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Now and What Comes After

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                Cloud stood with Briarknife, Slimarrow and Fireflower as they watched Edgewalker and Joyheart accompany Swift Wind and Dreamseeker into the woods. Fireflower shook her head, “I hope they know what they are doing.” She sighed.

                “They’ll be fine. We’ll most likely see them with in a season or so. They won’t be gone that long.  Besides, Swift Wind’s cub’s inherited her tracking skills haven’t you cub?” Slimarrow replied with a cocky grin.

                Cloud chuckled as he rubbed the back of his neck in embarrassment. “As far as anyone can tell.”

                This got smiles from both elf-women as the elves turned and walked back to the holt.  It also got a snigger from Briarknife, who threw his arm over Clouds shoulders “You sound like a cub who has gone on his first overnight hunt but his mother is back at the holt.” Briarknife tighten his hold and turned it into a headlock as he tried to flip his younger friend to the ground.  The elf-women continued walking, ignoring the lads behind them.

                “Hey!” Cloud grunted as he twisted in Briarknife’s grasp and managed to turn the flip on his friend.  He gave the chief’s son a hard kick in the stomach as he landed on his back that sent Briarknife flying behind him and into a pile of nearby leaves. Cloud rolled to his feet and into a crouch as he watched his friend roll to his own feet moments behind him. “I probably do” Cloud stated as the two young elves started circling each other. “She’s always been there.  It is strange…a wolfrider knows that he will eventually lose their parents to death,” Briarknife feinted to the right. Cloud twitched to the left. “I just… I guess I never figured that one would wander off on journey to find her past.”

Briarknife gave him a wry grin as Cloud’s focus slipped.  He dropped to his hands and spun out his leg and knocked Cloud off of his feet. Cloud hit the ground on his back with a hard grunt. Briarknife pounced and pinned his friend, his grin turning to laughter.  “You worry too much.  She will be back; father would never have let her go if he didn’t think that she could take care of herself.”

Cloud tried to push him off with a grunt, but Briarknife held firm, after a few attempts Cloud flopped back on the grass with a sigh. “She could still die out there and I don’t think we would ever know.” He finally said.

                Briarknife gave the red haired lad a long look before he said “She’ll be fine.  Besides it’s not like you don’t have anyone.  Toedancer is still here, and there is the tribe.  We are all here for each other.”  Briarknife stood up and offered Cloud his hand and pulled him to his feet.

                “One of these days, I will pin you Briarknife” Cloud said with a laugh. 

                “When that day comes, you can be chief instead of me.” Briarknife laughed in return, throwing his arm over Cloud’s shoulders once again. Cloud tried to dodge, anticipating another wrestling match, but his friend pulled him in closer.  “Want to go swimming in Bluevale?  The silver slippers should be back by now.”

                Cloud grinned back at him. “Sounds fun.”

*************    94 years after ‘now’

                The summer was so hot that doing anything during the night was ridiculous, and the day was impossible. Cloud lay in his den looking at the roof.  He wished his den was near the bottom of the tree like Edgewalker and Joyheart’s; his den was the furthest up the tree and thus the hottest.  It was a sacrifice for the view but when it got hot like this he always seemed to question his choice.  It was the middle of the night and he was already sweating like he had been running for days.  There had been no rain for almost a whole turning of the moons.  The tribe had not been hunting for almost 5 days.  It was too hot to do anything.

                He crawled over to the entry to his den and looked out into the still night.  The sky was so clear that the stars looked like they numbered the blades of grass in a meadow. He glanced down when he heard a rustling at the base of the tree. –Who in the name of the High Ones has the energy to move around in this heat?- he wondered, only to see Joyheart and Half Moons come out of her mother’s den. His curiosity was defiantly aroused.  Half Moons watched as her daughter slipped into her own den.  In moments, Joyheart returned with Edgewalker.

                *Everyone listen up!* the chief sent.

                Head slowly poked out of dens at the send, many with questions on their faces.  “If you think we’re going on a hunt you’ve got dreamberries for brains!”  Cloud bit back a laugh at his father’s voice as it floated out of Toedancer and Antler’s den.

