Winter was a difficult time for all. Even Athena, who considered herself rather more capable than most everyone else, struggled to keep going during the cold, dark months of scarcity. Last year she’d settled in with a small pack to weather out the season. This time, however, the small female had chosen to go it alone.
That had been foolish. Given the chance to go back and change things, she would have made more of an effort to find sanctuary from the ice and snow and starvation. But all that was left now was to endure, and strive toward that distant promise of spring.
By now survival had become a sort of grim hobby for Athena. The struggle of keeping one’s self alive served as a useful distraction and nothing more. She had no family to provide for, and just herself to feed. The only quest was to keep the snow crunching beneath her feet. Though the she-wolf had met many kind faces before the onset of deep winter, none of them had crossed her path since; and it felt very much as though she were alone in a vast, dreary world.
She knew better than to dwell on such things; but still, Athena wondered what point there was in even trying.
The wind was picking up, bringing a cascade of swirling snowflakes with it. Athena could not see far in front of her, and the storm knocking the frozen trees about made it impossible for her to hear or scent much of her surroundings. Part of her realized the danger of being so impaired, but it had been weeks of solitary wandering, and she did not feel the need to concern herself with being cautious.
Also foolish. By the time she realized she was surrounded, it was much too late to make for better ground. They were wolves. And not wolves. Half-bred spawn of coyote and their more noble cousins. Most were smaller even than Athena, but there were many, and they were angry.
“What do you want, strangers?”
Cackling harshly, they spoke to her in a thick accent she could not understand.
“Leave me be!” She tried to scare them off with a growl, but the mongrels were unfazed, and drew closer. With a sinking sensation in her gut, Athena realized her carelessness might have been a fatal mistake.
Alcatraz was stalking through the snowy forest, his eyes narrowed as he made his way north of the valley east of Chandor. He was trying to stay close to Chandor, in case his old friend Gabitrix called on him, but hunger had driven him away from the packlands. He had managed to catch a rabbit out here before the snowstorm hit.
The rabbit had been just a snack, but Alcatraz was satisfied enough to head back before the storm got too bad… until a sound stopped him in his tracks. A high picked yowling sneer drifting through the icy wind. Alcatraz frowned. It was an odd sound, like a mix between a strange wolf and a coyote. And there sounded like there were a lot of them. He wondered what had them so excited. It could not be prey, or else they would make no such sounds in fear of scaring it off. Pfft… it’s nothing. he told himself, beginning to trot to the south.
Another loud cackling finally got him to turn around. He ought to make sure they weren’t chasing a lost pup or heckling an elder or anything. By the noise they were making they were clearly closing in on something, and it wasn’t food.. He made his way toward the sound as the snow storm picked up.
As he got closer the snarling sound got louder, and he recognized the growl of an animal familiar to him. Another wolf. But what business would these animals have pestering a wolf? Surely it was dangerous for them! Perhaps the wolf was injured? It had not even occurred to Alcatraz that it may be the sheer numbers of them that made them so bold.
Alcatraz let out a fearsome bark as he picked up the pace, racing toward the unclear shapes of the small canines up ahead. The snow whipped at his face as he pushed his way through a few snowy bushes, snarling out another warning as he closed on… until he realized that they were the ones closing in, some circling around him while others stalking forward from the sides. Alcatraz swung around to meet the three angry jaws behind him, backing away with a defensive growl of his own. It was then that he recognized Athena, a few bodies away from him. Both were surrounded by this massive hybrid pack. ”Athena!” Alcatraz called, recognizing the dark loner clearly even through the gusts of snow that howled between them.
Before he could push his way toward her, one of the coywolves snapped at his paws and he recoiled to avoid those sharp teeth. He retaliated with a bluff lunge in an attempt to drive them away, diving his huge head forward with a powerful clomp of his fearsome jaws. The coywolves danced back for a moment before pressing forward once again. Alcatraz faced them with teeth bared, but knew that they were both in trouble, lifting a back leg to avoid a canine who struck from behind him. Athena, what have you gotten yourself into? he thought angrily in his head.
Spinning in search of a weak point in the mass of bodies, it soon became clear that breaking through their ranks would be impossible. With another wolf at her back, maybe she would have stood a chance. But alone, it would be like fighting an avalanche.
One of the mongrels was more ambitious than the others. He lunged at her back, sinking sharp teeth into her tail. Her attacker only managed to pull out a hearty tuft of fur, but Athena set upon the creature with such ferocity that his brethren hesitated to follow suit. The miserable half-bred screamed and fled behind the wall protective wall of the pack, leaving behind most of the skin on its cheek and half an ear.
Spitting into the red snow, Athena’s challenge echoed through the storm, “If you want blood, I’ll give it to you!”
