Caution: Quills may be sharp Circulation: 155,374,082 Issue: 216 | 11th day of Storing, Y7
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Murgoh: Part One


by zephandolf

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Author's Note: If you want answers to some unexplained events prior to this story, read the Savak series: The Medallion, The Search, and The Redemption. Thanks to those who already have.

It was snowing lightly on the Neopian Plains. The layer of clouds that overcast the area was thick enough to block out most of the moonlight from Kreludor, leaving the rolling, snow-covered landscape in the dark. An occasional winter breeze carried snowflakes from their intended paths, and as quickly as it picked them up, it left them again, allowing them to fall to the ground once more.

      Amidst the snowy haze and darkness, seven Lupes, two adults and five half-grown pups, sat silent and solemn as they stared into the pitch-black depths of a small cave. None of them moved, and none of them spoke. One of the younger ones, a dusky red Lupe named Murgoh, angrily scratched at his ear as a snowflake blew into it. He knew how serious this moment was, and tried to keep his temper in check. He could sense the pack's tension from his mother, Heysha, who was seated next to him, her gold charm laden necklace glimmering slightly, even in this light. The trim blue Lupess was holding her composure well, considering what had happened. So had the other adults, and especially his father, Savak, the pack leader.

      Murgoh stopped scratching at his ear when he heard pawsteps coming from the cavern. Two Lupes stepped out of the cavern. The first one was Savak, a trim red Lupe, with thin, gray fur just below the neck; the result of an accident long past. The second was Kosek, a lithe yellow Lupe, and the only other adult male in the pack. Savak, his head and tail low, walked into the semicircle of waiting Lupes and sighed silently before he spoke.

      "It's done," he said. "Gerthen is resting with his ancestors now."

      Without another word, Savak passed the gathered Lupes, not even glancing to anyone. Murgoh saw his mother watch him sadly as he passed, the charms on her gold necklace glinting in the slight moonlight that penetrated the clouds. She pressed her nose to his side as he passed, but he didn't respond. Once he had passed, Heysha sighed and, noticing that her son was watching her, smiled grimly and said, "Gerthen was very close to your father. He's taking it hard, but he'll be alright." This said, she stood and followed her husband across the snowy plains.

      Murgoh didn't really know how close his father was to Gerthen, but he was close to the old Lupe too. After Heysha left his side, the young Lupe clawed at the snow irritably. He never had a chance to say goodbye.

      "Murgoh?"

      Murgoh turned around when he heard his name, and saw the yellow Lupe behind him. Kosek was standing over Murgoh's two sisters; a blue Lupess named Melissa, and the smaller Ashley, a white Lupess. When Kosek was sure he had Murgoh's attention, he continued. "Take your sisters back to the den. Lilia will be along presently with Kovo and Thassa."

      "Why do I have to take care of them?" Murgoh asked, his fur bristling slightly. He didn't want to have to watch his sisters. Kosek, however, didn't seem to understand that. The fur on Kosek's back rose slightly as he leaned closer to the young Lupe.

      "Because I told you to," he growled slowly. "Now get going, or I'll have your ears off!" Then he padded past Murgoh to Lilia, a petite young island Lupess, and his two pups who were waiting for him. Thassa, a yellow Lupe like her father, was very quiet, and hardily spoke to anyone but her brother. She was even more somber on this occasion, if that was even possible. Her eyes followed her father as he approached, but she didn't say a word.

      Kovo, on the other hand, was watching Murgoh. Like Kosek and Savak, Murgoh and Kovo weren't on the best of terms, mostly due to the fact that Murgoh often pulled pranks on the hapless brown Lupe. Kovo was a little older than Murgoh was, and if it came to a fight, Kovo was more likely to come out on top. Fortunately, it rarely came to that. Though Kovo was glaring distrustfully at Murgoh, the young red Lupe paid no heed. He was still angry about being ordered around by Kosek.

      "Stupid Kosek," Murgoh mumbled once Kosek was out of earshot. He didn't know why his father hadn't driven the Lupe off yet. They never were on the best of terms. Kosek always seemed to have something to complain about. When Kosek gave Murgoh a nasty look, Murgoh jumped to his paws and moved to his sisters.

      "Come on, let's go," he growled, passing his siblings. The two Lupesses quickly padded after their brother, struggling to match his pace, which was swift due to his anger. He didn't care about anything around him, or who was following in his footsteps. As they passed quickly over one hill, Melissa managed to catch up and walk alongside her brother.

      "Will you slow down?" she asked in a terse tone. "You know Ashley can't keep this pace for long through these drifts."

      "Maybe she should have grown faster, then," Murgoh snapped. He stopped suddenly as his sister cuffed him heavily between the ears and he stumbled into the snow.

      "That's not fair!" she yelled. "She got very sick last year, and you know it!"

      Standing up, Murgoh furiously shook the snow from his fur and rubbed the top of his head. "Did you have to hit me so hard?" he growled. "Man, you could have broken the skin with a blow like that!"

