-- Author's Note: After titling the sixth chapter of my Harry Potter fic (Much Ado About Everything) 'Madcoil,' I was inspired to pick up my dusty volumes of ElfQuest and read for a spell. Thus, this piece of fanfiction was born. It comes from Fire and Flight (don't ask for the comic numbers, since I own the graphic novels) and deals with my two favorite Wolfriders -- Redlance and Nightfall. Before delving in, I'd like to say that there's some things brought up that I didn't fully explain, taking into consideration some might not have read the comics, so I'm profusely sorry. Also ** ** denotes telepathic speech.
ElfQuest was created by Wendy and Richard Pini and is copyrighted by Warp Graphics. No infringement was intended.
In comparison with the lush, thriving plant life of the forest, the dismal wasteland of baked sand and heat was the only nightmare imaginable that could outweigh death. It seemed endless; an eternal void of brightness and swelter beyond the comprehension of the shy and secretive forest-borne elves who had been tossed into the midst of it -- tossed to their death eagerly with the promise of a peaceful woodland far from the horrors and evil deeds of those who lived to do them harm. When the forest, settled in the time of Goodtree, had been engulfed with the flames of hatred and insanity, the only option to escape a death of smoke and ashes had been to retreat into the not-so-open arms of those who dwelled beneath the ground. Greymung, King of the trolls, had promised them a land of bright promise and opportunity, a land free of the humans who had plagued them for season upon season. It had not been a lie, but it had not been at all what they had expected.
Her dreams were filled with the recent memories of the troll caverns, much more easing with their moldy air and damp stone walls than they had been days before, when she had first set foot within them. Lumpy, malachite faces peering out from the darkness with beady black eyes were now looked upon as a comfort, when compared with the ceaseless open expanse of the waste they found themselves in. In this dream, however, the gold and jewels which encrusted the stone floors of the caverns were instead water and berries, tantalizingly fresh. An ache filled her as she watched the crisp water trickle languidly over darkened rocks, longing with what seemed like all her heart to bring her dry, cracked lips closer to the clear stream.
The dream, however, melted away as the attempt to drink was nearly successful, Nightfall finding that her lips, still without moisture, had come instead to the warmth of the sand beneath her, its presence in shocking contrast with the cool water she expected to meet rousing her from the fitful sleep and agonizing dream. The heat had caused her to feel drowsy, much like a fever, and had called forth dreams not usually dreamt to her mind. With a moan of discomfort, she pushed herself onto her knees and began to scan the area, sand-covered hand moving to shield her eyes from the unrelenting sun.
"I slept," she whispered, almost astonished, to herself, "The shadows have grown longer." It had been quite some time since Cutter and the rest of the Woldriders had set out from the scattered rock formations around which they had camped for a second time, the paw prints in the sand leading away from the area having already become dust-blown by the gentle, yet harshly humid, wind.
Golden brown eyes came to rest upon a set of tracks she recognized in particular -- those belonging to Nightrunner, her Chief's mount -- before gently slipping to the tanned water-skin that had been left close to her side. Grasping it about the neck with her less-dominant hand, she tested the weight and estimated the amount of water within it, her remaining, chapped digits faltered to the brow of the one laying almost completely lifeless beside her. Cutter, my Chief-friend, she thought, another sadness laying itself upon her heart, He left us his own water-skin. Does he still live? Did he reach the mountains in time? . . . Or at all the Wolfrides as drained and dry as this?
There was barely enough water to weigh the container down in the slightest of senses, but Nightfall would tell there was still a drop or two left within. Finally allowing her attention to waver away from the symbol of her Chief's love for them -- his tribe -- she turned painfully dry eyes to her love. ** Take the last drop, beloved. Stay with me . . . just a while longer. ** Shifting herself closer, Nightfall brought the mouth of the container to his lips, tipping the worn leather water-skin to gently coax the last droplets of warmed water out.
** I know where you're going. I know it may be soon, ** she finally admitted, noticing that his lips, as dehydrated as her own, had not parted to accept the last drops of life she offered.. Having known since earlier that day that he was slipping slowly into the dark abyss to await the end, she had silently accepted his fate . . . and made it her own.
"We are hunters," he repeated weakly to her the same words he had protested to his Chief, though with more than simple weariness behind them. This time, they were forced from his cracked lips with sorrow. "Not murderers."
A finger had been placed softly upon his parted lips to hush him, again, from disapproving of her choice. "Shh, beloved. It was my choice to make and I have decided."
