Kitsune here with a new story. Going to upload the first 4 chapters right now and hopefully get the next couple up before bed.
Hope you enjoy it!
Warning again for triggers. Character death, cannon typical violence... ok, fine slight spoiler. Animals will be killing people. Animals will be eating what they kill. It won't be graphic but it will be happening.
Question of the chapter: Do you ever get really sick of your coworkers-classmates? I do. I think we all get tired of eachother after a while.
Long hard winters were uncommon in the East Blue. Snow, while not unheard of, rarely lasted more than a week or so and the ground never truly froze. Of course, some islands were luckier than most.
The Goa kingdom fared reasonably well in this regard. Once a decade or so the island would be hit with a bitter winter, cold enough to drop snow, but not quite harsh enough to freeze the harbors. Those who lived in Hightown would spend those harsh months inside grumbling about the snow ruining their perfect town.
In places like Grey Terminal and Foosha village, life went on as the average citizen strove to make ends meet. Trade between the few villages and fields on the island would slow to a crawl as travelers fought with weather they were unused to. Even those who survived on banditry went out less as their targets dwindled.
The only increase in activity during such times was from the animals of the island. Unlike their human counterparts many of the creatures had no choice but to continue to brave worsening conditions to find food. The weak died as the winter staggered on and strong banded together as starvation started to thin the prey animals.
Soon travelers wouldn't have to just contend with foul weather but starving predators, but luckily it wasn't something the inhabitants of the island had to deal with every year. One lean year in a decade wasn't bad for humans.
For the animals who lived day to day, it was another thing entirely.
It was probably one of the worst winters in a hundred years. The snow had started early and had fallen in thick blankets that refused to fully melt under the trees of Mount Corvo. The small prey that wasn't sleeping deeply had all fled to the open fields where the humans picked off their numbers. Those that hadn't fled had long since been hunted down to feed the beasts remaining.
Soon all that remained were the strong and the desperate. Bears turned to hibernation, well suited from a year of good food. Solitary tigers formed small prides, claiming the lower part of the mountain and viciously defending their temporary territories with tooth and nail and driving out any competition for what remained.
The wolves also disregarded old territories, coming together into a pack of over a hundred wolves. Smaller wolves from the lowlands chased out by the tigers found allies in the giant wolves of the summit as all strove to survive.
Soon the mountain was a deathdrap for anything foolish enough to wander too close. For the humans who lived in the woods, the end often came quickly.
Simple bandits were no match for a super-pack of starving wolves.
Hunts-boar-alone had won the right to lead all the wolves left on the mountain. He was easily the largest of the summit wolves and many of the pack-that-is had thought he was simple, like a man beast-pet, because of his size. Hunts-boar-alone had learned in the time of cold from the lowland wolves though. He had listened to the pack elders speak of hunts in the lowlands. Of dealings with the beasts called man, and battles with tigers and bears. Hunts-boar-alone listened and learned from the pack songs.
When Run-with-deer sent those still strong against the tigers on the slopes Hunts-boar-alone had shown fang, but as a yearling he hadn't felt right challenging. Until he had seen his pack members fall to the claws of the tigers. He covered for the smaller wolves as they fell back, refusing to let more of his pack die.
That night he challenged Run-with-deer for Alpha. Come dawn the super pack and the burden of feeding over a hundred wolves was his. He had learned though. Together with other young wolves he tracked the crocodiles to where the slept.
The cave they slept in was more than large enough to shelter the pack. The problem was it was full of the cold blooded predators. Too many for the pack to take on in their weakened state. Hunts-boar-alone knew his pack would need that cave. But first they would need to feed. The only thing left on the mountain was the pack of man lead by the one with berry-bright hair and the voice of a crow.
They were not easy prey, he knew. Man had bang-sticks that could bite you at a distance and sharp claws. They were smart and cunning like wolves, too. It would not be an easy hunt but they needed to eat. He spoke to elders and planned. The sun rose and set three times while the pack waited, restless.
On the fourth sunrise those who were soft footed stalked near the wooden den. Snow began to fall, muffling the cry of the lone man caught out alone. The pack circled closer, closing ranks. A wall of death that waited outside the wood den. The elders had spoken of other man dens with their thick heavy wood that stopped all attacks.
