I passed out after they left, I couldn’t take it anymore. My body just gave out from it all. When I woke up I didn’t move for a while, I didn’t want to. Everything was too heavy. My own muscles pulled towards the earth to keep me from standing. I did manage to turn my head though and see the prisoner beside me. Stripped of his weapons and coverings he seemed a common enough wolf other than the paw print which covered his eye. He laid down too, curled up in a ball of fur. He didn’t sob or cry but merely laid there silently. I didn’t say anything for a few hours. The wounds on my neck ached and I just let out a yelp every so often. He didn’t seem to mind and I was surprised I didn’t see him licking his own wounds, some on the side facing me still showed signs of bleeding.
Perhaps he was still lingering on the loss of the one he loved, I know I was. Every time I closed my eyes, I saw something. The pain and torture, the blood, the symbol, Ischien, Vinator… Dusk… What remained. I shivered at the thought and wished so direly to go back to before it. Even to when it was just me and the others, living in the library, whining over our wounds, but we were whining together.
Would Ahria ever forgive me? Would she ever look at me again? For leading her mate on a plan that I was not certain would work. From a goddess that I thought I could trust. Could I ever forgive myself either? It was my fault after all. The voice said that, and it was right. It still hisses in my ear whenever I lay still without thought.
It slithered and constricted its snake like hush around my soul, squeezing it of its thoughts, and reminding me of failure. Why was it there? Why does it torment me? It hurt me and reminded me of my brother, which made me fall silent and lay sulking till I heard someone enter the prison.
It was already mid-day and I was half expecting it to be Trilla here to let me free but I knew better. I looked up and saw a pursuer, one of the mass who had been my undoing. He carried a small chunk of meat in his teeth as he trotted over to my cage. My heart billowed with anger and I lunged at the cage door, snapping at the metal, trying to wedge my teeth between them. I swore and cursed him and his kind. He didn’t pay much mind to it and he only shrugged at my efforts. I tensed up, feeling him use the halt to unlock and open the door to place the meat inside; however he couldn’t resist to throw me down onto the floor before leaving the cage and releasing time. He turned to my associate who looked up at him with anger and hatred in his eyes but he did not move.
“You’ll get your food in a few days,” the pursuer said with a snide look. Nail pushed his ears forward and let out a growl, allowing his teeth to show, not phasing the pursuer who merely chuckled and left us back to ourselves. I rolled over onto my side and knelt down to the meat to take it up in my teeth, nearly immediately downing the sustenance but I held myself back, looking to my neighbor.
“You look hungry.” He looked at me with his ears pushed forward. I understood how he felt, I was the one who helped capture him, surely he remembered me, I at least owed him something. I held the meat tightly on the ground and pulled its other end, tearing it into two before tossing one it between the links of our cages and eating the other. It landed beside him and he looked at it for a moment before almost reluctantly eating it and laying back the way he had been, away from me. I laid down too, my back leg had started to bleed again and it hurt horribly, so I licked it.
“You were the one who stood up for my pup, weren’t you?” Nail spoke up.
I stopped licking myself to reply, “Yes.”
He didn’t say anything for a bit before continuing. “Hage, right?”
I nodded. “Hmmph” He grumbled and said nothing else.
I hadn’t expected the hours to go by as fast as they did, but I suppose silence helps to carry time away when you stop noticing. I had investigated the cage all afternoon, taking care to spot any rusted links or week wires but there was no escape option there. I tried to even force my way out a few times with bashes to the door, but it only reverbed me back and caused my side to be sore so I stopped myself from continuing. Thoughts sprung into my mind, ‘what would I even do if I did escape? I had nowhere to go with Dusk gone.’ I curled up at the thought and laid watching the light of the room slip away to darkness and I allowed my eyes to shut.
I dreamed of Dusk, of sand beneath my feet, of the sound of waves and warm sunlight. Smiles spread across my face with Ischien and the others beside me. It was a perfect world all imagined in my mind and it was beautiful. I looked down and the sand began to swirl under my legs, sucking me beneath the surface.
A voice spoke in the pitch black recesses of my mind. “Look at you,” it said. “Look at how pathetic you are.” The voice chuckled.
