Year 763 of the New Age, Winter
Featuring Nightshade and Samael
Between Widow’s Hollow and Uir’s Meadow, Blackwood
Round white snowflakes fell slowly from the eerily black sky above. Gazing up at the sky, her long eyelashes catching the lazy snowflakes, Shade pondered if there would be a storm to follow this calm. Where hooves had broken the trail where shallow indents. Where heavier fawnlings had passed on this trail where deeper- luckily the inky healer weighed little compared to most others. The trip to Uir’s meadow had been more out of curiosity and need to keep her studies rolling than out of need. It was always a pleasant experience to take the time to study the fungi and mosses available in the beautiful place, even with the snow. Now the trek back home began. The long, winding trails were quiet.. perhaps too quiet.
At every noise her head turned and she checked for any signs of life. Wolves grew desperate in this time of the year, and one could never be too cautious when traveling such a distance alone. Over her petite frame was draped a dark wolf pelt, upon which her normal pelt and feathers was situated across her hips. Her mane was draped carelessly across her back while strands fell across her face and on either side of her slender neck. Winter was a time of weakness for many- food became even more scarce. Tucked away in her pouch were the choicest mosses she could scrape away from the tree roots along the way. Moving into a floating trot down the scarce used trail, tail flagged out behind her.
Perhaps traveling by her lonesome was not the wisest of choices, but it was her choice. She was no hind any longer. No matter how fragile she looked, Nightshade had shown her strengths time and time again. The ground changed sharply along the trail. Parts that intersected with other trail showed the old, frozen tracks worn too deep in the mud from autumn. It would be best if the doe was careful. If unaware, then it would be easy to catch a hoof in one of those dips and twist a leg. And winter was no time to be limping around by your lonesome with a sprained leg. The threat of wolves was too great this time of year.
As if on cue the echoing howl pierced the wood. It was off, but it sent chills down the doe’s spine nonetheless. Turning sharply at the sound of frost cracking beneath hooves, her eyes cutting as Shade prepared to defend herself if a threat presented itself, lean muscles bunching and ready to strike out of if needed.
Samael could only hear his own steady breathing, clouding in front of this nose, the only noise in entire huge and dark world beyond his eyes reach. The silent flurries of plump snow swirled down around him on the trail, spiralling in from the mountains to the north but playfully blanketing the ground. The trail was bringing him back from the patrol routes to the west of Widow’s Hollow, and the evidence of heavy warriors’ steps decorated the trail. His own hooves sunk deep past the frosty crust lying on top and down into the soft snow beneath.
With his thick pelt dusted with ice crystals - now the shade of a pale sunset - and his shaggy stomach carried a layer of snow clinging onto the long fur. He felt a little like a walking snow drift but was busy appreciating his surroundings. Blackwood was truly beautiful if you look beneath the surface and with the snow from grip of winter scattering the moonlight under a pitch black sky, he felt like he was in another world. The eerie silence around him was peaceful but still set his teeth on edge. This close to mountains, the wolves could be anywhere, and this tinge of danger could not be forgotten no matter how calm he felt in the moment. He seemed to be unmoved by anything, even the air was still, but he could not let his guard down for even a second.
He had not seen another fawnling since he was given this patrol a few days before, and although he was perfectly capable of keeping himself safe should something happen – even without his rack – it left behind a rather unpleasant sensation in his gut. His ears were constantly scanning the landscape for any disturbance. The periodic howling of the wolves in the distance would not let him forget to stay alert, even as he ploughed on through the deep drifts, carefully taking high strides and effortlessly making the smallest amount of noise he could.
A chorus of howls ripped through the air closer than the lonely wails that drifted down from the mountains. Samael bristled, ears lying flat against his arched neck, and hurried himself down a tricky incline to meet the main trail. The icy skin of the snow crackled under his heavy steps. He did not think there were other ears to hear it, until he looked up and saw an inky black fawnling outlined against the snow. Its body was tensed up in readiness, but he still felt it was a familiar shape all the same.
“I didn’t mean to startle you,” he said in a slightly hushed voice, trying to reassure them, and sorry for causing any trouble to another. As he pulled himself up to look forward, he could see the doe – for it was a doe – better, and squinted through the dark. “...Nightshade?”
