Wolf's Rain Fan Fiction ❯ Signs Of Paradise ❯ Who Knew That Mud Pies Could Be So Dangerous? ( Chapter 7 )
Disclaimer: I do not own Wolf's Rain
ch-san: Howdy! Did everyone have a good Thanksgiving? I hope so! Well, I'm not going to waste your time by giving a long, dull speech on the "meaning of Thanksgiving" or anything. I'm just going to get on with the fanfic.
The clearing of the rain was so abrupt that it almost frightened Ayume. Then again, she was already on pins and needles. The poor wolf had lost a loved one, been deprived of nutritious food, had her sleeping pattern greatly disrupted, and was dragged out of the only home she'd ever known all in the span of two and a half days. She was so overwhelmed that every inch of her body was numb with some form of grief or from a build-up of impending stress. This didn't seem to worry her at all, because after hitting every corner of the emotional spectrum in such a short period of time, she welcomed the numbness with open arms. It was a break from her nervous system, and in a melancholy way, it felt good.
The landscape was hilly and very barren. Only patches of dried, lifeless grass speckled the crumbly earth. There wasn't a tree, bush, or sign of life for miles around in every direction. No one could tell if this was a good thing or a bad thing, because after being in a city it was slightly eerie, but felt great to be on their own, especially for the boys who were used to being alone anyway.
They pounded their way through the muddy earth swiftly and silently. The rain had indeed let up, but the sky was still and impending shroud of tumbling gray fluff. What was above them didn't bother the wolves, but what was below them did. The mud was so thick and sticky that their feet kept getting caught by it and held fast. Their pace slowed to a trot, then to a walk, and finally to a crawl. With every step they took, they had to lift their feet out of the sludge with a huge effort. What made it more ridiculous was that each time the earth let go of their paws it would make a little pop, like the sound of a suction cup letting go of a smooth surface. No one spoke much as they trudged on, but the incessant popping was enough to drive even the most levelheaded to the brink of insanity. The piece de resistance of this whole ordeal was when the clouds started to clear and the early morning sun came up. As the wolves struggled against the mucky earth, the mass of mud started to stew and bake under the relentless sun. In a matter of minutes, they were stuck. Literally.
Toboe was the first to be trapped. They were walking along, subconsciously in the order of rank (for no matter how close relationships between wolves are, they usually travel in rank, even if they do not know that they are doing so.) Kiba was in the lead with Tsume right beside him, about three inches behind. Hige was a good yard or two behind, then Toboe, and finally Ayume bringing up the rear. She did not resent this at all; it was programmed in her blood. Strangers were last, along with the weak and the mate-less females. She just happened to be all three. What startled her was when Toboe stopped and let her go in front of him. She halted and turned.
"Toboe, keep going. I shouldn't go before you," she said.
"No, I-unngh!" he grunted, tugging at his feet.
"What is it?" she asked.
"I…I can't move!" he yelped desperately. Ayume felt the hair on the back of her neck bristle. This was not a good sign.
"Here, I'll help you, don't worry," she assured him. As quickly as the mud would allow, she plodded over to Toboe's side and, wrapping her jaw around his ankle, started to tug. He whimpered a high note and Ayume tasted a warm gush of blood in her mouth. Startled, she backed off.
"Oh, Toboe, I'm sorry! I was only trying to get a better grip!" she apologized.
"It's okay; It's only a cut," he smiled. "Try doing it as a human. That might work." She took a deep breath and felt herself change. In a matter of seconds she had her small, graceful fingers wrapped around his ankle, tugging and yanking.
"Why won't this mud give way?" she wondered, gritting her teeth with frustration. Suddenly, it hit her. She felt the earth around Toboe's feet. It had completely hardened.
"Oh…!" she exclaimed.
"Oh? What oh?" Toboe yipped. "Ayume, help me!"
"I can't, Toboe, you're stuck! I can't get you out!"
"You have to help, please!"
"I will, I just can't do it alone. Just take a breath and stay here!" She turned and began to trudge after the others, who were a considerable distance away.
