His Promise

Help me!

 

If you ever need help, just howl. I’ll come help you. Because friends should help each other.

That promise of her friend to help her remained in her heart. She remembered the exact words he said, and the resoluteness in his voice, even vowing it at the front of the statue of Ashina the wolf goddess as an affirmation. And in return, she will only howl when she really needs help, so that he will never be disturbed for nothing and that she won’t be like that boy who cried ‘wolf’ in a story. How fond that memory of their promise to each other may be, she never thought she will never get to use it.

The young wolfgirl Mina tried with all strength she could to get the bear trap to open and free her leg, but its sharp jaws had already dug deep into her flesh. Each time she moved her leg, the jaws would tear bit more of her leg, drawing blood and unleashing a wave of pain that agonized her. That was nothing, however, to a sudden loss that aggrieves her further.

She couldn’t bring herself to believe that her parents are now dead, and so would be her siblings. Seeing how the murderers, monstrous green orcs with brutish faces and hands, bludgeon her father who attempted to fight back till his head has been crushed. Seeing how the murderers slit her mother’s belly and spill its insides was more than enough for her innocent eyes. She couldn’t bring herself to see what happened to her siblings, their cries and screams are more than enough to haunt her forever. It took all of her willpower, all her hope that the nearby human village where Sam lives will be able to help. So she ran with all she could muster, banking on that hope.

But now that hope is now beyond her reach.

If you ever need help, just howl.

Sam’s words echoed on her memories again. It was so vivid as if he’s telling her that again. Not only the exact words, but also how resolute he told her about that, and how, despite that he’s yet to be like his father, will do anything to help her, if only she would ask him to. But is Sam still awake by this time of the night? The moon is at its peak, and she knows by that time, humans would be asleep. No, she has to take her chances, either he will come to help or she dies.

It’s now or never.

“AW-AW-AWOOOOOOOOOOOOOoooooooOOOOOOOoooooo. . .” Two cuts, then one loud, soft, then going loud and soft until it dies off. That was the agreed signal so that he won’t be forced to come in a wrong time. Now that she thought of it, the orcs might be able to find her as well. She hesitated whether to repeat it or not. Maybe Sam might have thought it nothing, or a false alarm, but then if the orcs find her. . .

. . .she has just to gamble. That’s only the choice she had left.

“AW-AW-AWOOOOOOOOOOOOOoooooooOOOOOOOoooooo. . .”

=-=-=-=-=-=-=

“AW-AW-AWOOOOOOOOOOOOOoooooooOOOOOOOoooooo. . .”

Little Sam was already on his way to a long, comfortable sleep into a bright new day when a wolf’s shrill howl disturbed the peace of the night. At first exasperated that he would not be able to sleep after that, he realized that there’s something with this howl. Sam got up from his bed and opened the window to hear it more clearly, if the wolf howls again.

“AW-AW-AWOOOOOOOOOOOOOoooooooOOOOOOOoooooo. . .”

The promise he had made to Mina, and that in return, Mina promised that she would only howl if she’s in clear danger, flooded back in his mind. Only both of them knew the meaning of this howl. Two cuts, then one loud, soft, then going loud and soft until it dies off.

“Mina!” That was the only word he was able to gasp before racing to change from his pajamas to his khaki clothes he has always worn when venturing into the wilderness and then exit his bedroom. But before he could go down the stairs, he paused at the front of his parents’ bedroom door. Maybe he could get help when. . .maybe not. They will just dismiss this howl as one he just heard from a bad dream no matter how he tries to claim otherwise.

Stupid. Stupid. Stupid. His mind told him again and again. But Mina is a good friend, no matter how prankish she may be, she would not use this signal just to prank him. She promised that as solemn as that he will come to help her if she needs it, he told himself again and again.

As devoted as he is to the promise, he also took to his heart that his parents always advised him not to enter the forest, especially at night. Even if there’s little danger because the wolf people who live there are on amicable terms with humans, one might get lost in the darkness if he doesn’t know where he is. However, Sam’s journeys into Mina’s den so that they can play together in his free time also allowed him to memorize part of the forest that leads to her home. He only never walked through it at night. Because of that, he would need a weapon to protect himself from possible dangers. Thankfully, the keys to his father’s cabinet where their guns are being kept are just in his reach.

