“Wolfscar!” shouted Dyana, hurriedly climbing out of the stolen blankets where her little Seffy whimpered helplessly. “Seffy, just wait here. He’ll help us. I know he will!”
He hardly twitched, but she thought she heard him whisper her name. After taking ill, he wouldn’t even eat the small amount of food she’d managed to forage or steal. This morning when the sun came up, she found that his dark blue skin had taken on a sickly grayish tint. Now with the sun and the daylight fading fast, he hadn’t spoken all day. Or moved.
“Wolfscar!” she shouted again, racing after the wandering star darting far above the treetops, barely visible against the darkening blue sky. She mouthed a silent prayer to whatever spirits still remembered her tribe and leaped across the tangled brush toward open ground.
As soon as she was free of the trees, she chased after him as fast as she could run. He was unmistakable, a twilight star moving low along the sky like something the gods forgot to fasten into place. They had only spent a little time together, but Wolfscar had been nice and they’d been friends, and he liked Seff, and even though she’d been so horrible at the end, surely he’d forgive her for little Seffy’s sake. She’d do whatever it took. Just… please, please, please.
She ran fast enough to beat a horse, fast enough her mind couldn’t keep track of her feet, but she wasn’t gaining on him. She focused and gave everything she had and ran. Her cheeks filled like a sail when she opened her mouth to breathe, which she had to do because her nostrils couldn’t fill her lungs fast enough.
She grew lightheaded, but she wasn’t gaining on him. He was too fast for her. She’d never catch up. She’d have to yell. She skidded to a stop, sliding four paces through slush and gravel.
“WOLFSCAR!” she screamed. “WOLFSCAR!” She cupped her hands over her mouth and screamed over and over, so wildly and desperately that she felt something tear in her throat. She jumped and waved her arms, screaming incoherently.
He wasn’t stopping. Spirits, Father, make him stop. He wasn’t stopping. She blinked tears out of her eyes so she could see. “WOLFSCAR!” He wasn’t stopping.
He was too far away. He flew too quickly, and with all that wind rushing past his ears, it was hopeless. In pure frustration, she willed him to stop, as though she were a goddess herself and could affect the world with mere thought. WOLFSCAR! she screamed in her mind, as powerfully as she could, in his direction. It left her feeling slightly drained, and she realized she’d put a bit of her vitality into it. She’d never done that before. What a waste.
She knelt in defeat and watched Wolfscar’s light fade, so far away now, her poor heart teetering toward anguish. All day long, she lay with poor Seffy while he suffered, with no idea what to do but keep him warm. He wouldn’t eat and he barely drank. She was terrified.
Seff would die. He might be dead already.
He hadn’t been happy for so long. Seffy had cried for days after leaving the others, and always seemed so alone now. But where could she turn for relief? She had no friends either. Not anymore, not after losing tribe and then insulting the first people who’d helped her. Agurne and her family had been so kind and forgiving and look how she treated them. Seff hadn’t been happy since and neither had she. She dragged that guilt behind her in a litter, where it sat and stared at her with malevolence. She couldn’t get away from it.
The blue star turned and began moving toward her.
Her immediate reaction was terror—she actually had to face him now. To speak. What would she say? How could she ask? Pure, innocent Wolfscar? He’d be repulsed by her. Better to hide. Perhaps better to just let Seff go, and herself. It was too much to bear. She nearly did. Her legs twitched to get up and run.
An old memory of her father flashed across her mind. Just a fleeting thing; a flash. Holding her father’s hand while she jumped across a stream. Just that, and it was gone, but it was enough to hold her in indecision long enough to consider her options. Something of him lingered and helped her think.
Little Seffy needed a bit of joy as badly as any medicine, and that was something Wolfscar could give him. He loved Wolfscar. And Wolfscar was a tiny thing, but he was resourceful. He’d know where to find help. Maybe poor little Seffy would die anyway, but maybe not. She had to try. She could still save this. She just had to be strong. And she was her father’s daughter, taught all his art. The strongest, wisest, most loving man who ever lived. She could do this. With help.
She stood to greet him just in time.
“Dyana!” said the tiny, glowing boy with dragonfly-wings. “Where’s…” He looked around in confusion.
“No, I just thought there was someone else here with you a moment ago. Right beside you. But how did you talk to me like that? Only Garbi does that,” he said with his squeaky little bird-voice.
“You… you heard my thought?” she asked, stunned and grateful. “I don’t know, I just tried it.”