So the pack waited, Hunts-boar-alone next to Waits-in-silence at the den entrance. The moment the wood moved the two summit wolves hit it with their combined body weight. It cracked and gave, the large wolves spilling into the tight den. Smaller wolves followed, silent and deadly as they caught the man beasts unaware.
A few wolves were harmed. Rocks-in-water was taken by surprise when the man pet attacked, scoring a deep bite before the valley wolf managed to kill him. Most of the man beasts fell quickly.
Soon all that was left were two strong males and the alpha female. Hunts-boar-alone was not fool enough to stick his snout into Waits-in-silence's fight. Battles between females were vicious and unpredictable. Instead he turned his attention to the last two. Injured though they were both stood strong, hand-fangs bare as they glared in challenge.
He found himself thinking they would have made good wolves. To honor their bravery he himself charged them, allowing their fangs to bite into his ruff as he gave them the swift hunter's death they had earned.
A strangled man cry had Hunts-boar-alone turning in time to see Waits-in-silence finish the battle. The man beast female lashed out one last time, nearly blinding Waits-in-silence in one eye. The tawny female wolf didn't let go, however and soon her opponent stilled. The hunt was done. As Alpha he called out, breaking the silence and alerting the pack mates outside.
Hunts-boar-alone flicked his ears in approval at the sight of the elders and their wounded entering first. The hunt had been hard but successful. There was enough meat here to feed the pack for a while, and it was only right they look after those who needed it most first. There would be plenty to strengthen them for the next hunt.
With that in mind he bumped against Rocks-in-water hard enough to make the smaller wolf stumble. "Good hunt, brother."
"Good hunt yourself, you overgrown cub!" The valley would mock-snapped at him, happy in success as their pack mates came in to feed.
"Overgrown cub? Says the one who fought a man beast's dog."
"I'll have you know that cousin had jaws of a crocodile." Rocks-in-water looked towards the white not-wolf head lowered. "He fought hard for his pack." He huffed. "They all did. Are man beasts like this?"
"The elders said nothing of such. This was a pack. We should honor their bravery."
"Yes, brother." The two shared a look, and Hunts-boar-alone knew his second who was as close to him as his own litter mates was troubled as he was. Man beasts were not pack; the elders had assured them all that the two legged creatures were more like boar. Willing to work together but quick to flee or turn on each other to save themselves.
That was not what had happened here. Still, the hunters who had made the kills would keep such knowledge to themselves for now. Hunting other packs for food was wrong, and if they spoke of it none would feed. The deaths of those who were like pack would be pointless. Hunts-boar-alone would take the weight of it on his song and ask the elders for advice. If he had to, he would leave the pack.
"Waits-in-silence did well." Rocks-in-water interrupted his musing. "She is a strong female, a good alpha. I wonder who she shall pick as her mate." Yellow eyes slid over Hunts-boar-alone's more golden ones in jest. "Maybe I should put myself forward."
Lip peeled back slightly at the poor joke Hunts-boar-alone nipped his second's ear. "You are spoken for by Watches-in-silence. Do you wish for litter sisters to fight? I don't."
"Watches-in-silence is also a strong female. She could be Alpha." His friend pointed out, "Maybe she will agree to leave with me come warm-time."
Hunts-boar-alone shook his head. He was looking forward to the warm-time, but he would miss Rocks-in-water if the valley wolf did leave. "You have time yet."
"Where you do not, brother of my song. Court her. You are Alpha of us all, it is your right." Rocks-in-water pointed out as he shoved his much larger leader with a nose to the front leg to get him moving.
Soft snarls and growls could be heard as choice meat was contested and the large family fed. Small fights that were ended as he and Rocks-in-water approached Waits-in-silence as each group offered to share their meal. As Alpha it was his place to have the choicest kill though he would never take from those who needed it more.
Waits-in-silence was standing guard over her kill, warning others away with her stiff stance. It was Hunts-boar-alone who spoke first when they reached her. "Good hunt." He dipped his head in respect and caught the flick of her ears as he surprised her.
"Yes, it was a good hunt, Alpha." She agreed, looking away to break tension. "You fought well."
"As did we all." He could feel Rocks-in-water's amusement as he fumbled with his words like a cub. He couldn't help it; she was a wonderful female and despite knowing he was more than worthy to court her, Hunts-boar-alone doubted any male would be worthy of her. Especially him.
