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 1 
 on: May 19, 2018, 09:59:49 AM 
Started by Jeb - Last post by Jeb
Kahvi watched Rayek help the One-Eyed elf to sitting and felt the distaste ripple her skin. She had had only two glimpses of him before. One, lying in the blood splattered snow as his life-mate keened over him. The other…

Laid out next to Vaya, heart beating, skin flushed as her daughter remained cold and still, wrapped in the metal shell that was too late to do her any good. Kahvi blinked before the wetness in her eyes could grow enough to trickle out.

Dead was dead, Kahvi had said before, and that was how it should be. Vaya had joined the circle and they had danced for her, her spirit was free.

But this one, holed up here with the rest of the ancient, useless things. She never thought there was any chance of him coming back, yet here he was. This was magic, and it wasn’t right. This was why she needed to get Rayek out of here, before everything got so turned around it lost any meaning.

She turned to encounter Ekuar just now catching up to them in their race to the chamber. “The wolfrider...Is he…?”

Kahvi shrugged and spit on the floor. It felt good to know that she’d sullied this puffed-up place. Power over life and death, but all the powers of the High Ones wouldn’t clean her filth off the floor. “Bring both of them for some food and warmth when they’re ready.” She shot a quick glance over her shoulder as she breezed past him. “I’ve had enough of this place for today.”
__________

As Ekuar hobbled over to where Rayek knelt, he heard the other elf’s declaration. “I am not the one you call One-Eye.” They exchanged glances.

“What do you mean?” Rayek asked.

But the other elf only shook his head, and looked from one to the other with eyes wide. How could he explain this?

Ekuar sensed his difficulty. “Well.” He nudged Rayek. “Kahvi kindly reminded me that it’s been a while since we’ve eaten.” He tightened the scarf wrapped over his shoulder. “And these old bones could do with some warming by the fire.” He put on an encouraging smile. “Let’s take our guest here back to the lodge.”

Rayek nodded and helped One-Eye to rise. He grabbed one of the fur blankets from the pallet and draped it over One-Eye’s shoulders. “You’ll want this.”

Slowly, they worked their way through the palace, One-Eye’s feet slipping on the smooth floor as he worked out the movement of his legs. Muscle memory took over quickly, and by the time they reached the door he was walking well on his own. Rayek opened the door and One-Eye followed them out.

He had no response to the shock of it. It was as complete, as blinding as the darkness of the spirit world he had left, but brightness. And instead of the unfeeling ether, sensation bit at every part of him. The brightness stung his eyes and prickled every exposed bit of skin. He blinked against his watering eyes, and slowly the world began to take shape around him.

The smooth sides of the palace rose above them as far as he could see. Even with the biting wind tearing at him, he could still feel the faint warmth emanating from it. But they did not stay with the warmth long, heading out into further coldness and swirling white. One-Eye found himself having to learn to walk again as his feet pushed through the blowing snow drifts. Ekuar held to his side, stabilizing him as he glanced around at the cliff sides and trees surrounding them. He could make out holes in the rocks where Rayek was guiding them.

As Rayek pulled apart the hide draping the doorway, warm air hit them along with smells of juicy meat sizzling over the fire. One-Eye stared down at his stomach as a strange gurgling emerged from it, accompanied by an odd tightening sensation. He looked up in bewilderment and was met with Ekuar’s twinkling smile. “I suppose it has been a while since there’s been any food in your body. We will remedy that right away!”

They led him to a soft sitting spot and a round object was placed in his hands. Whatever it was did not react well with the coldness still in his body from outside. He struggled not to drop the thing he’d been handed but it bit into him worse than the white world outside had. Luckily, the pain didn’t last long and soon calmed into a pleasant comforting feeling. He found that his fingers moved more easily now and the little shivers running across his skin began to subside.

He looked around to see others with similar objects, bringing them up to their mouths, then dropping them. Cautiously, he raised it to his lips. Instinct took over and he tipped the thick liquid inside into his mouth. The burst of flavors and involuntary swallowing that resulted caught him off-guard and he choked a little before he managed to get some of the liquid down smoothly. The comforting feeling that holding the object had caused spread down the center of his chest, then slowly spread outward through the rest of his body, chasing the cold from outside away.

He greedily drank some more.

Ekuar chuckled. “Like that, do you?”

He barely stopped to nod and raised the bowl again, but Ekuar pushed it down with surprising force. “Ah ah, slow down.”

He was about to object when a stabbing pain in his gut had him doubled over. His bewildered eyes met Ekuar’s for an explanation.

“Your body is not used to so much food all at once.” A sad look crossed his face. “Believe me, I know.”

Ekuar patted his shoulder and took the bowl. “Rest now. Have some more in a bit.”

He did as Ekuar suggested and leaned back against the fur-covered wall.

