Apples and Mangos
Nova watched the sun rise over the mountains, breathing in the crisp morning air, trying to relax her mind before heading back to her pack. Hunger twisted her stomach, but she ignored the furious growling; now was not the time to be thinking of her. Nova started down the trail that led towards her home with only a basket of berries to show for her efforts.
A few of the pack members greeted her upon her arrival, but seemed disappointed in the lack of food in her arms. Nova scurried towards the center fire and presented her findings to the alpha. Kaya, the female alpha, gave Nova an empathy smile and thanked her for bringing the food to her.
"Nova, head to your den. I'm sure your mother needs your help with something," Kaya said distractedly, nodding forward a hunter with his meager kill. Nova scurried away from the alpha and headed down the worn trail that lead to her family's den.
Nova helped her mother prepare their meager meal for the evening, stale bread and dried deer meat again, while they tidied up the den, rearranging her parents' nest and her own bed of furs and ridding the cave of dead leaves. It was boring work but, needed to be done before her father arrived home from an unsuccessful hunt from this morning.
"Mom, may I go find Chitsa before father returns?" Nova asked after all the chores were finished, eagerly standing before the older female. The mother eyed the young woman, noting the frigidly energy she had while eying the den entrance.
"Of course, darling, but just be back before the returning hunters," Nova's mother answered, smiling contently at her daughter.
Nova quickly located her closest friend near the washing spring, cleaning her own parents' clothing for her chores. Chitsa's pale blond hair flowed over her shoulders as her normally tall figure was crouched before the clear water.
Nova greeted her friend happily and the two girls promptly started to do the washing while gossiping about the pack news and the boys their age that would be going through the "manhood ceremony" as they jokingly called it when they were away from adult ears. Two weeks before mating season begins for the older members of the pack and Chitsa and Nova were only a year away from becoming of age to pick a mate and begin breeding.
"I heard that Paco claimed Lulu last night. Lulu's parents weren't very happy about it but, there's nothing they can do about it now. Lulu moved into Paco's den this morning," Chitsa gushed about their friends. Nova blushed and giggled along with her. Paco and Lulu had always been in love every since they were pups so it wasn't such a big surprise.
The sun was almost overhead, meaning Nova's father would be home soon. Nova said her goodbyes quickly and left her friend to finish her chores as she hurried back to her family's den. Nova's mother was already inside, the meal ready for when her mate came in.
"How was Chitsa?" she asked, smoothing out the wrinkles in one of her new dresses.
"She's well, as always," Nova replied, heading towards the back of the den to relax.
A racket was heard outside and frantic yells drew Nova's mother outside of the den to inspect the problem. Nova tried to follow after her but, was warned to stay inside. Disappointed and worried, she nestled onto her furs, hoping to rest before her parents returned. The pain in her stomach though would not let her have rest. Nova sighed longingly for a full meal and daydreamed of the summer days with fruits and rabbit meat for every meal.
"Nova!" her father called anxiously, standing at the edge of the entrance of the den. She leapt to her feet and ran over to him, letting him wrap his arms around her and crushing her into his chest painfully. "We need to leave now. Grab your cloak and hurry," he rumbled, releasing her so she could follow his instructions.
Nova threw on her cloak and scampered after her family. Her father tucked Nova and her mother under his arms and pulled them along with the stream of hysterical pack members that were crying and calling out to their loved ones. Everyone was leaving their home, trying to make it into the unmarked forest to the east that that was rarely used.
Her father kept her face pushed into his chest has he tried to hustle them along, making her stumble frequently. Nova desperately wanted to look around for Chitsa but, her father forced her head down, growling when she struggled.
"What is happening?" Nova cried out, her voice muffled by the shirt in her face. Before her parents could report what had happened screams filled the air behind them and deadly snarls silenced the screams quickly before her mother could even look behind them.
"Run! Follow the pack!" her father yelled, pushing the two tiny females out from under his arms towards the franticly running pack ahead of them. He turned away from them and shifted, turning into a powerful looking gray wolf-man with sharp canines.
With an earsplitting roar he launched himself into the fight behind them while the mother and daughter ran full tilt after their remaining friends. Nova's vision was blurred as tears flowed from her hazel eyes as she tried to keep up with her mother's quick and sure steps but, she soon fell behind, stumbling over roots and grabbing onto tree trunks to support her trembling frame.
A loud sob broke free from her chest, shaking her whole body. Nova covered her mouth, hoping to stifle the sound, not wanted to alert the unknown enemy of her location, as she struggled find her pack. She staggered around for hours, listening for the sounds of paws or feet on the ground, markings in the bracken, or even the hint of a familiar scent.
