's smiling face, Redmane's care, Fisher's touch. Precious moments flashed before her eyes even as the flailing Preserver started to follow her, zooming to do… nothing. There was nothing "Chatterhop" could do. Firecat could see the silhouette of the bug above her. For an instant she felt the jolt, a lightning-flash in her head, heard the sound of bones breaking, and shocking pain as she hit the ground. And the world went dark.