“Without family, without hope, without a reason to even be alive.” A darkness slid over my body and began to pull at my legs and fur like shadowy hands. “So strong, just like your father was.”
The similarity of words dawned on me. I knew that voice in the dark. The goddess with red eyes, Arora. The voice seemed to chuckle at my realization and the darkness slowly slipped away and revealed the prison, but it was different. The rust and wear of the cages was nonexistent, and neither did its air feel thick with a disgusting stench.
Four wolves filled the largest cage in the room, but they were different than any wolves I had seen before. One had a short snout that was dull at its end with a thick nose covering its tip. Another was thick in every respect with long hair and droopy ears, all golden in coloration. The other two were strange purely in coloration. The male was strange with varying browns, blacks and reds. The one female was a much more graceful wolf with deep blacks and bright whites. Their tails curved however towards their backs much like Predin’s did. The group of them stood around with eyes wide and heart racing.
“Gone? I don’t understand, what do you mean gone?” The white and black female said in a flurry of uneasiness.
“What is not to understand? You heard he howl. You felt it. Every one of them is gone, every human wiped from existence.” The one with the short snout spoke up. “The old gods are finished with man.”
“That’s completely impossible, absolute crazy talk.” The brown and black one said with an irritated tone.
“You two of all of us should know it’s true. Don’t your breeds teach you these things still today?” The brown and black wolf paused for a moment.
“I was told of it, but I never believed it would be true! Those were the ways of the old world, man’s God seemed more likely.”
“Well, obviously not!” The golden one spoke up.
The four of them looked at one another hoping that one of them had the proper answer to their situation, none of them did.
“What do we do now then?” The golden male begged for answers.
“Well first we need to escape this cage if we are going to survive.”
“And how do you suppose we do that?”
“We can all try to pull at the cages bars, surely we can tear through them.” The brown and black wolf took up the role as the leader almost instinctively, and he was very good at it.
“That will take time though Charlie, something we do not have. The human’s fed us this morning, but we have little left in our bowls now. That will not last us very long. Even if we bring ourselves to near starvation we will only last a few months.” The wolf with the smashed snout took up the role of pessimist, and he was very good at it as well.
“Well what do you have in mind for us to survive?” the wolf apparently named Charlie asked.
The wolf with the short snout looked to the female who took a step back in response to his uncomfortable looks. “The humans placed her into a male cage. No doubting it now, it wasn’t a mistake. She can still have pups, I smell all over her.” His jowls began to wet and the female growled in response. Charlie jumped between them separating the short snouted wolf’s vision of her.
“Stay the hell away from her. We cannot force her to do that. That is wrong.” He snarled at the other males with the fur on his nape standing high.
“It doesn’t matter what is wrong anymore. We can’t be dogs anymore, we don’t have masters to serve. We have to do what we have to in order to survive. I’m sure she understands that she is the key to her own survival as well as ours.” He took a step towards the female and Charlies voice only got louder.
“Did you not hear me!? I said stay back!” He barked before lunging at him forcing the short snouted wolf to jump away.
The female saw these males growling over her, but she knew that the short snouted wolf was right. She was the key to all their survival.
“Come on you bastard, make the first move. I’m not afraid.” Charlie snapped.
The other “dog” took another step and the both of them were ready to pounce at each other’s throats.
“I’ll do it.”
All three of the males froze and turned to the female. “Gen… Gena…”
I could tell that the two obviously had history with one another. I wasn’t sure what, but they cared for one another in a form that exceeded what I could see in this dream.
“I understand it is what we have to do. It is the smartest way to keep us from fighting; the best way to keep us all alive. So I’ll do it.” The female spoke with confident reluctance.
Charlie turned away from his opponent and stepped close to the female so he could speak to her quietly.
“You have no need to do this. We can find another way. I don’t want you to-” The female cut the male off from his words.
“I can handle the burden Charlie,” She snapped at him with a stern tone. “The question is, can you?”
The young male looked at her with sad eyes and he nodded to her. He obviously cared for her, more than he dared to admit to her and they no doubt were locked with one another from the beginning.
