Into the Den
Traversing the northern forests in the early spring was never an easy task, and were it not for the rewards, Richard Farns would never brave the cold and long hikes. He cursed under breath that stirred the air with a fine mist, angry that his quarry this year was a much longer hike from civilization than the previous years had been. Those had been much easier, quickly moving in and taking his prize, then getting back to the warm comforts of the cabin with it's large fireplace and central heating. This time seemed to be plagued with bad luck, from being stranded at the airport for days because of a freak storm, to spraining an ankle hiking to the cabin, the thoughts of cold hard cash the only thing egging him on.
He stopped to rest against a large oak, setting down his equipment before rubbing his gloved hands together to try to warm them up a bit, and shaking some still present snow from his coat and woolen cap. His equipment was rather heavy for a hike, and he was left to carry some of it after his old sled broke as he was only able to find a smaller one in such short notice to his trip. Ranging from lanterns, blankets, and a tent to nets, guns, and cages, he was obviously after some sort of animal, a trapper of sorts, although far from the legal variety.
Richard stretched his arms and legs quickly before picking up the pace again, using his trusty GPS unit to guide himself. His previous source had been arrested for wildlife trafficking the previous year but he was lucky to have found another, one ray of light in his unlucky year. A researcher who frequented the forests of the north for his studies whom he had convinced to share his information, under the guise of being a fellow wildlife enthusiast. The area he had been observing all winter was given quite freely, and he had made sure to find out ahead of time that the researcher would be out of town when he made his trip so as not to be spotted and ruin his source of information.
Deeper into the forest he traveled, following deerpaths now and then but mostly pressing his own way through underbrush and over still frozen streams and lakes. It was not long before dusk was approaching, and Richard decided to set up camp on the edge of a large lake he had just crossed over. Setting a fire for himself before setting up his tent and preparing some canned beans and jerky for dinner. The cold harsh winds picked up across the lake, driving him into his tent for the night early and annoying him a bit further. Within the relative safety of his tent he checked over each piece of equipment. His guns were loaded, the cages were in top condition, and the sled was only showing minor wear, it seemed like luck was starting to look after him.
It was near midnight when he was awakened by rustling near his tent, something moving about, likely drawn by the smell of his earlier meal. He grabbed one of his rifles and moved to the door of the tent, peering out slowly and carefully to see what was lurking nearby. To his surprise he found himself watching a rather large male wolf snacking on the small portions of his meal that had fallen from his cast iron plate while he ate, he had to be close to his destination if there was a wolf here. So far out, it was as if they somehow knew what he had been up to and had relocated to try to avoid him, or even annoy him somehow, these thoughts making him grumble to himself again.
Grumbling which caught the wolf's attention, it's ears perking towards the tent, and it's eyes soon following, staring straight Richard. They were shining orbs, lit by the light of the full moon above, seeming to peer deep into his soul. He shuddered as the wolf stared, the night seemingly colder to him now. He resisted his urge to yell and drive the wolf away, not wanting to alert it to his actions and ruin his chances in the morning, he simply retreated into the tent and back into his sleeping bag. Falling asleep while amusing himself with thoughts of money and victory over the seemingly lesser creatures.
The morning came all too soon, a cross man rising from his sleep with limbs aching all over from having to sleep on the frozen ground. He quickly packed and set out once again, stopping to raise an eyebrow to the wolf tracks that had apparently circled his tent a few times before heading off. Blasted creatures, waking him in the dead of night and likely thinking of him as a snack, he'd certainly show them just who was at the top of the chain today.
It was another hour of travel till Richard finally stopped, his GPS blinking to indicate he had reached his destination. He looked out from the edge of a large clearing in the trees, shielding his eyes from the sun as he scanned about for the telltale signs of where his quarry would be. A wry smile crossed his lips as he noticed a mound of dirt and stone near the middle of the clearing, a wolf's den, and within would be what he traveled all this way for.
He dragged his sled out into the clearing, not minding the wolves who were sleeping nearby, some raising to stare at him, two others running off quickly into the forest. They were always like this, trying to show off. He readied one of his guns and looked around, none of the wolves were approaching him, not even as he came right up to the den. Strange, most packs had risen to defend their pups when he had come to take them away, but this pack seemed satisfied to watch on instead. He laughed to himself, this pack certainly knew their place in the world, they didn't stand a chance against a man with his weapons, they were stuck in their lot, at his mercy.
He set up the cages around the den in preparation for their upcoming occupants, and readied a hand gun, for his rifle was much too large to take into the den with him, and he didn't want to go unarmed into the den, knowing the mothers often fought fiercely to protect their pups and required a bullet or two to quiet. Taking a deep breath he knelt by the entrance, cupping his hand around his ear to hear a little better into the den. The sounds of whimpering, scuffling about, yips and whines...the researcher was correct, there was a litter of pups inside.
