Chapter 1 – Child's Play
The sun was setting over the hills and the sky glowed pink. The last golden lights of the evening spilled over the forest floor, dappling the low growing foliage and bed of pine needles beneath. The honey light squeezed through a narrow crevice and into a small loamy wolf den.
There were three of the animals within – two adults and a small pup. The adults lay still, sleeping soundly, their bodies pressed together tightly. One of them was a large grey male with a thick reddish stripe down his back, and sleeping beside him was his mate. She was a petite wolf with a pale silvery pelt and a white underbelly. Behind them, the dark reddish ball of fur that was their pup spun in circles, snapping at her tail. After several failed attempts to catch it, she fell back on her haunches, and eyed her parents mischievously.
"Dad?" she called quietly.
The big male didn't move.
She frowned, bounding forward and pushing her head into his side gently.
"Dad," she called again, slightly annoyed.
When he still didn't budge, she sat back on her hunches, and narrowed her eyes at him. After a moment's contemplation, she took several steps back and charged, barreling into his side. All three wolves slid across the sandy bottom of the den.
Her parents awoke with a start, her father glancing around wildly.
"What! What's wrong? What's happening?"
The little pup smirked in satisfaction, holding her white-tipped tail high and pricking her ears forward.
"I'm bored," she announced.
Her father groaned and placed his head back on his paws, snuggling close to his mate again and shutting his eyes again.
"Go back to sleep, Alari. You can go out and play at midnight."
"But I'm not tired."
"You can't just get tired."
Her father opened a single bright yellow eye, and glared at her warningly.
Alari scowled at him and then padded over to his side, snuggling up to his broad grey chest and closing her eyes. After a couple of seconds she shifted positions. After another couple, she rolled over on her back and stared at the earthy ceiling. She could see roots of plants and trees peeking through the hard-packed reddish dirt. A dusty chunk of it dropped down and hit her squarely on the nose. She sneezed and rolled over again.
"Alari stop moving," growled her father.
"I can't get comfortable."
"But I can't."
Her father heaved a sigh and sat up to look at her. She was on her back again, white front paws tucked into her fluffy white underbelly, inquisitive green eyes staring up at him innocently. It had always been difficult for him to scold her when he was looking at her. She'd inherited her mother's enormous leafy eyes and her thick, glossy fur. His was so thin and wiry, he was thankful she'd taken after his mate, Flutter. When he spoke, his voice came out gentler than he intended.
"Alari, I've had a long day. I need to sleep—"
"—I know you're not tired, but I can't take you out to play right now, and you're not allowed to leave the den all alone."
"I bet Blue's awake. She could look after me – and I'd get to play with my friends too!"
This was a conversation he didn't want to have. Alari flipped onto her feet, reddish fur glimmering in sparse rays of evening light. She was looking at him with such excitement, and her white-tipped tail wagged wildly behind her. Why do I always have to be the bad guy? He thought helplessly.
"Alari, I've been meaning to talk to you about Blue and her pups…" He began awkwardly. Her face fell immediately and her tail drooped to the ground. She knew she was in for bad news. That was another thing she'd inherited from her mother – the ability to see right through him.
"What about them?" She asked, stepping forward cautiously. He couldn't bare to look her in the eyes. He ducked his head away and scratched the soil with a dulled black claw. She wouldn't like what he had to say. Best get it done with quickly.
"You know what a loner is, don't you?" he began.
"I'm not stupid, of course I do. A wolf without a pack."
"Blue's parents were both loners, and her pups' father was is too."
"I know that. So?"
"So, it is a grave dishonor to be the pup of a loner – Blue was only allowed into the pack because she was young and her mother abandoned her. And even then it was an extraordinary kindness of my Father to allow her to be taken in. When she announced she was pregnant with that nomad's pups, much of the pack called for her banishment. But I've let her stay, and I've let them live. I've been much more lenient than most alphas would be – but this is where I draw the line. I won't have my own pup associating with such…such filth."
