The Way of the Wolf (c) 98 by me, MistressAli
All "Sonic the Hedgehog" characters and related indicia (c) and TM Sega.
Used without permission.
Amalace, Javelin, Todd, Tressa (c) MistressAli

This document may be freely distributed, as long as it's not altered in any way.
Ok, peoples, this story contains: violence & mild swearing...just a warning...!

Yeah, this story contains 'wolven' language. Here are the translations, but don't worry, I give them through the story.
Ozagata-tattoo of the wolf pack. All members have it. It is a howling non-anthro wolf.
Lazolou-leaves that when crushed, and the juices drunken, cause hallucinations. They're like drugs.
Garato-leader
Garato-heem-the first wolf. He is very highly respected and treated as a god.
Heem means father.
Sheem-mother.
Maladi-daughter
Graheen-a sort of 'birth control' plant
Sedrat- wolven curse...equivilant to "crap (py)"
Wert-egg
Naughta-human
Weirgo-a weakling; like the runt of the litter

"The Way of the Wolf"
By A. Fleury

The campfire flickered, casting yellow light on the group. Sally and Sonic were sitting close, holding hands. Antoine and Bunnie were curled up together, 'Twan's hands around Bunnie's waist. Bunnie's eyelids drooped and she sighed sleepily.
Lupe' stirred the fire with a stick. Sparks flew.
Tails spoke. "Someone tell a story."
Looks were exchanged.
"Yes," said Sally. "Tell us about your culture, Lupe'."
Lupe' turned to one of her pack, a fox named Amalace. "Ama here is the best storyteller among us--perhaps because us wolves express ourselves better through art. Tell her about the past, of our ordeal with Robotnik. Up to the part where we met the Freedom Fighters."
"All right," said the fox. Her voice had the same soft accent as Lupe'. "A marshmallow please, Rotor?"
The walrus handed her one. She thrust it onto a stick, and balanced the stick on her knee. The fire licked the marshmallow, turning it golden brown.
After eating it, she wiped her hands on a leaf, and cleared her throat. "All right. Everybody get comfortable. Here goes." She peered into the fire for a moment. "I am a rather new member to the pack, the rest have been in it for years and years. So, I will start with my initiation."

****************

Amalace had already proved herself worthy in hunting. She had run through the obstacle course in the ancient canyon, and had gotten through alive and unscathed. She had received an ozagata (tattoo) of a wolf on the inside of her flank, where the fur was thin and the tattoo visible. But the head was missing. If she passed the rest of her initiation into the wolf pack, then the tattoo was completed, if she failed, then the headless wolf was a sign of her unworthiness, and the pack would cast her away.
Next, lazolou "vision leaves" were crushed and she had drank the juices from them. Her veins raced with fire. Glazed, her eyes stared blankly ahead. Then, everything went black.
In the blackness, symbols swirled before her. She squinted; it was the writing of the ancient wolf pack. An old wolf's face appeared before her, fur touched with the white of wisdom. His eyes, one milky white from a cataract, and the other a vivid brown, locked with hers. She gasped. He opened his mouth, and breezy like the wind, one word sighed.

She woke. Around her crouched the pack, staring intently at her. BrownHide, the Garato (leader), took her hands in his.
"Did you see him?" BrownHide asked. "Did you see Garato-heem, the ancient one, the first of wolven flesh and blood?" Normally BrownHide did not speak like this, but he was reciting the ancient initiation questions.
"Yes," said Amalace, still woozy from the drugs.
The pack exchanged glances. Lupe', the Garato's maladi (daughter), was of fourteen years and this was the first initiation she had seen. A stranger had never made it this far into the initiation...most strangers failed the first stage, the hunting. Lupe' had seen several of her brothers go through the rites of passage, from boy to man, but this was different and exciting. Besides, there would be a feast afterwards, and Lupe's mouth watered at the thought.
"You have seen the first wolf, Garato-heem, in your vision. Has he deemed you worthy of our pack? Yes or no?" asked the Garato.
If she lied, he would feel it through her hands. It was the power bestowed in him. "Yes. He has deemed me worthy."
BrownHide clasped her hand tighter. He felt the flesh, the fur, even the bone underneath. But he felt no coldness, no lie.
"She is truthful. She had been deemed worthy by Garato-heem!"
The pack cheered. Amalace smiled. BrownHide patted her shoulder. "Are you ready for the last stage?"
"Yes," she said firmly. Inside, butterflies bashed frantically against the walls of her stomach.
**The last stage is the hardest**, she thought. **I have fasted and kept awake for two days...big deal. The cleansing power is necessary. I have hunted, and ran the course, and gotten my tattoo...well part of it. I have gotten Garato-Heem's blessing, bless him! But this part...Garato-Heem, please help me get through this part!**
Wolves formed a circle around her, each holding a wooden club, painted with symbols of strength and power. Strength and pain endurance were highly valued, and if one didn't have it, then they were considered a weakling, and unworthy of the pack.
Amalace stood with her legs apart, a good solid stance. She eyed the circle. Only a certain number were allowed to participate in this part of the ceremony. This number was nine, counting the Garato.
**Nine**, thought Amalace. **I can do this.**
"The last test is the test of pain endurance," said the Garato. "Are you ready?"
"Yes."

BrownHide gestured with his paw. One by one, each wolf went up to Amalace, swung the club like a baseball bat, and struck her. No whimpers escaped Ama's clenched teeth. Tears sprang up in her eyes; she blinked them away.
The last to hit was BrownHide. He dropped the club and looked her over. Her eyes were wet, but she made no sound. From her mouth, blood leaked. He raised a finger, put it on her lips, and drew it away. Blood slicked it, and he sucked it off. He made another gesture.
The wolves came up to her, and each wiped blood from her lips with their fingers, and then swallowed the blood.
"Now," said BrownHide. "You have proven you can endure pain. We drank of your blood; we accept you, and are now connected to you. In return, you must accept us." He drew a ceremonial knife and a wooden bowl from his belt, and sliced his thumb. Drops of blood splattered into the bowl. Each wolf did the same. There was no hesitation.
BrownHide stood before her again, with the bowl in hand. "We accept you," he repeated. "Do you accept us?"
"Yes," she said.
"Then drink. Connect to us."
Amalace took the bowl in her hands. She raised it to her lips, and slowly tilted it back, until the warm liquid flowed into her mouth. She carefully swallowed each drop, and licked her lips clean.
The pack cheered. Amalace smiled, and kept smiling as her tattoo was finished. She was now a member of the Wolf pack!
After she rested, there was a huge feast.

Antoine began coughing loudly. Bunnie slapped him on the back. "You ok, sugah?"
Antoine cleared his throat. "You drank blood?"
"Yes. It is an ancient ritual," said Amalace.
Antoine wrinkled his nose. "I would nevair have done dat."
"Shut up, Ant," came Sonic's impatient voice. "I wanna hear the rest."
Ama laughed softly. "All right, Fast One. Here it comes."

