The largest wolf stuck his nose to the sky. "Smells like a storm, guys."
"Are you sure, Hige?" asked Toboe, glancing up nervously.
"I feel it too," said Kiba. "Let's find some shelter before it hits."
The wind picked up speed. "We'd better find some quick," commented Tsume. Another gust hit them from behind.
Kiba nodded. "Let's go." The pack followed him as he ran forward.
It was pouring by the time they sighted a spacious cave.
"Come on!" Kiba yelled, stopping just past the entrance to watch the others approach. He glanced up and his face tensed.
Tsume was second to enter and turned to see the reason for Kiba's expression. Not far from where they had come, a fierce twister was stretching its way from the dark sky to the earth below it. And it was heading straight their way! "Get over here quick, Runt!"
Hige crossed the stone threshold and the three adult wolves watched in horror as they realized that Toboe had lagged too far behind. They saw his panicked form rush out from amongst the trees straight for them in an effort to beat the raging wind behind him.
"Ahh!" Toboe yelled. He was the second fastest wolf in the pack, but not nearly as coordinated; he slipped in the mud and fell chest first.
Hige went to retrieve him but Kiba reached out and clamped his jaws firmly on the yellow wolf's collar, holding him back. "Toboe!" Hige yelled as he reared against his restraint.
Toboe opened his eyes and shook his head before realizing he was still outside. He made to stand but, before he could, the whirlwind engulfed him and started to lift him up. He started to panic even more.
"Toboe!" Tsume yelled.
The pack watched as their youngest member was lifted backwards into the vortex. The group yelled his name one last time as they saw his now shadowed form vanish in the wind.
The red wolf stirred causing the fox to gasp and dart behind a tree. She continued to watch him as he breathed as one would in light sleep. Not yet awake but not completely asleep, she thought. The wolf stopped moving. She had never seen such a thing happen before. She was sure that he would be dead after falling from the sky and being thrown into that tree so hard. She glanced at the tree with a good portion of its bark crushed on its surface. The wolf, at its roots, lay with bits of bark wedged between the hairs on his back. She had heard stories about how much stronger wolves were, but she never thought they'd be this strong. Her ears picked up the tiny whimper the wolf made and her eyes fixated on him.
Toboe groaned and opened his dazed eyes, panning his surroundings without moving his head. He blinked, took a deep breath, and sighed. He slowly sat up and let his breathing regulate.
He's even bigger when he's up! the fox thought. Unconsciously, she started to lean forward as her interest grew. She just about jumped out of her skin when he threw his head back and let out a terribly loud howl.
"Tsume! Hige! Kiba!" the wolf howled to the evening sky.
He's calling others! She panicked. I gotta get out of here!
Toboe heard a shifting of leaves and lowered his head in time to see something dash behind a bush. "Hello?" he asked, nervous but hopeful he wasn't alone. He waited but heard nothing. "I won't hurt you. I was hoping you knew where I am?" He tried to stand but felt a massive sting on his stomach. "Ow." He cringed and dropped back to a laying position. With his eyes closed in pain, he heard a small voice come from behind the bush. He twitched his ear in that direction.
"You best not get up. You got hurt a bit."
He turned his head towards the voice as well and saw a figure take a few steps from behind the bush. "What do you mean?" he asked.
"I…I saw you fall from the sky and land into that tree. You must have gotten cut when you were in the twister."
He could see she was afraid. He'd be scared too if he was a fox looking at something twice his size. Braced for the pain he would experience, he deliberately rose to get a feel for how badly injured he was. His stomach made him cringe, but it wasn't until he tried to take a few steps did he feel the pain in his back. "Ah," he whimpered. He sat down. He looked at his roughed-up back and then up at the tree missing bark. He collapsed again when he tried to walk a second time. "Well that's just great," he mumbled to himself. Then he realized that he still didn't know where he was. He glanced at the fox. She had receded a few paces when he stood. "So, do you know where we are?"
"I don't know for sure…but I know we are a few miles from the river with the large Minnows and where the herds of Red Deer live."
Great! Toboe thought. We passed lots of those herds of deer before the storm. Even ate a few. Maybe they're near there! "Thank you!" He smiled. But to her, it must have been a barring because she withdrew further. "Oh, I'm sorry. I didn't mean to scare you," he laughed nervously. Then he remembered, "My name's Toboe. I should have introduced myself first."
"My name is Anawohoru." Then she lightly blushed and looked away. "Ana for short."
"Nice to meet you." He tried not to show his teeth and simply pulled his jowls back in a funny grin. The fox laughed. It was a cute, little laugh which hinted at uncertainty. She's still scared of me, Toboe thought. "Do you think you could help me find my friends?" he asked.
Her eyes widened. "You mean other wolves?" Her ears leveled out to the sides of her head.
