In the dead of night I tread the path as usual. Everything’s familiar; the trees, the chirp of local insects, the cold earth beneath my pads. It’s too peaceful! Like the war isn’t even happening! Nobody’s found us yet, I should be thankful really. After all, who’d expect Wolf Kin to live in the treetops.
I reflect on past days. Slavery, torture, execution, genocide, murder! Magic, love, freedom, trust. They’re all parts of my past in one way or another, a part of me in ways. I can’t dwell right now. Not tonight anyway. I have watch duty, no slacking off like last time.
Surrounding check complete! On to step 2: track check. None on this side of the Dazzle-Wood. Funny name right? The humans saw fit to name everything at first glance, without regard for anyone else’s opinion. It stuck better than Snag Root Sky Spring, though the forest is less dazzling since the fairy population dropped. It’s best the humans don’t know about the Spring Tree anyway.
My third check is for signals in the distance. One signal fire to the south, “… Need… Shelter… For… Children…” Humans of course, we refer to our young as pups… usually. “… Need… Food… Badl…” That’s disturbing, a signal interrupted? Children involved? Some one has to check it out.
“Trouble, Tim?” I turned to see Spike hanging upside down from a tree branch, smiling as usual. That goofy hair of his hanging a near foot in length. To any human he’d seem a silhouette, a shadow at this late time. Though I could easily define his every detail; his loosely worn shirt, his over-sized pants, his brown eyes and each of the light brown hairs on his head.
“Yeah, I think a caravan has fallen under attack! I think children are in danger!” I turn to rush toward what was now a pillar of smoke.
“Hold up. YOU intend to fight?” Spike couldn’t help but laugh. It’s true, I’m not known for physical strength. It’s not common knowledge that I even HAVE strength.
“It’s a few Human Hunters. They shouldn’t be hard to get rid of.” I lied through my teeth. They’d need to be forced to leave, and that’s where being passive fails. The pillar now read as a bunch of clumped smoke. Either a kid got hold of the signal cloth or someone’s being fried. I rue the thought. The clumpyness subsided.
A brief cringe was all the invitation Spike needed. “Nah, not with me on their tails, they won’t.” He smiled even wider, “Let the others know what I’m doing. I’ll be home before breakfast.” A quick flip from the branch and he was ready to go. His hair remained in form, it was a mystery how his hair stayed that way.
Before I could remark he was gone. A few moments brought a loud whoop. He found his target. There must not be many to deal with. Another whoop revealed that he was fine on his own. Fight Freak!
Back to the list; surroundings/local: nothing of interest, Tracks: none, surroundings/distant: a few other fires breathed light smoke upward. Camps of some sort. Well, home calls. A quick report should get some aid for any victims that Spike helped. I hope they’re okay.
It’s colder than usual. It’s mid-summer and I’m used to the blistering heat this time of year, but this was different. Something was wrong. I touched the trunk of a nearby tree. My hand left a funny imprint in the fuzzy moss. I stood watching it reshape itself; two, three, four. Four seconds. I pondered this for only a moment, I can’t waste time checking the temperature.
I came to the Spring Tree, a beautiful sight if your not in a hurry. All that’s left to do is get to the canopy. The trunk being covered in moss made climbing difficult for any species to accomplish, that is, if they didn’t know the forest. The first tree due North was like a ladder; we had carved out sets of holes to climb up on and when the moss hung over our little staircase-to-the-sky we let it be. We were the only ones that knew.
I did a quick sweep to check if I was followed and then bounded up the tree skipping every other step. I breached the canopy in moments. The smell of fresh boiled beef wafted about. All was in order, save for Spike being in his usual spot. A loose weave of bridges and tree houses lay across the lower canopy like a net and the upper canopy spread out above like a leafy, cloudy blanket. The Spring Tree gurgled with a fresh burst of water. Home. I wish we never had to leave.
I wandered across the bridge to the Spring Tree. It’s thick, hollow trunk was our source of water. The spring made the local trees strong, they never withered or wilted. A group of traveling monks worshiped once a year and left tribute to the “Spirit of Earth”. If only they knew what they thought was an Earthen marvel was a spring of water. Oh, the foolishness of humans.
I drank my fill from my wicker weave bowl. The off-green liquid was cool and refreshing. Our first thoughts on the color was stagnation, but that thought was remedied awhile back when Shane was too stubborn to walk to the stream.
