It was a clear night. Most of the woodland and tundra wildlife had settled down to sleep under the star-filled sky. Aniu lifted her head at an almost inaudible sound and immediately shifted her eyes to Togo, who slept in peace inches from her. She tilted her head, wondering.
Should she wake him and begin hunting?
Aniu did not stress over the threat of consequences if she remained inactive.
There was a quiet rustling and she pointed her muzzle to the east. A dark figure lumbered out into the snow, more at odds with discomfort than his actual size. Aniu gave her charge one last look before rising to her own feet and stepping up to watch the wolf journey alone across the tundra. There was quite a distance between this island of cottonwood and the big, coniferous forest looming out in the navy of night. Aniu took a breath and followed him.
Obligation was never a distant thing.
The black-silver wolf walked a straight path into the shrub-deprived forest and then into the cool water of a secluded lake. If he sensed the presence behind him, he didn't look back. It was with a twinkling ripple from up above did the wolf raise his neck and examine the endless expanse with faraway eyes. Aniu watched from behind a tree as Noctruno stood on his back feet. The dark water receded away from his limbs, revealing a wolf's skull beneath.
He closed his eyes and bayed to the ancient spirits above.
In a burst of color, the Aurora Borealis broke out across the arboreal sky.
Aniu watched as a white, misty creature descended from the multi-hued display and caught Noctruno in a giant muzzle. Ghostly wind blew fiercely across the forest floor, streaming it's gusty side winds at Aniu. The wolf narrowly missed being swallowed alive as the old leader surely had and took the merciful miss as her chance to escape. Fear, both for herself and her pack, consumed her as she high-tailed it out of the forest and across the wide, snowy space. Aniu didn't dare turn back to see the threatening wind wolf when she heard a yelp.
"Aniu!" She stopped short in a few leaps and turned to see Noctruno there, unharmed.
The white wolf turned to examine the receding grey ghost rising into the fading colors. Her breath returned as it all disappeared into the stars. A look of understanding marked his big, silver face as he approached her. The two looked up but did not howl. Aniu was bewildered.
"We are taught only to howl in times of distress," she commented, close to being so herself.
Noctruno lowered his head so she would do the same.
He looked into her eyes mysteriously. "I believe, Aniu, we are very close to those times."
Dawn threaded along the horizon and the darkness faded enough for diurnal animals to see. Some of the wolves grunted and twitched, but most chose to sleep. There was no feeling of immediate danger. Togo was surely curled up next to his Goddess when he felt a soft nudge.
"Aniu?" He asked and peered up.
Glowing eyes were at odds with a dimly-lit figure standing over him.
"Togo," A husky voice stated his name.
"Shanarow," The wolf grumbled lightly.
"W-w-what'd you want?" Togo wasn't quite scared yet.
"I want to know how determined you are at keeping your promise."
The husky blinked.
"How willing are you to become a wolf?"
"Very!" Togo springing forward caused Shanarow reel back, but he didn't growl.
"Then you would do best to follow me," the wolf started to take the lead.
Effortless didn't quite cover his execution, Shanarow noted.
But then, it really didn't.
"Where's Aniu?" Togo looked around naively.
"Wouldn't it be impressive, if you learned to be a wolf in her absence? To surprise her with your acquired skill and cunning." Shanarow turned back around to face him. "Convince her."
"Of what?" The husky asked simply, noticing a moth whizzing around his head.
Shanarow was on the fang's end of patience. "That you are a wolf."
Togo looked at him. "Why would I have to do that? I am a wolf." he nipped at the insect.
"Because, unless you are taught, you cannot be a wolf. She will not accept you as you are."
The husky became unsettled. "She won't? But she accepts me now."
"If you are not at the very least imitable, she will not accept you."
"She tolerates you, out of kindness. By the day's end she will cast you out."
"I..." he thought a moment, "You wanted to show me? How to be one?" Togo said hopefully.
"Follow me," Shanarow told him. "Cotto, Nelle," he instructed quietly as he passed them.
The two wolves rose excitedly and licked at each other; It was Togo who followed with much doubt and uncertainty for once. He could be a wolf for her. He would be! But what did being a wolf mean? If Shanarow said Aniu wasn't convinced, then Togo would have to learn, right?
He didn't question the wolf's motives or anything else, Togo merely trailed after him into the forest. A few minutes later, Aniu came from out of the stand of cottonwood with a half-dead calf hiding in the bushes. She approached where Togo had been to find that he was missing.
"Togo?" The wolf looked around. "We must begin your-,"
He was nowhere to be found.
Aniu caught the scent of three pack members going off to the side... and then over towards the forest. Whoever they were, their scent masked Togo's. Aniu then saw the eldest wolves were still sleeping. Her head jerked up in alarm. If they weren't with Togo, then that meant her scavenger was with... Aniu didn't think any more about it, she immediately bolted after the young wolves' heavy trail in the hopes that she wasn't too late. Her heart twisted in a strange fear at the thought of something happening to Togo. Why? Aniu didn't really know.
To be continued...