The Aeon of Survival

Part 4

By Darfix

For a majority of the wolf packs in the area, it is not uncommon for pups to be brought out on their first hunts when they reach three months of age. For the Aeilun pack, these hunts usually were only to give the youngsters a taste of the wild and to help teach them some of the dangers involved with being one of nature's top pack predators. At such an age, they would be no more than observers in the hunt, but that didn't mean that at this early stage in their hunting careers that they should be thrust into hunting the largest of prey along side their parents. Kembros had ordered that all hunts involving the pups at this point be limited to the pursuit of small prey only; rabbits and the like. Kembros was determined to limit the danger that the young were subjected to until they had a better understanding of hunting basics first. Fernak of course praised the idea, for the last thing he wanted was to be tasked with burying one or more of his beloved offspring before they reached even a year of age. Mazhra on the other hand, was less enthusiastic about the plan. After all, how would her puppies grow into fierce warriors if they were sheltered from the harsh realities of life? In order to become the great warrior she was, they'd should not have the luxury of having adults around at every moment to protect them. They should not have parents that became too close to them. They should not have food delivered to them on a regular basis. They should have to work for their meals and be taught how to survive by their own devices as much as possible. Even at this age, Mazhra felt they were getting off too easy.

"I still think we're being too easy on them, leader..." Mazhra said to Kembros in the company of Fernak and Strafur, the four adults chosen to go on this next hunt as part of the puppies' learning experience. "They will learn nothing of survival at this rate, they will become soft and when they reach our age they will perish when better trained wolves compete with them for food and living space."

Fernak sighed a bit, lowering his ears as his beloved once again disagreed with majority rule. Even he, the optimistic white wolf with an equal interest and respect for both plant and animal life, was beginning to doubt if she'd ever change her ways.

"I'm afraid you're being too much of a cynic, Mazhra," Kembros stated, clearing his throat, "they are still too young to be the little soldiers I know you want them to be, but in time..."

Mazhra cut him off with a moderately sharp bark. She stepped forward, almost as if she were keen on physically challenging him.

"We're not just talking about your puppies, we're talking about Mitaska's puppies, Kluvan's, Trystila's..." she trailed off for a moment, clearing her throat a little as she realized just how much she overstepped her bounds, "My puppies..." she added in a softer, less threatening voice.

The old Kembros probably would have put Mazhra in her place for her insubordinate behavior. However, Fernak had worked his calming magic on him over the months. The very same bond that Mazhra disapproved of so tenaciously might actually keep her from winding up in some seriously hot water. Kembros did tense up at her outburst, but took a breath before responding.

"Unfortunately, Mazhra, your philosophy regarding the rearing of our pups and the running of Aeilun are not in alignment with the rest of ours. We will continue to do things my way until I am no longer able and someone else takes my place." he stated, hoping that one day his son might do exactly that. "So unless you're fervid on removing me from my position with your own claws and teeth, I suggest you either accept the ways of Aeilun, or consider finding yourself another pack."

The tone in which Kembros spoke was so calm, cool, and collected that even though the thought of Mazhra leaving greatly troubled Fernak, he could not help but admire his student for handling the situation in the most diplomatic of manners he could have imagined. Even Mazhra found herself at a lack of moxie thanks to the way Kembros administered himself. However, the fact that she had presented herself as though she wished to overthrow him when she did not intend to do so also played a part in dismantling her courage. She backed up a little bit and lowered her head, but her tail would not tuck between her legs. She fell quiet.

Strafur was in a difficult position here. He always admired and respected Mazhra as one of the strongest and bravest of warriors of Aeilun. He had his eye on one day courting one of her offspring when they came of age. However, like a good soldier, he was also fiercely loyal to his leader and did not wish to step on Kembros' authority. Regardless, he did not want to give Mazhra the impression that he was not loyal to her as well.

"Leader," Strafur stated, "I am sure Mazhra is just worried about her young. She just wants them to grow up to be the best that they can be so that they can protect themselves when they're older. She doesn't mean any harm, she just..."

"I understand her objective, young Strafur," Kembros interrupted, "but the path she treads upon only delivers an illusion that she will reach her goal. She needs to understand that her puppies will become very capable members of our pack, much more easily my way than her way and without so greatly risking their young lives. I hope some day she will understand."

Strafur seemed to accept Kembros' response and offered no further input, only lowering his head and nodding quietly to the leader's lecture.

Fernak also decided to take a stab at trying to console Mazhra without upsetting Kembros, a task which shouldn't be terribly difficult for him in regard to Kembros at least.