 2 
 on: May 17, 2018, 02:51:23 PM 
Started by Foxeye - Last post by jaRf
Thanks and you're welcome! Feel free to post some art here as well. :)

 3 
 on: May 17, 2018, 07:53:13 AM 
Started by Foxeye - Last post by Prayer
Hi,

I am an artist from Germany. Nice to meet fellow Elfquest artists.
The Elfquest Fan Art Calendars are absolutely amazing as well as beautiful artworks.
You guys are an inspiration and keep the Elfquest fandom colorful and alive.



Shade and sweet water,

Prayer

 4 
 on: May 14, 2018, 09:28:08 PM 
Started by Maggie - Last post by Hyakurin
I hade a real hard time sketching mine out nothing seemed to look right. But I think I have it ready to be inked and painted!

 5 
 on: April 21, 2018, 10:04:25 AM 
Started by Jeb - Last post by Jeb
There was a discussion on another Elfquest site about the nature of Timmain's split to become Cutter and whether when she did that, was another spirit that was the true child of Bearclaw and Joyleaf's Recognition displaced? That started me thinking about that poor spirit wandering around, and imagining a story where that spirit found and claimed One-Eye's "empty shell".

When I started this, I kind of forgot about the whole wrap-stuff business and how he would need someone to help him get out of it (how was that going to work originally, I don't know. Leave One-Eye all wrapped up in hopes he'd return to his body and...lay there?).

I looked back at the times when One-Eye was unwrapped, but none of them worked with the story as I had started to map it out, so I decided to heck with it. We will ignore any canon ideas of wrapstuff and just let it conveniently disappear when needed here.

The story begins...

Part 1

There were only two events with any significance.

The first was the one that had called him out of the void and into existence. Something had pulled him apart from the Others and into a different world. He had gone from insensate darkness to the brilliance of two sparks meeting, joining in a shock of new sensations. Light, color, warmth, feeling - all exploded out of the joining and he found himself pulled irresistibly towards the fusing sparks. It grew closer every moment and he was on the point of being consumed.

Then, nothing.

It was almost as if he had been pushed away, as if something else had taken his place in the growing fire.

He returned to the darkness, but still kept his separateness. He was aware now that Others had been separate, too. They tried to explain this new separateness, but he had no understanding of what they tried to convey. Death, life, love, it was all meaningless.

He did find that in his separateness he was able to “go out.” He had a new concept of distance and he found that there were some like him, who were able to leave the Others. Each was a bright spark and he could travel from one to the other. Some, he could commune with, but others seemed surrounded by some barrier that made them faint and unapproachable. The travelers tried to explain, but they also spoke in the language of life and death and he didn’t understand.

The faint sparks drew him like the brilliance that had called him into separateness. He began to be curious. If only he could get inside one of the barriers, but each was full of its spark and had no room for him.

Then the second event happened.

A barrier was brought to the presence of the Others, but there was no spark inside.

He surrounded it, and as he got closer he once again became aware of the same senses that had been there at the two sparks joining. It was...painful. And...joyful. And bright, and cold, and warm and dark and hard and soft and so much, but he couldn’t stop, falling deeper and deeper into the blinding chaos. Turned around and spinning until finally, all was quiet.

The sensations stabilized. He was enclosed. No longer infinite and formless, there now were limits to him. He could feel edges of his awareness. Below him, there was a feeling of pressure. Above and around, something soft rested against him. Beyond that, nothing.

He opened his eyes. He tried to make sense of the new world he saw. He was vaguely aware of the presence of the Others around him, but they were far away. He was in a large, bright space, laid out on a soft surface.

He lifted his hand and stared at it, amazed at the feeling of muscles pushing, softness sliding over his skin. Somehow, as he saw each new thing, he was able to name it and it made sense as the knowledge he had gained from the travelers fell into place.

He could hear a noise. Voices, not far away, but muffled. The sound of them caused a tightening feeling in his gut and he knew the sound was not happy.

He swung his legs over and gingerly touched them to the floor. He tried to lift himself, but was too weak. He stumbled to the floor, gasping at the crushing sting as his splayed hands hit the hard ground.

The voices stopped. For a minute there was silence, then footsteps, slow and soft at first, then louder and faster as they raced toward him and abruptly halted. A gasp rang through the stillness.

“One-Eye!?”

He raised his head to find two figures in front of him. Their basic structures were similar, and similar to his, but in appearance they were quite different. The closer figure was of almost uniform thickness, slightly wider at the top, and gave an impression of overall darkness. Long hair was pulled back and fell in a straight line behind, rippling like the blackness between worlds. The whole body was covered in dark skin, but the eyes were a color like the heart of a star. The other figure that held back also was dark on top, a shaggy halo surrounding its upper half. This one though had a variety of thicknesses. Wide, then narrow, then wide again, with more complex contours than the other. And its skin was light, blending in more with the brightness around them.

He remembered the long ago decision to become beings that required two forms to reproduce and thought maybe that explained the differences. But which one was he?

The nearer figure had knelt next to him and moved to support him back up to standing. He focused on where they touched, and the contrast he saw there. So he was light, like the other figure farther away. Did that mean they shared biological function? But as he pulled up he realized his build was top-heavy and narrow, more like the one helping him. He seemed to share characteristics of both. It was very confusing.