Her tears had long since stopped flowing when Nova found a burrow wide enough that she could fit through if she shifted. She calmed herself and focused on the primitive knowledge that was located deep inside her mind and let her body shift down to four legs and shrink in size.
Nova's fur was a chocolate brown like her long hair and her hazel eyes shone out of her skull with much more intelligence than an average wolf in the forest. She was tiny though, a disadvantage in a fight, if it ever came to that for her.
Nova wiggled her little body into the burrow and curled up into a tight ball to trap her own heat in as best as possible as the early winter night was quickly creeping up on her. She waited for sleep to find her but, even though her eyes were heavy with sleep, the screams of her pack members echoed through her mind.
Fear plagued her dreams as she slept, making her whimper out like a pup, and waking up every few hours. Sunlight was streaming over the land when a sound woke Nova up for the last time.
She lifted her head from her resting place and peered around disoriented, curious as to what awakened her from her light sleep.
A scent drifted to her nostrils. Someone unknown was so near that they could probably smell where she was hiding. Nova shuffled father back in the burrow, pressing her hindquarters against the dirt wall, facing the entrance.
Paws and sniffing could be heard right outside of the burrow before a large male tried to stick his head through the burrow. The two wolves looked at each other in surprise before Nova raised her hackles in warning, snarling as furiously as she could despite her size.
The unfamiliar wolf pulled his head out of the burrow and Nova could hear the wolf backing away from the burrow. A moment's pause occurred before a raspy voice was calling out to her.
"Little girl, come out of your den. We will not hurt you. The rest of your pack is waiting for you to join them, so make it quick," the raspy voice called to her. The man blindly reached into the burrow, trying to make a grab for her. She growled and sank her teeth into the hand that was reaching for her. The man grunted in pain but, pulled his hand from her jaws and swiftly grabbed the scruff of her neck before she could pull back from him.
Nova snarled, barked, and howled, trying to squirm out of his grasp while the man forcefully pulled her out. Before Nova could make a dash for it a homemade muzzle was strapped around her jaws and a rope looped around her neck.
The unfamiliar man pulled her by the rope, making her gag and choke when she tried to pull back. He'd snarl at her and pull harder when she tried to resist until he finally got frustrated enough that he swung out and kicked her in the ribs. She whimpered and lay there, trying to regain her breath and figure out if her rib was broken or not.
"Up! Get up! We don't have time for your weakness," he growled. When she didn't rise he reached for her and picked her up. She lay across his shoulders, struggling to breathe as he carried her off to some unknown place.
After a few miles of running with her the man slowed and sniffed the air before taking a left and followed strong scent that smelled similar to the man carrying her. Nova tried to look around her but, the bouncing of his steps were making her nauseous and if she had something in her stomach she would have thrown up a long time ago.
"Andre, I've caught another one!" the man carrying her yelled. Nova's head rolled as she tried to take in where she was and who the man was talking to.
"Kind of tiny, that one. How old do you think she is?" the mysterious Andre answered. Nova was lowered down and placed less than gently on the ground. She looked closely at her captors while her kidnapper held tight to her rope.
The man that had carried her had long, scraggly reddish brown hair that was unkempt and dirty. His face was covered with a bushy beard, hiding his face but, Nova could easily pick out the two black eyes peering out of all that hair.
The other man, Andre, was tidier. His dark blond hair was slicked back into a ponytail and his face was clear of hair and showed his middle aged face. His image would have made hope flicker in Nova's heart but, his eyes held cold ice for her and made her wary of trusting him for anything.
"I'd guess she'd be just at that age or close to it. I'm sure our buyers won't be picky," her kidnapper guessed, nudging her with the toe of his boot. Nova growled half-heartedly, knowing that there wasn't much hope of intimating the two large men but, not wanting to appear weak either.
"Put her in her age group, Bayard, and make sure Coty doesn't bother the other bitches. We need this group pure and intact," Andre ordered, giving her back a tender stroke. "Such a pretty girl," he murmured before strolling away, barking orders to another unseen man.
Bayard grunted as he stooped to nudge her up to her feet. Nova trailed after the filthy man, keeping pace with him so he wouldn't choke her with the rope. She looked around curiously, wanting to know as much about her captors as possible.
Small fires were dotted around the forest and Nova could hear men calling to one another for help or asking for food. In the background she could also hear wolves snarling and growling just like she had done an hour ago to intimidate Bayard back at the burrow. The air was thick with the smell of the unfamiliar men, a smell that was foreign to these parts of the forest. The men must have come from another territory.
