The celebration lasted through most of the fire lit night. Wolves of all ages and furs pranced and feasted in merriment. Pups played games amongst themselves and the adults courting and becoming intimate. They howled songs of victory from their ancestors and songs in respect of the earth and the afterlife only they themselves could comprehend.
Though when the moon reached close to the end of the horizon, the celebration died down and the pack gathered to the sacred grounds in the forest where the very few of the pack shamans were giving the dead their rites. Four great rocks also stood for meeting between the four main packs.
The Dusksand, who dwell among the dry basin above the southern mountains. The barren sands molded them into formidable trackers able to find any living or dead thing. They would most likely help the other packs in exchange for an extra surplus of food and water.
The Swiftrun, who live in the northern tundra. Their furs thick enough to block the fiercest blizzards and harshest winters. They live in few numbers compared to the other packs and usually only came during the winters when the weather was better suited for them.
The Floodwaters, living on the other side of the Eastern Mountains to the sea. Their land was plentiful of rivers and tall pines. Masterful swimmers, their land had given them plenty of fish and prey. So they would usually allow other packs to hunt their territory.
Last as you know the Clearshadows, dwelling in the caves of the eastern mountains overlooking a forest of thick oaks. Their eyes could see anything in the thick of fog or any weather, and could recognize any animal, terrain, and action seen.
The leaders and their bloodlines went to their places upon the rocks awaiting for the gathering to begin. Camien stood behind his father though both felt uncomfortable with the empty spot that was now present. Veridia sat at Camien's side. Azerfere had no time to clean himself, and his wounds still bled drip by drip. He had the option to not attend the gathering, but as a leader and the cougars attacking his territory, he felt obligated to show himself.
Once the Alphas of the four packs took their place on their rocks. A clearshadow shaman stepped to the ring to address the packs.
"This gathering is to order." the old cur announced. The pack bowed their heads to silence as the rites of the dead began "This night, we've emerged victorious at the cost of our kin's blood. We have celebrated and feasted, but they should not be forgotten for their sacrifice." some of the Clearshadows, like Camien, felt sorrow with those words knowing that Liden was among those leaving, to reside with her dead kin in the afterlife.
"As the living all we can do for the dead is honor them and wish upon them peace in the next life. They will join our great protector, Krytonia, in the sky above to the moon. Watching over us. Guiding us. Death is only a mere setback in the grand scheme of life which is to be accepted after all of our life is given up."
The shamen howled to the night sky followed by the Alphas and the rest of the pack. The howls were controlled in different pitches and volumes spinning the mournful melody along the sounds of the wind. It had no meaning in words other than how it sounded. It's messing still ran deep to the souls of the packs. Songs they knew by heart learned when they were all cubs.
When the song ended, the shaman went back up to address the four Alphas and the nobles that came with them. All others were sent back to likely to continue the celebration at the bonfire. It was not their place to stay here unless noted, but the Alphas agreed to a more private meeting. Veridia and Juliet went along with them as neither served no purposed in private councils.
By the time the last of the wolves not needed were out of sight, the shaman nodded to the Alphas and took a place near the rock Azerfere sat.
"Now," Azerfere began "the cougars again, have treaded into our territory again. As we know the first pack they attacked were the Dusksand; which proves your theory wrong Jet." attention turned to the Floodwaters Alpha "This was not a matter of food. If it was they've tried to get to use first."
"No, but as the Dusksand have told us, being closer to their territory, they have noticed fewer prey in their area. Not to mention sights of cougars cannibalizing; a sign of famine."
"Exactly," a Dusksand exclaimed "but our prey was very few. They could have simply went straight for you Clearshadows and Floodwaters."
"So it was for territory then." a burly coated wolf declared. He sat very uninterested and tired on the Swiftrun rock. "None should really be a surprise."
Omi of the Dusksand growled in fury "How would you know then?" he snarled "You live far up north. You only have to deal with loners and bears." The Swiftrun rolled his eyes and let out a yawn to prepare speaking. He stood closer to the edge of his rock and explained.
"No but I still take the time to observe. First, cougars hate us. It's always been like that. Second, the cougar prides are bunched together, sharing little land causes fights amongst them. Cannibalism can be expected even from us too. And third, need for territory always leads back to the need for food. The more food a land provides the more it is fought over."
"That still proves my own point that the prides are in search for food."
"You do not listen well." The Swiftrun sighed at the Dusksand's remark. "Why do you even bother." he muttered under his breath "They seek land with food, at the same time they wish to ruin us."
"Still they could have gone after us first." Jet of the Floodwaters' said. "Our lands run fertile with prey. It is definitely worth starting a war with us."
"Tell that to the wolves who died to keep you safe." Azerfere spat. "Hunger can drive any animal to desperation. Whose to say famine was among us and the Floodwaters denied us access to their prey?" Whispers exchange between the wolves regarding the very aspect of a secession between the packs. Jet wasn't pleased with that comment.