The next day, Amalace awoke around eight. She was sharing a hut until hers was built. She yawned, and strode outside.
Some of the females were forming dough into rolls and popping them into a solar-powered oven. Other wolves were eating the rolls that had already been cooked. The wolves ate only breakfast and dinner, with fruit as a snack in between.
Their village consisted of wooden huts with straw-thatched roofs. Each hut had a garden. The village sat in an open field. It was diverse territory; rich plains where they lived, a lush forest five miles south, and a desert canyon two miles west. To the east and north were more plains.

Over the next few days, Amalace learned more about the wolven culture. They loved to wear beaded jewelry, and the children often made jewelry for their elders. As for children, it seemed only the Garato and his mate were allowed to breed.
"So, only the Garato and his wife may...do it?" Amalace asked one of the females, a wolf named Tressa.
"Well...that is our way. Only the leaders may have children. But that doesn't mean others can't have sex."
Amalace was surprised at Tressa's openness. Among her kind, sex was a naughty-naughty kind of topic. She was surprised she had even asked Tressa about it.
"But...how do the females NOT get children?"
Tressa laughed. "Very simple, Ama, dear. The graheen. The berries of that plant stop the baby from being conceived."
"Does the graheen damage the body?"
"Oh no," said Tressa. "Not at all. However, when there is much food and resources, then sometimes others may have children. But most of the time, we haven't got enough food to feed many children. They eat a lot, you know."
Amalace gazed at Tressa admiringly. The female wolf was well-muscled, and stood about five and a half feet tall. Her fur was a rich black, accented with purple, and her eyes were a startling green. She wore little clothes, as did most of the other wolves; she wore a loin-cloth, and a beaded choker necklace, and flat sandals.
"You are very beautiful," said Amalace suddenly.
Tressa's fingers worked stiff grasses into a basket. Then she lifted her emerald eyes to look Amalace over. "You are pretty also, dear."
Amalace sighed, and shifted her position a little; her leg was starting to fall asleep. She was wearing a short blue loincloth, and sandals. Then she stood up, and went to gaze in the small stream that ran through the middle of the village. Her reflection stared back at her.
Although she was treated like one, Amalace was not a wolf. She was a gray fox, so she was shorter than the others. She had a fair amount of muscle for her size, but it disturbed her that the wolves were stronger. **I've been accepted**, she thought, **But I can never really be a wolf.** She sighed loudly, brushing her black hair out of her face.
**I'll tie it back**, she decided, and did so, holding the ponytail with a piece of string. Now her eyes were not hidden by her hair; they gleamed in the sunshine, a vivid purple.

************
Later that night, a group of men set out south towards the forest.
"Are they hunting?" asked Amalace.
"Of course," said Javelin. She was the Garato's mate.
"Do women hunt?"
"If they wish." Javelin smiled as Lupe' slipped a new beaded bracelet onto her wrist. "Thank you."
The child--**well not really a child**, thought Ama, since womanhood began at sixteen and Lupe' was fourteen---beamed at her mother and watched as her younger brother struggled to light the evening fire.
"You're doing it wrong!" teased Lupe'. Then she went over to help.
"I can't hunt," said Javelin, fingering the beads.
"Why not?"
"Because I am valued as a child-bearer."
"Oh." Ama loved hunting, and was glad she was not the Garato's mate.

Pretty soon, Amalace was following a daily schedule. She'd get up, and eat a few rolls to start off her day. Then she'd take a bath in the stream. Fishing, basket-weaving, and blanket-making took up the next few hours. Then she took a short nap. The rest of the day was basically free time; she did whatever needed to be done. Later at night, she'd go hunting with the group.
They'd come home. The women cooks made dishes of vegetables and fruits, so if nothing was caught, then there was still dinner. If food was caught, then it would be cooked, and eaten with the vegetables and fruits as side dishes.
After dinner was one of Ama's favorite parts of the day, the fireside time. The fire would be roaring, and they'd all lay around it lazily, and tell stories. The four elders told the best stories.
At first, Ama had not liked the elders. They sat around, and were tended on hand and foot. With her species, elders were considered nuisances; if you were not strong enough to take care of yourself, then you should die. That was the way of the gray fox.
But the wolves strongly respected their elders, for their wisdom, and their strength to remain alive for so long. The elders wore a wealth of beaded jewelry, and were constantly adorned with flowers and given delicious fruit drinks that were tedious to make.
But as time passed, Ama grew to like the elders. They were wise, and they were filled with many stories. They knew much, and could often answer any question given to them, and solve any problem. Although frail in body, they were sharp in mind, and soon Amalace found herself smiling at them affectionately whenever she caught sight of them.

After the fireside stories and chat, they would go their separate ways. Ama often saw some women drinking graheen drinks, and knew those females would be busy with a man that night.
She would go to her hut, and sometimes turn on her computer (yes, the wolves had some technology) and type awhile. But most of the time, she'd go to bed, stare up at the ceiling, and think.
There was a certain wolf she had her eye on. He was a handsome man, with light brown fur, and heart-melting dark brown eyes. She sighed, she wished he would notice her. He never seemed to. Ama would usually blush fiercely when she thought of him, even though she was alone, and it was dark, and nobody could read her thoughts. Then she'd close her eyes and fall asleep.

Amalace stopped her story, and glanced over at a light brown wolf. He smiled affectionately back.
Lupe' laughed softly. "Yes, Todd and Amalace did become a couple, eventually."
"Like Bunnie and moi," said Antoine. The rabbit snuggled closer to him.
"Yes," said Lupe'. Her eyes moved to Amalace. "Now the story darkens...Amalace?"
The fox cleared her throat delicately. "All right. Here I go."

The nap had lasted longer than usual. Amalace awoke, and stretched. "Aghh, I slept long!" she exclaimed, sitting up. She stood up, and looked around. Around her, wolves went about their daily tasks. Her eyes moved up to the lazy clouds, and she suddenly froze.
Through the sky, hurtling towards their village, were five black objects. "Are they birds?" Ama asked aloud, shading her eyes with a hand to see better.
They were coming nearer, and they swept by, circling the village. She saw the gleam of turquoise metal, and heard a high-pitched whine.
"Flying machines," she said. "What are they called...hovercrafts?"
"Yeah," said a voice behind her. She whirled around, to see the light brown wolf, Todd, standing there.
"Who owns them?" asked Amalace.
"Have you heard of Robotnik?" asked Todd.
Amalace's brow wrinkled as she thought. "Yes. Didn't he stop the Great War?"
"Not only that, but he's the one who overthrew the Mobian Garato."
"The Acorn King?"
"Yeah."
She frowned again. "I think I have heard of this Robotnik. He lives in a city."
"Yeah. Robotropolis." Todd shuddered suddenly. "I've been there before. Ack, is that place sedrat! (wolven curse)" He laughed suddenly. "We call Robotnik Heem Wert."
She laughed too. Heem Wert meant Father Egg. "Is Heem Wert a naughta?"
"Yes. He is egg-shaped and very ugly. He is the ugliest naughta I've seen."
"They are all ugly. Furless things, ugh." Amalace wrinkled her nose at the thought of naughtas; humans.
"Yeah," said Todd, grinning. Then the grin disappeared as fire suddenly shot from one of the hovercrafts. Two huts went up in flames.
The other craft began to fire, and then three landed. SWATbots poured out of the crafts, armed with laser guns set to stun.
"Ack! Metal naughtas!" cried Amalace, running for her hut. Under her bed was her spear, the one that had helped kill many a dinner.

