Disclaimer: I don't own Balto or any of it's characters, nor the story or movie Eight Below. I just play with the character's of Balto and was inspired by Eight Below and decided to base this sequel on the movie.
Where The Heart Survives
The First Has Fallen
Our favorite sled team was warning people that lived out of town. When they decided to turn back to town, sounds of barking and howling reached them.
Shanti let out a puff of air which immediately assaulted her back into her face. The wind was fierce still, but Shanti wasn't fazed by it like before. She had gone into a sort of daze as she grew more exhausted and cold. Now she felt wide awake, refreshed. She was still tired and cold, but she was "present" again, no longer running on auto-pilot.
The barks and howls grew louder. If it wasn't for the strong wind that blew towards them, they wouldn't have heard it. Shanti scrunched her nose and mentally corrected herself. The barking and pathetic attempts at howling were getting louder. No matter the seriousness of the situation, she could not swallow bad howling.
She watched Kodi in front of her, running at a steady pace. Occasionally he glanced back worry in his eyes. Shanti knew what had her big brother worried. Their musher was not doing well and just as they planned to go back they had to find something.
Shanti berated herself silently. Whoever was out there was obviously in need of help. She shouldn't blame anyone for their musher's bad health. She loved her musher very much, even in the short time she knew him. Losing him would not befall her well, but that didn't condole putting blame on innocents.
Shanti snapped back to her current situation as a blast of air hit her at the side, nearly toppling her into Kirby. She steadied herself, barked a small apology to Kirby and a reassurance to Kodi. The wind howled furiously around them, taunting them almost.
Suddenly Kodi barked loudly and slowed his pace. They were near. Their musher seemed to have heard them as he stood a bit straighter, though the movement was slow and weak. Shanti couldn't prevent a pathetic whine from escaping her. She was dead worried for her musher as was the rest of the team. She expected Kodi to reassure her as he always did, but this time it didn't come. Instead Kodi hit the brakes and the wind growled around them.
Shanti peeked through the slids in her eyes, trying to see through the heavy, wild snow. Many scents hit her first; dogs and a human. Suddenly the wind turned away, making the area much clearer, visible, and Shanti realized it hadn't been the wind that growled.
Large, sharp-looking teeth became visible in a dark brown face. Shanti jerked in her harness, a shock reaction, but before the instinct to flee could kick in, Dusty reassured her, stepping as close beside her as the tugline allowed. Realizing she was surrounded by her team, Shanti calmed down and forced down her instinct to run.
"Is that normal?" Ralph asked in a confused tone. They all followed his gaze and what they saw startled them.
Behind this unknown sled team, the sled itself was at an odd angle and only half visible. The other half was stuck in frozen water. But it was what they saw next that really upset them, Shanti released a high pitched whine of fear and dread. The musher was still holding on to the sled with both hands and he was completely frozen solid.
Their own musher stepped closer to her, tried to reassure her and the rest of the team. He made sure he'd put the brake on the sled and placed a lamp on the sled before moving towards the other sled team. Shanti had to look away from the frozen musher and so opted to look at the other team. There were five of them in a single line formation, a gangline Kodi had taught her. There was one in the lead and two pairs and from the frozen snow and ice caught in their coat, it was obvious they'd been here a while.
It was the dark brown leader that was growling, warning them to stay put and not come closer. Shanti recognized the signs immediately. He was scared for his team and their musher and from the scar on his muzzle she guessed he didn't trust easily.
Behind him were two younger huskies huddled into themselves to try and protect from the harsh wind and ice. Their eyes were downcast and they seemed unable or unwilling to join their lead dog in defending, perhaps they were not so distrusting.
The young, dark reddish female did look up at the team and her glare was so intense it threw Shanti off. Almost as if she blamed them for their situation.
The male had a much gentler look to him. She could make out his beige coat and some black coloring in his neck, but from his huddle position, she could not make out more.
The last pair was also a male and a female. The female was definitely an adult, though not very old, she was not very young either. Her coat was a chocolate brown color with beige streaks on the side of her muzzle.
The male beside her seemed much older, his face looked tired in a different way than physical tiredness. His coat was a grey and silver mixture and his front paws were a dark grey.
Neither of them besides the leader seemed hostile, mistrusting. Even the young female, whose glare could scare many, did not seem hostile but closer to annoyed and angry. Still, it took only one to make Shanti uncomfortable. Her gaze returned to the male leader and she was startled to see his gaze honed in on her, as if he saw her as the main threat.
Luckily for Shanti, his gaze was drawn away by the approaching musher. He watched, almost murderously, as the musher approached the sled. Holding on to it, he lowered himself as far as he could and started chopping away at the ice around the sled with his ice hammer.
After a while the sled and its musher came free. Immediately the small sled teams tart to pull until the sled was safely out of the water and the Nome musher put on the brake before the dogs could try and run.