“I didn’t mean to startle you,” A hushed voice echoed from a shadowy form. Nightshade’s hind leg cocked in warning as a threat, before lowering as the great red- she thought he was red, the shadows made it hard to tell, stag spoke. “...Nightshade?” Samael? Turning to face him, her slim ears swivelling forward as the doe trotted a few steps closer. Pausing as her eyes adjusted to the deeper darkness, her breath billowing in small clouds. Only about a stride away from him, her head tilting slightly as she nodded to answer his question. “Samael.” Her voice was a polite, quiet greeting. He looked like he was covered in snow balls. Literally he could have put a fawn to shame for all the snow coating his underbelly and chest fur, the little ice drops that clung to his whiskers.
“A pleasure to see you again” A faint upturn of her mouth suggested a smile as the doe’s hooves only barely dented the snow beneath them. Meanwhile the heavier stag’s hooves had easily crunched through it. In a way Nightshade couldn’t deny the Mother had been kind in uniting them. Two was always better than one when there were wolves around. And Samael was a fair sized stag. The inky black healer’s specialty laid more with speed, not brute strength. Potions, hexes, great mane styles- those were all included in her skillset. Bulking on muscle and being able to fell with a wolf with a single kick was not one of those skills. However, she suspected her ruddy acquaintance perhaps would include it in his. Besides.. Shade rather enjoyed the previous meeting the pair had had.
A polite incline of her muzzle, her dark eyes glancing up to his. “I hate to be so rude as to skip inquiries and well, polite conversation.. but it seems time is short and the night will be long. Those howls were not going away from us.. but they are coming towards us.” Her voice had taken on a ghost like softness as she spoke in a hushed tone to the stag. Tail swishing, the soft drag of crystals crunching beneath the silken hairs just reaching her ears. Nightshade’s small frame was hidden beneath the thick ruff of fur beneath the pelt. It was collecting snowflakes it seemed. Eyes scanning the trees around them, waiting and watching. At even the slightest noise her muscles clenched as she turned to face it.
Nightshade’s ears pinned as she heard a growl coming from the distance.
They were getting close. But the elegant Blackwood healer would not flee without her friend and leave him for the wolves. Shade suspected her speed was superior to his strength- but this evening perhaps their survival would depend on one another.
The inky shadow moved closer to him, the glint of dark eyes reflecting the dim light on the sheets of snow, and after a beat, “Samael.” Yes, Nightshade. Her polite and wistful voice seemed like it had floated in the crisp air with the clouds of her breath. “It’s a pleasure to see you again.” It was, he had to agree, gently bowing his head to the doe and letting the smile take his face. The faint curl of her lips as she looked him over made him realise he probably looked rather ridiculous carrying around his own personal snow drift, in particular when compared to how her willowy frame barely dented the crust of ice atop the snow, and her dark silky hair billowing amongst the snowflakes went without catching many at all. With the rumbles of hunting wolves not far off, he was abruptly reminded that there would be more time to converse on such light matters later. This time of year was particularly unforgiving to those who dawdled.
Her hushed voice showed she thought the same. “I hate to be so rude as to skip inquiries and well, polite conversation... but it seems time is short and the night will be long.” Her eyes darted around as she spoke, tail wavering uncertainly over the frost, “Those howls were not going away from us... but they are coming towards us.” She was right, of course. A warning feeling was gathering in the pit of his stomach, the pair of them tensing up at the slightest hint of noise among the silence outside their bubble of muted conversation. It was true he could probably hold his own should something dangerous appear out of the darkness, but it would be foolish to take that for granted.
He was suddenly very glad to have stumbled across Nightshade for the second time. She was pleasant company to start, but it was reassuring to have another fawnling alongside him when faced with predators so close. With all the puffery, it was too frequently forgotten that the mighty Blackwoods were still seen as food to many other creatures sharing their world. One would only have to let slip for a moment and that would be the end. While Nightshade was of a fast and agile build and could undoubtedly hold her own, he felt much better knowing he could lend his brute force to the doe’s safety if needed. The Mother had been good to them, bringing their opposing strengths together.
A more insistent growl announced the wolves’ presence again, closer; Samael arched his heavy neck turning his head and ears towards the sound. He was grateful that the doe had not bolted at that, a very noble soul she was.
