Part One

Chaos reigned inside the royal nursery. The Regent scowled at the scene before him: Angrif Djun, sovereign of the lands from the Vast Sea to the Painted Mountains, stamping his feet and screaming like any ordinary four-year-old child. Chairs had been overturned, wall hangings torn down, and the midday meal of milk-softened bread lay in sodden lumps on the floor, mingling with blood spatters from the royal nose.

The clear cause of all this trouble struggled with both mother and nursemaids as they tried to hustle her out of the door. Lady Gifa’s dress was stained with milk and blood, and she wore a livid bruise on her cheek. Yet her eyes gleamed with defiance, and she mustered an insolent smirk for her enraged twin.

“Hurt her! I command it!” Angrif wailed, lisping slightly over his syllables. “I want her hurt! Hurt! Hurt!”

“Peace!” the Regent boomed, and everyone froze in their tracks. Even Gifa gave up her struggles.

“What is the meaning of this… indignity?” Regent Korik demanded.

White-faced, the Djunsmother dropped to one knee. “Forgive me, Lord Regent. It was my fault.”

“Lady Algifa, I have granted you significant leeway in the nursery – as a personal gift – because you have assured me you can maintain order among your children!”

“Korik!” Angrif ran to his father-figure’s side. “Korik, do it! Hurt her!” He pointed at his twin lest there was any doubt of his target. “Make her bleed!”

“Calm yourself, Dominance.”

“She’s a traitor! Traitors bleed! Traitors die!” he added spitefully.

“What happened?”

“I’m the Djun! I eat first!”

The Regent shot Algifa a look of incredulous disgust. She could only offer a simpering expression of regret. “I did tell Gifa she had to wait… but–”

“She ate my food! She stole from me! Stole from the Djun!”

“Dominance,” Algifa said sharply. “With respect, there was a bowl for you and a bowl for your sister.”

“I wanted both!”

“By the Doom-pit,” the Regent moaned softly.

“But she took the one with more honey!” Angrif protested. “It’s not fair. I’m the Djun!”

“You’re a pig,” Gifa sneered.

Angrif threw himself at his sister, fists high. But even with her arms restrained, Gifa lashed out with her legs, striking Angrif hard in the shins and groin. No sooner had he taken a blow than he fell back, shrieking in pain and humiliation.

“Lady Algifa!” Korik barked. “Discipline your daughter, or I shall send for someone who can!”

Wide eyes and a face white with fear told him she understood his threat. With effort, she pulled her squirming, struggling daughter away.

“Is she going to hit her? I want to watch!”

She would beat Gifa within an inch of her life if I commanded it, Korik thought with a cold satisfaction. Anything to keep her close.

He had always made himself quite clear on the matter of Gifa. She could stay with her mother so long as she was brought up properly: a virtuous ornament to her brother’s court. But virtue seemed a foreign concept to Gifa. She had her father’s limitless ambition, and his temper when crossed. More, she had his cunning, and his brute strength, by the looks of it. If she’d been born a boy, she would have been an heir to make the old monster’s ghost proud.

But she was only a girl, and a troublesome one at that. More than once Korik had considered finding a way to make her quietly disappear. It would simplify things immeasurably, after all.

And yet he could never quite find the will to command it. For she was the Djun’s own blood: a favored of Threksh’t. A race apart from humbler men. One had only to gaze into her piercing, angry eyes to see the greatness of her sire blazing out. Truly, none but a demon would dare to take her life.

There was no spark of greatness in Angrif’s red-rimmed eyes, no gleam of the divine. For all his boastful shrieks, any man could see him for what he was: a common child, and badly brought-up too. None who knew Grohmul Djun in his prime would ever believe he could sire such a wretchedly ordinary child.

“I want to watch! I want to hit her! I’m the Djun –”

“BE SILENT!” Korik roared, and Angrif quailed in resentful submission.

No, you’re no Djun, Korik judged to himself. You’re a common little cuckoo’s egg… but you’re the best I was able to manage. Threksh’t knows, it should be you under the rod. It might beat a little dignity into you. But you’d remember, wouldn’t you? Just as you remember every sharp word. There’ll be an accounting when you take the throne, won’t there? Especially for Gifa. I’ll have to see her safely married before then. Drukk it, why wasn’t she born a boy?