      "I shouldn't think it would hurt you too much, being so thick-headed," Melissa sneered.

      This was the last straw for Murgoh. With a snarl, he jumped on Melissa, and the two siblings proceeded to wrestle with each other, growling, barking, and throwing snow everywhere, until a high wailing stopped them.

      "Stop it! Stop it! Stop it!" Ashley whined. "I don't like to see you two fight!"

      For a moment, neither of them moved as they watched their upset sibling. Then they broke apart, sitting a few paces apart as they straightened their fur and licked fresh sores.

      Though some of his anger had subsided with the fight, it hadn't completely been spent. However, for Ashley's sake, he had to control himself. "Come on," Murgoh said finally. "We should get to the den, or we'll be out in this all night."

      Melissa nodded in agreement, and the three continued, at a slower pace.

      As they traveled, the storm picked up. The gusts grew into a persistent wind, and the snow was coming down thicker. Murgoh had to slow the pace as they trudged along, until Melissa stopped him again.

      "We'll never reach the den at this rate," she observed, raising her voice to be heard over the wind. "Maybe we should stay here tonight."

      "Here?" Murgoh asked, his voice also raised. He gave his sister a cynical look. "In the middle of the storm? Are you nuts?"

      "We could burrow a den into the snow," she said. "We would be safe from the wind and the cold, and sharing our body-heat will keep us warm enough until tomorrow."

      Murgoh thought this over. He knew that Melissa was right, but he didn't want to admit it. Briefly, he looked at Ashley, who was looking blankly, almost distantly, out into the storm as the wind ruffled her fur from behind. As she shuddered slightly, he realized what a pitiful sight it really was, and he relented. "Alright, we'll stay here tonight," he said as he started digging into the snow. "Come on! Ashley's getting cold."

      Working together, despite their fight earlier, Murgoh and Melissa dug deep into the snow, throwing piles of the white powder out into the storm. It took some time, but they dug a chamber large enough for the three of them. Once this was done, Murgoh peeked his head outside again. Melissa came up beside him in a moment.

      "Come on, Ashley," Melissa called to her sister. "You can have the middle, it's warmer there."

      Ashley turned slowly to them. For a moment, Murgoh thought he saw something odd about the way she was looking at them. But when she blinked briefly, shaking her head, she looked fine.

      "Are you coming?" Murgoh asked. "Come on, I think the storm's getting worse."

      For a moment, Ashley only sat where she was. When Murgoh thought about going over and pushing her into the den, Ashley nodded silently, and she padded inside. Turning around a few times, she lay down in the middle as her sister recommended. Exchanging glances, Melissa and Murgoh joined her. As he lay down to wait out the storm, all Murgoh could think of was how Kosek was going to scold him tomorrow when he found out that they didn't show up at the den like they were supposed to.

     * * *

      Murgoh opened his eyes suddenly, and realized that he was no longer in the snow den. He was floating in the clouds. In fact, there were clouds all around him. As he started to wonder why he was there, and how he came to be there in the first place, a bright, yellow light appeared in front of him. This light zoomed around in front of him, and then darted around his head for a moment.

      There was a flash of light, and Murgoh found himself engulfed in darkness. He couldn't see anything around him, though he seemed to be standing on firm ground. Then he heard a menacing snarl. After a moment, a figure appeared in front of him. Arching his back in hostility, a massive Lupe, broad-shouldered, brown, and almost crazed in appearance, glared at Murgoh with a look that could kill. Murgoh had never seen a Werelupe before, and he had never intended to after hearing all those stories about them. But he couldn't help but examine this one. Aside from its dominant features, he noticed the eyes, which glowed in the moonlight, were almost blood red. A long scar had formed across the left eye, creating an even more frightful appearance for this creature.

      Murgoh could only study this creature for a moment before it raised its maw up into the darkness, sending forth an angry howl. Then, growling once more, the Werelupe lunged at him. Murgoh braced himself for the hit.

      A flash of light brought Murgoh back to where he was before, floating in the clouds. The flying yellow light was floating right in front of him. He couldn't distinguish a form in the light, but he heard a female voice coming from it.

      Come what may, I will be watching you, the light said.

      Murgoh was about to respond when the sea of clouds around him disappeared. Firm ground was under him, and he sat upright, opening his eyes. It was dark where he was. It was also cool, but warm bodies nearby told him he was not alone. Then it dawned on him: he was back in the snow den with his sisters.

      Looking around, Murgoh noticed that the snow den entrance was completely snowed in. It took him a moment to dig through it all before he could get to the surface and have a look around. Several inches had fallen last night, which insulated their makeshift den even more than before. It also covered their tracks from last night, so Murgoh didn't know which way they came from, or which way they were going.