“We should get going before they’re close enough to catch sight of us,” He said, voice only a low rumble coming from the fog in his breath, “Come on.” He turned to face the trail back towards Widow’s Hollow, resolutely waiting for Nightshade to join him closer before moving off.
A howl broke the air. Samael felt every muscle in his body tense at the nerve splitting sound.
His voice was a low rumble, barely above a growl itself. “We should get going before they’re close enough to catch sight of us. Come on.” Then a howl broke through the snow filled air. The red stag moved towards the trail, and Shade found herself following him. Her skin seemed to feel everything. Nothing was still in the forest. Yet suddenly everything was becoming very.. very still. If she was any other fawnling, perhaps the blackling would have uttered a curse or two. Following in the wake of the heavier set Blackwood, avoiding his hoofprints so as not to sink into the deep snow. Her head turned at the slightest sound ever so slightly.
The wolves were growing closer. There was a weird twisting feeling in her stomach. Her nerves practically hummed.
And that was when she heard the faint crunch of ice beneath paws- not hooves.They were getting closer. They had found a trail. And the healer had a sinking feeling that this trail was their trail. Moving into a quick trot, sticking close to her acquaintance as her ears slowly pivoted back against her neck. Breaking into a lope, careful to keep it so it was not a pace that would exhaust the massive stag alongside her. He was at a disadvantage having to plow through the snow on top of carrying his own weight. Brushing her tail gently against his shoulder, an unspoken encouragement.
There was no room for talking. They were being followed, and even the smallest of words could give away their position as Shade well knew from having traveled through Silverthorne. Wolves were relentless. Their lives depended on finding a meal- and even a scrawny thing like herself this time of year would be viewed as a feast.
Uir had blessed them by bringing the pair together- but she had followed with a test to see their strength again. Moving a bit ahead, her neck low and snaked out, ready to whirl whichever way to defend herself and Samael if needed.
This wasn’t exactly how she’d have liked their second meeting to have gone. Slinking through snow covered woods to escape the predators silently? At least they would have a good story to tell.. if they lived to tell it.
With the doe in tow, he headed towards the trail back he had been headed towards before they met, but this was a lot different to how his snowy stroll had started. The atmosphere was saturated with the kind of eerie tension that makes your stomach do back flips in anticipation of something unpleasant. It would not be an understatement to say they were in more danger than the average Blackwood at any given time right now, and it was a little hard to stop his mind from racing at the possibilities. The herd may pride themselves turning the tables on the packs, the hunter becoming the hunted, but the persistent hungry wolves of the territory were a terrifying force to be reckoned with. The necessity of silence in their presence left the air throbbing with anxiety, having to move quickly through deep snow with as little noise as possible, it was like a cold fire had settled in around them.
A new sound now rung in his ears, and Nightshade had sensed it too. His ears pinned back and his skin crawled as he detected the slight difference in sound from their own hooves; this was paws.
His companion instinctively picked up the pace, a forgiving lope he could keep up with, but the urgency pulsing through their bodies did not need to be spoken. He followed her, grateful of her slowed gait and comfort, but he cursed himself for being so large and slow. It was rarely a problem but now was one of those moments where he would rather trade his strength for the ability to leave quickly and not endanger others with his lack of speed.
The padding of paw on ice was not getting further away from them. Samael’s mind reeled; they might be following them. A louder crunch of snow burst the bubble of silence, off to their right where the trail dipped further into the valley. They were definitely following them. He raised his head a little to the starless sky, praying the Mother had given them the strength to withstand her latest trial. He almost dared not glance back, in fear of confirming his thoughts. He could not suppress the urge and took a hurried look over his shoulder.
Samael instantly wished he had not. The bobbing distant lights of reflective eyes were bobbing among gloom of the forest, like some kind of awful magic. His body sped up automatically, fighting to keep alongside the black doe with him, hoping they would be spared by Úir’s grace and the talents she had given them.
For just the briefest of moments the red stag faltered behind her- and then her fears were confirmed. He sped up as though a fire had been lit beneath his heels. They were there. Her ears slicked back. Pausing just for a moment, turning a disdainful glower that could have chilled ice in the directions of those mutts- and a nasty hex of hives at the one wolf who dared to begin to make a break towards her. It must have assumed her smallness for frailty, but the resounding yelp as angry red welts blistered their way through its pelt was satisfying as she cantered after her friend. Snorting softly as a puff of ice crystals billowed around them.
