The night sky was dark that night, the light of the stars and moon hidden by a thick blanket of jet-black clouds. From the clouds drifted hundreds of thousands of snowflakes, the winter winds guiding them on their journey to the ground. From the soil, a forest of lodgepole pines stood tall, looming over the snowy, Canadian landscape. A brotherly pair of wolves traveled within their shadows, the eldest of the two in the lead. The younger male stuck closely behind his companion, using him as a shield against the blustering wind. Despite this, snow still managed to cling onto his coat. He growled.
“I hate winter.”
“What else is new?” replied the older male. He picked up his paw from the snow, flexing his toes slightly before taking a step forward. They’d nearly gone numb.
“You really should’ve done this during the fall, Tony. I’m freezing my tail off.”
“Well, I didn’t, King,” Tony said with a matter-of-fact tone. He looked back at the bistre-furred male. “And if you came with me just to complain, then maybe you should’ve just stayed at home.”
“And leave you to handle Winston on your own?” King retorted. “I don’t think so.”
“Oh, hush. You know Winston’s type. He’s a good wolf; he’ll listen to me.”
“And if he doesn’t?”
Tony hesitated to answer, and instead stared ahead at the thinning trees. The forest was coming to its end, and the faint scent of other wolves began to fill his nostrils. He sighed.
“We’ll cross that log when we get to it,” he finally responded. “Besides, it’s too late to turn back now. Come on.”
Together, the brothers emerged from the woods. Beneath their paws, the ground began to slope downwards into a valley, a border of sorts separating the eastern woods from the western hills. As Tony and King walked along the base of the valley, King turned his nose to the air, taking a whiff.
“Caribou…” he murmured, to which Tony nodded in agreement. The scent lined the valley floor; a herd had passed by not long ago. King caught Tony’s gaze and licked his chops. “You think we could…?”
“No,” snapped Tony. “Winston’s wolves will think we’ve come to steal from them. I’m not putting my pack at risk just so I can have a full stomach.”
The wolves continued onward, making their way to the other side of the valley floor. As Tony dragged himself up the steep valley wall, his limbs began to ache and tighten. He cursed under his breath…
C’mon, Tony… he thought. You’ve climbed bigger before...you can do this…
“What’s the hold-up?” King called from below.
“Er...just trying to find a foothold.”
“Suuuuure. Tch, hang on..”
“Hey!” cried Tony as he felt King’s head pushing against his rump. “King, stop!” But King didn’t stop, not until Tony could easily pull himself onto the upper ledge. The elder male fumed silently as he watched King climb up after him.
“You’re welcome,” said King with a smirk.
“You make me sick,” was Tony’s response. King’s smirk doubled in size. Rolling his eyes, Tony turned and walked on.
The brothers walked onward, following the growing wolf scent. A massive shadow began to take form against the blinding snow, and soon, King and Tony could make out individual wolves. The majority of the pack slept on the flat hilltop, huddled together for warmth. Mothers wrapped themselves around their young and males draped their tails and heads over their females. Tony turned his muzzle towards a large build-up of stones and boulders that led towards the mouth of a cave-like den.
“Up there,” he said. “And keep quiet.”
“Winston. Winston! WINSTON!”
The old, gray make awoke with a start, his head lifting from his paws and his eyes darting about.
“Huh?” he mumbled. “Wha…? What’s going on?” Winston glanced over at his mate, Eve. The female stared intensely at the entrance to the den, her lip curled back, exposing her fangs. Her tail fell quickly over the two small bundles of fur sleeping near her flank.
“Eastern wolves…” she seethed.
Winston’s eyes widened, and he took a sniff of the air. Eve was right. A sudden, protective urge washed over the male, and he got up, walking towards the den’s entrance. He stuck his head outside, squinting a bit as the snow whisked past his eyes. Tony and King had been climbing their way to to the den, but immediately froze at the sight of Winston. King’s fur bristled, and he immediately let out a growl. Toby turned towards his brother with a glare.
“Calm down,” he snapped, before turning his attention to Winston.
“You two are a long ways away from your pack, aren’t you?” Winston began gruffly.
“Heh...I suppose you could say that…” There was very little humor in Tony’s voice as he spoke. “We were...in the territory, as it were. Thought we’d drop by to see the mate and pups.”
“Hmph,” Winston grunted. “Right. Well, perhaps we should take this inside, then. Though, I’d advise you steer clear from Eve. She won’t hesitate to bite.”