"Coty, I've got another for you!" Bayard bellowed, making Nova's ears go flat against her head at the sudden racket from the man. A skinny yet tall man stumbled from the bushes, grinning hugely at the sight of Nova cowering at Bayard's side. He looked younger than Andre but, wasn't close to boyhood either.
"My, my, my, what a cute little girl, come to join my little family of beauties?" he cooed down at Nova. A cruel smile ruined the flattering words though. "She's a tiny thing, isn't she? Won't matter though, when it comes down to it," Coty exclaimed.
"That's what Andre said too but, I think she's too scrawny in my opinion," Bayard grumbled as Coty reached for her. Nova whined and backed against Bayard's leg unconsciously for protection. Coty barked out a laugh and pulled her away from the dirty man and into his arms, taking her rope with him.
"Aw, do you want to stay with Bayard? I don't think you'll like him, he hits little bitches like you for fun," Coty chuckled, examining her legs and ears interestedly before setting her back down on the ground. "I think she's in good condition for traveling. Good job, Bayard," he said, turning away from him and pulling Nova after him.
They went through the bushes and ended up in a clearing that was occupied with the young ladies and teenage girls from her pack. All of them had shifted into wolves and were tied to varies trees or to other ropes that were linked to the trees and muzzled. A few of the girls stirred as Nova arrived but, most were curled up sleeping next to one another.
"Now, I'm just going to tie you up here and let your get reacquainted with your friends while I go get some breakfast. Be a good girl," he murmured in her ear, securing the rope to another's before trotting off in the direction they had come.
Nova looked around for familiar faces and quickly located Chitsa on the other side of the clearing, asleep next to her older sister. Nova swiftly realized after a hurried check around the clearing that all of the girls here were between the ages of sixteen to twenty five; the perfect mating age in a wolf's life.
Coty didn't return until the sun was fully raised and most of the girls were awake and tugging at their ropes or getting tangled while they squirmed. He counted them out loud before retying all of them until they were in a straight line and he held the lead rope.
"Okay, girls, listen up! We're about to start home and it's going to be a long journey if you fight the whole way! If one of you tries to get away, you choke your sisters around you, so for the comfort of your neighbors, try not to leave the line! Let's get going, my beauties!" and he lead the way out of the clearing.
The ropes kept them close together and constantly moving if the girls didn't want to get stepped on. It worked to keep them moving just the way Coty wanted until the rest of Coty's men joined them. Whimpers and howls were starting to come from Nova's pack females as they spotted the males of their pack tied just the same as they were not but several yards from them. The males spotted the females the moment the girls started crying out for them. Nova didn't see her father among them.
Males broke their straight line and strained towards the ladies, choking themselves but, not giving up. Many of the other girls were straining for their families or mates while the males frenzied themselves, tangling, choking, and trampling each other as they desperately tried to reach the equally hysterical females.
"Alright, that's enough!" Andre hollered over the noise everyone was making and cracked a stick down on a female wolf that was in his reach. Snarls of outrage came from Nova's pack as Andre repeatedly hit the females that were in his range. Cries can from the fallen girls until Andre stopped his assault.
"If you keep acting up, they keep getting hurt! Now get back in line!" Bayard appeared, calling out to the frantic males, holding a thick cub threateningly in his hands.
After much confusion and chaos the lines were straight against and the males and females were kept away from each other but, close enough to see one another. The strange men that had attacked and kidnapped them stayed close to each group, growling out threats and making them trot at a steady pace until night fell.
Nova's paws were cut and bleeding from running all day and her throat was dry from lack of water. Coty tied everyone to a tree to let them rest before bringing raw meat and dishes for them to eat out of. The females were well taken care of. They were watered and feed until all their bellies were content for the first time in weeks.
An alarming amount of snarls came from the area the males were kept and all of the females looked over to see what had caused such an uprising from them. Their captors were throwing meat to them but, instead of feeding each like they had for them; they were made to fight each other for their food.
Nova felt bile rise up in her throat at such a cruel act.
They traveled for three days, never stopping until night and only getting feed right before they were to rest for the night. Nova's paws were raw and she had to hobble to keep up with the swift pace Coty set for them. Many of the other girls had similar injuries from their daily running but, none of them risked stopping for fear of a beating again from Andre.
During the three days, Nova had spotted other groups from her pack tied like the rest of them. She noticed a pattern in all of the groups. Age determined which group you ended up in and what kind of treatment you received. She still hadn't spotted either of her parents in any of the groups though.
