Something was wrong with Smoke. I could sense it. He was afraid. But he was afraid of me. I didn't understand it. I had done nothing to him. It was so strange, because usually he was a good friend. I recognized it from when he was still healing in the cave. Whenever I watched the fire, he would become so upset he would yell at me until I looked away from it. I don't know why he didn't like it. I don't even know why I would watch the flames. There was just something in them, but I could never remember what it was after I looked away. It was like a dream.
I stood up, making sure I didn't wake her, and trotted down the slope. Whenever I felt this miserable as a pup, I always took a run along the beach. I hoped it would work even up here. I picked up an easy lope, trying to keep to the areas with the shortest grass. I came out near to where we had first entered the area. As I turned around to pick out my next route, a rustle in the grass drew my attention to it. I forced my fur to lie flat as a dark brown wolf came out. He was smaller than me but carried himself as an alpha would. His small size kept him from being seen above the grass, and his broad shoulders and head pushed the grass aside easily. He looked at me. He seemed to be sizing me up, but his stance held no malice, only confidence.
Finally, he spoke. "I am Storm, alpha of PlainsPack. Who are you, stranger, and why have you come?" His voice was low, but it held no hate.
"I am Shadow, former wolf of BeachPack. I have come only because my new pack has traveled here," I answered, trying to keep my own voice just as even.
"You mean those TallWalkers. You consider them to be your pack." I bristled, but once again, his voice held no mockery. I relaxed.
"Yes, Ocean and Smoke are my new pack, along with Poppy, former wolf of JunglePack. We have not come to steal from you and your pack. We only wish to stay here for a little while. Smoke was injured and needs to rest before we push on further into the island." So I was lying a little. I had no idea what Ocean or Summer, what this wolf called TallWalkers, were going to do.
The wolf studied me again. Then he dipped his head. "Very well. You and your new pack may stay, as long as you do not harm my pack. Now tell me, why did you and your mate leave your packs?" Storm asked as he sat down.
"Poppy isn't my mate. She left JunglePack because she was tired of the fighting style of life that they lived by," I answered.
"Say what you like, but I can see that both of you have feelings for each other," he chuckled. "We have been watching you ever since you came into this territory. That is why I felt comfortable enough to approach you alone. From your behaviors I saw no desire to take our land, only loyalty to those you travel with. Now, tell me why you have left your own pack."
"StripedFur killed them. I was the only survivor. Ocean found me and allowed me to join her and Smoke. After that was when I met Poppy."
"You have had many adventures, haven't you? If you continue going further in, I suspect that you will have many more. Let me give you a few warnings. You will have to travel back through the jungle in order to proceed. After that there is a swamp to get through. You will then come to an old TallWalker building. If you travel through that, you will enter the tallest region of the island. There is rumor that one final pack lives there, away from ours. I have no idea if it is true, but you may want to keep an eye out for them, and any other dangers that are along the way. You may stay here as long as you need to so your pack can prepare for this journey." He stood up and stretched out. Then he looked at me sternly, and I could see the glint of ferocity in his eyes. "But know this, if you or any others of you pack harm PlainsPack, you will not make it out of this territory alive. Do you understand?"
I lowered my head to the ground. "I will make sure that there are no conflicts between us."
"Good." His docile manner returned. "Feel free to speak with us any time. Don't worry about trying to find us, we are all around you." He turned around, and with a friendly flick of his tail, disappeared into the grass.
I glanced around me. Were those yellow eyes? Was that a white pelt? I shook my head. Storm's words were just freaking me out, but nothing is there. Yet even as I looked straight ahead, a white head, similarly shaped like Storm's, poked out and looked at me. "Harm my pups, and I will personally deal with you," she snarled. She blinked and the anger left her eyes. "Sweet dreams!" she vanished just as easily as her mate.