"Rest assured, Mazhra," he spoke, "I am very confident in our leader and in you as well when it comes to raising our pups. They will be treated to a little bit of both sides of the spectrum and when they are older they will have the chance to decide for themselves which route they wish to take. Trust me, my dear, it'll all work out for the best. I promise..." he added, leaning his paw forward a little to gently brush against one of hers.

Mazhra retracted her paw promptly and scoffed quietly at Fernak's attempt to be tactful with her. She might have gained an ounce of respect for him if he stood up for her or even to her, but it was disgusting to her seeing him try to please both sides as usual. In her mind, he was a two faced coward who enjoyed playing with plants more than he did his own kind.

"I don't care," she stated, "let's just get on with this so called "training" already..."

"Quite." Kembros responded with a nod. "I was thinking we could take your four oldest first, Mazhra," he said, "I really don't want to take much more than four on these hunts at a time for it'll be challenging enough for the four of us to keep our eyes on them when we stir up a rabbit hole, hehe." he added with a slight laugh, attempting to lighten the mood.

"You're the alpha..." Mazhra replied dryly and with a serious lack of enthusiasm.

Fernak and Strafer both glanced at Mazhra with a degree of uneasiness, but neither of them would attempt to say anything more on the issue. Fernak figured the best way to solve this situation would be to let a sleeping dog lie, where as Strafur really couldn't come up with anything else of relevance to say.

With that, the four adults stood up and returned to Mazhra's den to fetch Sukoia, Skladon, Koldain, and Kyjara, the first four puppies of the pack to be taken on a real hunt. Kembros and Strafur waited outside while Mazhra and Fernak entered to rouse the sleeping pups. Fernak approached the four oldest first, gently giving each a lick on the forehead and following up with a whispering voice.

"Wake up, my little furry bundles of joy. It's time for your first hunt."

Naturally, this would get an immediate rise out of them, especially the two males as well as Sukoia. Skladon was particularly happy because now he could rub it in Razakir's face that he went hunting before him. Who knew, he might even be granted bragging rights for taking down a mighty elk or caribou all by himself. Though Skladon's expectations were unrealistically high, Koldain was more thrilled by the idea of being outside once again, where as Sukoia saw this as an opportunity to have another adventure with her dear sister. If she got to kill something in the process, that'd just be a bonus.

"Do you mean it dad?" Skladon exclaimed excitedly, his tail wagging vigorously. "You mean I might actually be able to hunt for myself today?"

"Shh," Fernak replied, "you don't want to wake your siblings. It is just the four of you today." the proud father whispered, already detecting some movement from the youngest four. Perhaps it was for the best, they still had to transport them to the alpha's den to be watched by Kembros' mate, Sarleen, while Blaidor, Kluvan, and Mitaska were off on the real hunt.

Skladon giggled a little and nodded his head in response to his father's request, but he shivered with excitement regardless.

Kyjara smiled with a hint of excitement on her features as well and turned to face her older sister, her tail wagging slightly.

"Sukoia, maybe we'll see another hawk today. Or a fox."

"I doubt it," Sukoia said, "with mother and father around I don't think any other animals are going to want to mess with us, especially when we're hunting." she added with the hint of a grin. She still was sore at her mother from a month or so back, but the thought of being out on a real hunt had a way of sparsely diffusing her hostility towards Mazhra.

Coincidently, Mazhra had overheard them speaking of the fox and stepped closer to them in order to talk. Her tone was less harsh than normal, perhaps a result of her spat with Kembros.

"Enough of that, my daughters," she said, "today is about honing your skills and instincts. You will only be observing the hunt because..." she trailed off for a moment, looking over her shoulder at the entrance to her den, checking if Kembros was listening. "Our mighty "leader"," she added in a sarcastic tone, "thinks it is too dangerous for you to..."

"Mazhra, I will take the youngsters to Kembros' den." Fernak suddenly interrupted her, wanting to keep her from saying something she might regret without being too obnoxious, for her sake. "You can take our little hunters out to the border with Kembros and Strafur. I'll catch up."

The pups and Mazhra looked over at the white furred male as he gently roused the younger half of the litter with nose and tongue.

"Right," Mazhra said, "come on then, pups."

With that said, she turned to lead them to the two males waiting outside, going quiet for now. However, Mazhra's words had already begun to demoralize the excited pups to a degree.

"Wait? What's the point in hunting if we can't..." Skladon started.

Koldain simply sighed lightly.

Sukoia let out a light groan and turned to Kyjara, managing to smirk slightly at her sister despite her own demeanor.

"Who knows? Maybe we will see something..."

