**Pain.** The sending was hazy. It was like someone calling from a distance; close enough to make contact, but almost too far away to hear. Like whispers one hears when one is half-asleep, or when a fly buzzes too closely to one’s ear. It just didn’t quite seem real.
The wolf in Raindrop was tempted to shrug it off. She was out, alone, far from the Holt she had left but a few days ago to scout on her own. Currently, she was in the forest on the lower slopes on the southwestern side of Knife Peak, near the ocean shore. There wasn’t anyone else out this way, as far as she knew. Surely she was hearing things. However, the elf in her told her to wait. That part of her hesitated, listened, and finally extended her thoughts outward in a searching sending of her own.
The only answer she received was the soft sound of waves striking the beach off in the distance.
Satisfied there was no one out there, Raindrop resumed her steps in the forest.
It was only then that the exhausted, frantic response came swirling into her mind, more feelings than words: **Pain, Pain! Water rushing, swirling, red-tinged, all around. Belly open, oozing blood. Drowning, can’t swim, can’t make it!**
Realization struck as the sending was more clear to her now. She definitely had not imagined this. With a yelp, she twirled around towards the beach. **Turnstone — friend — needs help — Raindrop helps — send!**
Another blur of images entered her mind. **swimming, a great shark. being lodged within rows upon rows of razor-sharp teeth. the shark twists, tears, then lets go and swims away. saltwater leeching out blood from many open wounds…**
Her instinct to go towards Turnstone was so strong that she hardly noticed that she had already reached the ocean. The cold water came as a shock. Though spring had set in, the seawater was still cold. For a heartbeat, Raindrop hesitated. She did not like the vastness of the ocean. The wolf, still on the surface, said no.
**Help! Tired, can’t swim much longer!** An image of a cold wave sweeping over Turnstone, of water rushing into his mouth and nose, and of exhaustion, **tired, tired, so tired…** rushed into her mind.
It was all she needed to dive in without more thinking.
The dark cold water took her breath away as the waves tried to push her back to the shore. But the strength this determination to find and save her friend gave her made it possible to pull through. **Turnstone, send! I am coming for you!** She kicked with her legs to keep above the surface and crawled through the waves that washed over her. The sea wasn’t that wild, but the unpredictability of her surroundings nearly made her panic. She gasped for air.
Turnstone’s sending urged her onward. There was no doubting it. He was panicked. He was losing hope. **Can’t swim, can’t breathe!** She could almost physically feel him being sucked down by the cold, unforgiving water, never to surface again. **...can’t make it…**
Raindrop adjusted her course toward the sending, trying to hold fast on that mental link that kept her from giving up. She still had a distance to go. Fortunately for her, now that she had broken through the final currents that wanted to push her back to the beach, it seemed the water cooperated and allowed her to swim faster.
At long last, Raindrop spotted a glimpse of snowy-white hair above the ocean waves. Even though she was beginning to grow cold and tired, the sight of Turnstone gave her the strength to finally make her way over to her friend. When she finally reached him, pulling him above the water was anything but easy. When Raindrop finally managed to put an arm around him, Turnstone grabbed hold of her in a panic and started to pull her under the waves, too.
**Turnstone, stop!** she reached out to him with her mind again. When he replied to her, the fear in his sending was all too familiar. How often on a hunt had she witnessed a deer or some other beast stir up one last bit of fight when it knew it was about to die? But Turnstone would not die — she would not let him! **Here to help,** she sent, in as soothing a manner as she knew how. **Don’t fight. Here to help.**
That seemed to be the encouragement Turnstone needed. He stopped thrashing. He let Raindrop slip an arm around him so she could pull him to safety. But, High Ones, she was tired, and muscular Turnstone was heavy. Try as she may, she couldn’t get him to move quickly enough on her own. And the small tendrils of blood that continued to leech into the water from her friend’s body made her worry. Not only did it mean that Turnstone was getting weaker with every heartbeat, but High Ones knew what predators lurked in these deep waters, waiting to get their chance at something so wounded. But she had to push away the lingering panic of not making it to the shore. She was the predator, she told herself firmly. And she would not die in the ocean. But she needed a little help.
**Kick,** she instructed. And Turnstone did as he was told. She could tell it took a lot of effort on Turnstone’s part, but he did so.
She couldn’t lead them back toward the mainland. The water had pulled them too far out to the sea, and the same current was too strong to fight against with Turnstone in this state. What could they do? Where could they go? The water was cold; Raindrop could feel the chill start to set in her bones. They had to get to land, somehow.
Her gaze drifted out toward the deeper waters; they seemed to be close to the large islands off the shore. It would be a challenge, but maybe — with some luck — they could reach one of them, regroup, and figure out how to get back to the mainland when things had settled down.
