14a (Argentum’s Song – PG)

Chapter Fourteen

Runt’s rear leg was cramping from being frozen in place for so long but she refused to move. If the past day had taught her anything it was that stalking was the most important part of hunting. If you messed up your stalking you never even got the chance to strike. So, she continued to lay motionless behind the fungus covered log, hoping its rotting odour would mask her own. The freezing air forced her eyes to narrow into slits but they stayed glued to the hollow she had seen the rodent disappear into when she had startled it while ‘scouting’. Her thick hair could keep the temperature at bay well enough if she was moving or found shelter from a windbreak but, exposed as she was, she had to clench her fangs to keep them from chattering. Her prey had been waiting a long time, and if it wasn’t for the intensity of her hunger she would have already given up.

Runt saw a nose twitching out from the shadows and started to salivate. However, the same anticipation of ripping the life out of the rodent that triggered that reflex, also caused her stomach to release a low quiet grumble.

The nose ducked back into safety in a flash. Runt managed to stifle back a roar or rage and glanced at the sky to estimate how much longer she had left. Pack Leader would be expecting them back with their scout reports soon but she just needed a little longer. Her hunger just kept growing in intensity, breaking the limits of endurance over and over again.

Finally the nose made its way out again. Runt held her attack until the whole brown and white striped body was visible and far enough away from safety that it wouldn’t make it back before her teeth had crushed its skull. Then she pounced.

She slid on the frost covered ground and missed by a hair’s breadth. Recovering quickly she blocked it from returning to safety. The chase was on. It scurried across the frozen ground … and right into the maw of Foul Breath. He tossed it in the air and swallowed it in two bites. He turned a bloody grin toward Runt’s pained cry.

“So that’s what’s been keeping you so long. You’re lucky it was so tasty, I’m less angry about being sent away to track you down. You’re also lucky that Gray One found the trail, Pack Leader is less likely to have you slaughtered for disobeying his orders.”

Runt was so furious she almost threw herself at Foul Breath in vengeance despite being outweighed two to one. Then the implications of the second part of his message registered.

“You mean -”

“Yes, a hunt is on. There may even be enough for everyone to feast.”

By the time Runt and Foul Breath had caught up with the others, she had seen enough of the trail they were following for disappointment and despair to return. The prey had clearly thought it was far enough away from danger to stop slinking and start running. This allowed even Runt to read it was the trail of a single human with no sign of livestock. The prospect of satisfying her hunger was falling quickly.

Still she had no choice but to fall into place behind Sharp Teeth as the pack silently raced toward their quarry, eating up the lead it had gained. The trail was fresher than she had expected and soon she could scent him just ahead. Sharp Teeth nudged her further to the right of the trail while Foul Breath and Flee Bag disappeared into the brush on the other side. As Pack Leader and Gray One hung back slightly she realized they were creating a trap to encircle their prey once it came into view.

Before that happened however, they heard the high pitched squeaking of a human conversing with another. Perhaps their quarry had met up with the other escapee after all? The pack slowed and spread out even more, Runt found herself on the outer side of the circle as the trap closed. By the time she had swung in to close off the rear, the rest must have already been in place and ready to strike.

Runt could hardly believe her eyes. The human they had been chasing had met up with a small caravan of some type. Two new humans, a horse, a goat and a whole flock of birds were either on or leashed to a small open wagon. So much life just waiting to be destroyed!


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