Strafur quickly took notice of the puppies as they came outside with their mother. Though they were still far from the age of becoming suitable mates, he did like to see how they progressed in their young age. This would be something of an experience for him as well, for he could get a better understanding of each new female in the pack and perhaps start forming the bond necessary to win her heart when she was ready. He did, however, have a reserved interest in Sukoia, as she was at least in terms of personality, a bit like her mother.

"Are we all set then?" Kembros asked. "Where is Fernak?"

"He's taking the others to your den, he'll meet up with us." Mazhra said laconically.

"I see." Kembros replied, nodding, accepting the plan. "I hope Sarleen doesn't mind the company, I was expecting that Trystila would look over your younger pups while we hunted."

Mazhra was silent, but in the back of her mind she was thinking something along the line of, That's what you get for trying to think, followed by a few other less charming insults.

"Strafur, why don't you take us to the border?" Kembros suggested, "We can wait there for Fernak to catch up."

"Oh, right, leader, I can do that..." Strafur said, snapping out of his temporary day dream about the future he might have with Sukoia.

Kembros smiled slightly as Strafur took point. He then turned to gaze at Mazhra's following puppies before landing his sight on the mother herself.

"They grow up so fast." he said to her, to which she said nothing.

Meanwhile, Fernak had finished waking the four youngest of his brood and had proceeded to lead them to the alpha's den, a place that none of the pups had ever seen from the inside before. Within the den, Sarleen, Kembros' mate, was curled up with her son and daughter, who were perhaps more spoiled than the other pups in the pack. Kembros had tried his best to make sure they were exposed to as few dangers as possible which resulted in them having not yet seen too much of the outside and they were used to food being brought to them in the form of regurgitated meat. When they arrived, Fernak poked his head into the den ahead of his little ones. He smiled when he saw Sarleen.

"My dear, I had hoped my youngest could maybe bond with your pups today while my oldest are out hunting? I hope it isn't too much of a bother..."

Sarleen was used to seeing Fernak around here, talking with Kembros, being his spiritual adviser and all. As such, she was usually happy to see him.

"Oh, Fernak." she said with a light smile, "Yes, I can watch over your little ones. My babies wouldn't mind the company either."

At the mention of that, her son and daughter poked their little heads up from beside her and gazed at Fernak and his little ones with interest.

Ravkal, the oldest of the four and missing his dear sister, Kyjara, glanced almost lazily at the two pups in front of him. They were no replacement for Kyjara, who he now worried might get hurt out on her nasty hunt.

Bavick, however, took an immediate interest in Sarleen's daughter. He thought she was very cute and wanted to play with her. He boldly stepped closer even without his father's permission while Soreyi and Sibylia watched shyly.

Sarleen glanced down at little Bavick as he neared her puppies. She did not protest, even if her motherly urges did leave her with some reservations regarding the situation.

"Bavick, my boy," Fernak chuckled quietly as he watched, "don't be rude, you are in the alpha's den."

Bavick blushed a little and looked over his shoulder at his father.

"Oh, but I – I just want to play is all..."

"Oh, you'll get that chance, my son." Fernak told him, lightly nosing Ravkal, Soreyi, and Sibylia on the top of their heads. "Go on, go with your brother. Have fun with Jacilion and Finvail, but do behave and do what Sarleen tells you."

The three pups seemed hesitant still despite their brother's outgoingness and all three looked up at their daddy with pleading eyes of worry.

"Please don't go, daddy..." Sibylia whined.

"Daddy, we don't know these pups..." added Soreyi.

"Come on, now," Fernak replied with a smile, "do you know what your mother would do to you if she heard you talking like that?" he asked of them in a joking tone.

Sibylia and Soreyi yipped nervously at the mention of their mother and reluctantly moved closer to Bavick. It was something of a running gag that Fernak liked to use on them now and then. He was certain they knew mother would never hurt them and he was also confident in this himself, but she still was one to be feared and if using her name yielded the results he hoped for in regard to their behavior, there was no harm in poking a little fun at Mazhra at her expense.

"Oh, Fernak, you're horrible." Sarleen giggled a little.

"A cruel, heartless parent." Fernak said of himself in humor, adding a playful wink which he aimed at Sarleen. "Do watch over them, my dear and take care." he said before heading out the den's entrance, leaving Ravkal where he stood.

Sarleen at first didn't notice Ravkal was still there, for the other three had come very close to her and took up much of her attention. She gently nosed her spoiled puppies out to greet them for they had little socialization skills due to the protective nature of their parents.

"Go on, Jacili, Finva, say hi to your playmates." the mother told them.

Jacilion yipped softly as she was lightly thumped on the butt by her mother's snout, her brother following suit. She was scooted particularly close to Bavick, who awaited her with his tongue dangling from his maw and his tail wagging to and fro quite rapidly.