"Azerfere, what are you suggesting?" Jet growled. The two's eyes met with the intensity to spark a fire. Azerfere looked in and saw what lied in Jet's mind. He was scared. Jet knew his fellow pack couldn't hold their own if another pack had declared war on them. Not without protection that is. That's what he and the other packs have done for generations.
Azerfere had no problem helping the packs, but the cost of his pack in his lifetime had tested his patience with the Floodwaters. They barely fought in any conflict they were involved in and the Clearshadows always had to protect them. It cost Azerfere's father, his siblings, and now his mate. If he wanted his son and his children to die he would prefer it would be for their own pack and not another's.
"If my pack is to lay down their lives for your hide Jet I expected your pack to fight along side me." Azerfere continued speaking ill of the Floodwaters. Everything he said infuriated Jet and the Floodwater nobles with insults of cowardice and greed. Camien wasn't pleased with his father but refused to say anything. Both sides snarled and exchanged insults of their own to each other. Though everything Azerfere said, Jet knew was true. They've been hiding behind the Clearshadows. They rarely fought any of their own battles. Azerfere could see all the denial and fear from his eyes to his soul. Everything Jet said he tried to silence him and gain the defense of the other packs.
"Azerefere!" The burly Swiftrun Alpha stood up, and pounce from his rock bounding towards Azerfere.
Azerfere stopped growling and calmed down. For a moment he almost lost it. If Montonia hadn't stopped him, he would have tore Jet's throat out. Still, he just didn't like how Jet and the former Floodwater Alphas have been leading. They kept to themselves and never got involved in fights. And they expect him and his own pack to lay their lives when trouble came.
The others wolves quieted down, but the tension remained between them. Montonia, Jet, Azerfere went back to their rocks to hopefully and quickly end the gathering.
"Now," Omi from the Dusksand cleared his throat. The Dusksand stayed mostly quiet throughout the argument. They weren't cowardly, more just didn't want to cause trouble. "Can we talk about what we should do next?"
"Yes Omi." Montonia responded. Both thankful that they were able to move on. "Does your pack have any ideas?"
Omi suggested to giving the cougars the river north of their land that runs into the corner of the Clearshadow territory. Azerfere immediately shot it down claiming the river was too important to give up. It was one of the only water sources between the Dusksand and Clearshadow territory, and giving the cougars the river, as well as the land around it, Would give the cougars opportunities to attack them closer to their homes.
"Who says we give it to them?" Montonia supported Omi's suggestion. He often found the Dusksand to be incompetent in decision making, but their bad ideas, to him, inspired much better ones. "Just give them access. No one will lose territory. We do it in the north from time the time."
The wolves began whispering to each other taking the idea into consideration. They could encourage the cougars to use the river, but they wouldn't know how they would react to any of the restrictions they would put on them. It could be the best solution, but it would be risky to do.
Some wolves began to notice the time that had passed and that soon the dawn would come. They decided to put in their votes now with one of the two options: Keep everything as it is for now, or allow the cougars onto Clearshadow and Dusksand territory for hunting purposes.
The nobles and elders of the packs had moments to talk it over amongst themselves before they picked up a stone in their mouths to vote. The Alphas would usually speak for the pack and their own votes would be the value of five, but the pack still had their own opinions to be made. Their vote still would be counted, but their presence were just there to help make the decision.
A couple of wolves picked the stones by the mouth and dropped them in the two rings made by the shaman. One to give cougars access to the river and one to not. At first only a few were quick to make up their minds, but as time passed more and more came to their decision and dropped a stone into one of the rings. Eventually, the Alphas casted stones bearing the mark of their own pack, giving five votes to whatever choice they've made.
Azerfere and Jet voted NO while the other Alphas agreed to give more land to the cougars.
The leaders casted many glances at each other while the shaman had counted the stones each wolf had set in a circle. The shaman lifted her head up and looked at everyone. "The final decision has been made..." She declared to everyone in the gathering. The packs gave the shaman their undivided attention.
"The cougars shall have access to the southern river." many howls erupted in agreement from those who had voted yes leaving the others giving very irked and disappointed expressions before they too joined the howl.
As soon as the council among the packs was over, they all dispersed and headed back to the Clearshadow camp to begin the journey back to their own lands.
The packs bided their farewells to the Clearshadows as they left. As they did a certain business was quickly taken care of.
Slycoats, or as they called themselves weasels, were an odd race whose location in the land is hidden. They were also known to be very quiet, very sly creatures making excellent assassin's or scouts. Wide-Eyes, or owls, were very few in number, but very knowledgeable. They were mainly neutral to all species acting as messangers, advisors, and negotiators. It was them who suggested the idea to the wolves of sharing land with the cougars.
The owl representative was especially glad to hear the council's decision.
"I'm very glad on the outcome Azerfere." one owl was especially glad to hear the packs' decision "Hopefully you creatures could get along better after this."
"So dats what's goin' on eh?" a rusted colored weasel remarked. He was told by Azerfere personally of the events that ufolded in the night and the decision made by the packs. He was accompanied by four other Slycoats waiting to be send off to carry their message. "Y'sure bout' it?"