“Dyana, are you alright? Your light looks all messed up. Where’s Seffy? Is he okay?” asked Wolfscar. He flew closer to her face and furrowed his brow in grave concern while he considered her, then looked all over trying to find the boy.
“He’s sick. I need your help. Will you come?” she asked. She pulled her chest-cloth outward a bit, inviting him into his customary place, almost before she realized what she was doing.
Wolfscar plopped in without a thought, cold as a snowball. He wiggled and squirmed to settle in as he said, “I’ll come help Seff, but not you. You said mean things. I heard. I have to find Papa and tell him I found Pepper, so only for a little while.”
She almost snapped something sarcastic back at him, but what he said was more than fair so she swallowed it. “Wolfscar, you’re colder than I remember you being,” she said as she turned to jog back. She meant it both ways.
Wolfscar seemed perfectly oblivious, however, and began to chatter just like she remembered. “That’s because it’s cold in the sky and I fly a lot. But I was about to stop. Papa can’t make me any clothes anymore because he’s still a slave. But he can get away now because I just found Pepper. But I was about to stop. Usually I get a bear to warm me up, or some squirrels, or a nice dog, or sometimes birds. And sometimes there are other fae and we decide we’re friends, so they warm me up. But sometimes we aren’t, so they don’t. And sometimes I find a warm chimney. But I have to stop a lot because I get too cold flying around,” he explained. “Go faster, Dyana.”
She had come farther that she realized chasing Wolfscar, and although she had a road and her own trail to follow, dread made her limbs as heavy and slow as metal. What if Seff was already dead? She had left him alone, all alone and helpless. So close to death. He would have chosen this time to die, alone and scared without her.
Wolfscar continually urged her onward, babbling all the while; he seemed like he was just happy to have someone to talk to for the moment. Dyana was only barely listening and missed most of what he said. She was just too worried to pay any attention, and she was running out of vitality. Already. Spirits why had she let herself go like this?
She ran no faster than a regular person and arrived out of breath. The blankets were completely still where her child lay, but that didn’t mean anything. His breathing was too shallow to tell for sure. No, she had to look. Father, Spirits, please, let him be fine. Let him recover. “Seffy, my love, look who came to visit,” she said softly, kneeling and touching his shoulder.
She pulled the blanket away from his face, just enough to get a peek at him, and Wolfscar hopped down and walked over and patted his cheek. Seff’s skin, once a beautiful night blue, had become even grayer; a dark, dangerous color like a midnight thunderstorm rushing to cover the moon. He looked like a corpse.
But he opened his silver eyes and blinked several times and tried to smile. “Woofscaw!” he said, his voice weak and cracking.
Wolfscar tilted his head and smiled like a concerned old woman. He said, “Hi, Seff. Are you sick?”
“How do you feel?”
“Too bad. Weally bad.” Seff closed his eyes again, and grimaced as he tried harder to smile. Dyana’s heart broke for him—he was too weak to keep his eyes open, and he was so desperate to be nice with Wolfscar that he was spending the last of his strength putting on a friendly face. He was truly about to die. He was done for. That most precious child. She blinked away tears and held her breath to keep the sobs in.
Wolfscar said, “Dyana, pull the blankets off him so I can look and see what’s wrong.”
“Just do what I tell you, girl! They’re too heavy for me!” replied Wolfscar, in a perfect imitation of Androkles. It was so out of place in the moment that it nearly got a smile out of her.
“Only for a moment. It’s too cold for him,” she said. The little fairy just tapped his tiny foot impatiently, perfectly imitating something she’d seen Agurne do once to get Flower to hurry up.
When she pulled the blankets away, Seff hardly reacted. He didn’t even shiver, even though he wore nothing but that red tunic the bear-man made for him. Wolfscar flew waist-high above him and crossed his arms. “Roll him over to his back,” he ordered.
“Why?” she asked.
“It’s harder if he’s on his side. Don’t argue!” said Wolfscar, again channeling Androkles.
She hesitated but complied, turning Seff limply to lay on his back, after making sure he wasn’t going to bunch up his long, thin tail and hurt himself. She evened it out for him and curled it up under his thighs.
Seff’s expression grew pained and he clenched his teeth; Dyana reach for his hand, but Wolfscar swatted her away. “It doesn’t work if you do that!” he complained. Then he shooed her a bit further back.