“So it’s settled then. We will get to work, and tonight Gena, you may do as you please; with whom you please,” The short snouted dog spoke up loudly. “Lucky, get over here and help me with this.”
The golden dog jumped a bit in response to the order, he obviously was the most fragile of the bunch and barely spoke a word till this point.
“Got it Boris. Whatever you say.” He spoke up with anxious words.
Charlie moved to help as well, turning only for a moment to look again to Gena, her eyes consoled him a bit and he whined before moving to help the others. He latched his teeth to the metal and pulled at it with all of his force, releasing it to create a loud metallic “CLANG”.
My eyes slowly opened to the noise, not sure whether it were real or part of the dream itself. Another sharp metallic noise confirmed that it was part of the real world and I lifted my head, turning towards Nail. He, just as the others had tried, pulled at the links of the cage with all of his might despite his injured body. I lifted up my tail end and stretched out my paws in a massive yawn.
I said nothing with confidence that the dogs prior had not accomplished the task themselves.
He didn’t respond, continuing to jerk at the cage bars. Till he suddenly whines as he pulls the cages bars back, jumping back and holding his tongue out of his mouth.
“Damnit, gods that hurt.”
A grin perked up onto my face and he turned to me with irritation.
“Shut the hell up,” He barked back. “Don’t look at me with that tone.”
The paw print over his eye shown bright white on his face. It was the most peculiar marking that I had ever seen.
He continued, despite the wounds he’d cause his tongue, to pull at the walls of the metal cage.
“So, what’s your story? You’re different from the other pursuers.”
I barked at his statement. The mere thought of being compared to Vinator. I didn’t take kindly to the words.
“Don’t you dare compare me to those monsters,” I barked with the fury and rage that I felt for wolves like Vinator and his compatriots.
Nail released the cage and looked to me with a one raised brow.
“Then you are a prodigy,” He turned back and surveyed the different links of the cage. “Makes sense enough.”
Before I could say anything back noise came from behind the door to the prison’s entrance and Nail sat back away from the cage. I looked to the door and was surprised not to see a pursuer, but a familiar face. Ados stepped through the door with two scraps of food in jaw.
He tossed one into Nail’s cell and he immediately devoured the meat in a moment. Looking to me he slid the chunk of meat into my cage.
“Thank you Ados.” I said with whatever pieces of a smile I could pull together.
“You’re welcome,” He paused for a moment between his words. Obviously feeling remorse for the wolf he saw me as. “I’m sorry about what happened, Fana and I understand what it feels like to lose a pup.”
I nodded to him and he turned to leave but before taking a step he turned to me with a nervous expression.
“Hage, thank you for saving me the other day,” He spoke with a soft tone, no doubt unaccustomed to thanking someone for something like this. “I owe you my life.”
I looked at him for a moment and nodded with a grin. “Do you owe me enough for a favor?”
“Matters what it is.”
“Tell Ahria I’m sorry, and take care of her.
He hesitated, taken aback from the question. He didn’t nod or shake his head in response to the question. He merely turned and left the prison with its two secluded prisoners.
The days seemed to go by in long increments. They never dragged on into eternity, nor did they zoom past with a blur in their eyes. They were long, boring, and allowed for endless hours of self-loathing which I took good advantage of.
My mind haunted me and gave every ounce of unhappy thought a backlash against myself. These were interrupted by Nail’s efforts to break through the bars of the prison. They were obviously futile, but that didn’t stop him from attempting upon them. He would occasionally try to give a bit of banter, but our hearts were barely into the idea of friendship. We did however form an unspoken bond, and I was glad to have something.
He was fed every three days after that first meal and I could tell that it was beginning to cause his energy to wane. I always give him half of my meat, and though it too affected my strength, it at least kept him fighting. Fighting for something that was outside of this place. I, on the other hand, wished that I was in his place and being forced into starvation.
After about two weeks I dreamed again. It was one of those deep dreams that made my paws tingle inside my head and made me curl tighter into my own fur for comfort.
I dreamed that I was running with Dusk, our eyes were wild and scared. I looked behind us and saw four dark wolves chasing after us. They were giants like the shadows of monsters which parents told their pups. Their jaws spread wide with teeth that gleamed with red stains. The worst part of their entire form was that they were gaining on us.
