Alcatraz stalked to the south, trotting through fields south of Kausen. By now the large wound on his shoulder had scarred over and caused him only occasional pain. He recognized this place. He was approaching Chandor territory. But he wasn't here to see the same things he had seen before. As he approached the border he turned to the west. Last time he had skirted the eastern border by the mountains. But with the sun beating down as hot as it was, he opted for the western border where he could follow the river in case he needed a drink. He was beginning to wonder about his choice, however. The large fields housed only dry shrubs and tall grasses, rattling and dry. Luckily clouds loomed over the land, covering the sun and rumbling in distant thunder. Would it rain soon?
Phen was half-asleep and half-dreaming. It turned out that spending the entire night training wasn't a good idea after all, and she had finally lay down to get a bit of rest. The twigs and other debris that littered the floor dug into her pelt, but she hardly noticed them. There was, however, certain conditions that bothered her. The air was still despicably hot for Autumn, and the sun was still beating down on the forest. She picked up a damp wind, which probably signified that a storm was approaching eventually. Good
, she thought to herself. Then it won't be as hot as it is now
. Normally, Phen would go for a swim in order to beat the heat, but right now she was just too sleepy and worn out to do anything.
Unfortunately, because it was sunny out, there was no way she could fall asleep. Phen settled for being half-conscious, staring at the roots of the tree that was in front of her nose. There was something about the air she could quite place. It was becoming thicker, less clear, as if the world was trying to suffocate them. There was also a harsh, chemical scent she couldn't recognize. At first, she ignored it, believing it was simply her imagination. But it soon became clear that something was happening to the forest. Phen's eyes flickered open, and she was surprised at how much darker the area had become, not just from the blanket of clouds beginning to roll overhead. How many hours had passed? She wasn't sure how long she had lay there. Nonetheless, she felt the need to investigate. The strange scent was becoming stronger now, as well as closer. Phen heard the distant noise of thunder, deep and intimidating, in the direction of the storm.
Alcatraz heard the thunder roar and was just waiting for the sky to open up into pouring rain. But a bitter scent hit his nose an he furrowed his brow, glancing toward the brush to the West.... billowing clouds of smoke were beginning to drift toward him, and with the wind picking up it was approaching quickly, stinging his eyes and making his lower his head to avoid breathing in the smoke. "What in the world..."
it was fire, he knew that. He would need to move quickly.
He picked up the pace, but soon the heat began to come on and the flickering flames glowed against the bushes nearby, beside and in front of him. Alcatraz looked reluctantly into Chandor territory... he would need to go that way. Surely the wolves would understand. And if not then he would throw them to the fire. He turned and began to trot, casting an uncomfortable glance beside him... and noticed how uncomfortably quick those flames were gaining. He picked up the pace, getting nervous now... the flames were growing behind him, and while he tried to remain calm he feared how far they would spread.
A familiar figure trotted toward him. Phen... he had not seen her in a while. What was she doing? Investigating perhaps? Well that was unwise. The smoke was getting thicker and the glow of the fire was blazing behind him, driven by the wind. "Wrong way."
he growled to her as he approached.
Phen was trotting at a regular pace when a familiar figure caught her attention. She recognized the male's physical appearance before his scent, since her nose was becoming increasingly foggy as the strange smell accumulated in the air. She opened her mouth to speak, but he beat her to it. And it seemed like he was in some sort of hurry. "Al..."
, she began, trying hard to remember his name. It wasn't that long since she met him and had driven out the flea-bitten rogues, and yet the name didn't pop up like it was supposed to. "Alcatraz?"
she said, sounding like it was more of a question.
As he approached her, his scent became more apparent, and she realized that whatever her relations with him were, he was still a loner. And in their territory. Normally she would have questioned him as to why he was trespassing, but Alcatraz didn't seem like one to do such a thing. And the smell and heat was still bothering her. Phen turned tail and began following him, not knowing why he was directing her. "Hold on-"
, she barked, keeping up while talking. "What's the hurry? What's going on?"
Unknown to anyone, Phen had only heard of the strange element known as fire from her elders. It was uncontrollable, consuming the forest and leaving only destruction. It was also hot, very hot. The thought that the strange smell and dark smoke was being caused by a forest fire didn't occur to her just yet. In the corner of her eye, Phen saw a flicker of something orange and animate in the distance, a billow of ash erupting from the flame. "What's going on?"
she repeated, staring at the orange colors in awe.
Alcatraz trotted onward as she questioned him. "Fire."
he answered her. "Any rivers nearby?"
he looked at her, his pale amber eyes narrowed irritably, but he was not truly angry. It was just his anxiety coming off as ill temper. That fire was quickly gaining....the air was getting hot and heavy... and Phen affirmed his fears by stopping to stare at the growing flames behind them.
He stopped and looked back at her. Did she not sense the danger? Perhaps if she had never seen fire..."Phen."
he growled, then rolled his eyes with a growl of frustration as she asked the question. He turned back and circled behind her, nudging her with his shoulder to keep her moving. "It's a forest fire, Phen. It is burning everything in its path, including you if you get too close."
he glanced uncomfortably behind him, looking at her more urgently."Come on, Phen. A river?"
Getting to a river was all he could think of. Flames on hot, dry, windy days like this were notoriously difficult to outrun.
Phen had stopped in her tracks and was quietly listening to what Alcatraz was saying. She felt like an idiot when she realized the danger of their situation. She was aware of the male’s temperament, and he probably wasn’t feeling very patient at the moment. Phen couldn’t let herself look stupid any longer. ”O-oh”
, she muttered, looking to the ground, eyes darting left and right. She wasn’t sure how fast this fire was going to move, or how close they could get to it. The forest already smelled like smoke and was getting even hotter than it already was, so she decided not to hesitate.”R-right, a river”
, she said defiantly, taking a few steps in each direction, as if testing whether that path would lead to a river. She had been here a while and knew where all the main rivers lay. The nearest river was the one that marked their northern borders, so they’d have to travel a little bit south before they arrived there. It was around one or two miles away, so they’d have to make haste if they wanted to outrun the fire. She knew they were relatively fast from what she heard. She turned around and began running in that direction, heading towards the border. With all the smoke blocking her nose, it was difficult to smell where the fire was coming from, or what sides it was burning on. It seemed like the more they traveled, the thicker and more vile the forest became. Smoke poured from behind them and to the right of them, and it seemed like there was a giant monster running after them.
