Fixel had never felt so useless.
All around him at the side of the valley, the crowd of wolves buzzed with activity. Each of them dashed from task to task, sparks of magic thick in the air. Frequent glances were tossed in the direction of the rising sun, often followed by scowls at the increasing light. Everyone was caught in a desperate race to finish all they had to do before the day came.
Because with the light came war.
Casting his own gaze towards the sky’s smudges of orange and amber, Fixel shifted his paws. But there was no race for him. Nothing to rush to do. Instead, a mixture of anxiety and impatience squirmed in his stomach as he remained stationary.
One voice at the back of his mind hissed to get things started, to begin the fighting, if only for something to do with his paws. But the other was grateful for the wait. Perhaps if it dragged on long enough, the battle would never begin, and he wouldn’t have to see wolves tear each other apart. Not that this would be his first sighting of a fight… but this was so much bigger than last time. So much more terrifying.
If he wasn’t alone, it might not get to him so much. Pushing up on his forepaws, he peered over the barricade, searching the throng of wolves for any sign of a familiar face. But nothing.
Anxious for a distraction, he scanned the other direction. His eyes flicked to an Earthwylf not much older than himself -- perhaps twenty-five or so cyluh -- but with a confidence high in his shoulders that Fixel simply couldn’t dream of. Lifting a brown paw, the Earthwylf trained his gaze on the soil. A tiny green plant sprouted there, thickening into a vine as it wound its way around a wooden frame to form a strong barricade.
Fangs pressing together, Fixel looked away. Another useful skill he didn’t have.
He glanced up at the sun again. It was bare minutes away from clearing the horizon. What if the battle started, and he was still alone? He couldn’t do this without his sister.
In another scan of the valley side, he caught a glimpse of the pink shape of a Kinetiwylf crouched beneath a tree. For a moment, his heart leapt, but then came crashing down again as he made out the tinge of the wolf’s fur. Purple-ish, not the vibrant pink he shared with his twin.
As if to prevent further evidence, the Kinetiwylf was joined by a Flamewylf, and together they bent over a wooden object Fixel couldn’t make out. But even from this distance, it was clear they were enchanting something.
He spun in a rapid circle. Where was she?
Fixel nearly staggered into the Earthwylf’s barricade. Tensed, his eyes darted to find the source of the voice, frowning at the laughter that followed. He instantly relaxed when he found it.
Before him, a pink wolf stood, eyes sparkling as she giggled into her paws. After a moment, Fixel’s snout cracked into a smile, though he tried to force it back.
“Fliss!” he exclaimed, batting at her paw in a playful push. “That was not funny!”
“It was,” she protested with another chuckle. Her gaze drifted past him. When Fixel turned to follow it, he saw the Earthwylf flash them both a glare. “Hey,” Flisety added in his direction. “We can’t all be serious and depressed when heading into war.”
Fixel shrugged. “She’s right. Lighten up.”
The Earthwylf gave a heavy sigh and turned back to his work, which only made Flisety laugh harder. This time, Fixel couldn’t help but join her.
Still, his gaze couldn’t help but sweep the valley again. The wolves weren’t moving about as much now, the buzz becoming a tense murmur. He felt his laughter slip away.
A snout nudged his shoulder. “Fixel, you alright?” Her ears, an identical shape to his own, twitched in concern.
“Not really,” he admitted, pawing the ground. “This… it’s not…” He took a deep breath. Several heads were turning towards the sun for the thousandth time, all with matching fear shining in their eyes. “It’s not pretty.”
His sister laughed again. The same light, gentle laugh that never failed to bring a smile to his snout. Though this time, the smile was tainted by the shiver that crawled up his spine.
“Hey,” she said, the same commanding tone she’d used with the Earthwylf. Except this time, the joking part of it had lessened, edged with concern. She understood. “None of that attitude. You’re still pretty.” She nudged him again, and he met her eyes fully. The twinkle in her eye had darkened a little, the only small sign of her shared feelings.
But it would be alright, for both of them. That surety was fierce in her eyes.
He let himself smile properly. “Of course. Always.” He surveyed the valley, the first rays of sun leaking through the trees at its edge, and then finally looked back to Flisety. “Everything is.”
She held his gaze for a moment, each of them drawing strength from one another, before she broke it. For the first time, he noticed a band had been strapped around her chest, with several wooden points wedged within.
The question formed on his tongue, but she had already sensed it before he could voice it. “Oh. General Katae’s idea.” A streak of focus overtook her eyes, and one of the pointed sticks flew from the band, hovering in front of his snout. “We use them like magic darts. Pretty cool, right?”
“Very cool,” he agreed as she slotted the stick back into place around her chest. “So--”
“Yes, you get one too.” With another flicker of magic, an identical band, previously draped at her paws, lifted into the air. He raised his forepaws and pushed into a small jump, allowing her to slide it into position just behind his shoulders.
Before he had chance to thank her, another voice rang out across the valley, snapping both of their heads up towards the sound. “Pelven warriors! Ready yourselves!” It was the general Flisety had referenced. Katae’s head and tail were held high as she marched through the crowds to the bottom of the slope, right at the edge of the valley. Her brown fur glistened, like dew on damp earth, in the early light.
At her call, wolves immediately ended their tasks and rushed to form ordered lines. Fixel and Flisety had to crouch, ears bent, to force their way to their positions as bodies jostled and writhed all around them.
The murmur rose, the army alive with anticipation. Fixel turned to his sister. “Ready, Fliss?” He planted his paws in the most war-ready position he could muster.
“As ready as I’ll ever be.” Her claws tapped nervously together, but her gaze was strong. Leaning over, he placed his paw on hers, hoping to share one final bit of her strength.
Their flanks pressed together as another wolf shifted beside them. He couldn’t tell if she was shaking, or he was.
“Today, we cleanse the lands of darkness!” Katae’s voice, sharper and clearer than any other. Silence fell as she spoke. “Today, we bring the light of peace to this land! Today, we stand together!"
"Together!" the army echoed. It was a mighty, booming echo, full of determination. Fixel turned sideways and found Flisety’s gaze awaiting him.
"Together," they whispered simultaneously.
"Today is a day of hope!" roared their commander's final chant. The sun slipped over the horizon. It was time.