Someone had said that to her once. Or perhaps she had said it to another. Sent it. She couldn’t remember. It was so long ago. The memories were made fuzzy by her new form, tangled with that of her own, her true. The old times, traveling in the dark between the stars. Not these new times, with winds made sharp with shards of ice prickling her eyes, making them water, tears freezing on her lashes. The depths of space never seemed so cold as this, for there they were safe and sheltered within the shell of their egg, not bare exposed to the world.
She could not know that in a distant future there would be a myth of the universe being born of a great egg in the darkness. The stars hatched in a shower of light, the shell crumbling into the myriad worlds stretching into infinity.
All she knew was the now, the cold of the ground beneath her body, ice crunching in her fur as she stood on weakening legs. Wind howling through barebones trees like a starving wolf. She turned her head towards her people, huddled around a weak fire, the strongest adults sheltering the weakest and the children against the sharp winds with their bodies. The ragged skins and furs they hid beneath were as snow-crusted as her own shaggy pelt.
So many hard winters since they’d come to this world. Since the first of them, her own dear Adya, had spirit torn from flesh. The first of many deaths to follow at the hands of the grunting, savage five-fingered beasts they encountered. Ima. Tislin. Haken… Since they had been betrayed, stranded, frightened and scattered.
They had found each other again, somehow, bonded together desperately. And children had been born… and had died. Their numbers were larger than when they had come, but for how long? She was not sure how many seasons had passed since the growing cold pushed them further from their starhome. Forced them to become one with this world or die. That children had even been born after so much time was a wonder, but… what was the good of it all if they lived only to suffer and die?
And what of herself? What more could be done? She had done all she could think of. She had forced her body into the shape of the hunting beasts she had watched for seasons, trying to learn how they survived in this harsh place so her own might survive as well. She brought her people food as often as she could find it, despite their resistance at first.
From the circle of her people came the soft, mewling cry of a hungry elf-child, then the distressed coo of its mother trying to comfort it. There was no food to be had. Not unless she did something.
Shaking the ice from her coat, she slipped away from the starving camp, and set herself to hunt.
For every success it seemed the time between grew longer and the prey grew smaller. A single ravvit was simply not enough to feed her tribe. The entirety of her kill was doled out among the children while hunters braced themselves to go out as soon as the latest snows let up. She did not choose to wait, relying on her pelt to keep her warm against the white cold, even if the body beneath had grown thin and pinched with hunger herself. Better to die on the hunt, trying, then to wait and watch the others…
Silver-grey vanished into the whirl of winter’s breath.
The mind of the wolf tangled with the elf, subdued it, allowed her to walk through the pain, fierce with the need to survive. She knew not how long she walked, how long she wandered hunting. She heard the barking of other wolves nearby. Her feet burned, pads leaving bloody tracks in the ground. A step forward, and her front legs gave beneath her. She stumbled, then sank down into a snow drift, unable to rise again. Her thoughts were to her people, waiting for her to return. One of the other hunters, surely, would go out. Find something. If they would not be found first. If they---
The sound should have brought more fear, but she didn’t have the strength to be afraid. Boots in snow, crunching towards her. Heavy, human footfalls. She could see the owner through dimming vision, wrapped in bear fur, bearing a spear. So, this was to be how she would find home again, after so many eons? As her mate had died, so would she, at the hands of a human hunter…
A hand, five-fingered, stroked her side, smoothing her coat, feeling over her protruding ribs. A second set of footfalls stopped beside her. Then they spoke to each other. She couldn’t understand the soft grumblings, but knew one was a female by the softer tone. The one touching her. The one with the spear.
/Not yet gone. Can still save./
/No. Wolf of the Others./
/She is Others./
/She is beautiful. But close to the Dark. Will save her. Keep her./
/He will not allow./
/Not let the Dark have her./
The spear did not descend. Her blood did not flow. Instead arms lifted her, held her close, and she did not die. Arms carried her, and the sound of barking wolves grew louder. Arms carried her, and the smell of human bodies and fire grew strong in her head, drawing a whine from her lips. And still she did not die. Arms carried her into shadow lit with firelight, and full of the smell of stone ancient and needles freshly crushed. Arms lay her by blazing warmth, while the owner, the human female, set to arguing in snapping tones with a larger male. And still she did not die. For the human male, the tribe’s chief, gave in to his daughter.
The humans had cared after their own small pack of wolves for generations now. Wolves that hunted with them, protected them, warned them against raids by the Outsider tribes, those savage creatures so similar to them that the males could plant the seed of children in the women they attacked, but yet were so alien and spoke only in broken grunts and gestures. And they feared the great wolves, wild and kept by the tribe.
This wolf, this silver-grey female. She was not of the wild packs. She was of the Others. Creatures they had no words for, and who they shied from even as the creatures shied from them. Creatures of smoke and shadow, though they knew the Dark came to settle upon them as they did all living beings in time.
The wolves ignored her, or sniffed and snorted, returning, tails wagging, to their humans. Strange, she thought, for the warmth returned some of her strength to her, these humans and their wolves and their ways. Not like those who had slaughtered her people on their arrival to this hostile little world. These were…. Different.
