The continuing adventures of Ember and her splinter tribe of Wolfriders in a world full of more humans than ever before.
(Metamorphosis, EQ II, 2001 SS2 Recognition)
The first half of this section is by D. Aviva Rothschild with some edits for continuity and detail
Cutter's daughter Ember lives at Howling Rock with her lovemate Mender; Scouter, Tyleet, Dewshine, and their young son Pool; Pike, Krim, and their young son Sust; and Yun. The ongoing task of the Howling Rock elves is to hunt down the leftover mutants created by Winnowill, as sensed by Pool.
A short time after Ember's tribe of elves arrives at Howling Rock (having been dropped off by the Palace right after the Shards war), the Go-Back Krim finds out that Yun (daughter of Skywise and a Go-Back) never did what is called a “Chief's Walk.” This is a ritual that the Go-Back chief Kahvi would do with the women of the tribe once they reached puberty: they had to follow her in the wilderness and steal a prize from her (such as her spear). Success would give them their place as warriors in the tribe. Krim decides that Yun should do a “Chief's Walk” with Ember, to test both Yun and Ember.
They both agree to it, but the 'prize' Krim picks is the necklace that Teir's one-time lovemate had given to Ember to remember him by; it is her most precious possession (unknown to Krim or Yun). They depart on the Chief's Walk and Yun succeeds in getting the necklace from Ember. A short time later, Yun overhears Ember talking with Tyleet about Teir and the necklace, and Yun realizes what it means to Ember. Yun decides to give the necklace back to Ember, but makes a 'look-alike' to wear so that Krim won't realize what she has done. Ember is very grateful to Yun to have it back, and she and Yun share a new bond as daughters of the blood-brothers Cutter and Skywise.
A few years later, Sust is playing with his wolf-friend and teases Pool about the fact that he doesn't have a wolf-friend yet. The young Pool is, however, very close friends with a “tuftcat” (a species of tiger) that he named Stubtail. Pool decides that maybe he can train Stubtail to be a sort of 'wolf-friend.' He and some of the adult elves try training Stubtail how to be ridden and how to go on hunts, but do not succeed. Pool's mother Krim suggests that since Stubtail isn't good for anything that the tribe should get rid of him, to the great dismay of Pool. However, Ember insists that Stubtail should stay and that he doesn't have to be “useful” like a wolf; her mother Leetah had pet cats and pets are okay too.
It has now been twelve years since the Shards war. In the town of Port Bane, memories of elves aren't pleasant; thanks (again) to Winnowill, they have been demonized to the point where it is believed that “soul eats soul when eyes meet eyes.” Unfortunately for the young boy Yan, he meets the mischievous-innocent gaze of Sust. Soon, the boy is blindfolded and led to a cave at the shoreline, where a hideous multi-headed beast paralyzes and devours him--the “Redeemer” of the “Lady of the Waves.” The hidden elves are horrified at the boy's death.
Pike and Yun have gone astray. The two (unaware of Yan's fate and how stirred up the Port Bane people are) are stalking dreamberry bushes at the boy's house. Pike convinces Ember that his quest is just as important as hers. But Pike and Yun are separated; slightly injured, she stays outside, while Pike skulks around the humans' garden in a cloak to avoid being noticed. Meanwhile, the rest of the elves hunt the Redeemer. It proves far too strong for them, and they have to flee. They decide to contact the local trolls (Flam and Drub's tribe) for help.
At the humans' house, Pike has been bundled into the kitchen by Cassa, who believes him to be one of her kitchen-scuts. As she rails against elves, he sheds his cloak and tries to flee, but she sees him and screams for the guard. Pike is captured--and Cassa is also thrown into prison for having “consorted” with Pike, though she screams her innocence. Yun, staying hidden, sends to Ember about what's happening, and Ember realizes that killing the Redeemer has become even more urgent. Luckily, the trolls have an interesting device to help drain the water from the creature's lair, and the elves help them break through the wall into its chamber.
