Genet tried not to whimper as Grasstail passed right by her hiding spot. Her fur stood on end and her earthy orange eyes flashed with fear. Grasstail was one of Bull’s most strict enforcers and she didn’t know what he would do to her if she was caught out of the sleep chamber after high moon. She held her breath and waited. The big meer didn’t hesitate, he plodded on into another tunnel. Genet turned her head. “Come Fade, Dash. We’re going to move now.”
Two small shadows bobbed their heads in the darkness. Genet took a deep breath and strode from the chamber, walking as fast as she could without drawing attention. She kept her tail low and felt hot breaths stir the tip of it as the pups followed behind her. They were almost five moons old now and Swift was determined that they were old enough to escape Bull. Genet kept her head low, her eyes darting back and forth. They approached the tunnel exit, dim moonlight spilling in through the hole. She sniffed the air. A frosty breeze raked her muzzle and she recoiled. There was a muffled ‘oof!’ from her back as Dash crashed into Fade. “Hush!” His littersister shushed him. Genet took a deep breath and plunged into the moonlight.
Genet rose onto her back legs as Fade and Dash emerged. She scanned the shrubs and dunes surrounding the burrow. No sign of movement. She jerked her snout to the side and dropped down to all fours. “Follow me.” She whispered as she whipped around.
Genet padded away from the burrow and into the mouth of a channel between two adjoining dunes. She heard a scuffling and turned to peer over Fade and Dash’s heads. Blue eyes blinked in the darkness some tree spans away and Swift rushed from the burrow. Civet, Genet’s litterbrother, was just behind her. His pelt was ruffled as if he had just been in a fight. A clump of fur was missing from his shoulder. Genet’s brow creased in worry.
Civet nodded to her and swept his tail towards the channel. Keep going. Genet returned her gaze to the frightened pups. “Keep moving.” She urged.
Dash stood firm and shook his head. “No. Not without Swift.” The young meer’s gaze never wavered from his mother.
Fade whimpered. “Why aren’t they following us?”
“I don’t know.” Genet shook her head, her paws prickling with anxiety. “Something must’ve come up. But your mother wants you as far from this family as possible, which means we have to go now.”
“We can’t leave without her!” Dash insisted, then he lowered his tone. “What if he hurts her?”
Genet’s heart went out to the pups and if there was time, she would’ve pulled them into a hug. “I’m your guardian Fade and Civet’s yours Dash. We’ve given you your orders. Now, come before Bull-”
“Well, what do we have here?” A deep voice interrupted her. Genet’s reaction was visceral. She grabbed the closest pup to her- Fade- and pulled her farther into the gully, covered in shadows and out of Bull’s sight. She was still able to see the burrow and she stepped over Fade, letting the pup cower under her stomach. She didn’t want her understudy to see if a fight broke out.
Swift turned to face their father, her pelt sleek and tone smooth. Genet marveled at how collected her older sister could be in the face of this monster who called himself kin. “We were patrolling the outer tunnels as you asked.” She lied.
“We relieved Grasstail.” Civet added.
Genet’s paw pads began to sweat. For a moment Bull hesitated, considering them. Then his eyes narrowed. “I didn’t ask you to patrol tonight.” He growled and without warning lunged for Swift. Dash moved faster than any of them and Genet’s heart stalled as the pup launched himself at Bull.
“Leave my mother alone!” He yelled as he slammed into Bull’s shoulder. Bull staggered but recovered in time to pin Dash to the sand. The large battle-scarred meer loomed over the pup, saliva glistening on his gums. Civet’s pelt bushed up and Swift dropped down next to her son.
For a moment Genet froze, eyes wide and Fade shaking beneath her. Then she was rushing forward, out of the darkness to skid to a halt beside her father.
“Civet and I,” she panted, “we wanted to take our understudies out at night. We needed to show them why ‘night is death’ is the second Truth. I meant to ask you, but I forgot. When Swift saw us leaving the sleep chamber, she followed us to bring us back.”
Bull looked up at her, his teeth bare, his eyes blank with rage. Genet cringed, panic making her pelt stand on end. He doesn’t even recognize me! Then a small figure crawled out from the gully and spoke. “It’s true. We’re sorry.” Fade whispered meekly.
Bull blinked and shook himself. He let Dash stand and turned his dark glare on Swift. “Don’t let this happen again.” He snarled. Swift gave him an icy nod and he padded back into the burrow through the main entrance.
Genet closed her eyes and heaved a sigh of relief, shaking as the stress dissipated from her tense muscles. Paws wrapped around her as Civet pulled her into his chest. He was almost twice her size. He rested his chin on her head and she buried her snout in his fur. “It’s ok.” He rumbled. “We’re alright.” He didn’t let go until she stopped trembling.
When they parted Swift was staring at them, one protective paw still on each of her pups. “You were very brave.” She told Genet. “You could have taken Fade and run but you didn’t. You stayed.” Her gaze was warm, but desolation was heavy in Genet’s heart. “Thank you.”
Genet looked away. “But we failed.”
Swift smiled and leaned forward to rub her cheek to Genet’s, sharing scent. “We’ll try again.” Her tone was hard with determination. “And again, and again, until we succeed. I refuse to let Bull dictate the lives of my pups.”
Genet’s teeth glimmered as the weight in her chest lessened. Swift was right. They would try again until they got away. Until they escaped the Deltas.