If anyone (cough, Jess, cough) wants to chime in on this, please do.
The impotence of Blackpaws’ command collided with the length of rope that rained upon him as his back crashed into the muck of the trench he had rolled partially into. The fall didn’t harm him, but the implications of his short journey froze his heart in his chest. Scarcely had the coils settled before Paws was digging his fingers into the side of the rift and hauling himself to it’s upper edge. His vision in the dark was keen, but not sufficient to spot his companions on the shore. Without hesitation, the druid flung himself into headlong flight parallel to the raging current.
100 yards? 200? Blackpaws could not tell how far he had ran before he found the first of his companions. The Drow. Blackpaws saw Zebith floating face-down, swirling in a small circle in an eddy near the bank. Paws slid to the edge of the water on his chest, black-wrapped hands digging their fingers into the folds of his ally’s cloak. Paws hauled back on the cloak, and it slipped free of the dark elf’s neck and Zebith began to drift into the violent stream of the river once more. Desperately, Paws grasped out one last time and caught the string of Zebith’s bow which was strung across his neck and shoulder. The taught line held, and Blackpaws was able to beach his friend. The druid rolled Zebith over and quickly held one hand out to the grass and foliage peeking through the sparse snow. The steam of Paws’ breath roiled in the crisp air as words of ancient power coaxed the healing life of the plants into first himself, then into Zebith. The Drow’s breath did not mix in the air with his own.
The thought that she might still be struggling against the power of the river brought his sense of triage to the fore, and his black boots became a blur of motion propelling him further along the river’s course. Vaulting stumps and stones that littered the bank in the murky night, a glint of something golden reflecting in the pale light of the waxing moon caught eyes Blackpaws inherited from his elven mother. It was the crystal sun centered in the holy symbol Lia wore about her neck. Nearly falling to where the spark of light came from, Paws stopped at the rise of a set of breakers in the river. Lia’s spear was across her back, and the thong had been caught in the limbs of a tree that had fallen partially across the river. It held her body like a marionette in the rapids, bobbing above and below the water’s surface like a rag doll swinging in the hand of a running child. She was close enough to the shore that he could reach out and touch her shoulder. The rushing water covered her face, pulling her autumn-brown hair down it in sheets. Her mouth hung open, filling with water that instantly spilled over her unmoving lips. Gold-flecked brown eyes stared wide and aimlessly into the night despite the force of the river’s current dragging at their lids.
“She might have made it…” Blackpaws wept inwardly. “…she got tangled by her spear in the rapids and the current held her under.”
Grasping the end of the fallen tree, he dug heels into the soft ground and pulled the wooden detritus as far into the shore as he could. Reaching for the Dawnspear, Paws grasped it tightly and drew Lia’s body onto the shore. The rope that was tied to her waist trailed away from her and into the water still, where it wavered to and fro like a snake. Blackpaws retrieved the length from the waters, and cast it aside close to Lia. Bending down, he untied the end from her mid-section and dropped it next to her.
Dropping to his knees at her side, Blackpaws stared at her for a long moment before placing his leather-wrapped hands on either side of her face, cradling her head gently. Tenderly, he lifted his thumbs to her eyelids, and pulled them shut, nodding his forehead till it rested lightly on hers.
“How could I have been so careless, so blind?” The Druid spoke aloud. “Lia, you have selflessly supported every oath, vendetta, and crusade that we have all laid before your feet. Not once did you ever question or doubt the validity of a cause, the surety of another’s purpose. I was so convinced that I knew better, that nothing mattered beyond putting my own ghosts to rest that I have added two more to that haunting.”
Blackpaws raised his head from hers, a deep sorrow flecked with new understanding apparent in his emerald eyes. Slowly, The Wolf Warrior raised those eyes into the night sky towards the moon.
“Perhaps…perhaps there is a way, one I have had the strength to use but never understood the path.”
Blackpaws kneeled at Lia’s head, cradling it gently in his lap, shoulders and back resting on his thighs. Closing his eyes, a deep growl built in his chest, building to a howl as his head craned back to release it’s energy. His chest heaving, Ghostdancer stood at his side. The great spirit, created from the druid’s own soul, laid down next to the fallen eladrin and touched its muzzle to her side. Gathering himself, Blackpaws howled to the moon a second time, and again a great wolfen spirit identical to Ghostdancer stood to his other side, and laid down at Lia’s side with its muzzle touching her arm. A third howl, then a fourth cut the night and four wolf-spirits in total lay at the shoulders and legs of Lia. Blackpaws gathered breath for a final howl, the four spirits joining in chorus till at the end of their crescendo the glittering forms of the wolves faded. As they did, Lia’s back suddenly arched with arms and legs flailing. A cry gurgled in her throat as the sound pushed the water from her lungs. She rolled to her side, vomiting water and shedding tears from eyes wide with confusion. Blackpaws slumped to her side, wracked with exhaustion, a comforting hand lightly touching her shoulder. When she had settled herself, she rose to one elbow, and turned to look at the druid. Blackpaws lay upon the ground, looking into the sky. In the faint starlight, Lia thought she saw streaks of silver in his hair at the temples that she had not thought she had seen before.
“You…you brought me back…” Lia whispered.
“I wasn’t going to let you go. Not like Sarah.”
“Who was Sarah, Blackpaws?”
“She was my wife. She died because of me. Just like you did.”
Blackpaws sat up, raising a hand to stop her words.
‘No, Lia. Don’t. Don’t make excuses for me. My feud…my blind bloodlust for my family’s killers…that is why you died. Why Zebith died. Why the others may be dead for all we know, and are certainly weaker without us.”
“You are a good man, Blackpaws. I don’t know the details of what happened to you, you’ve never told anyone. I don’t even know your real name, just what the locals call you. What I do know is that you have a good heart, otherwise I would never have followed you at all.”
Blackpaws rose and began to gather himself, keeping his silence. Walking to the water’s edge, he picked up the end of the rope that had tied Lia and Zebith together and began coiling it around his elbow and arm.
“My name is Sarlane. Sarlane Dersenara.”
As he spoke his name aloud for the first time in nearly two years, Blackpaws drew up the last of the rope. As he secured the coil, something odd caught his eye. The last of the length, the one that had been closest to Zebith, was not frayed. It had been cut.
“Blackp…Sarlane? What’s wrong?”
“Nothing Lia. Let’s head back upriver. Zebith’s body is waiting.”