Wolves of the Oasis

Chapter One: The Pack

Concentrate, Toris. You'll get nothing if you act too quickly.

Toris crept forward slowly, low to the ground, ochre eyes locked on the young buck that stood just at the edge of the clearing. Her belly barely skimmed the grass and her feet automatically overstepped anything that might have made enough noise to have given her away. The wind was in her favor, the buck was hers. The deer lifted his head, scanning the area as he did every so often, eyes darting this way and that. Toris frozef and lay down, pressing herself to the ground.

Be very still. You are not completely hidden.

Merc's low voice was fast becoming more distracting than it was helpful.

Relax, brother. I can do this, she thought, hoping to at least quiet him for the moment as she continued working her way toward the oblivious animal.

His scent was overpowering. The wound on his hind leg was becoming worse and she could smell the infection eating away at his flesh. The buck didn't have long before the leg was entirely useless to him. Without his herd to support him, death was in his near future, regardless of whether or not Toris managed to kill him herself. As he finally returned to grazing, apparently satisfied that he was alone, Toris began creeping forward again, so slowly that each step was almost agonizing.

The anticipation was near painful for the young wolf. She longed to lunge forward, to take the animal in her teeth and bite down until she felt his flesh tear open. She longed to feed on fresh meat killed, for once, by herself. It seemed Merc felt her eagerness, for he spoke again.

Calm down. Do not become too excited. You must control yourself, Toris, or you'll lose him.

The young hunter ignored him. She was sixty feet from her prey. It was a distance she could easily cover in a few seconds.

It's too soon. Do not break cover yet.

However, Toris wasn't listening. Her mind was focused entirely on the kill at hand. Crouching, every muscle in her body tensed and ready to spring, she shoved forward in a single bound, covering a good amount of the distance in a single leap. In her head, she could hear Merc's frustrated growl.

The buck looked up just as Toris leaped at him, but he didn't have enough time to turn around and face her. She sank her teeth deep into the tough skin on his rump and he bellowed, pulling forward. Merc and Lakai dashed out of the bushes, each on either side of the screaming deer. Toris let go of her prey and twisted to the side as he turned to defend himself with antlers that could have seriously wounded a wolf of her size. He turned to Merc and Toris jumped in again, ripping a chunk of flesh from the buck's injured leg. The limb quivered and Toris watched as his knee gave way.

Lakai seized the opportunity and latched onto the buck's nose, dragging his head to the ground. Toris followed Merc's lead and grabbed onto their prey's throat, effectively cutting off the windpipe. The deer spluttered and kicked, making such noises that the surrounding wildlife had already fled from the sight of the killing. The buck's struggles were becoming weaker, but Toris did not let go of her hold. She crushed her jaws together tighter and finally, the animal stopped moving. His eyes stared unseeing at the forest he had once called his home.

Toris stepped back from the dead animal, laying down in the cool grass to catch her breath. Lakai dove right in, ripping off pieces of meat and swallowing them down. It was a large kill and more than enough for the three wolves to partake in. Merc took his place beside Toris.

Reslin will never believe the three of us took down an animal this large, he chuckled.

Toris opened her mouth in a wolf grin. He will if we tell him that he was injured.

Well, we'll just leave that part out, Merc said, standing up. Now, let's eat.

The meat was delicious. It was obvious from the taste that the infection had not spread, and Toris tore into the side eagerly. She rather enjoyed lazing in the sun, chewing on a nice rib bone after a satisfying meal. The tender flesh broke easily between her teeth and it slid down her throat, still hot and fresh. She feasted for a good five minutes or so, until her stomach was pleasantly full and she began to feel sleepy. She only chewed on her rib for a few minutes before the blood caked into her fur began to irritate her in the hot air.

As her brothers continued eating, she made her way to the river's edge, dipping her face into the cool water. Blood was not readily apparent in Toris's ebony fur. Most of her coat was as dark as pitch, but for the sparse sable hairs running along her underbelly, chest, and legs. It was her advantage, as she often looked cleaner than other members of the pack who were not so dark in color. However, she tended to clean herself just as often as the rest, disliking the feel of dirty, matted fur. Once she was satisfied that the blood was gone, Toris swam out into the middle of the river, where the water was deepest.

There, she closed her eyes and called forth the shift, allowing her body to twist and contort, until she was a nineteen year old girl, floating lazily on the surface, eyes closed to the sunlight glaring down upon her summer-darkened skin. This form, this body called human, was her shell, that which allowed her to travel among those who walked upon two nigh hairless legs in their cities and towns. It was in this form that Toris felt most vulnerable, separated from the wilderness and the very nature of her wild heart. Yet she couldn't resist, when things were calm, calling forth her second body and relishing the sensations of the world upon bare skin.

"Toris, what are you doing? We need to be heading back soon!" Merc yelled from somewhere on the bank.

Toris payed him no mind, continuing her passage down the river as if she had not heard him.

You should not ignore Merc, Lakai said softly, his velvet voice echoing in her head. Not with all that he does for you.

