But as fierce as the rumors were, their fear only grew as rumor spread – however it could have spread – that he had taken a mate. The whelp of the North Wind had found his beauty with a matchless scent, a strong-willed bitch with sleek fur as black as midnight. When they struck a farm to sate their hunger, only the occasional snag of fur or pawprints on the nights following a rain would give the slightest hint as to who left behind naught but a spray of blood and a gnawed bone or two. Some said that on a clear night when the moon was full, you might hear them howling in unison, or catch a glimpse of them running through the trees if you found a secure, high spot to watch from.
As the first advance scouts of the Adversary's armies descended upon the forest, sides were chosen and former enemies set their differences aside to stand against the greater threat, and the wolves were no exception. On his own, the wolf had been a threat indeed, your only chance of survival being if you were fortunate enough to catch him sleeping and off-guard with a sharp axe on hand. With his mate fighting with him, they were unstoppable. Their lightning strikes on the enemy camps gave the refugees time enough to escape, and some even held the hope that they might drive the Adversary back for good.
One of the most popular stories, a rare tale that had genuine witnesses who viewed from a distance, centered around the first wave of the Adversary's soldiers. An army some two hundred strong and heavily armed, they had killed or captured every poor Fable unfortunate enough to cross their path. Until the day the Wolves took their stand, not one of them had been defeated.
The army had just begun its march through a pass in the mountains, a canyon with a dry streambed at its base which served the locals well for many centuries. As the last ranks stepped in, boulders crashed down at each end, crushing the stragglers and nearly taking out the front ranks as well. The boulders were only the beginning, and a small landslide of the rocks and dirt they had held back quickly blocked each end. The army was cornered, and for the first time since setting out, they were uncertain. And then, they struck. The soldiers had been armed with rifles. In retrospect, this was an extremely poor choice. With a giant wolf attacking from each side, those close by had no room to fire before jaws sank into them and they had no say in the matter at all. Those in the middle would either be switching their aim from one to the other, wondering which they should shoot or frantically trying to reload after discovering their bullets had not even caused the creatures to pause a step in their progress.
One observer, a farmer who had taken the old trail above the pass that day to evacuate his family, would boast that the wolves moved with such speed it seemed as if there were dozens of them. He told this tale well, and for years to come his tab was always covered by the types who always frequent taverns and feel a good tale should always be well-lubricated.
The wolves could run faster than any bowman could target, track a soldier in the darkest night, and they knew the terrain far better than any guide the soldiers might hire or interrogate. No lone soldier could stand against them, and even a small army proved to be little trouble for them to defeat.
Eventually, they became enough of a thorn in the Adversary's side for a large army to be sent. No matter the brute strength or cunning that might be faced, turning half a valley into a contained and enclosed forest fire will take care of most any annoyance within.
At the center, two figures rested, patiently. The fire had yet to reach this spot, and the shallow pond they waited in would at least provide a temporary respite when the flames closed in. Eventually, the female spoke.
"It's difficult to make out through all the blasted stench, but they seem to be gathering at the end of the valley closest to the city road. Probably not paying too close attention – I caught a whiff of alcohol."
Her mate smirked. "They're fools. But we've stayed here too long as it is. We'll follow the rest, and hopefully find something to eat on the other side. It wouldn't do to invalidate our work in a meal or two."
She nuzzled against him, black fur dingy with soot. "And with any luck the children will have kept that in mind. I was worried about letting them go ahead on their own, but I likely wouldn't have been able to stay this long if they were underfoot and taking up my attention."
The wall of fire flared again, closing in on the small pond. He flicked an ear, dislodging a flaming twig. "It's time. Are you ready?"
A toothy grin that had caused many a victim's blood to run cold. "Always."
With a huff and a puff, a trail through the fire was blown out and they raced to the far end of the valley. The fire was strong and closed in almost as quickly as they passed, and the coals beneath their feet burned them badly. It would take a few days resting in a cool and highly isolated lake before they'd recover enough to continue on, but they'd make it. They always did.