Written for the August Publish-a-Book contest on Rescreatu, a virtual pet site. There is a limit of 2,000 words; this one is 1,994. Close call. This month's topic was "heat". Wasn't entirely sure what section to put this story in...

-A World Ablaze-

Rasha was so used to the run-of-the-mill kind of days that she had forgotten to expect anything else.

Every day she had gotten up with her pack, gone hunting, eaten, napped, played some, swam some, ate more, napped more, and repeated that cycle over and over until the day was done and everyone went to sleep. The bodies of her wolven pack members filled the stone overhang the pack had made into its den, all pressing against each other and keeping each other warm, even during the harshest cold and winter storms.

And so Rasha was not expecting to find anything out of the ordinary—most certainly not signs that alien beings had entered her pack's territory.

She had been hunting, trotting along the river that formed part of the territory's boundary, when she had come across a new and foreign scent. Curious, she sniffed out the scent-trail and followed it. It was a long and winding trail, and was certainly no prey. It smelled not just like some weird animal, but rather not like an animal at all. There were animal-like scents, but they were intermixed with strange and non-organic ones.

Eventually the trail led—much to Rasha's dismay—to the edge of her territory. She could tell that it went on a ways beyond. She sniffed around to make sure she was not entering another wolf pack's territory and that there were no other wolves nearby before tentatively crossing the border into the mysterious lands beyond.

She wove through trees and undergrowth and crossed grassy glades. She found several spots where the thing had stopped to rest, maybe nap, before continuing. Occasionally the wolf also got a whiff of coyote, but it was distant and so did not bother her.

Perhaps because the scent was bothering her already.

It seemed to take ages, but finally she found where the trail seemed to lead. Strange sounds were emanating from a glade only a few paces before her. Curious, she hid herself behind a boulder and spied on the beings within, looking at them through the ferns.

They were tall—two to three times as tall as Rasha was. Taller even than the Alpha. They were tall like bears, but bears only reared up onto their hind legs for short periods of time. For these beings, it seemed like a permanent practice. Also unlike bears, these beings seemed completely devoid of fur other than a well-groomed mop hanging from their scalps; their snouts were flat and their mouths short; they had long, graceful, and flexible fingers; and they wore false pelts. Rasha sniggered. The poor beings didn't even have their own way of staying warm.

Fascinated, she watched. The sky began to darken, and she knew it had long been time to head back. But the beasts were too interesting, too alien. She cocked her head when they began to pile some sticks together within a ring of stones, and then got a small twig and started rubbing it against a rectangular thing. Her eyes widened when the twig caught fire. The creatures then carefully placed the flaming stick within the wood as if completing a ritual.

A ritual that Rasha soon believed to be one to release the Shifting Voran—the shapeless all-consuming demon that ravaged forests, wrapping everything within its Sun-hot tongues and pulling it down into its bright-fanged maw. After hours it would get full and slowly fade away, leaving nothing behind but the blackened, broken and lifeless skeletons of trees. But it never took long for it to become hungry once again.

But why would these creatures want to release the Voran? Once it was out, it could not be contained.

Or could it?
The dance of the Shifting Voran had entranced Rasha. It kept on growing and growing, and the humans kept on feeding it, but never did it leave the stone circle. With a mix of horror and awe growing within her, Rasha realized that the humans had tamed the Voran. They had summoned it and trapped it, and by feeding it wood they received the gift of its light in return.

It took all of the wolf's willpower to get herself to take her eyes from the spectacle and start her way back to her pack. Tail lowering, she hoped the Alpha wouldn't get mad at her for being away for so long. Plus, it was too late for hunting now, so she would also have to suffer the humiliation of not returning with the much-coveted prize of food.

She had no idea how long it took to get back, but Rasha knew from the sun's position that she had been gone far longer than she should have. At least she had something to report…

Something very, very, important to report, in fact. Anything having anything to do with the Shifting Voran was considered important.

Eyes bored into her as she padded into the camp, putting her tail and ears into a position that would signify her rank and that she bore news. The Alpha, a large silver wolf named Ruthai, moved in front of her.

"You bear a message, Rasha. Tell it."

Rasha nodded, careful to keep her eyes from the fierce, intent gaze of Ruthai. She began, "This afternoon I discovered a strange scent-trail near the river. I don't know if any of you have found it before this. I followed it for what must have been miles, but it led me to a small glade in which I saw some tall beasts that stood on their hind legs and had no fur except for on their heads." She paused to let her news sink in and to allow for comments.

"Humans," Ruthai growled. Rasha blinked, waited for Ruthai to signal her to continue, and then went on.

