Winter stared in disbelief at her Alpha, her sharp blue eyes wide. Ironwood held his Beta’s gaze steadily, his steel-gray eyes hard and cold, almost empty.
“Alpha, you can’t be serious! Abandoning Mantle Pack?! We made a pact with them!” Winter barked. Ironwood’s ear twitched dismissively.
“Mantle Pack left Atlas long ago. They are no longer our problem.” Ironwood growled. Winter felt anger boiling in her veins.
“They are not a problem! They are our responsibility! You are neglecting your own dogs and you know it!” Winter snarled. Ironwood leaped to his paws and opened his jaws to speak, but his white-furred Beta cut him off.
“Were you not listening when Nora said if you enforced martial law that you’d just be trading it all for Salem and the Grimm?! You are putting lives at risk, and if they die, their blood will be on your paws!”
Ironwood let out a silencing bark that made Winter’s ears ring. The large Tamaskan dog circled Winter, baring his white fangs.
“Enough!” The Alpha snarled, rage burning in his eyes. “You have clearly forgotten your place, Specialist Schnee.”
Winter held her ground as she growled, ready to defend herself. “I have remembered my place. And remembering my place means doing my job to protect the dogs of all Packs. Not follow blind orders that will only allow our enemy to win!” Winter growled lowly. Ironwood snarled in rage, his jaws opening wide, revealing his glinting teeth.
“Who do you think you are?!” the Alpha howled.
“Your Beta!” snapped Winter. Ironwood growled as he slowly stood at his full height, towering over the white-furred she-dog.
“Not anymore,” Ironwood growled. Winter froze, her ears slowly flattening against her head. This could not be happening.
Ironwood stared down at the white crossbreed with hard gray eyes. In the dying light of the sun, the metal that substituted the Alpha’s front left leg, shoulder, and a portion of his chest glinted in the light.
“If you cannot carry out orders without question, then you have no place as my Beta,” Ironwood growled. Winter stared up at Ironwood. It was not a question, the dog that she looked up to since she was a pup had vanished, leaving a paranoid, emotionless leader.
“Very well. Enjoy finding a dog that will blindly follow orders that will only get us killed!” Winter barked, turning around and storming out of the cave, her claws ticking against the cold stone floor.
“If you are seen on Atlas Pack territory after sunrise tomorrow, you will be treated as a trespasser.” Ironwood barked, standing at the entrance of his den. Winter didn’t respond as she slipped through the snow tunnel and out of the camp, away from the protection of the large pine trees over the camp.
The sound of rapid paw steps behind the white she-dog caught her attention and she looked over her shoulder, only to catch the sight of a small white male husky mix with a dark gray backside and sharp pale blue eyes.
"Whitley?" Winter asked, turning around to face her baby brother. Whitley’s pink tongue lolled out of his mouth as he panted, trying to catch his breath.
“Winter...I know we don’t get along, but I need you to hear me out this one time. Please.” Whitley panted, looking up at Winter. The older she-dog tilted her head.
“I want to come with you. I can’t stay in that Pack anymore. I can’t. Mother even came to me earlier and said that I needed to leave for my own safety.” Whitley yapped. Winter looked her younger littermate up and down. Whitley was only eleven months old, and he certainly knew the basics of fighting and hunting. He was smart, but also overly sarcastic. Winter knew how harsh Jacques was towards Whitley, and she didn’t want her own little brother to be mentally abused with no one else to talk to. Sighing, Winter nodded.
“Alright, you can come. But you need to stay close to me. The tundra is an easy place to get lost.” Winter growled. Whitley nodded and padded to Winter’s side.
“Where are we going?” The younger male asked, his pale blue eyes scanning the horizon. Winter gazed ahead, her voice certain.
“Where we should’ve gone a long time ago, little brother,” Winter said, letting out a quiet sigh. Whitley twitched his ear in surprise. “Mantle?” Winter nodded and began padding across the snow, Whitley following close behind.
Robyn stood on the large snowdrift, looking out over the tundra. Ever since the Grimm attack on Mantle one week ago, Atlas Pack dogs had stopped with their check-up patrols on Mantle. It confused the loner at first until she realized that Atlas Pack would not be coming back to Mantle territory for a long while.