Pike and Cassa are brought to the lair. The other elves renew their hunt. Their actions drive the Redeemer out of its cave altogether, and in its pain and rage it attacks the humans who put the two captives into the water. The trolls come racing in to help. Finally the beast is dead, and the surviving humans and the elves confront one another. Ember curtly explains the truth of the matter to the humans, who are still spoiling for revenge (and who have no idea what to make of the trolls), but they leave rapidly when another elf and a bunch of wolves show up. It's Teir, who has been shadowing the tribe for a long time. He claims pack-right in the tribe.
Mender is astonished by Teir, whom no one has seen fit to mention. As the Wolfriders return to Howling Rock, Teir and his animals integrate uneasily into Ember's tribe (who mostly welcome him), and he and Mender bump up against each other, largely over who is Ember's lovemate.
The Djuns' Revenge
Now the story switches to a human stronghold, where the old, scarred Grohmul Djun (the human leader from the Shards series) resides with a handful of men and breeders, as well as his children, secret tomboy Gifa and complainer Angrif. The old Djun sends his reluctant son on a journey to prove his worth as Dominance-to-be. Angrif has little luck in his quest until he stumbles upon Howling Rock. He waits until the elves leave on a hunt, then pokes through their belongings, ultimately finding and taking Scouter's sword. Meanwhile, Gifa chafes at the limitations placed on her because of her sex. She dares to ask her father whether she is worthless because she's a woman, and her father essentially answers yes.
When Angrif returns with his prize, the expected praise from his father is instead an angry outburst when Angrif urges the Djun to send a small force to destroy the elves and calls the old man a coward when he won't. The old Djun knocks Angrif out and orders the boy taken away. Gifa asks if she could attempt to infiltrate the elves, as they seem to like human girls, and destroy them from within. The old Djun agrees to let her try--which ticks Angrif off. Angrif begins to plot his father's destruction, and also secretly has one of his men attack his sister.
Gifa is found, beaten and barely alive, by the elves. Tyleet takes her in. They know she is Djun blood, but slowly they grow to trust her. When she's been there a couple of months, she starts preparing the poison she brought, and a wolf cub chews on some cloth holding the poison and gets sick. Teir asks Mender to heal the cub, and they resolve their conflict.
Despite Gifa's determination to destroy the elves, to her great consternation she finds herself liking them. She still proceeds with her plan to poison the meat, however, and all the elves fall deathly ill. Mender begins to heal himself and partially heals Ember, so Gifa moves to strike him with her knife, but Teir jumps in front of Mender and takes the blow. Ember sees everything, and Gifa flees. Mender heals Teir and the others, and the regretful Tyleet claims "pack-right" to find Gifa and kill her if necessary. Tyleet tracks Gifa and sees her greet Angrif, who tells Gifa that he was the one who had her beaten up. Gifa attacks him in a rage, and Angrif manages to push her off the cliff to her death as Tyleet watches in secret. Tyleet returns to the tribe, stunned at the humans' cruelty.
Angrif returns with Gifa and tells everyone that demons killed her. The Djun, who discovered that Angrif is plotting against him, confronts Angrif privately about his attempted coup and starts to beat him, but Angrif gets the upper hand and kills him, becoming the new Djun. Angrif blames the Djun's death on an elven blade that the Djun owned, saying it turned him mad, and Angrif Djun's people prepare to attack the elves. Angrif tells his men to capture the healer (Mender) and kill all the other elves.
Ember's tribe waits and prepares for the humans' inevitable attack. When the elves spot the many, well-armed humans two days away from the holt, they decide to leave in the palace instead of fighting a losing battle. However, Suntop tells Ember (in a sending) that he doesn't know where the palace is, so Ember decides to take the tribe to hide with the trolls. When Angrif and his men reach the abandoned holt, he vows to find and destroy the elves even if it takes his whole life.
Lehrigen the Elf-Hunter
Angrif commissions an expert elf-hunter named Lehrigen to bring him a healer alive and kill all the other elves. In the troll caves, three elves and a troll go hunting and kill a bear and buck. Lehrigen and his men come upon the kills, and Lehrigen can smell where the elves and troll are hiding in the bushes, but doesn't reveal them to the Djun's men. He skins the bear and buck and respectfully leaves the hearts behind him for the elves and troll to take as a token of their kill.