"Stay here?! Is that a morbid joke or something!? I DON'T THINK I'M GOING TO GO ANYWHERE!" Toboe called after her. She turned around, pained by his statement, but was utterly shocked to find that he was smiling. Then, after thinking about how silly it was for her to say `stay here', she had to smile too. A small feeling of kinship between the little wolf and herself sent a stream of energy to her tired paws. She flung herself through the rapidly hardening mud in hopes of reaching the other three before it was too late. Her dream was not realized, because in a desperate attempt to free one of her hind feet, Ayume tripped and fell bodily into the semi-soft goop. Terrified of being trapped with her face in the mud, she flung her head back, sludge-caked hair whipping her back painfully. The next step was to lift her arms out of the mud, but she found this difficult. Her fears were realized. She was stuck.
"Oh no!" she gulped. "Oh no, oh no, o-ooooooouuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuu!!!!!!" she howled. "AAAAAAAOOOOOUUUUUU!!!!!!! TSUME, HIGE, KIBA! HELP!!" Off in the distance, she saw their heads turn. One of the three bolted out toward them, completely unimpeded by the mud. One of the remaining two seemed to be in the same pickle as Toboe, and the remaining wolf stayed to help him. She ignored the two in the distance, sure of the fact that they would be fine. Instead, she focused her attention on the wolf who was drawing nearer by the second. His beautiful white fur sparkled like a pearl in the sand.
"Kiba!" she called, unable to attract his attention through any means of movement. She was stuck lying prostrate with only a foot, a hand, and her head above the surface of the solidified muck. He was by her side immediately.
"Ayume, are you okay?" he asked impulsively.
"Yes, I'm fine. Go help Toboe," she said. He stared at her hard, knowing very well that she was not fine and that her position was much more dangerous that Toboe's. He reached out a hand to free her, but she lifted her chin and bit it gently.
"Kiba, go help Toboe," she growled around his palm.
"No, I can't leave you like this. The earth will swallow you," he insisted, eyes narrowing. She spat out his hand.
"Damn it, Kiba the more time you waste talking to me, the less time there is to save our lives. So do you really want to sit here and discuss who's saving who while we die or do you want to help Toboe so there can be two pairs of hands to get the rest of us free!?" She snarled. He gritted his teeth with frustration but didn't question her logic. Resignedly, he dashed past her. It took him only a matter of seconds to be by Toboe's side. Since the earth was now a completely solid mud cake, he had the freedom to run on its stiff surface. But he had seen mud lakes like this before and knew of the danger that the others did not seem to realize. He discovered that the mud they were trapped in had once been many packed layers of loose dirt before the rains came. Now that the earth was saturated and hardened, it would create a quicksand effect. The many layers of mud below the surface were still wet. If any one of them tugged too hard to get out, it would swirl up and start to drag them down. It was a tricky situation.
"Toboe, how much have you sunk since you first stuck here?" Kiba insisted.
"Well, my feet were the only things stuck when Ayume fell over there, and now it's traveled up to my knees…" he said.
"Great," grunted Kiba as he clawed at the surface of the solid lake. He had been at it for about five minutes before he halted and looked up at the runt.
"You know, you could bend over and help me," he growled.
"Oh, sorry!" Toboe said. This proved successful. With their joint effort, they were able to tear the thick cakes of mud away and yank him out. As soon as he was able to free himself the rest of the way, Kiba left his side and bolted over to where Ayume was. Just as he feared, the mud had started to drag her down. Her foot, neck, and most of her hand were already below the surface. To conserve energy she had moved as little as possible and was resting her sweat-lined face against the hot, sticky earth.
"Ayume!" Kiba exclaimed. She wiggled a finger and smiled.
"Hey handsome. Took ya long enough," she grinned.
"Don't be so cocky, and stay still!" he lectured, digging his claws into the terrain. Toboe fell opposite Kiba and went to work. They started with her feet and worked their way up, ripping away the dirt in chunks. It was hard work, but for something that was so laborious it went considerably fast. They had cleared it up to about her rib cage when Kiba hesitated. Toboe glanced up at him, but continued working.