                General laughter drifted up to Cloud’s ears from the dens.  Edgewalker was smirking and shaking his head. “No, Toedancer.  We are not hunting for four legged game.  This will be a less vigorous hunt.”  A groan went up from some of the tribe members. “Get your nets.  We’re going fishing in Bluevale and we will be staying there for a while.”


The tribe had been camping at Bluevale for almost a moon. It was cooler near the water and if it did get too hot, then they could always go for a swim.  The wolves even join in the fun when everyone was splashing about.  This was the cause of much amusement for young Dash.  She thought the funniest thing in the world was a sopping wet wolf.  She often coaxed a wolf or two over to where her parent’s had set up their lean-to. There, much to the aggravation of her mother, the wolves would shake the loose water from their fur. This caused much more amusement to the seven turn old, as her mother would chase the offending wolf out of the lean-to with her tanning frame.  The wolves seemed to find it as fun as Dash did.

All of this was cause for much amusement for the rest of the tribe. There was always a rush to entrances of their own lean-tos when Lightshades screech echoed across the small clearing.  Her lifemate, Lioneyes never seemed to be that concerned about the incidents, though she complained mightily to him.  That was until one afternoon when he was napping in the shelter, and Dash brought a very wet wolf in.  Lioneyes’ yell brought many tribe members out of their own shelters to see what the commotion was.

Cloud, Briarknife and Canyonmist poked their heads out of their lean-to they were sharing to catch the action.  They were just in time to see Lioneyes physically throw the offending wolf out of the shelter with a mighty heave.  The wolf looked a little concerned as she flew almost two elf lengths, when she hit the ground she was sprinting with her tail straight out behind her.  The trio snickered as the look on golden eyed elf as he rounded on his offending offspring.

                “I don’t think I have ever seen him so mad!” Canyonmist whispered to the two male elves.  This set off another chorus of snickering on the part of the two males.  She turned to look at their faces; her eyes dancing with laughter, Brairknife had his head buried in his hands trying to keep his laughter somewhat quiet, Cloud was hanging on Briarknife’s shoulder holding his stomach as his snickers turned to laughter.  Her mouth quirked into a laugh, and then into full out laughter as the two males lost control of their own laughter.  She might have lost her breath with laughing so hard if she hadn’t caught movement out the corner of her eye. She froze as she sent out an alert to the tribe. *Something is coming!*

                Everyone went instantly quiet, even Dash who was starting to sniffle at the lecture her father had started giving her.

                The trio turned to look at Edgewalker as he crouched down near their lean-to. *Where?*

                Canyonmist pointed towards the direction of the holt.  Edgewalker’s forehead wrinkled as he attempted to puzzle out who was walking towards their small camp.

                *Wolfriders?* the send was not familiar to some, but it was to others.

                Half Moons ran over to the small group sending *Rockwalker?*

                *Half Moons!*

                Rockwalker picked up his pace and jogged the rest of the way to the tribe.  The rest of the tribe stared; half had never seen this elf before, and at least a third of the rest had known him only when they were cubs.  Half Moons meet him partway and embraced the long lost elf. Lightshade was not far behind her.  The questions started flying.

                “Where have you been?”

                “What did you see?”

                “What made you come back?”

                “Did you see many strange things?”

                “Did you see other elves?”

                Silence fell on the group as Cloud’s question was voiced. 

                Rockwalker turned to look at the young elf. He turned his head as if trying to place where he had seen the face before.  “Who are your parent’s cub?”

                “Swift Wind and Toedancer.” Cloud replied his arms crossed over his chest.

                “I don’t know either, but you look familiar.” The old elf murmured.

                Toedancer stepped forward. “My parents are Evenhand and Treestar.”

                Rockwalker slowly shook his head, “No, it is not them he looks like.” He rubbed the face fur on his chin.  “Who are his mother’s parents?”

                There was a moment of silence as the tribe shifted on their feet.  Antler came forward from where he had been standing next to Edgwalker.  “Come, we can howl for your return and I will tell you the stories of what had happened in your absence, and you can tell us of your travels.