"I don't -- " Redlance's voice halted abruptly as a jolt of pain shot through his abdomen, the bandages only masking the many slices there which were the cause of his agony, the cause of his weakness, the eventual cause of his death. When it passed, or at least dwindled in strength, he went on, he hoarse voice barely above a whisper, "I don't want to be a murderer."
His words were as sharp as any knife, cold metal slicing through her chest and lodging within her heart. Inhaling a sharp, shaky breath of sweltering desert air, she brought herself to brush fingertips across his gold bedecked brow and down his cheek. "You are not a murderer," Nightfall assured him gently. "Those who murdered me were the same who did this to you."
The pale green eyes of the tracker and budding tree-shaper closed, filled with sorrow and loathing, most of all for himself. "Do you blame me?" he whispered after a lingering silent between them, to which he obtained no response. "Beloved? If I hadn't -- "
"No," a firm response cut off the rest of what he had to say, though her tone was laced with a sorrow of her own. "No one blames you, especially me. You didn't cause any of this, Redlance."
The only reply given to her reassurances was his steady, if not labored, breathing. It was clear that there were a thousand thoughts racing through his mind, a thousand scenarios, a thousand questions, a thousand second-guesses. Yet, after a long moment, he still made no motion of reply.
Nightfall opened her eyes, having closed them to keep from tears, to notice that he had slipped into a sleep-like state, his breathing less noticeable and his eyes placidly closed. ** I love you. **
It had been many hours since they had last spoken aloud to each other and many more since he had replied to her sending, the loss of blood and pain within him causing the weakness which prevented him from traveling further had finally prevented him from communicating. All that remained was to wait for the end and he had slipped into the void to do so without thought, fear, or suffering.
** But . . . ** Nightfall continued, lowering herself upon the slowly cooling desert floor to curl her body against his. There was no warm embrace, however, or the gentle sensation of his lips caressing her cheek. There were no whispers of affection or shared thoughts. Instead, she found his body strangely limp beside her own roused within her the deepest despair she had ever felt in her life -- a more painful dejection than that which had filled her heart upon the death of her parents or the death of her former Chief. It was now the time for the death of her friend, her companion, her lover, and her life . . . it was now the time for him to perish within her arms, unlike those who had gone before, leaving her only with the fading memory of his warmth.
Tears stung harshly in her eyes, which had been so deprived of moisture it hurt them to be suddenly hydrated once more, at the thought of life -- even the very short time she might have left -- without Redlance. It would be a life without air, water, moonlight, or stars. A life without purpose, meaning, or fulfillment. ** . . . do you remember, friend of my body and spirit? ** she continued at last, sliding her arm across his body and laying her head upon his chest in a fashion she had done so many times before on lazy rainy days or beneath the lush canopy of the forest, listening through the muscle and bone to the faint beating of his heart and the soft sounds of his breathing.
Her mind filled with the memories of their first kiss, the time she knew beyond any doubt in the world that she loved him completely. He had gathered her an armful of wild, red roses and was content to place them within her hair calling each by the name of one reason why he loved her so. Once her hair had been decorated with the bundle of roses . . .
But, his mind was filled with an unaccustomed silence which caused her eyes to sting anew with fresh tears of sorrow, with no bright memory of his own of the occasion to share with her.
** Remember? ** Nightfall asked again, recalling instead one of their most dangerous hunting lessons with Bearclaw, Cutter's father, in which Redlance had saved them both from a wild long-tooth cat. Having run it through with his lance, Redmark was given his name -- Redlance -- for his bravery . . . and stupidity, according to the Chief . . .
And again, she met silence.
** Remember? Remember? ** she pleaded with his blank mind, calling upon memory after memory of the times they spent together, from the simplest bath in the stream to the most dangerous events they had shared, eventually coming to halt on the single most thing which stood out in her mind. Her own thoughts quieted with the frantic demanding, allowing the one-sided memory to play out before her closed eyes.
** I love you, ** his warmth and light filled her with the type of joy only he could give with a single thought as nimble fingers ran through the soft curls of her lengthy golden tresses. ** You are my sun, giving me strength and warmth and a reason to begin life each day. My moon, my starlit sky . . . **
Entangled within the warmth of his embrace, Nightfall could merely stare up at him with tearful eyes as he confessed such a powerful love to her, believing every word and thought which flooded into her mind. In sending, there was only truth . . . but, even if he had merely spoken the same words to her, she would have believed them nevertheless, as they were also in her heart.