Phen suddenly stopped and took a closer look in front of her. The fire was spreading in front of them, pinching off the most direct route to the river. But the strange orange flames didn’t seem too thick, and so due to her inexperience, Phen decided to carry on. Besides, the faster they could get to the river, the better. By now, the air had become too clouded for her to find the way to the river by scent. It made her feel very vulnerable not to have her nose guide her. Phen paused once again, noticing that the flames were getting closer and hotter as they continued. Was it a good idea to have gone in a straight line?
Alcatraz waited for her to decide which way to go, kneading the ground impatiently with his dark paws. Finally she decided on a good way to go and she took off in a run. Alcatraz raced after her, his head low as he tried to escape the increasingly choking smoke. ”How far is this… river?”
he panted behind his dark companion, feeling the heat as the fire raged behind them. They were in trouble…
The licking flames spread around them, going in front of them in a thin line. Alcatraz went to veer to the side, knowing how flammable fur was, but Phen seemed to be pretty confident in going forward, toward the newly spreading flames. ”Phen, I think we should find another way!”
he called, the sickening crackle of fire eating up the trees roaring around them. His look around through his pale amber eyes that reflected the flames that were gathering around them. He didn’t know which way the river was, so he was reluctant to take the lead. That was really their only hope.
Phen opened her mouth to answer his question, but found herself inhaling a lungful of smoke instead. Stopping to cough, she ducked her head like Alcatraz was doing, surprised to find that the smoke was less thick towards the ground. ”It’s less than a mile away. But we’ll have to run if we want to get there quickly”
. She decided to lay down for a moment to catch her breath and observe her surroundings. Driven by her needs, Phen hadn’t really been paying attention to what she was getting them into. But now she realized they were in quite a predicament- the trees surrounding them were all being swallowed up by the strange yellow fire, and there were few places to travel without being blocked off. She felt like it was trying to corner them, and then burn them alive. She couldn’t let that happen. Phen got up again and turned towards the only available escape route between some bushes, her blackish pelt brushing against the burning leaves as she darted through. She wasn’t really sure how contagious fire was- would it immediately attach to her if she touched it? Phen was surprised that her fur was only singed a little, but didn’t catch like she feared. Shaking her head to clear the smoke, she continued in the direction of the river.
They were now only about a half mile from their destination, but conditions seemed to be getting worse as they progressed. As if the smoke and heat weren’t enough, they had to constantly maneuver themselves through tight clearings and jump over fallen logs that were still glowing with heat. Phen felt herself wearing out pretty quickly. Suddenly, as she was squeezing herself past some foliage, she heard an alarming crackle coming from near them. It was slow and unsure at first, but it increased in volume quickly, and a creaking sound followed mixed with the soft sound of leaves. Phen looked back and forth, not knowing where it was coming from, before looking up. To her horror, a young tree, no bigger than a foot wide, was leaning right over her. It seemed to fall so slowly though, that Phen had some time to react and managed not to have her head crushed by the tilting object. However, the tree fell with an enormous thud
sound, causing the earth to shake lightly and her left flank to be caught under it. Phen yelped loudly, more from the shock of being hit than the pain, and tried to yank herself out. The tree had only been burned at it’s base, thankfully, but the dark wolf still couldn’t squeeze her leg out from under the heavy weight of the log. After a few more fruitless attempts, Phen let her head rest on the dusty ground and looked hopefully up at Alcatraz, who was probably either extremely annoyed or had already gone off without her. ”H-help?”
she asked solemnly, not knowing what else to do at the moment.
Alcatraz listened to her. It was difficult to hear her through the growing roar of the fire, but he certainly was up for a run right now, considering he was beginning to fear for his life. He broke into a trot until he lost sight of Phen out of his peripheral vision and looked back. She was…. laying down? He circled back, his tail tip twitching and his fangs bared impatiently and in fear. ”Are you crazy? Get up!”
he snapped, turning back around as if he was about to leave her. Would he? It would certainly be difficult for him with his guilty conscience… no, he would probably drag her along before he left her alone. She seemed to notice the increasing danger of the situation and got to her paws. Alcatraz was not about to hang out any longer. The moment she was on her paws he took off toward the only opening left. He narrowly avoided the two walls of flames lapping around him, sending waves of heat into his skin. But he was lucky his fur did not catch as he passed, racing through the opening and slowing down to look back to make sure Phen had made it. And there she was, leaping through the fire like a graceful black shadow. Her fur was tinged by she was unharmed it seemed. He turned and the two made their way toward the river, weaving and leaping and dodging around the flames. All the while Alcatraz watched his female companion, making sure she was keeping up. How terrible it would be if she perished in the flames right before him! He couldn’t let that happen or it would haunt him for years
The crackling sound of a falling tree hit Alcatraz’s ears and his wide yellow eyes searched frantically to see where it was coming from as he raced along. He skidded to a halt, glancing back to see Phen leaping out of the way of the young tree, but not quick enough it seemed. ”Phen!”
Alcatraz roared as he wheeled around and pelted back toward her, as if he could stop the tree from falling.
With a yelp she was trapped beneath it as Alcatraz skidded to a halt before her fallen form, his pale eyes wide and desperate. The flames were lapping around them, and the tree that trapped her was slowly getting engulfed, already caked in glowing embers. She struggled to get out but could not move her leg. He whimpered in anguish as he tried to decide what to do… the tree was not too large. Perhaps he could...move it… He looked into her solemn gaze fiercely. ”I’m not leaving you. We’ll get you out.”
he growled, using his large shoulder to try and slide the log off. No give…. he backed up a few steps and then threw himself forward with a grunt of effort, throwing his full force against the tree in an attempt to roll it off his friend. He felt it move under his sheer weight and force… but was she injured?
