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Everything should have been fine, but for some reason it was not. The pack had returned to the big pack, the Order-pack. It had been safe there, with abundant food that didn’t even need to be hunted for and natural energy of the most pleasant sort. Even out in the forest where the unpleasant ants and razor birds lived the problems had been resolved with the help of a pack ‘elder’.
Now the pack leaders had taken him along with them, leaving behind weaker pack members. Timothy had properly reclaimed his status as ‘friend’, though Fuzz wasn’t sure what Velvet was in relation to the pack. She certainly was part of the Order-pack. He could smell the same energy in her. She came with them as some sort of ally.
Then there had been a long time of remaining in a single city. Fuzz didn’t understand why. Nobody was happy. They didn’t hunt or gather other resources. The opportunities to cultivate weren’t anything special. Fuzz wasn’t even allowed to come into the building they spent all day inside, which was strange. It seemed a courthouse didn’t allow low ranking pack members inside, but he scented many weaker than himself entering. Strange.
It was only afterwards that Fuzz understood they were looking for pack members. Anton had been part of a large pack, not as big as the Order-pack but still precious to him. Timothy and Catarina split from the rest of the pack along with himself. They travelled quickly to other cities where they found what were apparently Anton’s former packmates. They had been lost, somehow, but now they were found.
These packmates were weak. Without cultivation. Fuzz didn’t know how to show them how to cultivate energy, but he made sure to bring them meat so that they could develop a strong body. At first he didn’t understand why they cooked it on a fire and left the bones behind, but he did find it nice when meat was warm. The bones went to him, even when he tried to insist others should eat them. Fuzz would not let them be wasted, so he eventually ate them himself. They cracked apart easily, releasing tasty marrow and crunchy tidbits of bone. Fuzz remembered gnawing on bones when he was just a little pup, how hard it was to bite through- but now he was able to do it with ease even without using his energy. His new pack made him strong.
Cities were often paved with stone, and roads were made of packed dirt or stone. Such ground was unpleasant on his pads, but better than stepping on thorns. Fuzz had few thorns he had to worry about now, but he knew they existed. The Order-pack had plants with very sharp thorns that he only tried to sniff inside once. They had tasty energy fruit buried inside, but his snout was all cut up. Not a good trade.
Normally the pack traveled on such terrain but now they were off the road. They were looking for someone. A packmate of Anton’s. No, it was more than that. One of his offspring, or at least a kin of some sort. Fuzz wasn’t sure exactly, but it was like the word for Catarina. A great daughter.
The one they were looking for had been gone for a whole week from where they thought they were going to meet her. Catarina and Timothy hadn’t been happy about that, but apparently she hadn’t listened to the other pack, or something. It was a big problem. One week was a long time. Scents were hard to follow after a week, and it was even worse when he didn’t know what he was smelling for. He had been taken to Alva’s room but it had been ‘cleaned’ and it only smelled like other people staying at that house. They didn’t have a trail for him to follow, or more than a vague direction they thought she had gone.
So Fuzz was running around snuffling up the forest. His lungs were very strong now, so when he snuffled too hard he pulled up dirt and it made him sneeze. He was surprised by that. Dirt was supposed to stay on the ground, not go in the air. He made sure to adjust his method, keeping his nose a bit higher. His scent abilities had gotten better, especially if he used energy. He just had to find signs of someone.
Five people besides their pack had passed through this area recently. Seventeen squirrels, two boars, a bear, some kinds of birds Fuzz didn’t recognize, and countless insects also filled the area. But he knew what humans smelled like. Humans smelled like salt and like cotton and leather, and sometimes metal.
It wasn’t clear to Fuzz which he should follow. He wandered back and forth on the trail. He had gotten ahead of Catarina and Timothy, but he was still close enough to hear them. They were very slow because of all the other pack members, so he didn’t want to wait. He could cover more area on his own.
The trail split. Most of the human scents weren’t from the same time, but it was an easy path to walk along. Now they could spread out in two general directions. Which one should he follow?
Fuzz sniffed hard, getting a noseful of dirt and leaves. It was all too faint. Who did he want? Something… he sniffed more, using energy to pull in more air but also block big chunks from hitting his nose. Was that what he wanted? He was looking for kin of Anton, which would also be kin of Catarina. Besides the smell of the Ninety-Nine Stars, they had very little scent in common… but there was one bit of smell here that matched that. With no better idea, Fuzz followed that one.
The trail scent grew stronger. Fuzz was much faster than a normal human, and though the trail wandered around without specific direction he knew he was able to cut ahead at some points. He was going at a quick trot. The current trail was no longer a week old. Only a few days. Maybe less. Fresh since the last rain.
Most of the beasts avoided Fuzz. Squirrels and rabbits didn’t want to be eaten, and he had no time to hunt them. Deer ran away quickly, but he didn’t give chase. A boar wandered into view. It was big. Tough. He was on its territory. Fuzz growled. He didn’t have time to fight a boar. The boar pawed the ground as if about to charge… then turned away. Good.
