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By the start of Haunt of the Wilds, De’vii has eleven dogs, but he didn’t always have them all. This is a tiny story about how one of his dogs, Ast, joins his pack. She’s the gray crazy one. Three of the dogs in the novel do not make an appearance in this small story, two because they aren’t born yet and one because she’s not with them.

LONE HOUND

Long before the dog attacked, De’vii sensed something trailing them. She kept downwind, hidden within the foliage, never pushing too close, even when Fel looped back searching for what hunted them.

They all felt a presence though. Even Sif, and she was still tiny enough Rid and Wress flanked her, unwilling to allow whatever might attack them to go for the smallest of the pack. De’vii hesitated for all of a moment, then allowed the confidence within their collective consciousness lull him into complacency, sure in the knowledge that were the dog to attack, they could handle it.

So half the day was spent hunting, Sif getting her first chance at a solo kill while the rest of the pack guarded her back. She ended up needing help—the spindleleg too fast for her still-growing legs—but with a well-placed bite from Fel to the creature’s foreleg, it slowed enough she managed to take it down.

Her rush of satisfied achievement enveloped them all. De’vii laughed out loud and sent back his own pride within the pulse of glowing praise from the rest of the dogs.

And right then, right when Sif stood over her first solo kill, her little teeth blackened with blood and her splotchy coat speckled with debris, was when that lingering damn wild dog decided to attack.

Kat gave a warning as the scent reached her, but her warning was unnecessary because the wild dog—pure gray with a gently sloping darker patch along her ear—growled loudly before she sprung from behind them, leapt Rid and tore straight for Sif. With an annoyed huff, Wress intercepted the wild dog easily, took the brunt of her forward motion and swept her sideways where she tumbled through the fronds, cracking them and showering dark buds everywhere.

De’vii stepped closer and scrubbed a hand along Sif’s neck to comfort her. Then he scowled at the wild dog as she scrambled to her feet. “You’re going to take on an entire pack? Are you that crazed?”

She snarled at him, her muzzle dirty as if she’d not bothered to splash through the river in ages. Then she feinted toward Kat before lunging at Wress, obviously annoyed with him for sending her flying so quickly. He merely snorted again and brushed her off him, then allowed her to tug him into a tussle within the dirt, Rid joining a moment later. She fought fiercely, never giving the two larger dogs any quarter despite them pulling their bites and playfully teasing her, keeping her in scramble mode.

After finishing a quick scout downwind, Fel ambled up, disinterested in the fight now he knew the wild dog was alone and no match for his pack. He stood next to De’vii though, unwilling to relax on the chance the wild dog might break for Sif again. De’vii draped an arm around Fel and shared a chuckle with him over the wild dog’s seemingly addled mind.

Little Sif, for her part, sat back on her haunches with big eyes and a growl of encouragement for Rid and Wress. Then Sou let out an excited howl and joined the fray, turning it into less of a play fight and more a real one. Sou sank his teeth into the wild dog’s neck, the taste of blood pouring through the collective before she managed to get her muzzle too close, prompting him to release her.

The wild dog danced away, her coat smeared with dirt and frayed strands of yellow-white lucevines caught within her fur. Her shoulders dipped, her legs bent, her posture purely aggressive despite the blood dripping from the wound on her neck.

De’vii cocked his head and studied the wild dog, watching as she quickly ascertained that Sou was the most dangerous of her opponents. She dodged Sou, keeping out of his range as she bit at Rid and then slammed into Wress. Fel’s assessment came a moment later.

No pack. Lone. Lonely.

Sif whined at the thought and Kat immediately bent to give comfort, promising silently that Sif would always have pack. Sif couldn’t stop staring at the wild dog though, her pup thoughts whirling, horrified at the thought that the poor bitch didn’t have anyone within her mind to comfort as Kat had done with Sif.

De’vii scrubbed her neck again. “It happens, pup. It happens.” But he spoke absently, staring at the fight raging in front of him, noting the wild dog’s desperation. How Rid and Wress strived to keep Sou from turning things too bloody and how Sou consistently pushed the wild dog, testing her, searching her for weakness.

She responded admirably, at least for a lone hound, that was. For not having anyone watching her back, she fought quite well. Even Sou admitted it in a split moment before he went for her throat again.

The wild dog sprinted away, then back, then away again. But she only circled a tree, dodged a dognettle bush and slammed her lithe body into Rid. He twisted, letting the brunt of the attack roll off him. Then Wress caught the wild dog by the nape of her neck and shoved her over. She barked in anger, then snarled dangerously before howling her rage when Rid added his weight, keeping her down.

And still she fought. A dog who refused to give up.