Phen was rather surprised that the brown colored loner decided to stay around and help her. Although they sort of knew each other, she’d imagine that he would be one to care about his own life and head on without her. The fire that lay around them was becoming increasingly dangerous, and it would be risky to stay in one place for even a short time. The wavering tongues of the flame danced in Phen’s pearl-colored eyes, and she stared back in fear in uncertainty, unsure how Alcatraz could remain so vigilant against the racing fire.
She watched as he worked, pushing against the giant log with all his weight. For a young wolf, he held a surprising amount of strength, and she could feel the tree shifting slightly off her leg. The process was of course painful- the rough bark of the tree ground against her leg as it was being pushed away. Finally, Phen felt the weight lift, and she sprang forward just a little, as if the tree would turn around and bite her again if she stood too close. Immediately as she moved, she felt her spine and back legs protest, causing her to bark in pain and drop back down to her knees. Oh no
, Phen thought to herself, almost whining. Please please please not let anything be broken. I don’t want to be eaten alive by this fire!
Her right leg had taken most of the impact, and felt stiff and irregular whenever she moved it, though she could feel it just fine. Too sudden a move caused sharp pain to shoot up her haunches and would make it impossible to even walk for a long period of time. The most she could manage was to stand up and shake it off, even though the simple action required loads of self-control.
Breathing heavily, she turned her head back and faced her savior. ”Th-thanks”
, she managed between breaths, which were shallow and mechanical. Suddenly, Phen felt very vulnerable. She was trapped in the heart of a wildfire, surrounded by orange flame that was coming closer and closer every second. Ash and still-glowing embers rained down as the leaves in the canopy began to burn as well, making the air almost unbreathable. She coughed and threw her head back, attempting to shake off the burning detritus and to clear her throat. It didn’t work. Phen’s attention immediately went back to their goal- to get to the river, even though she had just almost been crushed by a fallen tree. ”L-let’s go”
, she sputtered, her voice hoarse from the meager amounts of oxygen she could take in. Phen began walking, only to push herself too far and fall back down. It continued that way for a couple of strides, as she was determined not to be held back from what had happened, but ultimately it came to her that she wouldn’t be able to go at the same pace they were going. The pain was just too unbearable. Phen felt rather hopeless- Alcatraz was still here, needing her to lead the way through the thick smoke and flames, yet she could barely stand upright. Does he even need me anymore?
she wondered to herself, almost out of amusement. The river’s just in that direction. He’ll probably just head on without me; I’ll drag myself out... somehow
. Oh, how she hated the feeling that she was holding someone back, let alone in a life or death situation. Phen almost hoped that Alcatraz would
run ahead in order to save himself. There was no way she could lead them out in her condition. Phen let her legs buckle and she half-fell onto her side, closing her eyes and trying to ignore the pain, feeling the heat of the flame closing around them.
Alcatraz continued pushing and felt a rush of relief as she sprang free. His tail tip was twitching in fear as he kneaded the ground impatiently, ready to take off again, ”Can you run?”
he demanded urgently, his voice a raspy snarl. Her yelp gave him his answer, and the black she-wolf sank down to her knees. Alcatraz felt his heart sink. He didn’t answer her grateful word, his mind racing as he tried to decide what to do. He glanced at her as she muttered for them to get moving. She didn’t need to tell him twice. ”Stay beside me and for season’s sake, keep your head down!”
He felt hope as she continued to walk but then she sank back down. He looked at her in dismay. ”Get up, what are you doing? You can’t handle a little pain to save your life?”
he snarled. And then she was on her side, her eyes closed. She looked about ready to give up. Alcatraz circled her once where she lay, snarling in anger and desperation as embers flew through the air and smoke began to thickly cover the sky above. ”Get up you useless lump!”
he snapped, his voice cracking.
And then he got an idea. It wasn’t a good idea, but at least it would give Phen a fighting chance. He crouched down right beside her. He was a very strong wolf, and hopefully between that and his adrenaline he would be able to carry her. ”Get on.”
he growled to her, ”Get on now.”
Phen, still fully conscious, was tempted to push her ally’s voice out of her head completely. It was such an annoyance to her, hearing the sharp barks of urgency and furiosity. Yet, she knew she couldn’t possibly stay down there for much longer. The longer she stayed, the closer the flames came, and the less time they would have to get to the river. Her leg throbbed, and although it didn’t feel the intense pain of being broken, it was probably either fractured or dislocated from her waist. Not a pretty situation to be in. But the air down here on the ground was fresh and smelled of soil. Phen let her eyes snap open in the middle of Alcatraz’s ranting, her pupils flickering to his bulky, brown form. Her eyes furrowed into a look of frustration at his words- despite knowing that he was trying to be more motivating than insulting, she didn’t like the idea of being yelled at about such things. It made her feel weak, sensitive, and above all cowardly.
Suddenly, Alcatraz seemed to come to a consensus, looming next to her. Get on?
Phen repeated to herself, incredulously about how things had turned. He’s going to carry me?
The very thought of it seemed both relieving and outrageous. Should couldn’t even think about the possibility of relying on someone like that. Phen stared at him for a moment longer before she set her jaw straight, her facial expression determined. Her legs straining, she heaved herself upright, despite her stiffening muscles. ”No
, she replied to his offer stubbornly. ”Just help me walk. I don’t need to be carried”
. With that, she let herself fall a little off-balance and onto the male’s side. She kept her head and nose low, in order to keep from breathing in the foul air. Phen coughed. ”Just go forward”
, she ordered quietly, not really possessing enough breath to speak loudly. ”See that clearing up ahead? Just head in that direction. The river shouldn’t be too far away”
. Before even finishing her sentence, Phen began walking forward, slowly at first to show that she was actually capable of movement. In the distance, another tree crashed the ground, a loud crack echoing through the already-noisy air.
Alcatraz watched her heave herself to her paws,stubbornly refusing to be carried. Normally he would respect her for her bravery and pride. He would be the same way. But right now he was in no mood to think about the respectability of his companion. He just wanted to get out! He rose to his paws with an impatient grunt, kneading the ground with large, dark paws.