Nightshade would not leave her friend. Her stomach felt like a million birds were fluttering their way around her chest and innards as she set a pace- trying to urge Samael on. They were closing in on either of their flanks, slowly drawing closer. Hungry shadows with glinting ambery eyes. The eyes of demons. It made her think of the brawny silverthorne stag who had sent blue flames hurling at her and sought to pummel her skull into a pulp. Stealing a glance at the massive warrior at her side, the braids in his mane and along his jaw bouncing as he pushed himself through the thick crusts of the snow.
The blackling knew that the exertion of pushing through the crust of snow at this pace would be just as dangerous as the yellow eyed sets of fangs waiting behind. Logically? Her stamina and speed were the assets. Samael could pulverize the wolves to pieces if they got close enough to him- but they out numbered them. They would just nip at him and exhaust him. Drawing up alongside him on his flank, keeping close as she watched the shadows slinking closer.. and closer on either side.
When two started to draw closer the doe didn’t give the stag an opportunity to get off the trail, half halting before slipping behind the stag and charging with her neck snaked out despite the mask of collection on her face. Nasty hexes flew at both wolves. One caught the hives across his muzzle and eyes, the other in the neck and flank. She sent a curse of ill health shortly after at both of the blasted animals- though that wouldn’t take effect for some time. They might have been invisible but their effects were not, as both wolves yelped bewildered before growls rippled from them. Using their moment of confusion and their extended moments of pain, the healer darted back to the safety alongside Samael’s side.
Despite the cold, she could feel the heat rolling off of her in waves from the effort of moving so fast, over an extended distance and using her magic as well. “Keep going!” Her soft voice was barely audible as she exhaled the sentence quietly, ears flattened against her neck. Extending her stride, her mane whipping out behind her as she gathered speed. A faint sheen of sweat had begun to show on her silky pelt even with the chill of the air.
Samael felt something deep overwhelm his higher mind; he was under the grip of the pure instinct to survive. It was as if his innards had been spirited away by some kind of hellish magic, the hot fear fighting its way into his chest and throat. He felt every minute moment of his heavy limbs ploughing through the deep snow, but he willed himself to ignore it. No matter how small they were, in the grand scheme of things, Nightshade’s little encouragements helped all the same. He had stamina enough for all manner of long trips, but that alone might not be enough. He searched in himself to find the strength to power on.
His tunnel vision and instinct had closed the world to him, but he was snapped back into the present at the sound of pained yelping. Shooting a quick glance over to Nightshade, or where she had been, as he saw the shadow of the doe slip from view with another chorus of yelping coming very close at his flank. Throwing his head to the other side in alarm, Samael was just in time to see another two wolves sink down out of sight, preoccupied with a dreadful coating of hives across their pelts, Nightshade drawing close to his side again. He could not help but smile. He had very little previous experience with magic, but the sight of those powerful hunters being felled by what they assumed was a weak doe was not one he would forget easily.
“Keep going!” He barely heard her voice, like a whisper further smothered by the exertion of their mad dash for their lives. He grunted, forcing out some kind of acknowledgement, letting his tail brush her side as a silent combination of praise and thanks. Reaching deep, he pushed out another burst of what little speed he had to give, though fire was already tearing into his muscles.
More ranks of the hungry army tailing them started to fill the spaces the hexed wolves had left behind in confusion, their panting coming closer and closer at his heels. Samael cursed that he did not have his rack to aid them in getting rid of this mob, resigning himself to more crude methods. He held back a little from the doe, to plant a stride more firmly and aim a desperate kick behind. He felt the sickening crunch of hoof on jaw ripple up his left leg, the right flailing aimlessly up into empty space and shaking his balance. The other that had escaped the kick made a break for his unguarded leg. Samael grabbed for its neck, landing a furious bite tearing it away from his body. The tang of iron washed over his tongue as he shook his neck and threw it to the ground, barely noticing the spark of pain at his knee. Stomping over the pair of stricken wolves for good measure, he left them to their injuries. He lurched on to step back in time with Nightshade, but could already hear the scuff of new paws and claws on the frost.