She charged out. Raising the spear over her head, she plunged it into a SWATbot, right where the head joined the body. The robot crumpled down to its knees and Ama released the spear with a surprised yelp; electricity had surged up it, shocking her hands.
Then she grabbed it again, yanking the weapon free.

Javelin heard shouting, and dropped a handful of weeds. She leapt to her feet and ran from her vegetable plot, crushing a few tomatoes underfoot. Her eyes widened and she cursed.
"Sedrat! What is going on?!" Then she ducked as a robot turned towards her and fired.
"An invasion. I see." She narrowed her eyes. "It must be from that fat naughta, Robot-man."
"That's Robotnik," panted Todd, running up to her. He was holding two spears and he tossed her one.
"No naughta raids my village," she growled. She rose her voice into a battle cry, one that alerted the entire village, sending them running for weapons.
Four SWATbots fell under a vicious onslaught from Todd. Lupe' and her younger brother used their slings against the metal men.
One SWATbot, severely damaged, switched his gun to kill, intending to take out a few wolves before he went off-line. He lifted his gun and aimed it on Lupe's little brother, who was twirling his sling.
"Don't think so, bud," growled a deep voice, and the SWATbot swiveled its head around. A second later, a large rock descended down on its dish-shaped head, crushing it. BrownHide kicked the 'dead' SWATbot in satisfaction.
Ama felt the spear in her hand, strong and solid; a part of her body. Her arm propelled it forward into a SWATbot's vulnerable neck spot. She ignored the shock, this time wrenching her spear free and kicking over the malfunctioning 'bot. Todd was beside her, and he tossed her a flask. She raised it to her mouth and quickly drank; inside was the juice of Tergato plant...which quickened the blood and gave the drinker energy and cleared the mind.
She tossed the flask back, so he might give it to others. Already her blood was pulsing through her veins, and she felt almost high with adrenaline. Screaming a wild ragged note, she attacked a SWATbot.
It stumbled around as she leapt onto its back, pounding its head with her fist. Holding her spear close to the spearhead, she cut wires and cables in the 'bots neck, as easily as she sliced through the hamstrings of a running deer.
The 'bot crumpled, though not before giving her a shock that made her teeth rattle. As it fell, it reached out for her, grabbing her ankle. She tried to wrench away, but the robot raised its rifle. She struggled harder, raising her spear to knock the gun away. Too late. The SWAT's finger tightened, and she reeled backwards, stunned.
Weak-kneed, she dropped down to the ground. Her muscles were locking up, her brain numb. Even in this state, she reached for her spear. But blackness enveloped her; she was out cold.

"Amalace!" bellowed Todd, running over to the fox. He shook her gray-furred body gently, then put his hand to her nose. Light air ruffled his fur...but he frowned, it could be the breeze. He heard a high whine, and looked behind him and tried to dodge...too late for him also. The blast from the stun gun dropped him to his knees.

**************

Yawning, Packbell leaned his head on his arms, looking out through the windshield of the hovercraft. The SWATbot piloting was flying the craft around the village in slow circles.
Two wolves lay stunned, ten of the 'bots were down. Ten out of the twenty-five he'd brought, besides the one flying his craft. He picked up the headset off the hovercraft console and spoke into it. The transmission went to the lead 'bot.
"SWAT team leader, respond."
"What is your bidding?"
"Have half of your team switch their rifles to kill."
"Confirmed."

Packbell's gaze returned to the windshield. Now more wolves fell, and from the smoke that curled up from their bodies, he could tell they would never rise again.

**************

"Sedrat!" yelped Javelin, as a fatal laser shot nearly struck her. "Watch out! Some stun, others kill!" She neatly dispatched the 'bot who had almost killed her.
BrownHide dipped an arrow into a wooden bucket that was filled with the juice of Krudoz plants. After shooting a few 'bots, he watched with satisfaction as the juice, like acid, ate clean through the robots. Then he noticed the hovercraft circling around the village.
"That must be the naughta garato," he growled. He dipped an arrow, notched it into his bow, aimed upwards, and waited. The hovercraft swept by. He released the arrow. It arched upwards, and hit the underside of the craft.
He frowned as it bounced off. "The craft is of strong material," he muttered. But then, looking closer, he saw a tiny spot of the hovercraft had started to bubble up, like it was boiling. He grinned; the juice must have smeared on the craft, and was now eating through it.
"Heh. Take that naughta!" Then suddenly, he pitched forward. Weakened, his arms couldn't even fly out to catch his fall. He hit the ground heavily, groaning.
"Call a retreat!" yelled one of the elders at Javelin. "Call it now, sheem-garato!"
"But...our village!"
One of the elders placed his white hand on her shoulder. "Dear...we still have the caves in the canyon. We are not strong enough to fight them now...we must wait. For now, call the retreat! Before we all die."
"But is it not cowardly?"
"No, my child. 'Tis not. If you die now, then you can have no vengeance later."
"But the garato..."
The elder's eyes were hard. Sighing, Javelin raised her voice. "Retreat! Retreat! Quickly!"

**************

Packbell watched the wolves race away, leaving behind their dead and unconscious comrades.
"Methought they were going to put up quite a fight. How disappointing." His mouth twisted in disapproval for a second, and then he turned to the pilot.
"Land."
"Confirmed." The SWATbot began lowering the craft.
Packbell hopped out of the craft before it touched down and walked among the bodies. He could tell by looking which ones were dead. He paused by a young male, whose face was still locked into a snarl.
"And what'd you get for your pride, eh?" laughed Packbell. He unzipped his pants and yellow liquid splashed into the wolf's lifeless eyes.
Chuckling as he redid his pants, Packbell turned to the SWATbot leader, who was standing idly, awaiting orders.
"Bring the live ones into the crafts and secure them," the 'droid ordered.

Five minutes later, the hovercraft zoomed away. Wind ruffled the fur of the nine dead wolves.