Growling, Toris rolled onto her stomach in and dove into the water, heading straight for the bottom. She touched the sandy floor with a hand and then, kicking off with a foot, shot back up to the surface and out into the air. She landed smoothly and swam back to the bank, where Merc sat, legs crossed to hide himself from his sister. He averted his gaze quickly as she stood up.

"Have some shame, will you?" he said. Toris laughed.

"Shame!? Whatever for? It is nature, nothing more, nothing less. It is no different than when I am a wolf."

Merc sighed. "More visible," he muttered.

"Fine then," Toris said.

She took a deep breath and once again shifted, her body dropping to all fours, legs growing, feet and hands becoming padded paws. Finally, she stretched her canine body and looked over at Merc, tongue hanging out in a sloppy wolf laugh. Merc grinned shook his head as Lakai loped out of the trees. He was a beautiful wolf, with an undercoat of various shades of cream. The guard hairs were silver and tipped with black, giving his coat a shimmery, brown-gray color that looked magnificent in direct sunlight. Obviously, in her canine form, the color was not so apparent to her, but Toris was still able to aptly appreciate it.

We must get going, Lakai said.

Merc stood up and stretched as Toris bounded past him, heading back for the trees to scout the direction in which they should head. It wasn't long before he joined her. He was quite large, standing at thirty-five inches at the shoulder. Indeed, the russet wolf was much larger than any natural wolf Toris had ever encountered. He stopped to rub his cheek against hers before heading off. Toris followed easily, happy to be the one to relax for once. Due to her great tracking skills, Toris was most often placed as leader of small hunting groups. It was a burden she was becoming tired of bearing.

The sun was halfway below the horizon by the time the small group made it home. It had taken them the better part of seven hours, yet none of them showed any signs of weariness. Indeed, Toris wasn't tired in the least. Wolves were made to travel long distances, made for endurance. A leisurely stroll was akin to a nap in the shade to a fit young wolf.

Most of the pack was resting outside the cave, obviously full from a successful hunt of their own. Reslin was sitting near the entrance, dressed in the plain wolfskin garb that the werewolves wore when in their human form, covering only the parts of them that were considered shameful to show. Toris wasn't sure who had started the tradition, but it supposedly kept them in touch with the wolf within. The skin was taken from the wolves of the pack when they died.

"Ah, welcome back, you three," Reslin said as the group approached. A sudden surge of pups swarmed out of the cave, heading for the new arrivals.

Toris lay down as the five pups began tumbling around Merc and herself, biting at their ears and snouts. She nuzzled them and mouthed them gently, causing them to whimper with joy. The rest of the pack had come out as well to check on Toris and her brothers. It was a large pack, much larger than wolf packs usually grew to, consisting of thirty-three members. Five of the members were, of course, the newest litter, and six were wolves. They had no problems with their size, however. Reslin was a strong leader and with Lenna by his side, the two could have ruled over a hundred or more without much difficulty. Deacon and Knick, the two Betas, were also very helpful in keeping the younger wolves in check and taking care of things while the Alphas were gone. The Tanjina River pack was an unbreakable family unit.

One of the pups, a little peppered pup named Daiku, let out a sharp yip and dove straight into Toris's ribs, rolling her over onto her side. She righted herself and snapped at him, sending the pup tumbling away with a smile and a wagging tail. He obviously found great joy in the sport of rolling other wolves around. As a second generation pup, born to the litter before Daiku's, Toris was higher than him on the social ladder, as well as higher than the non-ranking werewolves who were not related to the Alphas. She demanded great respect, but Daiku had never been one to give it. He was destined for trouble, yet Toris couldn't quite get over the special fondness she had for the young troublemaker.

De-tangling herself from the mass of limbs and bodies that had assaulted her, Toris trotted toward the entrance of the cave, stopping just short of Reslin and sitting back on her haunches.

"How did the hunt go?" Her father asked, twirling a twig casually between two calloused fingers.

It was amazing. We pulled down a large buck with an injury on his hind leg.

"Very good. I'm glad it worked out. It's a little hard to prove a point if you can't accomplish the task," Reslin smirked.

Toris tilted her head to the side. But we did prove it. We can hunt just as well on our own. Now, can we go?

The Alpha stilled the movements of his fingers. His expression was thoughtful. Toris watched him intently, unable to read the thoughts behind his eyes. Her parents were difficult to read, hardened leaders of a pack of playful werewolves. Even now, as she sat before him, she could only see the dominance that made him who he was.

"Yes," he said finally. "You may go."

Unable to contain herself, Toris leaped forward, licking Reslin's chin and whimpering in excitement.

Thank you, father! I promise, we'll be good.

Reslin laughed and pushed her down. His gaze hardened once again.

"Watch out for each other. And Toris, I don't think I need to remind you... don't get too attached," he said.

Trust me, I wont. I've got to go and tell Lakai and Merc. Thanks, father! Toris bounded back to the puppy pile, eager to tell her brothers of the news.

A trip into the city was always a glorious affair for young wolves. Toris had only been twice, and had been eagerly looking forward to her next visit for months. It was a long journey, but with Lakai and Merc by her side, she was sure they could handle it. After all, humans were nothing to be feared.