"Well I don't care who their father was. They're my best friends, it wouldn't matter if their Dad was a badger, I'd still—"
"Alari this isn't about you! How do you think it looks to the pack when I let my own daughter carry on with their kind. There are things about being Alpha you don't understand, and keeping a good reputation among the pack is one of them. Now, there are plenty of other, nice, respectable pups in the pack for you to play with, you have no reason to play with Blue's. You need to promise me that you'll—"
"No!" snapped Alari, soft reddish fur puffing up around her neck. Her father watched those whimsical green eyes harden to rock solid anger and determination. She'd inherited that particular expression from him, "You aren't Alpha Fang to me, Dad! You can't order me around! They're my friends and I happen to like them! I don't care about your stupid reputation!" she turned tail and ran, wiggling her way out of the den.
"Alari!" He called after her, but she was gone.
Fang stood up, the reddish strip of fur down his back grazed the low ceiling of the den.
"You did kind of deserve that," commented Flutter sleepily from where she'd been laying the entire time.
"I'm going out after her," Fang told his mate, heading towards the entrance. Flutter yawned and sat up, shaking the dust from her pale grey coat.
"You don't have to do that, Fang. She's just going to see Blue. Whatever her lineage, you know she's responsible. She'll take care of her," Fang's mate soothed him, trotting over and nuzzling his neck.
Fang hesitantly nuzzled her back, glancing out the place Alari had disappeared warily.
"I should apologize to her…" he murmured.
"What you should do is sleep. She'll forgive you. You're no good to anyone without a clear head. "
"I suppose you're right," said Fang softly, tearing his gaze away from the den's entrance and smiling at her, "you're always right."
Flutter smiled and licked his muzzle.
Alari was wrong. Blue wasn't awake yet – her pups however, were. Bone and Midnight were bickering as always, their eyes locked and their fur puffed up.
"You tell Mom!" Midnight snarled, her luxurious black fur ruffling over her shoulders. The lithe black pup's fur had grown long and silky as of recently, which mirrored the way her brother Bone's fur came, in thick, rough and short like their father's. The oversized white pup shrunk away from her.
"N-no! I was asleep when it happened! You tell Mom!"
"Stop making excuses! You're just scared! Come on, Bone. There are scarier things in the world than Mom you big, stupid, 'fradie-fox! Tell her!"
Bone was shaking, his tail curled around his toes, his ears folded backward in fear. Although he was physically much larger than his sister, she terrified him. Since birth, Bone had carried a shy, cautious disposition, contrasting his sister's loud and bold personality. He hated being yelled at, and if Midnight was talking, there was a good chance she was yelling at him. He wished Luna were there. She knew how to stand up to Midnight. But if Luna were there, this wouldn't be a problem in the first place.
There was a rustling from just outside the den, and Bone and Midnight looked to see Alari poking her head through the entrance into their den.
Blue opened her eyes groggily and yawned. She smiled when she saw Alari letting herself into the den. Blue had a soft spot for Fang's pup. Despite having grown up with him, she'd never been close with Fang himself, due largely to his outlook on her parentage. She knew he was a good wolf, just not an easy wolf to get along with. Alari was different. Blue saw all of Fang's decency in her with none of the moodiness. Alari was Fang how he should have been, and Blue hoped that one day the reddish pup would be named Alpha Female. She could see the makings of great leader within her.
"Alari," she beamed, "to what do I owe the pleasure? Where are your parents?"
"They wanted to sleep, but my Dad told me I could come and play with my friends. Can Bone, Luna and Midnight come out to play?" she stumbled through her words clumsily. Blue knew she was lying. That was another mark of a good leader – Alari was a terrible liar. Blue eyed her sternly. She was about to call Alari out on her untruth but Midnight cut her off.
"Bone and I could go but Luna can't."
Blue turned around in surprise.
"What do you mean, Midnight?"
"She left the den about an hour ago," Midnight explain matter-of-factly, "At least, that's what Bone told me. I was asleep when it happened." The little black pup threw her brother a sour look and ruffled her silky fur out, like a preening bird. Bone lowered his head. He didn't have the courage to argue the truth.
"Bone, is this true?" gasped Blue.
"I'm sorry, Mamma…" mumbled the large white pup, lowering himself closer to the ground in fear of his mother's wrath.
"By the Moon, Bone! You're twice her size! Next time Luna tries to leave alone, just pin her down and wake me up!" she barked at him in frustration. He rested his pure white muzzle on the ground and covered his face with an oversized paw.