Upon opening the cabinet he already knew which gun to use as always: the lever-action hunting rifle. He and his father had gone to hunting trips in which they would shoot deer or wild boar and then sell its venison. Despite being inferior to his father’s bolt-action gun, it can do its job well it became familiar to Sam’s hands over time. Crank, point and shoot. That’s how simple it is.

“AW-AW-AWOOOOOOOOOOOOOoooooooOOOOOOOoooooo. . .”

Mina’s haunting howl urged him to be faster as he gathered the correct ammunition for his gun and put in his belt which has sets of pouches, each one able to carry one cartridge each. Her howl made him more frantic, but still he retained enough composure to see what more things he might need, he cannot just plunge in to danger without preparing himself: A medkit, a flask of spare oil, a lantern, a map of the forest, a compass and a flare gun with two flares. For the moment, he viewed the map by the light of the lantern, pinpointing the direction where he heard the howl coming from and noting it in his map.

After that, and packing all his gear except for his gun and lantern, he’s finally good to go.

“Please be safe, Mina.” he murmured a prayer.

=-=-=-=-=-=-=

Please, Sam, come save me!

Tears are now falling from Mina’s eyes, knowing that she’s in a matter between life and death, and she couldn’t do anything about it except call her best friend, and count on his promise.

I always didn’t howl so that I won’t be like that boy who cried wolf. I know you won’t trust me anymore if I prank you with my howl. I won’t lie to you, Sam. Never ever ever. So please come save me now.

But a matter she didn’t realize until now: Even if Sam will do come, at what time he’ll do so? The orcs who killed her family would be surely finding her. And Sam never walked into the forest at night because as a human, he’s supposed to be sleeping at this point. What if Sam loses his way in the darkness? Humans rely more on their eyes than their noses so if he got lost, that would be her fault. Her family is now dead, and because she asked Sam to come, she might as well be pulling him with her to the same fate.

She tried to lift the bear trap again to free her leg. No good. Wait. . .if Sam has heard her howl, she can howl again to lead her to him! That way he won’t get lost, he could come to her fast, and then she can have him ask for help in the village, or have him remove the trap!

“AW-AW-AWOOOOOOOOOOOOOoooooooOOO—mmmhhhhh!” A big green hand covered her mouth before she could finish.

“HAHAHAHAHA!” the hand’s owner, a burly green orc, guffawed. Mina hoped not to see those menacing forms again. Those four orcs, way hardier than either a human or a wolfman, are now around her, a wretched creature pitted against these giants.

“Howl all you want, little girl. No one will come to help you.” An orc told her in a gruff voice.

“No. . . please, no. . .” the wolfgirl could only whine. She could already see what will happen to her and that she would not be able to fight it.

“Ahahaha. . .” the menacing orc turned to his henchmen “Come, we’ll enjoy beating this girl tonight.”

=-=-=-=-=-=-=

Sam’s hearing heightened the moment he heard Mina’s howling again.

“AW-AW-AWOOOOOOOOOOOOOoooooooOOO—”

“Mina!” Sam’s heart skipped a beat. Whatever did stop Mina’s howl, it obviously didn’t want her to call for help. What could have—no, not a time for that, it only means Mina is in deep danger whatever it is. Luckily, he had already pinpointed where her howl had come from. The compass only needs to guide him there.

When Sam finally arrived at that point where he thought the howl came from, what he just saw instead is a bloodied bear trap. He gasped, fearing the worst, before trying to get his nerves to calm down and work on the situation, knowing from his Father that he won’t get anything done if he let his emotions take over during a critical task.

The bear trap was recently used and just discarded, and mingling with it are some sky-blue specks of fur. And out of her litter mates, Mina is the most distinct of them thanks to the color of her fur, the same as the fluff that remained on the bear trap. From that promising lead, he looked ahead for some spoor, holding out his lantern to extend what he could clearly see.

Thank you thank you thank you. . . I’ll find you Mina.

But the momentary relief of finding the spoor was cut off by surprise. Interspersed with Mina’s little footprints leading to where she had been trapped, are gigantic human-like footprints he never saw before. Each one is enough to fill four of his footprints put together. No human would be large enough to leave those footprints, or at least none in the village whom he knows. Whatever thing it is, it must be huge.