Phen let herself fall against him and Alcatraz leaned toward her to offer his support. It was his only choice. ”Alright.”
he said softly, walking slowly with her. His paws itched to run ahead, and even Phen’s best effort as swiftness felt gruelingly slow as they braved on through the smoke and flames. He narrowed his eyes at the clearing. It wasn’t too far. ”We’re nearly there.”
he huffed. He jumped suddenly at the terrifying crackling and crash of another falling tree nearby, sending embers spiraling through the air like a thousand fireflies. His whole body tensed and his head shot up, and it took every ounce of self control for him to stay at the injured she-wolf’s side. He closed his eyes a long moment, well it felt long but it was probably only a moment or two. Would this be his last moments on earth? Suffocated by the pressing clouds and singed by the engulfing flames, soon to turn his entire being to ash? The injured, frightened she-wolf leaning against his side, yet another wolf he was unable to save? At least this time, unlike the last, he would die trying. Yes, that was a thought that would comfort him in his final moments….
When he opened his eyes the clearing was closer than he thought it would be. They were slowly making their way, and hope began to flutter in his chest like a caged bird. He kept his head low to peer through the increasingly suffocating smoke. The river was close now, he knew it!
Phen could feel Alcatraz’s restrained body movements, and she was constantly (and painfully) aware that he was restraining his pace in order for her to keep up with him. The notion bit at her painfully, even more so than her injury. She didn’t want to be holding someone back, especially in this situation. Phen tried her best to jog forward, keeping her displaced leg above the ground so that it wouldn’t drag there. But every time her paws hit the ground, the impact caused her leg to jerk, shooting pain up her spine. She winced the entire way to the clearing, her breathing getting heavier with the smoke.
Phen shuddered as she heard the crack as well, but she could hear the tree was too far away to hit them no matter which way it fell. Nonetheless, she felt her ally’s muscles stiffen with concern. It was only when she saw the dispersing of trees that the possibility of surviving gnawed at her as well. ”We’re almost.. there”
, she coughed, staggering slightly before regaining control. The world was becoming blurry and the air itself seemed to be burning her pelt off. Yet, the more they limped along, the closer a rejuvenating scent became- The scent of crisp, fresh water. Every once in a while, a breeze would waft by them, carrying the scents of the cold liquid to their heat-scorched faces. Lifted with a new confidence, Phen suddenly broke free of Alcatraz’s hold, bolting forward without really looking where she was going. The clearing was only meters ahead now, and Phen crashed through some ash-covered foliage and into the open air.
The blast of cold, humid air that met her was such a large change in the atmosphere that Phen nearly turned around and vaulted back into the searing heat. She fell to her knees then, breathing in the fresh, clean scents that would soon be taken over as well by the wildfire that chased them so closely. When she opened her eyes again, Phen saw that the river was just a few feet away, right in front of their noses. ”We made it!”
she barked with relief in her voice, and she crawled her way forward to lap some of the water into her dry mouth. The cutting waves in the rapid-moving river smacked at her face, but she didn’t really care. It was only until she was done when she realized they had another problem facing them- and this time it wasn’t the fire. How am I going to cross this thing?”
she thought to herself, her spirit dropping once again. Usually, Phen was an excellent swimmer, used to battling against hard currents. But with one leg gone and practically out of breath, how could she possibly cross even a relatively slow-moving river such as this one? Phen backed away a few paces again, her leg dragging limply behind her. She eyed the waves cautiously, calculating the speed, depth, and direction they were flowing. Isn’t it amusing
, she thought to herself, that the river that was going to save us is going to stop me from reaching our goal...
Phen closed her eyes, remembering when she first swam in these rivers. She was so strong then. And she had promised her friend, a mysterious black and white loner of the mountains, that she would teach him. That thought brought a new light to her eyes. She’d get across this river, or die.
Phen limped forward once more and set one paw into the shallow waters. The feeling of the liquid against her skin was wonderful, but she knew that the deeper she went, the stronger the currents would become. Remember your tactics- you’ll be fine
, she tried to assure herself. Phen looked back at Alcatraz, who seemed to be right behind her. ”You can swim... right?”
, she questioned him. ”Could you keep to my left? If I lose control in the water, at least I’ll have something to stop me from being swept downstream”
Alcatraz stayed at her side, feeling her movements quicken as the prospect of survival hit her as well. This made Alcatraz even more hopeful as the clearing got closer and closer, and the air got easier to breath. And then Phen darted forward through the undergrowth dusty with ash. Alcatraz’s pale yellow eyes were wide as he watched her, shocked at her sudden burst of energy and movement. He followed her through the bushes, gasping in a huge gulp of delicious fresh air, letting it fill his raspy lungs to their full capacity. And the river! They were safe now… so long as they crossed it. He glanced behind them. They were ahead of the fire, yes, but it was still quickly approaching.
He padded to Phen’s side, joining the black she-wolf in a long drink of the sweet water. Never had it ever tasted so good… now he felt good to go, ready to cross this river and get to safety. They were as good as saved now, in Alcatraz’s mind. All they had to do was cross…piece of cake!
He had to look over at Phen for the relief in his eyes to change into concern once again. She was looking quite hesitant at the water’s edge and Alcatraz remembered her injured leg… would she be able to swim? She seemed to find her resolve and she stepped forward into the water. He followed her, watching her gently as he waited for her to speak, or see if she would just go for it. She asked him to keep to her left and he nodded. Of course he would do that, to keep her from getting swept away. If he was ever going to abandon her, it would have been a long time ago.
He waded a bit into the water, keeping his strong paws planted as he looked back at her and waited until she was ready. He had saved a wolf from a river before. It had not been fun, of course, but he had done it once in a river much worse than this. He was sure that he would deliver Phen safely to the other side, if she could not manage that herself.
Honestly, Phen was quite relieved that Alcatraz agreed to help her once again. She’d expected him to lose his patience by now. But clearly, he was waiting for her. Not wanting to delay it any longer, she slipped cumbersomely into the water, nearly tripping and submerging half her face in the choppy waves. How could an activity that she used to find so amusing make her fearful for her life? But seeing Alcatraz’s stable form made her a bit more confident in her abilities. Pushing herself off the bank, Phen began drifting with the waves, pointing her spine at a specific angle to counter the current while still getting to the opposite side. The bank on the other end seemed quite far away, perhaps twenty meters or so, which was more than enough for her. She pushed as hard as she could with her good leg, feeling the back half of her body wavering in an unstable manner. She knew that if she lost control, the current would overcome her light form. Luckily, the more she swam, the more rhythmic her strokes became, and she slowly started to get the hang of swimming with one leg. What was holding her back was the other leg, which was being thrashed around by the undercurrent painfully, and her lungs, which never seemed to get enough air after their short time in the fire.