The darker one helped ease him back onto the platform from which he had fallen.

“One-Eye? You’ve come back!”

He raised his hands to his face and felt that he indeed had space for two eyes like the ones watching him, but one had been covered with a scrap of material. He lifted it, and where the eye should be, only felt thickened and twisted skin. It disturbed the others to see it, he could tell, so he lowered the fabric back down.

He took a deep breath, registering the novelty of the sensation of filling his lungs, expanding, contracting, feeling the air rushing in and out. He focused on this as he steadied himself before finally attempting to shape his mouth and coordinate the release of air to make the correct noises.

“No.” it was little more than a breath at first. He drew another breath in and tried again.

“No.” It sounded rough and ripped through his throat. He cough and swallowed, pressing his lips to bring moisture to his dry mouth. “I am not the one you call One-Eye.”

 6 
 on: April 09, 2018, 10:39:14 AM 
Started by JumJum - Last post by JumJum

Sketch WIP : Figuring out characters for this little vampire idea I have in my head... They might live in this house....


 7 
 on: April 07, 2018, 01:17:24 PM 
Started by Foxeye - Last post by Bittersilk
scratch that comment. Found it :-) it says 'bare breasts in a nonsexual situation is OK' (that's probably as far as I'll take it anyway :-D

 8 
 on: April 07, 2018, 01:12:28 PM 
Started by Foxeye - Last post by Bittersilk
Hello, I just recently became aware that there is an option to label a picture as 'mature' but I've allready uploaded the pictures, I'm not sure if they go under mature really, but is there a way to change it once uploaded? can't seem to find it. do I write it in the 'keywords' ? and is there anyway where to see exactly what is considered mature, I believe there must be, but can't find it... Do I have to delete my pics and upload them again in a 'mature album'

 9 
 on: April 03, 2018, 10:15:02 AM 
Started by Maggie - Last post by Czarine
Whoa, late with my update, but here goes!

I have been gathering some references and thought about the composition. I found some pretty neat lighting references already! I know I can't start drawing before June (unless there's a sudden change in my schedule), so I'll just keep on planning.

 10 
 on: March 26, 2018, 05:37:25 PM 
Started by AnnaS - Last post by AnnaS
OOC: Westering Holt was around for a brief time in 2009/2010.  With the conclusion of Final Quest, we've decided that we want to give it another chance.  The RPs completed are being consolidated and condensed to the main story line and posted a stories to give background for anyone who might want to check us out and join in. :) And if no one ever does, well...we hope you enjoy the stories posted here. :)

To protect and respect our original members, the stories posted will mostly involve our (Anna & Kris') characters, as those are the ones that carried the scenarios forward. To read the full RPs, you're welcome to visit our forum - it's still up. 

On to the story!



A Call to Council

Anna & Kris



Mist leaned against a gnarled root and watched his chief silently. Sureshot had been gnawing on a bone for at least an eight of seasons now, and with each transition from one to the other, the gnawing had grown harder. He knew what worried his friend; they’d discussed it often enough.

The light of the moons caressed the glen where the ancient tree that was the center of the holt grew. The massive tree bore the scars of its long life, and Mist knew that only the tending of twelve generations of plantshapers had allowed the tree to keep going. In the normal course of events, even trees eventually tired and returned to the earth. Mist could not count how many turnings of the seasons had passed since Chief Stalker had led their tribe here, but this tree – a sapling then – had been part of them the entire time. He could feel the spirits of their kin gathered around the sheltering branches.

Mist lifted his eyes and watched the gentle shift of new leaves as the wind whispered through the branches. He drew a deep breath, smelling damp earth, green growing things, the uniquely individual scents of his tribemates and their wolf-friends, and wealth of other scents that all compiled together to breathe ‘home.’ Peace settled in his soul, soothing the knife-sharp edge between healer and wolf. On nights like this, in moments like this, both halves of his soul were in harmony.

“Mist…”

The healer looked down to meet his chief-friend’s gaze and the arched his eyebrows in query. “Sureshot?”

“Have you considered what we discussed?”

Mist stiffened, then sighed. “I have.”

“Your answer?”

Mist grimaced. “The good of the tribe comes first, Sureshot. I’ll do as you’ve asked.”

Sureshot’s shoulders slumped and Mist sensed his chief’s relief. “Not much sense waiting longer,” Sureshot said. “Best be done now.” The chief closed his eyes and sent his voice out to his tribe. *I call council! Tribemates, come to holt-glen!*


Stormfire stopped as Sureshot's sending reached her, moving only to give a sharp tug on the lace of her carry-sack. She looked up at the faces of her mothers, Sureshot's lifemates, and felt a lump swell in her throat.

Waterdance was the first to move, reaching out to touch a hand to Stormfire's cheek.

"It's time, she-cub," she said, a small, wistful smile belying the tears that welled up.