He and his father had known wild boars that survived several shots and attempted to escape or charge at them. The only way they could stop the latter is by putting shot after shot through the beast, hopefully hit it on the head or heart and die instantly.

Are they big enough?  He gazed down at the ammunition carrier he strapped to his belt. Inside it are standard hunting ammunition rounds. If the shot is rightfully placed, into the head or the heart, it could and did take down the biggest boar he had ever seen, but that could be nothing compared to the owner of these footprints. Sam could feel his doubt creep in his heart, that what he had done is so very stupid and that he should call it off and go back to safety.

But Mina would be surely waiting for him.

I must not fail her. I cannot fail her.

=-=-=-=-=-=-=

Mina lies hopeless after being shackled by the orcs in some ruins of a castle. Wherever it is, it seems that this is where the four orcs had made their home, evident by their partying by busy drinking mead, eating meat, saying bad words to each other and even hitting each other when they felt like it. . . eating meat. . . she could see them eating the meat until they finished it.

Sam. . .

But how would Sam find her? Even she didn’t know where she is right now. She hadn’t even ventured this far, she didn’t even know that there’s these ruins deeper into the forest—

THUD! One of them got up and swaggered towards her. Lub-dub, lub-dub, lub-dub. . . lub-dub! Her heart is beating faster than ever. Her fur bristled, her eyes opened wider, her body trembled. Fear overtook her as this orc is now towering over her.

“See the meat we’ve just eaten, girl?” the orc snarled, showing the bone leftover from the meat. “This is from your sister.”

Mina was so shocked that she couldn’t bring herself to say anything. “You think you can run away from us, you little bitch? Call for help? No one’s coming to help you.” the orc kept blustering.

SMACK! It felt that the world went away for a second as she lost sensation on her cheek, followed by an intense pain. “UWAAAaaaaaaAA—guh!” The brute’s hand struck her face, the pain so sudden and the world seemingly collapsing around her as her head felt shaken. She tasted a coppery tang in and around her mouth. Splotches of blood stained her dress, her legs and the floor.

The manacles binding her wrists rose, trapping her in a splayed form on the wall. The other orcs also rose up from their seats, lining up behind their leader. “You know what they say. Meat tastes better when you give the bitch a beating FIRST!”

“Guha!”

The orc’s lightning punch came so sudden, she didn’t have the time to see another one coming.

“Agh!” Blood and drool came out of her mouth, as well as tears from her eyes. “uhuhuhuhu. . .” she could only whimper, not even the energy to cry out loud. The orcs paid no heed to her cries, only their pleasure of seeing her suffer.

=-=-=-=-=-=-=

Using the giants’ spoor as his lead, Sam finally came upon the den on which Mina’s parents and five littermates (including her) live, a small cave livable enough for the wolf family. The last time he went here the place was so lively, thanks to Mina and her littermates. Her father reminds him of his own, strict, but caring and protective of his family. Her mother cooks dishes that made him very fond of meat, even if it’s still more or less inferior to what his mother cooks. And her littermates helped him appreciate being in nature more where the beauty of the forest and the freshness of its air made him so much content. He always dreamed that one day maybe they could cooperate in hunting by a tactic that goes by they would track down a deer or a boar, and then scare it into standing its ground, so that he could shoot it. Or if the deer would run away, they would chase it with their fast legs until they catch and pin it down. But that will not happen anymore, for he could already see what fate had befallen to this wonderful family. Her father had been bashed, all the way until Sam could see the insides of his head. Her mother’s belly is split open and her intestines spilt onto the ground. Mina’s littermates, he can’t think of any words to describe their fate, but it made him sick to the stomach that he nearly threw up on the scene. Even he and his father would not dare to kill pests in such a cruel, unnecessarily horrible way. But even amongst their bodies he couldn’t pick out the one with the sky-blue fur.

The search isn’t over yet.

Sam returned to the spot where he stopped to look at the den, having marked it by putting down a cartridge. Without anything distinct that he could use to mark the spot, he had been using some of his ammunition to do so. From that again, after noting that point in his map, he resumed following the giants’ spoor.