The faded green scarf around her neck flapped in the wind, breaking the overwhelming silence. Robyn snorted and sat down. She had promised herself she would keep watch tonight despite the freezing temperatures. The crunch of paws on the snow grew louder behind her.
The she-dog looked over her shoulder at the sound of her name. May, a Blue Bay Shepherd mix with sharp amber eyes stood beside the snowdrift, looking up at Robyn.
“What is it, May?” The she-dog asked, her ear twitching. May sighed.
“Qrow just came back from his solo patrol, and he has some interesting information about two of Atlas Pack’s members.” May barked. Robyn tilted her head, interested.
“Jacques’ son and Ironwood’s Beta have disappeared. Both were last seen about two hours ago.” Robyn frowned. The Beta of Atlas Pack was a very well-respected dog due to her rank and reputation among the Packs. Robyn didn’t know Whitley very well but had heard that he was a bit of a brat.
“Something tells me they chose to leave…” Robyn growled, shifting her gaze back to the tundra. May raised a brow but said nothing and hopped up onto the snowdrift beside Robyn.
“Are you still thinking about what happened to Fiona?” the shepherd asked, tilting her head. Robyn sighed and nodded.
“She could’ve been killed had it not been for Ruby and Jaune. While I’m thankful that they saved her life, I’m still nervous about letting them stay with us, though a part of me knows that they’ll be safer here than in Atlas Pack.” Robyn explained, scraping her claws over the snow slightly. May twitched her ear in understanding.
A faint, muffled sound caught Robyn’s attention and she snapped her head up, gazing out across the horizon. “Did you hear that?” Robyn asked, standing up to her paws. May shook her head. “No. I didn’t hear anything except the wind.”
There it was again. Clearer and closer, but still faint. It sounded like paws crunching over the snow, but multiple paws. Robyn narrowed her eyes.
Two shapes appeared from around a large pile of rocks. A white she-dog and a smaller white male dog with a dark gray backside. Robyn instantly recognized the pair.
“Joanna! Fiona! Get over here now!” Robyn howled. In an instant, the large Dutch shepherd and the smaller white floppy eared crossbreed were beside Robyn and May.
As the dogs came closer, Fiona’s ears pricked up. “Robyn...I-I think Winter’s bleeding…” Fiona whined softly. Robyn’s ears flattened against her head and she growled softly. “Joanna, get some medical supplies and wait in camp. Fiona, you come with me." Robyn barked, sliding down from her post on the snow drift. The Dutch shepherd nodded and bounded back into the camp.
"May, I want you to let Ruby and Qrow know that Winter and her brother are here. Tell them to make sure the prey pile is stocked up. Have Qrow arrange hunting patrols. I only want two patrols out. We'll need all the fighters in camp in case an Atlas Pack patrol followed them." Robyn ordered. May nodded and slipped through the entrance into camp.
Robyn looked at the Sheepdog beside her.
"Robyn, I'm part Arctic wolf. I'm always ready." Fiona yapped, her docked tail wagging. Chuckling, Robyn began padding towards Winter and the younger male, Fiona just behind her. The white she-dog froze in place and the younger male backed up behind her. Robyn snorted quietly as she came to a stop in front of Winter.
“We meet again, Snowflake.” Robyn yapped, her tail swaying slowly behind her, signaling that she had no intention of fighting. Winter narrowed her ice-blue eyes.
“Hello, Hill. Pleasure seeing you again.” Winter growled, her voice uncertain. Robyn couldn’t blame her. Ever since martial law was nearly placed on the Mantle Pack, things had been quite complicated.
“Qrow mentioned something about you and a pup leaving in his solo patrol report. What happened?” Robyn asked, curiosity getting the better of her. Winter shifted her gaze to the small male behind her for a moment before looking back at Robyn and Fiona.
“I’d like to explain everything when we aren’t at risk of being attacked by Grimm,” Winter said. Robyn nodded. “Alright. Follow me. Fiona, tell May and Joanna that we’re bringing them into the camp.” Fiona whirled around and sped off back towards the camp, kicking up puffs of snowy powder behind her.
Turning her rump onto the two siblings, Robyn raised her tail and curled it over her back before trotting over the frozen landscape towards the camp entrance.