                “And who are you.” Rockwalker asked as he let Antler pull him towards the center of the clearing.

                “Antler, son of Songsinger and Lightshade.”

                “Ahh, I see you have the look of your sire.”

                Cloud watched as the new elf continued talking with the storyteller. The rest of the tribe followed talking excitedly amongst themselves.  Briarknife stopped and looked back at his friend when he realized that Cloud was not walking with them. “Are you coming?”

                “He knows something, Briarknife.” Cloud replied.

                Briarknife walked back to the young tracker.  “About what?”


                Briarknife looked startled at the thought. “About Swift Wind? Now how would he know about her?”     

                Cloud had never taken his eyes off the old elf.  He continued staring for long enough that Briarknife had to look his self to see if something big was going on, when he looked back, Cloud sighed and met his gaze. “I don’t know what it is, but I just have a feeling that he has one of the pieces of her past.  I can’t explain it.”

                Briarknife’s eyebrows shot up at the statement, he turned to look at Rockwalker again, then back at Cloud.  The young tracker had gone back to staring, and was making no move to join the tribe in the howl.


                When he thought Cloud wasn’t looking, Rockwalker found himself studying the young elf’s face over the next few days.  The hair that was reddish and the clear blue eyes.  Where had he seen it before?  He was having such a difficult time remembering things.  He had been gone from the tribe for almost 200 years, and he had been an old elf then, over 600 turns! But he didn’t recall much from his time away from the tribe.  He had felt the urge one morning to start walking. And he had never turned back until this past winter.  He had left children and a long time lovemate, Goldpool, behind. What had happened to her? He wondered. Oh yes, that is right. His son, Rainwalker had recognized and had a female cub….what was her name….Firefling? No, Farflower? Fireflower, that was it.  His other son, Grassrunner had left with Goldpool, and Rainwalker when the tribe had split.  No one knew where they were.  Faces and names blurred in his mind as he tried to put the new information together.  He gave up with a sigh, his eyes coming back to rest on a certain red haired male elf, who was talking to another young elf with light brown hair and silver eyes.  Rockwalker’s eyes narrowed as he tried to remember his name. Daystar’s cub’s cub. The chief’s son. He shook his head as the name would not come.   The younger elves were so hard to remember.  His eyes drifted back to the red haired one.  Cloud. Where had he seen the lad before?

                He was so deep into digging at that particular thought that he didn’t notice said elf coming up to him.


                He jumped in startlement as he looked up at Cloud who was standing over him as he leaned on a tree.  “Yes?”

                “I would like to talk to you.  You never did answer my question about other elves.  Did you see any out there?” Cloud asked watching the elder elf for any reaction.

                Rockwalker looked at the ground, he hadn’t told anyone that Clouds familiarity was bothering him to such distraction, all because of an elf he had met that he couldn’t remember.  What would they all think? They would think he had been in Songsinger’s dreamberry stash.   

                “I can’t tell you about other elves lad, but I can show you some great sites near the holt, I can guarantee you don’t know about.”  Rockwalker attempted distracting the lad.

                Cloud stared at him for a long moment and then grunted.  Cloud really didn’t want to go but after a moment of thought, he reasoned that maybe if he could get him talking Rockwalker might share his secrets.  “Oh really?” Cloud replied “Let’s go see.”

******* 102 years after now

                Cloud was lazily watching the tribe go about their nightly activities from is den.  It had been a quiet 8 years since Rockwalker had shown up in Bluevale. He had spent quite a bit of time with the old elf growing to like him, though, Rockwalker had never answered the other elf question. Cloud sighed.  He still felt like there was something more going on, but he might never figure it out. He wished Briarknife was here but he and Edgewalker had gone on a father son hunt for a few days.  They did this every so often.  Brairknife had told Cloud that it was so Edgewalker could talk to his son about chief stuff.  Cloud smiled.  Edgewalker was determined to have his son ready to be chief after him. Cloud and Briarknife talked about everything together. Cloud knew that Edgewalker felt like he was a second son to the chief, and had seen how happy it made his chief to see the two elves as such great friends.  Cloud wondered if part of it was that his mother and Dreamseeker has still not returned, and Edgewalker missed his lovemate and friend. 

