Book One: Southward

Chapter One

The snow was blinding, the wind howling through the tall pine trees of the Northern Lands. The sky, a light, powder blue merely an hour before, was unable to be seen in the storm. There were no signs of life to be seen, save for one lone back wolf struggling to walk in the harsh conditions. Her deep, sapphire blue eyes sparkled as they darted around, hastily looking for shelter. The storm was strengthening every second, and she had no intention of freezing out in the white-washed field. Bending against the force of the wind, she pulled the hood of her tunic up to cover her eyes, and she smelled it.

There, inside a small grove of trees, was a musky, abandoned cave. Smiling to herself, the young wolf strode through the piling snow toward the trees. A rocky cavern soon revealed itself, warm and inviting in the driving wind and snow. Setting her pack down on the rocky floor of the cave, the exhausted wolf sat down, relieved for some protection from the turbulent blizzard outside. She closed her blue eyes, hoping to rest until the storm calmed.

Suddenly, her keen nose caught yet another scent. The black wolf's eyes snapped open, and her bow and arrows were drawn in a heartbeat. She growled as the scent registered. They were following her.

Of course, she thought angrily. There's no way they'd let me go after all that.

She thought back for a split second about her escape from Castle Dumnharu. The wolverine, Jukorr, a seemingly rabid animal, had stormed the castle late one night, taking King Heran and Queen Rosalie hostage. It was their fault for letting the "weather worn traveler" inside their gates. Jukorr had brought in his horde after taking hostage the King and Queen's little daughter, Cara, forcing them to open the gates. Her parents, the Duke and Duchess of Dumnharu, were cast out of the kingdom, but she had been kept prisoner, along with the Royal Majesties and various other beasts. In an elaborate strain of events that the wolf was too tired to remember, she had escaped, and no doubt those were Jukorr's scouts looking for her.

"Alistar!" They would call. "Alistar! Please come with us back home! The King promises he won't hurt you!"

She scoffed at the thought. "Won't hurt me, eh?" She said in a whisper. "Well even so, he'll never get the chance.

Though her fur color could give her away immediately, Alistar was a master of camouflage. Darting here and there amongst the trees, ears pricked and eyes scanning the blizzard-worn woods, she left the cave and continued heading south, an arrow notched at the bow, ready and waiting.

A small, white fox darted down the cold, stony hallway to his master's chamber. His legs shook uncontrollably as he knocked lightly on the thick wooden door. Why did he, Krol, the smallest fox in Jukorr's horde, have to give the news of the black wolf's escape? The trackers had lost the scent of her n the blinding snowstorm, and of course he had to face the wolverine's wrath.

Huh, Krol thought, imagine saying we lost a black wolf in the snow! I might as well have signed my death wish.

The huge door groaned as it was opened to reveal Captain Zagrath, Jukorr's second in command. The grey, female pine marten was easily the most cunning, dangerous creature in the horde. She was very beatiful, that was true, but deadly enough that nobeast would look at her long enough to let her twin daggers find them. She was far smarter than Jukorr, and if it weren;t for the wolverine's power, Zagrath would have taken the horde that she knew was rightfully hers.

The pine marten's black eyes seemed to stare into Krol's very soul as she glared down at the small white fox. She sniffed at him contemptuously and let him inside the roomy bedchamber.

"He is not here, fox. Your life is spared. I would have liked to see his reaction when you told him that a black wolf got away in a snowstorm." She laughed deviously.

Krol shivered at the captain's laugh. How did she know that? He thought, taken off guard by her knowledge. Maybe that's why she is so feared. She knows everything that goes on here...

The white fox jumped when Zagrath slammed her paw down on a table. "That stupid wolf." She hissed. Glancing down at an old map, a smile slowly crossed the pine marten's face. She looked back up at a frightened Krol, suddenly in a better mood.

"Well. It's not like we do not know where she's going."

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