Minutes, hours, he didn’t know since he didn’t have a watch. Sam could only guess that it would already be past midnight based on the moon’s different position from the last time he looked on it. That, however, he will not allow stopping him, as well as even the fact that he’s going deeper and deeper into the unknown.

Until at last, he caught something out from the view of the trees. Beyond it is the ruins of a castle. Its location is indicated on the map, only he had never gone to that place before. While the darkness of the night made it so hard for him to see the silhouette, a faint light emitting smoke revived his hopes. Maybe there he could find the culprits in killing Mina’s family, or ask for some help if the people prove to be friendly, but his alert mind whispered to him that the first case might be more likely.

The spoor clearly leads to the castle, strengthening his guess that the bad guys came from there. Now he has to be very careful. It felt like sneaking into the kitchen without getting caught by his parents. It’s highly possible that the bad guys are watching him. He dimmed his lantern, just enough for him to see his path without getting into possible traps.

=-=-=-=-=-=-=

“Aukh. . .hah. . .uh. . .”

Even Mina couldn’t focus on thinking words from the pain that had already been seared to her belly, she could still feel it long after the orcs had taken their turn punching her ten times. Unshackled, dragged and now laying helplessly on the floor, her body is beginning to fail. Her sight is fading, her strength vanishing, her heart beating much more slowly and her self-control losing. Something warm and wet she had let go and it took some time for her to know what it is before realizing she just peed herself. She lost the energy she needed to say it, having expended it from screaming, crying and feeling the ache throughout her body. Only now then she found a spear that pierced her paw, drawing blood from the wound it inflicted. She’s too tired enough to scream in pain.

All this while the orcs are laughing and jeering at her with words she could not already understand thanks to not able to focus enough hearing those words anymore.

She could only vaguely see one orc leaving for a while then returning with an axe, smiling sadistically as he felt the blade of his axe for a moment. Knowing what would that mean and that she cannot do anything about it, she laid there without resistance, waiting for the blade to inevitably chop her body to pieces, a painful death, just like the rest of her family. But she’s too tired of being so scared anymore. Maybe they would meet in Heaven again, just like her Mother said about it: a beautiful paradise where everyone is happy and where everything evil does not exist.

BAM!

It was painful to hear that sound, enough to make her ears ring, but it was not the sound of bones cracking. More like the guns the humans use when they are hunting prey. Blood spattered over her, though it was not hers. The orc touched his chest as his companions looked at him shockingly. His own blood stained his hand, and a wound has just opened in his chest, before collapsing to the floor dead. The rest looked at where the sound came from.

Sam!

He did come! Her howling paid off, and now he found her! Never had she seen him so infuriated that his erstwhile gentle face was contorted by anger into a scowl, but it didn’t matter. CRANK! BAM! Another orc came down, shot in the shoulder this time. Mina covered her canid ears just in time, but the sound still pained her until the world seemed so silent except for a persistent ringing in her ears.

The next moment she looked around, her tormentors had already fallen and now lay unmoving. She could not bring herself to believe that on an earlier moment, they are boisterous as they are about to kill her. Now they are already dead and silent.

 “. . .—na! Mina!”

Sam’s voice fought the lingering ringing in hear ears. “Mina!” Every second his voice is becoming clearer and clearer to her that she can even hear how so desperate and worried he is. Now that she noticed it, only Sam came to her rescue.

“Sam. . .” she could only gasp when waves of pain still assaulted her. Sam’s eyes moved to focus on her abdomen, where they found both the severe bruises and the blood coming out from her navel. Without a word, Sam removed his backpack and opened its contents to dig up something from it: a box with a red cross. And from it he took out something: a vial. Sam opened the vial and spilled its yellowish fluid, which then he spread out with his hands, on her bruised belly. His hands are soft and careful with his work, not expected from a hardworking farmboy and hunter. His tender massage as well as the medicine helped overcome the pain. That didn’t stop there, he looked for more of her wounds. One on her leg, where the bear trap hit her earlier and another on her left hand paw which was speared by one of the orcs. Sam wasted no time bringing out dressings and bandages and opened up vials of fluid to spread on the dressings, which were used to cover her wounds, and Sam wrapped them with bandages.

