His skin was warm. She smiled, taking a deep breath as his lean arms slid around her. Mumbling softly, she tucked her face against his neck. He made a soft noise in return, arms tightening momentarily around her and his legs entwining with hers. With his scent in her nose, she felt herself drift off onto the gentle clouds of sleep.
Waking up slowly, she shifted, and shifted again. Something that felt similar to a stone was shoving into her ribs. With a huge sigh, she rolled slightly, and pushed herself back a little, expecting to feel her partner behind her. He wasn’t there, and her arms didn’t curl up to her chin like usual. She felt like her head was very different, as well. It was too far from her shoulders.
A sigh gushed from her lungs, and she moved to get up. The movement, while it came naturally, felt awkward as though she didn’t usually get to her feet in that way. Her eyes were still blurry as she blinked sleep from them, rubbing her head against her arm to help clear it away-
Moments later, she realized that the bobbing way in which she was moving her head was not how a human would. Blinking rapidly, she cleared her eyes, and found herself staring down at…
Hooves. Horse hooves, to be exact. Snorting with surprise, she twisted what she knew was an equine neck now, and saw behind her, a horse body, horse tail. A surprised snort exited her lungs as she adjusted to having a different view from her eyes.
“It’s a bit odd, isn’t it?” The voice caught her attention. It was guttural, with a hint of a growl tone in it. “Don’t worry, you’ll soon adjust. This place is different. Your form is pure, better than many people who come here.”
She shook her head and turned to look at the speaker. Panting off to one side was a dark-furred wolf, his amber eyes focused on her, mouth open in a grin. “I don’t understand.” For all the her ears heard a snort, she felt them turn backwards and knew that the language she was speaking was not English.
A short snort of laughter came from the wolf. “Nobody does at first. It’s okay.” He stood, stepping forward. “You are interesting though. Your form is pure, but there are overlays. You don’t seem wholly…one.”
“What?” She lowered my head to look at him from a similar level.
He shook his head and shook his fur out as well. “No matter. You are exactly as you should be.”
Shaking her head, and then shaking her neck as well, feeling the mane flop back and forth. “I don’t understand what you mean.”
The wolf stepped closer. “This is the form your heart would take, if you could shift. In this place, you are what your heart desires in form.” He lifted his head, cool nose brushing against hers.
Breathing deeply, she brought in the predatory scent of wolf, the wild musk of his personal, signature scent. It didn’t seem threatening. As a horse, she should have been threatened by being so close to a natural predator, right? Her nostrils flared.
The wolf’s ears pricked forward. “I am Dusk Under the Moon. That is the name I was given here. Come now, it is time to receive yours.” Tail wagging slightly, his tongue touched her muzzle gently, and he turned. “Follow me.”
Not knowing what else to do, and figuring it was just a dream, she followed him, hooves clomping softly on the grassy ground. She flared her nostrils as she took in every scent that came her way, and her ears twitched back and forth. The journey she followed Dusk Under the Moon on was short, a simple path through the woods, and into a clearing.
His voice was a low rumble again. “Stand in the center of the clearing. This is where all of us received our names.”
She looked at him. “Us?”
A moment later, she noticed forms approaching: other wolves, different birds in the trees, and several deer, walking to the edges of the clearing, mixing with wildcats of different breeds and sizes. Scents filled her nostrils, and without another question, she felt herself pulled to step into the clearing. Without resisting the urge, she let herself step slowly forward until she was in the center of the clearing.
Around her, she heard murmurs and growls, mutters and whispers.
“Look at that coloring.”
“Is that a brindle pattern?”
Each whisper was about her. Her coloring, her build, or her stance. Self consciously, she tossed her head a little, and shifted her feet as she waited for what came next. Slowly all quieted, and she heard the sound of hooves stepping forward. A black stallion stepped forward, his forelock heavy and hiding his face in a roguish manner. Next to him was a silver wolf, her head high and tail slowly wagging. On the other side was a buck, his antlers impressive. On his back, sitting carefully was an eagle, white feathers standing out in contrast to golden brown.
The stallion spoke first. “Welcome, stranger.”
The silver wolf stepped forward and sniffed the air deeply. “She smells of deep woods and faeries.”
Searching for familiarity in this place, her eyes searched until she found Dusk, noticing that he had a large mouse tucked between his front paws where he sat. His amber eyes were smiling encouragement at her, and she shifted, looking back at what could only be a council of sorts.
“Her coloring is special.” The shriek came from the eagle. “That brindle color is not something normally among horses, Shadow of the Sun. It is like her heart. Striped with life.”
“This is not a normal place, Skyward Bound.” Laughed the silver wolf.
The buck flicked his ears forward. “She sounds like the wind… constant but coming and going, echoing off of the forest.”
All eyes suddenly focused upon her, and she wished she could shrink into the ground. So much attention.
The stallion, Shadow of the Sun, stepped forward, pacing around her once and coming to a halt in front of her. “Do you accept your form, in all that it is?”
She lifted her head to look at him. His brown eyes were serious, and grave. Suddenly she knew that this couldn’t just be a dream. “I do.” She replied.
The silver wolf stepped around her, followed by the buck and eagle. “Do you wish to be able to return here, to be in your heart’s form, whenever you wish?”
The buck’s voice was soft and deep. “Do you wish to be named, so that all can call to you and you know when they wish your attention?”
“Will you help to defend this place, to keep it alive so that all may one day share this freedom?” With the eagles shrieking cry, she felt her feet rooted to the ground. There was no way to stop now.
With a scream, the bird took off, circling. Power flooded through her, and she felt as though she could run forever, take on the world.
The stallion stepped forward, closer to her. “We then name you, stranger. You are now Echo of the Wind. Welcome, and be a stranger no more.” He brushed his nose against hers, taking in her scent. Automatically, she breathed in, taking in his.
The silver wolf stepped up next, rising onto her hind legs to brush noses and lick her muzzle. “Welcome, Echo of the Wind.”
After the buck stepped forward to touch noses and greet her, other animals stepped close around her, chanting her name. Dusk pushed forward to the front, eyes gleaming, ears perked.
He tucked himself under her belly, between her front legs as the procession of introductions came through and greeted her.
After the mixed tribe of animals had all come by and greeted her, Echo sighed happily, and looked down at Dusk. “I feel like something huge just happened that I do not fully understand.” She confided to him, and Breeze in the Grass, the mouse.
They both chuckled. “You have a new family, one that will never leave you. We are all together, here in these woods.” Breeze squeaked at her, raising a hand-like paw and touching her nose.
Dusk carefully tilted his head to rub against her, taking in her scent again. “Come, run with me, and others. Be one with the pack, and let them know you accept them as they have accepted you.” He bounced, and Breeze shifted so that she held tightly to his ruff, where she could ride safely with them. The dark wolf bounded playfully, jumping around Echo and nipping at her flanks.
With a whinny, she started off. “Okay, okay!”
It was not long before their run was joined, first by wolves, then by cats, other horses, and the deer. They ran separate but apart, some so close that she brushed fur with them, others just in sight through the trees. It didn’t matter. They were one.
Light was shining into her eyes, and her nose was still filled with the wild scents and sounds of her dream. She felt his arms tighten around her as she slowly woke more. With a slight moan of protest, she shifted, tucking herself tighter against him
“Sad… it was just a dream.”
She looked up with surprise as he responded, his voice a low rumble. “Don’t hope it was just a dream, Echo. It’s never just a dream.”
Brown eyes met lighter brown eyes with shock as he smiled down at her. "Dusk?"