The wind blew softly through the trees. Shade Tree made her way silently across the plain. The midday sun was warm on her back, and her heart was light. Soon she would be done, soon it would all be over. This would be the best day of her life.
Chief Lobo Loco sat at the top of a small hill overlooking the holt, his hand resting comfortably on Spirit Wind's shoulder. "Well my friend, all seems calm today, and the night promises to be even better." His grin widened at the thought of the upcoming howl. He reached down and pulled his bone whistle out of his left boot. Softly he began to play, the tune reflecting his peaceful mood.
Shade Tree at last reached the cave she sought. It was one of many she had explored with only Leaf Lover at her side. Her heart pounded as once again the thrill of being the only one to set foot in this particular cave returned. Thank the High Ones she wasn't like her grandsire who chose never to enter the caves because he found the lack of open sky unnerving. She felt her body tingle in response to the life on the rock walls. She could feel the darkness around her breathing with a life of its own. Finally she came to the pool that lay in the center of a huge opening in the cave. She knelt at the edge of it, and Leaf sat at her side their bodies stirring the soft sands beneath them. Leaf Lover whimpered softly and his voice was flung from wall to wall in the eerie silence. This is where it would all begin. This was to be the catalyst. She reached over and brought forth her waterskin. She lowered it into the pool and brought it back up three fourths full, a satisfied wolf-like grin on her face.
Leaf Lover loped as silently as the wind ahead of Shade as she made her way to the edge of the holt. Soft, peaceful threads of Lobo's whistle drifted in on the wind. She looked up towards the hill overlooking the holt entrance and made out his unmistakable form. Spirit Wind lay with him and they looked very relaxed with Lobo leaning against the tree and Spirit leaning against his friend. It was a rare experience to see Lobo so completely relaxed. Yet as relaxed as they both appeared they were fully aware of all around them. Without skipping a beat Lobo sent greetings.
**Shade Tree you're back early**
**A little anxious for the night's fun I guess, is that a new tune?** He nodded his head slightly in response as she sat at his feet enjoying the music. One of these days she would have him show her how to play as beautifully as he did, but for now she was content to listen. He played on for a short while, until the sun began to make its way across the horizon, signaling the approach of evening.
"That, as usual, was very sweet on the ears my chief. Shall we make our way to the holt? I have a few things I'd like to get done before evening.
"You go ahead Shade, I think Spirit Wind and I will be staying for another."
"Don't be late my chief." She grinned back at him over her shoulder, knowing full well Lobo would never be late to a howl.
As she made her way up the secret path to the safety of home she hummed Lobo's tune softly to herself, dwelling on what was to come. Alone in her room she went over her plans in her mind one last time, then went in search of the dreamberry wine everyone would be drinking. With no one around to see what she was doing, she emptied her nearly full skin into the vat.
"Dream Chaser, where have you been hiding yourself? Were you off on search again?" Shade Tree sat down beside her friend and mentor.
"Yes, as much as I hate to be away, there are certain plants I need that just don't grow near the holt. Is your offer to gather for me still good? If so I think I'll take you up on it. We just need to go over a few more plants to make sure you've got them committed to memory, and you could make my life a lot easier."
"You bet the offer stands, you know I want to know everything you can teach me about the healing plants. We'll talk more about it later, here take these." She tossed some berries into her own mouth and sat back to listen as Lobo began his tale. Ha1fway through the lore, the wine began to flow. The memories were so vivid, it was like watching from a distance everything as it happened, but once Shade drank the wine it was like nothing she had experienced before. She was feeling, seeing, being, experiencing first-hand everything for herself that had happened so long ago. She was so caught up in the raw sensation of it all that she didn't realize that Lobo was no longer speaking. The memories were flowing with a magic all their own in a dead silence. Every elf in the tribe was still and staring, living everything of their origin. All that they were and all they had been unfolded before them sharper and with more clarity than any memory. They were there, right alongside their ancestors as events transpired.
* * *
Shana raced ahead of the pack in hot pursuit of the blacknecks. Her red hair catching the noon sun and reflecting the colors like a ribbon of sun set as it streamed out behind her. The pack as well as the tribe were intent on their pray as they raced across the plains, the high grasses whipping at their knees. The chieftess let lose an arrow and the blackneck crumbled to the ground. The pack and their riders converged on the animal in one unified instant. The warm blood flowed into their mouths, rushed down their throats and coursed through their veins. They howled as one and rejoiced. Shade licked her lips in fascination, tasting the blood of the fresh kill. She marveled at how it had all worked out so well, just as she had imagined. Grinning, a satisfied look on her face Shade felt the other members of her tribe and knew they too had been with her in the past. She could feel their presence and their wonder as they lived their past. Yes, they would all love and respect her for this.