Sou was impressed. Rid and Wress both found her attractive. Kat thought her weak for going after Sif. Fel still stood stoically, assessing the wild dog, his mind turning over those same thoughts—lone hound, no pack, needs…

And Leam…Leam had ambled off and settled upon the ground to take a nap, telling Kat to wake him if a real problem arose, his attitude one of uncaring apathy.

De’vii sighed and straightened up to go get a closer look at the wild bitch. She snapped at him, causing him to chuckle down at her. Her feet scuffed at the earth, sending dirt splattering against the fronds. As De’vii watched her, she growled a challenge despite her compromising position, sparking a round of humorous huffs from Rid, Wress and Sou.

The thought began like a tiny seed. De’vii wasn’t sure where it came from. Not Leam and probably not Sif. But any of the others could have thought it first. Regardless, it blossomed, spreading through their collective consciousness like a wildfire, gaining traction, becoming more and more real as each dog picked up the idea and considered it seriously.

“We could,” murmured De’vii. He crouched at the wild dog’s head. “But what does she want?”

She wanted to growl at him, her inability to relax against the ground, to show any sort of submissive behavior, told him she’d be a handful. Fel thought the largest problem a moment later: she wouldn’t understand pack, wouldn’t know how to operate in one.

“That doesn’t mean she doesn’t want to,” said De’vii, staring into the wild dog’s eyes.

Rid and Wress agreed with him, Wress releasing his grip on her nape in order to nip at her playfully, sniffing her to memorize her scent. Fel snorted, but he left Sif with Kat and came once more to De’vii’s side. There he sat glaring down at the offending wild dog who was weakening by the moment, her struggles becoming half-hearted except when Sou drifted close. Then she would bark loudly and try to lunge at him, warning him off.

De’vii reached out then and rested his hand against her nose. She snapped at him, almost catching his fingers. Fel leapt forward and bit her right on her muzzle, his fury over her attacking De’vii so strong it seemed to reverberate into the wild dog.

For just a second, De’vii thought he sensed an echoing crazy, yet so lonely, ire. Then it was gone. But when Fel stepped back and De’vii once more placed his hand against the wild dog’s nose, she didn’t attack him. She snarled a little, her eyes flicking to Fel, then she settled with a dissatisfied whuff, her teeth occasionally showing.

For a long moment De’vii simply pressed lightly against her nose, then he rubbed upward, pushing soothing thoughts in her direction, though he couldn’t tell whether she was receptive or not. When he reached her ears, she flicked them, so he scratched her between them.

The forest turned quiet around them, the high-pitched notes of the songbirds filtering down through the canopy, but farther away, where the scuffle hadn’t disturbed them. Sif let out a questioning whine. Then, at a thought from Fel, Rid and Wress released the wild dog.

She bounded up, away from De’vii, away from them all. Then she spun and growled at them, her muscles bunching, a heavy sense of forlorn abandonment like a tickle at the edge of their collective consciousness. Then she ducked into the foliage.

Yet, she didn’t leave. Oh, she skirted them whenever anyone came close. Kept downwind despite De’vii and his entire pack knowing exactly where she was at all times. But she never went far.

They ignored her for part of the day thinking she’d eventually approach again. But then, when that didn’t seem to be working, they started calling out to her. Rid would bark as he passed her hiding space, his tail slapping against the bush, shaking it around her. Kat would put her nose right up into the wild dog’s space and sniff dismissively. Wress would try to engage her into another mock battle—mock for him at least. She would rage at him, then sprint away.

It wasn’t until the Fade Stars were about to set and the pack began to settle down together for some rest that De’vii, Fel and Sou took matters into their own hands. Only then because they’d caught a hint of morose longing that last time the wild dog had ran from Wress.

They stalked her, hunted her down together as they’d done countless times before their pack had grown. And when they caught her, driving her back up against a shallow cut in the land, Fel lunged forward and brought her to the ground.

She didn’t whine as some dogs might, but she curled against the ground, gathering herself so she could launch the moment Fel released her. Her lack of strength, and the accompanying need reflected in her eyes held them back from chasing her away.

“Come back with us,” said De’vii. When she snorted and snapped at him, he smiled grimly. “That’s an order, love, not an offer.” When she buried her nose against the grass, he added, “If we have to, we’ll drag you back. Wouldn’t that make you look fierce?”

She snarled at him, yet, when Fel shoved her upright, she went willingly, if grudgingly. Fel and Sou flanked her on the walk back. Her eyes skipped over the forest, as if endlessly searching for an escape. She never attempted to run though. And whether she admitted it or not, they could sense the hope buried under her steely, crazed exterior.