Suddenly, an especially large wave came right at them; a disturbance in the evenness of the water’s surface. The water hit Phen first, blinding her face for a moment and making her panic from the impact. The liquid submerged her completely, although her head wasn’t that far under. The next time she felt something was when she bumped rather harshly into Alcatraz, and regained some control. Launching herself to the surface, Phen’s head pierced the water and she took in a few ragged breaths before continuing, apologizing tersely for crashing into him. Straightening herself, Phen continued using the best of her ability, her injured leg constantly tugging at her and slowing her down. She felt herself becoming numb as she progressed, both to the pain and the water, but also the very prospect of survival. Matter of factly, she didn’t even realize they had made it to the other side when her front claws scrambled against the smooth pebble floor of of the opposite bank. Land!
Instinctively, she gripped the comforting, solid ground and heaved herself forward, struggling to pull herself onto the shore with the water in her pelt weighing her down.
When she made it safely, Phen collapsed on herself, falling onto her shoulder onto the slightly mossy floor. She felt cold and exhausted, her lungs were burning, and she felt very shaken by the situation. Had they really made it alive? Was it over? Phen didn’t even turn to see if Alcatraz had made it himself, and instead curled into herself slightly, her breathing labored and irregular. The best she could do was let out a husky question. ”Al...”
, she began, but fell into a fit of coughing. ”... Are you... here?”
All she wanted to know now was that her ally was safe. If he had made it, their mission was complete, and they could finally stop to rest a while.
Alcatraz waited for her to be at his side before he continued into the river. He could feel her struggling as soon as their paws left the ground, and he had to paddle a lot stronger than normal to keep above the water at the slow pace they were going. And already he was out of breath from his smoky breath and their frantic running. But they were so close… he needed to continue on. Alcatraz watched Phen with his peripheral vision as they went. The shore was so far it seemed…
And then that troublesome wave, a particularly big rapid, swirled into them. It was annoying for Alcatraz himself to keep above the water as it passed, and immediately his thoughts went to the injured black she-wolf just upstream him. His pale yellow eyes blinked rapidly as he looked around for her, but they kept filling with water, and even through them he could not see Phen. It took until she crashed right into him for him to find her. He lowered his head into the water and swam slightly more into her, trying to push her up and give her support. She found her own way, sputtering for breath and panting a hasty apology. Alcatraz didn’t answer, but felt almost sickly with relief that she had returned to the surface. To lose her now would be just… awful.
Alcatraz had never been so happy to feel solid ground and he glanced at Phen, pushing her a bit with his broad shoulder to help her manage the climb onto dry land. He followed her, not bothering to shake off as he took a few steps forward on his stiff, exhausted muscles. He turned back to Phen to check on her status and found her curled into herself. He stumbled over to her, laying in the grass beside her as he continued to try and catch his breath, ”Yup..”
he said between breaths, ”Yeah, I’m here…”
His voice was raspy as he broke into a cough as well, the hot smoke leaving behind a burn on his throat. How uncomfortable it was to breathe…. he glanced at her, clearing his throat several times before saying, ”You… alright?”
he asked, but the question was a little awkward on his tongue. Of course she wasn’t alright. He crept closer to her, narrowing his eyes critically at her injured leg, trying to judge what was wrong. But Alcatraz was never meant to be a medicine wolf. He had no idea what he was looking at.
For a while, all Phen did was lay on her size, looking up a blades of grass that shielded her face from the light-blue sky. When she heard her ally’s voice, she finally relaxed, her shoulders sinking a little into her fur. Alcatraz sounded out of breath, but breathing and upright nonetheless. Phen on the other hand felt a little dazed, and couldn’t even get herself to respond to Alcatraz’s question. One part of her prompted herself to talk, since it might spark concern if she didn’t reply. But the other part simply wanted to close her eyes and sleep. The rise and fall of her chest was uneven at first, but as time progressed it evened out and became less troubled as the fresh air cleared out her tainted lungs. Even on this side of the river where the raging fire couldn’t reach, she could feel the heat and thick smoke radiating from behind her.
After what seemed like an eternity of lying there like a dying fish, Phen finally got the energy back to observe her surroundings. She lifted her head feebly, barely enough to get her line of sight out of the grass and onto the ground around her. On the opposite back, the wildfire had already reached the edge of the river, but it stopped abruptly, quenched by the waves. The smoke and embers that poured out were too weak to travel across, and as they attempted to cross, the heat difference caused them to rise. It was almost a pretty sight... almost. And then there was Alcatraz. Phen twisted her neck around painfully just to make sure he was really there, and that she hadn’t somehow imaged his reassuring voice. Once she saw him, her head thudded back onto the ground like a cold stone. ”So”
, she began awkwardly, the worry in her voice replaced by that of someone who had just been woken up. It had been some time since he had posed her question, so it was no longer any good to respond. She should at least thank him for getting her out of the fire alive. A realization hit her- that if Alcatraz hadn’t showed up, she wouldn’t even have known there was any danger until it was too late. They had gotten close to death even with his help. The understanding made her shudder, and made her feel quite pathetic.”Thanks for helping... er, saving me”
, she mumbled, still completely worn out. She didn’t want to stand up, risking moving her injured leg further. Phen was painfully aware of Alcatraz looming over her, probably trying to figure out what to do with her shattered leg. That was yet another problem she had ahead of her- Chandor still
had no medicine wolf. And she didn’t even know how serious her own wound was. The thought was extremely unsettling. Phen tried to sit up, blood rushing to her muscles and causing her world to blur for a few seconds. Her eyes closed, and she tried to think about what she should do next. Maybe limp back to the main den? That was near ten miles away. Damn
. Phen looked up at Alcatraz, uncertainty swimming in her near-white irises before looking away. ”I need some way to get back to my den”
, she mused out loud, staring into the raging fire a good distance away. ”Are you hurt at all?”
