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By Simone Snaith

"Shhh! Who's humming?"

Thunderstrike looked behind him. "I thought so. Quiet, Seelee! By the winds, you aren't your mother's cub for nothing," he said.

The golden-haired elf maiden glanced up from nocking her arrow and flashed him a guilty look. "Sorry."

"Shhh!" Secca hissed again. "Keep it down back there!" One of the prickleboars looked up and sniffed the air, suspiciously. Nothing. The elves were downwind of the small pack of animals, crouching behind a large pile of rocks in the sand. So far the hunt had been a loss, even though they had been pushing for hours; the day was hotter than usual and most creatures had refused to venture out at all.

*What's the plan?* Halban sent.

*I say Seelee picks one off and we chase down the rest* Thunderstrike suggested.

"We'll never catch them!" Seelee whispered. Secca shot her a look. *We'll never catch them* the younger elf sent, lamely.

*We'll split up and head them off; they'll have nowhere to go* Secca responded.

*Standard manuever!* Thunderstrike was pleased. *Now that's listening to your elders!* The dark elf grinned at him and rolled her green eyes.

*Okay, here goes nothing* Seelee drew her bow and squinted at the lazy, snuffling creature in the middle.

*Just don't lose your focus*

"What?" She jumped at the sudden sending. The perfectly aimed shot wobbled and got the boar in the flank instead of the throat. With a piercing shriek, the animal leaped and sent the other three racing off in different directions. Halban burst out laughing in disbelief; he was the one who had sent to Seelee.

"Oh no! Go, go, go!" Secca shouted. Seelee whacked Halban on the shoulder and leaped over the rocks, followed by the others. The wounded prickleboar ran at a much slower pace than the others; Seelee launched herself after it, landing on its back, dropping it to the sand. She struggled to reach the dagger at her hip as the boar's spiny back stabbed and scratched her. In another instant she had slit its throat and it lay still.

"Ugh." She sat up, spitting out the blood that had sprayed in her face. In the distance she could see Thunderstrike's and Secca's figures, running in circles to trap the other boars into a standstill. They soon came dragging the beasts back, with Halban hauling the last one behind them.

"That's the last time I go hunting without Onsha!" Secca declared. "These two were running around like dunedogs!"

"I knew what I was doing," Thunderstrike returned confidently.

"I caught it, didn't I?" Halban protested, a little stung by the implication that his lifemate was a better hunter.

"Well, I'm beat," Seelee said, standing up. She grinned. "I did my job. Nobody said I had to kill the boar." The others laughed.

"Oh, so you missed on purpose?" Secca teased her.

"Why, sure! I thought I was just supposed to startle it!"

Back at camp, Thunderstrike sent Seelee to Kyara's tent to get the prickle wounds on her chest and arms taken care of.

"Hey, little cousin!" Fireheart called from his seat at the Gathering Spot. "What happened to you?"

"What do you mean? I always look like this!" Seelee told him. Then she laughed and said, "Battle scars."

"Well, I don't think I'll make 'em vanish," Kyara told Seelee, when he came out to look at her. "I have decided that healing every little scratch is a sure way of making an elf weak and dependent." His bright green eyes twinkled. "Besides, it wears me out."

"Oh, you had to decide this today, did you?"

"No, I've been thinking about it. Onsha agrees with me. But don't worry, I've got some medicine to put on them, so stay right here..." He disappeared back into his tent. Seelee hitched herself up onto a large rock nearby, pulling off her kerchief and running her fingers through her hair. Her scalp was sweaty from the hot sun.

Jasha and Jackleclaw wandered over to see her, carrying their throwing stones. "Seelee, you wanna play Dodge-the-Stones? We've been trying to get together a game but we haven't had much luck," Jackleclaw told her.

"It's too hot, I guess," she answered. "I wouldn't play; I've got enough bruises, thank you!"

"You're just afraid we'll win, aren't you?" Jasha, with his deeper voice, smirked.

"Well, Soran's blood! You could turn that pebble into a boulder and have me out in the first round," she exclaimed.

"Yeah," his friend turned on him. "You should have to play with a piece of bark. It's no fun playing with a rockshaper." Kyara came back out, tying his black hair back, and holding a medicine pouch.

"Tell your admirers to scram," he began.

"Admirers?!" the elves exclaimed.

"Yeah, beat it," Seelee told them, winking.

"We didn't want a maiden in the game, anyway! Come on, Jasha, let's go find some elves," Jackleclaw told the young rockshaper. Jasha grinned and followed him, but not before Seelee aimed at a kick at them both.

"Just don't hit them anyplace where I'll have to heal them," Kyara laughed. He carefully began to pull out the few prickles left in her skin.