"Hello!" Bavick beamed, at once assuming the playful stance, "I'm Bavick, your name is Jacilion, right? I think that's a pretty name, hehe." he added with some impish laughter.

"Um, hello..." she greeted him, much less excitedly than he did.

Finvail's attention went to Sibylia and Soreyi first, but as he gazed in their direction, he saw Ravkal in the background, looking down at the ground and away from them. He appeared to be sad or sick with worry, it was difficult for another young soul to tell the difference between the two at first glance. Finvail barked to get his attention. Maybe they could play together?

Eventually, Strafur, Mazhra, Kembros, and the following four would reach the boundary of Aeilun's territory. It was typical that a pack would hunt within its own territory, but Aeilun itself was rather small in geographic terms when compared to the number of wolves living there. With a lack of other known packs in close proximity, hunting could be done outside of the territory without causing clashes. Also, Aeilun's small size had afforded it the ability to stay hidden from other packs perhaps looking to annex other territories and wolves into their own ranks. This kept Kembros feeling particularly safe most of the time, especially with Fernak's help.

By now though, the waiting around had begun to take its toll on Skladon, who was still the most excited about the journey.

"Mom? When is daddy going to show up? I really want to hunt..." the pup whined.

"You know your father," Mazhra told him firmly, "he's slow. He's physically slow because he didn't train enough as a pup and he's mentally slow because he's a fool."

Skladon's ears wilted a little. That wasn't the answer he was hoping for.

Kembros turned to gaze over at the pessimistic female.

"You sure are hard on Fernak, Mazhra," he told her, "and he usually has nothing but the best words to say about you, even though I don't think you're deserving of most of his praise..."

Mazhra yawned a little, lifting one of her hind legs to scratch a little at her neck.

"I don't really care what you think of me, Kembros. Without me, or others like me, this pack would have starved last winter." she told him. "I'm not here to make you happy, I'm here to keep this pack alive. That's what a warrior does."

The pups listened as their mother argued with Kembros.

"Yes, the warriors are very helpful in aiding the hunters when there are only small borders to patrol and no enemies to fight," Kembros told her, "but as I recall, Fernak was the one who brought down that elk towards the end of spring which pretty much kept us fed until the snow had gone."

"He only helped," Mazhra growled quietly, "Strafur, Blaidor and I did our part as well, as do all the warriors and hunters." Mazhra said, speaking of hunters in a high regard as well since her friend Mitaska was one.

"From what I heard, that elk had banged the lot of you up pretty good and would have probably got away if it wasn't for Fernak's quick thinking." said Kembros.

"Well, then you must have heard wrong."

Before any further exchanging could take place, Fernak had caught up to the hunting party, panting a bit since he had run pretty hard so his puppies wouldn't have to be kept waiting. He was out of breath when he arrived.

"About time." Mazhra commented in a bored fashion. "Come on now, let's get this "lesson" under way. I don't want my pups to still be dependent on me for food when they are at a year of age."

Fernak coughed quietly and wheezed a little.

"No, Mazhra." Kembros interjected. "Fernak needs to rest a little first or he'll fall behind again." he added, approaching Fernak and lying down beside him, placing a paw on his back, in a caring manner.

"Pff..." Mazhra responded, rolling her eyes a bit. "While you play medicine wolf, Kembros. I will scout ahead and see if I can find some rabbits or something. I'm not going to keep my pups waiting all day."

"You do that, Mazhra." Kembros replied promptly in the form of a growl, getting irritated by her constant rudeness. If she was still irked about their little quarrel before then perhaps she needed a moment to cool that hot head of hers.

Without another word, Mazhra disappeared into the thick vegetation up ahead. Strafur sighed slightly as she went. In truth, he'd like to be engaging in something a little more exciting as well, but he knew that Fernak was not the most fit of wolves and understood the importance of team work a bit better than his senior apparently did.

As the puppies watched their mother run off with mixed emotions, Kembros continued to gently rub Fernak's back, trying to assist with recovering the herbalist's breath.

"I don't know how you can stand that female, Fernak." he commented, "I know you love her and all, but..."

"You don't – know the Mazhra that I – know, Kembros..." Fernak told him, panting as he did, "I can see a beautiful creature – buried deep inside that resentful body she walks around in," he added with a smile as he closed his eyes, "she is very – lovely indeed..."

Kembros could not help but to smile at his friend.

"You see the good in everyone, Fernak. Take five and tell me when you're ready to continue." he said, kindly licking his cheek before standing up, wanting to keep alert just in case they had stumbled close to a grizzly's territory, or worse.

