ightblade stopped so suddenly that Newdawn nearly ran into her. "You're it!" he yelled as he twisted past her, slapping her shoulder with one hand. He started to glide upwards, then saw the expression on her face and came to a halt. "Nightblade?"
She blinked, focussing on him. "It's Farseeker," she said anxiously, a crease between her brows. "He's calling me."
"In the middle of the day?"
"Something must be wrong. Newdawn, I have to answer him."
He darted to her side. "Go on. I'll set you down--I can handle it."
She closed her eyes and stopped gliding almost before he took hold. Biting his lip, Newdawn concentrated on lowering themselves safely to the slopes below. Settling on a bare rock, Newdawn held her limp form closely, wondering what was wrong. He hoped it wouldn't spoil their day--Nightblade had decided on a break from both lessons and chores, luring him into an aerial game of tag. The day had been perfect -- the first sunny day after nearly a moon of sullen clouds and rain. Relieved of the pressure of working with the power he yet hated and feared, Newdawn threw himself into the game with happy abandon. Aerial tag had always been his favorite game. Now the mood was ruined. Was something wrong back in the Isle? he wondered. But what would require Farseeker to extend himself so?
Nightblade gasped as she came back to herself, then muttered a curse. Pulling away from his hold, she stood up, turning to face him. The worry on her face made his guts clench in apprehension. "Newdawn, I don't want to do this--this isn't my idea, but we don't have a choice. The Elders have ordered us back to the Isle, as fast as we can make it. And your mother is leading a group to meet us on the way in."
Newdawn felt his insides freeze, felt his face blanching. "No!" he shouted. Go back to where he had nearly killed three elves? Go back to where everyone's eyes, everyone's thoughts would be on him? On Firekiller? On the elf who killed elves? "I won't go back! You can't make me!" He leapt off the boulder into the air, thinking only one thought--he had to get away!
He was faster on a straight glide, but Nightblade was quicker. She grabbed his foot. "Let me go!" he shrieked, as she pulled herself up his struggling body. "Let me go!"
**Break the 'Holder--listen to me!** Fingers raked through his hair and jerked hard. He yelped in pain, opening his eyes to find Nightblade's face less than two hand-widths away from his own. **Listen to me!** she repeated. **I don't want to take you back yet, but they gave me no choice! It's your father--he's trying to track you down, he wants to kill you!**
For a moment, everything seemed to stand still. Nightblade continued relentlessly as he stopped struggling. **Found didn't know not to tell him anything about you, when he asked about you during the last moon-check. He told him what I'd told Farseeker--that you had control of firemaking, that I believed I'd be able to bring you back before the eight-eights were up. The news sent him mad. Eagle tried to stop him; Shadow attacked him and left him for dead. He survived, but couldn't make contact with Tinar until this morning. They've been trying to find Shadow, but he's very good at hiding his mind. That's why they want us back inside. To protect you. They don't want anything to happen to you.**
He stared at her, trembling, barely taking in most of what she said. He had wanted to forget about Shadow's first attack on him, and had succeeded in never thinking about it. A faint revulsion threaded through his nerves, but it was lost in the uproar of fear. Struggling, Newdawn managed to get his legs up, then slammed both feet into Nightblade's belly as hard as he could. "I won't go back!" he screamed as he shot away from her. "You can't make me!"
Nightblade sank down to the ground, gasping, arms wrapped around her middle. **But, Newdawn, can't you understand?** she sent. **You're safe to go back! You have the control, you don't need to be afraid!**
"No!" He tried to deny the truth of what she said. "It's not--what difference does it make! I'm a killer--I don't belong in the Isle, I'm not going!"
**You don't have to stay there!** Nightblade staggered to her feet, bent over, eyes raised to meet his. **It's just until they find Shadow and force healing on him! You don't have to be afraid! I'll be with you! if you're afraid of losing control, I can lock-send with you; make sure nothing happens! And when it's safe, we'll come back out here, I promise! We'll stay out here as long as you want, until you want to go back! Or even leave the area! Just come back in now!**
Her words rang in his mind, but he could not hear them above the hideous memories howling through his awareness: Silverbranch flaming like a torch, screaming in utter agony. Cliffclimber throwing herself to a nearly bare patch of ground in a desperate effort to smother her own burning clothes and flesh. The three living flames diving for the lake. And all the half-hidden emotions--the horror and fear. And the whispers. What if he loses it? Did the magic twist wrong? What if he never controls the fire? Firekiller. Firekiller--
"No!" He turned to flee, not knowing where he would go, or caring, as long as it was away. He closed his mind to Nightblade, shutting her out, knowing that somehow she had lied to him, that she had never really intended on letting him die at the end of the time. Like all the others, she wanted him to live forever--to feel forever.