*******************
They crept back quietly. Javelin's throat closed up when she saw one of her sons laying motionless, the scent of part machine/part naughta urine on him. Her teeth bit into her lower lip, and blood flowed down into her white chest fur.
"The naughta seeks to humble...to humiliate us. He seeks to subdue. We will NOT be subdued!"
Breathing hard, she knelt beside her son, and then looked up at her pack members. "The canyon is our home now. We will brink the dead there. Our ceremonies will be held later." She looked around. "There were more left behind then this. The naughta must have taken them to his demon city."
She stood up. "A team of three, plus myself, will go to the demon city and rescue them."
They carried the dead back. Then Javelin chose her team. It consisted of two young men, Teak and Conrad, and an older female, Grotta. Armed with spears, bow and arrows, and flasks of tergota juice, they headed towards another part of the canyon, where they would have the last preparation for battle.

Carved in stone, his eyes looked down upon them. From his mouth, water flowed, pooling in the stone basin at his feet. Humming low in their throats, Javelin and her companions knelt before the statue.
"Great is the power of Garato-Heem," sang Javelin. "Our kin and yours have been captured, O Great One. Please aid us in freeing them."
"Great is the power of Garato-Heem," she repeated. This time the other three sang with her. Then they cupped their hands and drank from the basin.
Blessed, the group of four set out for Robotropolis.

Amalace came to, and groggily raised her head. She tried to move, only to find herself shackled to a metal floor. She blinked her eyes, and gazed out the windows at the moving sky...wait a minute! Sky and clouds?
**I am inside the flying machine**, she realized. Looking around her, she saw more of her pack also shackled.
It seemed she was at the back of the craft. At the front, there was a door which she assumed led to the cockpit, and in this door a figure suddenly appeared.
It came into the back part, and stood right by the windows, in the brilliant full light, as if displaying itself for her eyes.
It was a male naughta. He stood six and a half feet tall. She herself stood five and a half, while most of the wolves stood at six. He had the revolting hairless skin that cursed naughtas. She couldn't see much of it; he wore long sleeves, pants, boots-all black. His head hair was a shaggy mop, much like Tressa's fur; a glossy black with purple highlights. His eyebrows were black triangles, frowning above unpleasant red eyes. His clothing was rather tight, and he appeared to be heavily muscled. An impressive specimen.
But there was something wrong with his smell. He smelled of skin, and hair, and blood, yes, but it was false somehow. The scent of machine clung to him.
"Are you a naughta?" she asked suspiciously.
"A what?" His voice was steely cold, and danced like razors along her spine.
"Naughta---a human," she translated.
"No. I'm an android. Far superior to flesh creatures."
"Then you ARE a machine." She narrowed her eyes. "A machine can never be superior to a flesh creature. Flesh creatures MADE you."
"They gave me life, and for that I thank them. But I am superior."
"But you work for a flesh creature, do you not?"
He seemed annoyed by her questions. "Yes." Then his eyes moved to a spot on the hovercraft floor where there was a small hole. Sky shone up through it. "What the hell?" He leaned down and touched the ragged edges.
"It is from our arrows. Dipped in Krudoz juice."
"Krudoz?" the android seemed startled. "Those are the metal-eating plants!"
"Yes," she said.
"Do you have Krudoz with you?" he asked. She thought she heard nervousness in his voice. She smiled slowly, her sharp teeth shining.
"Maybe. Is the metal naughta afraid?"
"No," he growled.
"You sound scared."
"Your ears need cleaning, foxy."
She changed the subject. "Where are you taking us?"
"To Robotropolis."
"The demon city?"
He laughed. "Yes, I guess you could say that."
"Are you the Garato?"
"Speak normal."
"The leader."
"No. Robotnik is."
"Will I meet him?"
"Perhaps. Perhaps not." He smiled cruelly. "But you will work for him."
She scowled. "I think not."
He laughed and reentered the cockpit, leaving her with the unconscious bodies of her friends.

The streets of Robotropolis were more familiar with the feet of intruders than Robotnik thought. The SWATbots and SpyEyes spotted about seventy-five percent of the intruders; twenty-five percent snuck in and out of the city undetected. So far, Javelin and her group were in that twenty-five percent. Walking silently on upraised toes, they used the deep shadows and cluttered alleyways to their advantage.
Teak peeked around a dumpster. A huge egg-shaped building loomed far up into the smog-filled sky. "Do you think that is the main building?"
"Yes," said Javelin. "But we do not know if they are in the main building."
"The rest appear to be factories," said Grotta. A hovercraft whirled around the top of the Death Egg and Javelin nodded, seeing it as a sign from Garato-Heem.
"We will check in there, then."

They moved closer to the building. It sat on a nest of twisted cables...huge long things that were like metal-plated pythons. They climbed over, ducked under, and slid in between the cables until they finally reached a more open area. The double doors that led into the main building were closed. Four SWATbots were standing with folded arms in front of the doors.
Conrad raised his spear. "Let's kill them."
"Don't be foolish," hissed Grotta. "You kill them and the whole place will know."
"How?"
"Like our pack...the city has sentries. It has eyes and ears. It has to."
"Then what shall we do?"
Brows furrowed in thought.
"There must be another way in," said Grotta finally.
They made their way around the building, moving in closer until they were right up against it.
Teak paused at a square-shaped air duct. Clenching a fist, he slammed it into the steel-mesh grating. It busted inwards. Shaking his hand, blood dripping from his knuckles, he gestured at the air duct. "There ya go. Our way in."
"Let's go then," urged Javelin. "There may not be much time."
They filed into the air duct.

"Garato-Heem!" exclaimed Teak. His statement echoed around them, and he flattened down his ears. They had been crawling for about an hour now.
Voices echoed around them. They had passed many grates in the air duct, that looked down into rooms. But they had not seen their companions yet. Sound carried in the duct; any sound that filtered through the grates echoed down the tunnels endlessly.
Over the past hour they had heard evil cackles. They had heard a deep voice bellowing, "Shut up, you moron!" and a meek little voice reply an incoherent response. And just now, they had caught the voices of their pack members.
Javelin lay on her back, panting. The heat in the ducts was unbearable. Occasionally, a blast of cool air would ruffle her fur. She was thankful for that; but irritated by the fact that all the air had a disgusting toxic tinge to it.
"Three more minutes," she said. "Then we move on."
Tongues lolling, the group agreed.