Hooting and howling, the coywolves continued to close in. And then, a ripple of excitement coursed through her attackers, as if something else had captivated their collective attention. Someone called out her name. Athena’s head shot up; she almost couldn’t believe her eyes. “Alcatraz!?”
What was he doing here? Relief flooded her, and then despair. He, too, was encircled . The swarm was even larger than Athena had first believed. She lunged toward the mass between her and Alcatraz, and their attackers scattered to the outer ring. Two or three nipped at her heels before she spun to face them, and then they too pulled back. What cowards! But Athena knew that if the two wolves didn’t manage to scatter the roaches soon, one would get a lucky bite. And then it would be open season on her and her unlucky ally.
“Good to know I’m not going to die alone, at least.” She took up a position beside him, facing the mongrels at his back. Getting caught so completely off guard had soured her mood, and fear for the safety of Alcatraz made her tongue rather more biting than usual. “Hope you don’t mind if I skip the how’ve-you-beens!”
Alcatraz saw the graceful black form of his acquaintance battling through the mass toward him. The dark loner stalked forward to meet her, leaping aggressively at a coywolf in the way. The terrified canine scrambled to get away, but was too late to avoid Alcatraz’s massive paw slamming into its flank and sending it spiraling away into the mass of bodies around them. It seemed, however, that the others just got more angry, the circle around the two wolves getting ever tighter.
His mind thought back to when he and Athena had first met. She had taken down a doe with precision and skill… the memory made him feel more confident about this situation. At least, of all the wolves he could be caught with in this situation, it was with this talented female.
He gave her a deadly glare at her dry comments. ”Just shut up and fight.” he growled, his fear making him irritable even if deep down her darkly joking remarks truly did ease his growing anxiety. At least, even in these hopeless situations, Athena still had her spirit. That was something he admired, considering his own surly response to events such as these.
Without further hesitation Alcatraz did the one option he could think of; he threw himself at the closest hybrid with a vicious snarl. The coyote cross let out a shriek of fear as the loner’s jaws snapped mercilessly around its neck, breaking it in a single yank. Alcatraz was never one to kill, but in this case with both his life and Athena’s life at stake he must act radically if they were to have even a chance. He backed up with the body hanging threateningly from his mouth, reversing again until he felt Athena’s fur on his tail tip.
But that is when all hell broke loose. In fear, anger, and excitement, the pack leaped. Alcatraz immediately was covered in the snapping jaws. The dark loner dropped his victim and whirled around as sharp jaws bit at his flank and he slapped the intruder right across the face with a strong paw. But for every coywolf he pushed away, another came to take its place. They were small, yes, but there were many…. too many…
Alcatraz made certain to not let the canines separate him from Athena. They needed to stay together, keep each other safe. Or as safe as they could. He hardly made a sound as he aimed blow after blow at their heads or necks, desperate to break loose. One large coywolf advanced on Athena as others closed in on her flanks, snapping aggressively at the smaller female as her huge companion wrestled ferociously nearby.
Alcatraz pinned a hybrid to the ground with his paws before stealing a glance behind him at Athena, his yellow eyes wide. He was exhausted already, and although no serious injuries yet, he knew it would only be a matter of time for the both of them. They needed to escape. It was the only way. “Athena! We must find the point where the pack is thinnest and head that way. We must escape.” he panted.
She laughed bravely at his retort, gratified to see Alcatraz’s muscles uncoil ever-so-slightly. Good. Agility was their best defense. He was strong and fearsome - but Traz couldn’t afford to be tense, not if he wanted to react in time. With a lunge, Alcatraz killed one of the mob in a clean motion. “Nice one!” She barked, making a bluff lunge at a couple of the mongrels who were pressing too close. Others filled in the empty spaces. But if they could keep the mass at bay, quell its mania, maybe it would lose heart.
Then again, that had been too much to hope for. The death seemed only to fuel them. In the span of half a heartbeat, the coywolves crashed down on the pair like an avalanche. Athena let out a vicious snarl, writhing to meet the endless swarm. She held them at bay for a time, but it was a hopeless battle. Without Alcatraz at her back, Athena would’ve been finished all too quickly. Still they couldn’t keep their feet forever. At best it was borrowed time.
Teeth closed down on her leg, shoulder, neck. Athena felt herself getting flipped over as an opportunistic mongrel, larger than the rest, latched onto her stomach. Thrashing like one possessed, Athena felt fangs tear through her skin, blood staining her pelt. Heat pounded in her ears. She threw them off with a strength born of sheer desperation, catching the largest coywolf in the eye. He retreated, screaming, blind.
The circle was thinning. There were still too many. She wouldn’t be able to keep this up much longer. Athena’s strength waned as she bled from dozens of punctures. At least none were life-threatening. But she couldn’t take another hit to the stomach.