                Cloud’s attention was drawn back down to the clearing as he caught Rockwalker’s loud guffaw. Toedancer was scowling at the elder from across the clearing.  Cloud smirked. His father had not taken to the elder elf.  Mostly because he never seemed to remember his name, or Antler’s (Rockwalker kept calling him by his sire’ name but he did that with quite a few of the elves).  But Cloud wondered if another part was because of how close he had become with the elder elf.  He knew that Toedancer had hoped to get closer with his son while Swift Wind was away, but Cloud had been spending time with Rockwalker instead. Cloud shook his head.  His sire could be very temperamental, and had been even more so since Antler and Canyonmist had recognized 2 turns ago.  The two had lifemated and Toedancer has not been pleased to lose his longtime lovemate and friend. Thankfully, Cloud had been able to distract and redirect his father’s mischievous urges, much like Antler had before his cub had been born a moon ago.         

                Cloud began climbing down from his den, anticipating that he might be needed to do one of those redirects to his sire.  But when he got to the base of the holt tree, Toedancer had frumped into his den.  Cloud shook his head and walked over to the elder elf, who had unknowingly drawn Toedancer’s ire. 

                Rockwalker turned to the young elf and smiled.  He never had been able to remember, whatever it was he had been trying to remember. But the elder elf found he enjoyed Cloud’s company.  They had gone on excursions around the holt territory frequently in the past turns, and the elder was feeling itchy feet and the need to wander tonight.  “Want to come out with me?  I have the need for a long walk tonight.”

                Cloud chuckled and nodded his head.  He followed the elder elf into the woods.  They had not gone too far when they heard the tell-tale sounds of their shadow, Dash.  The young elf had been fascinated by Rockwalker from the very start.  She had never seen an elf with the amount of face fur that he had and it fascinated her to no end.  She was always tagging along out of site, but not out of hearing on many of the excursions the two elves went on.  Neither had the heart to tell her that she could be heard a long ways off even though she was out of sight.

                “She’s back there again.” Cloud casually whispered to Rockwalker as they strolled thought the woods.

                Rockwalker chuckled “Let’s lead her on a merry chase tonight, shall we?”

                Cloud gave him a grin his sire had worn many times and nodded.

                The two elves lead Dash on a merry chase, they climbed cliffs, wove in and out of thick pine stands, they crept across meadows and may have even scaled a small mountain.  It was nearing dawn when they stood at the edge of a large ravine. “Do you think she is still back there?” Rockwalker asked, as he sat on rock to catch his breath.

                “Yea, I heard her knocking over that pile of rocks we left on the trail back in the woods.  You didn’t hear her yell puckernuts?”  Cloud answered with a laugh.

                “Well, I have to give her credit, she kept up all night.” Rockwalker shook his head.

                “We should head back to the holt.  Edgewalker and Briarknife will be back tonight and we are supposed to go on a hunt.” Cloud stated as he turned to look back down their back trail.  He could hear Dash’s progress in the woods as she got closer.

                “We can take a short cut across this ravine and be back in half the time.” Rockwalker stood and started walking along the rim, looking for a way down.

                “All right, but I think we should wait for Dash.  I don’t think her parents would be too happy if she got hurt.”

                “You wait for her here and I will find the crossing and come back for both of you.” Rockwalker wandered further down the rim.

                Cloud turned as there was a loud crash in the woods and a “PUCKERNUTS” floated out. He started chuckling and then full on laughing as the noise maker broke out of the woods on into the clear spot next to the rim of the ravine.  She scowled when she saw Cloud laughing at her.

                “What are you doing here?”  She asked testily, crossing her arms in front of herself.

                Still chuckling, Cloud replied “I think I should be the one asking you what you are doing following us.”

                She glared at him. “It’s none of your business.  I don’t have to explain myself to anyone.”

                “Oh” Cloud replied non-chalontly. “In that case, I’ll let you be on your way.”