Alcatraz looked her over a few times as she lay still, but he did not speak. She was breathing, clearly out of breath and probably still recovering. Finally, after a moment, she looked at him and Alcatraz perked his ears, waiting for her to speak, but she hardly did, her head dropping back on the ground. The dark male’s pale yellow eyes wandered to the fire on the other side of the river and he lost himself a moment as he gazed into the dancing flames. Her voice broke him from his thoughts and he glanced at the black she-wolf. ”Oh, uhh… yeah. No problem.”
he said, shrugging her off gruffly. Yeah, he had saved her life… but he didn’t feel like he had a choice. She had needed him, and he had been able, so he did the only thing an honorable wolf would do. And if there was one thing Alcatraz thought of himself as, it was an honorable wolf. And besides that, he kinda liked Phen. Sure she was down on her luck now, but she was a tough she-wolf who could take care of herself.
Phen tried to sit up and Alcatraz stepped toward her a bit, ready to support her if necessary. ”...how do you feel?”
he asked her, looking into her pale eyes and just seeing the answer in their pearly depths. She looked away. Alcatraz sat back on his haunches, looking around thoughtfully, as if hoping an idea would come to him. ”Where is your den?”
he asked her.
Alcatraz shook his head a bit at the question. His fur was singed, yes, and his muscles were sore from throwing himself against that tree and running, and his pads were scratched and burned from leaping over fire and stepping on embers, but overall, especially compared to her, he was largely unharmed. ”I’m fine.”
Still trying to heave herself up, Phen nodded curtly and proceeded to shut her eyes tightly so that she would ignore the pain. ”That’s good to hear”
, she murmured, and with a final push of her good leg she managed to get her tail off the ground. There would be no guarantee as to whether her leg would heal by itself without getting it checked by a healer. Her mind wandered to Tam all of a sudden, a hyperactive furball who claimed she would become a medicine wolf someday. If only she were grown up by now, so that she’d actually have someone to go to. Phen realized she hadn’t answered her friends question yet and hurried to do so. ”M-my den?”
The question sounded queer. ”Oh yeah, it’s uh... not terribly far from here, I guess”
. That’s not a very precise answer
, she scolded herself, and continued, ”It’s a couple miles south of here, maybe only an hour away if my leg was still working”
. She turned her head and stared at the patch of mangled fur, her paw raised above the ground to keep it from dragging. There was a little blood from the scraping of the bark, but most of the damage was internal. Phen probably looked pretty pathetic at the moment, with her usually silky mane plastered to her neck from the weight of the water. She tried shaking off some of the excess by thrashing her head around, but that only caused the fur to clump in irregular directions.”I suppose it would be useless to hang around any longer”
, she spoke with finality, the last of edginess gone from her voice. She had a goal now, even if it was a temporary one. ”You’ve been through enough, Al. You should go home, too, if you want to”
. Phen didn’t bother to realize the loner didn’t exactly have
a home that he could simply go back to every day. If she weren’t in this predicament herself, she’d probably pity him. The thought of leaving him behind like this after the incident didn’t feel correct. They just almost died, he saved her, and now she was going to leave him alone at the edge of Chandor territory next to a flaming river? Without really waiting for an answer, almost not wanting to feel guilty, Phen stumbled forward. Her walk was slow and uncertain at first, but she quickly found her feet again. Honestly, besides the fact that her leg was non-functional, not much else was wrong with her. Her lungs had cleared, her pelt no longer felt the searing heat of the fire, and she had a clearer mind now that they were out of harms way. She’d just have to find a place to stay for the night, where she’d be sheltered. There was absolutely no way she could hunt in her current condition, so finding her other packmates was a must if she was going to find a meal any time soon. Though Phen had no feeling of hunger after what happened.
Suddenly, there was a noise in the distance- the sound of oncoming thunder. Oh yeah
, she thought. They’d been so busy running that she forgot about the storm. It would probably rain soon, putting out the fire that had almost killed them. Phen didn’t mind the rain, and she was already soaking wet anyways. She turned her neck to look at Alcatraz, wondering if he felt the same way, or if would make the trek out of their territory even more painful.
Alcatraz watched her patiently as she stammered for an answer. ”Hm. Well, alright.”
he said to the black she-wolf. An hour wasn’t so bad... It wouldn’t be fun, but after so long of thinking he would die, Alcatraz did not mind. At least they could take their time. ”Does Chandor have a healer or anything like that who can help you?”
the dark loner asked her, wondering how she would get help… would the leg heal on its own or would she need attention for it? Would it get infected or heal wrong and be forever unusable? Alcatraz had no idea, and he had to admit he was worried…
Alcatraz narrowed his eyes a bit as he felt a tinge of annoyance at being called Al
. The dark brown male did not like nicknames. Whether it was Al or Traz or whatever other came up with. But the other issue with her statement was that he didn’t have a home to go to. Not that he minded, really, but it kinda of gave him a tinge of unhappiness. She would go back and have a pack to speak to about the issue who would comfort her and help her and keep her healthy as she recovered. If something had happened to Alcatraz then he would have no such luck. He had been convinced he would die, in fact, after Ivan had torn off the fur on his shoulder. He was lucky for a few kind hearted wolves who ran into him and helped him recover. He pushed his thoughts away. Alcatraz was not so sure life in a pack was for him… he had abandoned his first one, so bitter about their lax border security ever since the death of his father, his best friend, and several of his siblings. He didn’t want to have others depending on him when he could not give them the protection they needed to survive.
But leaving Phen was certainly not the right option in his mind. She was badly injured and still a while from home. What if she ran into more trouble? No, he had to make sure she was safe before he left. What a pity to waste all this time and energy helping her just for her to die of something stupid like falling into a ditch or running into some filthy rogue. He was invested now, and she was his responsibility in his mind. He did not want to let her down like he had let so many others down before him.
She started walking without waiting for his answer and he trotted to her side. ”No, I will see you home first.”
he said adamantly. She began slow and uncertain, but soon she got going at a good pace and Alcatraz was happy for that. Still he stayed at her side, in case she needed support.
