It was dark when Cawingraven came.
He was as silent as a fox, walking as silently as he always had, stepping on the balls of his paws to avoid making a sound. It was Laughingbird who scented him first, sending the alarm to her father, Stormheart, the leader of the Stormwood pack.
"Cawingraven, what are you doing here?" Stormheart growled, bristling as his mate, Stormice, was doing beside him. "You are not welcome."
"I have come to challenge you," Cawingraven said, broken teeth clacking together like the demonic chatter of a skull.
"And if I win?" Stormheart sat on his haunches, showing he was listening, but Stormice stayed on her feet, eyes narrowed at the lone wolf she had seen only once before, as a pup.
"Then I'll hunt for you for a week," Cawingraven tilted his head, scanning the alpha's face to see if he'd take the bait.
"You'd just slow us down!" Some of the Stormwood pack had gathered to watch the scene between their leader and the strange black wolf with missing teeth and one swollen-shut eye. It was Coughloudly who spoke, the old she-wolf whose son had been a loner.
Cawingraven turned his head angrily to stare at the old wolf but said nothing.
"And if I loose—and I won't—what will you do, Cawingraven?"
Cawingraven's eyes gleamed maliciously as he pulled his broken lips up into a dead-thing's smile. "I become the new alpha of the Stormwoods."
THREE DAYS EARLIER:
"Get out! Go, you stupid beast!"
The jeers grew louder, more violent, the wolves jumping and howling as they chased the loner from their territory.
"Raven-scat, human-dog, brown-nosed suck-up!"
Cawingraven twisted around a tree, taking off towards the river. His feet, paws rubbed raw, shot pain into his head but the wolf couldn't think—he was set on running until he ran himself to death. The hoard of wolves behind him, all howling and snarling, were too close for him to relax.
"He's headed for the river!" One of the tawny wolves shoved herself to a stop, skidding on the wet snow.
"Let him go?" A gray asked, disappointed.
A booming voice, surely the leaders, agreed, "If he comes back, kill him."
"Hear that?" The tawny wolf howled loudly, so her voice reached Cawingraven's hidden ears, "Will kill you!"
Once the voices had died away, Cawingraven slipped from where he had tossed himself and padded towards the river. It was slicked over by a thick layer of ice that he leapt easily. He had already hurt his hip earlier that season in an accident on the frozen lake.
Life as a loner is hard, His mother had said when she was still alive, Never accepted, never truly alone.
"I feel alone now," Cawingraven growled to himself as he padded along. He shook his head angrily as if to dislodge a clump of invisible snow.
It had started to rain. Drops of silver sprinkled down through the trees, freezing as they hit the ground. Soon Cawingraven was soaked. He curled up under a tree, the sent of it smelling strongly of the Shatterbark pack. But that couldn't be right, could it? The Shatterbark pack boundaries were half a mile back…
"Maybe a scout slept here," Cawingraven told himself, settling in the hollow between two roots as the rain turned soft and sprinkled his soaked coat. "Maybe it was a passing omega."
Before he could ponder it anymore, Cawingraven was asleep.
Stormheart circled Cawingraven, his eyes flashing from the skinny loner to the rest of the pack. He wasn't nervous but he was afraid that Cawingraven would attack a pup out of anger if he lost. Stormheart looked once again at his oldest, Laughingbird, and then back again.
"I've asked politely before, Stormheart. I won't beg or grovel." Cawingraven's eyes narrowed.
"The Stormwood pack will not take a loner in. Not a loner who betrayed his own pack to killers." Stormheart was carefully choosing his words, sharpening them and throwing them at Cawingraven like human spears.
Cawingraven replied with his own threat, "I wouldn't want to be ruled under an infertile lying cow-brain, Stormheart. You aren't the only one who has secrets."
Stormheart panicked, turning his head again to look at Laughingbird who blinked, oblivious, back. He wondered if he had heard the loner's words.
"That's her, isn't it?" Cawingraven's voice hissed in Stormheart's ear, "That's Stormice and Shatterwind's daughter. She's pretty—When I'm alpha I might take her as my own."
Stormheart lunged at Cawingraven, his teeth catching the back of the loner's neck and drawing blood. Squealing, Cawingraven flipped to the side, driving his feet into Stormheart's gut like he had watched the puma's do back in the Shatterbark territory…
TWO DAYS EARLIER:
It was the mountain lion that woke him, drawing Cawingraven from his sleep with its roar. The great creature had backed two wolves into a massive pine, eyes flickering from dog to dog. It's mouth hung open, pink tongue innocently licking its jaw.
A puma attacking a wolf? Cawingraven raised his head to watch, not daring to move and become a third course.
The wolves looked anything but afraid—they looked calm. One stepped sideways while the other jumped right. The puma decided quickly, pouncing on one wolf and curling around it, back legs taking out its side.
The second wolf took the moment to spring, latching onto the mountain lion's neck and snapping it with three bites. The cougar roared, eyes wide, swinging a dangerous paw at the remaining wolf and missing, staggering aside.
It was done just like that.
The last wolf pushed at the dead one with its muzzle before turning and looking to Cawingraven. "Want a bite?"
The wolf shrugged. "I'm Shatterwind, alpha of the Shatterbark pack."