The entrance into the Mantle Pack camp wasn’t the most perfect defense, but it was good enough. Large, dense pine branches guarded the snowy tunnel that led down into a large ditch, about five dogs height down. The sides of the camp were sloped and rocky. Small stacks of small pine trees were piled up to make dens, the entrances mostly covered with loose pine branches. Some dens, however, weren’t as cozy looking on the outside. Several dens were made from tonneau covers, about the height of a large German shepherd dog, with larger pine branches leaned over the sides of the steel covers, creating a shield of some kind that protected dogs inside from the nipping cold.
Large pine trees were placed over the camp, creating some sort of ceiling. The dark trunks provided protection from blizzards, as well as sap for minor sicknesses such as coughs or silver cough (which is another name for strep throat.) The thick branches of the pine trees provided an added protection from falling snowflakes and blizzards but also allowed sunlight to cut through some of the branches, allowing little sunbathing spots for the dogs of Mantle Pack on sunny days.
The small group of dogs slipped through the camp, and the ground went from freezing white snow to dark dirt to softened, grassy earth that could remind any dog of the Vale territory grounds.
Robyn came to a stop and turned back towards the siblings, her stormy lavender gaze filled with kindness as she barked quietly.
“The dens are open to everyone, but Whitley, you may want to go find Weiss. She might be with the red Pipsqueak.” Whitley nodded and padded past the crossbred she-dog. Winter was about to follow him when Robyn lifted her paw in front of the former Beta, stopping her in her tracks.
“Not so fast, Snowflake. You got a nasty bite on the side of your neck. That’ll get infected if not treated.” Robyn said, gazing at Winter, who glared at her, irritated by the fact that she knew Robyn was right. Sighing, Winter reluctantly followed the crossbreed outlaw.
Robyn led the white she-dog towards a decently sized cave that was dug into the slope that was farthest from the camp entrance. Thin willow branches hung over the opening, giving anyone inside a bit of privacy. As Winter examined the opening and noticed a flat rock that jutted out over the opening just a bit, and on that flat rock were several more willow branches, along with three or four pine branches.
As if she had sensed Winter’s confusion, Robyn spoke up. “Those branches are backup for when a Mother is giving birth, or there’s an emergency medical operation being done in the Healers’ den. Basically saves weak stomach dogs from a gory sight.” Robyn explained. Winter nodded.
“Smart, and quite thoughtful, might I add. In Atlas Pack, dogs that couldn’t stomach so much gore or blood were practically sentenced to a full month of tolerance therapy.” Winter growled, grimacing at the memory. Robyn whipped her head around to gape at the white-furred she-dog in shock.
“Do I want to know what that is?” asked the outlaw. Winter sighed as she responded, “Two higher-ranking dogs will take the weak-stomached dog out into the tundra to hunt for caribou. It won’t seem like much until a caribou is caught and the stomach is ripped open, exposing internal organs and such. This is repeated for a month until the weak-stomached dog is tolerable of blood and guts.”
Robyn shuddered as she entered the Healers’ den. “God, that must be horrible.” Winter nodded as she slumped down onto her stomach inside the den. “It truly is.”
“Robyn, how bad is the bite?” asked a voice that made Winter jump. She glanced around, wondering where the voice was coming from. Robyn looked over her shoulder at a narrow tunnel that was dug near the back of the den down into the earth. The opening was dark, but Winter caught sight of an orangish glow from within the tunnel.
“Not bad, but it’s bloody. Get some oak bark, two willow ropes, and maybe a few nettle roots.” Robyn barked. A low woof of understanding echoed from within the tunnel and faint shuffling sounds were heard. After a moment, a large, dark-furred Dutch shepherd emerged from the tunnel with some objects clutched delicately between her jaws. Padding towards Robyn, the shepherd lowered her head and dropped the items onto the soft grassy floor of the den.
“We’re low on willow ropes.” The shepherd yapped, her sharp amber gaze flickering back up to Robyn, who nodded.
“I’ll have Pipsqueak and the Ice Princess go out later to get some.” Robyn replied, “You may wanna go with them though, Joanna. Weiss and Ruby don’t know this part of the tundra very well.”