******************

Amalace huddled in the cell, arms clasped around herself. Cold, yes she was cold.
Then she heard footsteps, and up to her cell strode a naughta. It was a different one from before, and she eyed the small creature in disgust. She knew the android had been molded into a normal human form. This one was too small, too thin.
This one was also male, and he was a real naughta; she could smell no traces of machine or fake flesh. He seemed small for a male; male wolves were almost always bulkier than females. **He must be a weirgo (a weakling)**, she thought. This only heightened her disgust, weirgos were not well-liked by the wolf pack, who highly appreciated strength and height and muscle.
He stood in front of her cell, arms crossed in front of his chest. She eyed his stance. Legs slightly apart, shoulders straight, his eyes locked directly on her face; he might be a weirgo, but he insisted on taking an aggressive pose.
Despite her disgust, she was interested in the naughta; she had never seen one so close up before. She leaned forward to see him even more closely, but lightning leapt from the bars, shocking her. She made no sound, but scrambled backwards. The naughta laughed. His front teeth were flat and square, on the sides of those were short dull fangs (no match for her's), and in back were wide flat molars, similarly to grazing animals. **A strange assortment of teeth**, she thought. **The naughtas must eat both flesh and plant.**
He had no fur on his body, expect for a few strands of hair on his head. Looking closer, she saw he had some fine hairs all over his visible skin, which was not much; the naughta was clothed from head to toe. His nose was long and pointed; it reminded her of the digging tools back at the village. His ears were small and close to his head, not standing away like hers. She decided that he probably could not hear very well.
His eyes were bigger than hers, a shade of gorgeous pale blue, with fine, wispy eyelashes, and a coldness in them that did not intimidate her.
The human's body was a pathetic thing, and she nearly laughed. He was shorter than her, but remained staring up at her fearlessly. He was extremely thin. His uniform sleeves were too big, and they hung several inches below his skinny wrists. He wore a belt around his waist, and she made a circle with her two hands. **I bet that I could circle my hands around his waist, and my fingers would touch. And I have small hands! What a slender thing he is! How can he move with so little muscle? Where is the power?**
She laughed aloud. Finally, the naughta spoke. Her ears recoiled from his voice, like her foot would draw away from a serpent; his voice was a nasty thing, all high and snooty, and strange sounding, as if his nose were clogged.
"Well, are you ready to be roboticized?" he said.
She almost lashed out at him, but remembered the bars. "Who are you, naughta? Where is your garato?"
"I only speak common Mobian and Overlandish," he said.
"Of course," she said. "Who are you? Where is your leader?"
"Does it matter?" he asked.
She snorted indignantly. "Of course it matters. The gar-leader is...it is respectable for guests to speak to the leader before conversing with his underlings."
He looked irritated. "Do I look respectful, bitch? I AM the leader at the moment, so you may converse with me." His voice went hissing for a moment; he was obviously annoyed at being called an underling.
"Bitch?" She rolled the unfamiliar word off her tongue. She spoke mostly wolven and knew much common Mobian. But she knew Overlandish (the language of humans) had begun to intertwine with common Mobian, but she had never learned any of it. Bitch was one such Overlandish word. But from the way he had said it, she knew it was a curse.
"Yes, bitch. That's what you are." He chuckled evilly.
"What is bitch?"
He sighed. "Nevermind. Do you know what roboticization is?"
"I have heard of it, but I know not what it is."
He pinched his hand, holding a fold of skin between his thumb and forefinger. "You see how we are made of flesh?"
"Yes."
"Well, the roboticizer, to put it simply, is a glass tube. You are thrown inside, and you cannot escape."
"But, if it is glass, then I can break it." She clenched a fist.
"Not exactly. You can't break it."
"I can! I am strong."
He sighed again. "Listen, you can't break it. It doesn't matter how strong you are."
She didn't believe him, but she nodded. "All right. What happens next, naughta?"
He narrowed his eyes; probably thinking naughta was insult. "Next a light shoots down on you. You will feel incredible pain, such as you've never felt before."
"I can take any pain!" she broke in, boasting. "I have felt vast amounts of pain, and whimpered not once!"
"Fine," he said. "But this pain will make you cry."
"I think not."
"Then, your flesh will turn to metal."
"Flesh to metal?"
"Yes."
"That is very strange. I do not see how it could happen."
"It does. And when all your flesh is completely metal, then your body is no longer yours. It is ours. Your mind is trapped within you. Your body responds to your programming, it obeys us, not you."
"No!" she cried. "That is not possible!"
"Oh, but it is!" he mock-cried, imitating her. "I don't where you've been, fox-girl. You really haven't seen a roboticized person before?"
"No. We live far away from your demon city."
"Demon city...hmmm...I like the sound of that."
"Your voice is like a black fly," she said suddenly. "It is annoying and it never goes away."
He laughed. "You're quite clever," he said. "But that won't save you...or your little friends."
She lashed out then, and was punished by the lightning fingers of the bars.
He laughed, then looked tired for a moment and leaned forward, as if he was going to rest against the bars. Then he seemed to remember the severe shock he would get, so he slouched against the wall instead.
"Slouching is not a good posture," she said. "It will give you backaches."
He laughed shortly. "I'm sure you get backaches all the time, miss."
She frowned, not understanding.
"From all that frontal weight."
"Oooh", she growled, and crossed her arms over her chest in an x, trying to hide her breasts.
"So what is your name?" she asked.
"Lord Snively."
"Lord Snively? But you are not the garato."
Snively remembered earlier she had changed 'garato' to 'leader'. "No, not the garato, but I'm close to it," he said. "And what is your name?"
"Amalace," she said. Each wolf really had two names, and they never gave their second name to strangers. Names had power; this power could be used against the bearer of the name. Her second name was in ancient wolven tongue; it was Ragatay-Sheem-"Vixen Mother".
"Amylase?" His tone changed to lecturing. "An enzyme that converts starch to sugar."
"What?" she frowned.
He snickered. "Nevermind. It's a nice name." Then he left. She sighed. The bars in front of her flickered, and then disappeared.
Cautiously, she stepped out of the cell. But the short man returned, this time with two robots at his side. A tazer was in his hand. They seized her by the wrists, and when she struggled, the small lord zapped her with the tazer.
She screamed, and tried to lash out at him, but he merely laughed and walked off. The robots followed him.

Through the air duct, Javelin and her companions could hear a lot of voices, yelling and cursing.
They crept through the ducts towards the next grate. Teak's paws slipped out from under him; they were slick with sweat and slippery against the metal inside of the pipe.
"Ssssh," hissed Grotta.

They reached the grate and peered through. Below them was a rather large room, filled with glass tubes, and a large computer.
Standing in the room were sixteen wolves, and Amalace. They were standing in a group, with rifle-armed SWATbots standing around them. Packbell was cackling near the computer console. BrownHide, the garato, was standing inside one of the glass tubes. Lord Snively was standing near the tube.

"Well, now that we're all gathered together in this happy group, I'd like to give you a little demonstration," said the large android, moving in front of the group. He gestured towards the tube. "Roboticization is an amazing process," he began, sounding like a professor, "One that turns living creatures to robots, making them obey their programming...which is programmed by me, by the way. Heh heh."
None of the wolves looked amused.
"Today, you shall see this fellow here roboticized! Then you shall undergo it yourselves!"
Amalace's eyes widened as Todd stepped forward, then fell back as a SWATbot prodded him with its rifle. The wolf clenched his fist. "Release him!"
Packbell laughed. "Or what?"
"You shall die."
Amalace felt a sense of pride at Todd's vicious words, but at the same time, she wondered just how they would kill Packbell. The machine seemed to be very well built.
The smaller naughta rolled his eyes, while Packbell smirked. "Gee gosh, I'm scared, eh, Snively?"
The lord nodded. "Terrified."
"You should be!" yelled Todd. Amalace closed her hands around his arm. "Sssh...Don't lose your temper."