“In two years, Dominance, you will be breeched, and leave your mother and sister to join your tutors. Until then, you must learn something of regal forbearance.”

“I hate them!”

“Now, that is not very regal. Your noble sire would want you to look favorably on your only kinfolk.”

“He would have killed them.”

Probably, Korik admitted inwardly. He was not without his… excesses.

“He would have found room in his heart for pity. It is a pitiable lot to be a female, especially one with wit enough to understand her own inferiority. That is why your sister rages so, and that is why she will be chastened… by loving hands. Until she learns to accept her lot.”

From Angrif’s furrowed brow, it was clear the boy didn’t understand a word of Korik’s grand speech.

“Your sister will be good to you,” he clarified. “We will teach her to behave. We will, Dominance. You needn’t worry about her. She is a worm beneath your notice.”

Angrif understood that. He smiled. “She is a worm.” But then the scowl returned. “She said she’s better than me!” he protested. “Said she should be Djun.”

“Well, she can’t be!” Korik snapped.

I know that! But she can’t say it! I don’t want her saying it!”

“Your mother will teach her silence.”

“No, she won’t. She likes Gifa more than me.” His lower lip began to quiver. “She calls Gifa ‘Djunling’ and kisses her goodnight. She doesn’t do that for me!”

“It wouldn’t be proper,” Korik said stiffly. “You’re the Djun, not a little poppet to be coddled.”

“But I want it! I want to be coddled. I want…”

To be loved, Korik finished. But the only woman who might have loved you was fed to the kennel-hounds. And even she might have scorned you, if she knew what you would grow into. Threksh’t knows I wouldn’t love you, not even if you were my own flesh-and-blood. But I’ll use you, Angrif Djun. That’s all a Lowtown cur like you is good for. I’ll use you for the good of the realm. Threksh’t willing, I’ll live long enough and you’ll attend hard enough, and I can salvage something out of you. And then when I meet old Grohmul in the Doom-pit… maybe he will even approve.

* * *

Deep inside the Great Egg, the Eighth Shell turned steadily, a starstone dynamo powering the rest of the nested spheres, continuing the millennia-long process of converting humble seedrock into living stone. Inside the smallest of the shells, a light without heat burned steadily, illuminating the ever-shifting designs that surfaced and submerged on the curving walls.

A scroll of living stone, preserving past, present and future, in a script only a chosen few could decipher… the sight of it usually filled Timmain with a deep pride. Her poor broken granddaughter had once tried, with the aid of the rockshaper Aurek, to create a stone Scroll of Colors. But the Egg of Six Spheres had been but a cold imitation. It had taken the talent of a High One – and a seed from the Homeshell itself – to realize the dream. No longer was the Scroll of Colors the only window into the Multitude. And no longer was Timmain bound to the now-overcrowded Palace, swarming with her shrunken descendants and their equally small desires.

Yet now the visions in the walls gave her no comfort. The patterns that had once comforted her had become chaotic, disturbing. It had been such ever since the Moment had come and gone… ever since the abomination named Kahvi had tried to burn the fabric of the Multitude… ever since murder had awoken the dark magic of the Evertree… and the creature forged of death and starstone had been born on Homestead….

The present was fraying at the ends. And now the future was impossible to predict.

The fault was hers. The paths she had not taken had all led her to this point. If her children only knew the depths of her failure, they would surely turn on her, cast her out of her sanctuary and leave her to perish under the blows of her enemies.

Their blindness was a small comfort. They could not see what she could. Instead they chose to scorn her for the most trivial of slights. They embraced the smaller treachery and ignored the larger.

She couldn’t go on. She couldn’t bear the guilt, the weight of it on her bones, day in, day out. It was a torment – worse, it was an unnecessary one. She had no objection to pain in principle, so long as it was purposeful. But this heavy weight did nothing but hinder her, distract her. It kept her enslaved to the memories of other paths not broken, other choices not made.

The sheer irrationality of it was an added pain. The past could not be altered. The future was unlikely to present the same circumstances. She had analysed her mistakes and learned her lessons – why could she not free herself of the self-blame?

Such was the curse of higher consciousness. Beasts were not troubled by such destructively cyclical thoughts. They leaned what they could, and they moved on. They grieved but they recovered. They could not afford the indulgence of self-recrimination. Their lives were simpler, and they were the richer for it. They could live in the moment – truly live.

But my purpose is to remember.