I allowed myself a sigh. Back to the assignment. I hung my bowl for the spring to replenish and walked across the village to the sky-lodge, whoever was up would be there. I quickly delivered my report and stood outside. A quick meal would be lovely about now. Our traps were set for birds, bats and any other flying animal. But odd things had a tendency of making their way into the traps. I checked our immediate inventory for a snack of sorts. A few squirrels hung together in the first snare panting heavily, the fear in their eyes. They knew they were someone’s next meal, but not mine. I continued through the variety of choices. A few birds, one bat, more squirrels, a griffin, a fairy- I stopped in front of the fairy. Her tiny frame was trembling, a few woven blades of grass and a pair of soft white feathers barely kept her concealed.
“Am I your choice? Is this now the fate of mine to become a single morsel to satisfy your-”
“Oh hush,” I said softly, “I have no taste for you. Just wait here while I get a snack. I’ll be back for you in a moment.” She seemed to take it wrong. As she fell and wept I proceeded to browse the cages, a mid-sized bird of gray and brown caught my eye. I ran my finger along the cages edge.
“She’s a mother,” The fairy interrupted, “if i could satisfy you would you release her so she may tend to her young?” I pulled the latch on the cage and released the fowl. I turned to see the fairy’s composure drop, clearly she spoke without thinking.
“I haven’t seen a bird of that sort before. It would be a shame if it was the only one.” I attempted a comforting grin but my menacing Wolf Kin appearance put a damper on that idea. My canine teeth shown in her eyes. She proceeded to cry.
I’m obviously not getting anything down tonight. I grabbed the handle of her cage and walked across the bridge. She sat silently weeping the whole way to the “niche”. I opened the door to reveal a few hundred fairies flitting about freely in and out of the canopy. “Happy now?” my frustration was evident. I was greeted with many whispers and a few onlookers as I opened the cage door and reached in. I felt her recoil as I gently wrapped my fingers around her, paying careful attention not to harm her delicate wings. “The tree is mostly hollow, you should be safe as long as you remember the tunnel routs. Talk to the others and they’ll explain.” I set her on a branch near the door and simply left.
I’d barely shut the door when Shane was upon me. “Did you release our food again?” He held up the cage that the large bird was in, “Damn it, Tim, you know we don’t catch much as it is!” I turned to walk away but he stepped in front of me. His white locks glint in what moonlight came through the upper canopy. His human face was in a scowl and his wolfish ears twitched in irritation. He was waiting for a response.
“I really don’t want to talk about it. I’ll just go hunt something come morning.”
He just sat there a moment, “Well, as long as you compensate it’s fine, huh?”
“There you go!” I was done with the discussion. I grabbed the closest tree and slid down the slick, mossy trunk.
I walked back to the edge of the woods. I would check on Spike and see what else needed be done. Rose snuck up next to me. She wasn’t from this region. She wasn’t human but she wasn’t Wolf Kin either. More feline than anything else, her species had no name here.
“Hey, Wolf.” She always called me by my last name, it drove me nuts.
“I heard Shane yelling at you and I thought I would cheer you up.” She brushed up against me. I was not in the mood at all.
“I need to check on Spike. It’s been awhile he-”
“Should be fine!” She cut me off, “Edgar sent backup after you reported the fight. Stop worrying!” She brushed up against me again, this time slower and more deliberate.
“I’m still going to check.” I took a step and turned. I gave her a quick kiss and I said, “Run if someone comes that isn’t me or the others.” She hated being left alone and she loathed being ignored, but she crept into the brush at the forest’s edge without a word. I hurried off where the signal fire used to be.
The camp was a mess. I avoided the fire pit for fear what I’d find. I checked what tents were still erect. The first tent was a bloody mess of children and wolf kin alike, some of which I recognized. A closer look revealed that the young were all half breeds, enslaved by man and hated by Wolf Kin. Half breeds like Shane. All I smelt was blood, nothing moved.
I moved on to the second tent. It was a lime green interior with papers strewn about. Other than the obvious mess this tent was untouched. Was this a slave camp?