"Easy" He tried to reassure the dogs. He checked the frozen musher, but it was obvious he was dead for a while now. No one who looked that frozen, could possibly be alive.
The small dog team was uneasy, barking and whining and in the leader's case growling. Shanti's musher ignored it, focussing on his task. He couldn't just leave the man behind, he might have family. So he placed the man, with some trouble, on his own sled. Though Shanti whole heartedly agreed to bring him home, she felt somewhat uneasy to have a dead man on her team's sled.
Then came the hard part, Shanti knew. The other team could not follow with their own sled, but they didn't trust them either. Shanti knew her musher would not place them behind or next to their sled, that was too dangerous for the dogs nor was it normal and so they would not be used to it.
That left two choices. One long single line or two fan hitches. The logical option was two fan hitches, cause Shanti could tell without a doubt, that a gangline would be disastrous.
Their musher took his team of the gangline, place them in a fan hitch and put them a little distance away from the sled as he went to do the same to the other team. The leader still growled at him, but he allowed the man to change their line and place them in front of his own sled.
So far, neither of the dogs had spoken a word and Shanti didn't like it. It unnerved her. With the small team in place, their musher came to get them and placed them in front of the small team. This way they could not fight with the other team and their musher had his own dogs in front to mush. No one mushed with strange dogs.
Finally they were on their way. Shant was happy to run beside Kodi, though as the lead dog he still ran slightly ahead of them. To Shanti's right ran Dusty, also a comforting presence. The wind had grown stronger, if that were possible, but Shanti was not giving in anymore. As if trying to prove her strength, she ran with her tail high and pushing hard with every step that hit the snow.
It went tricky in the beginning, the small team not liking their position, locked between a sled and another team, but soon enough they were fast on their way. Noise from the town reached their ears as it rode on the wind.
"We're back! We made it!" Shanti barked happily. The others smiled at that.
"Oh dear, oh dear. What happened?" it was the same old man that told them about the storm.
"Found this sled team. Their musher is dead. Couldn't leave him behind, though" Their musher explained. A coughing fit overtook him then.
"Oh dear, are you alright?" the old man questioned immediately.
"Fine, I'm fine" He answered. The old man got some people to help with the dead musher. A medic then noticed the blackened fingers of the Nome musher as he worked on the lines.
"Dear God, what are you doing! You need medical attention immediately!" He exclaimed.
"I'm fine. My dogs- " he coughed several times before he was able to continue. "My dogs need to be taken care of before we can make the trip back to Nome"
"Impossible, you are suffering third degree freezing. Besides, it's passed sledding back to Nome. The weather is coming on too strongly. We're the last people in town. The plane is the only option and you must come immediately"
"But my dogs- "
"They'll be fine. We'll put them inside and Mr. Duke will come back for them. They won't fit with this many people"
Before their musher could argue he was hauled off to the plane, his last words reaching them with the wind.
"I'll come back, promise!"
"Kodi?" Shanti suddenly asked uneasily. Kodi nudged her trying to comfort her.
"Don't worry. He never lies to us. He'll be fine and we'll see him soon" Kodi answered her.
They watched saddened and worried for their musher as he disappeared into the plane.
Balto and Jenna watched worriedly as Kodi and Shanti's musher was helped out of the plane. More people followed, but no dogs. This worried them. What was even worse, the plane did not take off again. Walking closer, they listened to the people discussing.
"The weather has changed for the worse. It's too dangerous to fly, Duke"
"But there are dogs left behind there. I'll risk it, I can fly my baby through anything!" Duke argued.
Balto and Jenna paled when they understood what was going on. Kodi, Shanti, the team… they were still there!
"No Duke, you can't. Remember last time?" Balto surely remembered. When Duke arrived for the first time, he had crashed during a race with the mail team, Kodi's team. Balto and said team had saved him in the end. It was no wonder Duke wanted to go back for them.
"I've got to go Jenna" Balto said, but before Jenna could argue a shouting came from inside.
"NO! My dogs, my kids! They're still there. I can't leave them. I promised them I'd come back!" It was the musher.
Balto and Jenna felt similar and both suddenly ran forward, but before they got far, human hands grabbed hold of them.
"No, Balto don't. It's too dangerous, even for you" Balto struggled, even tried to bite the humans, which surprised Jenna enough to make her stop struggling. She was pushed into a home followed by Balto, who was still fighting them.
But it was useless. Looking out the window, praying it to open, Balto howled like a father who felt like he lost his son.
Well it's not brilliant and might seem a bit rushed and perhaps not enough Shanti time in there. I apologize, but I needed it finished today as promised before Christmas and I just couldn't get it all right. I hope it's acceptable.
Please review, don't be mad at my slow updates and review.
Next Chapter title: Left Behind (might change)