My head low in the grasses, and my body crouched to make myself smaller; I stalked the small doe with fervor. She hadn't picked up my scent yet, and I was closing in perfectly to catch my prey. It wasn't the job of a Shadow Leader to hunt, but I reveled in the rush, the adrenaline, and the warm, pumping blood. Saliva built in my mouth as I thought of the moment I would strike and have the doe's throat in my jaws, and the moment when I would bite into her soft entrails and eat richly.
I readied my hind legs to spring forward, and just as I was about to leave the ground and startle my prey, she caught scent of something. The doe's head rose in alarm, she sniffed the air. It wasn't me, the wind was still blowing against me, but whatever she smelled caused her to flee, bounding away through the trees. I cursed and jumped into the clearing, smelling the air for anything that would have startled her. It wasn't that difficult to startle a deer, but if there was a challenger nearby, I was ready!
"The Shadow Master has called a meeting of Shadow Leaders and Shadow Hunters," Rafe's unmistakable voice said through the trees. I growled low and menacingly at him. He was one hair shy of a fight! As his Shadow Leader, he shouldn't have been interfering with anything I did!
"Why didn't he just summon me himself?" I asked fixing Rafe with a hard stare. I knew why, because Rafe was wondering what I was doing off alone in the woods and wanted to check up on me.
"He can't always keep up with you, Durga," Rafe said. I hissed gently. It was early autumn, the time of year that wolves picked a mate for the winter and to sire their spring pups. I had just reached the age of two in which I was allowed to mate. Rafe had been on my tail since the trees had begun shedding their leaves.
"Where does he want us to meet?" I asked.
"Under the Old Willow," Rafe said looking triumphant, like I had finally given into him.
"Well, send the Shadow Master my apologies, but I have other things I must attend to," I said turning and leaping into the brush. Rafe was much too loyal to chase me, loyal to the Shadow Master. He would be at that meeting. As for me, I was the only member of the Frawn not crippled with fear by him, the only one that dared defy him and speak up to him. He hated it, and we had gotten in many fur flying brawls because of it. I could easily put an end to his power, but out of respect for my father, I would let the Shadow Master win and reassert his authority over me.
When I returned to the Den, the Worf, several hours later, hoping that the meeting was long over, the sun was sinking below the horizon, and soon the moon would be high in the sky giving off her silvery light. She was almost full now; it would only be a few more nights until we wolves would run as a Pack, as a Frawn, under her light and bask in her power. The moon was our goddess, and it was told that wolves could channel her full moon power and do amazing things, but it had never been done before.
The pups rolled around in the dirt, attacking each other and playing. They were putting off the inevitable moment in which their mothers would come over and tuck them off to sleep. For the time being, the Frawn Mothers were grooming each other and relaxing until the moment they would have to take on their pup responsibilities again. Frawn Hunters were discussing their next hunt, which would take place under the full moon. Frawn Hunters were responsible for securing and distributing food among the Frawn, but we all still had the drive to hunt. The Shadow Hunters stood at the edges of the Worf. They would keep watch long into the night, trading watch shifts with the Shadow Apprentices, the young wolves training to be Shadow Hunters. As a Shadow Leader, I had the luxury of only being on duty when there was a real threat and my Shadow Group had to be organized.
The Frawn Master and the Frawn Queen lounged together. It had recently been told to us that the Frawn Queen, Elyne, would be bearing a litter of pups come spring. Brechen, the Frawn Master, watched over her like a hawk, with a protective gaze. I could feel the Shadow Master watching me. He was standing on the rocky crags that made a natural bowl shape for the Worf. Up there, under the Old Willow, the Shadow Master kept his black eyes on me. He was not pleased.
I pretended not to notice him, and headed over to where the other Shadow Leaders were readying for sleep. We tended to keep to ourselves, set apart from the Frawn, and only be involved when there was danger and we had to lead our groups of Shadow Hunters. The Frawn had grown; we were almost a hundred strong now, including the pups. I was one of the few females to take up a position in the Shadow Fold, and the first female ever to be a Shadow Leader. If I were to submit to Rafe, I would have to give up my position, something I was not willing to do, for anyone. I would have to leave and become a Frawn Mother. The thought alone made my stomach curl.
Stretching leisurely and letting out a deep yawn that made my tongue curl, I began to settle for the night, digging myself a small wallow in the dirt where I could get comfortable and sleep peacefully. My claws scraped at the dirt and loosened the dirt to form a softer bed. I turned a few times finding the most comfortable position, and then settled in, beginning to groom my silvery white fur with my tongue.
"Durga!" The Shadow Master's voice barked over the entire Frawn. I looked up at him, but made no move to go to him. The rest of the Frawn members were startled out of their relaxation. After we stared at each other for what seemed like hours, I could have kept staring, I submitted as not to undermine his authority completely. I lifted myself to my feet and lithely jumped up the crags to stand beside the grey wolf.
"Yes, Shadow Master?" I asked using the title with some sarcasm.
"What, I must ask, was so important that you could not attend a meeting of the Shadow Fold?" He asked. I licked my muzzle.
"You know there are other demands of my time," I said. He did know. Shadow Leaders were often given solo missions, missions that required stealth, secrecy, and often involved danger. They were missions that only Shadow Leaders would be crazy enough to agree to, and I was always on the top of the list.
"Your mission is not to interfere with Frawn business," The Shadow Master said with a growl.
"My mission is going to ensure our survival in the Great Wood," I said with a lower, warning growl.
"Dare you challenge me, Durga!?" The Shadow Master said snapping his jaws at me.
"You know I do, father," I said using the title that made him cringe. The Shadow Master hated that his only progeny was a female wolf. He had never spawned any males, and I was the only survivor of the females borne to him. Unfortunately for him, I had inherited all his strength, cunning, slyness, willpower, and stubbornness.
"The full moon is only a few days off, we will Run, and you and your Shadow Group must help protect the Frawn from the Moon Frawn Hunters who will surely be out looking for us," He said in a deep, dangerous voice.
"I know my duties," I said sharply. He treated me like a puppy!
"Then don't shirk them," Greyback, the Shadow Master, said with a deep undertone that meant I was going to be on thin ice for a while. There was a note in the Shadow Master's voice that told me our conversation was over. I gave a growl deep in my throat, not a challenge, not a warning, just of displeasure. He turned his back to me, and so I hopped down the crags and looked for my wallow.
The Moon Frawn was a pack of wolves that rivaled our territory. For generations they had been closing in around us, but our Shadow Masters had always been too stubborn to move. It was only about a year ago that actual fighting occurred between the Blood Frawn, my pack, and the Moon Frawn. Greyback was intolerable when it came to the Moon Frawn. He wanted them all destroyed, before they could destroy us.
Curling up in my little wallow, I tried to find sleep, but I couldn't. The moon was so bright, and her light called to me. It wasn't until the moon began to set and my mind was utterly exhausted that I felt my eyes begin to close in weariness. It was just in time for Brechen to howl a wakeup call. I let myself slip into sleep despite the urgency behind his demand.