There was little to spare, but the chief’s daughter tended her diligently, determined to make this wild one her wolf. Her companion. There was magic in her if she came from the Others, she was sure. Her silver could not die.
Timmain’s mind went to her people as her strength regained. The wolves of the humans would not accept her as one of their own. They let her be, but she was driven back if she tried to join their hunts. They sensed something about her… The humans, too, were still wary, though the girl, her girl, whispered strange words meant to be comforting as she stroked her fur, rubbed her ears to keep the bite of the cold away, and massaged sore, healing paw pads.
Timmain watched them hunt, and thought of her own people. She fed on the scraps, felt them learn to trust her, show tolerance with a rough ruffle of her fur, or rub of her head. She would not steal, would not raid from them. Not break that trust. They had helped her. But she needed to--
The morning they awoke to find her gone brought a brief search, but nothing more. She had returned to the Others, they were sure. The chief’s daughter was inconsolable, but slowly accepted. Wolves were wolves, and sometimes they returned to being wolves. They went to the forest from whence they came.
Timmain found her people surviving, barely. It had been a short time, truly, and there had been hunts, but not enough. Lives had melted into shadow. Eyes turned on her, on her wrapped feet and the scent of smoke in her coat. She saw the hurt, the disappointment, the desperation. And she thought, deeper than a wolf could. She thought, and heard the whimpers and cries. And she decided.
The snowfall was light, enough to mask her approach. The wolves let her though, though it was not without a warning bark from the Alpha. Not at her, but at the fur-wrapped bundle on her back.
She had heard the word before, but only now understood it. Others. They said it over and over as they pointed to the starving child that clung to her shoulders, shivering with empty eyes. A child of the Others. She had brought a child to them. A risk, she knew, but… without…. If she did nothing, the boy was soon to die.
Others. Child of the Others. Other’s child.
Were they of the Outsiders, they would have slaughtered the boy. But they would have slaughtered her, too, on finding her in the snow. She had to risk that as they helped her, just a beast freezing and starved in the snow, that a child, helpless and dying…
An old woman, moved close, and she did not move, just sent to the frightened child to be calm. To not fear, not scream as the woman’s rough fingers stroked over his small cheek, traced under his huge grey eyes, then lifted the feather-light body from her back and carried it into the caves. Timmain followed silently, but was stopped by her girl, who shook her head slowly.
The chief glared, stared at the milk pale boy with pointed ears, four-fingered hand curled around the thumb of the elder. The rest of the tribe slunk out of the caves as the two stared at each other silently until they were alone.
The sound of grunting disagreement reached every ear, rising, falling… then silence. The child sent to her, then. Confusion and fear. Strong fingers sunk into her fur as she lunged forward, pulling out tufts that hung in the air. She entered the cave in time to see the chief raise a large stone above his head and bring it down.
The crack of bone being crushed echoed in the cave like shattering glass.
The rock discarded, the chief picked at the fragments of broken bone, holding up a shard still clinging with marrow. The old woman took it from his fingers, and held it to the lips of the elf-child who sucked at it reluctantly at first, then eagerly.
In the end, the chief could not surrender a child to the Dark, even one of the Others.
Timmain felt her heart warm with hope for the first time in an age.
Ice caves had long since been abandoned in favor of the copses of trees at the edge of the great plains. Timmain watched the grass wave in the wind, hearing the laughter of children, five fingered and four, as they played at tag with wolf pups. Elsewhere young hunters were crafting spears and chattering. It had been hard to overcome, the language barrier, but no more so than the fear of each other. But once that fear had melted to understanding... No longer the Others, but Children of the Fallen Star. Tolerance was born, then cooperation. In time the tribes became one, hunting together, growing strong as they moved south in search of lands away from the ice, the savage Outsiders, and the Dark. Children were born and they lived.
Old, stiff fingers stroked Timmain’s silver mane as they had once brushed through her rough fur in younger days long past.
“Our hair is of a color.”
The old chief was long gone into the Dark, and his daughter was old, her position given over to her son turns ago. She was now the wise-woman of the tribe, the wolf-woman who bonded with the woman-wolf who brought true magic to their lives. And yet life went on, though often extended by the mending touch of four-fingered healers who brought the inured back from the brink when they could, but could not still the slow march into shadow of their five-fingered tribesmen.
“The Dark comes for me soon, star sister.”
“Do not say that.”
“Why? Is not bad. Am not afraid. You are of this world, Dark will come. You are alive, Dark will come. Even if you come from the stars. You are of this world.”
This world. Children were born to replace those who died in the harsh surviving, the famines and the long winters and hard goings. Children human and elfin, who knew no time before the joining of the tribes as one. Children who lived and did not look to the stars, but to the land as their home. Children who would become parents. And in time, children would split off to find other hunting and other land as numbers grew. To explore the world together. In time, she wondered, would this world be filled with the children of her people just as surely as it would be with those of the humans as the shadows in the scroll had shown? In this world where the Dark was king?
Perhaps. Perhaps it would be. But for now, now was all that mattered. Four fingers curled around five, and together sisters of star and earth watched the children of the tribe, the future, stretch out ahead of them in the Light.