"Friendship is unnecessary, like philosophy, like art... It has no survival value; rather it is one of those things which give value to survival."
— C.S. Lewis (The Four Loves (The C.))

Chapter 4

Escape From The Fire

Hiro stared lazily at the gray misty background of the rain. He lay with his legs tucked underneath him and his head on the cool surface of the cave floor, where he had taken shelter from the rain. Mating season was still going on, so there was no doubt his fellow goats were busy copulating with each other to make the next generation.

Hiro had always liked kids. Mothers in the herd would often let him play with the young, and he even knew most of the younger ones in the herd, who regarded him as a kind of uncle. But Hiro had never really been close to anyone in the herd, especially after Jena died. 'Come to think of it, I think Anari's my only friend.' He considered that a bit ironic, how he would make friends with a wolf and not with his own kind. But he didn't really think about it was a problem. It had been already been five days and no one had found out about their relationship. Maybe they could keep this up after all.

As his thoughts continued to wander, Hiro suddenly thought about what some of the birds were saying about a month before. Since birds get around a lot, Hiro like to speak with them on occasion just out of curiosity. He really prefered speaking with the more intelligent ones, like owls or eagles, predatory birds. The smaller birds were more hyper and tended to get off topic easily. But he remembered one sparrow talking about a wolf and a goat that lived together on the other side of the Mountain. At first Hiro thought it was all nonsense. It was a sparrow after all. But then again, he did hear about that tale sometimes in his herd. Whenever they spoke of it, it was usually in groups and quiet whispers. On one occasion, Hiro tried to get close enough to eavesdrop, but the conversation stopped almost immediately and the band dispersed and continued to graze.

'If it's really true, then I wonder if Anari and I could go over the mountain...' Hiro's eyes started to droop as the smell and steady sound of the rain started to make him a bit sleepy...

Suddenly, he saw it. At first he took no notice of it, thought of it as a mere mirage in the rain. But when yellow flames started to appear in the tops of the trees of the Forest, he stood up in alarm. There was a forest fire! 'And since the rain hasn't put it out already, it must be a bad one!' Hiro wanted to get as far away from that place as possible. When a forest fire started, chances are it wouldn't just settle with the forest. The chance that it would spread to the meadow was low because of the rain, but still possible.

He was just about to run into the rain when he heard a howl cut through the sound of the rain. Now, Hiro couldn't understand the messages in the howl of a wolf. But he knew that only the wolf howled, and when you hear it, you run as far away from the source as possible. But for some reason, the idea that Anari could be in there popped in his head. After all, he did know the difference between a male and a female wolf's howl. The male's was a bit higher than the female's, and Hiro had only heard one female howl, and that was Anari's. Deciding it was well-worth the risk if it was her, Hiro decided to follow his gut and head towards the howling in the forest.

When he arrived only within the span of a minute or two, the heat was scorching and Hiro had to squint his eyes to see through the glare of the light the fire made. He coughed as he breathed in the smoke and his eyes started to water up, but he continued on, looking here and there for a wolf, hopefully Anari.

He jumped over fallen logs, turned corners, and avoided the embers as they rained down upon the forest floor. He had to dig his hooves nearly all the way into the ground to stop himself just as a tree toppled just in front of him, sending up sparks and a fresh batch of smoke. He was so disoriented and confused, the smoke made it hard to breathe and it was so hot. He jumped when a flame singed his side, and it burned with a hurt he'd never felt before. He was immediately regretting going into the forest. Anari wasn't here. He probably heard the howl from a wolf that was far away from here, and now he'd probably die because of his wasted effort.

The wolf that struck Hiro in a dead run was so surprising and sudden that Hiro had did nothing at first. Only when he felt claws grip him and the hot breath of the wolf did he kick out with his back legs and jump free. The burn still hurting, Hiro stood only a few feet from this wolf. At first, he thought it was Anari, and delight went through him. But it was squashed into fear and disappointment when the wolf stood up, shook itself, and growled at him, showing its fangs. It had dark brown fur, probably nearly black because of the ashes. And with dark brown eyes, it clearly wasn't Anari. Without a second thought, Hiro turned tail and ran as fast as he could, fear driving him blindly through the fire. Adrenaline reduced the pain of his burn wound and made him ignore everything else that touched him, for the wolf was getting closer and closer. He even heard the click of its teeth missing his leg by only an inch.