Teak trembled violently, his fists clenching on the bars of the grate. Javelin laid her hand on his shoulder. "Calm down," she whispered.
"Well then, let's begin the show, shall we?" Packbell strode over to the console that controlled the roboticizer.
Teak punched through the grate with his hind feet. Before Javelin could grab him, he had landed on the floor below and was charging towards Packbell.
Ten laser blasts ripped through his body. As Packbell whirled around, Teak fell in a bloodied heap at his feet. Cursing, Packbell raced towards the grate and looked up.
Without hesitation, Conrad leapt down, his arms flaying out. Packbell and the wolf ended up in a pile on the floor, viciously wrestling. The SWATbots stood, guns poised, not daring to shoot, lest they hit Packbell.
The captive wolves broke free from the circle of SWATbots around them and began to trash the robots. Laser shots whizzed through the air, but none hit their furry targets.
Amalace ran to the console, searching wildly for a button. Her finger moved past 'Roboticize', 'Red Alert' and finally found, and pressed, 'Open tube #1'. With a hissing noise, the tube that BrownHide was lifted up, and the Garato stepped out.
Snively was backed up against the wall, looking around helplessly. The place was in chaos. From the air duct, an old female was shooting arrows at the SWATbots. More SWAT's were falling to the wolves' physical power. The wolf in the tube was free and wrecking havoc. Near the console lay a dying wolf, and Packbell was still wrestling on the floor.
Finally, Snively made his way to the console, his eyes lighting on the red alert button. He lunged towards it, but something grabbed his foot. He looked down to see the dying Teak's bloody hand closed around his ankle. He kicked his leg, but the wolf held on tight.
He stretched his arm out, straining to reach the button. The tendons in his arm pulled tight painfully and he gritted his teeth, his fingers struggling, the cords in his hand standing out. There. The button pressed down and sirens screeched.
Through the doors came more robots, dozens of them. It took some time, but finally the SWATbots herded them up into a group again.
Javelin and Grotta were still up in the air duct. Grotta took a few of Javelin's arrows. She unleashed one, sending it whistling towards Packbell.
The android turned and caught the arrow in his fist. He looked up, his eyes locking with Grotta's.
Javelin screeched and backpedaled down the tunnel, as laser shots bounced through the open grate. The floor of the air duct was filled with holes. Poor Grotta was sliced apart from the shots that came from the air duct floor beneath her; she slumped down dead, her blood dripping down the walls.
Packbell saw the blood dripping from the swiss-cheesed air duct and turned away satisfied. Holding her breath, Javelin huddled in a ball, but no more shots came.

Packbell paced the floor in front of the wolves, jaw clenching and unclenching. "You pitiful wretches," he hissed. "You really think you can defy me?! I can crush you!"
As he passed by her, a young female leaned forward and spat on him. Packbell stood motionless, the spittle dripping down his cheek. His eyes glowed red.
Snively knew very well what that meant, and was not at all surprised when Packbell pulled out his laser rifle and shot the girl point-blank in the face. But the red glow didn't fade. Snarling, Packbell grabbed one of the older wolves.
"You think you can mock me? You think you're tough, eh? You're nothing." A press of the trigger and the wolf went limp in his grip.
One of the wolves charged him, and Packbell grabbed him. The wolf struggled. Lifting him up, the android stood on one foot, his knee up. Then he slammed the wolf down on his upraised knee.
Back broken, the wolf writhed on the floor where Packbell dropped him.
"You still don't understand. I will destroy you!"
"We shall destroy YOU."
Packbell lost his temper entirely. He raised his rifle. The youngest wolves fell, clutching their wounds. Blood washed over the metallic floor. The young wolves, mostly children, whimpered as they squirmed on the floor.
Packbell aimed his rifle downwards, still shooting. The children shrieked in agony as the lasers ripped through their flesh. More blood sprayed. Packbell kept shooting them.
Most of the children were dead; still Packbell bombarded their bodies with laser shots. Screaming, the other wolves tried to shield them, but SWATbots held them back. Feeling faint, Ama's knees trembled. Todd neglected to support her, so busy was he pushing against the SWATs.
With a maniacal gleam in his eyes, Packbell continued to shoot the dead bodies, which now resembled hunks of meat. Chunks of flesh and fur scattered the floor.
Eyes widened in horror, Snively stood with his hand clasped to his mouth, whimpering. "Stop it, Packbell!" he squealed. "Stop it!"
Packbell stopped shooting and looked over. After flashing a smile at Snively, then one at the captive wolves, he kicked one of the corpses. Then he began stomping down upon its body. Bones snapped. As Packbell lifted his foot, long threads of thin bloody flesh clung to his boot, dripping down. The captive wolves screamed louder, and the SWATs could barely hold them back.
There were five children dead. Packbell raised his foot to crush another corpse. "STOP IT!" Snively screamed. "That's a direct order, Packbell!!"
Packbell's foot descended hard on the corpse's skull. It shattered and the brains oozed out around his foot.
"Garato-Heem noooo!" howled one of the wolves.
"GODDAMMIT PACKBELL STOP IT STOP IT STOP..."
"SHUT UP!" growled Packbell, striding up to Snively. "Shut up or I'll kill you too!"
Snively took a step backwards, terror apparent on his face. Voice trembling, he whispered, "I'm going to tell Robotnik if you don't stop."
Hissing, Packbell leaned down to thrust his face directly into Snively's. "Do you think I'm scared?"
Sniv pulled away, but Packbell moved forward, keeping his face right in front of Snively's. "You won't be able to tell him crap, because you'll be a pile of dead meat, just like those kiddies."
Snively gulped loudly, still moving backwards. His back hit the wall, and he shrieked as Packbell laid a hand on his shoulder. "I'll stop," said Packbell, almost gently. "I had my fun, anyway." He squeezed down hard, smiling as Snively cringed in pain.
He moved away, standing before the wolves again. A cruel smile graced his face. "You see, you are foolish to defy me." His black boot kicked a corpse. "This is what you are to me. Hunks of meat. Pretty meat," he said, reaching a hand out to stroke a female's cheek; Amalace's. She quivered, but decided not to bite. "But meat just the same."

Javelin peered through the swiss-cheesed air duct floor. She trembled hard; her children were dead. There were too many 'bots in the room; no way she could make it to he who had killed her offspring.
Her head spun as she crawled down the tunnel to another grate. She looked through it, seeing that it led to a hallway right outside the roboticizer room. She pushed the grate out, slid through the opening, and landed on the floor below. She saw an alarm on the wall, and she ran over to it. Her fist smashed into the alarm, efficiently tripping it.