Winter’s sharp ears pricked up at her little sister’s name. She thought she had heard Robyn mentioned Weiss earlier, but she wasn’t sure.
As Joanna exited the den, Winter began to rise to her paws, staggering slightly. Robyn rushed to her side.
“Hey, hey, you are in no condition to be moving, Winter. You could easily reopen that wound and start bleeding again.” Robyn whined softly, allowing the she-dog to lean against the outlaw’s shoulder. Dark, dried blood stained the former Beta's fur. The dark liquid had dripped down her neck onto her chest, and had slid down her leg, creating a dark crimson line.
“I need to see Weiss,” Winter whined, wincing as a sharp pain flared in her neck. Robyn shook her head. “I can have May bring Weiss in after they gather willow ropes. Right now, you need rest and something for that bite.” Robyn growled softly. Winter reluctantly slumped back onto the soft ground, sighing.
Robyn sat down as she took the nettle roots in her jaws. “I’m gonna use nettle roots first on the bite, okay? It’ll numb some of the pain and also keep it from getting infected.” Winter nodded as she kept still while the crossbreed began to chew on the roots, biting the small plants into a slight pulp and dropping the bits onto the oak bark.
“Hold still, Snowflake,” Robyn growled, nosing the bark up against the bite wound with the nettle against the wound. Taking a willow rope into her jaws, Robyn wrapped the branch around Winter’s neck, securing the piece of bark against her wound. When the last willow branch was tied, Robyn stepped back.
“Thank you, Robyn,” Winter mumbled, the tip of her tail thumping against the ground. Robyn growled out a ‘you’re welcome’ before clearing away the remaining bits of nettle root.
“Robyn, can I ask you something?” Winter asked, lifting her head to gaze at the outlaw she-dog. Robyn tilted her head at the question. “Go right ahead, I’m all ears.” Robyn yapped, laying down beside the former Beta. Winter forced her tail to keep still and not wag at the close contact.
“Do...you still remember the Trap House?” the white she-dog asked, looking at Robyn through icy blue eyes. The Greenland dog mix looked down at her paws, hesitating to answer.
“Yes. I remember. I remember waking up on the morning of the Big Growl. Every dog was howling. I couldn’t see you, but I could smell your fear-scent.” Robyn whined softly as the flashes of that day went through her mind. It had been only twelve seasons ago that the Big Growl had changed everything. Dogs were forced to form Packs and travel to areas of Remnant that had complex climates. No dog understood it, but the border between Vacuo territory and Atlas territory was like a barrier, a thin wall separating the two climates from each other. A dog could be on Atlas territory and take one step into Vacuo territory and could easily feel the heat of the desert. Sand and snow were separated as if it was a forcefield keeping each climates separated from each other. All Pack borders were like that. Vale had the forest territory. Vacuo had desert territory, with a large oasis as well. Mistral had a Mountain type territory. Atlas and Mantle had the tundra. Smaller territories, such as Patch and Menagerie, had their own climates.
When Robyn and Winter had escaped the Trap House, the city that the two had once lived in was unfamiliar. Instead of tall buildings and speeding loudcages, everything was destroyed and wrecked. Robyn had found a dying longpaw among the rubble in a Food House, and Winter had lost her composure. Though before the Big Growl, Winter had been a K9 and had seen her fair share of death and chaos. So when the she-dog lost her cool, it had confused Robyn.
A low sigh from the white she-dog beside her brought Robyn out of her memories. “After everything that’s happened lately, it’s starting to feel like that day all over again. Running from a life that I’ve gotten so used to, and going to another Pack and still feeling so useless.” Winter stared down at her paws, her ears folded back against her white head. Robyn shuffled closer to the she-dog and rested her chin on the back of Winter’s neck, keeping sure to be careful of the bonding willow ropes that held the oak and chewed up nettle roots against Winter’s wound.
“Hey, it’ll be alright, Winter. You’re safe now. I won’t leave your side, I promise.” Robyn murmured, nuzzling the former Beta softly. Winter leaned into the gesture, suddenly feeling exhaustion and a desire for silence and warmth. Robyn curled herself around the smaller she-dog, her tail wrapping around the she-dog’s fluffy white tail.
“Just sleep, Snowflake. You’re not alone. I’ll be right here.”