The wolf forgets. The wolf is my strength. The wolf forgets.

Sometimes she feared the memories would overwhelm her. That one day the accumulation of so many lifetimes lived would reach a critical mass, and she would implode, as had the Homestar. Would she live forever in a fractured labyrinth of the past? Or would she know only the Now, forever unable to form new memories? And if she secretly longed for such a fate, was she not betraying that solemn vow she had made so many cycles past?

My purpose is to remember.

Yet now she could not recall why she had made such a vow.

It matters not. The cause is forever secondary to the effect.

I am bound to remember.

The wolf is free.

She knew what she had to do.

* * *

Cheipar found the moth-fabric gown on the game trail, as he was making his morning patrol with his wolves. With a huff that startled his companions, he opened his mind and sent an exasperated thought to his lifemate.

**She’s done it again.**

* * *

Bluestar couldn’t understand. The High One had been missing nearly a season, and yet no one seemed to care. Tracking her in the Scroll of Colors had proved fruitless – her path was so erratic it was impossible to tell which reality was the true one. First she was a wolf, running for her life; then a hawk soaring free in the sky; then an elf, broken and bleeding – a hundred possibilities, a hundred different choices she had made or might have made.

Sunstream could confirm she still lived, in whatever skin she had actually chosen. But he knew nothing more. He was satisfied with not knowing more – that was the part that galled Bluestar.

It had been much the same when the Hunt had broken away from the remnant of the old Evertree Wolfriders. They had stolen valuable supplies and injured more than one elf in their flight, yet no one had bothered to track them down and bring them to account. “Let them go,” old Sparkstone had sighed wearily, and Bluestar’s father had obeyed. And when Sparkstone himself disappeared after cutting his chief’s lock, no one would raise a search party.

Now the only High One left on Abode had run off into a dangerous world. The last time she had roamed the mountains as a beast, humans were still experimenting with the wheel. Now their settlements had spread across the lowlands. Had Timmain wits enough as a wolf to stay away from them? Considering the way she drifted around the College with the vague confusion of a sleepwalker, she never seemed to have much in the way of wits to begin with. Great knowledge, yes. But no common sense.

“Timmain is older than you can imagine,” Weatherbird told him gently at supper. “She has seen stars be born and die. And she has survived far greater trials than a romp through the woods.”

“But what if this time she doesn’t?”

“Then she will return to us in spirit,” Weatherbird said simply. “Or perhaps not.”

“And that’s it? That’s all you have to say?”

She smiled at him with that maddening calm. “You forget, Bluestar. I’ve danced these steps many times. I’m afraid the dance doesn’t excite anymore.”

Cheipar said nothing, only bit back a smile over his food. Bluestar had the feeling he was the butt of some old joke.

“But aren’t you curious?” he asked Aurek another time. “Don’t you want to know where she’s gone?”

“She’s gone to seek clarity,” Aurek replied. “Or at least peace. But I doubt she will find either. She has seen too much, done too much… the fires of countless lives burn within her. They burn her up, for all she acts like ice. Who could blame her for seeking to quench those fires. And yet I doubt she’d know peace if she saw it. And I think it’s for the best.”


But Aurek wouldn’t say anything else. And when Bluestar put the question to his mother, she only made vague mutterings about Bluestar being far too young to worry about such things.

It wasn’t fair. He wasn’t a child. He was two-eights now – nearly two-eights-and-one. His great-grandmother Swift had been chieftess at that age. And at any rate, had they forgotten all he had seen and worried about as a child? He’d been in the Palace the night of the Reappearance. He’d seen how close their time-thread had come to breaking.

Enough was enough, he decided at length. If no one else cared to find Timmain, he’d go himself. And since it was clear he’d find no elfin companions to travel with him, he’d call on his human ones.

Lehrigen was easy enough to persuade: the prospect of tracking a runaway god was a challenge he could not resist. Rowb proved more difficult.

“The Djunsmen are pushing into Krooshtevwon again. ‘Vassal-state’ isn’t enough for the Regent, it seems. He wants to annex it completely. And I can make my weight in silver as a sellsword – on either side! You want me to give up an entire war-season to go chasing some mad old elf? Sorry, point-ears, but you’re going to have to offer a little more than ‘adventure’ to rope me in.”

Bluestar considered a moment, wondering what he could safely offer.