Rocks-in-water huffed a laugh. "What my song brother meant was 'are you in need of aid?'-"
"A wolf like her wouldn't need aid!" He snapped at his second who just nimbly ducked between his legs.
"So you are not worried over her hurts, Hunts-boar-alone?" Rocks-in-water snorted. "You haven't been able to look away since the hunt ended."
"Is this true, Alpha?" Waits-in-silence asked, watching him intently.
He yawned to hide his embarrassment. "Your fight was… intense. Is your eye…?"
"I am fine, Hunts-boar-alone. And you? You have man beast fangs in your ruff."
"It was a good fight. I fair well, thank you." He felt the tip of his tail wiggle as he braced to ask if he could join her at her kill. "May I-"
A squalling wail followed by the yelp of a wolf had him spinning, looking for the threat to his pack. It was then he noticed quite a few of his wolves over to the side, intent on something and not eating.
He pushed his way over, Rocks-in-water and Waits-in-silence flanking him. Mood soured he was a little more gruff with his approach than normal, but all gave way and didn't try to push him.
"You, why did you yelp?" He asked the one who had his tail down in shame.
"It bit me, Alpha." The submissive wolf flicked his ears towards a pile of the odd pelts the man beasts used.
Waits-in-silence stalked forward and he didn't stop her. She was the alpha female of their large pack and it was just as much her right as it was his. Quick as a snake her she snatched something out of the pile before turning towards him and dropping it in sight.
"A cub?" Many wolves asked, some leaning forward to sniff the tiny man beast and others backed away. It had to be a cub as small as it was. Dark eyes looked at the wolves as the little thing silently studied them.
Hunts-boar-alone sniffed it, licking at the blood on its small front leg left from an obvious bite. "It is a cub." A tilt of his ear had Rocks-in-water pinning the submissive who had drawn their attention even as he glared in anger at those others of his pack who had stood by and watched.
No matter what they hunted wolves strove to make their kills as quick as possible. Wolves didn't play with their food. And that's exactly what they had been doing. It was shameful given how hard the little man beast's pack had fought. His displeasure was obvious to all, and those involved were quick to slink away.
"A winter cub." Waits-in-silence huffed, sniffing over the tiny thing. "No wonder the alpha female fought so hard."
"It's hers?" He asked, head cocked to the side.
"No. It was another female's cub."
Rocks-in-water turned his attention back to them, "There are no other females, though."
Hunts-boar-alone had noticed that, too. "It is a tough cold time." It was not surprising the man beast pack had lost members to the cold.
"I smell no milk on it. Or on the female alpha." Waits-in-silence nosed the little thing. "There was no Alpha male, either. A hard thing for a pack."
It was clear to the three of them that the man beast's that had lived here were a pack of sorts. A pack without young members, and only one female who was dry even with a cub in need. No Alpha male either, despite how strong the males here had been. Even if man beasts were different Hunts-boar-alone was sure that this group wasn't that different than his pack. Which meant that the man beast pack had been done for before the wolves had even arrived.
He just hoped his pack didn't end the same way.
Waits-in-silence glanced at him from the corner of her eye. "It was a strong pack. I'm sure they bred strong hunters."
"Winter cubs don't often survive." Rocks-in-water pointed out.
"It would be another mouth to feed." Hunts-boar-alone pointed out not exactly opposed to it. Especially since Waits-in-silence was looking at him with warmth when he didn't order its death right away.
"It would be." She glanced around to make sure no one was watching them before continuing, "but this was a pack and we didn't know. The moon has given us this chance to make it right." She said with conviction. "If it dies we have still tried. What is one more mouth to feed when compared with the life-song of the pack?"
She was right; he felt it in his own song that this was how to honor the pack they hadn't known. A glance to Rocks-in-water showed his song brother agreed. Hunts-boar-alone sneezed. "Alright. Consider it a courtship token."
Waits-in-silence laughed, "A token that none will be able to top, I'm sure." She licked the small patch of fur on the top of the little cub's head. "Our litter come spring will be very interesting."
He nuzzled her behind the ear, "Yes, it shall be full of strong hunters. Just like their mother." He wondered if this cub, their first cub, would survive to see his litter mates.