Chapter One: Thunder In The Sunlight
Her eyes opened in the darkness, her breath was rushed and hot. She scrambled onto her paws and stumbled over leaning into the wall of the den. She closed her eyes and perked her ears; a low whine accompanied each breath she took. The cool stone pressed against her fur while the chill of the earth slithered between her ribs. She savored this and rested once more on the floor of the den, sensing her fever, she resisted the urge to dig and bite at the stones trapping her in the ground. She slipped in and out of consciousness, breathing more slowly, not wanting to
. . .
Hunter nuzzled the kits. He pushed and licked at them until they were safely tucked away in a freshly dug burrow. The opening was small enough so that they would be protected; the burrow gaped deep enough so that reaching talons could not scathe them. Even knowing they were not his offspring, he had worked long that day to protect them. He saw the faces of his deceased pups on the fox-kits while he dug. Hunter lay down across the opening and rested, dreaming of the hunt, and of the kill.
. . .
Fire crept through her but she refused to let up. She ran and ran blocking out the thunder of the daytime, searching for the sake of her kits, searching for somewhere to hide. The thunder got closer, a tree near her cracked and spat at the lightning, throwing wood and bark at her. She yelped as the debris found its way into her wound scratching deeper. Why did these creatures come? They always bring their thunder and with them bring death. She turned, sliding, clawing at the ground into an old den under a cliff. The thunder came again at her and missed striking the stones above. The earth gasped and shuddered, stones and dust leapt from the sky, throwing themselves down into her only escape, she whined, watching helplessly, and just before the last stone fell-
She jumped from her sleep and turned to lick away the fire in her haunch. Jade gazed at the last stone that had fallen and strained her eyes to just glimpse a beam of moonlight. It was growing colder as the earth rested for the night. Silent tears streaked her muzzle. She curled away inside her darkness and prayed to the GreatOne that her kits were alive.
. . .
The sun rose and was filtered through the leaves of the trees, each leaf stole its own bit of sunlight and the flowers opened their buds to greet the morning. Hunter's eyes sensed the brightness; he stretched and yawned rolling over to stick his snout down into the den, smelling to see that the kits were okay. Hunter sat back on his haunches and yawned once more before letting out a low deep whine, the same whine he had once used to call to his offspring four great seasons ago. The fox kits could be heard awakening from the mouth of the den. Hunter grinned as well as any wolf could grin as the phantom faces of his own pups appeared on the kits he had taken in.
They lined up, filed out of the den, and then broke into a happy frenzy, crowding around Hunter, attempting to climb onto his back, leaping to nip at his ears. Hunter yelped and then snarled when one of the kits got a good hold on his ear and pulled. They all jumped back. The kits whimpered as they trampled each other to reach the den. Hunter jumped in front of the opening softening his aura. He tried to comfort the kits, drawing them around him as if to say sorry. He sauntered over to a patch of open sun and threw himself down in the warm leaves. There he laid listening to the forest around, and glancing occasionally up to the sky. He winced as the phantoms of his late pups and mate began to dance among the clouds.
His day dreaming was interrupted when one from the group of kits tentatively made their way over to him, and sniffed his face carefully, as if he would awake and be angry. He tilted his head toward the kit and licked its nose. It jumped playfully and licked Hunter back. Hunter lifted himself onto the pads of his paws and the group of kits squeaked as one, and jostled into a tighter huddle. Hunter cocked his head to the side, deciding the kit with bright blue eyes, and glistening orange fur had a name. Audentia.
Audentia yipped and rolled over on her back with her little stomach rumbling. Hunter was suddenly aware of his own hunger and herded the kits all back into the den with plans to hunt.
. . .
Jade awoke from a fitful rest and panted in the hot thin air. Her time was limited and she was fading. She had prayed her whole life to the GreatOne, for rain, for a good hunt, for rest, for the Ardens season, for the living season, for the end of the white season, but never had her need and longing for the help of the GreatOne been so strong. Never had she prayed so passionately and so genuinely for anything. Please GreatOne save my kits, bring me back to them, let them survive. I have lost kits before I could birth them and now will I lose them again? Please, I beg! Save my kits! They are not old enough alone! If they survive the creatures with the thunder how will they eat in the white seasons reign? Jade cried a vixen's wail and sat back on her haunches giving everything she had into this cry. She collapsed with fever as her echoing plea floated through the thick air, disappearing somewhere into the heavens.
. . .
Hunter stopped dead in his tracks. He heard a fox calling as if for a mate. It was nowhere near the white season, and there was much distress in the cry. This meant the vixen was injured, and that he had found food. Hunter followed the echoes of the wail and sniffed the air for the scent of blood and fox. He slowed his pace as the scent became stronger, if the vixen was injured but still able to bite and claw, she was dangerous. His gaze barley left the ground, but something caught his eye, a tree had been torn, as if the GreatOne had slashed it with lightning, but it was not burned. This meant the thunder in the sunlight had been here. He was sickened with the thought of those creatures, but there was no need for his appetite, the kits must be fed. The scent was overpowering now, the vixen must have been caught up in the thunder and escaped, but not unscathed.
He stopped in a clearing and sniffed. There was no sign of the vixen apart from her scent. He gazed at the tree line atop the cliff and listened. The rasping of fevered breath came from a gathering of stones at the bottom of the cliff. He knew this place, there was once an opening there, the den where he was raised. The wear of the seasons had thrown stones in front of the mouth and blocked it off.
The rasping came again and Hunter followed the sound to the stone pile. He realized the vixen must have been trapped when the stones fell and was too small to dig her way out, or too weakened. He cautiously stood on his hind legs and nudged the top most stone away, and then another and another until there were only a few left. He saw his vixen lying in the dirt, bloody and barley breathing. Hunter stepped forward into the den and opened his jaws around the fox's throat. He tightened his grip on her but something threw him off. Hunter caught the scent of the kits on her fur. He stepped back in shock. Their mother!
He knew he couldn't harm the mother of the kits, much less feed her to them. The GreatOne had favored him, the GreatOne had given Hunter his mate and pups back again. Though nothing could replace Claire and their pups, he would not be so forlorn now, not so lost. He looked to the sky and thanked the GreatOne, then grasped the scruff of Jade's neck and carried her from the den.
. . .
Jade woke from her feverish sleep and was nearly sick from the motion of the trees, she unclenched her teeth to fight against the wolf that was carrying her like a kit, but she realized at any moment he could take her life and that she was too weak to fight either way. She closed her burning eyes and sighed, she was thankful to the GreatOne that this wolf had saved her, but wary of his jaws around her neck, and of his intentions.
. . .
Hunter carried the vixen into the den, and laid her amongst her kits. Her body twitched and she jumped, sniffing the air, tilting her head in disbelief. He watched longingly as the kits reunited with their mother, and she cleaned and nuzzled them. He thought of Claire, of her beauty and her way with the parvus . He backed away from the den; Jade turned her bright eyes toward him and whined. Before he could think anymore of this vixen and her kits he dragged a branch in front of the mouth so that she could not leave with them while he hunted.
He was quick to leave the kits and their mother; he wished no longer to see Claire's face on another's body. Hunter closed his eyes and tilted his head to the sky. The sun shone relentlessly down upon him, not caring that his mate was taken four great seasons ago in this forest under its shine. The sun only cared that each day must pass, so that another may begin. Hunter wished the sun to blacken and let him despair, let him mourn.
. . .