I found that the third tent held shelter to the wounded, everyone gasped and a few struggled to move their torn limbs and escape my presence. I didn’t see Spike. Some of the victims seemed stabbed in one way or another. Lightly running footsteps caught my attention. I turned to see who it was. A small halfbreed child. He staggered back when he saw me, then ran with haste from the camp. A second pair of footsteps followed, these were heavy feet. I readied myself. A large man with a pitch ax ran around the corner. He flinched briefly then lunged at me screaming! I stepped in grabbing the wrist with the ax. A single twist and it was broken. I felt the bones separate beneath his flesh. I choked down bile, but followed through. I took a few steps back to catch my breath.
He was screaming, “YOU FILTHY CREATURE!” and “THE MONSTER TOOK MY HAND!” his hand lie limply, wobbling like a hinge. A shard of bone stuck out. I closed my eyes and then all went quiet.
I opened my eyes to see Spike. He pulled his pike from the now silent man’s neck. “That can’t be the most you can deal with.” He glared at me with such wrath that I nearly cried. Something happened during the fight.
Later after sunrise, Spike spoke with Edgar. I overheard that he was the only survivor from the rescue group, and why he was so upset. When he started fighting off the Human Hunters the slavers started killing the children, someone had recognized him and wanted to hide the evidence. They piled the bodies and then prepared to burn them, the few that Spike could save ran off into the night. That night was a bitter massacre, luck and skill spared Spike and Spike spared those few in the third tent for whatever reason he had.
I walked slowly across the bridges, wandering aimlessly here and there. I wandered over to the spring tree. My bowl was filled so I had myself a drink. Still cool, the spring must have spouted recently. Long sips. I needed to calm my nerves. The bowl was empty. I sat on the edge of the platform.
Rose walked up next to me and sat down. I could see she was mad at first but she just sat down next to me. Tears streaked my fur. I held her closely and it was just us. We both stood and walked together, the cold wind blew but we stayed warm.
I woke late afternoon. I still hadn’t eaten. Hell, even those scrawny squirrels would taste good about now. Rose snuggled in close to me. I kissed her gently on the forehead before getting out of bed. I watched her breathing for a moment before leaving. A single moment of peace in this world of turmoil is always welcome.
I made my way to the trap house where I was met by Seth. He didn’t have a name when we first encountered him. His name may change again by next week in the way it does. I simply call him Smith. “Tim, you must have stepped in it this time. I’ve been directly ordered to keep you from the trap horde. What is going on?”
“I set a bird loose last night. I didn’t think Shane would have gone this far though.”
“This is Shane we’re talking about, you should know better than anyone how hard it is for him to trust anyone. Don,t take it to heart, it’s just who he is.”
“Yeah, I keep telling myself that. So, since I’m officially banned from the horde would you mind grabbing me a bite for breakfast?”
“Breakfast? Are you on night-watch again?” Seth walked inside and began rummaging around.
“No, I’m off hunting today. I told Shane I would replace what I released so I’m going to keep my word.”
“Ah, so you had another one of THOSE arguments.” The sound of cracking bones came from inside. He was breaking a few necks so I wouldn’t have to. “I hope you don’t mind squirrel today, we’re a bit flooded of ‘em.” Another loud snap told me I was having seconds whether I like it or not.
“That’s fine.” I really didn’t care. Any food was welcome about now. A third neck crack. Now Smith was just going overboard. A fourth. A fifth, and a sixth.
Smith emerged with his bounty of squirrel, holding one last living squirrel in his left hand. SNAP! A few last breaths and it was gone. “How do squirrels breed like rabbits?” He strung the last squirrel to the others and stuffed them all into a satchel. “I brought a few extra for you to have through the night, you can use them for bait if nothing else.”
“And that means you have no excuse to come back empty handed.” Shane snuck up on us while we were talking. His eyes shown a cold gray, devoid of the shear fury displayed the night before, though his usual scowl remained. “Just catch what you can. I’m lifting the ban when you get back.”
“Fair enough, though my word should be all you need.” I took the sack o’ squirrel from Smith. My hunger was getting the best of my mood.
Shane stared me down for a moment then tossed a skin to me. “Spring water for the road.”
Smith chuckled and ducked back into the trap horde. My wolf kin ears caught him mumble “Weirdo”. Shane must have heard him, too. He let a smile sneak to the surface.
I decided to make a joke out of it. “Well, I’m off to catch a meal or two. See ya later, Weirdo.” Smith peeked awkwardly through the doorway.
“See you when you get back,” Shane glanced over at Smith, “Weirdo”. Smith hastily retreated back to safety.