Cheppie backed away from the speaker, only to bump into the Lupe standing on
his other side. A panic boiled in him, and only fright kept him from calling
out. "W-w-what do you want?" he stuttered.
"Heh. The pup wants to know what we want." The leader smiled nastily, revealing
a jaw full of sharp, pointed teeth. "Well, let me tell him. We want you, my
dear puppy. We want the nasty little Gelert spy who we found staring at the
mountains. Our mountains. Maybe no one's informed you, Gelert, but we Whitestone
Lupes don't take kindly to strangers in our territory. Especially Gelert strangers.
So we're going to take you for a little walk to our Pack den, so we can talk
about why you're here and what we'll do with you." The leader's smile grew even
wider, and he nodded to a cloud-blue Lupe on the left of Cheppie. "I want you
to persuade the little one to come with us. And I don't care how long it takes."
He turned and started towards the mountains.
The sky blue Lupe smiled nastily, but before he could do anything Cheppie spoke.
"I'll come with you," he said. "I promise."
The Lupe looked at his companions, then shrugged. "All right. I didn't want
to hurt such a small pup anyway." He led Cheppie forward.
They walked for about half an hour when the guide suddenly stopped. "There
it is," he said.
Cheppie looked to where the Lupe was pointing, and saw a huge cave opening
with several Lupes milling about in the entrance. He swallowed a lump in his
throat, then hurried forward.
Apparently this place was more of a meeting area than a lair; the size of the
cave showed that. It was tremendous, with a ceiling that stretched practically
fifty feet into the air. The whole cave itself was about two hundred feet square,
although the ground was broken in places by the occasional icy stalagmite. There
were about sixty Lupes inside; some were standing idly while others were cuddled
lazily in some comfortable corner of the cave. Even more were prowling restlessly
in circles, impatient for the meeting to begin.
There was a sudden hush as Cheppie came in. Apparently these Lupes did not
often see a Gelert in their own lair, and many reacted to this strangeness with
open hostility, snarling and baring their fangs. Others pretended the Gelert
simply wasn't there and hoped that if they ignored enough him he would go away.
The guide led Cheppie to a sort of platform set into the center of the cave
and beckoned for the pup to get onto it. The puppy had a bit of hard time getting
onto the platform, it being about two-thirds of his height, but as soon as he
managed to he looked around, and realised that the Lupes were beginning to surround
the platform, and him.
And suddenly before him stood the leader of the party that captured him, that
fire Lupe with those blue flames. Everyone around him suddenly lowered their
heads and their tails in submission, and the leader (was he called and alpha?
Cheppie wondered) began to speak.
"Fellow Lupes of the Whitestone Lupe Pack! Today the scouting party of our
south border nabbed this disgusting Gelert spy. I know how I feel about this
despicable creature, and I'm sure you feel the same way, but as Whitestone Pack
law states, the prisoner must be given a chance to speak in his own defense
before we sentence him.
"So speak, little puppy--and make your words worthwhile."
Cheppie gathered all of his courage and his wits around him, and began to speak.
"Erm, I, um, I'm no spy. I know I was unexpectedly in your territory, but I
didn't know that you hated Gelerts that much, else I would have stayed away.
I just came here for some help--a Lupe friend of mine, his name is Jagger--he's, well, I can't find him. He was with me yesterday, then went to check
something out, and he never came back. I think he's hurt, but even if he isn't,
I can't find him and I doubt he can find me, me being where I am now. So I need
your help. I can't find Jagger on my own, and I would be forever grateful to
you if you would help me find him."
There was a moment of silence, and then the entire cave rang with laughter
as the assembled Pack fell over with mirth. Cheppie wasn't sure what was happening
for a moment, then realised that they were laughing at him--they didn't believe
his story at all.
"The craziest thing I ever heard--a Lupe helpin' a Gelert!"
"What kind of--oh, this is madness--crazy creature would think up such
a ridiculous story!"
"Stark raving mad!"
"A nut! A disgrace to canines!"
"Let's just chuck him out of here--he's crazy!"
"He deserves punishment!"
"Leave him in the wilds alone--see how long he'd last without his Lupe protector,
that Jagger, then!"
"Let's throw him out!"
"Get rid of him!"
The crowd of Lupes started rushing towards Cheppie, when a voice from the
Everyone, including Cheppie, turned towards the voice. The source proved to
be an aged white Lupe, standing tall and erect on a slab of stone that jutted
out of the cave wall. The blue-flamed leader hesitated for a moment, then grunted,
"Let the wise Elyth speak."
"I have seen this Lupe of which the youngster talks. When I was out hunting
yesterday night, I smelled a faint trace of Lupe. I was rather intrigued, for
this Lupe was not of our pack but an outsider. I followed the scent, and it
led me to a small cave on the very southwestern edge of our territory, the part
that is covered with forest land and that we seldom visit. It is a mere hour
or so away. I looked into the cave, and what I saw astounded me. In it slept
a male green Lupe, and he slept as though he were unconscious to the fact that
he was in another pack's territory.
"And the strangest thing about him was that one of his hind paws was mangled,
as though he had been caught in a trap.
"So hear me in this, fellow Lupes of the pack--I believe that this young
pup is telling the truth, that his friend is hurt, and I believe that we would
be lower than barbarians if we did not try to help him."
Cheppie felt like cheering when he heard this. Apparently this female Lupe
had quite a bit of effect on the others, because some openly bowed their heads
in submission to her plan, and lowered their tails to the ground.
"Very well then," the blue-flamed leader said. "So be it. Tomorrow, at first
dawn I, wise Elyth, and four of my handpicked scouts will look for this lone
Lupe Jagger and do whatever we can to help him get healed and back to his own
territory. In the meantime, let's all get some sleep. We have a long hunt at
Among some grumbling, most of the Lupes started heading out of the cave of
deeper into its interior, and Cheppie remembered that this cave was just a meeting
place. But it was barely midday, and why did the Lupes have to sleep so early?
Aah, yes--they hunted at night. But why? And where would he sleep?
That question was solved when the blue-flamed leader stepped up to him. "Listen,
pup," he said gruffly, "I'm sorry about the way I treated you earlier. It's
just that you were a stranger, and by Whitestone Pack law any strangers have
to be intimidated so they don't trespass on our territory again. That way we
don't have to fight every single Lupe who might be a spy from another Pack.
It's a hard rule, I know, but it's a way of life here.
"By the way, I'm Taghiro, alpha of the Pack--but I'm sure you've already
Cheppie nodded. "I'm Cheppie. My family was, well, they disappeared when we
got attacked by some coconuts… it's a long story."
"We've got time for that, pup. Come to my den, it's a small set of caves, and
you can tell me all about it then."
Cheppie followed Taghiro through a maze of icy passages, shivering as his short,
stubby fur couldn't keep out the cold. Taghiro was warm, but he had long heavy
fur, which was all as well for the leader…
Finally they emerged into a tiny cave with three tunnels leading out of it.
"This is the main part of my den, and those tunnels lead to three other small
rooms. You'll be sleeping in one of those, if we have time for sleep, but in
the meantime, tell me your story."
So Cheppie began the tale.
Jagger woke suddenly, all of his senses on the alert. He smelled a Lupe… he
got up silently, wincing at the pain in his paw, and padded softly to the cave
entrance. He got there just in time to see a Lupe with a coat of pure white
disappear into the undergrowth.
So he had been discovered. He would have to move, which was a pity, for he
liked this cave. Cozy, warm, no rain… But if he didn't leave now, he might be
attacked… For he was in the Whitestone Pack territory after all…
He gathered his strength and set off wearily into the night.
To be continued…