Chapter 1

Relativity

I was born into hatred, from hatred. One would think that a creature as beautiful and graceful as my mother would have a heart to match her pleasing looks, but one would be wrong. Her eyes, such a pretty blue at first, were only one of her deceptions. They were not the color of the ocean, or the sky, or any other sort of pretty, common blue thing. They were the color of a dead man's lips.

Even her fur deceived. It was so silky to the touch, always clean and long and softly white. It drew wolves in, emitting beauty like those toothed plants with their intoxicating scent. It drew you in until your little legs touched its tongue, and then it swallowed you whole. Her small, curved body, her long, teasing tail... they were all only little pieces to her grand trap, where she pulled you farther and farther until you were within her very jaws, crushed under her little pointed teeth.

My mother's name was Ahali

My father was far worse.

He had no intoxicating scent, no little grins and swishes to pull you forward. He had a brute and terrible strength, one that did not stop to try and fool you. He was always going in for the kill, even before the hunt began.

Koriat was the biggest wolf I'd ever seen, even after I had grown old. His shoulders were massive, round beasts in themselves, about as wide as a man's rifle. They curved and prowled as he walked, as he stalked the lands in search of the twisted killing he called "fun". From these shoulders to his tail he was longer than any man I'd seen was tall, with great, thick legs that looked like logs, and paws like small boulders. His neck was thick and powerful, his snout wide and long. His eyes–brown like dried blood–were deep-set and always turbulent. Even the black nose at the end of his muzzle was threatening, always wrinkled in a snarl.

But I didn't think much of any of these things, not as a pup. What I knew very well about my father were his teeth and his claws. His two canines were the length of a grown mouse's tail, so sharp and long that they cut a bit into his lower lip. These little welts at his lips, sometimes bleeding if he was snarling often, were what I found myself always thinking of when I heard the word "Father". Either those, or his massive claws, like sharp extensions of his toes.

The sight of the two of them–one so huge and lumbering and terrible, the other sopetite and flirtatious–might have been humorous in some other time. But it wasn't then.

The first memory I have is of pain. I must have been just newly born, for all I can dredge up out of my mind is basic instincts, the blinding desire for food and warmth. I know that for a long while I received neither of these things... When I was first born, Ahali turned away from my siblings and I, annoyed and disgusted that she was forced to birth such creatures. She left us in the cold, stone den, more concerned with washing the blood off of her fur. She would have never given us another thought, were it not for her own selfishness. Her teats began to swell with milk, and she couldn't get rid of it. Just when she was nearly too sore to move, she trudged back to us with a snarl and foul hatred, lying with us only long enough until she was empty of milk before leaving again.

She did not name us, nor lie with us long enough to keep us warm. We would have died within a few days were it not for my brother. Galaxan snuck to the den when Ahali was not there, and curled around us to keep us alive. He could not give us food, and was no mother, but he saved us.

Galaxan was a frightful sight to most wolves. He had my father's thick, lumbering body (though not as massive), and my mother's biting blue eyes. His howl was deep and gruff, his walk stiff and yet quick. His eyes were deep-set like Koriat's, but his face was a bit more slender and thin, like his mother's. I would have known only hate were it not for him.

Galaxan would not name us, and I didn't have a name for a long while. He didn't want the responsibility, or the burden. I briefly remember once, when he spoke to me in soft, rumbling tones, describing the idea that I would name myself when I was old enough. I never understood him at such an age, but I cannot release his young face from my memories now.

Galaxan was almost two when we were born. I never knew how he survived Koriat and Ahali's onslaught, why he was their only pup, nor why he stayed with them even as he was old enough to live on his own. All I know is that he did, and for that, I owe him everything.

And yet, he could not protect us forever. The day came when Ahali no longer swelled with milk, when we were old enough to eat things other than her milk. No longer did my parents have any use for us. No, we were nothing but a little group of burdens, burdens that needed to be disposed of. While Galaxan was out catching food for our very survival, Ahali came to the den.

