Lessons In Pain

Chapter 1

Written by Caeruleus

The flavor of the freshly cut meat rolled across his tongue, and he closed his eyes, reveling in both the flavor and the pride of the kill.

“How is it?” Pike asked, his eyes glistening with expectation. “Looks like it’s not too gamey.”

Strongbow grinned. He’d been given the honor of the first bite and the rest of the tribe waited for his approval.

*Good! It was still fairly young. So, quite tender.* He turned to his lifemate and offered her a bite; his way of signaling the others to begin the feast. His eyes met hers, and she smiled at him, sending him a mixture of love and pride.

The others laughed and chattered in congratulatory tones.

“One shot!” Treestump exclaimed.

“I knew he could do it!” One-eye added.

*I never doubted you.* Moonshade sent, touching his knee, then moving forward to cut her own slice of meat.

Silence born of enjoyment settled on the group as they ate their meal. Even Suntop relaxed as hunger overcame his earlier worries and confusion, and the fresh meat sated that basic need. Soon, Strongbow cut himself another piece and had just sat back down to eat when Scouter leapt to his feet.

“Look!” he exclaimed. “More birds!” The youth cupped his hands over his eyes.

“Two. five.seven… Seven more!” The other elves turned to follow his gaze, searching the sky. Shortly, everyone could see the animals, and they all watched in awe as the giant creatures majestically wheeled about in the air, steadily moving in the tribe’s direction.

“I think.” Scouter added, cautiously, “I think there are riders on them.”

“Riders?” Nightfall asked. “Elves? Or…humans?”

“Can’t tell.” The younger elf continued to stare off into the sky. His tribemates watched as well, eating more cautiously; everyone noting how fast the birds flew towards them.

As the amazing animals approached the Wolfrider camp, Strongbow noticed something about their behavior, perhaps even sensed something. He would never know for sure which. However, with sudden alarm, he realized the creatures were acting with purpose; they were hunting, and the band of elves seemed to be their target.

*They’re going to attack us!* he frantically warned the rest, jumping up from his position. He grabbed his bow, and quickly nocked an arrow, aiming for the closest bird, though the animal still remained at furthest range of his weapon.

“Noooo!” screamed Cutter’s little son, but the archer instinctively chose protecting his people over some dubious indistinct vision, and released his first shot. To his dismay, the arrow caught in the creature’s plumage and, finding no purchase, fell to the ground. He fired again, aiming for a potential soft spot on the thing’s head, but to no avail. He kept trying, shooting other birds, but the animals seemed impervious to his missile shots.

Within moments, the nearest animal plunged downwards the group of elves, its talons extended to capture its prey. The wolfriders all dove out of the giant bird’s path; Strongbow rolling as he hit the ground and firing his last arrow at the creature’s back as it flew by.

“Strongbow! Look out!” the archer heard Treestump yell, and the elf flattened himself to the ground, grimacing at the claws of another bird that swept past his face, narrowly missing him.

The elf scrambled to his feet, ducking immediately as a third bird swooped down towards him. However, the creature’s talons caught on his cloak, dragging him face first into the grass. The leather ties pulled tight against his throat, and he dug his fingers into the knot, trying frantically to undo it.

Kicking his legs out, he struggled to find something, anything, to catch his foot on, hoping to slow his movement. His actions served only to twist himself on the makeshift of his cloak so that he slid on his back instead of his belly.

Sparkles of light, like evening fireflies in the Holt, flashed before his eyes, only slightly obscuring the view of another bird hovering in his wake, as if waiting to see he would free himself. He saw the form of a slim figure on the animal’s back, its head turned towards him, watchfully.

They want me, Strongbow thought despairingly, then became aware that he had stopped moving. Not dead, but alive! Maybe if they take me, they’ll leave the others alone. He yanked at the now loose ties of his cloak again, this time freeing himself. He leapt up and dashed towards the river, the watching bird shrieking loudly in warning

He heard the sweeping of vast wings behind him, and bent low to the ground, still continuing forward.

High Ones protect me! he silently begged, knowing that such entreaty was in vain. The creature behind him let out a jubilant screech as it knocked the elf to the ground, its claws grasping at his arms. Fiery pain burst in his left shoulder as one of its talon punctured his tunic, shattering the bony blade beneath and pushing through to his chest, and he felt that arm gripped by the rest of the claw. The creature caught his other arm, and then jerked his entire body upwards.

Strongbow grew dizzy momentarily as the ground fell away from him. He saw his tribe folk scurrying about like ants, some diving into the river, others fighting.

*Run!* he sent wildly. *Escape!*

To his horror, he saw one figure standing still, staring up into the sky at him as another bird flew towards her.

*Moonshade! No!* But she simply stood there. *No!*

The bird caught her, pulling her up into the sky as well.

*Why?* he sent to her, though he knew the answer. *Why didn’t you run?*

*I can’t be without you,* she replied, in that single thought showing him that, while captured, she remained uninjured.

*Oh, Eyrn,* he sighed, letting her devotion comfort him even as pain overwhelmed him and drew him down into darkness.

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