AN: here's the last chapter of this story. sorry it took so long. still, it's 8 pages long, so i think that should make it up to you.

enjoy!


The next few days were roughly the same. The four of them would travel from morning until dusk, when Wintersky's endurance ran low, signaling them to find a campsite. Wintersky would set up the fire, with the bird guarding him, while Nightheart hunted for dinner. Wintersky would entertain them with stories from his childhood, while Nightheart listened with barely suppressed envy at his fairly carefree life. But she never brought up the subject of being a part of his clan. The very idea terrified her, and at the same time, felt so very attractive, like a moth's attraction to a fire. She fought so hard to become what she was, a free-spirited forest-dweller. Did she really want to be beholden to anyone? Especially a clan?

Fortunately for her, Wintersky never questioned her about it again, although he did give her some odd looks from time to time.

While they traveled, Wintersky would point out certain symbols to her, and explained what they meant. A pile of rocks, for example, when piled to resemble a cross, meant that there was a shelter nearby. Or if they were piled into a pyramid, it meant that they were on a common trail.

When they came across a feather stuck into the tree bark, it meant that they had reached a scouting route. And the start of Wintersky's Clan territory. Wintersky told Nightheart to stop, before lifting his head and letting out a piercing cry, much like that of a falcon.

Nightheart stared. "What was that about?"

"Just letting them know I'm here." he replied. Raising his arm, Kreeak landed on it. He stared at the bird for a moment, before he launched the falcon again. Kreeak took off into the forest ahead of them and vanished.

Nightheart raised an eyebrow at him, and he grinned. "Just gave him some instructions. I told him to find some friends."

"Right." she said uneasily. "So what now?"

Wintersky smirked. "Now, we get moving. Because I'm sure that those hunters of yours will have heard me."

Nightheart had to restrain the urge to punch him. "Then why did you do it?"

Wintersky opened his mouth to reply, before he shoved her to the side.

Grunting as she hit the ground, she whipped around to face him. "What did you do-?" She fell silent as her eyes took in the sight of him fallen and bound by a net. The same net she'd last seen in Issac's weapon storage.

"Wintersky!" She ran to him, and saw that he'd hit his head on a rock, knocking him unconscious. A small trickle of blood ran down his face.

"You fools. You missed her!" She turned to see Issac and some of his men.

Immediately, she pulled out her bow and readied an arrow. True, she could easily outrun them, but that meant leaving Wintersky to become prisoner in her place. And that was a fate she didn't want anyone else to have to suffer. Mentally, she told Skyee of her plan. It was a risky one, but possibly the only one that might work, given the circumstances.

"If you think I'll just stand here and allow you to recapture me," She said as her eyes narrowed. "you'd better think again." /Now Skyee!/

Skyee dove from her vantage point above the trees, and went straight for Issac's head. A normal eagle could easily kill a cow from that height. A bondbird eagle could crush a bear's skull. A human didn't have a chance.

Issac gave no sign of noticing Skyee's attack until the last moment. He stepped to the side, pulling one of his men into his place to take Skyee's talons.

Knowing full well that Issac would be able to read Skyee's attack, Nightheart had waited until he moved, releasing her arrow at the same time Issac dodged Skyee, and succeeded in putting her bolt in his arm. But the glare he turned on her was more than she'd expected. There was no pain in his eyes, only a burning hatred.

Issac turned his eyes to his men. "Get her."

She fired arrow after arrow, not pausing to think about her actions or the consequences. When she ran out of her own arrows, she ducked down briefly and seized the ones that Wintersky had in his side-quiver. Unlike the first time they'd caught her, she wasn't aiming to injure.

She was aiming to kill. Because this time, it wasn't just Skyee's and her own life at risk. It was Wintersky's, Kreeak's, and their clan. If Issac got his hands on one, he'd try his hardest to get all of them.

She was so focused on keeping the men in front of her at bay that she didn't even notice the three men behind her. Skyee, on the other hand, did.

With a fierce screech, she dove from the sky again at the men behind her. But Issac was prepared for that as well. One of the men threw a net at Skyee, and she couldn't dodge it because of her momentum. With her wings tangled in the net, she plummeted to the ground.