He just caught the movement in the corner of his eye as he rushed to catch up with the doe. The sheen of predators’ eyes and rolling shadow, just beyond the eyes reach. Another quick flash of eyes and it then made a decision, was coming with burning intent at Nightshade’s hind legs, sudden from the close cover of thick woods; it had made the wrong decision. Impulsive rage and panic surged up in his chest, Samael charged. His head low and shoulders held broad, he barrelled headlong into the unlucky wolf, letting his sheer size and brute strength knock and trample the yelping cur underfoot.
With a quick glance back to make sure the beast was truly out of their way, he forced his tiring legs to catch up with the doe. The fire in his body from the energy burning up rolled out into the biting wind, great clouds rushing from his flared nostrils and sweat running from his brow, but he could not stop until his protective shadow was watching over her again. He did not even have time to think about the dull ache in his knee and the sting of a trickle of blood freezing in the chilled air. Despite himself, as he finally came level with Nightshade again, a small hopeful smile came to his lips. Although they were still in danger, they might have a chance.
She heard it- the sound of cracking bone, followed by a shrieking howl of pain. The sound of blood smattering the snow, the body thudding across the ground, the echos of pained noises and the dull thuds of hooves against the body. Glancing over her shoulder for a split second- the inky female caught the sight of the rich maroon stag pounding the unlucky predators into the snow before he lowered his head. Turning as the stag hit a wolf like an avalanche, falling upon him and burying him beneath the blows of his hooves. Yelps followed before the hulking stag returned back to her side, following like a shadow. His hind looked like it was hitching behind slightly, and heat rolled off of him like fire. Shade thought she had seen blood, but despite this- Samael offered her a small, hopeful smile.
He was being brave for her sake- and he had protected her. Averting rich brown eyes back to the snowy trails ahead of them, sending a silent prayer of thanks to the Mother for this stag beside her. Scuffling paws and claws, the thuds of the scruffy bodies breaking through the snow. Resounding yips and sounds began to draw closer and closer. Glancing each way, watching the bloodthirsty bodies drawing closer.. and closer..
They couldn’t afford to keep going at this pace. Behind her, the billows of foggy breath brushing at her hip warned her of her tiring partner. They had to think of something fast. Then.. a slow inkling of an idea. “Up ahead.. There’s a fast.. stream.. we should be able.. to jump.. “ Between puffs of aching breath the doe managed. Her throat stung with the sharpness of the cold. As they kept pounding forward, her long legs aching in protest as she pushed herself forward. The wolves were drawing closer, she could feel it. One dared to reach out with it’s fangs towards her hind legs once more. Bucking up her heels, the impact of connecting with the mutt’s chest sent her stumbling forward but it sent the wolf backwards. Snorting and shaking her head slightly as the healer righted herself. Hadn’t she outrun worse than this? A massive soldier of Silverthorne who had chased her with blue flames, who had tried to beat her skull to a pulp. No. Shade would live to see the day the bastard drew his last breath- on the Mother herself, or she’d die trying.
Up ahead the babbling of rapid waters sloshing along ice and rocks echoed to their ears. Soon they’d have to jump. The wolves wouldn’t likely be able to make the far leap to the dangerous, icy other bank. It was a huge risk- but it was one they’d have to take.
Drawing on her mental capacity and forcing her screaming muscles faster, her breathing growing heavier with each stride. “Gotta live to tell this tale” Smiling at Samael, her brown eyes darting to meet his before focusing ahead of them, her tail brushing his side once more encouragingly.
His world was narrowing as his breathing got more and more laboured. Dread was rising in Samael’s chest, the thought of not living to see the sun rise cluttered his tiring mind. There was forward or there was death. Even stricken with this tunnel vision of survival, he could feel the same unspoken sentiment in his companion, but she was not done yet.
Her voice escaped in harsh bursts amid the clouds of breath “Up ahead ... There’s a fast ... stream ... we should be able ... to jump ...”