“Are they too tight?” he asked, trying to be calm but she could sense his worried tone beneath. How he bandaged her is admittedly tight, but snug that her paw is just fine, she said so. Sam packed his medkit and put it back to his backpack, then loaded his rifle with cartridges from his ammunition-carrying belt. And then he did something she didn’t expect. Instead of helping her up which she couldn’t do, he lifted her and placed his hand below her so that she can support her hips. Momentarily, Sam gasped at feeling the warm urine on her privates, only to pay no heed to it as he lifted Mina like a prince would do to a princess.

“Urrgghhh. . .” Sam wobbled under her weight, giving all his effort not to let go of Mina and bear his gear at the same time, yet she never heard a complaint, not even a mutter. Making her poor savior suffer much for this worried her much more than him.

At least now he only needed to get his bearings and they can get out of here.

=-=-=-=-=-=-=

The path out of the forest seemed to take into somewhere forever, Sam’s sweat unrelentingly poured down the further he goes, his body would tremble from time to time, his gasping becoming heavier and heavier over time, but she could see him valiantly shrugging those difficulties off and forge on ahead. With her hero laden down with a backpack, a rifle and a lantern, Mina pitied him having to carry her and all other load altogether, and at the same time, admired by how far he had already gone through to do this.

She could already see in him a strong man her hero will be when he grows up. She could already see him as a dedicated protector who will never let her fall into danger ever again, a loving husband who will never make her cry and a caring father who will always be there for her.

Click!

“KYAAH!”

“AAAGGHHHH!!!”

The young hunter stumbled and collapsed on top of her, letting go of the lantern as well. Mina still found it painful for her belly to feel force again, but the medicine that Sam spread over it is working and the spasms of pain are growing less intense. She just let out a single groan at the sensation, but her hero. . .

“nnn. . . naaa. . . .aaaAAA. . . AAAAAA!!!!”

For all of their times together, Sam had cried, but never she had heard him wail in pain that she thought she could hear her own cries from him.

“Sam! Are you okay?”

“UAAAAAAAHHHH! MY LEG HURTS!”

She looked to see where he got hurt, much to her horror. As a monster girl, Mina’s tough and durable leg was able to resist the powerful force of the bear trap from cleaving her leg. Sadly, it was not the case for the human Sam.

“MINAAAAA! IT HUUUURTS!!!!”

In just one second the positions had turned. She will have to play the part of hero and repay him, now. Her body mustered all energy she could spare as she pushed himself out of being under him and unzipped his backpack to find the box with the red cross.

“What happened? AGH!”

She didn’t have the courage to answer that, fearing that for him to see his injury will only make it worse. She just wanted to treat it now. However. . .

“EH?! Sam you know how to use the medicine?!” she asked frantically as she took out the box.

“What?” That was all Sam could say when he hurled himself backward to an upward position, making him see the last thing she ever wanted him to see.

“SAM TELL ME HOW TO USE THIS!” she pleaded, but he wouldn’t hear her. She could only see how her beloved is so shocked to see that a part of him had been cut off from him, as his mouth let out ear-splitting screams that he couldn’t muster a word to answer her.

“TELL ME HOW TO USE THIS! PLEASE!”

Her loud voice finally brought him back to his senses, even if he’s now breathing deep and fast, notwithstanding his moans of pain interspersed with his breathing. “T-the VIALS! Huff. . . The. . . one. . . with. . .argh-THE yellow one—Ah.”

Thanks to her large paws it took Mina some seconds just to grab a vial with the yellow fluid, seconds that she left Sam suffering. Recalling what Sam did for her wounds, she picked up a dressing for which to pour the fluid into.

“I need more. . .” Sam sobbed, gathering enough composure to grab another vial himself, open it, got himself up and pour the medicine over his wound. “nnnnGGGGHHHH!!!!” A steady stream of tears and groans came out of his mouth. “Put it. . .put it now!” That was Mina’s queue to put the dressing over the bloodied stump and bandage it with his help.

THUD! THUD!

Just after they finished bandaging the wound, an orc with a gunshot wound on his shoulder is now upon them. Sam grabbed his rifle only to forget that it’s still strapped over his shoulder. The orc grinned at this critical chance and moved to grab the defenseless Sam.