“Sheesh…” King scoffed. “You really know how to pick ‘em, eh, Winston?” This earned him a rough nudge from his brother. The three males entered the den, Tony and King relieved to finally be out of the snow. Eve watched them, her head pulled back almost like a snake’s, prepared to lunge and attack at any moment. Out of the corner of his eye, Tony spotted the two pups at Eve’s side. One had her mother’s golden fur, while the other was a silvery-gray, almost white, really. He couldn’t help but smile. Back in the Eastern forest, his own mate was waiting for him to come home, along with a single pup, his little Garth…
“So,” said Winston once the males finally sat down. “What’s the REAL reason you two dragged yourselves across the Eastern forest in this blizzard?” Neither brother responded at first, instead, sharing a quick glance. King narrowed his eyes. What did Tony want him to say? This was all his idea. Tony sighed.
“This is...a bit hard to admit, but...you and I go way back, Winston, back to Alpha School...you’re the only pack leader I feel even the slightest bit comfortable coming to for help. Winston...my pack is in danger of starvation.”
“What?” said Winston in surprise. Tony lowered his head.
“The caribou was the only big game we had,” the brown male continued. “...Until they migrated to the valley...We still have the smaller prey, but that’s nowhere near enough meat to feed my pack. Some wolves spend days waiting for the alphas to bring even the smallest scrap of meat back, and with newborns and expecting females, that is unacceptable. The caribou is our only chance of survival, Winston. That’s why I’m asking that...that we unite our packs.”
The den was silent as Tony’s words hung in the air. Winston’s brow furrowed, his eyes closing as he thought about the Eastern Pack’s plight. Tony watched him intensely, his racing heart a contrast to the stony expression on his face. King looked between the both of them, his tail lashing impatiently. Even Eve couldn’t help but listen in as gave her pups the occasional lick on the head. Winston finally let out a long, slow sigh, giving Tony a somber look.
“That’s...not an easy request to grant, Tony. You know that.”
“Oh, c’mon...your territory has twice the amount of food now that the caribou’s showed up. What harm will few more wolves do?”
“You say that as if every hunt is a guaranteed success.” Winston’s expression turned grim. “Even with our alphas’ best tactics, the caribou can be unpredictable. As much as it pains me to say it, I’d rather be responsible for one starving pack rather than two.”
“I understand that,” Tony said. “And believe me, I’m not happy having to come to you. Part of me wants to take my pack and drag them across the mountains until we find another herd. But I can’t do that to them, not when there’s food so close by. I came to you, not just because of our history, Winston, but because I felt it would be the best thing for my wolves. Please...imagine if your pack was in place of mine, and my territory had enough food for your mate and pups to survive.” Winston was silent for a while, uncertainty flashing in his eyes. Tony’s eyes never left his, and he held his breath as he waited for a response.
“...What happens if I still say no?” Winston finally asked. Tony couldn’t bring himself to answer, only frowning deeply. King perked at that moment, deciding to speak up.
“We’ll take the valley by force,” said the bistre male. Eve immediately began to growl.
“Just try it,” she dared King. “Your throat’ll be the first one I rip out.”
“I’d love to see you try,” King sneered at the she-wolf, a twisted grin appearing on his muzzle. Tony’s head snapped in his direction, gnashing his fangs.
“Shut the hell up.”
If the brothers had been alone, King would’ve had no problem shooting some sort of witty retort. However, not only was he under Tony’s withering gaze, but Winston’s as well. Even Eve seemed ready to abandon her pups and attack. King licked his chops and lowered himself to the ground with a soft whimper. After another moment of silence, Tony scoffed.
“Sorry about him,” he mumbled. “Always talking without thinking.”
“Mmm,” Winston grunted in agreement.
“Although...what what he said before was true. I don’t like the idea, but if we must...we’ll fight for the valley.”
Winston sighed once more. It seemed that there was no other choice.
“Very well,” he finally agreed. “We’ll unite the packs.” Tony allowed a grin to stretch across his muzzle, and he dipped his head gratefully.
“Oh, thank you. Thank you so much.”
“Whatever keeps us from going to war…” Winston paused, his brow furrowing in thought. “If it’s not too much to ask, could your pack wait until spring, once the caribou have had their calves? I just want to make sure there’s enough to go around.”
“Seems fair,” said Tony with a nod. “Alright. Shouldn’t be more than two, maybe three weeks, anyway.”
“Until then. Again, thank you, Winston.” Tony then nudged his brother; it was time to head back to the east. King stood, quickly slinking towards the den’s entrance, his head still hanging low. Tony and Winston followed, Winston staying at the den’s entrance as he watched the two brothers walk back the way they came. Once they disappeared into the blizzard, the gray wolf returned to his mate’s side, giving her a quick lick across the cheek.
“I don’t like the idea of sharing our territory with them,” Even grumbled.
“Would you rather we fight?” replied Winston grimly.
“If it means putting that King in his place. Never could stand him, even in Alpha School.”