Now, she focused all her might on trying to reach that island. Thankfully, the current was in their favor. One kick at a time, and they would get there. She repeated that in her head. Every kick would bring them closer to the island. With her efforts and with Turnstone’s help, she steered them toward land, and finally felt the ocean floor beneath her feet. Relief washed over her, but she was not done yet. Once she was able to stand, it took the rest of her strength to haul her near-exhausted friend to the sandy shore where they both collapsed.
While Raindrop lay there, she looked over at her friend. He was pale. He’d lost a lot of blood and, while the chill water had stemmed the bleeding to some extent, his wounds were still oozing. He was shivering from being dressed in only a loincloth and from being in the cold water for so long. All she knew to do was to move in close to him, put her arms around him, and hope that the sun would help to warm them up a little. Her muscles that had been tense for such a long while started to relax, causing her limbs to shudder. She was cold, too. And she didn’t know if her body would be enough to make Turnstone comfortable.
For a while, they stayed where they were, catching their breath. Turnstone looked worse. His color wasn’t improving. He was groaning in pain. Raindrop bit her lip and looked down at his wounds. There were deep slices from where the sharp rows of the shark’s teeth had torn into Turnstone’s belly and over his right hip, but it didn’t look like his guts would open up. They wounds were just jagged, deep and, bleeding — some profusely. Raindrop wasn’t even sure how to close up so many holes without a healer's help.
On a more positive note, at least the sand from the beach had helped plug some of the wounds and stem some of the bleeding, but had also made them dirty. She realized that if they ever wanted to make up a plan to get back to the mainland, she would have to tend to his injuries first. They needed to be cleaned and she had to find something to close them with. But how? With what? She wasn’t a herbal healer and she already scented plants that she didn’t know. She didn’t know what to use.Turnstone had no clothing on to tear up for bandages, and she only had a leather dress that wouldn’t go far for those purposes at all.
With a longing gaze, she looked at the mainland in the distance. It was much further away than she thought. She also knew that it was too far to send. Songsent. Songsent would have known what to do, Raindrop sighed as she tried to sit up a little more straight. Turnstone moaned. And Raindrop realized that Turnstone would die on this shore, if they didn’t start to move. Right now.
**We have to go,** she firmly sent, stroking his hair before reaching for his hand. **We need to find water. Your wounds need to be cleaned.**
Turnstone’s reply was more images than sending. **Hurt-pain-bleeding.** His body was resisting anything but lying still on the beach.
**We did not survive these waters for nothing,** Raindrop snapped at him. **I did not save you to die here. Get up. You must.**
Her friend moved, but too slowly for her liking. She needed him to get himself together, at least for a little while longer, until they found sweet water. **You start to reek of death. Get up. I will help you.** In the meantime, she had ripped a few pieces of leather off her dress and pressed it against the largest wound.
Turnstone yelped at the contact, but tried his best to move faster.
**Better,** Raindrop told him, **You keep pressure. I will help you walk.**
Turnstone leaned heavily against her as they dragged their way through the sand. Raindrop couldn’t help but notice that it was hard for her friend to pick up his feet; he left long ruts on the beach as he walked. Even though they hadn’t gone far, his breathing was heavy and labored. She felt sorry for him, for what she was making him do, but knew they had to move on.
By the time they had left the beach and had entered a dense forest bordering the coastline, Turnstone had become impossibly heavy. His head slumped forward. His body had stopped shivering. After a few more wolf-lengths in, he was hardly moving at all. He wasn’t going to make it.
But, again, Raindrop refused to let this end right here. Not now, not after they had fought their way in this far. Even though she was tired, sore, and exhausted, she gritted her teeth and hoisted up on Turnstone’s body. The next part, she dragged him. He slumped against her, offering no resistance. She headed further into the forest, hoping beyond hope that they would find water and a place to rest very soon. She wouldn’t be able do this for long.
Her nose caught scent of water mere moments before the sounds of gurgling reached her ears. It smelled of earth, of moss, and nothing like salty sea water. It was what they were searching for! She paused for a moment, trying to get her bearings. It wasn’t far. Not far at all. There was still hope!
The sound of water brought Raindrop new strength. She quickly dragged Turnstone toward the sound of it, and found it; it was a small, rocky area with a small spring bubbling forth from between the rocks. There was a flat, mossy rock on which she laid her friend. When she set him down, his eyes fluttered open briefly.
**Found water,** she told him. And before he could reply, she scooped up some water in her hands and brought it to his lips so he could drink. It gave her hope that he tried to sip, a little.
