Less than a mile away, snug in its warm burrow, the creature called Raif was awake as well. Its tummy hurt from the already-forgotten Dead Thing, and disquiet had set into its bones—the vague sense that something important was transpiring in this very moment.
Suddenly, Raif felt very lonely.
It was surprised by this peculiar, unpleasant sensation, and whined in distress. It had not felt such a thing before, not in memory at least. Sure, every spring, it got antsy and tried to search for a mate, but that was something else. Anyway, it had never managed to find one. The creature seemed to be the only one of its kind.
Raif wanted a Friend.
Raif wanted many Friends.
In fact, if Raif had any concept of numerical quantity, it would have known that it wanted precisely five Friends. And once it found them, it would feel whole again.
Raif resolved to start looking for Friends when the sun climbed into the sky again. Content with this, it sighed deeply, closed its large brown eyes and went to sleep.
The burrow was warm and safe, but the forest was neither. While Raif dozed, dreaming of plump, scurrying rodents, frost set in on the hard ground, and a strange darkness—something deeper than the mere darkness of the night—crawled through the trees like cloying, terrible fog. It obscured the stars and ate up their light. It killed everything caught in its path. But it would be gone by morning. It was always gone by morning.
The darkness had come from the spring. It had always come from the spring. For a thousand years it had come from the spring.
Only now it came more often.