                Cloud sat on the rock that Rockwalker had recently vacated and watched the young elf maid.   Her short gold/brown hair was gently blowing in her face.   She was watching him expectantly. “Well are you going to go where ever you were headed?” she finally asked.  Cloud started laughing again.  “What are you laughing at??” She cried, finally uncrossing her arms.

                “You!” Cloud got out in-between laughs.

                Dash’s golden eyes grew big and she got an indignant look on her face, as she scrunched it up.  She inhaled sharply and screamed “ME! WHY ME!”

                This just made Cloud laugh harder.  He grabbed his stomach as his abs started hurting from laughing so hard, he doubled over and wiped tears from his eyes, finally getting his mirth under control, only to look back up at her face and lose it all over again.  Dash’s face dropped into a scowl that would have wilted a tree.  She slowly shook her head and muttered something about males, dreamberries and tree-wees under her breath.

                “What’s so funny?” Asked Rockwalker. Cloud and Dash had noticed him approaching.

                “He’s laughing at ME!” Dash flung an accusing finger at him.

                Cloud had slipped off the rock during his laughing fit and was now sitting on the ground. He looked up at the two as he rubbed his face, trying to dry the tears off.  Rockwalker extended a hand to the red haird tracker and pulled him to his feet, still chuckling. “Sorry, Dash but you are like a stampede of buglers when you are out and about.  We can hear your every time you follow us.” Cloud finally got out.

                Dash’s mouth opened and closed several times but nothing came out.  The scowl turned into surprise and then she flushed red with embarrassment.  Cloud threw his arm over her shoulders and turned to Rockwalker “Did you find it?”  With his nod, Cloud turned to the elf maid, “I’ll help you work on it when we get back to the holt.” He said with a grin.

                “Follow me” Rockwalker turned and headed along the rim of the ravine.

                A few lengths down the ravine, Rockwalker showed them the decent to the floor.  Cloud looked dubiously at it.  It wasn’t the trail that bothered him; it was the water marks halfway up the sides of the walls of the ravine.  The ravine its self was bone dry, there was an old creek bad, with no water in it that could be seen at the bottom that wasn’t even muddy.  Cloud glanced up at the sky, no clouds in site, that’s a good sign. But he still felt a little apprehensive about going down.

                “Come on Cloud, I want to get home!” Dash called from where she had followed Rockwalker partway down the side of the ravine.

                “Do you ever remember there being water here, Rockwalker?” Cloud yelled down as he started his decent.

                “From the looks of the walls, it’s been many, many turns” Was the only reply he got.

                “I can see that. Did it ever flood while you were here?”

                “Not that I can remember.” Rockwalker replied.

                “Great, just great. I’m in a ravine that could get water in it with you two.  This is just great.” Dash mumbled to herself.

                Cloud smiled down at her as he jumped down to the next ledge.  They were over halfway down.  “So does this lead directly to the holt?” He asked after climbing down some more.

                “No, not exactly.  I think it eventually leads to the creek.” Rockwalker paused to ponder the question.

                “Where does it join the creek?” Dash asked.

                “I think in an underground river.  Halfway between here and the creek it goes underground and then joins with it on the other side of the holt.” Rockwalker replied.

                Cloud and Dash stopped their climbing to look at him dubiously.  “Why does it go underground?” Dash finally blurted.

                “I don’t know it just does.” Rockwalker replied with irritation.

                “Oh,” Dash said “That’s just crazy.”

                Cloud snorted and they started climbing again.  They had gotten three quarters of the way down, when they felt the rock face shake.  “What was that???” Dash’s voice shook as she asked.

                Cloud and Rockwalker exchanged a quick glance of understanding with each other.  They both looked up the ravine; the ravine that had previously had a bone dry streambed on the floor.  The streambed was now a muddy stream that jumped the banks as they watched, spilling out across the ravine floor and picking up speed. “UP! EVERYONE UP!” Rockwalker cried. He grabbed Dash’s arm and started pulling her up to the ledge he was on.

                “What is it?” Dash’s eyes had gotten wide and were filled with fear.