This is what she repeated a couple of times. She scooped up more water for him and he drank, a little more each time. She was almost surprised how much that relieved her. Drinking was good. Water meant life.
Then, it was time for Raindrop to drink. She bent over on her knees, and brought her head to the water. She hadn’t noticed how thirsty she was until her face reached the fresh water, and she gulped it in. She even washed her face, which made her feel better immediately.
Turnstone heaved a deep, shuddering sigh. **So tired,** he sent to her. Raindrop moved closer to him again, and inspected his wounds. There was still sand in the wounds, but the bloodflow was less than before. For a moment, she hesitated and thought about cleaning them out right away, which would cause more oozing, or let him sleep for a bit to regain some energy. In the end, she decided to gather up some of the moss from around the water hole and pack it against his wounds.
**Sleep,** she finally said. **I will watch over you. You must become stronger. When you are, I must find a way… to return to the mainland and get the healer.**
Turnstone’s reply was a wordless, appreciative, and exhausted sending. No sooner had he shared it than he closed his eyes and fell silent. Whether he was sleeping deeply or unconscious Raindrop didn’t know. It mattered only that she could see his chest rising and falling; the wolf in her tried to bury the fact that there was something more worrisome-sounding in his breathing, even though the elf in her knew it should be cause for concern.
But it was neither the protective wolf nor the elf in her that knew the heat of the day, the sound of gurgling water, and exhaustion would cause her eyes to grow heavy. Try as she might, as she sat beside her friend keeping vigil, she found her head would slowly slump forward. The first few times it happened, she started awake and willed sleep away. But, eventually, fatigue persevered and sleep won out.
Near-silent wings carried Chatterhop through the forest as the Preserver searched for new trinkets to add to its collection. It had spied a strangely-shaped acorn near the old spring yesterday, but had left it. At the time, it just hadn’t seemed like quite the right thing to use. However, upon second thought, the Preserver realized that the unseized treasure would be perfect for the replacement head of the figure of the large, grizzled Digdig that had attacked the Highthings when they had been at one of their last holdouts.
In fact, it was quite worried that its hesitation might have cost it the treasure altogether. “Furbaby treewee stole! Chatterhop knows...” it muttered to itself as it searched the forest floor for where the acorn had been before. And, surely enough, when the Preserver approached the foot of the oak where the acorn had been, there was nothing left of it save for a small, half-chewed cap.
“Aww.” Disappointed was just the beginning of how Chatterhop felt. It flitted down to the remnant and scooped the cap up into its hands. With a frown, it looked at the acorn-part with a critical eye, trying to decide if it could salvage what was left into a helmet or a shield or something, somehow. But no. There was a large crack running through the middle. The piece was worthless. With an angry harrumph, Chatterhop tossed the part aside.
Then, with a sigh, it launched itself into the air and headed toward the spring. Perhaps there was a small, smooth rock it could use there. One that was good for flinging. “Digdig launchers hurl many rocks,” it told itself, as it knew the next reenactment of the battle between Highthings and Digdigs would need an appropriate amount of ammunition.
When it reached the spring, it stopped short in disbelief at what it saw. “Highthings?” For a moment, it could hardly move as it surveyed the two elfin forms sleeping at the small pool’s edge. Only when the initial shock wore off did Chatterhop dare to move forward and take a closer look.
“Highthings come to Chatterhop? Bring help? Go home-place?” the Preserver chirped in delight. “Chatterhop waited and waited!” It landed on Raindrop’s knee and instantly spotted the blood seeping from the white-haired elf. “Aww, Whitehair Highthing hurting.” Then, it spied blood covering the furrier of the Highthings, too. “Both Highthings hurting.” Disappointed that these elves wouldn’t be able to aid Silver-silk Highthing or Climb-high Highthing, lying wrapped elsewhere on the island, it shook its head, sighed deeply, and planted its hands on its sides.
“Chatterhop make wrapstuff,” it said decisively. “More Highthings come. Wrapstuff is good. Chatterhop knows. Whitehair Highthing and Curlysoft Highting be safe like other Highthings.”
It took but a few moments for the sleeping elves to be cocooned in soft, protective whiteness. Satisfied with its work, Chatterhop made a mental note — it would return every few days to make sure the wrapstuff was whole and sound. Then, with a nod, it flitted away. It couldn’t tarry here. There were other places to visit, treasures to find, and wrapstuffed things to keep safe.
(Ed. Note: Turnstone was not completely eaten by the shark because the shark was essentially being picky: current science shows that sharks will quite often take exploratory bites of their prey to see if it tastes good to them. If not, the shark will leave the bitten prey for other, more palatable, food sources.)