"For goodness sake, pups! How many times have I told you to keep an eye on your sister? Foxscat." She swore, "I have to go find Luna before she gets herself killed. That pup has less sense than a deaf rabbit. You three – stay here. Don't leave this den without my supervision – that goes for you too, Alari! Stay," Blue commanded.
Careful now, careful. Luna told herself as she slithered forward. Her tail was sticking out straight behind her and her ears were pricked forward, her snout pointed at her quarry.
The toad was a light brown-and-yellow hue, speckled with oaky warts. Just like Cliff taught you, she told herself, trying to remember the way the pack's Beta had taught her to walk when stalking small game. He'd told her she was getting much better and that she'd soon be able to catch her own prey. He was out on an extended off-territory hunt for the next few days, but she couldn't wait to continue learning. She'd woken up early that day for the express purpose of sneaking out and catching something. She planned to bring it back to her den and save it until Cliff came back and she could show him what an accomplished hunter he'd trained.
One paw in front of the other, slowly, slowly, his words coaxed gently as she glided forward – silent as a snake. The toad hadn't moved. Its neck expanded and retracted, but its muscles hadn't tensed in preparation for a leap. She was doing it! She was really doing it!
A groan echoed through the forest, startling her prey. The toad leapt away and disappeared into the underbrush.
Luna didn't have time to be disappointed. She was already bounding off in search of the source of the sound. Her white underbelly tracked mud and the silver-grey fur on her back picked up burrs as she dashed over the terrain, but unlike her sister, she wasn't very concerned with grooming. She reached the base of a small hill and saw a weakly breathing dark grey figure at the top. It was accompanied by the scent of fear – and the scent of blood. Suddenly Luna didn't feel so safe, out in the forest all alone.
She took a few tentative steps forward, and the thing didn't move. She took a few more, less careful steps towards it, and then broke into a run.
It was a dark grey wolf pup – he looked few months older than Luna herself, and there was sticky half-dried blood caking his fur all over – especially on his belly. She took a step back from him, tucking her tail between her legs in distress. She could see he was still breathing, but he smelled like death. He wouldn't be breathing for long. Her instincts told her to run away, but Luna couldn't bring herself to leave his side – not even to run and go get help. He was so small and alone and in such dire need of a friend.
She stepped forward and prodded him with her snout quickly, taking three steps back after doing so.
"Hello?" she whispered.
To her surprise, at her touch he opened his eyes, blinking, and looked up at her in confusion.
"Where am I?" He asked her, his voice hoarse.
"You're on the territory of the Pack of Night, the greatest pack in all of the North! Who are you? Where did you come from? What happened to you?" She asked, bombarding him with questions. Now that he was awake, she was more excited than anything else. Luna had never met a wolf outside of her own pack – let alone a pup.
The amber-eyed stranger sat up slowly, his muscles visibly aching, and sat in silence for a moment. The tip of one of his dark grey ears was folded over and his fur was grimy and disheveled. The blood was smudged all over his underbelly and side, as if he'd scarped up against something. Luna also noticed that there was a thick layer of mud under his claws, and the base of those claws as well as the pads of his feet seemed raw. From what Luna could remember, that was usually a sign of a lot of running without stops. This pup must have come from far away. A truly great observer is a truly great hunter, Cliff's voice congratulated her in her head. But he was so young. Luna wasn't even supposed to be out of her den without her parents, what could possible have caused this pup to run so far all alone?
His expression was so somber. Luna had never seen a pup
- or anyone, for that matter – looking so lost.
"I…I don't remember," he admitted, averting his eyes from her.
"Why can't you remember?" She asked.
"I don't know…" He whispered looking into her eyes pleadingly, "I just…it's all gone. I can't remember anything at all."
She felt an overwhelming surge of affection for the strange pup. He
seemed so alone and sad, at that moment the only thing in the whole world Luna wanted was to see him happy
"That's okay," she said, smiling at him kindly, "You'll be okay. You can stay here with us until you find out where you come from, okay? Do you remember your name at least?"
"Lupis…" he mumbled, looking at his paws. Luna nuzzled him under his chin comfortingly.
"My name is Luna. You'll be safe with me. Come on, we should get back to—"
"Luna!" Blue's enraged voice permeated the surroundings, "What have I told you about wandering off?"