"There's no arguing. That packs have spoken." sighed Azerfere, still winded out and heavily scarred "When can you tell the cougars about this?"
"I'll personally see to it that the message will be passed down to their lands. A messanger should be there in a matter of days. Once again Azerfere, this is definitely the best route to take in this matter."
Azerfere nodded to the owl. "Good. As for you Slycoat, what business do you have here in my land?" he turned his attention the the weasel waiting irritatingly patient.
"Notin' much. We'd already gotten what we need ta know on this whole cougar fighting. The Grand Kizade was all curious bout the next Alpha of your pack."
"All the packs?"
"Well, no. Jus yours. You been Alpha for'while and curious whether or not you'd be... ya know... dead." the weasel struggled to let loose the knot in it's throat meet the soul shattering gaze of Azerfere's eyes and bearing fangs. "Now, now. I'm just the, uh, messenger, uh, I.... um.... er.... not my toughts..... ya know...."
"Tell Kizade I plan to give my title up two moon cycles now," Azerfere turned to walk away leaving the wide-eye and slycoats with Camien "and tell him that my son Camien will compete for the title of Alpha."
Camien was taken back by the sudden decision. He didn't have to annouce this to the council earlier, but it was still something he wouldn't decide out of the blue.
"Well Camien," the slycoat brush his fur after being relieved of his terrifying encounter "feel like you can andle bein' a leader."
"Not the way you think Feldser." he admitted "I'm more concerned with the process. There will be other wolves competing to be alpha. All of them strong, wise, and brave. I'm not afraid to face any of them, but they are all from the pack, wolves I know."
"Ya wolves got some guts rippin' each udder apart ta be the top dog. Back home, things 'ave done more politically. I swear if I'd tussle with Kizade I'd be running things underground."
"Well I guess things here can't all be handled more civil." the wide-eye sighed "Now I should be off. I wish you luck Camien, and congratulations for you and your mate."
It took a moment for Camien to realize what he meant and thanked him. ", but the pups haven't come yet." he said.
"Just a friendly gesture." he stretched his wings and took of in the twilight sky.
Camien was left with Feldser and the two slycoats who awkwardly awaited to be relieved.
"Yeah, so good luck wit your pups and being leader (try not to die on me)." he started to scurry back into the forest. The two other weasels followed behind him until he soon stopped and called back to Camien. "I'll be back in a week for our lil' chat time! I'll be shore to bring that sweet nectar ya like!"
Camien's mouth watered thinking about the brew slycoats made. It was an intoxicating drink unlike any other. He or any other wolf didn't really know how they make it, all he knew was that it felt good drinking it. He wished he could've had one on hand all the time.
However now wasn't the time to be thinking about a leisurely talk while getting tanked. He had more on his mind than the hairs on his body. With his pups on the way, he also had to prepare for the events ahead if he expected to become alpha of the Clearshadows.
Camien only had a few hours of sleep the next morning before he was waken to perform his duties around the Dens. His father though was in poor condition and sat in his spot resting the entire day alone. With the previous battle left in the past, life among the Clearshadows went on as it did in its times of peace.
Not without a bit of sorrow that hung in the air, but most of the pack have learned it best to not linger on matters of mourning or pity.
Shamans performed the daily rites to the earth itself carried on to respect to it's creation and giving a home to the living. Hunters such as Camien went to provide fresh meat for the pack as well as the planters tended to the small patches of herbs and crops.
After the day ended again, the wolves gathered to their Dens to have their dinner, and the Shamans began their nightly rites to the Alpha of all Wolves, Krytonia, who eternally lived in the moon with those who passed on.
That night Camien slept more soundly with his mate Veridina. They were curled up in an embrace with his head upon her stomach and listened. He heard the heartbeat of his mate those of the pups she bore. Soon he thought of the day that will come when they are born, and the days they will grow to be the future of the pack. The time he'll spend with them. Teaching the ways of the pack and wisdom of the world as his father did.
The rhythmic pattern of Veridina's heart lulled him deeper into sleep. She herself was already asleep. Camien always knew how much of a heavy sleeper she was and her pregnancy only made here even more sluggish at times.
Darker and darker his eyes became and mind cleared and fell asleep with the last sound being the thump of a heartbeat.
He never expected many dreams, but often wished for just the blackness lead him to the next day when he wakes up rejuvenated. It felt quick peaceful and no risk of any nightmares. It felt like only seconds of black void before he shot his eyes open to the morning. Veridia still slept so he carefully removed himself from the pile made from them sleeping against each other not to wake her.
He crawled out from their den in the mountain and took in the morning sun from the horizon and it's welcoming warmth, and stretched his stiff limbs. Today was looked to be another mundane yet peaceful day for him. Days like these could present the unexpected and lead to some new exciting adventure in life.
That's until he remembered he had to prepare to take his father's place in the pack if he planned to step down soon. No, he decided to start training for the trials to become Alpha. If he was going to participate he'd need to be the strongest, the most cunning, and wiser than those pitted against him. Only one wolf in the pack could help him and only him prepare for such ordeals, and was his father.