Quickflight got up and headed to the back of the den. Alarmed, Stormfire reached out. "Quick--"

Waterdance shook her head. *I wouldn't, daughter,* she urged. She wiped her eyes and took hold of Stormfire's arm. Stormfire let her blood-mother raise her to her feet, still worried about Quickflight. *She took the news hard. She needs time to accept it, and time to grieve.*

Stormfire swallowed hard, trying to push the lump back down where it belonged. "She won't be happy unless I stay, and I won't be happy unless I go." She met her mother's deep blue eyes, clear as a pool under the moons, and--except for the tears--as tranquil. "I wish I could give her her way…”

Waterdance shook her head. "Giving Quickflight her way in this is not going to help at all," she warned. She slid her hand from Stormfire's arm to her hand. "Come now, Stormfire. We have a council to attend."



Stormfire hesitated then followed her mother out of the den, but not without one last look at Quickflight.  There was nothing she could do to ease her other mother’s unhappiness; she had to focus on what was happening now, in these last moments in her birth holt, before she left it forever.  As she left the father tree’s enormous bulk and settled into a comfortable nook among the lower branches, she let her eyes linger on familiar sights, let her nose sift through familiar smells, and let her ears enjoy familiar sounds. 



One sight that was not familiar was seeing her friend Sunsong being fed spring-tender greens by young cubs, with every indication of enjoyment.  Stormfire snickered. *Is that your favorite treat now?* she sent to her friend. *Whirlwind and I will bring you back baskets-full if so.*

*Oh, hush, Stormfire. It takes so little to make the cublings happy.* Yet Sunsong tipped her head back and ate another leaf as if it were the most succulent root ever found. Stormfire buried her face against her knees, giggling as Whirlwind and Tallspear joined in the mirth.

*Sunsong, you treewee!* Whirlwind half-scolded, laughing. *Eating leaves like a caterpillar! Next you'll be spinning yourself a cocoon and hatching out with moth-wings!*

*We could always wrap her up in a hide and have Evenstar make her wings,* Tallspear slyly suggested, winking up at the plantshaper. Sunsong's delighted laughter brought attention from all sides.

*Now is not the time for play, cub,* Waterdance sent sternly, attempting to console a quietly weeping Quickflight.

*What would you have me do?* Stormfire sent back defiantly. *Behave as if I'm about to be exiled? If I can't laugh when I'm facing nothing worse than this, I'm pretty poor stuff to send out on my own.*

Waterdance's frown deepened, but she settled for shooting her daughter a disapproving glare. Stormfire met it, rankled. She loved her mother dearly, but Waterdance always seemed to want to keep her as tied down as a human's near-wolf. I sometimes wonder, Stormfire told herself, if Waterdance really wanted a girl-cub or just a cubling's stuffed leather poppet.



As the tribe gathered on the ground and on the branches of the great father tree, a silence spread.  Sureshot had called for a council, and those were held only at times when serious choices had to be made.  It had been many seasons since the last council.



In the heavy stillness, Oakroot glanced around at the gathered tribe, and then turned to Sureshot. "You called council, my chief?"

Sureshot stepped forward. A light breeze ruffled his thick brown hair, and he waited until it died. "I've brought you here tonight to tell you that the tribe is about to be parted.”  He paused as shock and curiosity rippled through the tribe.  "We've had good years here," Sureshot continued. "We've made our holt, had our cubs, lived and died and kept the Way . . . but, perhaps, we've done too well." He stopped, his eye falling on a recently Recognized pair, and then at another couple whose cubling stopped sucking his thumb long enough to stare up at the chief. Sureshot smiled but turned grave as he looked again at the tribe. "We've multiplied like ravvits," he said, "and I daresay that if we continued, we'll end like ravvits, caught in any number of snares. The humans still attack us when they can. We've had foaming sickness. And although the game is still good . . . who can remember when it used to be more plentiful than it is now?

"To keep the Wolfriders alive, we will have to send some away." Sureshot spoke now to tribemates who hung on his every word. "This is no exile. The oak grows strong and spreads his branches wider than an eagle his wings. The acorns which drop are his children, yet only by leaving the shelter of the great oak can they grow themselves.

"And so I am going to send a number of you to new lands, so that you can continue to grow strong and live well."

Commotion broke out at once, as Wolfriders fought to show agreement or dissent with their chief. Journey ignored them. He could see Sureshot had only one question he intended to answer . . . and there were four possible answers.  "So who will lead us to these new lands?" he called out, but the question seemed lost in the noise of so many voices. 



Sureshot stood, impassively waiting for the tribe to be silent. At last he held up a hand and the quiet that descended was almost thunderous.  "I've made my decision," he said.

Quickflight buried her head against Waterdance's shoulder. Keenedge took a step forward, his eyes betraying his distress. "Father," he began, reaching out a hand. "Father--you can't mean--"

Sureshot met his son's eyes and smiled sadly. "No, son. Not you." He put a hand on his eldest's shoulder, and Keenedge sagged with palpable relief. "I need you here. And you," he added, placing his other hand on Preyfinder's arm; the young Wolfrider's face mirrored his brother's, relief mingling with rising curiosity.

