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Shuna gave a sob and curled in on herself. Her head hurt, her chest hurt, her legs hurt, her-

She nearly jumped out of her skin, as something soft and suspiciously fur like brushed against her cheek. Both her hands flew to clam tightly over her mouth, stifling the cry that wanted to escape and just avoided hitting her head on the wooden ceiling. Wide-eyed she stared at the soft furs around her, at the wolf and spirit wrapped up in them, staring back at her.

“Your blood-sire again?” Dart asked, biting back a yawn.

A soft shimmer surrounded the wolf, shifting him rapidly to a much more elfin shape. The familiar, yet still so very strange change jarred Shuna out of the nightmare's misty remains. She blinked a few times, then smiled shakily. “No, it was...Never mind, it was nothing.”

“A nothing frightening enough to make you hurl yourself out of your own dreams,” Kimo murmured, as soon as his snout was a mouth again. He reached out to touch her face, to sooth her, but she took his hand in her own before he could. The smile on her lips still wasn't what it should have been.

“Don't worry yourself about me, friend,” she muttered. “It truly was nothing, just a silly dream.” She lay back down and pulled a fur over herself, closing her eyes almost demonstratively. “Go back to sleep.”

Dart huffed and mimicked her, but Kimo's eyes remained open for another moment. Finally he gave a soft sigh and made room for himself between the other two. They all slept as the sun outside slowly sank below the treetops.


~**Something is wrong,**~ Kimo lock-sent to Dart, his gaze fixed on Shuna, who was sitting by the river ahead of them, helping Moonshade with a newly skinned white-tail.

The reply Dart gave held no words, not even the mental equivalent of them, but still expressed agreement, as well as worry.

~**I don't understand,**~ Kimo continued, twisting straws of grass around his fingers. ~**She has a kind mate now, a quest! I thought she'd be happy.**~

By the river Shuna laughed as Chitter splashed into the river. Water cascaded over the new skin, Moonshade, Shuna herself and Strongbow, who'd been two steps behind his daughter. The resigned look on both Moonshade and Strongbow's face had Shuna bent doubled, clutching at her stomach and chocking back giggles.

Dart and Kimo watched in silence. Then:

~**Has she said anything else?**~

Kimo ripped loose a handful of grass. ~**No. If we didn't share a den with her, it would almost be impossible to tell. But the nightmares...**~

Dart sighed deeply. ~**They make little sense to me. Why now?**~ He paused and his eyes unfocused, as if he was looking at something far away inside his own mind. ~**The dreams had almost stopped completely before Bee asked her to journey with him. You don't think...?**~

The horror in Dart's sending, muted though it was, made a shiver run down Kimo's spine. By the river Shuna and Chitter had begun a water fight, which they were slowly but surely coaxing Strongbow and Moonshade into.

~**I don't think so. I hope it isn't so. And I do not think she would hide such cruelty from us, again. It must be something else.,**~ Kimo replied, watching Strongbow stealthily trip Moonshade into the water. ~**Being too stressed or worried can make your days restless. Maybe having a new mate has put her off balance? Maybe she worries about leaving the Holt on her own, even if it's only for a short time.**~

Dart nodded. ~**Yes, maybe. But...**~

The sending trailed off as Moonshade's thoughts called for their attention. ~**Come help give my lifemate a bath!**~ she commanded, fishing Chitter out of the water, before the cub could rush away again. She had her back to Strongbow, who'd taken it upon himself to hang the possibly salvageable skin on a branch to dry. There was something not unlike a smirk on his face.

Kimo and Dart both hesitated, though got to their feet when a wordless encouragement from Moonshade gave them both a mental nudge.

Strongbow might have seen it coming, but was kind enough to let himself get tricked into stumbling into the water.


Kimo had chosen not to change into a wolf this daybreak. He and Dart were fully clothed when Shuna entered the den, something she took note of.

They undressed in silence.