"Skyee!" Nightheart leapt for the man keeping her bondmate captive, and, drawing her dagger, managed to slash his arm, before the other men caught her and pinned her to the ground.

Issac's laughter rang through the small clearing. "You really should have learned by now, Nightheart, that no one ever escapes from me." He stalked forward, savoring his victory over her.

She glared at him from the ground. "Enjoy this while you can. I escaped from you once before, and I can do it again."

Signaling the men holding her to stand her up, he grinned at her, before he punched her in the stomach.

Choking, she went limp. Since she'd never been punched before, especially not in the stomach, she hadn't been prepared for such a thing. She couldn't seem to draw enough breath to keep her muscles tense and ready.

"Defiance will get you nowhere, wench." His eyes turned to Wintersky. "I see you managed to find another weakling. And from the way you stood and protected him, I guess he must mean a lot to you."

Nightheart gasped, her eyes snapping up to meet Issac's satisfied gaze. "No." She managed to get enough of her breath back to speak. "You can't. He's not involved. Leave him alone." A small movement in the trees caught her eye, but when she glanced over at it, it was gone.

He shook his head in mock-pity. "You know me better than that, girl." He turned to the man she'd injured and pointed to Wintersky. "Kill him." The man's eyes lit up with a malicious intent and drew his own blade.

She watched in horror as the man lifted his dagger, ready to plunge it into Wintersky's prone form. "No!"

Dozens of arrows suddenly came out of nowhere and struck all of Issac's men. Nightheart could only watch helplessly as her hunters were all cut down before her very eyes. The two holding her captive were among the first to go down, and the one holding the net over Skyee was next. She did the smartest thing she could have, and just ducked, staying perfectly still.

In mere moments, it was over. She turned her head slightly to see two people come down from the trees so fast, it was as if they flew down. But they didn't make a single noise. In fact, they had a strong resemblance to…

"Wintersky!" She leapt up, but before she could run to his side, she was grabbed from behind and held at knifepoint.

"Don't move." A low voice said. Nightheart glanced back to see another stranger, holding a dagger to her throat. She did as they ordered, not willing to risk getting her throat slit.

She watched as the other two walked over to Wintersky and removed the net. Wintersky roused as they did so, before exclaiming with glee.

"Snowfire! Ravenwing!" He turned to the stranger holding Nightheart back. "Uh, Silverwind, what are you doing?" He struggled to stand up.

"She is a stranger, and therefore a threat to the clan." The one named Silverwind said.

Wintersky glared. "Like Hell she is. She's the one who got me this far. She's an ally, you idiot!"

Nightheart blushed hearing those words. She couldn't help it. Ally? He considers me an ally? She forced herself to speak. "You heard him. So let go of me." She glared out of the corner of her eye at the man holding her.

The man released her, and immediately, she darted to Skyee to remove her bindings. Allowing Skyee to rest on her shoulder, while ignoring her mental complaints about being in a net again, she turned back to Wintersky, who was being assisted by the man called Snowfire.

"So I guess this would be goodbye."

Wintersky turned to face her, confused by her words. "What? Goodbye? What do you mean? I thought-"

Nightheart cut him off. "You thought I would come with you, right?" She rubbed her arm, looking away. "Well, since these men are obviously part of your clan, and they're here to help you get back, there's no real reason for me to stay." She had to get going if she wanted to reach her nest by nightfall. She couldn't waste any more time. Being around more humans was making the pangs in her heart more noticeable, and she had to leave if she wanted to regain control of herself.

Wintersky frowned. "You know, you don't have to leave. Why don't you come with us? You know that we won't torment you, and I know that the Elders would welcome you."

Snowfire softly whacked the back of his head. "You might want to try asking first." Wintersky just grinned, rubbing the back of his head sheepishly. The older man turned back to her. "I apologize if we offended you. You must understand, we are accustomed to being feared by outsiders because of the bonds we share with our birds. But seeing that you also have a bondbird," He glanced at Skyee with wonder. "I can imagine that you feel no such thing. And I find it truly amazing that you managed to bond with an eagle."

Nightheart couldn't believe what she was hearing. This Snowfire had said the same thing that Wintersky had said about her bond with Skyee.

