Authors: Erin Hunter
Special thanks to Gillian Philip
Not my eyes, Callie! Not my eyes .Â .Â .
Sweet ducked and twisted out of reach just as the Beta lashed out her claws, the tip of one catching Sweet's cheekbone. Knocked off-balance, Sweet fell and rolled, then sprang back to her paws, snarling defiance, her fur and hackles prickling. She could feel blood beading on her face
. If Callie's claw had found my eyeball .Â .Â .
Sweet gave her pelt a firm shake as the two of them circled each other warily, but she couldn't lose the tingling rage and frustration. In a challenge like this oneâa challenge between dogs of the same Packâaiming for a dog's eyes was forbidden. It wasn't just a vicious move, it was a stupid one. No dog wanted a Pack member maimed! And for swift-dogs like them, eyesight mattered even more. They were so fleet, so quick on their paws, they all needed their keen vision intact in a chase
That didn't seem to matter to Callie. The Beta wanted to win at all costs, Sweet realized
But there was another Pack rule Sweet didn't intend to break: no dog whined and cowered and complained about their opponent's tactics in a challenge. The whole Pack was watching this fight
Sweet curled the skin back from her muzzle, revealing her teeth. Callie was
going to get the better of her, and that meant the Beta wasn't going to send Sweet whining to their Alpha, either. .Â .Â .
Callie bunched her muscles and sprang again. Sweet lunged to meet her in midair
Although it went against all her instincts, she closed her eyes, letting her other senses guide her. She could feel Callie's body right there, and the stir of her hot breath as the Beta snapped and bit at Sweet's face. Sweet spun and twisted, then sank her teeth into fur and flesh
Yes! Opening her eyes, she realized her jaws were clamped on the side of Callie's neck. Taking advantage of the other dog's flinch, she flung her whole slender weight against Callie, and the Beta slipped and fell with Sweet on top, pinned to the ground
Sweet thought, panting through her mouthful of fur as she straddled Callie's flank
. I finally beat her!
But Callie wasn't finished yet. She writhed and heaved, sending Sweet tumbling aside, and in moments Sweet was sprawled on the damp earth, the breath knocked out of her lungs. This time Callie was the dog on top, and her jaws were clamped on Sweet's scruff, holding her down. There was a light of hate in the
Beta's eyes, and a chill swept through Sweet's blood along with the fury. Curse Callie!
But the awful chill that immobilized her didn't drain away. It filled Sweet's body, and seemed to seep out into the air around the two fighting dogs. It was instinct, warning her. .Â .Â .
Sweet shuddered. She remembered what happened next. And the fight wasn't the worst thing that had happened that day .Â .Â . the day of the Big Growl. .Â .Â .
The longpaws came from nowhere, and everywhere. They were all around the Pack, as if they'd been hiding inside the very trees. Instantly Callie released Sweet, and they both lined up with their Packmates, growling their defiance at the longpaws
Every muscle and bone in her body urged Sweet to run
. Turn! Run! Go!
They were swift-dogs, weren't they? The longpaws were slow and clumsy. The dogs could all flee, right now, and if the rest wouldn'tâSweet could! She could run far away, faster than any longpawâ
But the Pack was snarling and eyeing the longpaws that closed in from all sides. The Pack wanted to fight, to meet the longpaws' challenge and defeat them
Madness! But if Sweet boltedâif she made a run for itâsurely the others would follow. .Â .Â .
She couldn't battle the urge any longer. Spinning, Sweet fled, her speed carrying her away from the sticks and nets and the long flailing paws of the creatures
looking to capture the dogs
A moment later, Sweet skidded to a brief halt to look back. Her Pack .Â .Â . they weren't following! They stood their ground against the longpaws, and panic flooded through Sweet's belly. Raising her voice, she howled to them in dismay and grief
Follow me! Follow me! Run with me
Her own broken howl jolted her out of sleep. Dazed, Sweet shook away the fuzziness of waking and hauled herself onto her forepaws. Her heart thrashed in her narrow chest and her fur was on end all over her body, but there were no longpaws here. No longpaws, no swift-dogs, no
. It had been a dream, that was all.
No, not a dream: a memory. A terrible memory.
she thought miserably.
Why do I always have to dream about the day I
Slowly Sweet got to her paws, sniffing the strange air. The grass and earth were soft beneath her paw pads, and there was no metal wire caging her in, no walls to stop her from running. This meadow was so much better than the Trap House, yet it wasn't a truly wild place. All around her, Sweet could feel the work of longpaws. The trees stood in ordered ranks, like dogs lined up for a battle. The grass was clipped and smooth, and the glinting river
was channeled under a stone bridge that had been built with long, hairless paws. The air itself made Sweet's fur prickle.
