Lupus's head snapped to Faolan as he approached. His white fur bristled with hatred. Lupus growled at him, baring his teeth. Faolan stopped. His feet perched on the trunk of a fallen tree. The muscles rolled and coiled under the skin on Faolan's back and shoulders. He was ready to pounce.
He launched himself at Lupus, claws outstretched and teeth ready to attack. Faolan tried to strike Lupus with his claws. Lupus leapt out of the way and commenced an attack of his own. His foot shot out and kicked Faolan in the ribs, raking the skin in the process. Faolan cried out and roared at Lupus. Faolan grabbed the smaller wolf’s throat with his teeth.
Lupus yelped. He shook the other wolf off, red spreading slowly through his light coat. He jumped at the larger wolf and slashed at his muzzle. Blood spilled from the light grey fur. Lupus jumped on Faolan’s back and jumped off again, landing on the ice, using the wolf’s back as a springboard.
Faolan’s blood dripped slowly onto the snowy ice. He stared at it, mesmerised by the contrast. Lupus used this moment to his benefit, like his small size. He slid across the ice and trapped Faolan’s leg in his teeth. He shook his head violently from side to side.
Faolan went sprawling on the hard ground and growled. He snapped at Lupus. Lupus closed his jaws on the wolf’s neck and jammed his head to the ground with his strong paws. Faolan struggled for a few moments but gave up when he saw he had been beaten by this small opponent.
Lupus slowly opened his jaws, ready to clamp down again if Faolan made any move. He didn’t, he just lay there. Lupus took his paw from his head and fully released him. He stood back, watching for movement. Had he killed Faolan? Would he be chased from his own pack?
No, Faolan’s chest rose and fell again. He had his eyes closed but he was alive.
“Brother,” Lupus said softly, “we need not fight.”
At first Lupus thought his brother wasn’t going to reply, but then he did. His voice was hoarse and strained. “Yes, we do. I’m the biggest, yety ou’re the strongest. You run faster than me and for longer distances whereas I can hardly run a mile without losing breath. You’re the runt of the litter, yet always Mother’s favourite. How? How is that? Do you know?”
“I’m not Mother’s favourite. I’m the runt of the litter and the loner in the pack. I prefer my own company to that of others. Yet when I’m alone, you follow and attack me. Why?”
“I need to beat you, I need to prove myself.”
“You’re the best hunter and tracker in the entire pack; you don’t need to prove yourself.”
“I need to do it for me. Nobody else sees it.”
“Sees what?” Faolan’s eyes flicked open and stared intently at his brother.
“You,” he said, “and your dark side – all the others think you’re perfect, destined to become the new alpha when Father dies. I’m the only one who can see the true you. You’re full of darkness, and hatred, and anger. But often I wonder, why? So, I ask you Lupus, why all the anger?”
A silence fell across the ice and in between the trees. It would have been a beautiful moment if it were not filled with rage. Neither of the wolves spoke for a while. Faolan stared expectantly at his brother while Lupus just stood there in silence. It wasn’t obvious whether he was thinking or just not answering. But eventually he did.
“I’m the only one who can’t Change,” he whispered.
“Sorry, what, didn’t quite catch that.”
“I’m the only one who can’t Change!” he bellowed.
Any birds in the trees fled and silence descended once again. It wrapped around everything it could. Lupus turned away from his brother. His limbs were quaking with wrath, he was fuming with anger.
Some animals of some species have the ability to ‘Change’. They can change their form to look human. It is rarely used at all in most groups but some are born without the ability at all. Arctic wolves seem to have this ability more than any other species on earth, but because of their habitat, true humans rarely make the trek to find out about such wolves. So the wolves are left in peace to Change as they like.
But Lupus couldn’t Change at all. He hated that fact. The only one in the pack without the ability. And nobody could tell him why. All his brothers and sisters could do it, but not he. Only a few knew about that fact: his mother, his father, the female who looked after them when they were little and their mother was out hunting – that was it. Only three wolves knew – now four.
Lupus had stopped shaking but the anger was still strong. He took a deep breath and slowly turned back to Faolan. He looked at his brother who was now standing.
“I’m the only one who can’t Change. I wasn’t born with the gift. Happy now?” he asked. Faolan simply gazed. His expression was impossible to read.
“No, I’m not. To be honest, I’m sorry,” he replied.
“Don’t pity me,” Lupus growled.
“I don’t. I’m sorry for making you say it. I’m sorry I attacked you all those times.”
“Saying sorry doesn’t fix anything.”
“It doesn’t heal the scars you’ve inflicted on me. Or the time you knocked me out and ripped half my fur out. I nearly froze to death. I got to the point where wolves had to bring me food like a pup. It doesn’t put right anything at all.”
Faolan cautiously stepped closer to Lupus. He didn’t move so he took another step. He bumped Lupus’s shoulder gently with his. He pushed his head against his brother’s briefly. Lupus just stood there. Faolan lifting his paw up and nudged him.
After several displays of affection, Lupus responded. He rubbed against Faolan and licked the blood off his snout. Faolan showed his teeth in what was meant to be a smile. He gently whimpered and nudged Lupus again.
Lupus lay down and rolled onto his back with his paws in the air. Faolan lay next to him and rubbed his head against Lupus’s. They lay there for a while, just enjoying each other’s company for the first time in years. After a while they were falling asleep against each other.
There was a loud noise, the sound of a gun being fired. Lupus jumped up and was about to shout down at Faolan to get up. But then he realised Faolan was dead, with a bullet right in his brain. Lupus looked around and growled. He couldn’t see anything.
Lupus pricked his ears up and his legs locked. His eyes were wide and his tail was straight. He felt threatened and was ready to fight to the death. There was another gunshot. The bullet flew past his ear, missing him by inches. Somebody shouted and then they surrounded him.
Lupus was trapped, bordered, with nowhere to escape. They were going to kill him. Something struck his side. It didn’t feel like a bullet to him, it felt more like a... needle. He felt woozy all of a sudden. His legs trembled and gave way. Then he remembered nothing, except a wooden crate and then total darkness...