Longtooth stepped forward. "Is it me, Father?"

Sureshot paused for the smallest moment before shaking his head. "You've good instincts, Longtooth," and he let go of Preyfinder to clasp his youngest son by Quickflight. Longtooth pulled loose, his face downcast. *You'd make a good chief if you'd learn to think of others first,* Sureshot added, not unkindly. *And in time, I think you will. One day. Today is not that day.*

Keenedge and Preyfinder looked at each other, and Preyfinder swallowed hard. Both turned to look at the figure who now slid off her perch on the Father Tree, and advanced towards them, slight as a fawn.

Sureshot's eldest shook their heads in unison.

"Father, you can't," Keenedge blurted, stunned. "She's barely more than a cub! She's a bare stripling--"

"Send one of us with her," urged Preyfinder and Longtooth.

"No," Stormfire said, before Sureshot could speak. She met her brothers' eyes, her head held high. "I'm not having any of you come along," she said softly. "I will lead this new tribe. I'm of the chief's line as much as any of you. And I can do my duty as well as any of you."

Longtooth was the first to snort. "You're barely over three eights and four," he returned. "All you know is how to sit on a wolf and throw a javelin or two. What are you going to do when there's a real threat to the tribe? You can't run to Father then. Or your mother."

The derision in his eyes made the hairs on Stormfire's nape rise. But she remembered what Sureshot had said. You'll be questioned by all of them, and they'll test you in different ways. If she couldn't meet Longtooth's test, she had no business being chief.

*I won't need to run to our father or mothers,* she sent. *And I daresay I know more than you do about dealing with a threat. You see a chief, and you see nothing but a figure about whom songs are sung, and howls are held. I see a chief and see the mother or father of the whole tribe--the one who protects as well as leads, who shoulders the blame for what goes wrong and shares the praise when all goes right. Are you ready for that, brother? Prove it to me, and I'll let you tag along.*

*Let me?* Longtooth's eyes narrowed and he took a step forward. Stormfire held her ground and shared with him the memory of the last time the foaming sickness had stalked their tribe, of the bitter grief they'd shared as elders, adults, and cubs were lost; of all Sureshot had done to try to save them. Her brother winced as she added, as sure as a spear-thrust, *Can you do this? Will you do this?*

I don't know if I can,
a small voice deep within her whispered. But I know I must.

Longtooth shook his head as if to clear her sending out of it. Then he broke their link and staggered back against the Father Tree. Shock was clear on Skystrike's face as he hurried to help Longtooth. Stormfire drew a deep, ragged breath as she realized she'd just won the first challenge of her chieftainship.

Sureshot drew her close, and she fought to stop shaking. She couldn't look at him until he put a hand beneath her chin and raised her face. Blinking, Stormfire looked into eyes as gray as her own, and made herself stand straighter.

**Ready?** Sureshot smiled, and Stormfire felt her spirits lift. She could feel the faith he had in her, and it warmed her better than summer sunshine. She would not fail. For him, she would keep her part of their tribe whole and well.

**Ready,** she returned, and Sureshot turned back to the tribe.

"Silence!" His call brought quiet crashing back down, even as many elves stared at him in disbelief. "Stormfire will lead as many as will go with her to the new lands. This is my decision." He laid both hands on her shoulders, and added, in a softer tone, "Go, daughter. Pick out your hunters and choose well. Just remember . . . no one with cubs, and no maiden in cub."

Stormfire nodded and turned to Sunsong. "Plantshaper?" She heard Keenedge groan in protest, "That's our treeshaper," and Sureshot hush him; but she only had eyes for Sunsong's reaction. "Come with me, my friend?"



Sunsong blinked, stunned that Stormfire even felt the need to ask. "Of course, I'm going with you," she said instantly, sending a frown at Keenedge. Hmph! Chief's son or not, she didn't like that possessive 'our' coming out of him. She was her own being and could go where she wished. Besides, it wasn't like the tribe would be without a plantshaper when she left. She was the younger, weaker, and less experienced of the two.

Even so, the prospect of stretching herself and her abilities as wide and far as she could thrilled her. She grinned at Stormfire, all her eagerness and excitement reflecting in her blue-green eyes. "You lead us to the spot, my chieftess, and I'll shape us a home – eventually!"



"Yes!" Stormfire hugged Sunsong, ignoring Keenedge's groan. "I have my plantshaper!" She turned to Sureshot just as three sendings reached her.

The first was from Silent. **I'll come. I will try not to be a burden.**

Stormfire blinked. A sending from Silent was like swallowing a double-handful of dreamberries--her perceptions went slightly off, and she had to retreat for a moment to ground herself again. She'd known Silent all her life, and knew things were . . . different, where he was concerned. But at that moment, she met his parents' eyes, and found herself nodding. **Come, then,** she told him.

The second sending was from Longdusk, and Stormfire affirmed it the moment she heard. Longdusk would definitely be helpful, and she trusted him.

But the third . . .