I padded forward as silently and as inoffensively as possible. Every time a twig snapped I nearly had a heart attack. But then I would hear the giggling of pups that were having the best time trying to scare me. Soon an older wolves voice told them to behave and a light brown she-wolf fell in step beside me. "I'm Maple. Storm told us about you. Don't worry. Cloud's pups won't bother you any more. See you around!" The cheerful wolf left me alone again.
They're like ghosts, I thought to myself. I was very happy once I arrived back to the tree and could curl up next to Poppy again, where there were no tall grasses for ghost-like wolves to scare me.
Sunlight filtered in between the tree branches. John opened one eye and discovered, much to his dismay, that the light landed directly in it. His eye snapped shut immediately and cursed quietly at the sun. He turned his head so it was towards the tree and opened his eyes again, this time without the blinding pain of direct sunlight on still sleepy eyes.
He looked at Summer. A thought drifted lazily in his mind looking for somewhere that it could make sense. He had gone to sleep with his back to her, but now he was facing her. And he was awfully close to her. He looked at his arm. It was draped across her side. He cocked his head as his half-asleep brain tried to make sense of what his eyes were seeing.
Then it hit him. John yelped and jumped up from how he had fallen asleep: namely, curled up next to and holding Summer. He shuddered and stalked down to the river.
John practically flopped into the cold water and started to wash his face. What is wrong with me? First, I'm paranoid about a wolf just looking at things, and now I sleep next to a girl! This is soo not normal…
The grass behind him rustled. Whatever was moving froze for fear of being heard, but John was so absorbed in thought that he didn't notice it. It started moving closer. Little by little, it approached John, and he had no idea of it even being there. At least, not until it pounced.
John shrieked as a lump of black fur attacked him. Then a gray fur ball joined in the battle. He swatted and snarled right back at them. He was vaguely aware of two other figures, one light brown and the other white, watching the fight. The black beast attacking him sank its small teeth into his wrist. He cried in pain, but before he could dislodge it, and menacing snarl stopped him and the little monsters that were attacking him. A white she-wolf stood there with her hackles raised and sharp teeth bared. Both of his opponents trotted to her side, their heads and tails low. As it turns out, all four beasts were nothing more then mischievous wolf pups, just looking to annoy the new being in their home. John was still very much afraid, because the mother wolf could clearly do much more damage than four little pups put together. But once all of her children had come back to her, she ushered them into the grass, nodded slightly to the boy, and followed her pups.
John blinked, unsure if any of them had really been there. They had come and gone so quickly. The only proof he had was the pain in his wrist from puppy teeth.
He made his way back up the hill to find that Summer was awake. She was staring up into the branches of the tree. She glanced over at the small pile of logs they had collected along the way, and then back up.
"What's wrong?" John asked, coming up behind her.
She looked at him out of the corner of her eye. "Just trying to make sure there is enough wood for us to get something built." She took a few steps back, then ran forward and jumped, but she couldn't quite reach the branch and landed with a thump.
"Maybe a ladder would be a good thing to make first," John suggested looking down at her.
She glared up at him with the same look a cat gives someone when it has fallen into water. She stood up, brushed off her pants, and held out her hand. John blinked at it. For a minute, he thought that she actually wanted to hold hands with him, and John was both attracted and repulsed by the thought. But Summer soon solved his confusion. "Penknife," she said blandly, as though she expected him to have already gotten the clue.
"O-oh…Yeah, right," he fumbled in his pocket for the knife. It took him a while to find it, but as soon as he did, he dropped it into her waiting hand and looked away.
"John, are you okay?" Summer placed her hand on his shoulder.
John whipped around. "I'm fine. Why wouldn't I be? What makes you think I'm not?"
"First of all, you're face is bright red, and secondly, you're talking way to fast for everything to be 'fine'. What's going on?" Her eyes studied his face, trying to figure out what was causing him to be like this.
John looked away. "I don't want to talk about it," he mumbled as he turned from her. He made his way over to the woodpile. "Let's just make that ladder."
"Oh. Okay, sure thing," the girl replied and followed him. But something was nagging at her, even though she couldn't quite place what it was.