A flash of panic like a lightning strike surged across his every nerve. It made him drunk with fear to even consider, but the icy chill of an unrelenting stream still sounded better than the teeth of wolves. They were getting closer, sending chills up his spine as he could hear them closing in. The unsettling scrape of claws on frost was ringing in his ears from all directions. He felt the breath of misplaced snapping at his heels; Nightshade was kicking out alongside him, pounding a hollow sound into a chest like a drum beat. He gave a frenzied series of his own bucks, feeling a few shallow blows scrape along scruffy limbs.
The sound of the rapids was drifting closer, the noise alone speaking for the sheer force and tumbling ice mixed in with the bone-chilling water. It was getting harder and harder to keep his mind under control; they could make it if they kept hold of themselves. As if on cue, Nightshade shot a glance back again, her deep brown eyes a singular source of warmth and hope in the gloom, “Gotta live to tell this tale.” He smiled back at her, his golden eyes glistening from his whole body screaming in protest, and the blessing of this kind soul beside him. Yes, Blackwoods can survive anything.
Nightshade was the first to spot it in the gloom, a grateful sigh tumbling out amongst the strained breathing. His head felt as heavy as the mountains themselves when he forced himself to look ahead at the crashing water. The full weight of what they were about to do hit him like a falling tree when he looked at the gap they were to jump. Rough sheets of pebbles and ice were strewn amongst the treacherous rocks on either bank, the unstoppable force of the winter stream bursting through between them at the water’s edge.
It would have made for a risky jump even without the ice and their exhausted muscles already on fire. They did not have time to prepare themselves, they could not simply try again, and they did not have any choice. Shooting a fleeting look at the doe, he nodded at her, “Ready?”
He had to fight not to close his eyes, as he planted his weary hind legs heavily into the rock beneath him, the sting in his torn skin biting down hard into his bones. For a second his hooves skidded on the wet surface and his heart skipped a beat. ‘Please, Mother’ he silently prayed. An unsure fluttering blossomed in Samael’s stomach as he kicked free of the bank and felt the dizzying rumble of water beneath him. Before he could even contemplate that he might fail to cover the distance, he crashed down onto the opposite bank. His tired legs groaned from taking the force of his jump; front legs splaying out in front and skidding on pebbles, the skin on his hind legs shrieking out at the cold water he had landed in creeping through his fur. After he was sure he was in one piece, still petrified in place from shock, he looked up frantically to see how his companion had fared.
“Ready?” Came the breathy rumble from the stag alongside her. The stream rolled angrily, sounding like thunderclaps as it crashed against rock and ice defiantly. Samael made the leap, skidding for a moment. That moment her own breath caught as she leapt alongside him, feeling her hooves kick up pebbles. Soaring through the air, the froth of sure death beneath them licking at her belly- Nightshade did her best not to panic. Suddenly her hooves clicked against the pebbles. Alongside her she heard a splash and whipped to see the red stag’s hind legs had landed in the water. Her own momentum carried her, spraying pebbles every which way, her forelegs buckling and knees grinding into the frost coated rocks. Wincing at the sting, knowing that if that scrape was the worst that she came away with this from; then the doe ought to thank the Mother.
For some reason, perhaps shock the massive, exhausted stag stayed in the freezing water. Lurching to his aid, the healer grabbing a chunk of mane on the stag and tugged him fiercely towards the safety of the bank, her own forelegs dipping in the icy water. Stubbornly, her ears slicked back as the slender Blackwoodian pulled the stag with all her might. Fatigued, terribly, creepingly cold from their race against the predators who let out infuriated whines and growls at the opposing bank, lingering, trying to find a way to follow. His body radiated warmth and it made her eyes feel heavy, part of the inky black doe just wanted to collapse into the warmth and curl into it and sleep for a long time. Now was not the time that they could do that. Panting faintly, Shade offered a small smile as they trudged onto the snow and frost covered safety of solid ground. Releasing hold of the rich red locks of her companions, looking around. “We need to find shelter..” The yips at the opposing shore couldn’t keep the weight of exhaustion off of her shoulders. Both fawnlings were covered in sweat, both had scrapes, cuts, and damp fur.
All the adrenaline in the world wouldn’t have been enough to push her. Now it was sheer determination that kept her weary body from giving up and collapsing in a heap. Nightshade would have settled for anything. A snowdrift behind some bushes, or in the wake of a great old tree. A cave. Anywhere. They both needed rest.