No. She won’t let him take pleasure on tormenting her savior. Without hesitation Mina charged at her hero’s would-be killer and bit down his leg, very hard. She didn’t expect to draw and taste the orc’s blood with her powerful bite, but the orc managed to grab her neck and was now only about to pull her up.

BAM! BAM!

The orc fell down with a sickening thud, each bullet hole to his chest and his head. The fact that the brute won’t wake up again relieved Mina of one more worry. She let herself go from the dead orc’s hands and tried to stand up. “Ah!” Intense pain spread from the wound into throughout her leg, making it difficult for her to even limp two steps before collapsing on the ground with a thud. She could only crawl back to her beloved Sam who’s already fumbling his backpack to pick out a small gun and load a bullet in it, only for him to fire onto the sky.

The sky lit briefly as a split second of a star was born, giving out all of its light as it could for a few seconds before falling and vanishing. Why did Sam do that? She voiced out this question.

“So they’ll come help us. . .” he panted. “The others. . .”

So it is. The star that he fired would be bright enough that the humans in the village will come and help them. But would they come in time? She noticed that his face is getting more pallid, even if he wasn’t screaming anymore, just breathing deep and quick.

“Urgh! Grrh!” His hands reflexively touch his wound. Despite having it covered quickly, the blood won’t stop coming out, stain much of the white bandage and now leaving a crimson puddle on the soil. Mina looked on the medkit to find any more medicine.

To her despair, she found there are no more vials left, only dressings, bandages and pills. Sam also looked into the medkit. He could only shake his head after that.

No, she cannot give up if there’s still a chance to save him! More dressings and bandages could solve it, she supposed.

Recalling how they bandaged his wound, she put another dressing on it, making it tighter this time. When her bandaged hand is incapable of doing so, her mouth took over when it required gripping the bandage. On keeping the dressing in place, her forearm did well so. It took some time, but she managed to do it, making it snug enough to cover any leaks, giving just enough time for help to arrive.

When she looked back at Sam after finishing the job, he was reduced to a pitiful state, more or less reminiscent of what she was not a long time ago. Exhausted, anguished, lost.

“M-Mina. . .” he could only gasp.

Mina could only offer little comfort, considering she’s not in condition to run or even walk to call for help. That little comfort she has left, however, is more than enough for her to happily and gratefully give to her hero. Soon, they are in at least a comfortable position that his back rests on hers while she sits, allowing Sam to at least sit up while feeling comfortable at the same time. She didn’t mind his weight, she’s stronger after all, and hey, he felt the same thing when he carried her. Most of all, never she had felt this so very intimate with him until this very night.

“. . .I’m so cold. . .” he murmured as he shivered.

Her response is to wrap him further in her embrace. “Then I’ll make you warm.” she declared with a tinge of cheerfulness that she always has.

“Mmhhmmm. . . your paws, they’re fuzzy. . .” he mumbled with a smile. It tickled her heart, he had always said that when she’s doing this to him, but she never tired of hearing it.

Silence ruled both of them for a time as the lantern’s light grew weaker. Time seemed slowly to pass, and even Sam has fully stopped gasping for breath. All that time they wait for help, her paws kept on caressing him, which Sam reciprocated with stroking hers with his own hands.

“When we grow up, we will marry each other. Promise?”

She nodded enthusiastically. “Promise.”

“Then you will live in the farm with me.”

In the farm with him? Oh yeah, she would gorge herself with lots and lots of meat! The thought made her tail wag and wag “Hahaha. . .I’ll eat all your sheep!”

Sam gave her a piercing stare “Sheep? We don’t have sheep!” he corrected her. “We do have cows and chickens, though.”

Oh right, they don’t own any sheep. “Chickens, then!”

“Noooooo. . .” His fatigued tone belies his full disagreement with it “We need it to sell eggs and milk. We can just hunt deer and boars.”

“I’m growing tired of venison.”

“Then we’ll buy sheep if you want.”  Sam agreed, somewhat reluctantly “But then we really do not sell wool.”