There was not, however, strength enough within him to project the same affirmation of undying love once more. Every day before sleeping and upon waking at every twilight, he had told her exactly how he felt, told her of how much he loved her. The thought that the day had come when he would no longer be able to whisper softly within the depths of her mind his feelings -- and that it had come so soon -- caused new tears, hot and salty, to spill down her cheeks and onto his chest. ** Oh, Redlance, ** Nightfall implored with all the strength she could find within her dried and drained body. ** Let me keep more of you than memories! **
It was a subject that had always weighed heavily upon their minds, but something that neither had dared to mention to the other. Now, it was the only thing that came to her, the only thing that would lessen the anguish of his death -- ** Give me . . . your soul name -- and I will give you mine! Take it! Take it now and we'll be joined beyond death! **
The silence that she had become accustomed to was only broken by the sobs which racked her body and the faint thumping of his heart within his chest. Yet, there was no answering light to instill within her the single most precious thing he owned as she had so dearly hoped. There was no warmth of his presence, as his soul, no near the point of leave-taking, could not be reached . . . even by the deepest love.
Determination set in, one hand moving to cradle his limp body to her, the other coming to rest upon the hilt of her dagger. I'll end it myself when I finally know there's no hope left, her own thoughts echoed within her mind, even though her heart knew very well that though she could take her own life, she would never be able to take his.
Night settled upon the land quickly, chasing away the brutal sun to replace it with Mother and Child moon, who were kind with their coolness, but gave little warning to those overcome by grief and weariness. Without noting that the unrelenting light of the day had been replaced with the familiar darkness of the night, Nightfall was only awakened from another bout of fitful sleep when a scavenger bird, perched upon one of the high rock formations, swooped down for what he had mistaken for an easy meal.
"Away, scavenger!" her voice cracked with hours of dry, disuse, causing a lowered form to be used as she went on, "Leave us alone. Alone -- . . . forever." Fresh droplets of saline, the same with which she had wept herself to sleep with earlier, spilled from the corners of her eyes and down her cheeks as she gripped Redlance to her.
It was when all hope was lost that overly sensitive ears perked at the sound of something in the distance that caused her breath to catch sharply in her chest. Holding him still against her and quieting her weeping, it was the unmistakable sound of footsteps across the sand that she had heard, causing her heart to leap with a sudden joy. When her name was called clearly and precisely from a distance, by none other than the distinct voice of her friend and Chief, Nightfall unwrapped her arms from about Redlance and leapt from the desert floor, running despite her weariness to embrace Cutter. Words were exchanged as tears still trickled in a steady stream down her cheeks; exclamations of disbelief and questions of the strangers she found with him spilled from her lips.
Events moved so quickly, almost too quickly for her mind, which had adjusted to the creeping of time and the lack of conversation, to follow, only comprehending that there was friction between the dark-skinned elf and her Chief, then silence. Watching from Cutter's comforting embrace, her golden eyes went wide at the sheer amount of energy that crackled like a storm through the sky as the healing began -- the hair at the back of her neck prickled at the use of a powerful form of magic, more powerful than she had ever witnessed in her life.
Redlance began to writhe on the ground beneath the Healer's sun-darkened digits, wincing in pain as the broken bones and torn tissue beneath the bandages began to revert back to a healthier state. At his sides, Redlance's fists clenched while he gritted his teeth against the sudden and forceful reentry into consciousness and agony, only lessening once the dense air above him and the mysterious maiden had thinned of the traces of power left hovering there.
"Redlance!" Nightfall heard herself shout, breaking free of Cutter's grasp to throw herself next to the conscious tree-shaper forcefully. Her mind buzzed with so many questions, so many thoughts, so much that she wanted to convey to him now that he was in the waking world once more.
His gentle smile foretold almost everything, but only his slightly weakened embrace was enough to still her flurried sending, though at the same time pushing her into another torrent of tears -- these, more assuredly, of joy. ** I know, ** his quiet inner-voice gave response to her concerns and fears with two simple words, filling her at the same time with a relief and elation unlike any other. ** I do remember, beloved. **
Nightfall's cheeks, stained and sunburned, nearly reddened once more. ** I . . . ** she attempted to answer, her joy clouding her vision of his perfectly gentle and understanding eyes. ** . . . I love you. **
For a moment, his attention flickered towards the sky, unnervingly void of clouds and scattered with countless specks of silver light, before settling upon her overjoyed features again. ** I love you . . . more than the stars above and the earth below. **