Paws found their way over dirt and roots and leaves and sticks. Bushes got in the way and he ploughed through them or jumped over. The scent was getting closer. Now he was no longer close enough to Timothy and Catarina to hear them, but he would be able to find them. He knew where their trail would be, and was very familiar with their scent. He had to find this kin of Anton.
She was close. Then Fuzz heard a scream. His claws tore the ground as he moved, propelling him forward with great speed. He no longer cared about the trail. No more time wasted with scents, just running. His lungs and heart pumped quickly as he ran, panting to cool himself. Screams continued, but he was getting close.
Then he saw it. A great cat, and a king of the forest. One paw was one the leg of a human girl-child. It could have easily leaned forward to bite her neck and finish her off, but it was toying with her. Fuzz barely even needed scent to know this was the kin of Anton and Catarina.
He howled and charged. He hoped that Timothy and Catarina would hear him. The cat was not just larger than himself. As a king of the forest, it had energy just like Fuzz did. That energy was stronger than his, deep and old.
The great cat turned from its prey towards him. It knew it could safely ignore the girl to face Fuzz. That was what he intended. He couldn’t allow more harm to come to Anton’s kin. If he had hesitated to draw the beast’s attention, it could have slain her at any moment.
With no packmates to aid him, Fuzz could not use his usual tactics. He would have liked to circle around behind the creature and pull its leg, but that was simply impossible. He had to do this differently.
The cat had no time to ready for a pounce as Fuzz charged it. His paw slashed towards the cat’s nose, and in return the cat clawed at him. Fuzz ducked his body under the attack while his own paw scraped along the creature’s nose. Barely a scratch. The creature’s energy was stronger, resisting his attack. He pulled back, wary of the cat’s longer reach.
If he stayed too far he could not attack, but if he approached too close it could crush him with its weight. He also had to make sure it didn’t go towards the child. Fuzz relied on his quick reflexes and turning ability to move around it, attacking from an angle on its right side. The right side was dangerous a quick paw slashing out, and he felt blood trail along his ear and down his head and neck. His own attack barely connected, and didn’t even leave a shallow mark. His teeth remained ready for a moment when he saw an extended neck, but he found no opportunity.
He pulled back to circle around to the other side. His turning allowed him to see that the human girl was dragging herself away. Hopefully she could escape, but if Fuzz did not win the battle it would do little good. All that could be hoped for would be the cat getting bored and not her being far enough to escape.
Fuzz didn’t want to let Anton’s kin die, but he also didn’t want to die. He wasn’t able to choose between the two options, which meant he had to win even though he didn’t think he could. He howled once more, hoping Timothy and Catarina could hear him. He was quite far, and human ears were weak.
He lunged towards the cat’s left side. Its reaction was a bit slower, and his fangs dug into its shoulder. In return, the creature fell on him, then turned itself to tower over him. Fuzz lashed out with his teeth to keep himself safe, but it would only last so long. The creature was bigger and stronger, and he was in a disadvantageous position. Fuzz noticed that it didn’t really focus its energy on one particular place, but it was enough stronger it didn’t need to.
One paw pressed down on his chest, cracking his ribs. Jaw opened wide to bite down at his neck. Fuzz knew he was going to die. Then a tiny rock hit the cat in the head. Such a small rock didn’t even cause its head to move, but it shifted its weight and slightly lifted its paw. Fuzz immediately attacked. He didn’t have the energy to resist its attacks, so he didn’t. Everything he had went into his jaws and teeth. It was almost too much- as he tried to lengthen his teeth he found it pushing against his mouth. He softened it to not affect him as he lunged for the cat’s throat.
Warm, sweet blood filled his mouth. He tore, flung away what he had in his mouth, then bit again. And again, and again, until the cries of the great cat faded away. The great cat had fallen atop him, pinning him down. His ribs were broken. His head and neck were bleeding, along with his belly and side. Fuzz pushed, trying to get the cat off. It would be a shame to die after killing it.
He couldn’t do it. He was dizzy from loss of blood, tired. Nearly out of energy. Then he heard a little voice. It was the human-girl. She wasn’t saying anything he recognized as words, just grunts of exertion. He saw her pushing against the side of the cat, as if she could even slightly affect it. How silly. Then he heard a cry of pain. She was pushing with her legs, her back pressed against the beast. That included her injured leg. But she didn’t stop.
Fuzz growled, trying to get her to just leave him, but she either didn’t hear or didn’t understand.
How pathetic. How could he give up when Anton’s kin still wanted to rescue him? He growled, not with any sort of meaning but just to express himself. His legs pushed, his ribs strained and ached and felt like they might break even further. Then something snapped, but it wasn’t his ribs. The great cat’s body flew off of him over to the side, and Fuzz rolled onto his belly. He tried to bend to lick the wound on his side, but his body wouldn’t listen. He slumped into unconsciousness, but not before he felt warm arms around his neck.