Authors: Erin Hunter
Special thanks to Inbali Iserles
For Isabella Maya
âgold-and-white thick-furred female, Lucky's littermate (sheltie-retriever mix)
âsmall white-furred female with a brown tail (Westie/Jack Russell mix)
âsleek black-and-white Farm Dog (Border Collie)
âgiant thick-furred black female with a broad head (Newfoundland)
âlarge thick-furred brown male Fight Dog with a hard face (German Shepherd/Chow mix)
âsmall female with long white fur (Maltese)
IN ORDER OF RANK
huge half wolf with gray-and-white fur and yellow eyes
small swift-dog with short gray fur (also known as Sweet)
âmassive brown male with long ears and shaggy fur
âgold-and-white thick-furred male
âsmall female with tan-and-white fur
âtan female hunt-dog with black patches
âblack-and-white female Farm Dog (mother to Squirm, a male black-and-white pup; and Nose, a female black pup)
âlean brown-and-white female chase-dog
âtan chase-dog with black patches and a lame foot
âsmall, black, oddly shaped dog with tiny ears and a wrinkled face
âbig and stocky male with a blunt muzzle
The air split with a piercing
crack and thunder growled in the distance. Rain poured from the sky, rushing along the clear-stone in furious streams. Yap buried his face against his Mother-Dog's belly with a whimper. His litter-sister Squeak pressed next to him, trembling.
“Hush now, pups; there's nothing to be scared of.” Mother-Dog licked their ears comfortingly.
Yap lifted his muzzle, feeling safer at the sound of her voice. For a moment, he was blinded by another flash of light before everything returned to darkness. His neck fur prickled as his littermates whimpered and curled together for comfort.
Mother-Dog scooped them toward her with one large paw, pinning them down and washing them with confident strokes of her tongue. “I know it sounds frightening, but it's only a storm. The Sky-Dogs and Lightning are play-fighting. To them, it's a game.”
Lightning flashed across the sky once more, followed by another rumble of thunder. The churning winds howled overhead. It didn't
like a game.
“But won't they hurt each other?” Yap remembered how Mother-Dog had urged the puppies to play together gently.
“No, they won't do each other harm. They're just having fun.” She nuzzled each of the puppies in turn. “The Sky-Dogs were littermates, you see, just like you, and Lightning is their friend. Friends and littermates stick together through thick and thin.”
“But they seem so
,” Yowl whimpered.
“Are you sure they're only playing?” added Snip.
“Yes, I am sure,” said Mother-Dog firmly. “Now, my pups, it is time for rest. Soon the Sky-Dogs will sleep too.”
Something in her voice made Yap look into her deep brown eyes as his littermates nestled together, close to the soothing beat of her heart.
She avoided his gaze, turning away to peer through the clear-stone to where the Moon-Dog had been before she vanished in the dark, wet sky. Was that doubt he'd seen in her face, or was it just his imagination?
Hearing the sound of his littermates' snuffles and snores, Yap's head grew heavy. He wanted to ask the Mother-Dog more about the Sky-Dogs, but tiredness washed over him. He lowered his muzzle as his eyelids closed.
When Yap awoke the storm had mellowed to a steady rain. It was still no-sun and his littermates slept in a huddle of soft, warm bodies around him. With a jolt of panic, Yap realized that Mother-Dog was gone. He sniffed the air, locating her scent before spotting her nearby, a silhouette in the shadows.
She was watching the rain patter against the clear-stone, lifting her face to the sky, as though keeping guard. Her tail gave a small wag as Yap approached, and she turned to welcome him. This time he was
he caught a worried look in her eyes.
Yap bounded up to her but stopped a few paces away. “Mother, it
just play-fighting, is it? There's something else going on. Something bad.”
She lowered her head. “You notice a lot, Yap. Too much for a pup.” For a moment they both lifted their faces toward the clear-stone, but the night sky was completely dark. “I've seen storms before. This one shouldn't be any different, yet somehow the air feels .Â .Â .
. The howls of the Sky-Dogs are deeper. Maybe they really are just playing, but perhaps .Â .Â .”
Yap watched Mother-Dog expectantly as she went on.
“.Â .Â . perhaps they are angry.”
Yap shivered. “Angry about what?” He thought for a moment. “Angry with who?”
Mother-Dog sighed. “I don't know, Yap. It's possible that a dog did something to upset them, and they want to remind us how powerful they are.”
Yap's eyes grew wide. “What could a dog have done to upset the Sky-Dogs so much? And Lightning is a friend to dogs. He would never turn on us, would he?”
“You're right. Lightning and the Sky-Dogs are there to protect us. Maybe it's something else. No one has instincts sharper than Spirit Dogs. They could have sensed a threat. They could be howling to warn us of danger.”
“Danger? But you said everything was okay!” Yap's tail drooped anxiously. “Why did you tell us that there's nothing to be afraid of?”
“I'm only guessing. There's no point worrying you when it's probably just the wind and rain.” Mother-Dog leaned over and licked his face.
Yap pulled away and caught her eye. “But if there's something to be scared of, isn't it better for us to know about it? How else can we protect ourselves?”
Mother-Dog was adamant. “Fear does no dog any good. Whatever's happening, the Sky-Dogs will protect us.”
From the darkness beyond the clear-stone, the air rumbled again, the wind rose, and the rain came down in sheets. Yap whimpered and hid his face between Mother-Dog's front paws. He had always admired Lightning, the brave, loyal dog who counted the Sky-Dogs as his Pack. Now Yap felt unsure. What if the Spirit Dog was angry, or scared himself?
“Don't fret, Yap. I'm sure the Sky-Dogs are just play-fighting. No harm can come of it. .Â .Â .”
Her words seemed hollow now, but Yap wasn't going to challenge her. It was better to believe that they were safe, that soon the Sky-Dogs would sleep peacefully. “They make a lot of noise when they play-fight.”
Mother-Dog nudged his face with her nose. “Of course they do. They're the mighty Sky-Dogs. You wouldn't expect them to play
, would you?” She prodded Yap gently toward his littermates, trod a careful circle for her sleep-ritual, and took her place alongside the pups. Yap threw a last glance outside, where water was hammering down again. He settled next to Squeak, who gave a small snuffle but didn't wake up.
The wind howled, battering the clear-stone. Yap's hackles rose and he shut his eyes. He trembled as he remembered Mother-Dog's other fearâthat the Sky-Dogs were howling in warning.
What could be bad enough to alarm the mighty Sky-Dogs?
Lucky froze, his legs trembling. Silence
fell over the circle of dogs.
Alpha's broad, wolfish face was unreadable. He drew himself up on his rock, towering over the two Packs. By his side on the grass was Sweet, the beautiful swift-dog, staring at Lucky. Lucky could scarcely look at her.
Little snub-nosed Whine's tongue lolled and his jaws gaped. “You see, I was right! The City Dog was spying for the Leashed Dogs. He met with that one, the one who looks like him!” Whine turned to Bella, who glared until he cringed and cowered. “I saw them .Â .Â .” The little dog's words trailed off.
Lucky fought to keep his tail high. He could not let it droop in submission. That would show weaknessâit would be the end of him in the eyes of this fierce Wild Pack.
They were all waiting for an explanation, but what could he say? He had spied on them, just as Whine had said. He had never imagined, though, that Bella would use the information he'd provided to attack the Wild Pack's camp.
Lucky searched the faces of the dogs in the circle.
What do I do now? If I show loyalty to the Leashed Pack, the others will kill me. But how can I turn my back on the Leashed Dogs? Bella's my litter-sister. .Â .Â