Alcatraz glanced up at the dark clouds, not able to hide the relieved smile that split his muzzle. He loved the rain, but not light rain that made your fur damp and sticky. The torrential downpour kind of rain that soaked you to the bone and caused water to stream down you and wash away your troubles in the refreshing cold. And that looks like what this would be. Especially after such a suffocatingly hot ordeal, this storm was just the perfect occurrence in his eyes. He glanced at Phen as he noticed her looking at him. Was she happy for the storm? ”Looks like that fire won’t last much longer.”
Phen listened to her friend quietly, stopping amidst her retreat to think about what he asked. Her shoulders stiffened. She didn’t want to worry him more than he already was, if he was worried about her at all. She was sure someone
in her pack knew something about how to take care of a minor leg injury, and she herself could probably get rid of those nasty scrapes in no time. ”Well... no... we don’t have a healer”
, she began uneasily, staring at the grassy forest floor. She was obvious unsure of what she was going to do. ”I’m sure it’ll heal with a bit of rest. Remember last time with those loners? I took care of those injuries on my own, and I’m sure I can do it again”
. Phen didn’t know how she was going to take care of a crippled limb, but she had heard stories of such things healing on their own. If that was true, she had nothing to worry about. She hoped.
Surprised that he offered to walk her home, Phen stopped and looked at the dark brown male closely. Just what was so important about her living that would drive him to help her so many times? She continued forward, glad that Alcatraz had matched his own pace with her’s so that she wouldn’t get left behind. Phen wasn’t sure whether to keep her leg lifted off the ground or to let it drag, but after seeing the rainclouds slowly seeping across the sky, she decided to let it go. Her pelt would get wet and muddy anyways from walking through such a storm. Once or twice she felt herself fall off-balance, but managed to catch herself and continue onwards. Still, Phen was glad that her ally was there to support her if she got tired. Plus, it made the journey there all the more bearable. ”Thanks”
, she murmured after they had accelerated to a decent pace.
Phen looked in the same direction as Alcatraz- towards the sky. The grey, fluffy, ominous clouds loomed closer and closer, and would soon block out the sun. That was the only thing she didn’t like about the rain. It got rather dark and depressing once that golden orb was no longer floating in it’s usual spot. Phen looked back at her friend, noticing the grin on his face. He must like thunderstorms too
, she thought fleetingly to herself, noting that Alcatraz didn’t smile very often. Having something to look forward to that didn’t involve stuff burning definitely brightened to mood. ”Yeah”
, she responded simply, looking forward once again. ”And about time, too. If only the storm had come a bit earlier...”
. As if on cue, the atmosphere suddenly began darkening. It was in the slow but noticeable fashion as when a cloud passes under the sun during a bright day. But the actual rain wouldn’t come until the clouds caught up with them.
Alcatraz listened to her words, glancing at her as she assured him it would heal on its own. The dark loner was not sure he believed her. A bite was a different story than an internal wound. He looked at her with doubt in his pale sand-baked yellow eyes, but she did have a pack… and he had a feeling Phen could take care of herself anyway. After all, she had killed a wolf before his very eyes the first time they met. That had been impressive… ”Well… whatever happens to your leg, you will survive, and that is most important. We can always be glad about that.”
he pointed out. Maybe that thought would help her go along. It could be worse, and it very nearly had been. He wondered briefly how it would feel to be burned alive….. he quickly shook the thought away. That was something he did not want to think about again…
Alcatraz met her gaze evenly, glancing to the side briefly, as if uncomfortable at her pearly gaze piercing questioningly into him. He did not think of it as unreasonable to want to walk her home… after what they had been through, he saw her as a friend… and he did not want to leave her yet, not until he knew she was safe at least. They padded on, shadows covering the land around them and turning the forest dark. The rain would soon be here and he could not wait. He paused to look at her at each point she tripped, ready to lend his shoulder, but she was catching herself and bravely battling on alone. Alcatraz did not move to help her unless he saw she needed it. She would soon learn how to perform daily functions such as walking with her new (hopefully) temporary disability. He snorted in agreement as she mentioned that the rain should have come earlier. ”Yes, that would have saved us a lot of grief.”
he said dryly.
They continued on, and he stayed at her side, watching her in his peripheral vision but also scanning the land ahead, suspicious for danger. ”You packmates aren’t going to attack me, are they?”
he growled. He would not have cared whether they showed up or not earlier in his life, but ever since his run in with Ivan he was much more worried about pack wolves.
Phen could see in her friend’s gaze that he didn’t quite believe her when she said it would be fine, but nodded begrudgingly at his point. Surely she wouldn’t die from something so trivial, unless it was from starvation or something of the sort. But then again she had her pack to take care of her. What about my future plans, though?
she suddenly wondered to herself. I hope a stupid leg injury isn’t going to permanently ruin my chances to be on my own once again
. Phen sighed, a little worried and hopeful at the same time, and trudged on to the best of her ability. She was rather thankful for Alcatraz being there, not just to act as something to lean on but because she needed some comfort right now. His presence made the large, dense forest look a little less lonely.
The next time she glanced at him, Phen caught a hint of suspicion written on Alcatraz’s face. She stiffened and slowed down, wondering if he had smelled some bear or even a packmate coming nearer, but it turned out there was none. Phen was taken a bit aback, as she had pretty much forgotten that her “friend” was technically trespassing. But it was confusing why her usually confident and indifferent ally was suddenly so cautious. She opened her mouth to respond, but found herself wondering the same thing. ”Chandor wolves are peaceful”
, she said carefully, after a moment’s thought. ”I doubt... no- I know they won’t attack you. I’ll just explain why you’re here. Besides-”
. Phen gave her neck a quick shake. ”We reek of burning wood right now”
All of a sudden, something cold tapped on her ear, and Phen looked up at the sky to investigate. Immediately following, a second droplet dove into her eye, making her cringe and look back down. Rain
. After a rather long wait, the dark storm clouds had finally caught up to them. For the moment, the storm was barely a light drizzle. But Phen knew that soon enough, it would evolve into a downpour that would soak the entire woodland. Because there were thick trees surrounding them, most of the water that reached them were large globules, falling from the leaves above that had caught the droplets. Despite the pain from her injured leg, Phen felt rather at peace caught amidst the early autumn shower, and lifted her neck up a little just so she could feel the raindrops against her forehead.