The puppies began to quietly chatter amongst themselves, having been taught by their mother never to make too much noise in the wild. Sukoia spoke mostly to Kyjara while Koldain remained Skladon's partner in crime. All the while, Strafur maintained his silence, keeping ever alert, using all of his senses to their maximum abilities. Mazhra had taught him to never let down his guard in the wild as well and he took a great deal of her teachings to heart and never allowed them to stray too far from it. She was his mentor much in the way that Fernak was Kembros', though in the case of Mazhra and him, it was more because they shared the same role in the pack, rather than by choice like it was for Kembros and Fernak.

The near silence would go on for a fair amount of time, but eventually, the sound of coyote yapping and yowls in the distance would reach the ears of the three adults and four pups. It was coming from the direction Mazhra had gone too. This resulted in all ears being pricked up a little to listen.

"Hmm, sounds like a pack of coyotes is making a kill." commented Kembros.

"Coyotes?" Skladon asked. "Will we be hunting them?" he added, even if he knew almost nothing about the animal, especially that the taste might be particularly nasty to anything but a starving wolf.

"No, we won't be." Kembros told him. "They're pretty much our little brothers and we try to avoid them as much as they try to avoid us." he told the young male, using some of Fernak's own words a little bit there.

Fernak smiled a little when he heard that, having regained some of his breath back by now, giving him enough air to add some input into the conversation.

"We're not so different from them, they are pack animals like we are, they have hierarchical structures like we do. They eat most of the same food we do as well, they eat, breathe, and live in our world as well. It's unfortunate that sometimes our species clash together over territory, food, and..."

"Wait, didn't Mazhra head off in that direction?" Strafur interrupted. "The direction those coyote sounds are coming from?"

Kembros' eyes lit up slightly as he realized this too. The last of his pack he wanted interacting with another pack, even a coyote one, was Mazhra.

"I think you're right..." he said in dismay. "That's great, the last thing we need is her starting a war with a coyote pack..."

"War?" Skladon asked.

"Fernak," Kembros said, turning to his friend, "you stay here and watch the pups. Strafur and I will go and see if we can figure out what is going on, alright?"

Fernak nodded his head, hiding his worry regarding Mazhra. He knew she was very capable of defending herself, but if a hostile pack of coyotes happened on a lone wolf, the wolf usually didn't stand much of a chance. He also was worried that Kembros might be right. What if Mazhra had started an unnecessary war? What might the future hold for his darling family? He felt sick to the stomach just thinking about it.

"Strafur! Let's make tracks!" Kembros barked to his young warrior.

Strafur promptly nodded and the two of them were off, following Mazhra's trail, leaving Fernak and the four youngsters behind.

Fernak managed to scoot his way towards his precious offspring, curling his body and tail around them to keep them out of the sight of golden eagles or anything else that might find them more tempting now that less adults were protecting them. He gently kissed each of them on the head before covering them up completely.

"Just stay quiet and still, my children. I will protect you."

Mazhra had stumbled on a caribou very close to death. However, a sizable pack of coyotes had discovered this fateful encounter sooner than she had. That much meat was far to tempting to ignore, even if this was supposed to be a training session for the little ones. Mazhra knew as well as any wolf that when life delivers to you a golden opportunity such as this, that hesitation might lead to your demise later in life and much sooner than most wolves would consider to be a fulfilling lifetime. The thing that Mazhra did not consider, however, was that she might be out of her league against so many coyotes and that the injury that this caribou sustained was most likely the result of a poaching human being's less than precise aim.

Mazhra remained on the right flank of the caribou, who was struggling to figure out which enemy he should focus on more. To his right was Mazhra and to his left were twelve hungry coyotes exchanging insults and provocative words with the wolf. The caribou was quite literally stuck between a rock and a hard place and bleeding out to boot. The blood with no doubt only increased the predators' drive to kill. Whether or not the victim would be just him, or he and one side or the other, was not easy to determine.

"This kill is ours, wolf bitch!" shouted a male coyote from the other side of the caribou. "We found him fair and square! Now get your tail out of here before we tear you apart as well!"

Several other coyotes shouted and yowled in agreement with their comrade, some even making more vulgar comments about Mazhra's sex in particular.

Mazhra ignored the other coyotes for now and focused on the more vocal one towards the front, for he appeared to be the leader and she was certain if she bested him, the "flock of sheep" would follow, for they were only cowardly animals in the first place, nothing like her own kind.

"Really?" she laughed a little, grinning and licking her chops. "Because, it seems to me this caribou's wound is in a place much higher than any of you little bastards could reach. "Now if you will just back down and let me finish it off, I will let all of you escape with your lives at least."

The lead coyote snarled and barked again. "Brave words, wolf bitch! But you haven't called for reinforcements yet, have you?! You're either a crazy, lone bitch, or you're too far away for your pack to help you! Am I right? Hehehe – I'm right, aren't I?"