Ahali's litter had been oddly large that year, something I'm not sure whether to be thankful for or to curse. I had two brothers and a sister besides Galaxan, and they had just begun to develop their personalities and markings. My sister was the most dominant out of all the litter, and yet in a way that put us all at peace. We let her eat first, we let her have our little sticks and bones without complaint, for she put herself first and yet made sure that we each had our share. There were the beginnings of grey and white stripe-like markings upon her dark coat when she died.

Ahali reached into the den and we all whimpered and withdrew into corners, though my sister was the first to reach out a tentative paw. My mother snapped at it like a crocodile, dragging her screeching little form out of the den by that single paw. I saw nothing, only heard the terrible cries and loud yelps, and Ahali's scrapings and snarlings. Even then, I understood. Ahali hated us, hated us for causing her discomfort and annoyance, hating us for being born. And so, she was punishing us with death.

The whimpers never died out, they just ceased abruptly. Ahali reached into the den with a blood-stained muzzle, curling her lip in a snarl.

I returned the gesture, flicking my tongue and emitting a deep, rumbling growl that I didn't know I could do. She came for me, but one of my brothers leapt upon her head, biting deep into her fragile ears. She hissed in pain before pulling out.

He didn't yelp as much as my sister, but I knew that the pain he felt was worse. I felt it in the thick air, and saw it in the thin trickle of blood that slipped past the den entrance.

I wasn't afraid any more, after that moment. Only angry, and terribly, terribly sad. I felt helpless. I wanted so dearly to rush out and save my dying siblings, but something wouldn't let me. Instinct, perhaps, or... or perhaps the knowledge that I was only a pup, and if I fought back, I would only earn my family's fate.

I remember turning to see my one remaining brother across from me, looking at me with pupils the size of the moon, fear shaking his body violently. I took a cautious step towards him, trying to comfort him, when he suddenly fled. His little puppy legs bolted out of the den entrance without a sound, his tail tucked so tightly between his legs it didn't even look existent. I watched him go, and found that I didn't hate him for running, for leaving me. My body and my logic told me to run, as well. And yet, I couldn't. I couldn't run from the very brother that protected me, the little pup that sprung in front of me and was now dead because of it.

Suddenly, there no sound and so smells. Nothing except two, icy blue eyes boring into mine, two eyes locked onto me as they approached. I closed my eyes and backed far against the den wall, silent and tense. I felt fangs around the back of my neck; I felt my paws leave the ground But I felt no pain. When I opened my eyes, I saw the ground and a pair of black paws bigger than my head. And when I squirmed and looked up, it wasn't Ahali's gaze that met mine, but Galaxan's. Galaxan had come back.

He dropped me gently and turned so that his hulking form was in front of mine. Ahali was snarling before us, strains of blood dripping from the corners of her mouth. Galaxan was silent.

Suddenly she pointed her muzzle to the sky, singing a terrible song. I understood the words: Come. Come to me. Even when I was young, I remember staring at her exposed neck, willing Galaxan to leap forward and extinguish her life with a single snap. But he did not understand my puppy-murmurs, and even if he had, I doubt that he could have killed his mother at such an age.

Just as her howl had ended, a shadow seemed to materialize behind her, approaching with thunderous steps. Koriat unlocked his jaws as he came to stand beside her, saliva dripping from his fangs as he snarled. From behind him, I saw Galaxan's muscles tense, his head lower into a defensive stance. He turned to nudge me backwards, away from the battle. And as his head was turned, Koriat lunged, claws reaching for my brother's soft neck.

I yelped and Galaxan whipped around, Koriat's claws brushing past his neck and sinking into his back instead. He roared in pain, gritting his fangs and hissing. Koriat only smiled, forcing his claws deeper and deeper into my brother's back, dragging the sharp, steely weapons down to form three slashes. And then, he released, watching with cynical glee as blood gushed madly from Galaxan's wound.

But rather than crumple into a whimpering, writhing ball as many a wolf would do, Galaxan remained where he stood. Blood dyed his black fur and gave it a wicked sheen, and his body was shaking with pain. And yet, his blue eyes were brighter than I'd ever seen them. He only needed to look at my frightened little body once before suddenly curling his lip and releasing a terrible snarl, swerving to face his father without mercy or any trace of familial loyalty.