Stormfire met the eyes of Flintfire, and beyond him, Icemark and Redthorn. The Recognized pair stood together; if she chose Longdusk, either Lightgaze or Redthorn would want to come--and if she chose either, she would be separating a family. Worse, if she chose Redthorn.

I can use them both. And why not the cubs, when all of us can protect them? Stormfire drew a deep breath and walked over to Sureshot. She touched his arm, and he turned to her from Mist. "Father," she said, and sent to Flintfire, Icemark and Redthorn to join her. "We need to speak."  Stormfire waited until Flintfire, Softling, Redthorn, Silvercub, and Icemark had joined her and Sureshot before she addressed her father.



Sureshot raised an eyebrow at his tribemates' approach, and fixed Stormfire with a look.  "I said, no one with cubs."

"I know." Stormfire swallowed; her father was not Longtooth--she wouldn't turn his will by force.

"Then you know that these four--" Sureshot indicated Softling, Silvercub, Icemark and Redthorn--"can't go."

"I know what you said," Stormfire replied. "But if they want to come, Father, why should I make them choose between kindred and cubs, and a new holt?"

Sureshot sighed, shaking his head. "You don't know how dangerous it is. There are humans everywhere, strange beasts, trolls--"

"And my tribemates and I will keep watch over them! We aren't taking every life-bearer and every cub with us, Father!"  The chief folded his arms over his chest and scowled down at Stormfire. She put her hands on her hips and returned the glare. "Don't try that argument with me, old wolf. I'm as likely to lose full-grown hunters as cubs to humans, and you know it."



Icemark rested his hands on Silvercub's shoulders, keeping the child still and quiet with the gentle pressure of his grip. Although he usually - and happily - allowed Redthorn to take the lead in most of their joint decisions, this time he stood by her side.

"My chief," he said quietly, interrupting the stand-off between father and daughter. "You said that Stormfire could not choose anyone with cubs or expecting them. She did not choose us. We chose her. Redthorn and I are aware of the risks. Whether we follow her, or stay here, those dangers remain the same. They're just a little more familiar here."

He looked at Stormfire, meeting her gaze for a long moment, then smiled gently. He turned back to Sureshot. "I have faith in your cub to see to her tribe's safety, whether the tribe is here, or wandering unknown territory. I have faith in my lifemate to guard and protect our cub. I have faith in my tribemates who choose to come with us."



Sureshot eyed Icemark for a long moment, and Stormfire lowered her head to hide a grin. Trust Icemark to hit the mark, so to speak. Her sire looked like he'd gulped a handful of green dreamberries.

**Thanks, Icemark,** she sent. **And you, Redthorn.**

"You're twisting my words like grass, Icemark," Sureshot warned. "I know all too well the dangers that face your cub here. Every cub," he added, glancing at Flintfire and Softling. "You've no idea what you're risking. A journey's hard enough to take when you're strong, full-grown and able. But when you have a cub to look after? That's a different catch to kill altogether."

He turned back to Stormfire. "I've given you enough to chew on, daughter. Mind you don't take a bite too big to swallow."



Back when she was a cub, Stormfire had heard often enough from Quickflight that she could wind Sureshot around her smallest finger. There were times when she hadn't believed it-especially when she'd made him angry. She was certain this was one of those times, for Sureshot's mouth was held in a thin, taut line, and his eyes narrowed in a scowl as he looked from Flintfire to Softling, from Icemark to Redthorn, to Stormfire.

He sighed, grimaced, and finally gave her a one-sided smile. **I wanted to make this easy on you,** he informed her.

**Easy? Nothing about this is easy!**

**I'll say it isn't! I came into my chief's-lock when I was just a little older than you. I know what you're going to go through.** Sureshot threw up his hands and eyed his tribefolk. "Well, what are the barking lot of you standing here for? Haven't you got some packing for the journey to do?"

Beaming, Stormfire left Sureshot to say his farewells to Icemark, Redthorn, Silvercub, Flintfire, and Softling. Grumble he might like to do, but Sureshot loved his tribemates and was well-loved by them. If she wanted nothing else besides her new tribe's survival, Stormfire wanted them to love and trust her as much as they loved and trusted her father.



As Stormfire moved away from Sureshot, Icemark and Redthorn-and a nearby Evenstar-she heard a sharp, unmistakable voice. It was a voice that had angered her ever since she was old enough to understand what it was saying, and she found her fingers twitched as she strode forward to close the distance between herself, Fernflower, and Sunsong.  Fernflower was one of the tribe’s plantshapers; the best, in fact.  She was also Sunsong’s mother, and her opinion of her daughter’s talents were well-known by the tribe.  Sunsong seldom seemed upset by her mother’s criticism, but the unfairness of Fernflower’s attitude rubbed many of the tribe wrong, especially given Sunsong’s own happy nature. 

Stormfire caught sight of Sunsong moving through the trees and told herself she'd find her friend later. Fernflower half-turned, as if to walk away, and Stormfire sent to her.

*Wait, treeshaper.* There was no gentleness, no fondness, in her tone. There never had been. And the cool look Fernflower threw her indicated the older elf had an equal lack of feeling.