"The name's Cawingraven. Who's the other wolf?"
Not answering, Shatterwind gave a nod. "Come with me, Cawingraven. You look hungry."
Stormheart, taken by surprise at the quick movements of Cawingraven, twisted off, his stomach sore and red from the dull but deep scratches. Cawingraven was bleeding from the neck and panting hard but strangely didn't back down.
"Who taught you to fight?" Stormheart asked between breaths.
"Who taught you to dance? Call that an attack?" Cawingraven struggled to talk.
Stormheart twitched his ears. The loner was asking for it. He leapt forward with a growl, locking jaws before breaking the connection once again.
The Stormwood pack was stirring, looking nervously at each other. Snowdance and Blackmist, Darkcloud's pups, were staring wide-eyed at the red snow beneath Cawingraven's feet. It took Stormheart a moment to realize he had a matching puddle beneath him.
"Come on, Stormheart!" Foundstar barked from the sidelines.
Nodding, impressed by Cawingraven's attack, Stormheart jumped forward again. He wasn't messing around this time. He was going to stop this nonsense here and now.
ONE DAY EARLIER:
Shatterwind stared into Cawingraven's eyes, a small smile on his jaw. "You say you're a loner?"
"No pack? Since birth?"
Cawingraven gave a small nod.
"Good. I need you to do something for me." Shatterwind looked around, making sure the clearing was empty. He had stopped walking, Cawingraven stopping beside him.
"There is a pack, the Stormwoods. Have you heard of them?"
"Stormwood? No." Cawingraven stared into Shatterwind's colorless eyes, entranced.
"They have my daughter and my mate. Get them for me." Shatterwind said coolly.
"I thought Shatterstream was your mate." Cawingraven was confused.
Shatterwind gave a delighted grin, "No. She is an alpha but we have had no pups. There was a Stormwood female named Grayice—Now she is Stormice—and her and I mated last twenty-four moon. She had a pup, Laughingbird."
"Your pup," Cawingraven nodded.
Shatterwind nodded as well. "Kill Stormheart. You can be the leader. I get Stormice."
"What of Laughtingbird?"
Shatterwind shrugged. "You'll be the alpha. Do whatever you want with your pack."
Cawingraven sidestepped Stormheart's lunge, grabbing the alpha's tail between his teeth. Blood filled the loner's mouth.
Your own pack, Cawingraven! Your own home!
Cawingraven bit harder. He felt Stormheart's tailbone between his teeth.
Stormheart howled in agony, twisting to bite Cawingraven's own tail. Both wolves shivered in pain, eyes shut, foe's tail in mouth.
Who can hold out longer? Cawingraven bit harder, the bone snapping. He felt his own tail breaking in Stormheart's grip.
Pain exploded in Cawingraven's head. He released Stormheart, falling to the ground, black blood hardening, freezing as it dried.
Stormheart towered over Cawingraven, jaws open. Eyes closed, Cawingraven felt the fatal bite on his neck…
"Come on, get up," Stormheart pulled Cawingraven to his feet by the scruff of his neck, "Don't die on me—your hunting for a week."
In surprise, Cawingraven looked up. "But—"
"No," Stormheart flashed his teeth, "You don't die today. Laughingbird?"
The silver she-wolf lifted her head.
"Tend to our guest. He'll be staying with us for a while."
Cawingraven's wide eyes, full of gladness, were the last thing Stormheart saw before he fainted into gray.
"Has Cawingraven returned?" Shatterwind turned on his beta, eyes red from lack of sleep.
"No," The beta shook his head.
Again, a shake. "He's alive. Our scouts say it looks like he's been taken in."
Shatterwind's eyes widened in surprise. "A brave little loner, ain't he? Prepare the ranks, Dotfur. We are heading out tomorrow to get him back."
And maybe Stormice while we're at it…
The beta, Dotfur, nodded, "Yes, Shatterwind."
"Let's teach that pup a lesson," Shatterwind blinked, his eyes sadistic, before he disappeared into the shadows.
For your reference, here is a list of the wolves and their relations.
Stormheart: The alpha male, a large silver wolf (the left wolf in the picture at the top)
Stormice: The alpha female, Stormheart's mate (the right wolf in the picture at the top)
Blankeyes: The blind pup, child of the alphas.
Wetmusk: A silver male, takes after his father, Stormheart.
Laughingbird: A silver female, oldest of the alpha's pups
Darkcloud: A black male, formerly a loner, beta wolf.
Brightpelt: Darkcloud's mate, Dirtyfox's sister, beta wolf.
Dirtyfox: A dead omega.
Coughloudly: Darkcloud's mother, an ancient she-wolf.
Snowdance: A white female, Darkcloud and Brightpelt's daughter.
Blackmist: A black male, timid, Snowdance's sister.
Other Stormwood Wolves:
Foundstar: A former loner, kicked out from her pack and taken in by Stormheart.
Loners and other packs and animals:
Cawingraven: A creepy loner who sometimes enters the Stormwood lands.
Shatterstream: Alpha female of the Shatterbark pack.
Shatterwind: Alpha male of the Shatterbark pack.
Slip: A young, crafty fox.
Hornet: A crow, friend of Snowdance.