Back with the rest of the pack, De’vii grabbed her by the neck and pushed her down at Leam’s back, figuring Leam would be the least likely to be antagonized by her attitude. And he was right. Leam huffed at her occasionally whenever she attempted to nip at him, but he never allowed her to engage him.

On her other side, De’vii and Fel curled up, Fel keeping her neck within biting range so he could keep her in line in case she decided to attack one of the others. She remained in place though, surprisingly, while they slept. And she slept, her dreams obviously a little fitful by the way her body shook once in a while. De’vii stayed up stroking her until she woke and growled at him. He laughed and settled with his back to her, trusting Fel to wake him if the wild dog proved to not be who they thought.

She was the first one up though, bounding back into hiding within the foliage, leaping out at them randomly in a feint. Her teeth connected occasionally, but De’vii’s pack could handle her easily, always fighting her, keeping her at bay, while never pushing her so far she’d feel the brunt of rejection.

This went on for seemingly forever. The Fade Stars rose and set, the gaslights morphed into layer upon layer of bright greens that lit the forest and tinted her coat. They would drag her to the pack to sleep the first few times, but eventually she began to poke her muzzle out of hiding when she saw them readying to rest.

And then came the day she helped them chase down a trio of boars. Her gray coat streaking between the trees, her howling a challenge, one Rid and Wress couldn’t pass up, the three dogs chasing down the boars as if their lives depended on it.

De’vii laughed out loud, exhilarated as he sprinted after them, the scent of desperation in the air spurring him on, spurring his entire pack on. The younger ones chased straight, following the paths the boars laid down. The older ones—Fel and Sou—tracked beyond, hunting with the trap in mind, keeping the boars heading so that they would be blocked by the river and the ravine.

And there, at the edge of the ravine, little Sif shaking from the sprint and Sou a bundle of energized bloodthirst, they took down those boars. Two of them at least. They let the smallest escape to be hunted another day.

But the most beautiful thing of all was watching that wild dog, her coat reflecting the gaslights, moving in tandem with Rid and Wress, the three of them bounding and leaping around that boar, keeping it contained, toying with it–together.

De’vii held down the other boar, Leam and Sou biting into its hindquarters, while Kat took its throat, but his mind was with Rid and Wress. And, to a lesser extent, the wild dog.

And when the kill came, their coordinated attacks looked more like an intricate dance than a prelude to a bloody demise. Gray and auburn hounds owning their fight, demanding respect. The rest of the pack watched while eating, Fel standing at the head of the boar, scrubbing himself clean against the grass. De’vii didn’t bother, ignoring the streaks against his arms and across his shoulders as the other boar stumbled to its knees and released an agonized bellow before the wild dog cut off the noise with a well-placed snap of her teeth.

As the boar sank to the earth, its lifeblood pouring downhill, its hindquarters kicking, the three dogs engaged once more in a tumbling battle. High from the success of their kill and not yet ready to feast, they rolled and nipped and played a fierce game that took them far too close to the ravine’s edge for De’vii’s liking.

“Rid! Wress! Away from there!” he snapped out.

The two dogs bounded away, veering off to snap at the boar’s still kicking hind legs. The gray hound didn’t move, her posture wary, her eyes suspicious. She stood by the ravine edge, as if taunting De’vii. He smiled, letting the blood show on his teeth.

“Ast!” he called, pulling the name from the desire he could feel boiling within the collective consciousness, her needs like a weight on his own mind. “Get away from the edge.”

She sniffed at him, so he growled a warning, letting the sound grow as his eyes flashed angrily. Ast shook her head violently, then darted away from the ravine’s edge. She ducked behind the dying boar only to immediately reappear on its other side. There she snarled at De’vii, a snarl that quickly cut off when De’vii reached through the collective consciousness, found her, and flooded her mind with his intent. An intent that went far deeper than an insistence that she obey, because it was wrapped in a heavy dose of worry for her safety, a need for her to watch out for herself if she wanted to be part of his pack.

Ast snapped her jaw and danced sideways in confusion, but she obeyed. He could feel her obedience temper with suspicion, almost as if she wasn’t quite sure yet whether she believed the pulse of love coming through the collective consciousness aimed at her, but didn’t want to ruin it if it was true. She certainly latched onto her name readily enough. Eagerly even. As if she’d never had one before.

De’vii could work with that. His pack could work with that.

This was L in my A-Z Wilds Duology Challenge. Almost halfway :)
Both Haunt of the Wilds (Book I) and Song for the Wilds (Book II)
are on pre-order for only .99 each.
They are gay romance/adventure fantasy novels.

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