“Sprite-silk,” he declared at length. “One spindle’s worth for every month we’re on the road.”

The mercenary’s eyes gleamed like a troll’s. “Done.”

Khuldachi supplied the horses, but insisted that his apprentice accompany them, to ensure a return of his merchandise. The boy, Khorbasi, was a Longrider orphan some two years Bluestar’s junior. He said little, and seemed mildly awed by Bluestar. But he took good care of the horses, and showed no fear of Bluestar’s wolf-friend. That was good enough.

Bluestar wished he could have left Waterleaf behind at the Egg, but he knew they might need the Preserver’s help – to start work on the spindles of sprite-silk, if nothing else.

The last member of their party was nearly too late to join them. Bluestar waited on the road just outside High Hope as long as he could, before Rowb warned him they should start out if they wanted to reach their intended campsite by nightfall. Bluestar was on the verge of giving up hope when he heard the footsteps of a lanky human adolescent.

Lehrigen’s dog Lev heard the approach a moment later, and set to barking excitedly at the familiar scent now borne on the shifting breeze. Presently, Shuna appeared at the bend in the road, her breath a cloud about her face in the cool morning air. She carried a bedroll in one hand, and wore an old sword strapped to her back. “I’m here, I’m here!” she panted breathlessly.

“About time,” Rowb laughed. “Thought we’d seen the last of you. Figured you were trading in your leathers for a nice gown and one of those suitors your mama keep shoving your way.”

“What did you tell your mother?” Bluestar asked.

“I didn’t,” Shuna admitted sheepishly. “I couldn’t face her. But I told Magdha – she’ll explain.”

“Craven,” Rowb teased.

“What will she explain?” Lehrigen asked. “That you’ve joined up to go hunt down a god?”

“Is this one mine?” Shuna walked up to one of the saddled horses. Belatedly she noticed young Khorbasi staring at her and added, “I’m Shuna,” carelessly.

“I… I know…” Khorbasi mumbled. “I… I’ve seen… well, I’ve heard… um…”

Shuna climbed up into the saddle. “I told Magdha you’re taking me down to Krooshtevwon to meet your mother, Rowb.”

“What?” Rowb’s smile fell. “She’ll think we’re courting.”

“She already does. Might as well get some use of it, don’t you think?”

“Threksh’t! And what are you going to tell her when we come back and there’s no ring on your finger? She’ll want to beat me!”

Shuna grinned. “I’ll just tell her you weren’t good enough for me. You’re not, you know.”

Lehrigen laughed at Rowb’s horrified expression. Even young Khorbasi risked a chuckle. Shuna smirked at Bluestar and winked saucily. Bluestar grinned back. He climbed astride his wolf Trouble and signalled the party to set off. He could already tell this would be a quest to remember.

* * *

They followed a lead Lehrigen had picked up – a rumor about a white wolf that left no footprints, haunting the forests south of Khulki’s Mountain. Khorbasi was skeptical. “I was born near there. I grew up on the streets of Rivertown before Kuldachi took me in. Everything out of the ordinary is said to haunt Khulki’s Mountain.”

“Wouldn’t call it ‘out of the ordinary’ to begin with,” Lehrigen chuckled. “A wolf who leaves no tracks just means a tracker who has no eyes!”

Khulki’s Mountain was comfortable a three-day journey from High Hope. Following the ridgeline north, they rode past terraced farmlands and wide mountain pastures. They met few people on the road, though Lehrigen stopped often to study the way they’d come, as if convinced someone was following them. But neither his dog nor Bluestar’s wolf shared his concerns, so Bluestar decided Lehrigen was just incapable of enjoying himself.

Open fields gave way to thick forests as Khulki’s Mountain loomed ahead. They bypassed the Longriders’s Rivertown on the mountain’s flank, and instead sought out one of the many smaller trapper’s cabins scattered throughout the woods. Bluestar, Shuna and Khorbasi hung back in the trees with Trouble and Waterleaf while Lehrigen and Rowb posed as hunters in search of fresh quarry.

“Make another one,” Bluestar held out a twig to Waterleaf, who let out a sound of contempt.

“What for? Is not good. Can’t eat, can’t use.”

“Make wrapstuff!”

“Silverbaby highthing is headcracked.”

“Waterleaf do!”

“Ugh! Waterleaf do!” The Preserver grudgingly began to spit wrapstuff as it flew around the twig Bluestar held upright.

