My breaths come out in silent pants as I sprint through the forest, using my smaller form to my advantage as I run through the underbrush. My claws dig into the wet dirt as I use it for grip to propel me forward as I chase after the rogue wolf, the scent of blood making my lips curl in a silent snarl.
Panting breaths and barely-audible footsteps of the wolves behind me tell me that my squadron is attempting to keep up with my fast pace. They’re faster than the rest of the pack wolves—one of the reasons as to why they’ve chosen to become trackers—though they have nothing on my natural speed. Being a runt tends to have its perks.
I slow down as I catch a view of the hulking rogue by one of the rivers lining the southern pack border. We’re quite a few hours outside of the pack’s land, though he may believe that he’s safe considering he’s been running continuously for hours on end and hasn’t seen hide nor hair of us. Most other pack trackers tend to either catch the rogue before they enter no man’s land, or give chase for an hour or two until they’ve gone too far past their pack’s borders.
Not my pack, though.
“The rogue’s up ahead,” I speak through the mindlink. All pack squadrons have separate mindlinks from the general packlink. Parents and pups have these separate links, too, though those are natural unlike the hand-linked groups inside packs. “Quiet your footsteps and watch where your paws go,” I order them.
Half of the wolves show their dislike at my giving orders with mental growls or just emotion, though I ignore them. I’ve been in this squadron longer than half of them have and I’ve just recently been promoted to second in command. They’re a bit jealous.
I shake off the sting of their unjust dislike at me as I crouch through the underbrush. The scent of blood is getting heavier in the air and I can tell that the majority isn’t the wolf’s own. It’s from one of my pack members, James, who he killed. Which is coincidentally the reason as to why we’re hunting him down for trial. Trackers are rarely allowed to kill rogues on sight unless we’re ordered to or a squadmate’s life is at stake, so we usually leash them and drag them back to the cells to wait out their impending doom. I have no problem with that. A rogue killed my friend.
My golden eyes examine the wolf. His dark colored fur is matted with rusty liquid and his one hind leg is held up in pain. It makes me feel better that James got a few bites in before getting bested in the fight. I can still feel the thrum the packlink has when a pack member has been killed.
The rogue’s taking frenzied laps at the cool river water as he refreshes himself, his ears stiff and alert. He knows that we don’t stop tracking until we’ve brought the wolf back, dead or alive, I think to myself. This may get interesting.
The wolf’s ears flicker around as he searches for us. I stand stalk-still, hunched in on myself so he won’t see me. Though, he’s searching for the larger more regular sized wolves. Not a small runt with distance training.
“He thinks he’s lost us,” I whisper to the group as the wolf continues lapping at the river, a little less rushed than before without the show of a threat. “Remember your places?”
The squadron sends assertion down the link as my eyes don’t leave the wolf. A small twitch of my tail and the squadron moves. Two females move to the left and three males move to the right. The one male will move across the bend in the river so that we can completely box the rogue in for capture. Once he’s boxed in, he’ll have nowhere to go and then it’ll be up to us to rope him in. He’s going to get a little aggressive. The blood staining his pelt proves so.
I keep tabs on my squadron as their steps aren’t completely silent, despite the wet soil and damp leaves. I begin to crawl forward slowly as I get ready to launch the attack. “Everyone in place?” I question the wolves hiding in the thick forest.
“We’re ready,” comes the voices of the two females to my left.
“Got it,” one of the two males states. A second afterward the second male responds and I await the voice of the third wolf, the one completing the box.
“Conner?” I question the lone male.
“I’m in po—” the light grey wolf’s voice is cut off by the muted snap of a wet stick. The rogue’s head snaps in the direction of where Conner’s supposed to be hidden and I jump into action.
“Close in!” I yell at the rest of the squadron, ducking under a branch as I jump onto the river bank. I bow down and snarl at the wolf as the rest of the squadron charges with growls of their own, curling their lips to show sharp fangs.
The rogue stands tall with his ears pinned to his skull, flashing his own pair of bloodied fangs. I stand as tall as I can as we circle around the rogue. He tries to sprint through the swiftly closing open gaps and I pounce on his pack, digging my claws into his pelt. My teeth ensnare his scruff as he unsuccessfully attempts to buck me off.
One of the larger males has already shifted and is approaching the wolf. My head whips back and forth as I tear the skin of the rogue’s scruff in an attempt to weaken him. He growls in pain and whips his head around, my small size keeping me out of reach of his gnashing teeth. Before my packmate can wrap the noose-like leash around the rogue’s neck, he rolls over.
My breath is forced out of me by the rogue’s heavy weight. Even with the infrequent meals of being a lawless wolf, he still weighs more than me. I cover a whine with a growl as a rock digs into my side, instead choosing to kick at the wolf’s soft and vulnerable underbelly.
