Chapter 3: Off to the Races
The gathering area was crowded when we arrived. Naturally, we were a little late as was the way when you had to chorale seven crazy pups, but the early morning light still streamed through the trees.
I was a little cross because I had stayed up all night selecting the art pieces that would be displayed today. I needed to make a good impression to the northern alphas if they were going to continue to send provisions to support the Orphanage. I was proud of my work, but I was honestly a little apprehensive having all these people see and judge my paintings.
Feeling very small, we made our way through the front gate to view the open field. There were voices buzzing with excitement all around us. It was really amazing that they were able to get all this set up in a few short months. The dedicated fairgrounds were large with areas set aside for all sorts of competitive games, from archery, to wrestling, to sword fighting, to weightlifting.
The entire back half of the arena was set aside for a large track, tilted off the ground along the back edge so the spectators could see the runners as they made the back lap. This is where the first event would be held, and most of the alphas were already rumored to be signed up.
While brute strength and cunning were hallmark traits of an alpha, the speed of their wolf was the basis for determining the victor in a number of ways. So a race was the perfect way to start off the games.
Making our way through the crowds, I joined the other northern orphans at my art display to the right side, just before the stands set up as seating for the races. Fumbling with the clips on one of my larger paintings, I jumped as I heard a booming voice call me name. “Red! That cannot be my little sister is all grown up!”
Turning just in time for Jac to rush up, enveloping me in a hug that lifted me off the ground. Laughing, I swatted at his hold. “Jac, oh my gosh, I’ve missed you!” I hugged him in return.
Jac was the only orphan older than me, we spent much of my teenage years terrorizing each other as only siblings could until he decided he needed to venture out and ‘find himself’ four years ago. We received letters from him like clockwork but he did not tell us that he would be joining the packs for the games.
Smiling, I spotted Rose and Dan approaching us with awestruck expressions. With tears in her eyes Rose enveloped him in a tight hug, while Dan moved over to stand by me with a smirk on his face. Mara, Diego, Cole and Chase were quickly surrounding Jac in joyous laughter.
“You knew didn’t you?” I questioned, eyeing Dan out of the corner of my vision.
“Well you know how hard it is to surprise your mother, I thought this would be the perfect present.” He said smiling while watching Rose gush over how Jac had grown and changed in the years he was away.
“Come on, or we’re going to miss the start of the races!” Jac exclaimed, pulling Rose forward with her arm wrapped in his.
Dan turned to me, “I’ll watch over the gallery, you go have fun, like a kid for once,” he chided.
I nodded thanking him before turning to follow Jac and the group of older siblings.
Suddenly an indescribable smell caught my attention, I lifted my nose gently to the breeze trying to figure out the direction of the source of that scent. It was sharp like the first breath of winter but soft like the smell of the forest after a snowfall.
It tickled my nose as I inhaled, but just as quickly as the passing wind, it disappeared. Follow it, my wolf commanded, deep within me. There’s nothing to follow, it’s gone already. I replied crossly.
That was strange, I thought to myself, shaking my head. I followed along before I lost them in the crowd.
Finding seats in the stands several rows up, a booming voice called through the crowd drawing our attention to the center of the track. There stood Alpha Atlas, and his Luna Margaret. Next to her stood a shorter woman, with shoulder length brown hair and deep brown eyes. I presumed she was Orion’s mate, but he was not on stage with his father.
“Welcome all to the opening of our first gathering of the Northern packs. You are here to show the world that we are stronger together, and to enter into a union that will ensure peace and prosperity for all future generations of wolves.” The crowd cheered.
“But enough of politics, you are all here to meet new brethren, create bonds that will surpass the miles that separate our lands and bridge the horizons of what we previously thought of as our separate communities. Thank you all for coming, and let the games begin!” Atlas finished with a shout.
At the end of his words a chorus of piercing howls reverberated throughout the stands and several of the largest wolves I had ever seen bounded out of a large tent that served as the preparation room for the races participants.
There were five in total, two were a dull brown, one was a golden blonde with light brown streaks, one was deep black with gray flecks and one was pure white. They were all exceptionally large, but the black and white wolves stood a few inches taller than the rest. The black wolf was all brawn, with a large wide set frame. The white wolf was just as tall but had lean rippling muscle, as if he was made for speed.
The wolves took their positions at the starting line at the opposite side of the track, and with a loud bang they jumped forward almost too fast for me to follow.
As they rounded the first corner that smell hit me again, just a whiff then it disappeared. I searched around me, becoming frustrated with my own senses. To no avail, the source of the mouthwatering scent was gone. I sighed to myself, trying to focus on the dizzying pace of the racing wolves.
Cole and Chase were happily chattering away, making bets with Jac on who would win. Diego was signing to Mara who was entranced by the spectacle, she seemed so happy and with her childlike excitement I could see Diego was happy too.
Focusing ahead of me, I could see that the two brown wolves were lagging to the back, close behind the blonde wolf. The black and white wolves were neck and neck taking the lead, they were distancing themselves from the rest, as if they were the only two in the race.
As they whooshed by, the smell returned, stronger this time, making me dizzy. I shook my head and closed my eyes, Rose touched my arm besides me. “Are you ok, Red? You look a little pale.” She said, her voice full of concern. “I’m fine, just a little dizzy from all the people.” I said smiling weakly.
Inhaling, there is was again, this time it overwhelmed me causing me to sway in my seat. “Are you sure honey, maybe I should go get you some water?”
“No, you stay with Jac and the others, I’ll be right back.” I said shaking my head, I stood to leave, focusing on my feet making my way through the dense row and down the steep steps of the stands.
Suddenly I heard a few people gasp, lifting my head I stared straight into the striking blue eyes of the white wolf, who had come to a complete stop on the track right across from where I was standing.
My breath caught in my throat as I returned his stare, blue piercing eyes boring into mine. Suddenly the blond wolf raced past him, breaking the trance.
Taking a step towards me, he shook his head before leaping back into the race, now running impossibly fast along the track. Gasping for breath, I rushed out of the stands but it didn’t seem to help. Frantic panic swept over me as all the people around seemed to be suffocating. I have to get out of here, I thought as I all but raced towards the entrance of the field.
Emerging past the front gate, I took a deep breath, my eyes scanning the trees for somewhere, anywhere I could go to be alone. Seeing a footpath I was familiar with, I quickly headed away from the commotion as I heard the loud speakers call in the distance “And in a stunning upset, Alpha Luca is the winner-”
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