It was noon and the sun was shining weakly upon Nova's panting form as she ran after Coty. The pace was much quickly today and she wasn't the only one having trouble keeping up.
"Almost home, men!" an eager man called out. Hollers of excitement followed this exclamation and everyone was full out sprinting, trying not to choke one another as Coty pulled them.
The dull scenery changed drastically and Nova stumbled after the sudden change. Blue water faced them and her throat ached at the thought of that much water so close. None of the captors spared the water a second glance though and drove them along beside the lake until they were lead back into the forest. Nova longed to go back to the water. It was so beautiful.
"They're home! They're back!" screams of rejoice rang through the air as strangers, women and children, ran out to greet their captors. Hugs and kisses were rained down upon the vile men that had taken them like they were heroes to their own pack.
Andre stepped out of some woman's arms and started calling for several women that were standing at the edge of the welcoming party. Three women stepped forward at his command. They were older women that would have grandchildren by now and should have been talked to with much more respect than Andre was showing them.
"Get to work on Coty's group of females. The South pack will be here tomorrow and they need cleaning up," Andre ordered the three.
Nova's group was shepherd away from the others and was lead back towards the water but, took a different trail. Nova's eye widen in amazement as she spotted her first hot spring. The water steamed up into the air and the ground was warmer around the pools of warmth.
"Alright, ladies, please listen! We would like you to clean yourselves up in the spring before we get you new clothes. We'll be taking off your muzzles so if you'll just be patient, please," one of the women called out in a feeble voice.
The three women weaved through the group, untying and taking the muzzling device off of them. No one dared try to run after being released but, huddled close together, whimpering in fear. After Nova was released she eased herself next to Chitsa and her sister and nestled closed to them.
"You may shift back and wash ourselves. Maria will be getting you all some clothes so don't worry about walking around naked afterwards," one of the women tried to joke after all of them were released.
The girls hesitantly shifted back to their human forms and Chitsa and Nova embraced each other with many tears exchanged between them. Around them many others were hugging friends and family with tears in their eyes.
One of the women gently reminded everyone that they needed to wash before the next group was brought here. Washing and wadding through the water while Maria returned with new cloths for them and the other two women gathered their soiled clothing.
Each lady received a thin dress for them to wear but, some got white and others got yellow. Nova and Chitsa obtained white dresses while her sister received yellow. Nova's dress was too big for her and hung off of one of her shoulders but, she couldn't get it to stay up. Brushes and combs were passed around and each girl had another fix their hair into a braid as Maria instructed them to do.
"Ladies, if you would please follow us, we will take you to your sleeping quarters for tonight and make sure your meal is delivered to you," the woman said before leading them back the way they came.
The welcome party for their captors had been moved into a giant cave with a fire in the middle to warm them. The girls were lead to the very back where a pile of furs were thrown wildly on the cave floor for them to sleep on. Nova's pack females made themselves comfortable as best that they could while their meal was brought to them by other females of Andre's pack.
After Nova ate her fill she nestled down on her fur and sniffed it curiously. It smelled of another female but, the scent was stale. This pack had kidnapped other females before them.
"Psst, Nova, come here!" Chitsa hissed a few feet away. Nova wiggled over to her friend and laid beside her, pretending to sleep when someone came to check on them.
"What is it?" Nova breathed. Chitsa had that look on her face when she had a juicy piece of gossip she wanted to share with her.
"One of the ladies that brought us food told me why we've been brought here. This pack trades a lot, she said, and they mostly trade people since they bring in such "good money" and that's why we've been brought here, to be sold!" Chitsa rushed out quickly before someone else could come back to their corner of the cave.
Nova hid her face in the furs under her so she wouldn't show her terror stricken expression. To be sold like an object, no better than spices or food to be traded among packs. She hadn't known that the rest of the world allowed such madness to accrue around them! They were all barbaric and savage for doing such a thing!
"Did she say what we were to be sold for?" Chitsa's sister whispered since Nova didn't reply to such shocking news. Nova lifted her head out of curiosity.
"I'm not sure. She left after that," she answered much louder than she intended.
"No whispering back there!" a voice yelled back at them.
Nova, Chitsa, and her sister all snuggled close together for reassurance before drifting off to sleep.
The females were awoken abruptly the next morning by yelling and pushing. Bayard ordered them out of the cave and made them march out into the crisp morning air in a straight line just like when they were tied together.
Men that were unlike the ones that had kept them captured over the last few days stood waiting for Bayard and them. Fifteen or so of them eyed them inquisitively while the females eyed them just the same. They had never seen such brightly clothed men with lime green clothes and bright violet cloaks and with such fair hair, all of them.