“I know, I know...just...try to be nice when he shows up in the spring. You’re going to be packmates then.”
“Hmph! I make no promises.”
Winston sighed, though, really, he shouldn’t have been surprised. As long as there were no fights for food, Eve and King could butt heads all they wanted.
Tony and King had crossed the valley once again, and were finally back in the eastern forest. Neither of them had said a word to each other since leaving Winston’s den, and it was obvious why. King made sure not to fall in Tony’s line of sight, his paws syncing with his brother’s. The bistre male considered making light conversation, anything to get himself out of the doghouse.
“Can’t wait to finally get some real food,” he began, forcing himself to speak in a somewhat cheery tone. Tony didn’t respond. King licked his chops, clearing his throat nervously. “Think Clara’ll be excited? She didn’t think you’d convince Winston either, remember?”
“Be quiet, King,” said Tony sharply, not bothering to turn around. “Your big mouth nearly cost my pack.”
“I was only trying to help…”
“Oh, oh you were, were you? Silly me. Perhaps I should make you an omega with negotiating skills like that.” At that statement, King’s lip curled back, and he snarled.
“Oh?” he said bitterly. “ Well what about you and all that tail-kissing you were doing? That’s now how an alpha acts.”
“When it comes to my pack’s survival…” Tony suddenly turned, his nose pushing against King’s. “I’ll do or say anything. I don’t mind setting aside my pride. If you’d rather go and start pointless battles, you can leave and start your own pack.” The two males stared at each other as the wind and snow rushed around them. King couldn’t find it in him to talk back, and eventually, he looked away.
“That’s what I thought,” Tony continued. “Let’s go.”
The blizzard carried on that night. The easter forest was almost barren as the wildlife continued to sleep in their shelter. Tony and King’s pawprints from earlier that night had been covered over, but had been replaced by a new set of tracks. The tracks were made by a single wolf, a she-wolf, with a wiry, grey coat. Her body was scarily thin and her ribs were visible. She stumbled as she walked, nearly collapsing in the snow several times. In her maw, she carried a small, gray pup that whimpered and whined for his mother’s milk. The mother wolf had to ignore his cries, as much as it pained her to do so. She’d been walking for days through Jasper Park, being chased off by packs not willing to share what little they had with her or her pup. Her time was running out, but perhaps...perhaps there was still a chance for her child to survive.
The she-wolf suddenly perked, her nose quivering as she caught the scent of other wolves. Her heart fluttered, and as she peered through the fog, she could make out two approaching figures. She started towards them, her breathing labored as she forced her already weary limbs to fight against the snow. The two figures slowly came into view, Tony and King. As they spotted the female, they paused, eyes wide.
“What the…?” muttered King.
“A loner…” Tony added. He squinted, humming thoughtfully. “She has a pup as well.”
“What a pain...well, better chase her off. No use letting some scrawny female scare off our prey, eh, Tony?” Tony said nothing, watching the she-wolf as she grew closer and closer. King glanced at his brother, a brow raised. “Tony?”
Tony remained silent, approaching the she-wolf. Putting two and two together, King began to growl in annoyance.
“Don’t tell me you’re thinking of--! Oh, damn it, Tony!”
King’s words fell on deaf ears as Tony finally met with the she-wolf. As soon as Tony was close enough, the mother wolf collapsed onto the ground, the pup falling her her grip. As the she-wolf lied there, panting heavily, she looked up at the alpha male with pleading eyes. Tony looked at the she-wolf and then at the pup that squirmed about near his paws.
“...Please,” she whispered in a frail voice, her eyes beginning to grow moist. “My...son…”
“I know,” Tony interrupted somberly. “You’re...not going to make it...are you?”
The female couldn’t even respond, her eyes closing as tears streamed down her face. Tony’s frown deepened, and he looked at the pup again. He was now shivering against the snow, and delicately, Tony bent down to pick him up. The she-wolf opened her eyes, now seeing Tony carrying her child. She managed a weak smile.
“Mmm…” murmured Tony, nodding. He wouldn’t hear the end of this from King, he just knew it. But right now, it hardly mattered. The she-wolf then turned her head, exposing her neck. She looked up again, though this time, at King. Tony looked back at his brother, and in that moment, even he was taken aback. It was short-lived, however.
“Tsk,” King scoffed, though Tony could detect a hint of discomfort in his voice. “Leave it to me to do the dirty work…” He padded towards the female, who closed her eyes and waited expectantly. Tony couldn’t watch, turning his head precisely at the moment King delivered the killing bite. As the blizzard raged on, Tony, King, and the pup left the scene, the mother wolf’s lifeless body being buried by a fresh layer of snow.