“I dare you to go see what’s rustling those bushes over there, Ghost.” Flower whispered in his ear. A tree span away, a thicket of dense brambles swayed and crackled back and forth. Beside the thicket was an ashen tree, the base still alive with brown healthy roots and the top branches dead and black. Ghost shivered, thinking it looked like a shadow come alive.
“No way!” He cast a furtive look over his shoulder. The sentry, their father OneEye, had his back to them. “Father and Mother would be madder than a giant in musk if they knew we disobeyed them.” Next to him, his litterbrother Valiant shifted his paws and nodded in agreement.
Flower rolled her yellow eyes and prodded Ghost with her muzzle. “Come on! Don’t be a scaredy-skink! It won’t do any harm if you go over there. Our guardians are busy with Dart anyway.” Dart, Valiant’s guardian, had procured a strange fever that Ghost and Flower’s guardians were scrambling to break back at the burrow. Which left the four moon old pups unattended as their parents focused on foraging for them. “You dared me to eat toad eggs last turn and I did it.” Flower screwed up her face. “And they were slimy.”
Ghost’s whiskers twitched at the memory. “That was pretty entertaining.” Then he sighed and stood, shaking the sand from his rump, and lifting his tail to show his high spirits. “Fine, I’ll go check it out. Cover for me?” Valiant and Flower nodded as Ghost gave them a quick grin of his canine teeth. Then he trotted over to the brambles on light paws.
The pungent scent of the Brights family hung in the air all around the thicket and another scent, stale but still lingering, was just under his family’s. It was foul, like rotting wood, and Ghost’s snout scrunched as he breathed it in. The brambles shook even closer this time and Ghost’s pelt fluffed along his neck and spine. This was his chance to prove himself. He would scare this intruder away from the family, whatever it was.
Using his small size to his advantage, Ghost pushed the prickly stems aside and wriggled his way through the thicket. The brambles stilled for a heartbeat and then trembled as whatever was inside forced its way out on the other side. Ghost gave chase, his pallid caerulean eyes narrowed against the thorns. When he flopped ungracefully out of the other side, he found the new scent stronger than ever and looked up to see a huge meer looming over him.
“What do you think you’re doing on Powers land,” the male sniffed, “Bright?”
Ghost tried not to cringe as his angry green gaze burned into his pelt. “I-I,” Ghost stammered, “I wanted to know what was moving in the brambles.” He said quietly.
The Powers male’s lip curled. “Curiosity often leads to pain.”
“Well, what were you doing on Brights land?” Ghost forced his trembling limbs to straighten.
The male’s expression twisted with hate and rage. “Are you accusing me of something, intruder?” Ghost swallowed hard as he stepped closer. “Do you know what Powers do to pups who think they know better than adults?”
“No.” Ghost cowered and whimpered, vibrating with dread. The male snarled and lunged forward just as Ghost twisted, trying to run. The male’s teeth sank deep into Ghost’s hindleg and a searing pain like he had never felt before flamed through his haunch. He yowled just as a wild crash sounded from the thicket. The male dropped him as a slender snout pressed through the thorns and Suri raced to Ghost’s side. She drew the pup into her paws, pressing firm paws to his spine as blood dribbled from his leg. Ghost blinked tears of anguish and fear into his mother’s fur.
“What is wrong with you, Lion?” Suri screamed, her voice raw and hoarse with rage and disbelief. “He’s your brother, and he’s only a pup!”
Lion’s sneer was ripe with loathing. “He’s no kin of mine. Make sure he stays away from the boundary in the future.” Then he turned tail and padded farther into Powers territory as if he hadn’t a care in the world. Suri took Ghost home and he recovered. He decided that night that he would never be bullied and vulnerable again. From then on, he wouldn’t shed a single tear. And he would never forget the hatred Lion felt for him, for Ghost harbored the same fire for his half-brother who had left such a vile legacy in his memory.