“He likes you,” Bluestar remarked as he watched Khorbasi idly scratch an itch between Trouble’s shoulder-blades. “He won’t usually let humans treat him like a near-wolf.”

Khorbasi shrugged and smiled. “If you mean like Rowb does, it’s only because he’s scared of him.”

“Of Trouble? Don’t see why. Rowb knew Trouble when he was a little pup.”

Khorbasi only shrugged again, with an enigmatic smile that Bluestar suspected was his regular expression.

“They mentioned a cave,” Lehrigen said when he and Rowb returned at dusk. “Where Khulki’s Shadow is rumored to live. An old hermit – older than the forest, it’s said.”

Bluestar sighed. “That story’s older than the forest too.”

Khorbasi nodded. “My mother’s mother disappeared up on the mountain when she was a little foal. Everyone thought Khulki’s Shadow had stolen her, but she turned up a few days later, hungry and crying, holding a little carved sprite–”

“Preserver,” Shuna corrected primly.

 “A gift from the elves who saved her,” he finished.

Bluestar nodded. “Probably elves from the College, on a hunting trip. Father sometimes ranges even farther than this. Don’t suppose your mother’s mother ever said what they looked like?”

Khorbasi looked sad. “Might have. Mother never told me. Or… if she did, I don’t remember. Don’t even remember her name.” Then he brightened. “I remember the elf who saved me, though.”

“Saved?” Shuna asked.

Khorbasi nodded. “When I was an orphan on the streets of Rivertown. Her name was Kwin. Her clan was in at Rivertown to trade at the spring markets. I… uh… I tried to pickpocket her.”

“You stole from an elf?” Shuna cried out, aghast.

“I tried to. She was too quick for me. Caught me with my hand in her satchel. Thought she’d curse me then and there. Instead she took me to Kuldachi and found me a place in his camp.”

“Do you know her?” Rowb asked Bluestar.

He shook his head. “I don’t know every elf in the world.”

“So, we were both saved by elves,” Shuna murmured.

The young Longrider looked at Shuna questioningly. “I was dying of the Rot,” she explained. “Bluestar’s mother healed me.”

“Well, to be fair, it wasn’t really her doing–” Bluestar began.

“We used to live in Djunshold, near the Haunted Mountain,” she went on. “My father was a sword-for-hire – mostly for the Djun’s men, sometimes for others. He… he was a bad man. He hurt me. He’d hurt Mother when she tried to protect me. Then he angered the Hidden Ones – took one prisoner… planned to ransom him. Bluestar’s family stopped him. Freed us, told us how to get to High Hope. And Bluestar helped us start a new life.” She gazed at the elf with an expression of almost religious devotion.

“Hey, Khorbasi,” Rowb interjected. “You said the story of Khulki’s Shadow was around when your grandmother was a pup. What about the ghost wolves? Fellow we talked to said this Shadow had a pack of giant wolves that leave no tracks.”

“Wolves?” Bluestar asked. “More than one?”

“Mm-hm. Some young gwits from Rivertown when up hoping to snatch a pelt or two. Only one made it down. And before he died from his wounds he was raving about ‘mountainfolk.’ That’s what they call elves around here, isn’t it? Maybe this white wolf of yours hasn’t stayed a wolf. What do you reckon, Lehrigen? Lehrigen?”

Throughout the conversation, Lehrigen had been silently stared at a large pine tree, surrounded by a thicket of brambles. Abruptly he rose and walked over to the tree. He barely turned his back on his companions before he laced his breeches and proceeded to relieve himself.

“Ugh!” Shuna cried, shielding her eyes. “Lehrigen!”

“Step off the trail first,” Rowb chided with a laugh. “Think of our poor maiden’s innocence!”

At the first splash of urine, the thicket rustled. Bluestar looked up just in time to see something scale the pine tree at breakneck speed, while Lehrigen chuckled to himself.


“Just flushing out game,” Lehrigen remarked.

A hiss and a snarled oath, not in the interspecies Trade jargon they had always been speaking amongst themselves, but in Bluestar’s mother tongue.


Bluestar knew that voice.

Walking up to the tree, he joined Lehrigen, who was smirking up at his cornered prey. A pair of glowing eyes glared back from among the pine needles.

“Aw, fish guts!” Bluestar cried out. “Father?! What are you doing here?”

