Alcatraz stalked along the Aryn borders. Despite his sick son and many new duties as Alpha male, he made sure to uphold his position as a Warden, the job he was always meant to do. As long as his pack was here, he would keep all enemies outside of the borders.
He paused as a strange scent hit his nose. A strange yet familiar scent. He narrowed his eyes uncertainly, their pale yellow depths peered into the shadows of the forest ahead, alert for who could be prowling nearby.
Perhaps it was the thought of hurrying spring along that drove her South- winter was beginning to settle into her bones as a lack of energy she was keen to shake. If it wasn't that, Kestrel wasn't sure what kept drawing her back closer to Aryn territory. Maybe some part of me is still looking for something down here,
she thought as she plodded onward. She sighed- Blutwald was long gone, and what else did she think she'd find wandering this direction? Suddenly the small loner stopped short, recognizing a scent marker. Aryn? I've come farther than I thought.
She didn't panic at first, just turned around, thinking she'd head back the way she'd come. Why was she here anyway?
But suddenly she realized it wasn't just a marker she could scent nearby, but a wolf of Aryn. She almost ran then and there... before she realized there was something familiar about his scent. Alcatraz?
She recalled seeing him among the Aryn wolves the day of the battle... though to be honest, she hadn't given his presence much thought since then. She'd done nothing more than try to put that whole day from her memory these last few months. So he's still with Aryn then...
It only served to solidify what she already knew- that Aryn wasn't evil, that the whole thing had been a confused and terrible mess. The Alcatraz she had met so long ago wasn't a bad wolf.
And suddenly she realized exactly what it was she had ventured South for. Catharsis. Perhaps the universe was looking out for her for once. On impulse, she turned back toward the territory and howled, the traditional greeting of a non-pack wolf. I'm here,
Alcatraz stepped forward, investigating the scent, trying to put a name or a face to it, when a howl echoing across the forest. It was a beckoning howl, and with that he recognized her, the wolf who he had met far back when he was still a loner, and the wolf who he had seen again fighting against his pack in the Aryn-Blutwald war. It was Kestrel.
And it sounded like she wanted to talk to him, so Alcatraz set forward at swift trot. It didn’t take long until her pale white and gray shape came into view, bright green eyes waiting for him. He approached and stopped a respectful distance. ”I hope I find you well, Kestrel.”
Alcatraz said mildly. They had been enemies last time they had met, but she did not seem aggressive now, and Alcatraz knew that he had no intention of hostility.
Kestrel sat, still and poised, as Alcatraz approached. She was relieved to see no sign of aggression in his posture. The wolf was as she remembered him, well-built, healthy-looking, though there was a tinge of tiredness around his eyes that spoke of worry, perhaps responsibility. She stayed quiet for a moment after he spoke, an expression of uncertainty wrinkling her brow as she searched his face openly, her usual sense of decorum gone in her rather dark mood. Finally, she let the facade crack, hoping Alcatraz wouldn't take offense at her seriousness, and allowed a smile through. She stood in order to make a little bow of her head. "You d-do, Alcatraz, thank you,"
she said simply. She bit her lip nervously and glanced away. "I... h-hope I haven't c-caused offense by coming here... After..."
she trailed off.
Alcatraz was quiet as he waited for her to respond. She looked uncertain as she paused, and Alcatraz could not be surprised. After all, if the battle had gone slightly differently, they could have been crossing fangs.
He nodded his muzzle as she trailed off, to signify his understanding, ”A nasty business, but no blame falls on you. A wolf cannot be punished for loyalty to her pack.”
the dark wolf answered, giving her a bit of a smile in return to try and make her more comfortable. ”So what brings you here?”
A sweet sense of gratitude flooded Kestrel, assuaging a need for forgiveness, or at least validation, that she he hadn't even realized she'd been harboring. She breathed a sigh and looked up into Alcatraz's golden eyes. "Th-thank you,"
she murmured. She stiffened a little at his next question. Oh, well, she'd figured he'd ask, of course. Might as well be honest, I suppose.
She smiled sheepishly. "Um... W-well, honestly, I'm k-kinda just wandering,"
she admitted. "I guess m-maybe I came South to see how Spring was getting on?"
she added, but the words sounded hollow and off even to her, so she let them trail off into a kind of question. Now he's going to think I'm hiding something,
she fretted to herself. But really I just have no real idea what I'm doing.
Alcatraz wagged his tail a bit. He could tell she was grateful. He felt sympathetic. She must have been living with the guilt for a long time, from the look of relief on her face. He perked his ears forward as she began.