"Your father must hold such confidence in you," she said.

Stormfire gave a short laugh. **Not that you'll send that, but for what it's worth . . .** She paused, and realized she'd unintentionally given Fernflower insult from the way the treeshaper's face crimsoned with offense. **I'm not here to quarrel with you, Fernflower. But if you truly can't bear the sight of Sunsong, why don't you shut up and keep away from her? Or are you really so cruel that you enjoy seeing her hurt?**

"Hurt? She's my daughter, cub. Of course I don't wish to see her hurt." Fernflower flicked her fingers out, in a dismissive, throwing-away gesture. "But better she suffer a small hurt now than a larger hurt later when she realizes how completely inadequate she is for the task you've set her."

**And still you won't send.** Stormfire crossed her arms over her chest to keep from reaching out and ripping handfuls of Fernflower's golden hair loose. **You know as well as anyone that she's capable of being a great treeshaper. At the very least, she's going to be my treeshaper.** She drew a deep breath, frustrated by Fernflower's impassiveness. She wanted the elder to shout, yell, or fight--anything to prove she felt something for Sunsong. "I never thought a mother could be so unfeeling," Stormfire accused Fernflower. "When we go, that's it. You'll never see Sunsong again. High Ones, I find myself wishing that's true, for you're as poisonous to her as a mouthful of snake venom!"

Fernflower sniffed. She had no reason to send to this infant whose head was fluffed up on a doting father's pride. Sending was an intimacy that she gave to few, and certainly not a child. "You are as foolish as she, child. You may speak about a mother's love and care when you are a mother. Until then, you've no grounds for judgement, and no right to pass it."

"I may not be a mother," Stormfire returned, "but I know a mother's love when I see it. And I don't see it in you. I don't think you know what it is, either."

Fernflower crossed her arms and looked at Stormfire coolly. "Such wisdom and insight gained in so few seasons! My, how blind and stupid we must all seem to one as advanced as you, young High One!"

Stormfire gritted her teeth at the mockery. Fernflower was excellent at that, and it galled her that she couldn't wither the treeshaper with a few words. Or knock her across the holt with a well-placed punch… "Be happy, Fernflower," she finally said. "Our paths--mine and Sunsong's--won't cross yours again, and for that I will be happy." She turned on her heel and walked away, wishing she'd felt sure enough of her new rank to hang Fernflower by her heels over one of Evenstar's tanning pits.



"Ayoooooh! Sister! Haven't forgot about me, have you?"  Whirlwind pulled free of Tallspear’s clasp and darted out from behind a tree.

Stormfire jumped, and the anger on her face faded. Tallspear smiled, pleased when she began to chuckle. "I'd as soon forget my shadow," she said, taking Whirlwind's hand and reaching out for Tallspear with her other. "So…" Her gray eyes danced with sudden mischief. "I'm your chief now, and you have to do as I say!"

"Ohhhhh, no!" Whirlwind sank to her knees, pressing her hair to her bosom and pretending to be faint. "Whatever shall we do? Led by little Shrill . . . I mean Trill--ouch! Don't pull my hair," she warned, and Stormfire grinned.

"Do that when we meet up with some trolls. While they're spewing over your performance, we can rob them blind." She turned to Tallspear, who hugged her. "A hug? Just for being named chief of whoever's mad enough to follow me?" Stormfire tilted her head back to look at him. "Are you sure you're coming with me?" she demanded accusingly.

"Sure as anything." He pressed his forehead to hers, grinning back at her. "Besides, you need someone who knows how to use real spears, not those squirrel-stickers of yours."

"I'll remind you of that the next time my 'squirrel-stickers' take a kill out from under your nose," Stormfire retorted. She took Whirlwind's hand again, helping her up. "Well, come on, you two. Someone has to find Sunsong, and I have to make certain Evenstar is coming. And we have Icemark, Redthorn, Silvercub, and Mist… and Father just sent now, there are more…”

Whirlwind winked at Tallspear. **She won't sleep a wink until we're out of here.**

**Good. We'll tie her to the wolf, take over the tribe, and throw Fernflower in a thorn thicket.** Tallspear proudly escorted his new chieftess back among the tribe, where more elves approached Sureshot to say whether they would go with his daughter, or stay behind.



Mist had rejoined Sureshot at the base of the great Father Tree, although nothing was said between the two.  Elves gathered in quiet clusters not far off, their voices soft, if heard at all, as they discussed what choice they would make, to stay or to go.  The tribe had grown large, but they were all family.  No parting would be easy.  There would always be someone left behind.



As Stormfire rejoined her father and the healer, a group of hunters came forward, four experienced and valued in Sureshot’s holt. And one better known for his mischief than his hunting prowess.



"If your followers aren't too many yet," Windsoft began speaking as she tucked a loose strand of curling midnight hair behind an ear.

"We're going with you," Oakstaff interrupted, grinning at Stormfire. "Though old gloomy over there has a good question," he added, nodding at Longdusk. "When do we leave?"