“That’s fine, we’ll just get them for meat and I can cook the meat so we can sell them.” Yes, that’s good. In the village, she had seen humans establish places where people could come and eat in exchange for money. Whenever she takes hold of money, she would scamper to those places and pick the best meat dish they sell if the money is enough.

“Did your mother already taught how to cook?” he perked up. “Can you cook me that?”

“Of course!”

Sam nestled himself in her embrace. “It’s so cold. . . it’s so cold. . .” he complained in a murmur, his hands grabbed her arms to tighten her embrace. “I just want to sleep now.” Below her touch, Sam is indeed getting clammier, and he’s starting to shiver.

The hopeful atmosphere for the dreams of the future vanished. The warmth of life is still seeping out of him. Neither the full-bloodied bandages that she had been sure it cover every leak nor her full love she devoted to him can stop it, and when she looked at the medkit where once there had been vials of medicine, bandages, dressings and pills, only the pills are left. A small hope lit up on her exhausted and desperate heart, the pills might help.

“Sam, what those pills do?” She picked up one green-colored pill.

“That’s for when I get colds.”

Then she picked out a pink-colored one. “For my fever.” he answered. After that, a purple one. “That’s when Father finds it hard to sleep.” And then another. And another. The pills have different uses, and none of them are directed on helping his condition. Finally, she gave up hope. Her ears drooped, her tail had already weakened its wagging until it stopped. She didn’t know what else she could do.

“Hey, promise we’ll marry.”

His nearly-hoarse murmurs were already powerful enough to compel her to do so, even with the pain that it might never happen if he never survives the night. Even if she already promised it not a long time ago, she wanted to affirm to herself that they can do it, and will do it. “I promise. . .” Only that her exuberance when she did so first is gone.

Someday, they’ll live together in his farm.

Someday, they’ll get to eat meat every day.

Someday. . . someday, they’ll live out their dreams together. He only needs to survive this night, for her sake.

“Can you do me a favor as well?” By that time, a tear had already fallen from her eye, right on Sam’s shoulder, making him look up on her. The face of Sam ever going paler anguished her. “I promised I’ll marry you. Then promise that you don’t die this night!” she insisted vehemently.

“I. . . promise. . .” he weakly murmured. “I promise in the name of Ashina.” He spoke the name of the forest deity, the wolf goddess whose holy name cannot be muttered except when the speaker pledges a promise that he is ought to fulfill. “I’ll live for you and marry you. Because I love you.”

On his promise he swore even in the verge of death, she finally gave in to her emotions and broke down sobbing on his shoulder. “I love you too, Sam.” she sobbed. “I’m sorry I howled. I shouldn’t have—”

“No, no. . .” he cut her next words off. “If you didn’t howl, I would never see you again. I don’t want that. I won’t have a best friend as loyal and cute as you.” Still, the weakness of his voice reminded her of what happened to him for saving her. Still, it seemed that he didn’t mind his condition as his words continued on. “Mother always told me that if you love a person dearly, you would do anything for that person.”

“Sam. . .”

“So I did this for you.” His words are still full of passion despite his losing vitality. “Mother has always said that I cannot go to the forest when it’s dark because it’s dangerous, but I cannot ignore your howl. I know you won’t lie to me, because you don’t want me in danger.”

“Sam. . .” Her embrace tightened to give him all the comfort and warmth she could to keep the cold away from him. The possibility of that being futile hurts her even more than the ungodly pain the orcs inflicted on her so much that a new wave of tears poured down her cheeks and her voice broke down into sobs “Please do not die. I need you. Don’t leave me alone. You promised. Even Ashina expects you to.”

“Yes, I’ll live.” Mina felt Sam’s clammy hand brush her cheek, wiping her tears. “Please don’t cry, Mina.”

“No!” she sniffled. “I won’t!” If everyone gets disturbed by her crying, then better, so they’ll come to see and help.

“Mina. . . calm—” he complained.

“I WON’T CALM DOWN!” It’s now or never. “I WON’T LET—umph!” Before she could say anything more, she felt Sam’s lips press into her. So shocked she was by Sam’s sudden gesture she couldn’t do anything further to resist him. She had always thought that she will give her first kiss to the boy she truly loves. Only not the other way round but it didn’t matter. She had given it to her hero, and that lit a fire of satisfaction and joy in her heart.