                “It’s a flash flood, we have to get as high as we can.” Cloud replied as he pulled her up to his ledge, he reached down for Rockwalker and pulled him up with a heave.  “NOW CLIMB!”

                “But, there’s nothing…” Dash began as a wall of water came hurtling down the ravine.  Her mouth fell open in a silent scream as Cloud joined them on the ledge.

                “GRAB ON TO SOMETHING! AND HOLD ON!” Rockwalker yelled as the wall hit.

                The three elves clung to the rock face of the ravine for all they were worth.  The pressure of the water was so strong the wind was knocked out of them.  Cloud could feel the water tugging at his body, trying to peal him off the wall. He gripped harder.

                *I can’t hold on!* Dash’s send was panicky. *I’m slipping!*

                *Hold on Dash!! You can do it. Press closer to the rock face!* Cloud sent, feeling entirely hopeless in the situation.  He could see her to his left the water buffeting her face was terrified. He barely noticed Rockwalker slowly pulling himself above the water’s reach.  He must have been higher than the two younger elves.  Cloud watched in horror as Dash slid more and more into the water. 

*I’M SLIPPING!* Dash’s sent had turned into a scream *HELP ME!*

The two younger elves locked eyes, Dash’s golden ones filled with fear, and Cloud’s blue with helplessness.  He tried to reach out and grab her, but she slid into the water.  Her terror filled send pierced both males’ minds.

                *GRAB ON TO SOMETHING! ANYTHING!* Cloud sent, grabbing back onto the wall as he almost lost his own purchase.

                An eternity, but only moments later he got a shaky send. *I have a branch that is growing out of the wall.  It’s holding. Cloud, I’m scared!*

                *Hold on, we’ll get you in a moment.* He sent back reassuringly.  Cloud glanced up in time to see Rockwalker reach the top of the ravine.  *Find Dash along the top, I am going to try to get to her in the water.* He sent only to the elder elf.

                *Lad…* Rockwalker started sending.

                *GO! We don’t have much time, that branch could go at any moment!* Cloud cut him off *I am a strong swimmer, I’ll be fine!*

                Rockwalker hesitated a moment before running down river.  Cloud took a deep, shaky breath and worked up the courage to let go and let the water take him down torrent.  Just as he let go of the wall a send pierced his mind. *CLOUD, BE CAREFUL!* Mother? He was so startled he tried grabbing back on but the water had other ideas.  He pushed it aside, as he had other worries to deal with, like keeping his head above the muddy water.  Cloud’s arms flailed around trying to grab anything he could.  He was drinking more of the muddy water then he would admit to himself and some of it was getting into his lungs.  He was desperately pushing the panic down when he glimpsed Dash and her branch. With a desperate attempt he pushed his body through the water and managed to grasp the branch before he was swept by.  He pulled himself up the branch to where she was clinging to it near where it was growing out of the wall. She looked terrified but grateful to see him.

                *Hold on. Rockwalker is going to help us from above.* Cloud sent trying to catch his breath, and coughing.

                *Ok.* Her send was shaky.

                *How are you? Are you hurt anywhere?* Cloud asked.

                *I…I don’t think so…* She answered.


                *Cloud, Dash* Rockwalker’s send interrupted them *I found some vines. I’ll throw them down to you grab hold and climb up!*

                Cloud glanced up and watched as the vines came flying over the edge of the ravine.  They barely reached the two elves.  *Dash, grab hold and climb up!* Cloud commanded, Dash just clung to the branch and shook her head.

                *I don’t know if I can!* She cried. *What if I let go and get swept away!*

                *You have to let go to grab the vine* Cloud told her.

                *I can’t!*

                Cloud scooted closer to the frightened elf maid.  He managed to get her sandwiched between his body and the branch, steadying her.  *You won’t get swept away now. GRAB THE VINE!*

                Dash looked up at the end of the hanging vine, and made a grab for it, she missed. She tried again and this time managed to grasp it. *Now Climb Lass!* Rockwalker encouraged her.