“I have asked you not to worry so for me,” Shuna finally said, lying back with a soft thud on the sleeping furs. “There is nothing wrong, I promise. I'm just being my silly, human self.”

Dart frowned, but it was Kimo who spoke. “Please Shuna, share with us. Whatever creature it is that haunts your dreams and whatever made make it do so, we will do our best to help or even just listen. Please.”

“I said I...”

“You've been starting us awake for the past eight of days,” Dart muttered, leaning his back against the den wall. “That is not nothing or silly.”

“You wouldn't understand!” The outburst was immediately followed by Shuna clamping her lips together tightly. She stole a quick glance upwards, as if she could see through the wood and discover if she'd awoken any of their tribe mates.

Dart only looked at her, in an uncanny impression of his father. Kimo put a hand on the back of one of hers, a gentle smile on his lips. “Try to explain and we will listen. It might help.”

Shuna hesitated. Then, so quiet that even her two elfin companions had to concentrated to hear, she whispered: “There will be no {wedding}.”

A beat. Neither Kimo nor Dart spoke or moved.

“I know it is such a silly thing to be upset about.” She pulled her fur a little tighter around herself. “I know lifemates make no grand promises to each other in front of the tribe. There is no special celebration. You just choose and then you share a life. But...”

Kimo's hand curled around hers. She squeezed back. “I was taught that {marriage}, mating, is forever. I took a mate and now...” She swallowed audibly. “It just seems so wrong that the only {wedding} I'll ever have will be a false shadow of a mating.” There were tears in the corner of her eyes, that unceremoniously got brushed away by her free hand.

She opened her mouth to continue, but Dart cut her off. “As we said, not silly and not nothing.”

Kimo nodded in agreement and put a finger against Shuna's lips when she once more tried to speak. His eyes met hers for a moment. A true smile finally graced her face again.

“Thank you.”

Shuna soon drifted off to sleep. This caused her to miss the long look Kimo and Dart shared, before they too laid down to rest.


Ikopek's life had never been an exciting one, for which he was very grateful. Yet now...Now he stood alone, but for his horse, on the outskirts of a forest he hardly knew, waiting to go wander off into the world with no true set goal, no way of knowing where he would end up.

And he couldn't have been happier.

Shifting from foot to foot, humming a tune he'd heard old Karlak play many times at the first day of spring. {If there ever was a feeling to spring,} he mused aloud to himself, for once not thinking himself the least bit stupid for doing so, {then this must be it.}

{Spring has feelings?}

The sudden voice made Ikopek tug at the reins of his horse. Luckily his old traveling companion was as steady as a rock and only blinked lazily in response.

{W-who?} Ikopek asked the bushes and trees in front of him, eyes darting from branch to branch.

A short, strange yet not completely unknown figure stepped out from behind a trunk. It was the arrow-spirit, with hair as unruly as a wind bush and eyes that pierced into your very soul. Ikopek did his best not to look away.

{Greetings oh great spirit!} he hurried to praise, feeling awkward and clumsy all of a sudden.

The spirit only smiled and beckoned for him to follow.

Two heartbeats later Ikopek was walking behind him, into the unknown.


The Holt was unusually quiet when Shuna finally exited her den. She worried her lip with her teeth for a moment, as she tried to recall where everyone might have disappeared off to. Finally, she concluded the Palace would be her best guess and was about to go look for them, when Kimo suddenly jumped down from a nearby tree, landing right in front of her.

She froze in her path, giving him a most suspicious look. “What are you up to?” she asked him, trying to step around him, though he wouldn't let her. There was a very much playful grin on his face.

“You will see, very soon,” was his only reply, before shifting into his wolf-form. There was no doubt in Shuna's mind as to what he wanted her to do. Slinging her bow over her shoulder she got onto his back and held on as he rushed off, away from the Holt.

She nearly lost her breath when he finally made halt in a glade near the forest's edge.