"Hsst!" Seelee sucked in her breath at the sting. The healer spread the medicine on quickly and patted her arm.

"Just don't let Safekeeper lick that off and you'll be fine."

"Oh! Where is my pup?" she asked.

"Probably terrorizing anyone near your tent," he answered. "I've never seen a dunedog that protective!" Seelee jumped down and winced at the pain from the sudden motion, before heading off towards her tent.

"Thank you, healer."

"No problem."

The large gray dog she had affectionately called a pup jumped up happily when she reached him. When he smelled the medicine, however, he wrinkled his nose and began sniffing her all over.

"Hey, knock it off, I'm okay," she said and growled at him playfully. Safekeeper cavorted around her, weaving and barking. Seelee tossed her kerchief into her tent and walked back to the Gathering Spot, the dunedog following. Onsha and the others had started a fire to cook the fresh boar meat.

"Four of them! Good catch," the chieftess was saying. "We can add that to a little of the Sand Cobra we caught the other day. And save the rest."

"Seelee, can I ride on Safekeeper?" Isbeth asked, tugging on her long braid. The dunedog sniffed her suspiciously.

"Uh, sure, if he lets you," she answered. She sat down next to Fireheart and Brekke.

"Why didn't you ask me to go hunting with you?" Fireheart asked, pretending to be hurt.

"I think four of us was plenty. Secca couldn't keep us all quiet! Besides, I thought you were having a flying lesson," she teased. He blushed red, his face almost blending in with his hair.

"Seanu turned him down," Brekke told Seelee.

"Why is it everybody knows about that now?" he demanded. "There was nothing wrong with asking anyway."

"I know. I'd love to be able to fly too," his cousin told him. "But I think we just weren't made for it."

"The High Ones never thought we were made to live in the desert either, but they did it, and we're still here," Fireheart said. Seelee and Brekke looked at each other.

"I never thought of it that way."

At that moment Seanu fluttered down to the fireside, from wherever she had been flying. She folded her great wings and looked at the three elves watching her. "What?"

"Nothing," Seelee said quickly. "We're just jealous," she joked. Seanu smiled.

"It goes both ways. You wish you could fly and I wish I had memories of my past, the way you do," she said softly.

The elves sat together and ate the good, hot meat, laughing, joking, and telling stories about the day. The cubs had gone with Seeker to swim in the lake of the Great Oasis, where they had splashed and teased the blind elf until she dunked each of them good. Jardan and Sasha had killed a scorpion, their first kill, but not before one of them was stung and had to be healed by Kyara. They'd given everyone a scare, but Onsha and Halban were still very proud. And of course everyone complained about the heat, even though the Revered Mother Sharana predicted that a cool spell was on the horizon.

"Look! Look at Isbeth!" one of the cubs called out. They all turned to see her riding Safekeeper, holding on carefully, as he sniffed her dog, Sandstorm, companionably.

"Amazing!" Mother Sharana exclaimed. "Perhaps that creature has begun to calm down."

"I think we should keep an eye on them, just in case," Onsha said, a little worried. The talk turned once more to the weather, and whether or not they would need to dry some of the Cobra meat for the cold spell. It was a heated discussion, as sone thought they should just eat and make merry while they could, and despite Onsha's warning, Isbeth was forgotten for the moment. Then they heard her shriek.

All heads jerked up at the sound, which was followed by a vicious snarl and a Runner's squak. They saw that Safekeeper, forgetting there was something precious on his back, was picking a fight with one of the tall male Runners. Safekeeper snapped at the Runner, causing more birds to rush in at its defense, poking and biting with their sharp beaks.

"Isbeth!" Onsha cried, standing up. The young elf shrieked again as Safekeeper lunged forward, and she slapped one of the Runners hard. Several of the elves started forward, but Seelee had already grabbed an arrow. In one fluid motion, she aimed and fired. The bird, diving in to stab the cub's eyes in retaliation, fell over backward with a blue-feathered arrow in its throat.

The other Runners skipped away in surprise, and even Safekeeper whipped around, startled. Every elf breathed a heavy sigh of relief as the dunedog padded back towards them, guiltily.

"Are you all right, cub?" They all gathered around to examine the motherless young elf.

"I'm fine," Isbeth declared. "You don't have to treat me like a cubling." She looked a little pale, but otherwise unscathed. Seelee sighed and lowered her bow, numbly.

"Well done, little niece," Thunderstrike told her, smiling. "Goodheart's daughter, uh huh." The others patted her on the back.

Late that night, Seelee slipped into the Garden of the Dead to see her stone parents, as she often did, just to feel like she was close to them. In the dark, she hugged the cool, rough stone of her mother's statue and smiled. "One bad shot and one good shot. I guess that's what makes up a day, huh?" she whispered.