I swirled around to look at the pup who was crying as the wind swept away his tears.
“Papa, I can’t run anymore.”
“Dusk, you can’t say that. Don’t you dare -” I turned around again to look at the wolves, who were smiling with their wide maws. They were closer now and nothing was stopping them.
I jumped over and grabbed the pup by the nape lifting him from the ground despite his weight and ran as fast as I could. I darted past trees and through shrubbery, trying my hardest to lose them but with no success, the wolves behind me continued to gain and I kept slowing down as my heart began to give out. Then suddenly I felt it.
The halt gripped me and I suddenly felt as a huge paw slammed into my back. Time was released and I slammed into the ground, losing my hold on the pup and flinging him away from me. He whined and yelped as he thudded against the ground. Coming to a stop a few yards away from me.
“Dusk!” I went to jump up but the paw of the wolf crushed into my back pinning me to the ground.
How many times will this happen to me, how many have I lost because I wasn’t strong enough to fight back against whatever pressing force was upon my back.
The black wolf leaned close to me right into my vision, teeth and saliva filling my vision, laughing at me.
“Papa!” My eyes darted to Dusk but before he could even do anything the figures of the black wolves crashed upon him like a great vortex of darkness.
I shut my eyes and turned away. I didn’t want to watch, I was a coward.
“Come come now,” The wolf who held me down smiled before me. “You can’t look away now, not when it’s just beginning.” The she wolf grabbed behind my ears with her fangs and pulled, sinking her teeth into my skin.
I yelped from the pain, as it shot through my body like a building fire. Dusk cried out in pain and I flinched in response, being met with even more pain.
“Let go of me,” I barked in panic and fear.
“No! My mate is putting on a show just for you,” She pulled back more on my skin and caused my eyes to peer open despite my efforts. “And you’re gonna watch it!” In a swift motion she swung my head towards the scene and held it there.
It was a grizzly scene as I was forced to watch these beasts tear the pup to shreds, gnawing at his limbs, and causing far more damage to his body even after it stopped moving and the cries stopped. The laughter of the female wolf echoed in my head, throughout my ears, all in a familiar kind of way.
I shot up onto all fours, awake from the nightmare. My heart was racing in a way that I never thought it could race and my paws shook with weakness. It all seemed so real. The pain, the sounds, the exhaustion.
A string of chilling laughter filled the room of the prison. I looked around, nobody was around besides Nail who slept soundly in the darkness. The laughter didn’t stop though, the very same laughter that was in the dream.
“Ha, ha, bravo. Bravo little Hage.” My ears followed the noise and I threw my head upwards to see the goddess of chaos laying with her paws crossed on the ceiling. Her entire body upside down in a casual manner.
“It’s incredible what the mind can think up,” She stood and stretched out her paws from her resting place. “One’s deepest fears and longings can follow them anywhere, but they only take form in sleep.”
“Why,” My voice was shaky. “Why won’t you stay out of my life?”
Apparently what I said caught her fancy and she began to laugh almost hysterically, but her voice was joined by another. A voice which was deep and grizzly, yet distant and bone chilling.
“Hage, you just don’t understand how entertaining you are.”
Dark wisps of shadow shot from the corners of the prison and collected beside the female, rising up as a figure with black fur and black eyes, his grinning teeth being the only shining quality.
I knew this beast, my mother told me stories of him when I was a pup. No doubt all parents did. He was the god of death, of the dead, the claimer of souls, and the hunter of the damned.
“Cerberus.” I backed a step away from directly below them.
The female smiled at my fear, I could feel her feeding upon it. She licked the jowls of the giant shadowy creature and kissed him on the shoulder.
“Tell me Hage,” The female cooed as she loved on her mate. “Are you afraid of me?”
I didn’t say anything and only took another step away.
“You should be. I can be whatever it is that you fear most. Anything you don’t want to know or remember, I will force upon you. I can open up the path into your worst thoughts,” A shadow slipped from her mates form and shot to the ground in front of me, forming into the head of my father. His eyes were rolled back into his head and blood spread from its base. “And I can drag them out into your view.”
