�Ace, get your fel damned parachute on!�  

�Oh.  Right.� 

Explosions rocked the boat, driving Etsi to her hands and knees.  Convenient for her since she was running towards Ace anyway.  Damn heroic fool was trying to stay stationary and guide the frightened sheep to the gyrocopters for escape instead of abandoning the ship.  The soldiers she barreled over ran all over, panicked rather than staying focused and getting their stupid arses off the doomed ship. 

�Dammit, Ace, jump!�  Her clawed hands grabbed and shook him.  �Damn you, Ace, call for abandon ship!�

Ace nodded as he queued his com units.  �To all who can hear this, the ship is going down.  We are abandoning ship.  Our current location is central Stormheim.�

A huge explosion rocked the boat, knocking Ace overboard.  In a panic, Etsi grabbed for him, only to manage to tear a piece of his tabard off in the process.  �ACE!!!�  She dove overboard after him, her body sprouting feathers as she fell, shifting into her stormcrow form, eyes focused on his falling form.

�Please, Light, let this chute work properly …�

Etsi felt her heart stop when his chute failed to deploy.  Goldrinn, speed my wings …. A moment later, her heart restarted when his backup chute opened.  �His chute�s working.�  Her voice shook with relief.  �I have an eye on him.  I�ll-�

Her focus on Ace was so tight, she didn�t see the plague shot that hit her …

Stunned, Etsi flipped end over end for a while as she fell.  The conscious part of her brain tried to make her body work but, for some reason, it didn�t want to obey her commands.  Vital seconds passed before she realized the reason why it wasn�t responding properly – her wings were broken.  A desperate plan formed in her mind as the ground rapidly approached.  At the last moment before impact, her outline blurred and wavered, becoming feline and porting through space and time.  When her body hit the ground, the snapping of her already broken front limbs let her know she was too late, too clumsy with her shift.  More bones shattered as she rolled involuntarily, her momentum barely slowed by the ground and roots.  Finally coming to rest at the base of a very large tree, her vision blurred around the edges as her life�s blood flowed freely from the multiple wounds both inside and outside of her form.  Ace ….  The druidic power in her body flowed with her blood to the tree�s roots.  She was dying but maybe, just maybe, the trees would help him, would listen to her plea …..

The ancient tree felt the body as it rolled towards him to stop at his roots.  Animals died all of the time, sometimes amongst his leaves, sometimes on the earth in which he rested, but this one felt different.  It – she – had the feeling of ones that hadn�t walked under his branches in centuries.  The last ones who�d walked the woods weren�t like this one.  This one … the tree pondered.  This one didn�t have hooves like the recent ones.  This one … this one was like the old ones.  The ones who walked under his leaves when he was young.  The ones he hadn�t felt in millennia.  Elves.  Intrigued, he fed some of his life energy into the creature, wanting to know more.  His energy wove together with hers as he explored, keeping her body alive, at least for the time being.  The wolf ones.  This one was one of �those- kind.  His exploration became even more intense, feeding the creature even more energy.  A wolf-elf but not.  He felt the ferocity inherent in all the wolf-elves but this ferocity was focused.  Protective.  Controlled.  His interest increased.  Had things changed so much since the world was broken?  Had the wolf-elves learned to truly accept the Ancient Wolf�s gift and understand it?  Or was this one different?  He felt her plea as her body died around her.  A request to aid the one bound in her emotions.  Her concern was for another, her feelings directed towards saving whomever it was.  Was that what gave her the strength to accept and wield the gift? When his energy touched her heart, he paused.  Deep inside the creature�s heart lie the seed of one near to his age.  A seed freely given from the feel of it.  Was that what gave the creature her strength.  His branches creaked as he reached his decision.  That trust settled it for him � he would keep the creature alive, help her heal but it wasn�t something he could do alone …..

Leaves rustled in the wind, answering a summons not felt for many ages.  Trees acknowledged the request, stretching roots to more tightly intertwine with each other, reinforcing old connections.  Grasses swayed in response, giving what tiny amounts of energy they could to the cause as well.  Slowly, the body of the feline was covered, cocooned, wound in roots and leaves, protected from the ravages of scavengers and the world.

The ancient tree sank the ends of some of his roots into the creature, tugging at her body gently to straighten the shattered pieces as he directed the life flow into her.  She would live.  She would heal.  She would be one with them.

Author Elli
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