He could close his mind.
He could not close his ears.
The thin shriek wrenched him around, to see Nightblade falling. Shock held him motionless. She slammed into the muddy ground and did not move. A black-dyed shaft sprang out of her back, scarlet red streaming from its base.
"Nightblade!" Newdawn dropped, screaming her name. The drop saved him as the arrow slammed into his shoulder where his chest had been. With a shriek, he fell, catching himself barely a length above the ground and jerking sideways. An arrow tore his left sleeve. Not seeing, not really thinking, Newdawn reacted with all the defensive ability Nightblade had pounded into him. He jinked upwards, yelping as a third shaft slammed into his right thigh. A small, panicked thought oozed through the pain--who was doing this to him?! He jinked again, hearing the twhip of a clean miss.
"Curse you, firekiller! Stay still -- I thought you wanted to die!"
Newdawn froze. His eyes focussed on a dark-clad, ragged figure, cloaked by an ankle-length fall of tangled, night-black hair. Shadow. Gray eyes -- Newdawn's most obvious inheritance -- stared out behind the long, black bow. Newdawn stared back, every cell of him tautly aware of the crystal-edged, shaped-rock, barbed arrow-point that promised to give him what he had been demanding for over four eights of years. His father would give him death. All he had to do was remain still.
There was no compassion, no love in those eyes. Something within Newdawn twisted as sick horror rose in him. **No ...* he quavered. **Father .... no ... don't ....**
Bow and archer flinched. The arrow sprang away. Newdawn wrenched himself aside, earning a shallow slice on his ribs. **Father, don't!** he pleaded, with more force as his horror--and fear--rose. **Don't do this! It's wrong!**
"Stay out of my head!" Shadow flung his head aside, grimacing, grabbing another arrow out of his quiver. Eyes wild, he notched the arrow and drew back. "You wanted to die, Firekiller -- so die!"
**But not at your hands!** Newdawn wrenched himself aside again, but not far enough as the arrow buried itself in his side. He cried out, forced himself to glide straight up as fast as he could, feeling the dizziness and weakness clawing at his will. His father was the second-best archer in the Isle; he couldn't stop him, couldn't evade him, sooner or later, he would fall and die--
And leave Nightblade alone, defenseless. She would die without help, and it would be his fault. She had risked her life to teach him; she had trusted him when no one else did. He didn't want her to die!
Another arrow was notched on the bow. Newdawn saw that through blurring eyes, and sobbed in desperation. If only he had his mother's shield, or true shaping ability! If only he could bend the point, bend the shaft, make the arrow go awry! But all he had was his fire--
Which burned. Newdawn felt more than saw the bow drawn back. A bow made of wood and gut; an arrow of wood and feathers. Stuff which burned. Which he could burn. A part of him started to scream in terror at the thought--but there was no time! No time to fear, no time to think, only time to do what he had done countless times since that first day in the snow. He gathered the flame within with a feather touch, casting it out with his mind, seeing only the bow and the arrow, willing them to burn--
Shadow screamed. Heart in his throat, Newdawn looked, terrified that his father would be engulfed in flames. But Shadow stood unmarked, white-faced, staring at the ashes shifting through his fingers. Newdawn felt no joy at his success, only relief. Nightblade had been right. She had always been right.
Shadow looked up at him with growing madness in his eyes. "Firekiller! You think you can escape that easily?! Guess again!" He leapt into the air, drawing his knife. Desperately, Newdawn swept up more of his magic and sent it into the center of the knife's hilt. Shadow yelped and dropped the red-hot blade, holding his burned hand.