Samael’s hind leg needed attention, and they would both need to be kept warm through the night to avoid the promise of freezing from their limbs from the water. “Common..” Her distant and light voice told the tale of her exhaustion. Maybe Shade leaned into him, or maybe he leaned into her- but either way, they both needed the support as they ambled and limped slowly forward. The Mother had never been a kind mistresses, and this night would be long. Sleep couldn’t come too soon.
His mind lagged in its exhaustion to catch up with his senses; one second they were airborne, and the next he saw his companion’s light frame skid into the pebbles – both alive but in need of some care. Samael only realised the icy water was still squeezing in on his hind legs and nipping at his front when Nightshade tugged at his mane to urge him out of the stream. He felt like his life was in slow motion as he gave a last glance back at the pack of wolves on the opposite bank, baying and pacing for their lost prey, desperate for a way to follow. Seeing the furious scrum of bodies tumbling over themselves struck him with how close they came to losing the game of life this night, but the Mother had been gracious in her gifts to them and forgiving in her challenges.
He shook his lumbering body free of ice, snow, water, sweat, attempting to shed the weight pressing on him from their ordeal, before he moved off. It took all of his willpower not to just settle down to sleep right on the pebbles and ice so tired was he. Of course, he knew deep down they had other things to tend to before they could rest, but the strain on his nerves was almost like the icy water had claimed him for its own anyway. Nightshade voiced it regardless, “We need to find shelter...”, drumming the unavoidable truth into his skull thick with fatigue.
Leaning into each other, emotional support nearly taking a back seat to the need for physical support, they balanced their way along the closest trail they could find. Their lop-sided and unsteady beat found some kind of rhythm regardless as the last ounces of adrenaline left their systems. The heady mix of fear and flight gave way to pure exhaustion seconded only to the ever-strong need to survive. Without the mask, it was as though the whole world was pressing on his back and crushing into his muscles, and the last fleeting trickles of the rush leaving him let the pain of his wounds replace it. He was more injured than he had realised, and could only blindly hope he would get a chance to tend to their troubles as soon as possible.
It felt like an age until they found somewhere to stop, seemingly powered by some unstoppable force. Still the Mother cared for them. They finally made it over the crest of a trail, and a small cave came into sight. The urge to run was automatic, even in the state they were in, but the relief after gaining the entrance was more than worth it. Although it was not anything special at all, it had clearly held others before them, likely a well-used rest stop along this particular stretch of pathway. He would have been grateful for anything, and this was another piece of luck loaded in their favour. After giving it a quick once-over – only a shallow dip in the hillside with no predators – Samael placed himself in a corner to regather himself. He allowed himself to close his eyes and take a deep sigh, giving his limbs a long well-earned stretch before pulling himself back up into a sitting position.
“Are you hurt at all?” he said looking up at the doe from his space on the floor, cocking his sleepy head to one side. Wearily but dutiful to the last, he ploughed on like it was a reflex, “Would you like anything fetched for you?”
Soon they found a solace, a small cave. Shade barely registered walking into it, let alone collapsing onto the cold stone like the most comfortable of nests. Her body ached, exhaustion felt like weights tied to her very soul, dragging her down into the depths of sleep. But a voice kept her bleary eyes from closing, looking over slowly at the stag who had fought so hard for their safety. The inky black healer badly wanted to haul herself to her hooves, to be the saint to save him from his wounds at this very moment. No matter how loathe she was to admit it- in this moment it was all the doe could do to be selfish. Sleep was demanding, begging in the sweetest of tones in the back of her mind. A fuzzy haze seemed to have settle in her ears and eyes, everything felt so blurry, so slow.
“In the morning.” Was all the doe managed, her voice slipping into softer and softer tones as the swanlike neck lowered onto the floor of the cave exhaustedly. Nightshade wouldn’t remember when her eyes closed, long lashes brushing the pebbles speckling the floor. Her pelt lay askew across her delicate frame, supplying warmth as her body began to surrender to the ever present exhaustion. With no adrenaline and only the comfort of Samael lying but a few feet away the healer couldn’t help but give into her dreams.
Her silky tail draped across the cold floor and across his hind leg. A last touch of goodnight.
They had survived the night.
But what of the morning to come?