"What is it, Kiba?" Toboe asked. The young male remained silent. Quick as a flash, he struck out at the youngster's hands.
"Toboe, stop!" Kiba barked.
"What? Why?" he asked nervously.
"Because, I just realized, if we keep on digging like this, we'll- " Suddenly the earth around Ayume's upper body cracked and she slipped bodily into the mud.
"Ki-!" she yelped before the rich mud entered her open mouth and closed in above her head. The next few seconds seemed to last an eternity; it was as if someone had slowed down the movement of time for Kiba. He couldn't remember yelling, but he heard his own voice screaming an exclamation of some kind as the earth swallowed her. His mind was wiped blank of all thoughts of reason. The next few minutes were a blur to him. He couldn't recall when he leapt after her, but he remembered an intense feeling enter his chest when he had grabbed onto her wrist. After that it seemed that time had quit being so lethargic and decided to make up for it by speeding up. Before he knew it she was lying next to him, completely covered in muck, not breathing. Tsume and Hige were there, too. No one noticed that they were also mud-caked.
"Ayume, wake up!" Toboe cried, bent double over her. It took Kiba a moment to realize what was going on. He was still trying to connect the dots with what had just happened.
"Move over, runt," Hige said, pushing Toboe aside. Hige balled a fist and placed it at the base of her breasts. With his other hand, he pressed down hard many times. On about the seventh or eighth time, she started coughing and rolled over on her side. She hacked up mud for a good five minutes. The others watched with a mixture of relief and amusement.
"God damn, did you have to swallow all of it?" Tsume asked, a slight hint of a smile on his lips. She looked up at him through her caked hair and grinned before resuming her coughing fit. Tired and out of breath, she collapsed, still emitting small coughs.
"Um, so can you walk or anything?" Hige asked uncomfortably. Her half-lidded eyes stared at him tiredly. She remained silent.
"Hige, she almost died back there. I don't think we should have her walk anywhere," Toboe said.
"But it's only a little past lunch! Are we just going to sit here for the rest of the day when there's so much land we could still cover before nightfall?" he asked. Before the youngest one could answer, Kiba nudged past them and bent down, picking up her weak body gently. He shifted her onto his back to carry her better, then turned to the other three.
"Let's go," he said resolutely.
They pounded their way through the cool afternoon across acres of hardened mud. By the time they reached the end of the earthen lake the sun was setting behind a distant row of mountains. Lucky for them at the end of the line was a vast forest. The air was thick with life and moist from the recent storm. They welcomed the new habitat with open arms. After winding their way through the trees as deeply as they dared to in the dark, they stopped and settled down for the night. With some coaxing, Hige and Tsume convinced Kiba to leave Ayume alone with Toboe while they went off to look for something to eat. Toboe was happy to stay with her. She had slept most of the way there and now she was wide awake, if not too terribly active.
"Ayume?" he began meekly when the others were out of earshot.
"Hmm?" she noised.
"I'm sorry…for earlier today…" He turned his gaze to his outstretched feet.
"What's there to be sorry for?" she asked.
"You almost died because of me."
"Toboe, I asked Kiba to get you first. You think I didn't know that I was in danger? If course I knew."
"Then why did you ask him to free me first? I was only stuck up to my knees."
"You know how I was lying on my stomach?"
"Well here's the thing: you were standing straight, which centered all of your weight on your feet. If Kiba hadn't have gotten you out of there quickly, the earth would have collapsed and you would have been twelve feet deep in a second. I had my weight distributed out instead of in one place. You were actually in more danger than I was." He let this sink in, but wasn't deterred.
"But you almost died because of me," he insisted.
"No, I made the choice to die if necessary," she told him.
"You… you would die for me?" he asked, completely stunned.
"I think I demonstrated that pretty clearly today," she grinned.
"But…why? I barely know you." She fell silent and turned her attention to the grass in front of her. The young lady was lying on her belly in the soft green grass between two old oak trees. The pup was seated to her left on an enormous, aboveground root. She plucked a few blades of grass out of the ground before answering.