Some of the other coyotes laughed a bit at this, it sure seemed that Mazhra was talking tough but had no backup to speak of.

"Maybe if you back down, wolf, we'll let you join our pack!" another male shouted. "I am sure you could give plenty of healthy pups to some of our more desperate males, haha!"

Again, the sexist comments did not seem to put a dent in Mazhra's resolve, but the words regarding her pack and why she hadn't called for them yet did lead her to wonder. Why didn't she call for help yet? Did she just want to prove to Kembros and Fernak that she was better than them? That she didn't need them as much as they needed her? Perhaps she just wanted to let off some steam and a pack of coyotes was just as useful of a target as a dying caribou? She really didn't know.

"Unfortunately for you lot, I don't need a bunch of idiot males to help me fend off your rabble of a hunting party." Mazhra responded, trying to keep her cool still. "I've seen more organized squirrels working together to gather and store nuts for winter!"

The lead coyote didn't seem to react terribly much to this insult. In fact, he smirked back at her and nodded to half of his group, which moved out to their right, coming up behind the caribou and trying to corral it in so that it could die within the coyotes' zone of control. The other half, himself included, fanned out to the left, keen on getting close to Mazhra so that they could either subdue and capture her, or chase her off. The laughter amongst the coyotes had died down entirely now. They were much more organized than they appeared, or that Mazhra had anticipated.

This did have an instant affect on Mazhra's confidence and cool. She stood her ground and began to snarl, actually expecting the two groups to attack her from two different angles. As such, she was pretty sure she would not win this fight; even so, she still refused to call for help. Her snarling intensified and her eyes locked on the lead coyote.

"You can attack me, twelve on one," she growled, "but I will be sure to tear your throat out at the very least..." she threatened.

"Hehe, we'll see about that, sweetie." he told her as they drew closer, now licking his lips. "We'll see about that..."

After some time curled around his children, Fernak had almost forgotten about the danger his pack mates were as it was so peaceful out here in the mostly quiet wilderness with his dear pups curled up comfortably beneath him. He could feel them squirming around a little now and then, but not a peep came out of them. They were taught well by their mother. He knew this and smiled with his eyes closed as he thought about it, thought about them, thought about Mazhra...

As the peace began to engulf his mind and body, a howl that sounded much like Mazhra's reached his ears. His mind was currently on Mazhra at the time of the howl so it was difficult to tell. All he knew was that it was a call for help and it was aimed at him. But – what about his puppies?

The little ones heard the howl as well and became a little more active squirming in his fur and under his tail. He lifted his head and gazed down at them. All four of their faces looked right back up at him, their eyes squinting a little as the moonlight returned to them.

"My darlings, I..." Fernak trailed off, taking a deep breath. "I have to go help mother. Listen, I shouldn't be gone long – and I won't abandon you, I..." he cut himself short once more. How could he say that? It felt so much like he was abandoning them. He'd be leaving them in danger, out in the open, helpless. Or would he be? He turned to look around as his quizzical offspring blinked up at him. There it was, a shrub of poison ivy. It was far from a deadly plant when one came in physical contact with it, but most animals would do well to avoid it, as it would cause itching and irritation worse than a million fleas could provide. Fernak was not to fond of the idea of having his skin break out in rashes and possibly blister up as well, but if it would help protect his puppies, it was worth doing.

"My children, follow me!" he exclaimed, feeling greatly rejuvenated upon seeing this welcoming sight. He sprung to all fours and bolted over to the menacing bush, his offspring following, still holding their questioning expressions.

It wasn't more than a skip and a jump from where they were resting. Fernak sat down on his haunches upon arriving on scene. The four pups stopped and looked up at him, not understanding what was going on. Without saying a word, he lowered his mouth and grabbed up Skladon by the scruff, poking his own head into the poisonous leaves, shielding his son to the best of his abilities, and setting him down on the inside of the bush. He pulled his head out as Skladon let out a curious yelp.

"Don't move, my son!" Fernak exclaimed. "Don't touch the leaves, just – stay absolutely still..." he added, picking up Sukoia now and ushering her into the bush. She squirmed for a moment until they entered the bush together, much like he did with Skladon. Fernak set her down and went back for Kyjara and finally Koldain. The four puppies were huddled almost uncomfortably close, trying to avoid the nasty bush. Fernak, however, had been exposed greatly and would feel the affects of the bush's poisonous abilities later on.

"Please, my darlings, don't make any movements or sounds. Just stay perfectly still until I come back with mommy and the others. I will be back for you, I promise!" Fernak told them, bounding out and away, towards the howl, leaving the puppies alone in silence. Some time passes before the siblings begin to break the silence due to nervousness or perhaps boredom.