He stilled at the tone of her voice. It was strange. She was clearly asking something more than her words. ”Spring is getting on fine,”
he answered slowly, eyeing her curiously, ”... is there something I can do for you?”
Kestrel chuckled at Alcatraz's awkward weather report, recognizing the strangeness of her answer. "Yes, it is!"
she agreed with a smile. But her expression sobered as she considered his question, examining her paws and then the sky. "Yes,"
she said finally. "D-Do... d-do you know... what h-happened... to everyone else?"
she stammared, a wave of emotion catching her by surprise. Tears gathering in her eyes, so she stared at a point in the distance, avoiding Alcatraz's gaze. "The r-rest of B-Blutwald? I... I fought someone f-from y-your pack... B-But then I just ran, and I... I don't know... wh-wh-who else is e-e-even al-al-alive... I-I..."
Her words trailed off incoherently as a mountain of uncertainty and fear she'd been surpressing for months finally forced its way to the surface.”Mm?”
Alcatraz urged her as she hesitated, glancing at her paws uncertainly. But when she asked it Alcatraz nodded his head. It was only a natural thing for her to ask. He noticed the tears that gathered in her eyes. He would need to be delicate, ”Most of Blutwald survived. There was one casualty on your side, a she-wolf named Sarafina. I know of no others,”
he explained to her gently.
Kestrel's heart lifted at his words, her expression registering her surprise and wonder. Embarrassed, she swiped a paw across her face, dashing away her tears, though her eyes still shone. "R-Really?"
she murmured. "I... I saw S-Saraf-fina..."
She swallowed. The tawny wolf had been the closest thing to a real friend she'd made in Blutwald. But still, to hear that everyone else was alive... "Are... are y-you sure?"
she asked. She wanted to ask about Winema. The Alphess had been good to her, when she would not have had to have been. She had survived? Aryn had not killed her? She was about to ask whether Alcatraz knew where the survivors had gone, but she cut herself off. It was a silly thing to ask. Surely they had all run, had scattered- the Aryn wolf would not know.
But, he would know what had happened that day. "Alcatraz..."
she began, and swallowed uncertainly. She had carried the suspicion with her since the battle, but for some reason, voicing it was difficult. "That b-brown w-wolf... the one who... b-broke rank from behind Aryn and..."
She stopped and collected herself, looking down, then held eye contact, forcing her force to be steady. "He wasn't really of Aryn, was he?"
Alcatraz tactfully did not respond to the emotion in her eyes. Of course it would be hard for her hearing about the fate of her pack and packmates. Alcatraz shrugged once, ”I do not know if there were any additional casualties after the battle, so I can make no guarantees,”
he warned her.
He perked his ears forward as she said his name, holding her gaze as he waited for her to ask. His pale yellow eyes turned stony, however, at the mention of the wolf who had caused the war to start with. ”No. He was not.”
he said coldly.
Kestrel flinched at the sudden change in the Aryn wolf's eyes, taking a half-step back from his anger. But his response finally confirmed what Kestrel had suspected all along- that in the end, Aryn hadn't started the battle after all. "So... it w-was j-just..."
She trailed off, shaking her head, unable to put the sadness and anger and regret into words. "Who was he, then?"
she asked resignedly, her voice sounding tired.
Alcatraz nodded to confirm her conclusion. "Rhaegan. A wolf who hated Blutwald and wanted it destroyed for some fool's reason or another,,"
he explained, his voice dark. He didn't know much about Rhaegan, but in his eyes he knew enough, "even if it meant putting dozens of innocents in harm's way."
Alcatraz could tell that Kestrel was angry, and sad. He knew the feeling. The dismay of knowing that a war had been fought on the whim of one angry rouge was difficult to swallow, and remained infuriating for the large Warden even after time had dampened the blow.
Kestrel stared at her paws as Alcatraz spoke, horror tingling across her skin. Rhaegan...
She didn't recognize the name. She wondered what could possibly have happened to him, to cause such reckless hate... Sarafina had died
for it. Part of her railed against the reality that surely, she would never know. "I... I'm s-sorry,"
Kestrel finally murmured. She didn't mean it personally, of course, but generally. I'm sorry this happened."I h-hope Aryn d-didn't l-lose anyone?"
she asked gently, finally looking up again.
Alcatraz let out a grunt of agreement. "I am sorry too."
he muttered. Sorry I didn't murder the fool.
he thought. He shook his head at her question. "No, Aryn was fortunate enough to suffer no casualties."