He licked his lips, it sounded like a large litter, the kind he liked the most. Rich collectors and crazed pet seekers paid top dollar for wolf pups, and a large litter could keep him fed all year long. He slid onto his stomach and began to inch his way into the den, the sunlight growing dim as his upper body crawled inside. Soon the darkness had surrounded him entirely, and he was left with just a small flashlight stuck in his hat to guide his way. This was certainly a long tunnel, and to get all the pups would require a few trips perhaps, a fact which made him curse to himself again.
The den seemed to open up wider the further he went in, the smell of earth, wolves, and afterbirth clogging his nose. Arriving into what seemed like a very large chamber his flashlight revealed his targets, eyes freshly opened, perhaps earlier that day, a large litter of pups squirming and tumbling about in play, or feeding on their rather large mother. The mother! He cursed his luck, not only was she in the den with the pups, she was huge! Easily the largest wolf he had ever encountered in his life, and certainly not one he wanted to ever have to tangle with.
The wolfess raised her head and stared at the man who had invaded the sanctity of her den and violated the safety of her pups. Richard braced himself, reaching for his revolver but to his surprise the wolfess didn't move, nor did she curl her lips or bare a fang. This was unusual, but he figured she was like the rest of the pack, lesser creatures that knew their place under him in the world. He chuckled, reaching towards one of the pups closest to him, they were rather large too, likely a trait of the mother, a trait that would fetch a hefty price back home.
The wolfess sighed as he grabbed the startled pup, which yelped and squirmed, and with a sudden movement, without so much as a warning, Richard found his hand bleeding from the puncture marks her fangs had made. He cursed loudly, dropping the pup and trying to aim his gun, his aim was shakey at best and he was finding it very hard to hold onto the weapon. His hand felt numb and was pulsing with severe pain, it was unusual for a wolf bite, she had to have hit something important.
The wolfess stood up, seeming even larger than before while on all fours, and swiped with her massive paw, sending the gun tumbling into the den and out of reach, and making Richard's hand hurt even worse. He yelled out in pain, cursing and trying to turn around and get out of the den, away from the defensive mother wolf. Without a gun he was helpless, he needed to escape and grab one of his backups, then he'd show her who was boss and take revenge for his hand. He found turning around to be a pain at first, but he seemed to find a larger area to turn around in with ease.
He looked over his shoulder as he began to try to crawl back out of the den, looking straight into the sorrowful eyes of the mother wolf, who shook her head again and settled back down. Richard took advantage of the moment to move, he found the spacious area he was in easier to crawl out from, he could even do so on hands and knees, something he wasn't able to do when he went in. As he placed his injured hand down to crawl, the pain shot up his arm and caused him to stumble and fall onto his shoulder, the flashlight he had been using for guidance suddenly falling loose from the jolt. The light cut out as it hit the ground and rolled away, leaving him in darkness within the den.
He didn't have time to find the fallen light, he had to escape and get his replacements before he was torn apart by the wolfess, and so he continued on slowly in his injured state. The darkness made him feel colder for some reason, and his arms and legs began to cramp up making it harder to crawl and his escape slower. He must have cramped them in his urgency to escape, he thought in annoyance. The tunnel seemed longer than he remembered going in, and the ceiling seemed to be getting taller and taller the further he went. He cursed again, had he made a wrong turn somewhere down a side path? There was a breeze from ahead, he could smell the fresh air, so he had to be heading out of the den one way or another.
He winced as a sudden stiffness and pain shot through his body, his arms and legs not wanting to move normally anymore, and his body feeling as if it was being stretched and pulled in all directions. He was starting to panic now, we he infected with something from that bite? Had he eaten some bad food? He needed to get out as fast as possible, and so he struggled, trying to find a way to move himself again. He found it easier to prop himself on the balls of his feet and toes, and on his palms and fingers than to crawl on arms and legs or knees and hands. It was an unusual position but if it could move him to safety it didn't matter.
He wobbled onwards, feeling suddenly cold all over, as if he were naked. The stiffness, the cold, the aches...Hypothermia he assumed. Pressing on he found himself growing weaker, his limbs shaky and muscles stiff and weak, and that blasted wolf scent was getting annoying, seemingly getting stronger in his nose. He stumbled again, finding himself on his chest with his arms and legs splayed out to his sides, pain shooting up the injured hand again. Trying to clench his hands into fists in reaction to the pain he found a new problem, his fingers barely moved, it felt as if they were cut short and would only bend at their tips.
More problems arose for the trapper within the den, he could feel the coldness sweeping over his entire form, making his nose and face ache terribly and with the ache the scent grew even stronger. Flooding his senses and making him gag from the stench. The gag made him shudder even more, it seemed the cold had spread so much that he could barely feel his teeth, in fact he couldn't feel them at all anymore. This was very bad, he didn't want to die out here and end up food for the wolves.