Knowing that there are now humans nearby, the elves confine themselves to the caves and only let the wolves out to hunt. Scouter grows impatient for them to leave to find a new forest home, and Ember allows him to leave the caves to find out what's going on with the humans. As he and his wolf-friend Scrabble spy on the humans in an inn, Lehrigen's dog sniffs them out and attacks Scrabble. Scouter joins the fray and gets bitten They escape back to the troll's cave, where the trolls tell them they must leave as soon as Scouter is healed. A boy who witnessed the fight tells Lehrigen about the troll's tunnels. The humans set off bombs at the tunnel entrance by the inn and seal it off. Lehrigen's men then find the other tunnels and Lehrigen plans how to capture the elves, but some of the humans want to kill the elves behind his back and take the credit.
The elves come out of what they hope is an exit the humans don't know about, but they are ambushed by Lehrigen's men. Ember is wounded by an arrow, and Teir uses his special telepathy with animals to cause the humans' horses to stampede. The elves race for the woods, and the humans retreat to tend to their dead and wounded. Scouter wants the freedom to kill the humans at will in order to protect the new forest home, but Ember insists that they stick to "The Way" of survival and killing as few humans as possible, a decision first set in place by the ancestral Wolfrider chief Huntress Skyfire. But she does declare that they'll make the humans "wish they'd never set foot in this forest." They play several tricks on the humans. Teir secretly kills one of the humans with something that Teir had told Ember would only temporarily hurt them.
The humans hunting the elves end up fighting among themselves, and Mender cripples some of them. Lehrigen alone remains on the hunt, while the Djun's horsemaster writes to the Djun to send a regiment, hoping to kill the elves as well as Lehrigen. Ember, knowing that Lehrigen is honorable, decide to confront him and hope to change his mind about his mission. But Lehrigen will not call a truce because of the harm that has come to his men. Ember realizes from this that Teir had been the cause of one of the men's deaths and confronts Teir, who tells her that he did it because the tribe means everything to him. Ember makes it clear that he must follow "The Way" of obeying her from now on.
That night, Scouter's son Pool decides to secretly kill Lehrigen's dog because it had killed Teir's wolf, and Teir won't disobey Ember to do it. But Lehrigen catches Pool. Dewshine tries to rescue Pool but gets wounded and captured also. Lehrigen tells Ember he will trade Dewshine and Pool for the healer Mender and gives them a day to decide. An enraged Scouter wants to kill Lehrigen or trade Mender so he can get back his lifemate and son, but Ember argues with him. Scouter attacks her and wins the battle, cutting off her chief's lock. Scouter himself is surprised that he won, and reluctantly takes up the mantle of chief. Scouter trades Mender for Dewshine and Pool, then he the Wolfriders leave the unconscious Ember behind, as is The Way, and start tracking Lehrigen. Ember eventually wakes up, and howls loudly in her sorrow. Hearing her, Scouter orders them all to keep going, but Teir and his wolves leave and join Ember. Teir and Ember, now both outcasts, become more bonded in love.
Mender grows to respect his captor Lehrigen and heals his wounded dog. Rowb the human horsemaster leads the newly arrived regiment toward the forest to find and kill both Lehrigen and the Wolfriders. When the Wolfriders see them coming, Scouter says that the humans are "meat to be wasted," which the elder Wolfriders are not happy about but the youth are, which greatly disturbs Tyleet. She confronts Scouter and then goes into the woods to hunt, where she spots Ember and Teir and overhears Ember say that she needs to confront Scouter because his trying to war with the humans will mean the elves' downfall.
Ember and Teir free Mender, and Ember offers Lehrigen friendship which he starts to cautiously accept, just as they are attacked by the regiment. The three elves and Lehrigen prepare to defend themselves, and then the Wolfriders emerge and attack the regiment. Teir's wolves go after a small group that is charging toward Lehrigen, who is confounded by the fact that elves are defending him against humans. Lehrigen saves Scouter's son Pool. The beaten regiment runs away, except for Rowb who attacks Lehrigen in a rage; Lehrigen kills him.