She told of the summoning of the Shifting Voran and how the humans seemed to have tamed it. All the listening wolves' ears were facing full forward, for they wanted to make sure they heard everything correctly and that their ears were not deceiving them.

Then Ruthai spoke, his voice loud and clear. "If Rasha's story is true, and I do not doubt it is, then we must be wary. We have no way of telling the humans' intentions, but if they intend on releasing the Shifting Voran, then we must be careful. We simply cannot afford to let them catch us by surprise. Wolves are not like that." He paused for a moment. "I would like two or three well-rested volunteers to go keep watch on the Humans. Rasha, you may point them in the direction they must go, but you may stay here. Unless, that is, you wish to go hunting and make up for the prey you did not catch."

Rasha hung her head and lowered her tail. "I would, but it gets late. I shall catch some tomorrow, and give it to others before eating myself."

"Very well. But for now, we shall rest while our scouts keep watch."

Two wolves who had stood up and offered to go went over to Rasha. She told them where to go, and described the scent so that they might find it more easily. They thanked her and left, and she joined the pack as it flocked to the den to go to sleep.

They were woken by a pair of distressed howls.

"The Voran! Wake, run, for the Shifting Voran approaches!" they cried.

The wolves were soon wide awake a running. Ruthai and his mate were doing their best to keep the pack under control, and Rasha pointed them away from where she knew the Voran to be coming. Pausing to look behind her, she could see a wall of bright flickering spires rising above the forest canopy, racing towards them as the Shifting Voran hungrily tore its way through the woods. She knew it was after her for finding it out and usurping its plans. She wondered if the humans had had to run away as well, or if the Voran had left them or even ate them. If she had not been running, she would have shuddered. Thinking about the Voran's glowing-hot and half-translucent claws snagging her fur, its many flickering tongues catching her and trapping her, its semi-existent maw enveloping her, its sun-hot breath scorching her… and suddenly she could hear its terrible roar. It was angry, and most certainly gaining speed.

Suddenly she halted. She hadn't seen the two scout wolves return. "Where are Kavi and Karu?" she howled, but despite how much she wished to search for them, she felt her paws twitching and then she was running again.

No one answered her. She could see the edge of the forest now, and a lake. The wolves would swim to the island, and then they would be safe…

It was now or never, and so she did it. She spun around, pivoting on a hind paw, and ran back towards the fast-approaching wall of flame. "Kavi! Karu!" she howled.

She was answered by a whiny yelp that she could just barely hear. She raced towards its source. To find Karu standing at the fire's edge, backing slowly away as it approached him. And then she saw that he was looking at a limp, singed Kavi lying among the burning trees.The wailing wind blew at the Voran in an effort to push it back, all the while singing, It's a trap, Rasha. It's a trap…

But she wouldn't let her packmate die. "Run, Karu!" she growled. Then she charged into the heart of the Voran.

She was greeted by a great wave of heat; she felt as if she would melt. Blazing tree limbs fell all around her. She saw the Voran's plans, trying to trap her within a wall of flame so it could close in on her for the kill. But that didn't make her give up. Still she fought her way towards Kavi. Despite the fatigue coming over her body as it fought to keep from overheating, she dodged out of the way of falling sparks and debris.

Finally she got to Kavi's side. He was still breathing, but it was shallow. She nudged him. "Kavi!" she growled. "Kavi, get up!"

There was no reply.


Still nothing.

Rasha had only two options now—leave him there to die, or drag him out. It seemed that either way he would die, and one way she would too. But she figured, why not die trying.

She grabbed the scruff of the other wolf's neck and viciously fought her way towards the fire's edge. It was all she could do to hold on without worrying about puncturing his skin with her fangs. The flaming tree limbs and branches fell in even greater quantities about her, and smoke from smoldering undergrowth swirled in the air and worked its way into her lungs. She couldn't keep from coughing, but when her fit ended, she got right back to work trying to save Kavi.

The next thing she knew there was a defiant howl, and Karu was at her side. Together they moved Kavi at twice the speed, and looking behind her, Rasha saw that victory was close. The wind blew harder, taking the smoke from the air and battering the Voran. It recoiled and roared defiance.

And suddenly they were free.

The Voran was no longer behind the wolves, nor snapping at their sides. Encouraged by their victory in the battle with the fire, Rasha and Karu found new strength with which to pull Kavi to safety. Within moments they were safe on the long, rock-littered shore of the lake. The rest of the pack, which had swum out to the nearby island, cheered and howled their thanks. Rasha and Karu gazed at each other, and Rasha licked him.

Several moons later the pack had settled into a new territory many miles away, and Rasha and Karu were expecting pups.