He’s thrown off me and into the hands of my squadmate, who’s looped the snare around his neck. “Thanks,” I thank him, shaking out my fur to try and rid myself of the stinging pain in my ribs. It’s the kind of pain that’ll fade within a few minutes, though I know that it’s going to bruise since runts heal two times slower than regular pack wolves and we bruise easily.
My packmate nods at me and continues looping snares around the struggling wolf’s neck, passing a rope to each wolf in the squadron. Once all of the ropes have been passed out—and we’re pulling the rope tight to not give the rogue some slack to attack us—I begin to lead us home.
It had taken us nearly three hours of straight-up running to make it this far and it’s going to take over double that to even make it pass pack borders, and another hour to make it to where the cells are located.
Since we all have to run back in a large group, I’m forced to make detours where all of us can maneuver without the rogue somehow getting loose or attacking us. It’s going to be a long day.
I growl softly as I sense Conner walk closer to me. He bends his head down with pinned ears and falls behind to where he originally was behind everyone else. He knows he’s in trouble for making us rush the attack and capture, and he knows that if he pushes me any further that I’ll tear him a new one. Not only that but he knows that I’ll be speaking with our squadron leader when we make it back to the pack.
Mack will most likely be assigning him more training time or he’s going to suspend him from squadron duties for a while since he’s so new to the tracking occupation. Usually, once wolves become of age, fourteen years old, they’ll shadow a few wolves to learn about different pack duties that they’re interested in—like guard duty, warrior training, cooking, tracking, scouting, et cetera. Once they know which job they want to do, they’ll begin actual training when they’re between the ages of sixteen and eighteen.
I had known immediately what I wanted to do since my body and abilities fit that of a tracker, but apparently, Conner switched from a few different jobs before deciding to become a tracker. He’s the newest to the squadron and is one of the newest to the trackers as a whole. It’s actually quite odd that he’s only been in two other squadrons before being moved up to this squadron—squadron number three.
Generally, when a wolf finishes their training, they’re the newest, youngest, and most inexperienced of the group. They’ll have to work hard to climb the ladder chain to make it into such a prime position of Squadron Leader or Second. It’s taken me three years to even join this squadron, let alone become a Second of said squadron.
The top five squadrons in the pack are the best, while the other ones are typically equal in ability despite what number they are. I had moved from squadron twelve to squadron fifteen to squadron seven to squadron thirty and so on and so forth until I was approved to join one of the higher squadrons.
So, it’s a little odd that such a recent-graduate joined one of the highest level squadrons without being out of the academy for half a year. I suspect that it’s made him too confident and I’ve caught him showing off on numerous occasions. Perhaps some punishment will tack down that ego of his? I think to myself just as we break through the trees.
I slow us down to a slow trotting speed as I head straight towards my Alpha, Alpha Quill. His eyes are on the blood-stained rogue as we approach and I bet he can’t wait until the trial is over. A court official from the King’s Court will be visiting us to conduct the trial before the rogue is ultimately convicted of murder and is either thrown in the pack jail, is brought back to the King’s cells, or is killed for his crimes.
I’m pretty sure everyone in the pack would love to see the wolf dead and possibly get a chunk of him beforehand. James was a wolf that everyone in the pack knew and he was well-liked. I considered him a friend despite barely knowing him and I’m quite confident that the rogue will be killed for his crimes. He messed with the wrong warrior and the wrong pack.
“Squadron three,” Alpha Quill addresses us as we come to stop. We angle our heads to the side in submission but don’t lessen our hold on the rogue. That would be a pup’s mistake. “You have succeeded in your hunt. Congratulations. You have made me, your pack, and your blood proud.”
My tail threatens to sway as I hear that I’ve made him proud. I am a simple wolf with simple pleasures. The pride of my Alpha is one of those pleasures. Alpha Quill nods towards Beta Reade and tall broad-shouldered man moves forward to grab the ends of the leads from us. He steps back when they’re all gathered and heads straight into the pack jail to put the exhausted rogue in a cell.
I suppose running for your life for three hours and then running all the way back for seven or so more hours does that, I think to myself in petty amusement.
Alpha Quill turns back to us and I can see the pride glimmering in his eyes. “You are all dismissed. Dinner will be finished soon.” I bow to my Alpha, like everyone else, before trotting towards the packhouse.
“Ever?” Alpha Quill calls to me through mindlink. I stop and turn towards him, my head cocked to the side in askance. “Good job today. You’ll make a good Squadron Leader someday.”
I allow my tail to wag now that I don’t have an audience before bowing down in respect, one paw stretched out in front of me and the other curled up to my chest. “Thank you, Alpha,” I tell him. He nods to me and I take my leave.