* * *

Bluestar gave Cheipar the cold shoulder for the rest of the night, and into the next morning as they broke camp. It made little difference; Cheipar was quite comfortable with silence.

“Why exactly is he here?” Rowb had asked Lehrigen in hushed tones, when it became clear neither elf would explain Cheipar’s presence.

Lehrigen cocked an eyebrow. “You… uh, don’t see the family resemblance there?”

“Still doesn’t explain why he’s here.”

Lehrigen only chuckled. “If you have to ask, pup, then you wouldn’t understand.”

Bluestar sat on his resentment until midday, as they were scaling the final rise to the mythical Cave of the Shadow. Abruptly he burst out: “So how much longer are you going to keep me on a leash?!”

“Ask your mother,” Cheipar replied with a secret smile.

“It’s not fair! I’m not a cub anymore.”

“Neither is she.”

“And who knows what trouble she’s getting up to! How do you know she isn’t sending you to watch after me so she can do something really crazy?”

Cheipar scoffed and shook his head. “Try again.”

“You got any clue what they’re chittering about?” Rowb asked Lehrigen softly in Trade as the humans followed at a respectful distance.

“You’ve got a father – you should be able to figure it out. Some things don’t need translating.”

 “I’ve been going on quests since I was eight!” Bluestar went on. “When have I ever needed pulling out of the fire?”


“That doesn’t count!”

“Just because you don’t remember it doesn’t mean it didn’t happen!

“Anyway, I got out of the fire myself!”

“Nope. Try again.”

“I already have enough bodyguards.”

Cheipar’s derisive snort was answer enough.

“I’ll never learn real self-reliance if I think you’ll always turn up and save me!”


“You – you’re embarrassing me in front of my humans!”

Another snort.

 They reached the fabled location of Cave as the sun was beginning to sweep westward. Flying ahead, Waterleaf was the first to spot the bones.

“White deadthings,” it tsked. “Scatter-scatter. Too late for wrapstuff.”

The skeletons were picked clean by predators, weather-polished to a shine, yet still mostly articulated, held together by the remnants of Longrider clothing. Cheipar and Bluestar counted four humans, all felled by bone-breaking injuries.

“Looks like a wolf over here,” Lehrigen said, after Trouble and Lev worked together to uncover another skeleton, half hidden by weeds and fungus. “Big one.”

“Oh, Bluestar!” Shuna murmured. “Might it be your Timmain?”

“Pff,” Rowb sneered. “Your momma never teach you figures, Elf-touched? Their wolf-god ran off early spring. These bones are from last spring, at the earliest.”

Shuna scowled at him, then tossed her head and hiked up towards the cave mouth.

 Lehrigen turned back to the human skeletons. “These must be the men the trapper mentioned. Wonder if they meant to find Khulki’s Shadow and instead disturbed a birthing den?” He knelt to examine the most intact of the skeletons. “Huh.”

“What?” Bluestar asked.”

“Well, that one over there might have fallen to a wolf’s jaws. But this…” he pointed out the fractured collarbone on another skeleton. “This was a sword thrust.”

Bluestar bent down to touch the bone. Sure enough, it was broken on a clean line, with faint striations around the fracture line. As his fingertips brushed against it, Bluestar heard the sudden rasp of metal on bone.

He leapt to his feet. “Rowb! Don’t be a gwit!”

Rowb looked up from his investigation of another body. “What? What’d I do?”

“That wasn’t you?”

What wasn’t me?”

Bluestar looked up at his father. “Did you hear that?” he asked in the elfin tongue.

“Hear what?”

Bluestar looked back at the bones. Again, he placed his hand on the fractured collarbone. Again, he heard the sound of old metal catching on bone, this time accompanied by a distant shriek.

He sent the sound to Cheipar, and watched his father’s face fall.

“What is it?” Bluestar asked.

**It’s your mother’s trick,** Cheipar replied. **It’s an echo. **

Uphill, Shuna let out a shriek.

Bluestar ran up to join her. At the mouth of the cave were more bones, scattered about by predators, half-buried, but still identifiable. Small bones, like those of human child. A delicate skull, its dome high and eggshell thin. A blow had crushed the forehead and the oversized orbits, but the support ridges over the ears were intact.

“Is it an elf?” Shuna asked. “It is, isn’t it?”