**Please, father!** sent Newdawn. **I don't want to hurt you! But I can't let you kill me--it's wrong!**
"Stay out of my mind!" Shadow leapt forward, bare hands arched to claw. "You think you're so clever, destroying my weapons, but the only way you'll stop me is to kill me! Just like you killed her! Firekiller!"
"No!" Desperation gave Newdawn a new strength. Dropping, he glided straight towards his father's maddened charge. At the last moment, he dodged, jinked, then dove as fast as he could towards Nightblade's unmoving body. Pain slammed through him as he landed, bringing darkness, but he drove it off with sheer will. Sobbing for breath, he pulled his good arm around Nightblade, then plunged himself into the magic, calling with all that was left of his will, that which he had never dared consciously call.
It leapt to his command; roared. It sprang outward in a solid sheet of flame and heat. Newdawn spun it into a circle about him and Nightblade, forced it elf-lengths high, then pulled it into a dome overhead. A fire-shield, through which nothing could move and hope to live. He heard Shadow's scream of terror, and sobbed, wishing there were another way, but holding to the wall of fire with all his strength.
Except he could not hold it. Strength and magic flowed away from his grasp like water. Newdawn struggled against the chilling darkness, then wondered why he wanted to be awake for his father's killing blow. If only he could get through the madness, if only he could make his father understand!
**Send to him, Newdawn,** A voice spoke in his mind. **He stands beyond you, frozen with his own fear. Now, while his mind is open. Send. Tell him how you feel.**
**Fa--Shadow.** Newdawn could not think who the sender was, but he obeyed the calm voice. **Please listen. How will killing me bring back Silverbranch? I-I know what it is, to bear the burden of causing an elf's death--please, don't do it to yourself! I don't want to -- no -- I -- I don't know if I want to live or die. I-I just don't want you to destroy yourself, Shadow. I want--all I ever wanted--was for you to love me. For you to call me 'son.' That's why I tried so hard to be the first outside, to learn to hunt, even though I knew part of me couldn't stand the idea of killing! I thought--if I were as good as you, if I could hunt like you, shape like you--you would call me your son! But I was wrong! The wildfire is in me, and because I didn't know, I killed her! She was your lovemate, but she was my teacher and my friend! And I wanted to die -- oh, I wanted to die!**
**But you didn't die,** sent Shadow. **She saved you -- that black-haired fool made you live!**
**Because she's not a fool, Shadow!** returned Newdawn desperately. **She was right! My dying wouldn't have helped Silverbranch, wouldn't have helped anybody! It would only have hurt -- would have hurt elves, like Cliffclimber and the Elders! Don't you understand -- my death won't do anything to change the fact that I killed Silverbranch! My death won't make amends! Only by living, can I do anything to lessen the harm I've caused!**
**And I'm to accept living with the elf who killed my lovemate? The elf who nearly killed three others? The elf who could kill again?**
**Father, I won't kill again. I control the wildfire now. You saw me control it.**
**Don't call me 'Father'!** Shadow's sending was a scream, the madness rising again. **Stop calling me 'Father'!**
Newdawn felt slow, hot tears leak from his eyes. **Why? That is what you are, to me.**
**Because your mother tricked me! She used me!**
**Is that my fault, Father?** Newdawn managed to lift his head and stare out at his father. **Can I help who my mother is, any more than I can my father? Would you have accepted being rejected by your father, if you had been in my place? Wouldn't you have been given anything -- done anything --to be acknowledged by your father as his son?**
Shadow flinched mentally and physically. Newdawn continued to watch him through tears that nearly blinded him. His heart hurt as much as his body, longing for what he had never had and probably never would. If only things had not been as they were--
His father turned and leapt away. Newdawn bowed his head, giving in to despair. He had failed--everything. His father was gone, Nightblade was dying, and it was his fault. His fault--
**New ... dawn ...**
**Father shot you.** Opening his eyes, Newdawn saw the spreading stain and sobbed. **It's all my fault!** he wailed. **If only I hadn't agreed to come out with you! I should have known something would happen, we're days from the Healer, you're dying and it's my fault and I'd give anything to help you live!**
Something hit his lower arm; Nightblade's hand, fingers wide, searching for his. He grasped it, not wincing as her grip drove her fingernails through his skin. But her sending flickered with more bemusement than pain. **Anything?** she queried. **Your life?**
Starting, Newdawn pulled back, staring down at his teacher, pain vanishing from awareness as shock centered his thoughts on one item. His death. The one Nightblade had promised him at the end of sixty-four years. If he had still wanted it.