      Climbing out of his little hole, Murgoh shook the snow from his fur and took in the sights and scents around him. It was morning. The cloud cover from last night had thinned considerably after the snow stopped, though the skies were still a gray overcast. The landscape around him was white with snow as far as the eye could see, as it had been for the last month. The scents on the air were faint, and he could barely distinguish a Lupe scent among them.

      After a moment, Melissa climbed out of the snow den, stretched, then moved to stand next to her brother.

      "What a night," she said. "What a storm. I'm surprised the den didn't cave in on us."

      "Well, it didn't," Murgoh pointed out. "And now we need to figure out which way home is."

      Melissa nodded absent mindedly, sniffing the air. "What's that smell?" she mumbled to herself. Before Murgoh could respond, she moved away, tracking the air currents. Shaking his head, he left her to it and poked his head into the den to wake Ashley. When he saw her sleeping so soundly, he hesitated. For a moment, he didn't want to wake her, but he knew they had to get moving. Gently, he prodded her shoulder.

      "Ashley," he said softly. "It's time to get up. We need to get back home, or Kosek's going to have my hide to line his part of the den."

      With a moan, the white Lupess opened her eyes. She suddenly went stiff, gazing blankly ahead with a faraway look that sent a chill down Murgoh's spine and made his fur stand on end. She growled for a moment, then suddenly scampered backward into a corner of the den as if she were afraid of something.

      "Revenge!" she rasped. "Dark ambition. An eastward march. Oppression. Resistance. Open warfare… Murgoh!" she snapped the last word so suddenly that Murgoh nearly backed out of the den. Holding his ground, he spoke again.

      "Ashley, what's wrong?"

      The young white Lupess shook her head, looked around briefly, and then looked to her brother. Her faraway look had disappeared, but it was replaced with a fearful expression. "We need to leave," she said, almost a whisper.

      Seeing she had returned to normal, Murgoh felt his fur fall down on his back. "That's why I woke you up," Murgoh explained gruffly. Ashley shook her head.

      "No, we need to leave now! Something's wrong! It's dangerous here!"

      "Murgoh, get up here!"

      Murgoh backed out of the den and saw Melissa padding quickly over to him. "What's the matter this time?" he asked.

      "We need to get out of here!" Melissa said. "You've led us out of our territory. This is one of the western territories. I think there's a rival pack near here."

      "What?" Murgoh glanced confusedly from Ashley to Melissa. "It's not my fault! You know how bad that storm was!"

      Melissa shook her head. "It doesn't matter. We just need to go. Ashley, you need to get up, we're leaving now."

      A distant sound caught Murgoh's attention, and he rotated his ears behind him to listen. He heard snarling and angry barking coming from the west. Unnerved, his fur stood on end again.

      "Scratch that! Get back in the den!" he snapped. Melissa hesitated, but jumped in anyway. Murgoh followed, staying near the surface, peeking out at the activity above.

      Several Lupes came into view, dashing across the snow-covered plains. Murgoh wondered what they were running from until he saw their pursuers. Nearly a dozen Lupes were chasing them, driving them straight into the east. Murgoh shrank away into the den as some of the pursued Lupes passed near them. A moment later, he heard the rest of the Lupes come to a halt around the den. Though it was muffled, he could hear someone up above make a simple announcement to the others.

      "We've done it, this territory is ours!"

      In response to this, the other Lupes howled together in triumph. Murgoh shot a warning glance to his sisters to stay absolutely silent, but he realized that Melissa was way ahead of him, trying to keep Ashley calm.

      When the howling had died down, the same Lupe continued his announcement. "Soon, all the plains will be ours! Lupes everywhere, wild and domestic, will fear the name of your leader, the Scarred one, Kelthar Moonbane!"

      "All hail Kelthar! All hail Kelthar!" the other Lupes chanted. Soon, this too died down, and the speaker piped up once more.

      "Come, my brothers. Lord Kelthar will reward you all handsomely for this victory!"

      Cheers rose up among the Lupes as they started to move deeper into their territory. Murgoh hoped against all odds that their den would go unnoticed. A few of the Lupes passed so close they could look inside, but none did. He almost yelped in fright as one of them stepped into the roof of the den, stumbling for a moment, but he moved on without a second thought. It wasn't until the sound of pawsteps had faded completely that Murgoh peeked outside the den again.

      Once again, the Neopian Plains was left in its cold calm of winter slumber. The snow around the den was completely disturbed after the Lupes had chased out their rivals. As he looked around, he couldn't see any of them anywhere, even in the distance.

      "What are we going to do, Murgoh?" Melissa asked as she stepped out of the den. Ashley followed closely, too frightened to speak.

      Murgoh wasn't entirely sure what to do. He didn't know what it was, but even the mention of this Kelthar ran shivers down his spine. It was as if he feared this Lupe before he even knew who he was. Shaking his fur out, only one solution presented itself.

      "We need to tell dad," he said silently. "There's no doubt in my mind that this Kelthar character is going to be trouble."

To be continued...

 
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