The tribe had all gathered there, on the ground and the lowest of the trees' branches. Not only that, but she could spot several elves with dark skin seated in the crescent shaped half circle that greeted her, the fabric of their less than forest friendly clothes lighting up the clearing with the help of the stars and moons.

There was a smell of honey and freshly cut meat in the air and she could see several baskets of berries and fruits, freshly picked by the looks of it.

Savah, Mother of Memory, stood in the center of the glade and next to her...

{Ikopek!} The name left Shuna's lips accompanied by a joyful laugh. For it was her dearest friend, her husband, wearing a mantel of colorful feathers and beads. His face lit up as their eyes met and the few traces of worry that had been there disappeared.

{Shuna!} he called back to her. {I-I hope I have done as I should.} He spared a sidelong glance at Savah, then a brief sweep of the glade's other occupants, before once more locking eyes with her.

{Of course,} Shuna hurried to assure him, fighting back the urge to run to his side instead of walk. Beside her Kimo shifted into his elfin shape. {You have made me very happy,} she assured him and was rewarded by a smile wide enough to rival her own.

“And so have you,” she added in a whisper to Kimo, as she knelt to help him and Leetah dress her in a cloak that mirrored her husband's.

“I hope this is right,” Kimo replied, fidgeting with the clasp around her neck. “All we really could remember was the Elder talking and the cloaks.”

“It is perfect.” As she stood up straight again she took Ikopek's hands in hers.

{What are our vows?} he asked her, still darting glances at the unusual audience around them

{I don't think we need any,} Shuna replied, then held her breath and didn't breathe a sigh of relief until he nodded in understanding.

“I do not speak the human tongue,” Savah said. Everyone else fell silent, even Ikopek. “So I fear I shall have to confuse your lifemate for a little while.” Her eyes were on Shuna as she said this, her voice kind, with undercurrents of amusement.

“I have seldom met humans, so my knowledge of their ways is not as deep as I should wish it to be. But to celebrate a lifemating is a custom I can understand, for there are few such joys as choosing to share your life in that way. I wish you both great happiness.”

Shuna felt her cheeks beginning to ache, but couldn't spare a thought to care about that. Savah gave a nod and Shuna felt her attention freeing itself from the ancient elf's words, able to return to her husband once more.

Everyone paused, as if unsure of what to do next.

Two riders on wolves entered the glade just then – Nightfall and Treestump, looking very pleased with themselves.

Cutter gave the two returning scouts a brief glance and a lifted eyebrow. He was answered by twin nods and grins, which he returned immediately. He got up from his seat in the tree behind Savah and spear his arms as he addressed the glade. “I here by say that for this night, the rule of silence on the ground is not to be obeyed! The ones not dancing and singing tonight will get their ears chewed off by me – that means you Strongbow!”

The archer in question rolled his eyes, but didn't huff or mutter.

As the wolves and elves howled their joy at the moons and the Sun Folk's dancers and music makers began to practice their art, Shuna kissed her husband for the very first time.


There were tears in Kimo's eyes, as well as Shuna's, the following morning. Dart's remained dry, but he adamantly refused to look anyone in the face for long and blinked, a lot.

“For all the farewells I've said since the moons rose,” Shuna said, hugging Kimo close, “this may be the most painful one.”

“I won't be long,” Kimo assured her, smiling through the unshed tears. “Only a moon apart,”

“And if you haven't returned by then, we will come and find you,” Dart supplied, stealing a thoughtful look at Ikopek.

Shuna nodded and slowly released Kimo from her embrace. “Yes, only a moon.” She took the hand Ikopek offered her and with his help sat up on the horse they would share.

She and Ikopek waved goodbye to the elves until they were blocked from their view by a hill. Hugging her husband close Shuna smiled. Ikopek answered with a smile over his shoulder, before urging the horse to gallop.

The wind rushing through her hair Shuna laughed and thought that maybe a month was just the perfect travel time for her to bring back good stories.