Chapter one


Moonlight shone faintly from the sky, a larger reflection of the pale, hidden stars that joined it. The sky was a purple-blue with no cloud in sight. The horizon was a lighter shade of blue and purple, joined with red, pink and orange. It was sunset. The eerie, pale glow of the moon covered a large clearing bordered with blueberry bushes, ferns, trees and other plants. There were many sheltered caves and trees. In the center of the clearing, a large oak tree lay defeated on the ground. It had been struck by lightning decades earlier but lay there still. Weeds had tangled themselves among the gnarly roots and bugs had made their domain of the carcass. As daylight faded rapidly, a large canine shape apeared from the most protected cavern. His orange-yellow eyes shone brightly as he leapt uptop the tree. His sleek fur was dark.

Midnight was approaching rapidly. The intense gaze of the wolf wandered from tree to tree and rock to rock as he surveyed the clearing, his clearing. Now the moon and the stars shone brightly. The big wolf looked up. The moon was almost over him. He let out a long howl, strong and piercing, as the moon shone overhead, illuminating the wolf. He was dark gray and had lighter paws. As he opened his mouth, his large fangs were visible. They could kill a caribou with one bite and they were stained with red as if he had done so several times.

Several wolves emerged from the sheltered caves, ears pricked. The large wolf, seemingly the Alpha wolf, howled again, louder and more piercing than before, and a few more wolves raced inside the clearing from outside. They surrounded the dead, fallen tree, panting, and the other wolves joined them too.

Among the wolves was a small black pup, with messy and unruly fur that shone a dark shade of blue in the moonlight. Big ears nervously pricked, the pup had a long, slender muzzle and strong legs. His fur was coarse and he had a long tail. His eyes were a murky yellow-green, flecked with hazel. Next to him were two strong, powerful wolves - his mother, who was a light gray and his father, a darker shade of gray. The she-wolf had bright green eyes that shone with warmth as she looked at her son, and the father had bright hazel eyes, like two suns reflecting smooth trees in the winter. They, too, shone with admiration.

The black pup's eyes, though, were bright with uncertainty as he watched the Alpha, who returned his gaze darkly and intensely. The pup looked away quickly as if stung by a wasp or pricked by a hedgehog. A slight smirk on his face, the Alpha took his gaze away from the puny pup and looked over his wolves before adressing them.

"Wolves of Dark Tree," he growled finally, in a coarse, strong voice. To the black pup it sounded like anger

and thunder booming. He shuddered slightly. His mother reassured him by flicking her thick tail on his small back.

"Wolves of Dark Tree," he repeated, then turned his powerful gaze at the pup. "Tonight, we are here to witness the farewell to a pup who is ready to become a full member of Dark Tree."

The wolves in the clearing followed his gaze and were met with the cowering black pup. A light gray wolf snorted loudly, but the alpha did not object. He merely watched in interest as the pup recoiled under the wolves' gazes.

Amused, the alpha continued, "This pup will undergo a series of tasks on the way that will prove his strength and loyalty to our magnificent Colony. It will not be easy. He will have to find his way to the Circle of the Dead. He will have to show courage as he speaks with his starguide. He will have to return to our colony with a caribou that he slayed himself to be accepted. If he fails, we will never see him again." The corner of his lip twitched as he watched the pup close his eyes.

The alpha rounded on the young pup's parents, eyes glittering madly. An unusual glint made his blood-stained teeth seem more crimson than earlier. "Femalia, Jade," he grunted. "Bring the pup to me."

Femalia, the pup's mother, nodded and led her kin to the fallen tree. The alpha grunted again and gazed at the pup with angry eyes. He growled, "Your name, pup, tell us your name."

"Erchen," the pup replied, tremor in his fearful voice.

"Erchen," the alpha echoed. He gazed at the moon and barked, "I, Nighsigh, alpha of Dark Tree, send this pup towards the Circle of the Dead. May you accept him graciously if he is to pass on."

Erchen shuddered. He knew that the alpha was inviting the moon and the sun to take him during his journey. He remembered cycles ago when Holly, a fellow Colonmate, had returned from his journey. He remembered that before he had left, his father, Nighsigh, had said, I, Nighsigh, alpha of Dark Tree, send this pup towards the Circle of the Dead. May you return him graciously to our home. It seemed that Femalia, Jade and the rest of the Colony noticed his change of words, for they all seemed puzzled.

"You will leave at Sunhigh," he barked at Erchen, bringing the pup back to reality. "Now let us share the feast that has been caught by Star, Jade, Crimson, and Jekil."

The wolves and the pup turned towards the great hill they called the Preyhill. On it was a great caribou with magnificent antlers. Its face was frozen in a look of sheer terror. Its neck was twisted a a weird angle, and several claw marks were etched deep into its skin. The killing blow had been one to the throat. Nighsigh began to eat first, gulping great mouthfuls as he went. When he had finished a large chunk had been devoured. The rest of the Colony advanced and began to devour the caribou. When they had finished it was nearly sunhigh and only bones remained of the once strong caribou, crumbs of its meat still clinging to its flesh.

"Say your farewells," Nighsigh growled from his den. "It is nearly time for you to leave, and you do not want to be late, do you?" There was the faint note of tauntings in his voice as he spoke.

Erchen obeyed. He said good-bye to his parents first, then to Star, Jekil and Crimson. His parents' friends Mud, Snow nodded in farewell. Finally, he spoke to Forever, Serene and Spark.

Serene was a graceful white wolf with gray and brown patches on her fur. She had brilliant blue eyes and strong limbs, and had already helped kill two caribous. She licked her jaws and revealed white fangs, strong and clean. Spark was a wiry light brown she-wolf with bright amber eyes. She had long, wispy fur and long legs. Her muzzle was short and narrow and she had big ears. He slender tail was up in excitement. Forever was a light gray she-wolf with blue eyes. Her slender paws seemed to hardly make a sound in the green grass. She was also the Colony's Magewolf.

A Magewolf is basically the healer of the Colony - she will gather herbs and clean water, sometimes bless their prey, and clean wounds and fix broken bones.

"Isn't it great, Erchie?" she squealed. "Becoming a true wolf at last."
"Yeah, I really fancy finding a circle of dead wolves and slaying a caribou," Erchen growled sarcastically. Spark, Serene and Forever laughed, but Erchen remained silent.

"Listen, Erch," Serene whispered urgently and suddenly. "If you need someone to come with you, me and Spark -"

"What? No," Erchen said blankly. "I'm going alone, and now, like I'm supposed to."

With that, the black pup left the three. Holly, a gray he-wolf with a light patch beneath both eyes, jeered, "Thank the moon! That's the last we'll see of him."

Spark growled from deep in her throat. The sound rumbled ominously and Holly recoiled. He was still younger and weaker than Spark, but Serene stepped in before Spark could leap on the smart-mouthed wolf. "We're off patrolling the borders. The Foxtribe have been restless," she grunted, and beckoning for Spark, she left before Holly could do anything.

"Watch out, Erchen," she whispered. "We're coming."

"And no one can stop us!" Spark added.