May 8, 2017 | Posted in WooFPAK Heroes

Even with a wounded flank, the stag moves quickly. His long legs make it difficult for Zarro to keep up with him, as the husky dog keeps stopping and glancing over his shoulder. It’s night, and both his human pack and his dog pack were fast asleep.

If he’s lucky, they’ll stay that way until sun up, when Zarro will be back, laying on top of his halter like it just came undone in the middle of the night.

Right now, though, he doesn’t feel all that lucky. He feels lost, and confused, and urged on by forces that he can’t quite explain. Following the stag seems like Zarro’s only option, so he lets the wild thing lead him farther away from the make-shift camp and farther away from those dreaded train tracks. Before long, they are completely wrapped up in the wilderness.

Zarro can smell the faint traces of men and women; people that, much like WooFDriver, have been through these lands on a hiking excursion of some sort. It’s been hours since they passed through here, though. Zarro isn’t the best tracker. It might even have been longer than that. Days, perhaps.

Once more, Zarro asks, “where are we going?”

“It’s not much further,” insists the stag. “Just a little bit north of here. My family – my family needs your help.”

“Is that how you got hurt?”

“Never mind my wounds. I’ve been dealt worse over the years. I will doubtless gain more in the future.”

Zarro glances at the wild beast’s bloodied flank. The brown fur is matted against the stag’s flesh, and the blood makes it seem far darker than it really is. “It looks painful.”

“It is,” answers the deer. A pause and then, “but my child is in far more pain.”

They slip through the trees, now, and the branches are woven so tightly together that even the light of the stars has been blocked off. It’s only Zarro’s keen night vision and strong sense of smell that lets him keep track of the stag. “What’s wrong with your kid? Did the hunters get him, too?”

“In a way,” answers the stag. “They shot at us. They chased us. I’m sure that they’ve been trying to track us. But my family, they’re smart. When hunters appear, we scatter, and we meet up at the Big Tree, to the east of here. It took me two days to get there. I was trying to lead the hunters away from my family. I thought – I expected to find everyone when I got there.”

The stag ducks his head. He makes a sound of distress, takes a sudden sharp turn to the left. The briars aren’t so thick here. It looks like humans have been through here recently; their scent is stronger than it had been earlier, more bitter.

“Kilah wasn’t there,” continues the stag, in a low voice. “Sheik thought that he was with me but…he wasn’t.”

Zarro asks, “is Sheik your mate?”

“Yes,” answers the stag. “I went looking for Kilah. And I found him! He’s alive, but…he fell into a different hunter’s trap. I can’t get him out. I’ve tried. I’ve tried, dog, but I can’t get him out!”

“It’s not dog.”

“What?”

“My name. It’s not dog. It’s Zarro.”

“I am Veran,” responds the deer, slightly dipping his head. Were they under different circumstances, it might have been a sign of respect. Here, though, now, though, the anxiety makes it seem different. The longer they walk, the darker the forest seems to become.

And then – there!

In the midst of the shadows and the scent of human – of hunter – of stale metal and fear – there is a shadow. Veran rushes over to it, kneeling down before the small, trembling shape. It takes Zarro a moment to realize that it’s a young buck, barely half his father’s size, with antlers that are more peeling velvet than anything else.

“Kilah,” whispers Veran, nuzzling at his son’s face. “I’m so sorry it took so long. I found someone that can help us, alright? This is Zarro. Zarro, this is my son, Kilah. Tell him that you’re here to help.”

“Of course I am,” says Zarro. When he steps closer to the young deer, Kilah tries to cower away. He can’t move far, though. His hind leg appears to be trapped, caught between the metal prongs of a hunter’s cruel device.

The young deer makes a sad, pained sound. “It hurts, and I’m really scared.”

Zarro growls in distress. He steps closer, moving to investigate the trap. Clearly, this was made to catch a beast far larger than the young deer. Kilah’s leg is ensnared tightly between the large, metal teeth. “This looks bad,” he grumbles.

Nervous, Veran asks, “but you can help, right?”

“I – “ Zarro looks up at the stag with wide eyes. His tail droops down between his hind legs. Even though he is frightened and unsure, in that moment, it’s clear that there is only one thing left to do. There is only one answer to that question, and there is only one solution to this problem. “I can. I can help, I promise. But not on my own. The rest of my pack, they’re still on the other side of the track. The- the metal on the ground, where you found me. If I can go get them, I know we’ll be able to get your son out.”

Veran hesitates. “You’ll come back?”

“I’ll bring help,” promises Zarro. “It won’t take us long.”

 

Katelynn E Koontz – Author