“Please don’t cry. . .” Sam whispered after their lips parted.

Mina found it hard to comply to him, she hiccupped from trying not to cry. Yet she did so. If that’s what makes him so happy, so be it.

Sam smiled at this earnestly. “Good girl. . .” For complying with him, she felt his gentle hand pat her head and stroke her ears, bringing back some of the sweet joy in her heart if only for this moment.

Their lips met again, but this time she was prepared. The intensity of his kiss as his tongue invaded her mouth was so surprising, but she reciprocated by letting her tongue entwine with hers. Neither of them let down each other. She was so engrossed with kissing him and tasting his lips and saliva, his musky taste titillating her. But all things had their end, and so do their sweet and passionate act, just not in the way she didn’t think. His tongue shrank back to his mouth, giving her the chance to invade back. Only now, he didn’t return the favor. Their lips finally parted, and his weight just collapsed on her.

“Sam?” she shook him. He remained motionless on her, as if he’s a prince sleeping peacefully. His eyes are now closed. He wouldn’t budge despite her attempts to wake him up.

“SAM!” she screamed. Sam would not be able to hold off much longer! “AWOOOOOOOOOOOOoooooooooooooooo!!!!!” Louder and louder she howled at the sky. Sure if Sam heard it enough to come to her, so do will the others. “AWOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOoooooooooo. . .” Shrill her howl is that she thought she would go deaf, and her throat forced to its limits. She cannot give up. She cannot give up! “AWOOOOOOOOOOOOOooooooooo. . .”

“Over here!” A distant voice cried. Mr. Lewis! It’s Sam’s father! “There they are!”

Hope pulled her heart back from the brink of despair, and she shook Sam again. “Sam! Sam! Your father is here!” Yet Sam wouldn’t still respond, notwithstanding her cries, the other’s shouts and his father’s frantic screams growing louder and louder until he and the other villagers reached them.

“Sam?” Mr. Lewis knelt to see his son’s condition. She couldn’t find a more apt word to describe the shock, and then anguish on his father as he shook his son awake. “SAM! WAKE UP!” His tone is far much harsher as an adult that it scared her. But Sam wouldn’t still wake up.

His father could only look at her, this wretched, bruised mess who couldn’t do anything, who let her family die and now who brought her beloved savior to danger. She steeled herself for a heartrending castigation, or worse, being blamed for getting his son into this. And she would only cry, she won’t answer back. That at least she could do for Mr. Lewis in return.

But Mr. Lewis only looked further to see the bear trap that cleaved off Sam’s leg, and the orc that Sam killed. That was enough for him to just nod at her understandingly, but it still pained her. It did nothing to relieve her heart of the pain of losing her parents and littermates, and the fact that Sam is about to die because of her.

Another villager lifted Mina up, and this time, his arms are big and strong. The burly, bearded villager carried her with ease, but Mina didn’t feel anything for it. Helpful he may be, it is not comparable to the effort that Sam made to save her.

“Sam?” She heard Mr. Lewis as all of them are going back to the village. It was no longer distressed from before, but hopeful. “Mina? Of course, she’s safe. Don’t worry.”

Her ears perked. Sam? Alive? “Sam?” she called out.

Mr. Lewis turned to her for the moment before focusing back on Sam. “She’s still alive, you heard that? So you have to live too.” he spoke to Sam in a tender, fatherly tone.

“Rea. . .lly?” The villager carrying her had caught up with Mr. Lewis, allowing her to hear Sam’s voice, no matter how soft it is now.

Mina didn’t spoke further, but she held out her paw. If she could only touch him for one last time. . .

. . .

. . .

. . .

As she was about to lose hope from ever reaching him, Sam extended his arm to hers, finally bridging the gap between them. Sam’s hand lightly stroked her paw, a way of telling her that he won’t die that easily, even as weak as it can be. She could feel his fingers go explore every inch of her paw.

He will live, she told herself with hope. He had promised that he won’t die or else Ashina will punish him for breaking that promise. Her hero must live for the sake of their future. Each touch of his moving fingers told her that he’s holding on through his promise. He will hold on until the end.

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