It was a good enough place to sleep for one night, but it was no place for a wild swift-dog to liveâespecially a dog with no Pack. Remembering that she was alone now sent a shiver through Sweet's bones. She'd move on at once, she thought, a whine of sadness rising in her throat.
She missed Lucky already. How could he have let her go? How could he
to be alone, in this new world of all worlds? The kind, smart, golden-furred dog she'd met in the Trap House had insisted all along that he was a Lone Dog, but she hadn't quite believed himânot till he'd refused to come with her on her journey away from the destroyed city.
Sweet clenched her fangs in angry bewilderment. Lucky's attitude was madness; it was something she'd never understand, not till the day she went to the Earth-Dog. How could a dog not
to find a Pack? And Sweet knew she would find one: if not today, then tomorrow, or the next day. How could Lucky refuse to come with her to the forest? Ridiculous! There would be dogs there. There would be a Pack she could join to find new strength, a Pack she could help by adding her own strength to theirs. That was the way of dogs; it was what dogs were
A little tremor of fear went through her belly. Maybe she shouldn't even have paused to rest in this strange longpaw meadow. Perhaps any dogs who had left the city would have trekked too far by now; perhaps she would never catch up with them. The very thought made Sweet shiver.
, she reassured herself. A Pack needed a camp, and once dogs found a safe place to make their territory, they'd stay there. As long as her nose didn't let her down, she'd find them; she was sure of it.
Sweet couldn't resist breaking into a steady, swift lope as she headed for the forest. Already she could smell it: the rich scent of pine needles and rotting leaves and damp, cool hollows. No clear dog-scents yet, but she was confident those would come. She had only to reach those dense trees that stretched for countless chases, and she'd find a Pack.
to find a Pack.
At the edge of the forest she didn't even hesitate, but leaped over a fallen log and ran into its darkness, darting and dodging through the thick ranks of pine and aspen. Her heart beat harder and faster as she plunged deeper into the trees, and not just because of her swift-dog pace. There
dog-scents here, and lots of them.
Hopelessly confused and jumbled dog-scents.
Each time Sweet lowered her slender nose to catch a whiff of a dog and follow its trail, she would lose it, distracted and misled by other trails that overlaid it. She would follow the stronger scent, only to lose it again among other scent-markers. Many dogs had passed through the forestâperhaps too many, she realized with a quiver of panic. How would she ever find and follow a clear trail in this maze of smells?
The whole world was tangled and turned upside down, that was the problem. But as soon as she thought that, Sweet felt oddly reassured. The Big Growl had turned the world into a place of madness and confusion, and of course things would not be as easy as they'd once been. What mattered, she told herself confidently, was that there were
. At any moment she'd find a strong trail and follow it, and she'd find a new Pack that needed her contribution. And as soon as she had a Pack, the craziness of the world wouldn't matter. Pack was everything.
There were other scents to distract her, Sweet realized as she paused to sniff at a pine's exposed roots. Smaller, darker, sharper trails, made by scurrying prey. Her empty belly rumbled, and hunger nipped at her.
I'll think better with a full belly
Making her decision, she reluctantly abandoned the dog-scents for the moment and began to nose her way along one of the stronger prey-trails. Slowing, placing her paws with care, she scanned the undergrowth, her ears pricked forward.
Be silent, Sweet. You're hunting alone .Â .Â . for now. .Â .Â .
There! A movement in the undergrowth. A vole; Sweet caught a glimpse of its russet back and its short tail. It saw her, and darted for the shelter of the forest litter, but Sweet was fast, and she was hungry. She shot forward and snatched it up in her jaws, crunching and gulping it down, bones, tail and all.
It was small, she thought as she licked her jaws, but big enough to take the edge off her hunger.
A new sense of urgency drove her on now, her trotting stride rapid, and she hadn't gone many rabbit-chases before she broke once more into a loping run. Her nose searched every hint of breeze, every stir of the dank forest air, and her heart clenched tight.
What if I never find those dogs?
The scent hit her quite suddenly, filling her nostrils, and she came to a halt, head raised.
It was a scent she recognized from earlier in the day, but it seemed clearer and stronger now; perhaps it was just that she had had the sense to fill her belly. Sweet focused hard on the messages
it brought her, and she drew in a sudden, hopeful breath.