"Now what?" snarled Packbell. He had his finger poised above the 'roboticize' button. Six angry wolves pounded their fists against the inside of the roboticizer tubes.
"Snively, come over and do this," said Packbell. "I'll go out and check the alarm."
Looking a little sick, Snively slunk over to the console. Packbell left.
Javelin stood straight against the wall, waiting. She heard the doors slide open and she gripped her spear.
She saw the black hair, the red eyes. She lunged towards him, the spear driving forward towards his throat. He saw her almost too late, and sidestepped. The spear plunged into his right shoulder.
Then his hand shot out, grabbing her around the throat. She fought, claws ripping his throat, her legs kicking out at him as he lifted her off the ground. She noticed that his face was spotted with blood; her children's blood.
"Garato-heem burn you," she hissed. His hand tightened, crushing the life out of her. Gasping, she still fought. One of her claws met his eye, and she yanked it downwards.
Packbell cursed as his optical sensor flickered, then went off-line. "Goodbye, bitch," he growled, giving a hard jerk on her neck. The bones snapped. He sighed and let her limp body drop.
"Pathetic," he said. Then he raised his hand to his face. **Ah, Sniv'll be fine in there. I'm gonna go repair this.**

"All right," said Snively flatly. "Prepare to be roboticized." He pressed the button, and blue light filtered down onto the wolves in the tubes. Their agonized screams as their flesh turned to metal did nothing to help Snively's stomach. BrownHide's howls were the loudest of all. He leaned his head against the console, eyes closed and teeth clenched, willing himself not to vomit. The smell of blood was thick in the air.
Amalace suddenly broke from the circle of SWATbots that still surrounded the now small group of wolves. Laser shots whizzed towards her, but none hit. She launched herself off the ground, tackling Snively. They both hit the ground hard. Sniv shrieked as laser fire peppered the floor around them.
"Hold your fire!" he howled. "Hold your fire!"
The SWATbots stopped shooting.
"Tell them to leave," growled Ama.
"SWATbots, return to war room."
The SWATs saluted and trooped out of the room.
"Good work, Ama," said Todd. Then he reached down, grabbing Snively by the front of the shirt. The human struggled as Todd's strong arm lifted him up high. Amalace laid a few hard punches on him. Todd let him drop to the ground. Sniv whimpered as Todd crouched down next to him.
Then the wolf grabbed the sparse strands of Snively's hair, yanking his head back viciously. Throat exposed, Snively's eyes widened as Todd pressed the sharp blade of a dagger against his neck.
"Last words?" asked Todd.
"Oh God," groaned the small human, "Oh God, please..."
Todd's fingers tightened on the handle. One quick slash...
"Please, please don't hurt me," whimpered the human.
"We're not going to hurt you," said Ama. "We're going to kill you, naughta."
Snively knew he'd been a little jerk to Amalace, and looking at the female's glittering purple eyes, he was not surprised in the least that she wished to kill him. Not only that, he'd just roboticized members of her pack, and he'd stood by as Packbell slaughtered the children. Not that he had wanted that. That had made him sick.
He looked around at the canines, knowing that after they dealt with him, they would escape. If he lived, he would have to face the wrath of Robotnik, who would most likely beat his nephew bloody for their escape. If he died, then he wouldn't have to face Robotnik ever again, wouldn't have to...NO. The thought of death scared Snively more than the thought of the abuse he would suffer.
"You...you don't really want to kill me," he whined.
Todd's eyes narrowed, and he drew the knife away. "You're right."
Amalace eyed her crush. "Todd, what are you doing?" Then he pressed the knife into her hand.
"I don't want to kill him...you do."
Amalace smiled and accepted the knife. Ama grabbed his wrists in one paw to hold him. She marveled at how skinny his two wrists were, even pressed together, they fit easily into her hand.
She traced the knife over his soft belly, then drew it back, intending to plunge it in. One twist, and she'd rip him open, and see the raw panic and pain in his eyes as she gutted him alive. She done it while hunting before, and she knew he would wiggle and shriek just like a dying deer.
Her ears swiveled, catching his high-pitched whimpers of fear. She could smell a lemon-bitter, dank heavy odor...his fear.
She tightened her grip on the knife and then plunged it. And stopped her hand an inch before the point touched him. Her eyes had moved towards his face as she drove the knife, and his look had stopped her.
Was it how he cowered, on his knees, an amber puddle of pure terror spreading out around him? Was it his eyes, the eyelashes standing out-horrified spikes, and tears starting to flood them? Was it just the smallness of his body, the almost child-like frame, that perhaps sparked the pang of mercy within her? How his mouth moved in a silent plea?
Maybe it was all of these aspects combined-whatever it was, it had stilled Amalace's hand, and she just stared down at the tiny naughta.
Todd looked at Ama, then at Snively. He couldn't understand her hesitation. All he saw was a pathetic cowardly human, who had wet his pants like a trembling baby, who was the enemy for Garato-heem's sake!
"Ama, what's wrong?"
"I can't do it," she growled, dropping the knife. "Curse me, I can't."
Todd picked up the knife and replaced it in his belt. "Very well. Let's leave." The honor of the kill had been given to her, and if she did not take it, then the kill would not be done.
"Let us go then," said Ama. She suddenly placed her hand against the naughta's cheek. How strange his skin was. Smooth as silk under her fingers. Warm too. For some reason, she'd expected it to have the same coolness as a snake or lizard.

**************
They ignored the robotic wolves, knowing there was nothing to be done for them. Their feet became slick with blood as each paused to kiss the dead children. Todd cut a lock of fur from each dead wolf.
If they could not take the bodies of the dead with them, then they would at least take a part. The kiss was for remembrance and of course, for love.
Snively couldn't understand the whole thing...it all seemed so silly, and gross...he would never lay his lips on a corpse. But they were primitive, weren't they? Primitive fools. After Ama had released him, he had skittered over to the 'red alert' button, but something stopped him from pressing it. They had spared him--perhaps he should spare them in return.
So he let them escape. He closed his eyes, leaning his head on the console, and he let them go. Forty-five minutes later, Robotnik's voice came blaring out of the intercom on the console, telling him to come down to the command center, NOW! It woke him up.
He was slumped on the floor, and his neck hurt. He rubbed it with one hand, and looked around. The blood on the floor had congealed. On the way out, he nearly slipped in a puddle, and was embarrassed to remember it had come from him. But God, that fox had scared the hell out of him. He looked down at himself...his pants were dry, so Robotnik would never know. **Let's just hope he still has that cold,** thought Snively.
Before he left, he called in a few SWATbots to take care of the dead bodies. He never wanted to see them again.
**But I will. Every night.**

