Drina hated the bone.
Neira wasn’t quite sure why, but her sister had made it quite clear she was unimpressed with her sister’s deathly trophy. Neira wasn’t quite sure why she herself was so attached to it.
There was something about it though; it was magical, she was sure. It was like a link to that paleface colt, the one with the gold-ish coat and the greeny eyes, the one that Alannis had loved and then left. It was his rib-bone, but more than that it had a mark of his death on it - the was a scraping mark on it, like the teeth or claws of a wolf as they lunged towards what would, after only a very brief struggle, be their next meal.
When she had the bone with her, Neira could feel him nearby. It was as though whatever separated death from life was weaker wherever she carried it; it was as though the bone itself, with its marks of death, was weakening that strange barrier. It felt almost like she could reach through and bring back that strange little paleface colt…
She had been going to get rid of it. But now?
With great care, the dark filly placed the rib on the ground, nosing at it gently as she did so. She could feel the barrier, she could feel it weakening as she stared at the bone. She hadn’t thought that what she had done before when Alannis had been standing there, willing her son back to life, could be repeated so easily but it just seemed so simple now. All she had to do was push through the boundary and bring the colt back here - and so, with no thought for what she did or any potential danger, she pushed.
The feeling of the barrier breaking, of her magic reaching across to the other side of life was… well, it was very different to the feeling of creating illusions. That was about something inside of her, chasing it and catching it and forcing it out into the world; the illusions weren’t just hers, they were her. But this? This was like walking very slowly across a very cold stream and trying not to get dragged away by the current, and the bone was somehow guiding her across like an old friend, pulling her through the icy waters towards her eventual goal.
Without realising it, the little hind had closed her eyes; she didn’t need to look at the bone any longer, simply feeling its presence by her feet was enough. In a strange way it felt like the bone was protecting her - she could sense the spirits of other fawnlings, other animals in the air around her. The spirits wanted her - they were… hungry? They wanted her, wanted something from her, but the bone kept them away, kept her on the path to the one she sought. The one the bone belonged to.
He was near, she felt sure of it, almost near enough for her to pull him back through, away from the icy coldness of the strange otherworld. She reached…
And then she was back in the woods, with the bone at her feet and the pale, so so pale figure of that wretched fawn was stood before her. She half expected the creature to start screaming again, as it had when she had disturbed Alannis’s spell - but instead it just stared at her, as though it were waiting for something.
The filly was holding her breath, but for some reason she didn’t dare to let it go; some part of her her felt that the spirit might suddenly flee if it was touched by living breath. Silently she stepped closer, drinking in the vision before her: it was silvery-white, with touches of colour across its hide, and she could see through it, as though it wasn’t there at all. And she knew more about the fawn; she knew it had been golden, she knew it had been killed by wolves…
She knew the gold of his coat and the green of his eyes.
She knew his short life.
She knew his death.
It was like a kick in the gut - no, like tearing claws and ripping fangs, dragging the life out of her gut, dragging it, dragging like it had dragged him, back to the world of the spirits where now they were leaping for her, hungry eyes and hungry mouths suddenly filling her unconscious vision and finally she opened her mouth to scream and there was nothing; no sound, no air, no breath with which to wail.
And she wasn’t just holding her breath any longer, now she couldn’t breathe, the air was too thick, the spirits were filling it too full of death…
Neira woke some time later. The forest was dark, the sense of death was gone; lying on the ground beside her was the bone.
She snatched it from the floor, and she ran as though a pack of wolves were after.
It never occurred to her that death was the one thing you couldn’t run from.