"Uh, yeah," he halfway asked. Did I ask too much?
"Um…O-Okay. I can do that. Absolutely!" She stood up real fast and, somewhat, pranced toward him waving her bushy tail in time with her strides.
Toboe wasn't fooled. He knew what false security looked like better than anyone because he did it all the time. "Great." He smiled again.
"I still can't smell him."
"Keep trying," commanded Tsume.
Kiba was standing further ahead looking at an angle to the sky. "Guys, I think we should stop sniffing for now and just path-track."
The other two lifted their heads and followed his gaze to the destructive line the storm had made through the forest. They made confirmatory gruffs and started heading down a similar path. If Toboe was carried by the twister, then by following its trail, they should sooner or later come across the pup's scent. Hige took the center trail while Kiba and Tsume took parallel tracks just past the tree line.
A day later, after more sleep than anything, Toboe had recovered from his back injury enough to not cause too much pain when he walked. The same couldn't be said for the gash on his stomach. Because it made him double over, it made his back ache after only a few paces. So they hadn't been able to make any progress on finding his friends. The fox, Ana, still didn't come too close to him. With not much to do but sleep and rest, he spent time thinking back on what Tsume had once said about how he couldn't trust foxes. He said that they were "lying, thieving bags of leftover runt parts." Of course, that didn't make him feel too good on account that "Runt" was Tsume's nickname for him. But so far, Ana had been anything but. She would go hunting all alone and bring back whatever birds or rodents she could catch and share a large portion with him. He hadn't really talked with her, so he wasn't sure if she was much of a liar. But she had openly told him her nickname without him asking for it, so that had to count for something.
Ana never slept while she knew the wolf was awake. She wasn't stupid. She knew he could do her major damage if given the chance. But she'd never seen a wolf. She was too fascinated to ignore the chance to hang around one who was immobilized. Unlike most foxes, Ana had taught herself to climb trees. She liked being able to get a vantage point when in such compact space such as a forest. And it was an excellent way to prevent sneak attacks from other critters who would love the chance to take out some competition…like wolves. Without ceasing her gaze at the scenery, she asked, "Toboe?"
She jumped down and leaves scattered. "What's it like to be in a pack?"
"I'm a fox. Foxes don't have packs. We are weaned and that's it. We're on our own. I heard wolves stay with their parents and friends and live together. Is that true?"
"Well, normally, yes."
"I don't think anyone in my pack remembers their parents… Or any relatives for that matter. We simply met up and started traveling together. They're all my friends but they're all too proud to say that to each other themselves, I think." He chuckled. Ana seemed confused. "See, I was raised by an old woman that found me outside a city as a puppy. To make sure nothing happened to me, she gave me these bangles to wear. She had some too." He looked up and pondered. "I don't know anything about the others. We don't talk about that sort of thing."
"But I thought you said you were friends," Ana said, as she scooted forward. "Aren't friends supposed to know everything about each other?"
"We are…We do, for the most part. We help protect each other the best we can. But we know how far to push each other. Like, we know we can joke about how Hige can't stop wagging his tail around girls, or how funny Tsume looks when he's embarrassed, or even how Kiba can't take a practical joke." Ana could see his eyes laughing at each recollection. He closed his eyes, turned his head towards her, and opened them with a grin. "We're a bit different."
"Who's the alpha?"
"The alpha? Uh…I guess we don't really have one. I would say Kiba because he's the one who got us together, but he and Tsume have this argument on who's in charge. Typically, whoever moves first, the others follow. But sometimes leadership swaps depending on the situation. They're both hot-headed, though, so it's not out of the ordinary for me and Hige to just wait and watch as they duel it out to figure who's right."
Toboe looked a bit cautious about whatever he had to say. "Why do you hang around me?" She raised a brow. "I mean why are you helping me so much? You get food and stuff for me without my asking and waste your time waiting for me to heal before we can go looking for my pack." She merely blinked. "It's just that I can't see my pack doing this sort of stuff for me."
She sat real tall, at least for her height anyway. "I have never met a wolf before and thought it'd be a good way to learn more about them. 'A fox is wise to figure out how to deal with possible threats.'"
"What have I helped you learn?"
"Well, now I know more about the principles of a pack and I know your bodies can endure much punishment." She flicked her eyes at the barkless tree he still slept under. "I can see that wolves are quite large, but not as large as I've been told and-"
"Actually, I'm not full grown. At least, I think I'm not. Judging by the others, I might get a lot taller." Ana seemed to be thrown back by the news. I guess being told there are wolves bigger than me does seem quite scary to someone as small as her, he thought.
"Uh, no matter," she said, brushing it off with a wave of her paw.
"So…You're just gonna stay here until I meet up with my friends, then?"
Yep. She's honest.