Before Koriat could do so much as smirk, Galaxan's claws were sweeping across the elder's face, leaving a trail of blood and deep cuts. He was swift and uncaring, blind and brutal with pain and instinctual protection. Koriat knew this.

Just when Galaxan's wild thrashings began to slow, my father lunged between his son's paws, into the opening of his guard. All I saw were Galaxan's paws as he took a step back, and suddenly, we were on the move. The scruff of my neck was between my brother's gentle grasp as he took off, leaving Koriat and his bloodied face behind. We were leaving. We were finally leaving.

But there was no time for happiness. Even as he took his few first steps, I felt little warm droplets shower my fur, coming from just below Galaxan's muzzle. I saw the splotches of blood that my brother left behind as he sprinted, the oozing red rawness of the wound upon his back. I knew he wouldn't go far... and yet, I hoped so dearly that he would go far enough to escape.

We hadn't gone more than three miles when he stumbled over his paws and fell, gasping

and eyes foggy. His limbs were going cold.

I had to do something then, or my brother would die. But what? I was a pup; what could I possibly do? In a panic, I pointed my tiny black nose to the clouds as I had seen Ahali do, crying out a high and desperate sound. I didn't know the language of the wolf well enough to speak it, and it was a pathetic thing for my first howl, but the message was clear. Someone, please, help.

The feeling of time ticking by at the pace of a growing tree was a terrible one. It didn't feel like ages, waiting for someone to hear my call. It felt like eons.

But nothing can last forever. Eventually, a small cluster of little gray dots seemed to be coming towards us. The dots materialized rapidly, and at long last, wolves had arrived. There were five of them, and their coats were mostly gray. They regarded Galaxan's bleeding body with calm, experienced eyes, each of them circling to examine the wound from a different angle. It was then that I realized it: against all odds, we had come upon a pack of healers. "Healer" packs are rare, and consist of a few very peaceful members whose main goals in life are to help others. Secrets of natural healing methods are passed down from wolf to wolf, and each pup is raised to be as kind as possible. They are even sparing with their prey; the average healer pack can go weeks on a single deer, because unlike most wolves, they let nothing but the bones go uneaten.

And they had found us. I took a few steps back, cautious and apprehensive of these wolves; they were the first I'd seen before my own family. Even as I thought about how to react to them, they were working on Galaxan, nudging his unconscious form onto some dry bark and beginning to drag him back to their own packlands. I followed warily behind for a while, but after deciding that they weren't going to kill me, began to help push him along.

I watched them heal Galaxan with interest and worry, as did the rest of their small pack. They probably hadn't seen new wolves in a long time, and this huge black one was likely a strange surprise. I never remember exactly what they did, only that they began by licking his wounds, and then nudged a cluster of plants over them to stop the bleeding. I'll bet Galaxan still has those plants in his skin to this day.

I spent that night with them, in the warm hollow in the ground that they made for my brother and I. It was under a tree, hidden between the roots, and seemed especially dug out simply for healing wolves.

In the morning he was still not awake, but my curiosity drove me outside. The other wolves regarded me with an inquisitiveness similar to that which I gave them. There was a total of ten wolves–the five older ones from earlier and five younger ones that were probably last year's litter–and they each gave me their names. They described to me the workings of their pack, each member's strengths and weaknesses, and the condition of my brother. I said little about myself.

They gave me soft meat and showed me where the river was. The alpha pair were Ardorick and Korah, the male white with swirling gray markings and the female gray with a darker tail and legs. They showed me that wolves can be kind.

On the third day, Galaxan awoke. The pack had anticipated this and filled the hollow with strange-smelling herbs that would put him in a stupor, so that he wouldn't feel the pain of his wounds. I didn't sleep near him that night.

The minute his eyes opened, he was calling for me. I heard him the first time he barked, and was with him by the second time. I stayed near the entrance on the pack's request, so that the scent of the herbs wouldn't effect me. Galaxan actually smiled, despite the oozy whiteness of his deep wounds.

I had a dream, in which a hawk landed right before me. He kept saying, 'Arandell, Arandell, Arandell.' I think that this is your name, little sister. I think it is.

I blinked at him, absorbing the words that he spoke through his eyes. He went back to sleep and I slipped out, lying down by the entrance.

Arandell. I liked the name.