"Toboe, what do you know about me?" she asked, analyzing the blades of green between her fingers.
"Well, I know that you lived with a human, that you're very nice… and that you're kind of mysterious," he added. This made her smile.
"Mysterious, eh? Haven't heard that one before."
"Well, it's true."
"Did I ever tell you that I had a little brother?" she asked.
"No, never! What was he like?" Toboe asked, excited.
"Well, he was sweet and gentle. He would be about your age now, if he were alive," she commented.
"He's…dead?" Toboe said, dismayed.
"Yeah. I saw it all. He was only five years old, I think."
"What happened?" he asked with bated breath. Ayume turned her head and gave him a sad smile.
"I'll tell you some day, but not today. Today has been sad enough. Besides, the boys are back."
"They are?" Toboe asked. Sure enough, Kiba and Hige came bounding through the dense trees. Only Kiba had meat in his hands, and it wasn't a lot to boot.
"Where's Tsume? Is that all the food you got?" Toboe wondered.
"Of course not, numbskull. That food's for her. I'm just here to take you to the meat pile. Tsume's watching it for us. We got a deer!" Hige added excitedly.
"A deer? A real one?" Toboe smiled.
"No, a fake one, genius. Of course a real one!"
"I haven't had deer in ages," Toboe mentioned as the two boys ran towards the kill. Their voices grew fainter until they were gone. When he knew they were well away, Kiba took a knee and placed the still-warm meat in front of Ayume.
"Here. Eat some real food," he said. She looked at it, then up at him.
"I'm sorry you had to trouble yourself, but I'm not hungry." He stared at her.
"Not hungry? All you had last night was three hot dogs."
"I just lost my appetite, that's all," she mumbled, getting to her feet. "You can eat it." She wandered over to a towering redwood and leaned against it. Every inch of her was still coated in mud, like a tangible reminder of the terrible event. It had only happened five hours ago, but to all of them it seemed more like a lifetime had passed. Reluctantly, Kiba bent to get the meat. He straightened up and took it over to her.
"You need to eat," he mumbled, holding it out for her. She sighed so deeply that she could feel it in her toes. After mumbling grace, she took a bite of it and started to chew.
"This tastes disgusting," she mentioned, swallowing it.
"It should. You grew up on dog food," he said casually. She took another piece.
"That was the better half of my life." He didn't ask, but stole a glance at her out of the corner of his eyes. They remained silent until the meat was gone. When she had swallowed the last of it, he turned to her.
"You know, you…" he began, but lost what he was going to say.
"Toboe thought that I shouldn't have thrown my life on the line to save his," she chuckled. Kiba looked at her oddly.
"He was right. It was dumb and selfish of you."
"You knew that he was going to die first if you didn't help him, Kiba."
"Don't lie." Their eyes locked. His were curious, but icy. Hers held the stubbornness that his usually sported.
"I wasn't going to," he said though clenched teeth.
"Why did you try to save me first?" she grumbled.
"You don't seem very grateful."
"Yeah, well… I… I just think it's odd that you tried to save someone you barely know before someone you've been with for almost a year."
"You were closer and my judgement was clouded. That's all, so back off." He pivoted and walked off a little ways to lean on a tree with his back to her. She stared at his retreating form and hung her head.
"Why…are we like this to each other?" she asked, sighing heavily. He turned to comment, but she had already walked off. Kiba didn't know whether to be hurt or confused. `"Why are we like this"? Like what?' he thought. But he knew he was just kidding himself. They always seemed to be at the other's throat. It was almost like how he and Tsume behaved, but there was something different between them. Was it because she was almost as stubborn as he was? That seemed to be part of it. But there was something else. Something he couldn't put his finger on. Something he was about to discover soon enough.
ch-san: Well, that was fun! I whipped that out really quick because I know that I haven't been writing a lot lately. Gomen! Well, the next chapter should be out soon too, I hope. I'm on a writing spree, but the holiday is impeding on my creative splurge. Ah well. Ja ne.