Challenge Day 2: Transition (word bank substitution for Renewal, though it could be Renewal too)
The winter was always hard, Lunan reflected, peering out of the den he shared with his mate, Celestia. Harder still that she was now in the last days of her pregnancy with their first pups. There had been many nights when he went without food from his hunts to ensure she had enough and thus their unborn offspring had enough. He'd had to take whatever he could find, scavenge and dig and a couple of times even lower himself to fishing clumsily in half-frozen streams.
But at last, his diligence was being rewarded. The icicles he could always see from their den were dripping and the breeze that stirred his fur was no longer bitter and icy. Winter was releasing its hold. The thaw had come.
"It will be good to see the sun again," Celestia commented from the warm back of the den, raising her head from her paws. Her mate returned to her side and nuzzled her.
"The clouds are thinning already," he told her. "You might see the sun today." She sighed happily and lay back down.
"A new season, and new life. Our pups will be born soon." Lunan couldn't help the thrill those words brought. He was eager to become a father.
"I will go hunt," he told her. "Perhaps the prey is awake."
"Good luck, my mate." She licked his muzzle for luck and he softly huffed a farewell. He wouldn't go far - he never did lately, too concerned for his mate's safely in her current state - but hoped when he returned it would be with a nice rabbit, her favorite meal.
Stepping outside the den he praised to sniff the air. There was no accent of any dangers such as the other wolves he had heard the night before singing to the full early spring moon. He knew they were denning on the edge of their territory but as of yet hasn't encountered any of them. Soon it would happen, he knew, but for now he pushed the concern to the back of his mind. There was no scent of prey either - no surprise there so close to a wolf's den - but he knew a place where he'd scented rabbit before. The snow crunched under his paws and chilled his pads. His breath clouded in the air but all around he heard and smelled and saw the change from one season to another. Shoots of grass and early flowers peaked their way up through the snow. Birds he hasn't heard in months were singing above his head safe in their branches. Reaching a stream he bent his head to take a drink from length free from ice that was wider than it had been just the day before. A lump of snow fell from a branch above and thudded onto his back. Lunan growled as he straightened from the stream and shook himself vigorously all over.
"Ug, that I will *never* get used to," he grumbled to himself a he brought himself to task. "Alright, let me see..." Moving a bit away from the steam he bent his head and sniffed, searching for one trail or another. He had to wander a bit before he caught a scent of rabbit on a few new shoots, seeing the places where they'd nibbled the young greens. A canine grin opened his jaws. "There you are." Sniffing and waking quietly he tracked the hare to the edge of a clearing where he stopped. Here in the open the snow was far more melted as the ground was exposed to the faint, first beams of sunlight that fought their way through the clouds. Training has his eyes skimming around, searching, searching - there! Crouched beside a rock grooming its face was a small brown rabbit. In another moon cycle or so it's fur would blend in against the ground and tree trunks but now it's movements drew Lunan's eyes. A sniff of the air, vowing slightly towards him he was pleased to notice, told him there was only a small if fresh scent of the creature. Good, there wasn't likely to be a warren nearby for it to bolt down into. Still the wolf was taking no chances. He edged around until he would be coming up behind yet still downwind of his prey and crouched low, stalking forwards. Each pawstep was carefully placed, ears listening for anything that could alert the skittish creature of his approach or scare it off. He froze briefly as the rabbit lifted it's head abruptly. How Lunan wished Celestia was able to hunt with him! They had long ago mastered how to hunt as a team. But she wouldn't be able to hunt again for moons from now, when their pups would be old enough to join them or at least be trusted to stay quiet and safe at the den. Shaking himself mentally from his thoughts he braced, letting the rabbit settle back, then judging the distance close enough rushed forward! The rabbit jumped up and tried to bolt away but it's reaction was too late. Lunan made a quick charge, slapped out with a paw to trip it, then a flash of his fangs and it was over. Satisfied he straightened, panting around the rabbit in his jaws.
A stray sound has Lunan spinning around and dropping his rabbit, his hackles rising and his lips curling in a snarl. On the edge of the clearing not fifteen feet away stood two wolves. One, the larger, was a female. Her fur was a rich green much like a forest with a pale colored underbelly - at the distance he wasn't sure if it was cream, white, or even ice blue - and golden yellow interspersed in the fur across her shoulders. The smaller was a male and though he shared the golden across the shoulders he was purple with dark blue front paws. They'd approached with great skill; he'd neither scented them nor heard them.
"Settle down," the female called, sitting down with no signs of aggression. "We're not going to attack you or steal your kill."
"What are you doing here?" asked the male with a friendly tail wag.
"Hunting," Lunan snapped, still tense. "Who are you?"
"I'm Rowan," the female introduced, "and this is my little brother, Tokai. We were exploring the boarders of our territory when we caught an unfamiliar wolf scent."
"Are you alone?" Rowan asked. Lunan shivered his fur into something of a semblance of smoothness. "It's a lot harder to hunt by yourself."
"My mate is nearby." There was no way he was going to tell them she was close to birthing.
"Ah." Rowan sounded like she thought there was more to the statement but didn't press. "Well, if you'd like you could join our pack."
"Join your pack?" Lunan had never heard of such a thing, a pack just welcoming in outsiders.
"We're part of the Goldsea Pack," Rowan informed Lunan. "Technically this is part of Mistvale's woods but it boarders our territory and we check it every now and then." It was tempting. Lunan knew being a part of a pack could be a great boon especially to a new, young family. But he and Celestia had been on their own for all their adult lives.
"Think about it," Tokai encouraged. "You don't have to decide right away, but let me tell you Goldsea Pack is the best pack of them all!"
"Your mate must be waiting for you." Rowan stood and turned to go, her brother moving to follow. "If you're interested just go that way - " She pointed with her nose towards the direction they were going. " - and someone will find you."
"Hope we'll see you on the plains soon!" Tokai called as the pair walked away. Lunan looked after them for a moment, blinking, then shook his head and picked up his rabbit. He'd think about it, and talk to Celestia about it, but for now he would put the entire crazy encounter from his mind.
The return walk through the early-spring woodland was soothing to his mind though he scowled around a mouthful of rabbit at the soaking his paws got. He was nearly back to the den when at long last the sun broke through the clouds and beamed warmly down around him. The lingering snow glittered accented by highlights of new green growth. First leaves rustled softly and the breeze brought all the wonderful scents of the season.
New spring. New lives soon to be born. And perhaps…a new future on the plains?
Lunan padded into the den and dropped the rabbit at Celestia's paws before touching noses with her and curling up behind her as she began to eat. He'd eat later but for now he just wanted to embrace his beloved and bask in the hope this unique spring day had offered.
((I'm going to be hopefully continuing with the submissions as follow-ups to this starter story of my first two wolves entering Goldensea Pack's territory and what happens then. So it'll be a lot more Lorwolf-centric after this one, promise!))