Somewhere deep in Deer Run National Park, a werewolf ran.
He was a mottled mess of grey and white, dotted with patches of pink where the fur had burnt away. He loped through his Protectorate, sometimes on four legs, sometimes on two, depending on the lay of the land and his mood. Ashes scattered as his paws hit the earth, and the scent of smoke hung heavily in the air. The afternoon sun cast rays of pink and violet across the ground, motes in the air scattering the light and littering the ground with patches of shadow.
Rising to the top of a hill, Shadowdance stood on two legs and surveyed the damages. It would be years before his territory was fully restored. He might not live to see the day that he could call the job complete. And yet, his heart felt light, and despite the tears in his eyes he smiled, his tail wagging behind him. Here and there, green shoots poked through the layer of grey, and the scent of deer and rabbit came to his nose even through the soot. In the distance, fresh water splashed along some unnamed tributary of the Colorado river, along with the chirrup of insects in the early evening. Even if he didn’t, the land would survive, and thrive once more, and that was all the Child of Wolf could dream.
A roar echoed in the distance, and the wolf’s ears perked. Letting out a howl in response, he dropped to all fours and ran towards its source, chest heaving as he burst through the treeline into a familiar clearing. The lodge remained where Watcher had left it weeks ago, at the edge of the river just outside his sacred territory. Beside the tree under which the tent had been build, the tan-furred Child of Wolf stood, his tail low, his ears back against his head, glancing about nervously. Leaning against it was a Child of Bear, his thick brown coat streaked with grey. One paw clutched a talisman hanging from his neck, while the other adjusted the pouch-covered bandoleer that hung from his shoulder.
Shadowdance stopped short, staring. He blinked rapidly, then broke into a wide grin, ears perked and tail wagging furiously behind him. “I’ll go get that deer now.”
Mountain grinned in response. “Grant us passage, Shadowdance?”
The grey-furred Child of Wolf nodded. “You’re welcome to come and go as you please.” He looked to Watcher and held out a paw. “Both of you.”
Watcher stepped forward and clasped paws with the other wolf, bowing over it. “I’ll do what I can to earn that right.”
Shadowdance grinned in response. “You already did.”
The Child of Bear held out a paw, then tapped his muzzle, sniffing the air. “Where is she?”
“Foraging,” the grey wolf replied. “She’ll be back before sunset, as will Leaper.”
The bear nodded at that, then motioned for Dancer to approach. “Turn around; let me check your arm.” The Child of Wolf whined but complied, turning so the bear could press his fingerpads in along his shoulder. “You’re healing up okay, but you still should have let me sling that. How do you feel?”
The Child of Wolf could only grin in return, his tongue lolling to one side of his open muzzle as he panted. He sprawled out over his back, and the bear knelt in front of him, rubbing his belly like an overgrown St. Bernard. Dancer growled in pleasure, batting at the air with his forepaws. “I told you.”
Mountain nodded and smiled in response. “Yeah, you did. Now, if you’re going to go hunt, go hunt. I want to check you over before nightfall.” He turned, suddenly, to the tan wolf who had been standing silently beside him. “Unless you’d show me how…?”
Watcher smiled gently. “You’re doing fine, Mountain, though I think I’m going to get a nap while we wait for the others to return. The sweet smoke will do me some good.” He knelt and gathered a few strips of bark from the leather blanket, then stepped inside the sweat lodge, letting the flap fall into place behind him.
Mountain stood, alone, for several moments, simply enjoying the feel of the light breeze through his fur. Then, he dropped to all fours and padded over to the bank of the river. Staring into the water’s depths, he saw flashes of movement beneath the surface. He watched, still, then suddenly snapped out one paw, raking it through the water, laughing with cub-like delight at the solid smack of impact and then the gentle flop of the fish onto the bank. Two more followed in rapid succession, and then the Child of Bear turned to his catch, licking his lips in anticipation. He reared, his bearâ€™s body rising onto its hinds, head tilted painfully back against his neck. Then the world bent around him as his head pivoted on its access. His claws shrunk, splayed as five short stubby digits gave way to padded, furred paw-like hands. The blunt stub of his tail fidgeted as he stretched, trying to relieve the pleasant ache that always accompanied the physical change from four legs to two. Then, finally, he knelt by the bank, fingers laced in the wet soil, his head bowed in prayer. “Thank you, Great Mother, for this gift. I am Your cub, and I am grateful for this world that You share with me, for the gifts You have bestowed.”