Rahasya kept her voice soft to prevent fueling my defensiveness. "I didn't mean it negatively. I'm not trying to antagonize you. I just can't keep reassuring you that this is all fate."

Trying not to overreact, I stared at the sky, a vast pool of orange and pale gray hues.

"Rahasya . . ." I said stoically, "For over thirty moons—an endless cycle of seasons—I have lived in search of phantom wolves. Life in this pack came to me like a dream: seemingly familiar but never truly real. To see a struggling family, broken like my own, made me inclined to welcome Cattana and Kuttom. Bahana is even more of my responsibility. It's not fate; it's life."

Feeling much better after explaining my reasoning calmly, I looked at Rahasya. The expression in her eyes was one that made me feel almost uncomfortable. She was giving me a gaze full of sympathy and, nearly, pity. It's the kind of soft gaze one would cast towards a pup who simply doesn't understand the concept of hunting strategically; how slow and dimwitted that poor pup truly is. In this case, I was the slow and dimwitted pup. I was the one engulfed by emotions and conflicting agendas. Instead of viewing our situation from a logical perspective, taking my own actions into account and ceasing my constant spewing of excuses, I was justifying my rationale with a mere pup's tale. Or, at least, this is the opinion that shone in Rahasya's kind eyes, lit up like fireflies in the twilight.

"Kale," she said, "despite my view on things, I support you. I hope you know that."

Hearing her admit this, my ears lost their tension. How could I have forgotten of her loyalty?

"Yeah," I replied, sounding assuaged, "I think I always know that. C'mon."

I stood up and passed through the bushy, snow-coated gateway to camp, Rahasya at my heels. She retreated to her den when I became distracted by Kaindi. The golden pup was lying in a small pile of leaves, prodding a dying insect, but she looked not the least bit intrigued by her actions. Yet, I was pleased to see Kaindi out in the open after only seeing her in short intervals for the past few days.

"How's it going, Kaindi?" I asked.

She dully raised her head. "Fine. Thanks, Kale." She pawed the insect.

I was suspicious of her polite act. "Why so sullen?"

She sat up, looking more directly at me. She finally showed her disappointment and a bit of irritation. "We were supposed to go hunting. Ceka and Cattana promised. Gili and I were gonna catch rabbits . . . but with everything going on for the past couple of days . . ."

I couldn't help but feel responsible. "Oh, Kaindi. I'm sorry. They probably just have a lot on their minds. They're very busy she-wolves. I know you three are upset."

She gave an exasperated glare, retorting in a growl. "Three? No. I'm upset, but Gili and his new best pal haven't thought about it once. That mouse of a pup has given Gili the attention span of Jati."

I gave her a sympathetic look. "You can't blame them for getting along. Have you even tried to cooperate with Kuttom?"

Her exasperation now stemmed from me. "She's too full of herself." I ignored this irony. "We'll never get to go hunting or play Alphas or have races in the Pasture of the Elk if she keeps ruining all the fun!"

I sighed. What could I do to help them get along?

"Hey, what about this?" I asked, sparking her attention. "I'll take you all out for hunting tomorrow, okay? I'll talk to your parents."

"Okay!" she replied. "I'll tell Gili and Kuttom if they really have to come."

I barked a laugh at her snobbiness. "Easy, Kaindi. Don't hold your nose so high, or it'll start to catch snow."

She gave me a defiant glare in response to the remark and retired to the Alpha den.

When dawn emerged as a warm, dim light prodding my eyes, I stood and stretched in my apparently empty den. I exited the narrow den's mouth, noticing that most of the pack was up early. Personally, I had morning hunting duty, so I sat on one side of the den entrance, waiting for Bhumi to get the hunting party organized. Jati sat on the opposite side of the den, suddenly turning to me as if just then noticing my presence.

"Oh, hey! Morning, Kale." His fluffy gray tail wagged in the snow.

I bitterly replied, "Hi, Jati. Morning."

He returned to staring forward. Curious, I traced his gaze to Bahana. She was lying in a patch of direct morning sunlight in the clearing, clearly chilled by the morning breeze. It didn't look like she had dozed off, but it was evident that the sun's warmth was relaxing her. I indifferently observed this, then looked back at Jati. Suddenly, it dawned on me.

"Oh, you little pup." I muttered.

"Hmm?" Jati asked, turning to me with a daydreaming expression.

I looked at him knowingly.

"What?" he asked defensively.

I mocked his young voice. "'Oh, she's so pretty!'"

His ears fell back. "Shut it, Kale."

Bhumi walked out from his den, directing his voice to the wolves in the clearing. "For this morning's hunt, I'm going to Pasture of the Elk with Kale, Jati, Akela, and Bahana."

Jati looked at me, wagging his tail with excitement. "We're with Bahana!" he exclaimed quietly, poking his muzzle in my direction.

Bahana stood up, shaking her light brown, slightly shaggy coat of snow flurries and dirt. Simultaneously, a reluctant Akela padded towards the camp entrance.

"Well?" asked the black she-wolf, looking at the rest of us. "Are we ready?"

Bhumi sighed at her obnoxiousness, exiting camp to take his place as leader of the hunt. Akela trailed behind him, and as Jati and I approached, Bahana remarked, "Gee, what a character."

As we walked, each wolf became a little distanced from the other, but Jati and I walked side by side, as I was intrigued by how he was intrigued. He was watching Bahana slink forward.

He quietly asked me, "How old is she?"

"Older than you," I scoffed.

He retorted, "You're not very old."

"Then there's your answer." I determined.

At the front of the line, Bhumi hushed our low voices. We filed into a closer group, standing behind the last of the trees before Pasture of the Elk. In the wide field, a group of three female bison were using their hefty heads to push back snow and eat the preserved grass underneath.