**Why?** he sent at last. **Why do you want me to live? Why did you make our bargain -- the other reasons, the ones you haven't told me.**
She turned her head a little, enough to look at him with one golden eye. **Is ... 'beloved' reason enough?**
Beloved? He stared at her, meeting her gaze. **I need your help, Newdawn,** she sent, her thought weaker. **I have a little self-healing, but I need your help -- your strength, your touch. Your ... will. To live... Beloved?**
A small, wailing part of him screamed at the thought of living indefinitely. But it was only one part of him, and faded as he locked gazes with Nightblade and let himself realize what she could be to him. What she already had been, and more. The courage to risk her life -- the courage of love.
Drawing a quavering breath, he dropped his mental barriers and reached for full sending with her spirit. **Tell me what to do. Beloved.**
he call was meant for him alone. Rousing from a sound sleep, Newdawn listened, then hastily dressed, and fled the Isle. Fighting the cold wind, he landed eventually on the western shore. Panting, he 'listened' again, then moved confidently through the brush, until he came to a small clearing. The other elf stood up at his approach. In the moonlight, Newdawn saw the sharp angles in the face, graven by hunger and pain, and saw the ragged, patched leathers. Two years and more since their last meeting had been less kind to his sire than to him. He felt pain, but feared to say anything.
Shadow finally sighed. **Tarmryn.**
Newdawn swallowed a lump. **Father.**
**Son.** A long pause. **I can't stay.**
Newdawn tensed. **Father--!**
Shadow shook his head. **I know it was an accident, son, but it doesn't change the pain. Silverbranch was my lovemate. She gave me the strength to love again, after the Years of Sorrow. I learned to love, when I thought I couldn't ... and then she died. And I can't forget how she died, or forget my part in how that happened, and in what I almost did. I ... I can't stay.**
**But, Silvertree --**
**Could heal?** Shadow interrupted. Then he shook his head. **Maybe she could heal me, but all that would do is make me vulnerable to more pain. I don't want it ... I'm leaving.**
Newdawn felt the hot tears cascading down his face. **Father ... I ... I wish you didn't have to go. Where ...?**
**Back over the mountains ... maybe there'll be other elves ... maybe, with elves I don't know, the pain won't be as strong ... maybe I'll find the courage to love again ...**
**Oh, father ...!**
Shadow hesitated, then, abruptly pulled Newdawn into an embrace. **I'm sorry, Tarmryn, my son,** he sent. **I'm sorry.** Newdawn returned the hug fiercely, feeling all that Shadow couldn't put into words ... and didn't need to. Their faces were both streaked with tears, when they finally broke apart. Shadow lifted a hand and touched his son's cheek, then pulled something out of a pocket with the other hand.
**There is one thing I can give you,** he sent. **Something I picked up, when I wandered back to where you used the wildfire.** He handed Newdawn a chunk of something that wasn't stone, but almost as hard, and lighter. **The dried mud where your fire was ... two years of snow and rain, and it's still dry. And it almost feels like rock ... lighter, more fragile, but still ... You always wanted to shape things. Maybe with the right kind of mud, you can shape things with your hands, then use your fire to make it rock-like... maybe you can fulfill your dream.**
Newdawn stared at the chunk of dried clay, feeling the faint prickle of fire-magic ... and shaping magic. To create beauty out of mud, using his magic. To transform something slippery and goopy and ugly into beauty ... to have his childhood dream returned ... Joy exploded within him, as he sensed the truth of his father's guess -- **Oh, Father, you're right! I can do it! I can!** He looked up.
Shadow was gone. Newdawn started to send, then stopped himself, knowing that he would get no conscious reply. Shadow was not an elf to like farewells. He had offered what he could to make amends, then left, unable to stay. Newdawn brought the chunk of fired clay to his face, dropping to his knees, crying. "If there's a way to make my dream come true, I'll find it, Father," he said aloud. "You gave me my dream back. I won't lose it. I swear it, father. I swear."
And he did.