"Pack of the South, these are the lovely ladies of the Northeast," Bayard said greasily, waving his hand grandly at the line of girls. Nova shifted awkwardly, unsure what they were supposed to do in front of these men that had traveled so far to supposedly buy them. It seemed most of the girls thought the same thing and none moved.
"What frightened little doves they are!" one laughed, stepping away from the group and began to scrutinize them. The rest of the men took his lead and started to circle the ladies with curiosity and lust in their eyes. A few pulled girls out of line to examine them more closely before pushing them back in line. Chitsa was among them.
"Well, what do you think, Brac?" Bayard questioned after a few minutes of looking at them. Brac looked back at his men, received a few nods before answering him.
"We'll take a few of them off your hands," he chuckled. Brac motioned for the men to step forward and pick their girl. Nova was thankfully over looked but, Chitsa was pulled out of line by a young, tanned male and eagerly pulled her into his arms. Nine of the men picked a girl out of line.
Nova realized with a jolt what was happening. All the girls in this group were the right age for mating which was why they were placed together. These men were paying for a kidnapped mate! Picking a mate was supposed to be a careful choice, not like picking out your clothes for the day!
"Excellent! Andre is waiting in the side cave for his payment so if you'd please?" Bayard motioned to a much smaller cave than the one they had stayed the night in. Brac and his men marched into the cave while the girls that were chosen were pulled after them with confused and frightened looks.
Nova locked eyes with Chitsa once more before she was pulled into the cave with her buyer. Chitsa's sister sobbed loudly into the furs back in the cave. Nova let her own silent tears make tracks down her cheeks as the girls around her started to figure out what she had realized outside in the line.
"Mates! They're buying mates! How vile!" they hissed to one another.
Nova and Chitsa's sister slept side by side that night, each sniffing and rubbing their sore eyes.
The next day the same thing happened again. They were lined up and brought outside for Andre's own pack men to take a look at. Seven ladies were pulled out of the line and taken as mates leaving less than half the girls to be ushered back inside the cave. The small group slept curled up together after that.
Nova and the girls were there a full week without anyone else being taken as a mate. Whispers could be heard at night at the back of cave as the girls asked each other what was to happen to them if they weren't chosen.
On the seventh day the three women that had taken them to the hot springs came back and made them bathe again and gave them fresh clothes. The girls' hair was to be put in ponytails and ribbons to be placed in their hair. Extra care was used this time as the women made sure they were readied and cleaned.
Nova wanted to know why such care was being used with them now. They were feed better that night and the next morning they were awoken with gently pokes instead of hits and yelling.
"Ladies, line up! Some gentlemen have traveled a long way to see you and are very eager to meet you," Andre exclaimed once all of them were awake. He seemed jittery and eager to please these guests that had come to see them.
Nova found a place in the middle of line and followed Chitsa's sister outside. The men waiting for them this time were tanned and big. They easily towered over Andre and their arms looked to be as big was her thigh. She swallowed nervously and eyed these monster men. They looked even larger to her since she was so tiny already.
"This all of them?" the largest man asked Andre, stepping forward. Andre nodded and waved towards them grandly like Bayard had done last week. The man grunted and motioned for his men to look as he himself eyed each of them carefully, pulling each girl out of line and examining them thoroughly.
He pulled Nova out of line and lifted her chin so she would look at him. She craned her neck to look him in the eyes and was startled by the red eyes peering down at her. He titled his head to the side and stared down at her before stooping down to get eye to eye with Nova.
His scent wafted up her nose and her eyes fluttered at such a heavenly smell. It was like mangos, cinnamon, and something else that made her toes curl with delight. The man inhaled deeply as well and his red eyes closed as he took her scent in. A low growl rumbled from out of his chest, halting the rest of the men from their search to look over at their leader.
"You are the one," he stated before picking Nova up and cradling her in his huge arms. She squeaked and tried to push herself out of his grasp. He didn't seem to notice her struggling and rounded on Andre. "How much for this one?" he asked.
Andre looked unsurely at Nova before smiling at the man uncertainly. "For you, Adolfo, free. She's so tiny and you're such a good friend to our pack it would be rude to charge anything for her," Andre said silkily.
Nova sat dumbly in the man's arms as the men finished selecting their own mates. Only two other girls were picked with her and they were paid for handsomely. Chitsa's sister looked at Nova in horror before she was carried off into the forest in the arms of a strange man.
To be continued…