I had to keep myself from vomiting at the sight, so much fear and anger filled my heart that it made me noxious. The head whipped back into shadow and swirled into the form of the goddess, her eyes glowing that fantastical red. She stepped towards me and I went to step back but realized my back was to the corner of the cage.
“So relax, get comfortable,” Her paw shot to my throat and lifted me onto my back paws, pressing my neck against the metal corner pole. I couldn’t breathe at all. I gasped and reached out to press against her, but my paws fazed right through her form.
The misty female leaned in to where her muzzle was right beside my ear. “We are going to have so much fun.”
My vision began to get fuzzy and I choked my own attempts for air. I thought I was going to die. The female’s breaths were hot in my ear and I thought she was going to tear away a piece of my face, but then she began to sing, she sung a lullaby. One that my mother sung to me as a pup. A mellow tune about a meadow, and the wolf god lovers. It was beautiful and it lulled my body as I lost feeling throughout it. I closed my eyes, and once again welcomed sleep.
I was afraid that when my eyes were closed I would be greeted with death, but instead I was met with life. The three pups laid against their mother. Snuggling wildly into her white belly, seeking out the food that they naturally knew was to be there. However, I could tell that no food existed. The pups were newly born, but despite that Gena’s belly was still thin, so was Charlie’s whose shoulder propped her head up to see their children.
All the dogs sat around these new pups, their mouths were sliced in different corners and no doubt some of their teeth were broken. All effects of an unescapable prison. Their ribs jutted out from their sides and they looked weak. Charlie especially seemed brittle in his stature. No doubt he gave his food to the female he cared for and the pups.
Gena turned into the males shoulder with teary eyes, she knew what she had to do in order to help the others. It was no doubt hard for her. She tried to keep from attachment, but the love between mother and pups is unavoidable, and it tore her apart.
Slowly Boris slid towards the female and her pups. He spread his teeth and leaned towards one of the pups at the outer rim of her teats. Charlie immediately jumped between the dog and the newborn. His fangs bared in a ferocious display and his eyes flaring up with protective nature.
“Don’t you dare!” He snarled, but his eyes softened immediately and he turned to his rump. Gena tugged at his side, grabbing a bit of his fur in her mouth.
“Charlie,” She said with eyes that spoke far more words than she could.
The male looked at her with ears flat against his head and his tail tucked. He obviously felt a connection for these pups more so than his mate. He stepped aside and allowed Boris to take the pup from its mother’s side.
He trotted to the corner of the prison to keep the others from seeing and he devoured the small pup. Charlie closed his eyes.
Lucky did the same to another of the pups. Taking it slowly from its mother and father before devouring it out of sight to keep from provoking a fight.
Gena slowly leaned over and took one of the pups into her teeth and lifted it to her mate. The child squirmed a bit and it hurt the mother deeply but she immediately forced the thoughts from her mind.
“Here,” She said lifting the pup close to her mate who opened his eyes to the pup in response. “You need your strength.”
Charlie looked to the pup that squirmed in fangs that were meant to be gentle and tender in their holding of the child. It looked almost exactly like him with its reds and browns and blacks. The pup made a muffled noise in its throat and whined a small whimper as it stuck out its tongue, wanting the taste of milk.
The male didn’t take the pup, he didn’t even touch it. He only licked the snout of his female and stood up.
“Protect him.” He said as a final word and he stepped towards the other dogs.
“Boris. Lucky. The last pup remains untouched.”
The two dogs looked to their cell mate.
“And what do you propose?” Boris licked his lips. Cleaning the blood of his kind away.
I didn’t see his answer. I didn’t see much of anything after that point, everything became blurry and distorted. As if it were a distant scent, one that was intentionally hiding itself from me. What I did see however was something sad, cruel, and heroic.
I saw Gena laying in the dark, the child snuggled into her side with its sealed eyes. She rocked herself back and forth to keep the pup comforted despite its hunger and hummed a mellow note to it in the darkness.
Another dog stepped up to her from the darkness with golden fur and remorse. Gena looked up to him with eyes that were streamed with tears.
“The pup needs to eat. You know he does.” Lucky said quietly in the dark and laid a slab of meat before her. One that was stringy from the weeks of hunger and starvation.