He bent down and assisted Wintersky in standing up. The two of them obviously had a close relationship. Snowfire acted like he was Wintersky's older brother. "I am truly grateful to you for helping our young hothead here." He ignored Wintersky indignant glare and immediate defensive remarks that he was not a hothead. "Why don't you come along? It's not like you can stay alive forever on your own."

Nightheart snapped out of her uneasiness to give him a bone-chilling glare. "I've survived on my own well enough for most of my life."

Wintersky nodded. "She told me that she's been on her own for," he frowned thoughtfully. "I think around twelve years now, if I had to guess?" He nodded to himself. "Yeah, that would sound about right."

Everyone else just stared at her, causing her to flush and step back. Skyee, sensing her distress, hissed at the other humans, making them jump.

Snowfire cleared his throat. "So, twelve years, huh? I guess I'll have to take back what I said before." He laughed a little. "But you're still welcome to come with us."

Wintersky nodded vigorously. "Even if you don't want to live close to everyone else, you'd be more than welcome to build a new home wherever you wanted."

Nightheart blinked. "You mean, you're inviting me to join your Clan?" She looked away. It was just like that night when he said that she'd be welcome, but strangely enough, the uneasiness she felt then was almost nonexistent.

With a jolt, she realized that she wanted to be around others; she wanted the kind of relationship that Wintersky had with these other people. Without realizing it, she'd come to enjoy and depend on Wintersky's presence in only two days. She'd never known anyone to be so kind to a complete stranger, but he had definitely made an impression on her. Maybe humans weren't so bad after all. But just the same…

She frowned softly. "What makes you think that I'd be welcome there? These Elders you've spoken of, how do I know how they'll treat me right?" She looked directly at Wintersky. "I've told you about the only other situation I've had with humans."

Wintersky tilted his head. "What, you mean that ringleader?" He jerked his head towards Issac's corpse. "Don't worry so much. You've seen how I treat Kreeak. The entire clan is like that. No one will tell you to do something you don't feel comfortable doing." He looked up at his companion. "Right, Snowfire?"

Snowfire nodded. "And I can guarantee the reactions of the Elders. You see, I'm one of them."

Well, that explained why Wintersky had been so confidant about Nightheart being welcome to join his clan. Still, he didn't look old enough to be an Elder. He seemed to be only a few years older than Wintersky.

Snowfire caught the odd look she was giving him. "I'm an Elder because of my deeds, not my age."

Nightheart nodded her understanding. That explains it. I guess these people put more merit on actions instead of just age.

Closing her eyes, she smiled softly. "You really are annoying, Wintersky."

Wintersky stared, unsure if he should be offended or not. He'd learned not to take everything she said at face-value. "What is that supposed to mean?"

Nightheart shook her head. "Never mind. I think my decision was already made when I met you." She looked up at her bondmate. "Skyee, what do you think?"

Skyee's response was to leap off her shoulder with a cry and soar up to fly with Kreeak. Wintersky's eyes lit up. "So you're coming?"

Tilting her head, she said playfully. "Well, I can't just leave Skyee alone now can I, seeing as she's so dead set on following Kreeak." She shrugged. "Let's go." She walked forward and grabbed his other arm, slinging it over her shoulder like it had been for the last several days. "We have to make sure you get properly healed."

Wintersky laughed. "Oh, I think you'll fit in just fine." He snuck a glance at the others. "You've got the right sense of humor."

"Oh, is that so?" Snowfire exclaimed in mock-indignation. "Well, I guess I'll have to tell her some stories about you and your other 'accidents.'"

Wintersky shot him an uneasy glance. "Uh, you're not serious, are you? You wouldn't. Come on Snowfire. You really don't have to go that far."

Snowfire's reply was swallowed by the shadows of the trees as the group made their way back to their people. And Nightheart's new home.

AN: ok, all done! i'm not really sure when i'll start posting the sequel since i'm still in the process of writing it, and i'm not going to make any promises. But i can tell you what it'll be called, since i wrote it in the story somewhere.

it'll be called Nightheart's New Home...

/cringes\\ ok, maybe not the most original, but hey, it makes sense, so yeah.

anyways, please R&R!