                *Climb, Dash, Climb!* Cloud and Rockwalker continued to encourage her as she slowly pulled herself up the vine.  She was halfway up when the vine, when part of it broke, dropping her down a wolf’s length.  She let out a screech and froze.

                *I can’t! I can’t!* She sent.

                *Climb! If you stay there you WILL fall back into the water!* Rockwalker sent.

                *I can’t* her send was a whisper. *I just can’t*

                *Dash, * Cloud’s send pierced her mind.  It was quiet and strong. *Dash, you can do this.  You have to climb. I can’t help you and Rockwalker can’t do it for you.  You have to climb. Only you can do this.* Dash hung on to the vine a moment longer. *I know you can do this.* Dash started moving. Slowly but steadily, she climbed the vine until she disappeared over the top of the ravine. 

                *Come on up, Cloud* Rockwalker sent still gripping the end of the vine and braced to accept the weight of the other elf. *I would hurry if I was you, though, I think the water level is still riseing.*

                *It is.* Cloud sent. *It is.*

                As a matter of fact, Cloud had noticed the water level rising. It was now flowing over the entire branch, and it was tugging on his body more insistently. –Puckernuts- he thought he was only going to get one chance to grab the vine.  Thankfully it was hanging lower than it had been.  Hoping it would hold out long enough to get him to the top, Cloud gave a big kick with his legs and lunged for the vine.  His hand wrapped around the thin plant. He exhaled in relief and swung his hand up to grab on and start pulling himself out of the water. But just as he grasped it, he felt the slack as the weak spot snapped the rest of the way.  Cloud fell into the water with a splash.


                *Mother?* Cloud sent just before his head hit a bolder in the water, and didn’t send again.


                “He saved me! Then he just disappeared in the water!” Dash was telling the tribe. “He didn’t answer any of our sends.”

                The tribe stood in stunned silence as the darkness fell. It had taken the rest of the day for the two to return to the holt.  They had done their best to find Cloud, but were unsuccessful.  Briarknife and Edgewalker had returned moment before Dash and Rockwalker had. Briarknife had retreated to his den after standing very still for some time. Edgewalker was holding his lifemate as he quietly started asking Rockwalker questions about what had happened.

                “YOU PILE OF DUNG!” Toedancer interrupted with a shout and a lunge at Rockealker “HOW COULD YOU LET THIS HAPPEN! HE’S DEAD NOW BECAUSE OF YOU!”  Antler managed to grab him before his hands could grab ahold of the elder elf.  Canyonmist was standing a few steps behind Antler with their newborn son in her arms.  Toedancer yanked himself out of his former lovemates grasp, and turned his rage on him. “Let me be Antler! You go be with Water-in-a-hole and LET ME BE!”  He turned to the gathered tribe “JUST LET ME BE!”

                “I ….” Rockwalker started

                “And YOU!” Toedancer refocused his rage, “YOU I Don’t want to SEE YOUR FACE!” with that he turned and raced into the woods.

                The tribe stood quietly, not really knowing what to do next. Antler stood in stunned silence as he watched Toedancer disappear.  Canyonmist stepped up to his side and nuzzled his shoulder.  He slid his arm around her and Littlebud. *I don’t even want to think about what it would be like to lose a child Nih.*

                Canyonmist leaned into his side.  *No one does Finn, but you can sympathize with him.  You have an idea what he is going through, and I know you still love him.  He needs you more than I do.  Go to him.  He shouldn’t be alone, bring him back to den with us.* 

                Antler embraced her and kissed the tears off of her cheeks, she too was grieving the red haired tracker; and followed Toedancer into the woods.

                Dash was standing in the embrace of her parents, they looked like they had no intention of letting her go anytime soon. Rockwalker stood not far from them.  He noticed no one was looking at him, so he slowly backed up until he had gotten into the cover of the trees.  They never saw him again.


                The next night, the tribe gathered to mourn the loss of the young elf.  As they finished, Toedancer couldn’t help but wonder how Swift Wind was doing.  Did she even know Cloud was dead?  Of course she did, she had felt it just like he did.  Toedancer climbed into his den to be by himself in his grief.