Shadows loomed along the cave walls, rearing up from the ground to lose themselves in the blackness of the ceiling. The light was uncertain in the cave, like a fading sunset before a great darkness. Glowing coals in shallow bowls threw light up on the rough-hewn rock and the somber group within. The red glow lit their faces from beneath, showing grim and weathered expressions. They clustered in a tight circle around a figure lying prone on the floor.

"How did it happen?" A whisper broke the air.

"Do you need to ask? He was ambushed while on patrol. Felix will pay for this." The reply was harsh, a guttural barking.

"We don't know if it was the Long Whiskers." Another interposed. "He hasn't spoken since he came in."

"Are you a fool?" The harsh voice hissed back. "Look at those arrows! The workmanship is unmistakable."

"They have been hunting us for years." One muttered. "Now they have slain the Canis himself. We shall make them pay dearly!"

"Hush! He stirs!"

The figure's head raised from the floor to rest on his arms, stretched out before him on the floor. His movement caused a slight jostling of the arrows protruding from his back, and he moaned with pain. Opening his weary eyes, the leader glanced around the cave. A dry whisper broke from his lips. "Minimus…"

"The boy! He calls the boy!" Mutterings broke from the company and eyes darted left and right, seeking the boy. He had sought to be admitted at first, but they had held him back, fearing what the sight would do to him. But now their chief demanded him, and they would no longer hold him.

A small boy broke from the circle. He dropped to his knees before the dying chieftain, his hands resting in his lap. "I am here, my father."

"Son." The aged head twisted sideways to look at his child. "The Master calls me on, and I feel that my soon my walk in life will end." Tears filled the boy's eyes. "The Dog Clan will need a new leader, and as my only son and last descendant of the line of Canis, know that you too must be chief in your time."

The boy's tail drooped. Tears dropped on the dust of the cave floor as he nodded, shoulders quivering. The old chief continued. "That will be your role my son. Will be, for you are not yet old enough to lead the Dog clan. I shall appoint another to hold it until you are ready."

He wrenched his head off his arm to look beyond his son. "Ragas Aticius!" he called, with a shadow of his former strength. A craggy veteran stepped forward, a patch over one eye. He knelt next to his king, respectfully dropping head, ears, and tail. "Yes, master?"

"Do not call me that." The dog coughed. "There is but one Master, and I go now to meet him. Atacius, among all my pack there is none with whom I would rather leave the clan than you. You have been at my side through countless battles, and have proved your prowess in many a raid."

"My king, I…"

"Speak not. Your loyalty to my house is beyond question. I know you will prepare the clan for my son as few can." The aged dog lifted himself up for a moment. "Men of the Dog Clan! Hear me! I, Canis Regis, lord of the dog clan, am no longer fit to lead. With my last breath I appoint Ragas Aticuis regent to my son, Canis Minimus. Obey him as you would me!"

Murmurs of assent rumbled around the circle. Mastiffs, Bulldogs, and Wolfhounds nodded solemnly to the dying commands of their hardy chieftain. Hands gripped hilts and handles in charged emotion. Though their immovable faces betrayed no sorrow, an occasional tear sparkled in the hardened eye.

Canis Regis sank back to the ground with a sigh. "It is done." He faced the trembling boy before him. "Now I must leave you, my son. Before I go, know that with the foresight of death, I see that you shall be chastised thrice before you die once."

The boy looked askance at his father, bewildered. "This saying you shall not understand now, but later it shall be made plain." His father assured him. He gazed at his son with a strange gleam in his eyes. "Fear not, and bear hate against no man. Do not sorrow overlong, for life is too short to allow for such luxury."

The gleam faded. His eyes rolled up, and his head fell back onto the floor without even a sigh. His head made a hollow thud as it hit the rock.

"No!" The boy sprang forward, but Atacius caught him. The boy looked up, and the warlord shook his head silently. He slowly loosened his hold on the young pup, who only sank to the ground.

The new regent looked down at the quivering child next to the silent body and bowed his head. Around the cave, the assembled warriors followed his example bowing their heads in a moment's devotion. Some crouched to all fours, others simply leaned on their weapons.

Not a sound could be heard in the chamber save the whimpering of the boy.

A/N: This is a fantasy story I've been working on for some time now. I will try to update each week, and I think you may find it interesting. If you have read this, I would appreciate if you left just a quick note to confirm that. It would be a great help.