Getting up while shivering and staggering on weak limbs took some effort, but he managed to do so once again, half crawling down the tunnel towards the scent of fresh air. Soon he was finding himself out of breath, since when was he this weak? He had to stop to take a break for a second and try to regain a least a small portion of his strength. Trying to fold his arms around his chest was useless, they were too weak and stiff to bend very much at all anymore, and his legs felt like they were locked in the knee-bent position he had been moving on.
A sharp pain in his chest sent him sprawled to the floor again, and it felt like he was pushed up a little as the pain increased, and that strange pulling sensation appeared again. This time it was in three places at once, his ears, his chest, and at his rump. It made him ache and whimper in discomfort, what did he do to deserve this? As he rest laying on his chest, the coldness started to flow away, bringing a strong ticklish feeling of pinpricks all over his body as if every hair was standing on end, an every pore on his body was being poked.
The loss of the coldness worried him, while it certainly felt like he was warmer than he was before all this had happened, he knew it had to be a sign of severe frostbite, those damned pups aren't worth this he thought. Fresh air flooded his nostrils, breathing a little more hope and strength into him but at the same time he felt a strange longing for that strong scent of wolf he was leaving behind. Delusions, he had to get out, he had to ignore them and get to a his things, start a fire and warm up.
Waddling onwards chest rubbing against the den floor, about the only thing he found himself still capable of doing, he found the darkness starting to open up into more light. It was blurry, in fact everything was blurry still in his vision, it had to be from the cold and being in the dark for so long, but at least it was another glimmer of hope. It gave some perspective as to where he was at least, he had obviously taken a wrong turn earlier like he thought as this area of the den was huge, it seemed as if he could stand up and still have room to spare, were he not in his current condition. Waddling onward as the pulling sensations stopped, he felt something hanging between his legs and his rump, and it seemed to move and shiver with him, he must have torn his pants or worse in his escape.
A strong shudder came over him suddenly, his mind reeling as a severe headache struck from seemingly nowhere, spiking his fears to new heights and providing a sudden rush of adrenaline to his weakened body. He growled and whimpered at the pain in his head and hand as he rose once again to all fours, and pushed himself hard towards the growing light ahead, it was the exit, and it was gigantic!
He gave a happy cry and gave one last push, rushing as fast as he could towards freedom and safety, the light opening up into the sunlit world around him! He was so overjoyed by escaping the den that he forgot to look straight ahead of himself, and suddenly found himself running into something soft, warm, and very very big.
The large male wolf had returned to his pack, a dead rabbit in his muzzle for his mate waiting with their pups. As he approached the den he felt something suddenly bump into one of his forelegs, startling him and causing him to stop, looking down at whatever it was. A small bundle of black fur shivered atop one of his massive forepaws, slowly lifting it's tiny head to look up at him with freshly opened blue eyes filled with a mix of fear and confusion. The male set the rabbit down as the small form backed away and fell over onto it's back, giving a frightened yelp. He chuckled in a wolfish way and nosed the toppled bundle of blackness, which whined and cried loudly, pawing weakly at his nose as if trying to fight.
Certainly a brave little pup he was, coming out of the den all alone like this and trying to fight back against his father, perhaps he'd grow into a fine alpha one day. He nosed the pup over, who was seemingly trying to escape the larger male, and plucked him up by the scruff gently. The pup froze and whimpered loudly, dangling from his father's jaws in confusion. The doting father ducked his head as he entered the den, pups always were afraid and confused of the world outside the den, and it was much too early for them to be peeking outside.
He navigated the narrow passageway with ease, having done so many times to feed his loving mate in the past. Arriving into the large chamber where his mate was feeding the other pups he chuffed in greeting to her and set the whimpering black pup amongst his brothers and sisters, who quickly crawled atop him in play. The pup still seemed a bit confused, wobbling back and forth in place for a few seconds before blinking and shaking his fur out and pushing with paws at the pup atop him.
The mother licked her mate on his nose and gave a loving nuzzle, before turning to the black bundle that was brought to her and nosing him onto his side. She groomed the pup carefully and lovingly, taking especially extra care with one of his tiny forepaws, which bore a small injury. She sighed contently, kicking the flashlight and gun into the corner to be buried later. For now she had her litter to feed along with the new pup to tend to and watch over.
The black pup squirmed a bit as he was groomed, the scent of the wolves so strong once again, and the scent of the wolfess making him feel nervous but at the same time, safe. He was confused, having been snatched up by a wolf much larger than him, whose scent made him feel much like the wolfess's scent did, and dropped in the litter of pups that were the same size as he was now. He wobbled, looking around as the headache began to fade, his thoughts growing cloudy as urges began to grow within his mind. Instincts taking root, an urge to feed, to stay close to the wolf and wolfess...his mother and father? To play and wrestle with the pups...his siblings? It was all so confusing, and with the cloudiness increasing he found himself waddling in close to the mother, another hungry mouth eager to feed.