Alcatraz listened to Phen and nodded, relaxing a bit. For once in his life he was grateful for a pack being peaceful. ”Alright… good.”
He growled, looking a mixture between embarrassed and cross. He wished he had not acted so alarmed; he could tell it had caught Phen’s attention, and for her to think he was afraid of anything… well, Alcatraz didn’t like other wolves thinking he was afraid of things. ”I suppose you are right. No one would be able to smell us.”
he said, trying to change the subject from his fear of her packmates.
Alcatraz did not feel the wetness of the rain at first through his thick pelt, not until a large drop splattered against his muzzle. He blinked, shaking the sparkled of water from his face and looking at Phen with a bit of a smile. ”About time.”
he said with humor in his voice. He took a deep breath of the already cleaner air, wet with humidity as the rain began to pick up. He lifted his muzzle a bit like Phen did, pausing a moment to close his eyes and enjoy the beginnings of the storm. A roll of thunder brought him back to reality and he walked a quicker to catch up to his dark companion.
Alcatraz really did appear like he was enjoying the rainshower; So much, in fact, that he slowed down just a little and Phen had to pause for a moment for her friend to catch up. She returned a brief, nervous smile and quickly went back to concentrating on walking. They were getting closer to the den she was looking for now- it was small, not meant to house more than two wolves, but that was all she needed anyways. As the rain became thicker and washed the fog from her eyes, Phen got a chance to look Alcatraz over thoroughly. His thick pelt reflected most of the droplets, though it probably wouldn’t take too long before the water soaked through. Unfortunately, the rain also parted his fur enough so that she could notice the large scar that was plastered on his shoulder. It looked like an old wound that was still trying vainly to heal. Did he get that from battling those rogues?
she wondered momentarily, but dismissed the thought. She didn’t recall seeing him injured in any way back then. Besides, it would’ve taken quite a large individual to hurt him in such a way. It did look like a bite wound though, as if someone had sunk in their teeth and tried to tear it away like a piece of prey.
Phen knew that it was only a matter of time until they got to their destination, though she felt a little worn out by now. She settled for leaning lightly on her ally, not so much as for her to be a burden, but so that she could place a little less stress on her upper body. She hoped he wouldn’t mind. After a brief moment, she finally decided to ask. ”H-hey, did you... um... trip and fall somewhere on your way here?”
It was a cheap shot, but at least it wasn’t direct enough to irritate her usually proud friend. The rain was at it’s greatest density now, and millions of droplets bombarded them from the sky. The sound of water echoing through the forest was almost enough to drown out what she was saying.
Alcatraz stayed close to Phen’s side as they continued on, glancing over at her as he noticed her looking around. ”Are we close?”
he asked her, looking around as well. But he would not be able to see it most likely, especially not in the increasing heavy rain. He had to narrow his eyes to prevent water from splashing into them. He took another deep breath, the wet heavy air drenched with rain filling him with a comfortable freshness that nothing else in the world could bring him. The heavy rain was his favorite weather. He refrained from closing his eyes and enjoying it. He needed to focus on getting his friend home. He glanced at her again. With her dark fur plastered against her slender form she looked different, her legs almost disproportionately long and her arching neck graceful as it held up her tapered face and muzzle. She looked a bit like a deer-wolf. But Alcatraz didn’t say anything, of course. He probably looked just as silly, although he liked to think that during the rain his fur simply got slicked back, showing off his large muscles, strong and bulging from his long and difficult life as a loner. But that was just his conceited opinion.
Alcatraz looked at her sideways with his pale yellow eyes as she leaned against him slightly. It was clear she was getting quite tired, as he would expect after such a long walk on an injured leg. ”Don’t worry, you will be home soon.”
he promised. His ear twitched as he heard her begin to speak and he looked over quickly, ready to help with whatever she needed. He was so in “help-mode” that her teasing question sounded nonsensical to his ears. ”W-what?”
he asked, mild confusion in his blank eyes. Maybe the raindrops had distorted her words, for they were crashing down hard upon them now.
The rain was extremely heavy now, so much that it felt like the air was saturated with water droplets. Phen opened her mouth so that she could breath a little better, the streaks of liquid running down her jaws and dripping off her muzzle. She wondered a little whether his hospitality came because he felt bad for her, walking through such a storm. Phen smiled lightly nonetheless. She knew she had to enjoy Alcatraz’s mild temper while it lasted. ”Thank you”
, she murmured quietly, almost feeling like falling asleep leaning against him like that.
Phen blinked water out of her eyes and stared at her friend, mildly surprised he didn’t get the point. Then again, her remark was
a little vague. She wondered if she should dismiss the conversation completely or press on. ”I... I mean... this... thing”
, she muttered, flicking her nose gently towards his scar. Her face turned down a little and she tried to look as innocent as possible, as if she weren’t expecting a response from her friend at all. ”That’s a large wound. I hope those rogues from last time didn’t turn back and attack you once you were out of earshot?”
Phen was genuinely curious, but refrained from looking at Alcatraz. Her leg, numbed from the cold rain, dragged like a stick across the floor as they made their way closer to the den. ”Mm.”
the dark loner rumbled at her thanks, his pale yellow eyes scanning the forest. He had to admit, the forest looked so beautiful through the sheets of rain, with the bright green leaves of late summer heaving with the wind and water around them. And the sound of the water on the leaves and pounding against the ground, it was such a perfect condition. He made sure his walk was steady and strong as he supported Phen and together they made their way toward her den.
Alcatraz bristled defensively as she pointed to his scar, but then she looked at the ground, as if she didn’t expect an answer. She was not making fun of him, nor did she think any less of him… she just sounded… curious. He heaved a deep sigh, relaxing. ”No, not them.”
he said, glaring at the ground as the very memory of what had happened. Still he was bitter.. ”A different wolf. But trust me, you should see him right now!”
he asserted aggressively. But that was a lie, he just found himself really not wanting Phen to think less of him, that he could not handle himself and he had nearly died due to some stupid move of his. To the point that he was willing to be a little dishonest… but although Alcatraz was always quite proud, rarely did he lie. He already felt shameful only moments after he said it…