Gena looked to the pup who she had wanted to be rid of before her heart grew to him. The pup with the oranges, and browns, and blacks and she had to hold herself from sobbing.
She nodded in agreement to her cell mate. Taking the meat before her, she ate it for the pup.
That next day Vinator came to the prison with two other pursuers. He grinned when he looked at me and I slammed myself against the bars of the prison biting at the links ferociously. I just wanted him to make a move on me, I would tear his eyes out. However, he wasn’t there for me.
“Take the metal user,” The masked wolf barked as an order to his wolves. “Rodon won’t stop us from hurting this poor sap.”
Nail stood and his nape rose on his back. His lips curled back revealing the glistening teeth that they kept hidden. “Try me.”
The pursuers looked at one another and smiled as Vinator motioned for his associate to unlike the latch. One that could only be done from the outside. The moment the latch clicked, it was just like the strategy before.
Nail used a burst of speed and slammed into the door, smashing it into the face of the pursuer. Immediately he followed up slipping between the gap to freedom. Using the last bit of momentum he placed all four feet to the floor and pushed off the ground towards Rodon’s throat and I used the halt.
“Quite the fighters, these metal users,” Vinator said from between the seconds. “They move quickly and simply. Aiming for a blow that will no doubt incapacitate an enemy.” His prideful tone was at its peak when he knew he had won. It is where he best shined. “Just imagine Hage, if he had that blade of his. All three of us would probably be dead.”
“I want that pleasure.” I snarled and licked my teeth under a growling tone.
The wolf only laughed under his breath. “So many have said those same words for decades. They said the same thing to your father. Your real father.”
“What would you know?”
Gods I hated that smile. The one that seemed to grow. He made me feel worse than angry, he actually made me feel inferior to him. “Ask Fana about the white wolf.”
In a slick motion he grabbed the Nail by the neck and slammed him into the ground. When we released time, Nail didn’t move. The force didn’t kill him, but it hurt far worse than much pain any wolf had felt.
Rodon looked to the wolf who clutched his snout from the blow and growled at him. “If he had gone for your throat, I’d have let him have his way.”
The pursuer whined at the insult and took his paws away from his nose which throbbed with rushing blood. He grabbed hold of Nails back leg and began to pull him from the prison with the help of his accomplice.
Nail looked at me with a pained expression. He wouldn’t dare ask for help. His pride wouldn’t allow it, and I knew I couldn’t give it. Vinator knew it too and his grin only grew as he followed the toy out of the prison doors.
I sat back upon my haunches, my heart racing from staying in the halt so long. I took in my breaths slowly and precisely to keep myself conscious. My mind moved at the same mellow speed, lingering on what I had heard.
He said decades, I thought to myself. Decades…
I looked to the door of the prison and thought of two things that made my anger boil up inside me. I snarled at the door and wished that I could fight or die against that pursuer. I thought of Dusk, and I thought of Fana.
“What the hell do you mean?” The black wolf with the white skull barked.
“I mean what I say. You should raise the pup to be a Fang.” The old wolf responded. His fur was long and gray and the length formed almost a small beard on his chin.
“Raise the pup? Do you know what you’re saying?”
“I know precisely what I’m saying. It’s the way it needs to be. He is to play a vital role -”
“I didn’t choose to be the next Fang! My father forced it upon me! I won’t force the life on him.” Fang barked at the old wolf. For years he had been the protector of his two packs. He was the one standing against the pursuers. He was the royal guard. He was the symbol of a hero who never died; however, he was a hero against his will, and he was not immortal.
“Do you truly think that you can argue against me? As if I’m wrong?” the old wolf chuckled at his friend’s foolishness. The two knew each other very personally. In fact, every Fang knew the old wolf. For generations, he had been the one to teach them the pursuer’s weaknesses.
Fang stared at the wolf with a stern look of disagreement, he knew he could not defeat the wolf in a battle of will.
“Fine, I will house the brat. I won’t raise him.” He scowled.
“The moment he quits, he is done. No coming back.”
“You’re a stubborn ass of a god. You know that?”
Canis smiled. “I do.”