"Do you think the coyotes got them?" Kyjara suddenly asked quietly.
"Don't be silly," replied Skladon, "you heard Kembros. They're smaller than us, hehe, I bet mom killed a hundred of them."

"Yeah, right..." Sukoia groaned, rolling her eyes. "No one could kill a hundred anything, except maybe beetles."

"Oh yeah? You're just upset because mom scolded you before, hehe. You're so sore at mom because you're not her favorite." Skladon laughed again.

Sukoia narrowed her eyes, scowling at her younger brother. "Perhaps you're looking to get bit again? I don't care if I'm her favorite or not. I don't like her."

Kyjara whined a little. "She is kind of mean at times, but..."

The pups went silent after they heard a twig crack outside of their bush as something was drawing closer. Koldain could see movement just through the bush they were hiding it and though he wouldn't know what it was, he soon was looking at much of the body of a fully grown Canadian Lynx.

Koldain yipped softly when he saw it and whispered the details of what he just witnessed to his siblings. They tried to push him out of the way a little to have a look for themselves.

"Hehe, what's wrong, puppies? Did your family abandon you?" said the feline, having overheard them from inside the bush of ivy. "Not to worry, I have a warm den and food not far from here. You can come with me until they return." the cat added, trying to tempt them out of the bush rather than going in after them. Though a lynx wouldn't typically hunt a wolf, the pups were especially vulnerable without the protection of an adult and would probably make a decent enough meal, much like any other form of carrion that made up a decent amount of an adult lynx' diet. Though the pups were nearly the size of the cat, they were not as expertly adapted to life and death struggles as this feline was. They were in serious trouble.

"Huh?" Skladon replied. "Why would a – a – cat thing want to help us?"

"Charming. You can call me a lynx little wolf." the lynx replied after a soft chuckle to himself.

"You idiot," Sukoia growled quietly at Skladon and the lynx, "he doesn't want to bring us home to keep us safe, he wants to eat us."

"Oh, now where did you hear a story like that little wolfess? From your mother and father perhaps? Well, rest assured, I am a lover of all animals here in the forest. I only eat hares and rabbits in any case."

"You see, sister?" Skladon groaned. "He just eats hares and rabbits. Besides, this bush smells funny. I'm getting sick of hiding in here like a coward. We're supposed to be training how to hunt anyway."

"Learning to hunt? How cute." replied the cat. "You know, I could help you all with that, it wouldn't be that difficult at all for someone such as m..."

A terrifying shriek of a noise sounded out among the woods, bouncing off the trees and carrying some distance, but more importantly, this sound had a chilling affect on the lynx' confident nature and even scared the living daylights out of the little ones as well. It sounded like the cry of a human baby, or the noise a predatory animal might make while it was being disemboweled and eaten – alive. It was a sound that could cause even a brave, though inexperienced wolf to urinate fearfully on the spot. It was the sound of a fisher on the prowl.

The lynx hissed as it recognized the sound, much unlike the puppies. "Heh – you puppies have a nice day now..." the lynx told them before running off like a domestic cat might from a German Shepherd. The lynx definitely outweighed a fisher, but the fisher, much like its wolverine cousin, was absolutely fearless and fully capable of challenging and beating animals much bigger than itself.

"Wh – what was that?" cried Koldain as he moved closer to Skladon for comfort. Sukoia found herself to be acting as comfort for Kyjara as well, who was pressed so firmly against her older sister the two of them might look like one, eight legged, two tailed puppy at a quick glance. Sukoia did not seem disturbed by this.

"I don't know." Sukoia replied to her brother's frightened question. "But whatever it was, it scared off that tailless freak in a hurry..."

Skladon tried to maintain his courageous demeanor, but it was waning pretty fast. What could have scared off something as big as a lynx? Sure, the lynx wasn't much bigger than they were, but as a puppy, everything seemed bigger than reality would suggest.

"Oh, no!" Kyjara cried. "I hear it, it's coming closer!"

Indeed, there were sounds of paws approaching the four little puppies and by now all four of them were shivering together in one big ball of fur. They could not see this creature through their poison ivy shield as it approached from a different angle than the lynx had. Suddenly, the paw steps would stop just outside of the bush. There was a few seconds of silence.

"Psst." a male voice whispered to the puppies. Sukoia and Kyjara recognized that voice, even if it was a bit soft due to the whispering.

"Puppies." the voice called again as soon enough, a bright, red furred muzzle poked its way through the bush, avoiding the poison ivy in doing so. It was Tilkis, the red fox that Kyjara and Sukoia had met about a month ago.