Bluestar touched the skull, and again heard the sounds of battle echoing in his ears. But there was more this time – the memory of pain erupting between his eyes – an agony so sharp and immediate that his own legs buckled.

“Do you know who it was?” Shuna pressed.

Shaking off the pain in his head, Bluestar rallied his strength, and laid both hands on the skull. Metal grating against stone, grunts of pain and sudden shrieks… and a voice commands in the elfin tongue.

“Blackwing, Elkshanks! To me!”

Had those been the elf’s last spoken words? Or simply the last he or she had heard? It didn’t matter. Bluestar recognized the names.

“It was one of the Hunt; our wild cousins.” In disgust, he backed away from the bones. “I knew them! High Ones, I shared meat with them!” He looked to his father. Cheipar could only nod grimly. It was just as Littlefire had predicted – and as they had feared. Stranded in a foreign land, and spurning any help from their distant kindred, the Hunt were easy prey for humans who’d grown up with little fear of elves.

“What do we do?” Bluestar asked.

The answer was obvious to the Wolfrider-raised hunter. “We find the rest of them.”

“The Palace?” Bluestar asked, even as if knew the Scroll would be of little help. If it couldn’t track Timmain reliably, how could it anticipate the path of the ever-unpredictable Hunt?

“Uh-uh. On foot. Like them.”

“These bones are over a year old. Where will we start?”

Cheipar looked uphill, at the verdant ridgeline, and the starker gray-blue mountainsides above the treeline.

“Back to the town?” Bluestar suggested. “Rowb and Lehrigen could–”

“Humans,” Cheipar gave a shake of the head. “You always think the answer is more humans. This is the Hunt!” Again, he turned his gaze to the distant the mountain peaks. “We go up,” he decided.

* * *

Compared to the peaks further west, Khulki’s “Mountain” was no more than a modest foothill. After four days of climbing through thick forests, the summit ridge took the party above the treeline, into unexplored territory. “The Longriders call this place the High Wind Heights,” Lehrigen explained. “See those whitecaps on the tallest mountains?” he pointed out the many alpine glaciers. “When all that snow and ice melts it carves out deep valleys between the peaks. Perfect wind tunnels. Don’t know how much help our horses will be.”

“Kuldachi’s herd can go anywhere,” Khorbasi insisted.

Soon the other trees they saw were stunted pines and twisted mountain shrubs. The only prey they saw were birds, rising on thermals. Cheipar’s bow brought down several rocks doves, to Rowb’s grudging admiration, but when Lehrigen tracked a mother hawk to its nest and brought in a whole brace of fresh birds, Bluestar thought he’d never hear the end of it.

“A five-finger who hunts better than your pa!” Rowb hooted. “How will you ever live that down, pointy-ears.”

“Father wouldn’t have emptied the nest anyway. You spare the mothers and the young – I thought everyone knew that!”

“Well, you’re welcome not to eat any!”

Bluestar didn’t. Between long drinks of cold glacial runoff, and the parts of the rock doves the humans scorned to eat, he and Cheipar still had enough to keep their bellies full. Bluestar was always amazed how much food humans seemed to need. It was a wonder they hadn’t picked the world clean with their boundless hunger.

As the days passed, they climbed alongside the glacial river, often forced to ride single file on a narrow path. On the eighth day since leaving the Cave of the Shadow, one of the pack horses lost its footing and tumbled down into the whitewater.

“Get it!” Lehrigen shouted. “Save it!” But it was no use. The roaring current dragged the struggling horse over rocks and into the churning rapids. Cheipar bounded from rock to rock along the riverbank, hoping to catch sight of the animal again, but with its heavy load, it had surely sunk straight to the bottom.

“The horse,” Shuna lamented. “The poor horse.”

“Poor us!” Rowb snapped. “Those were our tents and traps. Not to mention all the meat we could have salvaged off the beast.”

“Let the girl be,” Lehrigen urged, with a gruff sort of compassion. “No shame in a soft heart – in a maiden.”

Khorbasi was murmuring a prayer in the Longrider dialect. Lehrigen slapped the boy on the shoulder. “It can’t hear you now, lad. Let’s keep moving. I want to get onto flatter ground before we lose his light.”

Shuna wiped at the tears in her eyes. “I’m fine!” she insisted when Bluestar queried her.

