He returned slowly, carefully watching the ground for any remaining hot spots. As a young fawn he had burned his pad on one such spot and he had been wary of them ever since. The destruction was massive, far worse than the fires he remembered from the past. Those happened every few cycles of the seasons, and were a natural and expected part of life in the forest. But this, this had been far worse than anything any of them could recall.
A memory briefly flashed before his eyes, the fire raging, the lava demon splashing down towards her with no apparent escape.
Perhaps his mission was futile.
But no, he had to find her, because she could not be gone. He was still here. Owl was still here. Even the rabbit family, miserable bolters, had bravely returned. So she must be here. He simply had to find her.
He searched the ground carefully, not just for hot spots, but for any sign of her. There was no telling where she had ended up, with the demon after her. He simply had to find her, to remind her that they were there too, and to help her bring their world back.
It took him three phases, but he finally saw the slightly quivering lump. It looked just like the ashes on the ground all over the forest, but somehow, he knew. He breathed on her gently, blowing the ashes away. She looked up at him, and he was shocked at the dead look in her eyes.
This was different than the dormant winter look she had, of contented sleepiness; this was the experience of a horror far beyond the limits of her innocent spirit. She saw nothing worth coming back for. He scooped her up gently, allowing her to cling to his antlers. He hoped his presence might comfort her, even in the midst of this total destruction. He headed towards some of the others – perhaps they could help as well.
A spot of water hit his side, and he looked up, surprised. Was it raining?
No, it was her. He couldn't see her clearly, but he knew, as the small drop of water soaked in to his fur, he knew that it was her tear.
He continued to canter through the devastated forest, but he felt her shift. He looked back, and saw with amazement that some green had survived.
No! It hadn't survived! This was new growth! As he realized this, she launched herself from him, soaring into the air and spinning around. She grew, larger and more brilliant than he had ever seen her before. Soon the entire forest had been reborn, including the places they had never dared approach before. All the way up the side of the mountain to the very edge of the lava demon's lair, they reclaimed the earth.
As she streamed through the sky, he felt her pleasure, her relief, her joy, and he was pleased. She had returned, and with her the spring.