Robotnik heard the command doors slide open. He sensed a lowly presence enter, but he didn't hear anything...Snively was always very quiet. **He's a sneaky little bastard**, thought Robotnik angrily.
His nephew appeared in front of the chair and stood silently. The two relatives looked at each other.
"Snively," said Robotnik slowly, "Did you release the wolves?"
"No, sir."
"Did you let them escape?"
"Yes, sir." A few beads of sweat dripped down Sniv's face.
"And why did you allow that?"
"They attacked me, sir, and they were going to kill me, but they decided not to. I thought..."
"...that they should be spared in return?"
"Yes, sir," said Snively, nodding.
Robotnik looked very very calm, very composed, as he leaned forward in his throne. After all the years of living with him--more than a decade--Snively should've known better. Robotnik leaned forward even more, still appearing calm. Snively didn't move--nothing in Robotnik's face propelled him to move.
Not even a squeak came from the little man as Robotnik suddenly grabbed out. His meaty hand closed around his nephew's throat. He began to viciously throttle his lackey, feeling Snively's frantic hands scrabbling at his arm. God, Sniv made him so angry! He growled, and threw Sniv down onto the floor.
Wheezing, Snively tried to skitter away to hide--hide where? It didn't matter--to hide. Robotnik stood up, his fists clenched, and advanced on Snively. His nephew threw out his hand in a weak attempt to protect himself. "No, sir, please!"
Robotnik raised his fist, his glove molding tightly to his knuckles. Snively's eyes widened in fear. "Sir, please..."
Robotnik stared down at his pitiful relative for a long moment. Then he let his fist drop to his fat side. "Get out of here, Snively," he snarled. "Get out before I change my mind."
But Snively didn't move. He stared down at the floor, shaking. "Do you know what he did?" he whispered.
"What?" Robotnik frowned.
"Packbell..."
"What about him?" There was no sound from his nephew. Impatient, Robotnik reached down and grabbed Snively by the front of the shirt, throwing him into the chair. Sitting in that big chair, Snively looked even smaller than usual. Robotnik stood in front of the chair, and crossed his arms over his flabby chest.
"Well?" Robotnik hated when his questions went unanswered. He leaned over, jutting his face into his nephew's.
"Packbell...he...he..." Snively's voice caught in his throat for a moment, and he shook even harder. "Oh God, he killed them!" he suddenly shrieked. "HE KILLED THEM!" His shoulders shook as he began crying, raising his hands to his head.
Robotnik's lip curled in disgust.
"They were j-j-just c-c-children...and he shot them...he kept shooting...and they were screaming..."
"Get a hold of yourself," growled Robotnik.
"You weren't there! You didn't see it! On God, it was the most terrible...God please forgive me I didn't want it to happen I can't believe oh God oh God please..."
Robotnik growled, now his nephew was just babbling, his words running together in panicked sobs. He raised his fist, and shut Snively up, shut him up by knocking him into blissful unconsciousness.

Panting and foot-weary, Amalace leaned heavily against the canyon wall. Sand slid under her feet. She looked around at the rock walls around her. They were spectacular, red-and-white striped swirled patterns.
**What am I thinking? The garato's a robot, Javelin's dead...we saw her body outside the room, poor sheem...the children are dead, and I'm admiring the canyon walls. Garato-heem, curse this!**

It was wolven tradition to fast for two days following death. It was the second day now, and Amalace watched as Todd piled the dead corpses onto a pyre. Lupe' stood in front of the pyre, slightly wet-eyed.
Ama gazed at the garato's maladi with a sympathetic eye. Lupe's older siblings were all dead, and her younger siblings were too young. That made Lupe' the new leader. What a burden for one so young.
Lupe' knelt before the pyre. The other wolves did the same. "Beloved ones, children of Garato-heem, may you return to the Great Garato. May he use your life energy as he sees fit...may your souls be given peace, return to the air, the earth, the water, to all that gives us our life."
Lupe' looked over at Todd and nodded. He touched a torch to the pyre, and the flames leapt up. "May the fire release their souls."
Lupe' reached into a basket and pulled out a handful of fur that had been taken from the dead children. Her hands moved close to the flames and she threw the fur into them.
Amalace watched the black smoke rise into the sky. Her nose wiggled, catching the scent of burning flesh. It made her mouth water slightly-she was hungry-and that in turn made her feel sick.
Lupe', wearing a ceremonial death mask, rose to her feet. The headdress consisted of the top half of a wolf's skull. Feathers sprouted from the dome of the skull, and Lupe's blue eyes peered out of the empty eye sockets.
The feathers danced as Lupe' hummed deep in her throat. The others rose up. Around the pyre they danced, sweat running off their bodies, arms flailing and clawing-they were imitating the souls of the dead breaking free. Whoops and shrieks emerged from their throats as the dancing became more frenzied.
They reeled and pranced, dancing until they fell from exhaustion. Amalace lay panting, chest heaving, her fur soaked with sweat. Her eyes burned...she closed them. Her arms grew limp, her body still. She yawned, hearing others yawn around her. The fire burned itself out as they slept.
In the morning, Lupe' scooped all the ashes into a basket. "Come," she said. The entire pack rose to their feet, and silently followed the young garato.
Their feet moved over sandy paths, and weaved through cactus patches until they'd reached the top of the cliffs.
"Fly," sighed Lupe', tipping the basket. The wind grabbed the ashes and swirled them away. Away whirled her friends, her siblings, her family.
The rest of the pack left, and Amalace paused. Lupe's toes were on the edge of the cliff, and the headdress was on the ground next to her. With her shoulders slumped, and head bowed, the young wolf looked like weariness itself. A low sob hung in the air, and Lupe' swayed on her feet. Ama rushed forward, catching the girl before she pitched forward off the cliff. They sat quietly, letting the wind dry their tears. The last dusting of ashes blew out of the basket and danced away.
The fasting lasted for the rest of that day. The next day returned to normal, although the mood was not normal. It was dark.

*************

"And that is when we met you," said Amalace. The firelight danced in her violet eyes.
Sally nodded. Lupe' smiled slightly. "Yes, we found out Robotnik had outposts near us, and we began raiding him. We were determined to have revenge, but we realized we were still not strong enough. But now that we've joined together, we will succeed!"
"You got that right," said Sonic.
Lupe's smile widened. "Of course." Then the she-wolf drew a dagger from her belt. She looked at it for a long moment. Then she poked her thumb with it. Blood welled up in the cut. Without a sound, she handed the knife to Sally.
The group stared at Sally intently, seeing what she would do. Silently, Sally jabbed the point of the knife into her own thumb.
The two leaders pressed their thumbs firmly together.
"Now, we are joined," said Lupe'.
"Swear," said Sally, "swear to always fight Robotnik, and to never betray our trust."
"I swear," said Lupe'.
With that, they drew their thumbs away. The fire burned brighter. The group was quiet. Bunnie nestled into Antoine's arms, while Sonic stroked Sally's hair. Amalace roasted another marshmallow.

Later, Todd and Amalace sat side by side near the power-ring pool.
"Ama?"
"Yeah."
"I'm really glad you joined us."
She looked over at him. "So I am."
He looked at the calm water. "I will always be there for you...Ragatay-sheem."
She took his head in her hands and said nothing, just smiled.
They accepted each other. They joined. What was the wolven tradition of expressing love?

A kiss.

THE END