“You don’t send a wench to hunt wolves,” Rowb muttered under his breath. “Ought to be tending hearth and mending clothes…”

The sun was setting as they made camp on a barren plateau above a waterfall. Lehrigen drew their attention to a double triangle carved into one of the many boulders. Next to it was a collection of hash marks and clumsy crescents gouged into the stone.

“What does it mean?” Bluestar asked.

“I don’t know. But it can’t be natural, can it? And it’s very old. My people never journeyed this far into the mountains. So could it mountainfolk? Elves, I mean?”

Cheipar inspected the symbol. **Plainsrunner, maybe. Looks like a clan marking. Don’t recognize it, though.**

Somewhere high above them, a solitary wolf howled.

“Mothergrowler highthing?” Waterleaf asked hopefully.

Bluestar looked up. The mountainside rose almost vertical here. There were more than enough handholds for elves and humans, and perhaps for wolf and dog too. But there were none for horses.

No one wanted to remain below with the horses while the others went on ahead, but Khorbasi volunteered a moment before Bluestar would have suggested drawing straws. Clambering over the debris of an ancient rockslide, the two elves and three humans ascended the cliff as the evening light turned first golden, then deep red.

The sky was purple and the stars were coming out when they reached the top of the cliff. Bluestar drew in a sharp breath. At the cliff’s summit stood an oasis of green – trees and shrubs and all sorts of strange climbing mosses, crowded around crumbling stone ruins.

Lehrigen whistled approvingly. “A miniature forest, so high above the treeline.”

“Who built all these ruins?” Rowb asked, as he examined a wide circle of standing stones. “Elves?”

“Wasn’t done with magic,” Bluestar said, after touching the smooth stone. “This was crafted with tools.”

Lehrigen examined a stone arch dubiously. “If these were humans, they were awfully small ones. Looks like an old… what do you call them, Bluestar? Holts?”

“Maybe some of Mardu’s folk,” Bluestar mused. “A break-away clan who took to the mountains while the others went west to Respite?” he asked his father in their native tongue.

Cheipar shrugged and nodded. It seemed the likeliest explanation.

“Picking up any… elfy echoes or what it is you’ve been hearing?” Rowb asked as Bluestar studied the standing stones.

“No… this stone is old… peaceful–” he checked himself as he came to a dull stain on one stone. “But this isn’t.”

He touched the ruddy stain, and the smell of fresh blood assailed his senses. He heard the sickening crack of bone against granite, and the scornful laughter of an attacker. He heard a sound, repeated in time with the crunches of bone: Browd, browd, browd…

“Someone died here,” Bluestar said grimly.

The breeze shifted, and Trouble sniffed the air eagerly. Lehrigen hissed, and raised his spear.

Leaves rustled behind them, and Bluestar turned in time to see an elf step out of the shadows. Tattered leathers hung from his lean limbs. A splint of wood and leather strips bound his left leg. Ginger hair streaked with gray hung in his eyes.

“It was Stripe,” Sparkstone said. “He angered Eyetooth. He must have known what would happen. He was bottom wolf. He couldn’t defend himself against the weakest of us, yet he angered the strongest.”

“Us?” Cheipar asked pointedly.

“Have you rejoined the Hunt?” Bluestar asked.

Sparkstone smiled sadly. “I tried. I couldn’t keep up. As you can see.” He motioned to his bandaged leg. “They left me here, to heal or to die. I have not healed. But neither have I died. Our White Mother will not let me.”

The bushes parted further, and a great white wolf stepped out, standing beside Sparkstone, letting him lean against her side.

“Timmain!” Bluestar cried.

**Child of the Egg,** the wolf sent. **Why have you followed me?**

“You disappeared without warning – both of you! We had to know what happened to you – why you left?”

**It was necessary.**

“Why? To find the Hunt?”

**To find peace,** the white wolf replied. **To find purpose. Remembering is no longer enough. Witnessing is no longer enough. It is time to act.**

On to Part Two

 Elfquest copyright 2017 Warp Graphics, Inc. Elfquest, its logos, characters, situations, all related indicia, and their distinctive likenesses are trademarks of Warp Graphics, Inc. All rights reserved. Some dialogue taken from Elfquest comics. All such dialogue copyright 2017 Warp Graphics, Inc. All rights reserved. Alternaverse characters and insanity copyright 2017 Jane Senese and Erin Roberts.