Chapter Five: Corvair

It would have been tempting just to lie on the ledge for the rest of the day, with the sunlight warming my fur, but I knew that with the pleasure would come pain. I needed to do something, or the memories would come back.

I jumped down the stairway of ledges and was startled when my knees almost buckled and my stomach growled like a pack wolf defending its territory. I'd been getting weaker without realizing it. Limping over to the large puddle that had formed beneath my ledge during the night, I gazed in at my reflection. My eyes were a pale green, like budding shoots, and my silver fur was still dripping.

I sat down beside the pool and groomed my wet fur, all the while deeply contemplating the situation.

Where would I go next? I could remain in the second forest, but what could I do? Both the first and second forests were almost completely claimed by pack territories. I was sitting in a tiny sliver of uninhabited woodland on the border, set up for safe passage between the forests. I couldn't stay here the rest of my life.

The third and fourth forests held more promise; as far as I knew, there were only a few islands of small packs or loner groups scattered amongst a sea of unclaimed territory. I could quite easily stake out a small area and live on my own without being disturbed, or even join a loner group, though of course I probably wouldn't choose that option.

I could go back. But I knew I wouldn't.

What had happened in the third forests was enough to prevent my ever returning. Vokuryl's ghost would always haunt me there, and my reputation would have me dead in a fortnight. I had no way of knowing if ShadePack still existed, or if Vokuryl's death had broken them.

The fourth forest...well, that was another story.

Deep down, I knew that my paws would eventually carry me back. Back to my, it was no longer my home. I had proven myself unworthy of calling that place my home. But I knew that inevitably, I would have to go back.

I wouldn't be able to truly live until I did.

I remained by the pool while the sun rose and blazed hot in the midday sky. There was no movement except for the slight stirring of my tail, and tiny ripples where water striders alighted on the surface of the pool. And, of course, the relentless spinning in my mind.

There was only one life for me - a life alone. I was a genetic dead end, a creature engineered for solitary life. My path had been laid out long ago, and I could not waver from it. I would go find my old home, complete the task I knew I had to do, and then die alone. There was no way around it.

The only question was: when?

Obviously my life would remain on continuous repeat until I did something to change it. Until I began the quest that would eventually lead back to the fourth forest. Today, tomorrow? In a year? Right now?

I got to my paws and walked restlessly to the other side of the little pond. The sky was a clear, unbroken blue, and my eyes were the color of the foliage reflected in the pool. I dug my claws into the earth, pricking the moss. I could go right now. No one would miss me.

"Uh...Corvic? Corvin?" A deep voice rang out from the trees. Bracken crackled as the enormous black wolf shouldered his way into the clearing. A heavy, delicious scent rolled off him - I blinked and realized that he was dragging about half a deer carcass.

"It's Corvair," I corrected him. The smell of the food was unbearably inviting; my stomach snarled. I took in a deep breath and held it, determined not to crack.

"Oh. Sorry. Corvair." He dropped the carcass by a boulder and began to wash his paws off in the stream. I closed my eyes quickly; the bloody hump at the base of the boulder was far too familiar.

With my eyes still closed, I heard the noisy splashing of the stream and Thuron's heavy paws crunching across the gravelly streambed. Then a low grunt as the black wolf climbed out of the water and shook himself noisily - I heard the indistinct spattering of water and felt droplets on my fur. "Sorry!"

"It's okay," I murmured without opening my eyes.

The smell of food wafted in a dizzying spiral straight to my nose. I opened my eyes - Thuron had moved the dead deer out into the open and was lapping at a bloody haunch. His muzzle was stained with blood as he looked at me. "You gonna eat?"

I nodded quickly and walked over. The smell of the doe - I could tell by the scent - was unbelievably seductive. All I had to do was close my eyes as I leaned in, tearing off a large chunk of red meat. It was possibly the best thing I had ever tasted. I had to force myself to eat slowly, chewing each bite methodically as if the meal had to last me a lifetime.

Thuron took no such care; he tore off enormous, ragged bites and swallowed them whole, swiping his tongue around his jaws to collect the excess meat and dipping his head for more. Soon both our muzzles were stained with blood. It showed up more vividly on my pale fur than on his. When I had filled myself to bursting with meat, I cleaned off my paws and face in the stream.

The crusted blood disengaging from my fur and floating off in the current was gut-wrenchingly familiar. I closed my eyes again.

Thuron watched me with an air of interest. He had licked his paws clean and was now washing his face like a cat. His eyes, the color of sun and goldenrod, never left the spangled pattern of five dark spots on my flank. "That's a pentacle," he said suddenly, and there was the shadow of fear across his broad face.

I twisted my head to look at him, water running steadily off my nose. "Yeah. I suppose it is."

His eyes closed. He breathed deeply. I stared at him, wondering why my irregular birthmark would incite this kind of response in a fully grown wolf.

"You're from TwistPack."