Windsoft rolled her eyes but smiled at Stormfire. "Yes, that's the gist of it, if Thornberry and Longdusk will forgive us for taking the questions out of their mouths and minds."



"Actually, that is a good question," Stormfire mused. She sat down on the grass and began adding up the Wolfriders who were coming with her. At last she looked up at Windsoft, Thornberry, Longdusk and Oakstaff, and said, "I'm not sure how long we'll need. Mostly because I don't know exactly how many are coming along."  She didn’t look at Journey, Windsoft’s son.  She already knew the impatient one was ready to go now. She sent to the others of their tribe who would be seeking a new holt under her leadership, asking them to join the small group around her.  This discussion required everyone’s attention.  Sureshot quietly faded away, leaving Mist with only a strong, brief grip on his shoulder as the healer was absorbed into the nucleus of the borning tribe.

Drumming her fingers against her knee, Stormfire considered the facts as she waited for the rest of her small splinter tribe to assemble. It would be stupid to go off on a journey and not take food and water. They couldn't count on being able to bring down game every day--and they had the wolves to think of. So they'd need at least one more night to gather provisions and water. And they'd have to be prepared for the weather; New Green would pass and Hot Sun would be on them before they knew it.

She looked up at her tribe once they had gathered, three eights of elves, give or take a few, drawing a deep breath to steel herself against any disapproval or challenge. "Thornberry and Longdusk are asking when we’ll leave.  I'm not sure," Stormfire replied. "We'll need food and water to last at least an eight of days. What other supplies do you think we'll need?"

Sunsong had quietly joined the gathering around Stormfire, slipping up next to Oakstaff and pulling the male’s arm comfortably around her shoulders.  "And how will we carry it all?" she asked curiously. "It's warm enough now we don't need more than a single sleeping fur each - less if we den together. Food here is scarce enough, else the tribe wouldn't be splitting. Dare we take any, when it should be easier for us to hunt fresh?"



Stormfire eyed her friend sidelong. "You frighten me when you're practical," she pointed out. Sunsong rewarded her with a teasing wink, and Stormfire sighed. "She's right. We can probably do with one fur apiece--not to mention that it is getting warmer." She leaned against the tree and thought for a moment. "How good do you think the hunting will be for us once we're away from the holt?" she asked Oakstaff.

Oakstaff traded considering looks with Windsoft, then shrugged. "We've been hunting a day or two's ride out from here for the last several seasons, Stormfire. Initially our hunting will be about the same as it is now."

"Further out from that, we can't predict," Windsoft continued thoughtfully. "As long as we're in the forest, we should get by. We won't be uncomfortably full, but we won't be starving, either. After that, it just depends on where you lead us. If we stay with the river, we'll always be able to fish. We're well into the season of new greens, so we have many eights of days before we have to worry about preparing for white-cold."

Again Oakstaff and Windsoft traded looks, then turned back to Stormfire. "We may have days where we go hungry, chieftess, but I don't think hunting will be a problem, especially if, as Windsoft said, we stay close to the river. That'll also give us a ready source of water," he finished.

"And I can bring seeds," Sunsong volunteered. "They're light and don't take up much room. If we run short on meat, I can grow us something to tide us over." She laughed at Oakstaff's shudder. "You don't have to like it, hunter, but plantfood is better than nothing when your belly is empty."



"He is right," Windsoft agreed. "We'll not want to linger too long in this area, nor hunt. But two or three days ride should be enough to clear us from Sureshot's hunting grounds. Perhaps there's enough of the winter stores left to see us that far?" This question was directed at Icemark, who was more gatherer than hunter and therefore more familiar with what remained for the food stores.



Icemark shrugged. "There's a little dried meat left, but not much. However, if we're leaving then I don't see why we can't take it with us. With less mouths to feed here, what hunting there is will be enough to keep Sureshot's tribe well-fed. We could take the dried fruits and vegetables, and the nuts, as well. Fernflower is staying and if they run low she can force-grow them fresh."



“All very well,” Mist interrupted, “but does not answer the question.  When do we leave?  How much or how little we take will not require much time to gather and prepare.  The night is still early.  It is the parting from the tribe that will be the most difficult.  Do we leave quickly, and make the pain swift and sharp, or do we linger and make it a lingering ache?”



Stormfire looked at him, felt the stillness his cool voice imposed on the rising excitement, reminding them that there were two sides to this sundering of the tribe.  She also remembered one of his lessons, when she’d asked why he healed an injured back but would not heal a cut from a over-sharpened knife.  “A cut like this will heal quickly, within days, and soon be forgotten.  An injury deep in the body, however, causes more harm over time, to both the one injured and those who are close to them.  For the tribe’s health and safety, the dull, lingering harms must be healed first.”



Stormfire smiled at the healer, wondering if he would remember that lesson, too.  “For the health and safety of both tribes, we’ll leave at moonrise tomorrow.  We’ll take tonight for our good-byes.”  Mist’s slight smile was her answer; he remembered, too.





End
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