Scouter, determined to have revenge for the kidnapping of his son and lifemate, aims an arrow at Lehrigen. Ember and Tyleet stand in front of Lehrigen, and Pool tells Scouter that Lehrigen saved his life. Lehrigen explains that he did it because Pool is a child, and also because Ember stood by him even though he had been hunting her tribe, making him realize that elves aren't like animals as he had always believed. After Ember convinces Scouter that not all humans are bad (using Lehrigen and past human friends as examples) and that aggression will destroy the Wolfriders, Scouter reinstates Ember as chief. Lehrigen parts ways with the elves, who decide to stay in that forest for the winter and then look for a home further away from humans.
Ember's tribe finds a new mountain holt overlooking a valley with a human village that is like our world's ancient Asian culture. After six years in this holt, the healer Mender is very curious to learn more about human physiology and feels the only way he can do that is to be able to touch them. He decides to transform himself to look human so that he can study them up close. The Wolfriders agree that it might be to their advantage to learn more about humans in this way, and Mender goes, accompanied by Yun. Mender attempts to woo some maidens but fails, and he learns the strange rules of human courtship. Yun finds out that the Wolfriders were not the first elves to live on the mountain; a child thief discovers her and is not at all surprised that she is an elf, shows her a sculpture of a winged elf which his grandmother had brought down from the mountain when she got lost there and elves helped her.
Dalan, a human whom Mender had witnessed get betrothed to Morisaitai, a woman Dalan doesn't love (he loves her sister Anamara) enters the woods to pray to the mountainfolk "minions" of his god. Mender decides to help him get out of his engagement which will give Mender the opportunity he wants to bed a human. Dalan hints to Mender at one point that the "minions" (elves) should have wings and be able to fly.
Mender disguises himself as Dalan's uncle and tries to convince the girls' father (the village leader, called the Father of Horses) that Dalan's family is poor and crazy, but it backfires as they think he worships a trickster god and invite him to stay for the wedding. Mender then sneaks into Morisaitai's bedchamber, looking like himself, and tells her he is Dalan, changed under a spell by the mountainfolk who say that they must sleep together for three nights to break the spell. She believes him and they make love. The next night he tells Anamara the same story, and she unhappily sleeps with him, while he is perplexed at "how so much disapproval can surround what, to him, is a simple, tender act."
A few nights later the horse master Erghii (who is in love with Morisaitai) discovers Mender, wearing Dalan's cloak, with Anamara, and thinks that Dalan and she are dishonoring the engagement. Mender and Yun take Dalan into hiding, then Mender goes back to try to fix the situation, again disguised as Dalan's uncle. He finds that they are beating Anamara for what she did, and will execute her in two days. The Father of Horses tells Erghii that if he brings proof of Dalan's death he can marry Morisaitai.
Mender rescues Anamara and, rejoining Yun and Dalan on the mountain, they try for days to evade Erghii and his men. Finally Mender has an idea: He appears to Erghii as a mountain "spirit" and tells Erghii to battle another spirit and if he wins the battle, he can have proof of Dalan's death. Erghii and Yun duel, and Yun lets him win, then gives Erghii Dalan's bloodied cloak and topknot and warns Erghii never to return to the mountain. Erghii goes back to the village and marries Morisaitai.
Dalan and Anamara must now live as outcasts, and Anamara berates Mender for causing this permanent separation from her family. Mender says that maybe someday she can go back; but then they see the funeral being held for Anamara, who knows that she is truly "dead" to her family. Mender can't comprehend any of the reasoning behind how the humans treat sex and love, and feels awful for the problems that he caused out of his ignorance. Anamara tells him to leave humans alone. Anamara and Dalan adopt the orphan boy as their son, and the three humans leave together to find a new home and "start their own clan."
Mender and Yun return to the Wolfriders, where Mender guiltily confesses the problems he caused, and expressing his bewilderment at the humans' culture: "They treat love like a herd-animal, thinking to tell it where and when and how many." Mender has learned that sometimes, it's best to let things be, and accept that some differences will never be bridged.
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