Skladon began snarl pathetically at the fox, barking a little. "Leave my siblings alone you big meanie!" he cried.

Sukoia and Kyjara were the first two to loosen up. Sukoia scoffed at her brother's ridiculous attempt to look brave.

"Moron, this is that fox I told you about. The one that you didn't believe existed..."

Tilkis frowned. "Listen, puppies, you need to be quiet, okay? That lynx might come back, and I doubt he'll be happy to see that he mistook a fox for a fisher."

"Why should we trust you?" Sukoia asked, taking the words right out of Skladon's mouth.

Tilkis' eyes looked a little hurt. "I'd never harm you – and look how big you've grown. The four of you could easily overpower and kill me if you so chose." he told them, leaving out the part where he'd high tail it out of there with his foxy hijinks if he had to. "But please, that lynx could return at any time. If you come out of the bush from this side you won't be infected by the poison."

"Wait – poison?" Skladon yipped.

Tilkis clenched his teeth. "Not poison, poison – it'll only make you itch but it'd really irritating. Just keep your head and ears down and follow me. I have a den nearby..." he told them. His voice was soft though, he was afraid of how his mate would react to him bringing home four wolves.

The puppies hesitated but Sukoia was the first to go, leading the puppy train it would seem. With Sukoia gone, Kyjara followed promptly and soon Skladon, determined not to look like a coward. This left Koldain to take up the rear.

In no time at all the four puppies were outside of their bush with Tilkis in front. Now that they could better see him, they knew he wasn't lying. He was at best eighteen pounds and they outweighed him by at the very least five to ten. Skladon felt more confident once he realized this.

"Alright, fox. You're now my prey! Mom will be proud of me, yet!"

Sukoia turned and bit Skladon on the ear, growling at him. "He just saved our lives, stupid! Now shut up before you convince that lynx to come back and snack on your neck."

Skladon narrowed his eyes. He absolutely hated being one upped by anyone, especially his sister, a female.

"Alright," Tilkis sighed, "just stay close to me. Don't worry, any. I will bring you back when your parents return. I promise."

Sukoia lead the group of wolves once again with Tilkis ahead of her. She eyed the fox with a curious, yet skeptical disposition. Remembering what her mother told her about foxes, she was perplexed why this one was behaving very much in the opposite way he was supposed to be.

It did not take terribly long for the group of five to reach Tilkis' den. He stopped just outside of the entrance and turned to the pups. "It might be a little cramped in there, but..." he took a deep breath, severing his dialog for a moment, "I beg you, please do not get terribly close to my mate. She's had her litter and she will not be as happy to see you as I was. Just stay as close as you can to the entrance with me, okay?"

Sukoia stared at him with slightly narrowed eyes, while the other three just tilted their heads. They were used to their mother being dominant and unfair to their father, so this experience they were about to receive with the fox couple wouldn't be terribly new to them.

Tilkis took a deep breath and entered. He always dreaded entering the den while the cubs were still den bound, but soon enough they'd be out of the den and Kunasha would welcome him back into her life.

When Tilkis entered, Kunasha narrowed her eyes and growled protectively of her cubs as any mother vixen would. "Tilkis!" she snapped. "Leave the food by the den, I can get it on my o..." she stopped, her jaw dropping when she saw the wolves entering behind him. Tilkis kept himself between her and the wolf pups.

Sukoia got the first glance at the vixen. She was just as red as her mate and had several little red furred babies pressed against her tummy. They were so close together she could not count them, but one thing did stand out in the scene. Kunasha, Tilkis' mate, was a three legged fox. Her left hind leg was missing from about half way down the leg to where the paw should have been. The puppies would not know it, but she was the victim of a hunter's trap when she was younger.

"Kunasha," Tilkis spoke very humbly to his bewildered mate, "these puppies, they will be staying with us hopefully for no more than an hour while their parents..."

"Tilkis!" she responded again, narrowing her eyes and showing her pointed fangs. "How much easier can you make it for those murderers to feast on our young!? Have you lost your mind!?"

Tilkis flinched. He was very thankful that this behavior would soon be over. If the wolf pups were now out and about, soon too would his cubs be, which were late to arrive to the world compared to the average vulpine litter.

"I'm sorry, Kunasha, my beloved, but I could not leave them out there to die – they need us right now..."

Sukoia exchanged glances with Koldain, Kyjara, even Skladon and they exchanged glances between each other as well. It was an unusual ordeal for the four of them to be brought into a den that was dug in the ground rather than above ground and was made of stone, only to find a foxy form of their own mother and father to be residing within. That very thought did lead them to wonder though. What happened to Mazhra and their father, Fernak? Were they alright?