Alcatraz called for a retreat. Athena turned to him in shock, only for a second before another attacker forced her to turn back to the fight. Retreat!? Cowardice! How could he possibly suggest they turn tail and run from a mob of half-wit mutts!? Never! She would die first! Temper flaring, the next coywolf she struck down did not rise again. She roared, tail flagged upward, stiff and straight, “I will not bow to these bastards!”
Alcatraz made now sound as he struck again and again at the attacking hybrids, but there were too many. They leaped on his back and yanked at his dark fur, drawing blood with their sharp teeth. He shook violently just to get them off. All but one fell. Alcatraz then rolled over, perhaps stupidly, but he needed to get the coywolf from his back. He crushed the canine beneath him, his large paws fending away attackers who dove for his exposed belly. He rolled back over, but a coywolf charged as he gained his balance, knocking him over again with a bite to his scarred shoulder. Alcatraz let out a furious snarl, the pain immense, and struck mercilessly, his jaws clomping on the enemy's throat like a sledge hammer. He dropped the motionless body and stood, his teeth bared, daring another to attack. His shoulder throbbed and his thick coat was splattered with the blood of both his adversaries and his own.
He stole a glance back at Athena as she bellowed her fearless aspiration. But in that moment he looked at her he saw her bleeding from many wounds and he saw many enemies still closing in. He turned back to snap at an encroaching coywolf. She needed to understand… this was not a fight they would win. There were too many, and even coywolves they had already struck down were getting up and returning to the fray. They would need to kill or seriously injure every last one if they were to win this fight. And that was just not going to happen. They were only two.
He lunged forward, scaring the line of enemies back a few feet before turning and leaping past Athena to pin down a coywolf about to leap on his friend. With the enemy yelping and crying under his paws, Alcatraz turned to Athena and growled into her face. ”You will bow to them. Permanently. Unless you swallow your pride and choose life over this dying in an attempt to achieve this stupid and hopeless endeavor!” Alcatraz leaped behind Athena to combat the coywolves that had advanced during his absence protecting her back. He quickly forced them back with a fearsome bark. With his jaws dripping with blood and his fur fluffed out to it’s full extent, Alcatraz was sure that he probably looked like something from a nightmare.
Panting, Athena spat through her teeth. Fear of death did not seem to faze their attackers, and the idea of letting it faze her made the small she-wolf want to fight all the harder. Her pride was the only thing left to her, if she threw it away now what would her life matter at all? Let them say she died with her fangs bared! Let them know she didn’t leave this world running! And let there be an end to it, once and for all!
But her life was not the only one at stake, was it? Alcatraz had more to cling to than she did, clearly. He was fighting masterfully, but couldn’t hold out against the hoard. Especially not alone. Wasn’t leaving him to die just as shameful as running? She was a murderer, forsaken eternally if she abandoned Alcatraz. Her pride would be forfeit either way.
It was not her time to die, it seemed. Athena’s posture fell, tail low, though she continued to beat back her attackers. “Then help make an opening!” Pressing toward where the mob appeared thinnest, Athena thrashed, a small black devil ripping into whatever she could get her teeth on. The mongrels did not seem to realize the tactic had changed, and after a moment of gut-wrenching frustration Athena saw open space ahead. “Come on!” She growled, exhausted. The final push would have to be Alcatraz’s.
Alcatraz continued to fight, wincing with a grunt as sharp teeth buried themselves in his foreleg. He spat fury, swiping at the furious coywolf and backing up into Athena, bumping her gently to indicate the urgency of her choice. He knew that he would stand by her whatever her decision, just because he knew he could never leave her to die. But boy would his last breath be an angry curse on her name!
‘Then help me make an opening!’ The female’s voice was music the Alcatraz’s ears. He shook away the coywolf attached to his foreleg, driving it away with a bite to its large ear. Alcatraz glanced over his shoulder to see the opening she had created. “Hang on,” he growled, turning and barreling forward toward the opening, snarling and snapping at the coywolves who tried to stop him. He kept the opening as long as he could for his friend to slip through. The pack gave chase and Alcatraz slowed down, pausing briefly to slap the muzzle of a close attacker as he waited to Athena to pass him. He needed to keep her in sight. He did not want to risk losing track of her. He turned, having to rip his tail away from an enemy before plunging after the dark female, letting his thick shoulder fur brush her flank to ensure her that he was following. “Keep running. There is a river up ahead. We can lose them there.” He huffed between pants. His body was sore from all the bites and his muscles ached in protest, but they needed to push on. Luckily their long legs quickly allowed them to gain distance from the pursuing pack. If they continued to run, they would surely lose their attackers. Alcatraz only hoped their strength would keep up…