The courtyard, once having seemed so large, was beginning to be insufficient for Anton’s uses. He noticed it especially when practicing archery, how its relative size had diminished. He barely even had time for his arrows to build up speed before he had to disintegrate them. Firing them up into the sky wasn’t any better, since it was hard to test his accuracy that way. The wind whipping above the courtyard didn’t help. He would need to petition to move to larger accommodations or at least closer to the proper archery ranges. It was still far to just run on over when he wanted a bit of practice.
His new bow was still a problem. He hadn’t thought he would be able to suddenly put it to use at the twelfth star, but he’d sort of expected some change. The swirls of wind in his courtyard couldn’t distract him from his task. Create a string with energy. Then an arrow, and pull. His muscles strained and his energy tensed, and the only thing he got was sore fingertips.
Was the string too thin? It was made of his own energy, so it was able to cut through his defenses if he wasn’t careful. Fortunately it didn’t easily hurt him, but it dug into the tips of his fingers after some repetitions. And the string didn’t move, unless he extended it. The bow bent not even a single millimeter. Still, it was an interesting way to train his abilities even if he couldn’t shoot it. Forming shapes with pure energy other than arrows was something he didn’t do as often. He could make pretty much any shape he wanted, but having them keep their form under stress was much harder.
A door clicked in the opposite corner courtyard. That was a problem that still needed dealing with. Anton sighed.
Life should have been good for Fuzz. Plentiful food, as much as he needed. He didn’t need to hunt for it, but he could when he wanted to. He had a den to stay in, though he had to learn to clean off ‘mud’ before he could do so. That was a useful exercise, shedding unwanted things from his paws and the rest of his body.
Outside of the den he had space to run, and so so many pack members. He’d tried to count them, but there were many dozens and he simply didn’t have a way to count that high. He was growing stronger, both through his own efforts and the care of Catarina. In some places his body was still missing parts of him, where the moss had grown into him, but for the most part he was healthy. He could run on all of his legs over the vast stretches of pack territory- though usually he couldn’t do so alone.
Everything should have been right, but something was wrong. And Fuzz was going to find out what. Anton was back. He was still the same. Hoyt was further away, but he seemed to be doing well. It was the third leader of their sub-pack that was a problem. The one closest to Fuzz, Catarina. She was not right, ever since they arrived.
The problem was with the other two packmates that live in adjacent dens. One of them Catarina never visited. Fuzz thought he smelled a faint bit of animosity there, but it was so subtle he also thought he could be wrong. But the other male, that was a problem. Catarina said he was a ‘friend’. Like he was part of their sub-pack, training and living together. However, he retreated whenever Fuzz tried to visit. Not only that, this ‘Timothy’ wouldn’t even stay outside when Catarina or Anton were training. Fuzz thought he was concerned about distracting them at first, but instead of deference his movements smelled of something else. Timidity, maybe. The scent of humans was still hard to puzzle out sometimes.
The biggest problem was that Timothy didn’t exhibit any of the expected features of a ‘friend’. Fuzz had come to believe they should eat together, travel together, hunt together, train together, be together. That was what a pack was. But they weren’t together. Catarina and Timothy had spoken when they returned, and very little since. Several times Catarina had gone over and there had been no response from the door, though both Timothy and his energy smelled like they were there. Quite strange.
Was he trapped inside? Certainly doors were difficult to open at first, but every human he’d met had operated them with ease. Besides, he’d seen him do it. Grr. It was just so frustrating.
A warm hand rubbed his head. “There there, Fuzz. It’s okay. Timothy is a friend. He’s just training out in the yard.”
The more she said it, the less Fuzz believed it. What could he do about it? He couldn’t speak, and didn’t know what to say anyway. What needed to happen? After a moment of thought, Fuzz unbarred the door he was sitting in front of, the one that led to the courtyard. Sliding the bar was easy, pulling it required manipulating energy or a more difficult paw placement. So he pulled with a bit of energy, then stepped into the yard.
Now he had to be fast. His paws tore up dirt as he moved, then just the right distance from the wall he leaped, muscle and energy pushing him high over the wall. Timothy was surprised. Of course he was. Fuzz hadn’t done it since the first time when Catarina scolded him. Anton didn’t care if he visited, but Catarina wanted him to use a ‘gate’. Even though it was slower. But this time he had to be fast.
Dirt and rocks scattered in a cloud as he landed, startling Timothy. But he was a cultivator, already standing in a defensive position when Fuzz landed. The screen of dust was the only thing that let Fuzz grab onto his shoulder, and even so he barely succeeded. His teeth held on tight, never with the intent to do injury but Timothy’s defensive energy would have held regardless. He was merely a small bit weaker than the three pack leaders.
Fuzz pulled. It was already an awkward angle, standing on his hind legs, but he was unable to get any traction. Timothy elbowed him to try to make him let go, but Fuzz would have none of it. He reinforced his body to take the blow. His teeth hurt as they barely held, but he reinforced that area also, without making his teeth sharper. He couldn’t pull Timothy along the ground, his footing was too good. Fuzz decided to let go, falling to the ground.
Then his mouth closed around Timothy’s ankle. He got kicked in the side, but Fuzz almost found it amusing. It was a bit more than he would have expected for simple roughhousing, but he could tell Timothy was not using his full power. Not yet. So he had to hurry.
Fuzz leaped, nearly straight up. If he couldn’t drag Timothy along the ground, he would carry him through the air. The ankle came with him, not able to drag against anything, and Timothy dangled head down as they rose. Then his ankle was once more below them as they descended. Fuzz made sure his paws touched the ground first so he could jump at a better angle, with Timothy flailing as they slid smoothly over the fence, only catching on it once and bumping his head. But he had defensive energy so it was fine.
“Fuzz!” Catarina chastised him. “Stop that!”
Fuzz stopped. He wasn’t planning to jump over the wall again anyway. He didn’t let go of Timothy though, even though he whined and complained. He didn’t get to order Fuzz around unless he acted like a pack member.
For some reason, Catarina was unreasonably upset at Fuzz for jumping over the wall. He couldn’t quite get what she was saying because she was having trouble speaking properly. Humans didn’t speak so well when they were upset, and it was already hard to understand them. Then Anton came over the wall, and she didn’t get mad at him at all! What an unfair double standard.
Fuzz dropped Timothy’s ankle and pushed him with his nose towards Catarina and Anton. They were supposed to be friends and spend time together, but they hadn’t even gotten close enough to get their scent on each other since they came to the big pack. Completely unacceptable.
“I think I get it,” Anton said as he pulled Timothy to his feet.
Yes! Good! The old one was a wise pack leader. But they didn’t immediately start to familiarize themselves with each other again. Fuzz ran around and rubbed up against all of them so they would remember how to do it, but they didn’t quite seem to get it. They were talking, though. That was good. The scents of their energies mingled slightly, at least, though Fuzz really thought they should touch more. Would he have to be the one to do all the work?