* * *
Colors flowed and swirling patterns danced in light. A sudden pain lanced through Shade's mind as the incredibly loud thoughts of the entire tribe seared across her brain, leaving the brutal imprints of their truth. At that moment there was no singular, all were one. Then darkness came. With the oppressive blackness there came a feeling of deep sorrow, sorrow with no meaning, 3 just a continuous aching loss. It hit her suddenly and with an overwhelming force that left her completely helpless. Shade lay on the floor in despair, confused to her very core. Everything hurt inside. She felt more trapped than when she had lain for two days in the cave of colored walls with no way out and a shattered ankle. There was no thought or reason for her grief, there was only the sheer force of pure emotion. It seemed as though it would never end. Finally, after what seemed like forever, there was nothing, only the blackness.
The clear cool water of the pool washed her face with a honeyed ecstasy. The rich echo of the rippling water reverberated in her mind. Shade returned from the darkness to the rude awakening of her chief looming above her with a scowl. Lobo stood above his friend and tribemate clutching the bucket he had so recently emptied on her face. In all her forty turns she had never stood in as much fear and awe of her chief. She whimpered silently to herself, knowing full well she wasn't going to get off easily this time.
**I'm not sure if I should strike you, embrace you, banish you, or congratulate you.** Lobo snarled in sending. "In the history of the Golden Wolf Holt never has one elf so completely stripped us of our senses and safety in one blow. We have never been so unwillingly exposed to each others thoughts. Never have we been so blessed with the truth of our past and each other. Shade Tree what you have done is the most vile and most wonderful thing any has ever dared to do. I can't decide on your punishment on my own and I don't think I have the patience either. There is no hope for discussion tonight. You will face The Council in the morning."
A night...a single night...the first night with only four hours left in it that felt as long as all her forty turns combined. By morning the dark circles under Shade's eyes were testament to her sleepless night. The council had been discussing her fate since sun-up when she had told them everything she knew of what had happened. How she had first discovered the pool in one of her newest caves. They listened as she told them of how after drinking from the pool lined with grass-like slime she had vividly dreamt of her childhood and the time of her parents. She could not look at them when she began to explain why she had so foolishly jeopardized the holt. Her reasons were purely selfish. She was allowed to leave then and until she returned she would not know her fate.
As she neared the council chamber her feet grew heavy. She entered the roomy pocket smelling the tension oozing from the less than complete council. Nervously glancing around her eyes first met Lobo's, she struggled to averted them. Swift Stone's brow was furrowed as he regarded her. Dream Dancer's expression would have been sympathetic if it hadn't contained disgust. Stone calm was all she could read off of Mistdancer's exchanged look with Lobo. Dream Shadow appeared only calm and interested. She tried to glue her eyes to the floor before they ventured to meet Dream Chaser's. Like her senses before them her eyes betrayed her. The hurt and disappointment smoldering in their depths deadened her to the world. Lobo's first words were lost to her in the silence of her heart.
"...therefore since we are the only members here we have made the final decision on the matter. There is no kind way to tell you this Shade Tree, so I will simply say it. You will be refused entrance to caves or enclosed places by your own mind's fears. we have no other choice and your only other option is banishment for the rest of your turns."
The salty-sweet taste of regret touched her lips as tears began to flow. Shade had no options here, her fate was decided with as much bitterness as the night's visions had been glorious.
"I...I don't understand, how will my mind forbid it?" Was all she could manage to stammer.
"Dream Chaser will teach your mind to hate closed spaces. Your body will not be able to control itself if you enter the caves, nor will you want to."
"But I " her closing throat refused to let anything else out.
"We have decided for the safety of the holt, including you Shade Tree." The softening of his eyes as he said the last was small comfort.
**No, No!** Her sending full of dark shame lingered in the room long after her sobs faded in the corridors.
She sat in the dark of her chamber trying to imagine life with out her caves, any caves and shuddered.
**Shade** Dream Chaser's concern seemed to mock her pain.
**So soon? Am I not even to spend one last night in the holt?**
**We agreed to this on the one condition that it wait until sun-up, yes you will have your night.** "You know how things stand, but I wanted to let you know that there is still a lot for you to do in the open land under sky and trees that you love so well." She could only wince at such an attempt to console her.
"You can't imagine what its like to have something you love so much stripped from you, to have your greatest fear realized. You have no idea how many times I scoffed at my Grandsire's inability to explore the rich caves we live in. living outside the holt itself like he did is no option at all! Please leave me alone!.. The fact that Dream Chaser cared enough about her to try and comfort her only made Shade hate herself more. As he turned to leave she turned even more fiercely upon herself. She burned inside with the knowledge that she would have to live with what she had done. If anything had happened, if anyone had been hurt, she knew she would have dealt a much worse punishment to herself. The blunt truth that taunted her every minute already was more punishment than any the council had set. The selfishness she had displayed by not telling Dream Chaser or anyone else of her discovery reverberated in her mind.
* * *
Leaf Lover came to her in the night. She stroked his back until sleep claimed her. Her tear-strained eyes closed as she dreamt for the first of many times of a vast system of beautifully intricate virgin caves that held wonders behind every corner.
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