Satisfied that she wouldn’t interfere, the little fairy nodded and flew over to kiss Seff’s forehead. He patted the boy gently on one of his horn nubs and said, “This won’t take long. Just be strong for a moment, okay? You can do it. Then you can get warm again.”
Seff nodded, almost too slightly to see, and Wolfscar got to work. What exactly it was he was doing, Dyana couldn’t tell, but he was quite serious about it. He slowly flew all around the boy’s body about a foot in the air with his hands outstretched. Father used to measure her essence like that during her training, but only in the three vessels where it was stored—the lower, middle, and upper, and those were all along the torso center. But Wolfscar was going all over, and that made no sense, so he must be doing something else. Periodically, he’d scowl and fly down and stick his ear to the boy’s knee, or put his hand on his belly button, or some other such random action. The fairy was, as always, ultimately a complete mystery.
Now that she got a good look at Seff, only the skin of his face, shoulders, chest, and part of his stomach were gray, leaving a distinct line of separation from the normal blue-black. Wolfscar took great interest in the border of this area, flying slowly back and forth over it several times from all directions. He had Seff open and close his mouth several times, then peered into his ears and nose.
Finally, the fairy plopped down onto Seff’s chest and sat with legs crossed and his chin rested on both hands. He never took his eyes off her little demon, and to Dyana they looked full of pity. Right as she was about to ask what he learned, he said, “Dyana, what are you going to do if he gets better?”
Dyana looked at the tiny creature, whose glow illuminated the tiny beads of sweat that were just now starting to form on Seff’s chest. She would never have seen them against his skin otherwise. “I… I’m going to take him back to his own people. I was trying to find them. I’m sorry, Seff. I’m so, so sorry,” she said. It made her heartsick to say it aloud, but Seff hardly reacted. She doubted he realized quite what she meant.
“Well, you’re not even close to where they are. Seff, do you want to stay with Dyana?” asked Wolfscar, as if it were that simple.
“Yes,” he said. He sounded scared.
“Dyana, he wants to stay with you,” said Wolfscar.
“He doesn’t know any better!” she yelled at him. How dare he? Couldn’t he tell how hard this was for her? Couldn’t he see how hard she was trying, and that it wasn’t ever going to be enough? “Please, just help him so I can get him back to his people.”
Wolfscar seemed to ignore her outburst. He remained sitting in the same position, although this time he turned to look at her. She tried to look resolute, but he seemed completely unperturbed. He simply said, “Why are you giving up on keeping him? Nobody else is giving up, Dyana. Just you. You can do hard things.”
She opened her mouth to respond, then shut it and looked away. Anger and shame and fear and sadness all jumbled up and made a mess inside her, so tangled she could never hope to sort it out. Of course she could do hard things. But not this. She was in over her head. Even if Seff pulled through.
Wolfscar looked back at Seff with his chin in his hands and said, “Dyana, I want to tell you something. When I first met Papa, do you know why he decided he liked me? It was because I brought Garbi an apple, but he went on ahead so I had to find him and carry it, and it was really heavy. And I was mad at him, but I knew she had to eat so I carried it. And guess what he said to me? He said I was a loyal little thing. Then we were friends. Seff is loyal, too, isn’t he? Papa can tell, and that’s why he likes him so much. And all children, or most of them, I think. And I think that’s why the god loves Papa, too. They’re friends. Did you know that? They are. And so is Mama, and the others. We all met him. Palthos. He’s loyal, too, even though he’s a god. But maybe that’s why Papa doesn’t like you.”
She stared at him for a moment, taken aback. Wolfscar was such a honest, innocent little creature that his words struck deep. Dyana had no loyalty at all, did she? Her loyalty had been damaged along with all the rest of her goodness when she watched her father burn to death. Some part of her had broken that day, never to be mended.
The turmoil in her heart opened to a painful recognition: Perhaps she wanted Seff to die because she was afraid of losing him. Perhaps she wanted Agurne to hate her, because she was afraid Agurne would someday come hate her. Maybe predicting and wanting the worst outcome meant she had some power over her life. Maybe it meant she could understand the world and stop being afraid… but that last bit never happened. Father, Spirits, what is wrong with me?
“Okay, Dyana, put the blanket back on him, but only up to where I’m sitting. He can’t get too warm yet.”
“Is he going to be okay? Where can I take him to find help?” she asked as she pulled the blanket up and rested it snugly against Wolfscar’s back. “Do you know what’s wrong with him?”
“He’s sick,” said Wolfscar. “It’s because of the things.”