A small but genuine smile rose to Kestrel's lips at the news. "I'm glad,"
she murmured. She swished her tail and kneaded her paws in the ground, searching for something to say. It hardly seemed like such a short conversation could be sufficient to cover everything that had happened on that day, but then again... Maybe it was best not to talk about such things too much. "S-So... you're a p-pack wolf now,"
she offered. "How's th-that?" Real smooth,
she chastised herself, wincing at the awkward shift.
Alcatraz returned the smile, ”I as well,”
he answered. It was all a wolf could hope for in a war, after all. He was relieved at the subject change, and even more pleased at her comment, for it amused him. Not her, but just the thought. He was
a pack wolf now. And beyond that, he was an Alpha male. Two years ago he never would have guessed such a thing was even possible, he would have scoffed and rolled his eyes. How he had changed since he had last seen Kestrel. ”I never thought I would join a pack. But I suppose… I was missing something, that I never knew I was missing until I experienced it,”
the dark wolf said thoughtfully. He paused as he looked at her. She had been a pack wolf in Blutwald, but she was back to being a loner now. ”What about you? What are your plans now?”
Kestrel smiled briefly at the amused look in Alcatraz's eyes. She wondered if he had a family now, but decided perhaps that was too personal a question. He hadn't seemed to have any plans of joining a pack that first time they had met so long ago. She imagined he looked back on his former self from time to time and laughed at his old beliefs. I certainly do.
She bit her lip at his question, her gaze drifting off somewhere far away. "I'm... n-not sure,"
she admitted candidly. A gleam came into her eyes as she looked back to Alcatraz, half amused, half sudden anger. Not at him, just... there. "I guess I'm about where I was the first time we met."
She laughed, though there wasn't any mirth in it. Stop it,
she tried to tell herself. Normally the loner didn't let herself get mad at her situation, but she could feel bitterness creeping into her mood.
Alcatraz listened attentively as she answered, but noticed the anger and frustration that crept into her tone. His smile faded and he looked at her seriously, empathetic. How frustrating it must be, for he knew that she wanted a pack. She had gotten one, but lost it, and here she was once again. ”You are a decent wolf with a good heart, Kestrel. While it would need to be discussed with our Lady, perhaps you could find a home here with us,”
Alcatraz offered. After all, Bloom had been accepted within the ranks of Aryn. He could not imagine it being horribly unrealistic to think Athena would consider the addition of Kestrel as well. While one may think he could have the authority to make the decision himself, being an Alpha along with Athena, Alcatraz thought and acted more like her second-in-command than a true equal to her authority. She was the wolf who knew how to lead, and she was the true Alpha of Aryn. All decisions ultimately came down to her good judgement.
Kestrel's ears snapped forward in surprise at the offer. "Th-th-thank you,"
" she stammered, both for the compliment and the generosity, blushing under her fur. "B-But I..."
Kestrel paused to collect her thoughts, struggling with the idea that Aryn would consider taking in a former Blutwaldian. Could she do it? For a moment she allowed her imagination to run with the idea. Alcatraz would be her packmate. Could I... find a family here?
It would be so nice to have wolves around again...
And yet... When she looked at them, what would she see? Even now memories of the battle, short-lived though her part in it had been, flashed across the backs of her eyes. Perhaps it's a flaw... that I can't let go of that. But I know I can't. Not yet. "Th-thank you so much,"
she said again, forcing herself to make deep eye contact, hoping Alcatraz could see how grateful she was for such an offer. "But I th-think... that perhaps the m-memories of... N-Not that I d-don't want... but... I'm sorry."
Alcatraz watched her reaction. She was clearly shocked and unsure of how to respond. He supposed that was only natural, after all they had only just been enemies recently. He met her clear green gaze, and could see her gratitude sparkling in their lovely depths. But he could also see her conflict and despair, anxious about how this pack who had once fought against her would react.
Although her words were broken, Alcatraz knew what she meant, ”It’s alright, Kestrel. I understand.”
he gave her a deliberate smile, just to try and reassure her. ”In that case… I wish you well.”
Kestrel swallowed back the sudden rush of emotion, glad that Alcatraz understood without the need for further talk. She returned his smile, dashing a paw across her eyes to dispel the tears. "And y-you as well,"
she murmured, nodding in a deep, respectful motion. "G-good luck... with everything. H-happiness to you,"
she added, raising her eyes to his golden ones one last time. A sense of loss penetrated into her thoughts. It wasn't unreasonable to imagine she would meet him again, but... perhaps not.