One Shining Day

Anari was coughing so hard she could hardly get a breath in. The smoke was suffocating and thick, and she could hardly see. It burned her eyes and she had to squint and keep rubbing them, which made it worse because the ash irritated them. Her normally white coat was now a light gray and getting darker because of the ash. After she had howled, she decided to stay put until her pack came to rescue her. No doubt they would probably hesitate at first, but Barry would make them go in.

Just as she suspected, Barry burst through the flames and skidded to a stop in front of her.

"Follow me!" he said quickly, before jumping back through the flames he had come through. Anari got to her paws and followed as hard and fast as she could, as she wanted badly to breathe some fresh air and get away from the heat. In no time they both had caught up to the rest of the pack, who were all now running towards the exit of the forest. Suddenly across their path, a goat sped by, which was followed by one of the wolves from the pack, who Anari recognized as Rend. She had seen the fur of the goat, and instantly knew that it was Hiro, and with the current settings, there was almost no doubt that he would either perish in the fire or get killed by Rend. Almost without thinking, Anari turned and ran after them, ignoring Barry's shout of alarm.

When she thought she would quickly become lost in the inferno, she discovered Rend stuck underneath a fallen branch. She must have followed Hiro underneath it trying to get at him, and then found she was stuck. No doubt Hiro escaped since she didn't see him anywhere. Rend grunted as she scrabbled at the ground with her claws, trying desperately to get free. Anari stood there, stuck between two choices. If she helped Rend get out from underneath the branch, then there was a risk of Hiro getting killed in the flames. But if she ran to save Hiro, Rend would see her go past, and if she survived, would tell the entire pack what she had done.

She sneezed as the ash started to get heavier, then made her decision. Hurrying over to the log, Anari put her front paws on the log and pushed with all her strength. Little by little, the log started to move slowly until Rend was able to pull herself out from underneath it. Without making sure she was following, Anari let the log drop and she turned around and ran in the direction that she took to get there. Soon she rejoined Barry and the rest of the pack, and they made it out of the forest. It was still raining, but Anari couldn't care less. She would rather take the cold water droplets than burning fire any day.

They didn't stop until they reached a cave that smelled strongly of goat, but since there wasn't anything there, they decided to take refuge there until the rain stopped or let up. In the distance, they could see the forest fire start to sizzle out as more rain came pouring down. The entire pack was panting from the excursion of the rescue, and most sat down to rest on the cool floor of the cave, including Anari. She licked her paws that were sore from running so much, and she even thought the pad was bleeding.

Barry rushed over to her, sniffing along her body and ignoring her annoyed growls. "Are you alright Anari?" he asked, worry clear in his voice, "I thought you were a goner."

"I'm fine, Barry," Anari turned her body around so that she wasn't facing him. "Leave me alone." For a second, Barry felt a flash of anger. He shook it off and padded away to converse with the rest of the pack.

Anari felt extremely tired from all the excitement, fear, and danger she had went through. Not only was her body tired, but her mind felt ready to slip off into sleep also. Her eyes started to droop and she stretched her body out some more, the cool, hard floor starting to feel more comfortable than before.

She must have slept for a while, because when she was awakened by a prodding in her side, the rain had stopped and it completely put out the forest fire. Rend was the one who woke her up.

"The rain's stopped," Rend said. "It's time for us to go home now." Anari yawned, stood up, and stretched both her back legs, before shaking herself. She still felt tired, but home sounded good right about then. She nodded and followed the rest of the pack as the exited the cave. She hung back until she was near the very back of the pack, giving her a chance to gaze at the charred remains of the forest that she had known to be there ever since she was born. The whole forest had been burned to the ground. All that was left was the burnt black trees that had fallen in the fire. The entire area, where there was once rivers and beautiful green plants that supported life, was black and gray with ashes floating around it. The sight saddened Anari, as she remembered it was also the place where she had first met Hiro.

'Hiro.' She wondered where he was. She had not seen him since she had picked to save Rend over him when they were in the middle of the forest fire. 'Whatever happened to him, I hope he's okay,' she thought worriedly.

Barry called her name, bringing her out of her thoughts and tearing her gaze away from the forest. She had slowed down and was starting to get left behind. She sped up to a trot to catch up. She had to convince herself that Hiro was okay. She wouldn't be able to know for sure until the next day, when she was fully rested.

A few minutes later, the pack went from a walk to a run, as everyone was eager to get home.