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By Wilbur S. Peacock

DEVIL watched the man below. A thin trickle of smoke plumed from the cabin's chimney, rising straight and true into the chill air, and its odor excited Devil as it always did, somehow familiar, as though he had known it in the past.

He watched, sleek fur tight to his great body, and frosty breath slid from his black nostrils and dissipated in the air. A low rumble pulsed in his throat, and he licked his chops, dull hate spreading in his eyes.

This was the hunter, below, the implacable being who had slain most of the pack with his traps and his poisons and his guns; and Devil watched him silently, trying to fathom his purpose in such a slaughter. He was as vicious as Taug, the black wolf, but more deadly, for Taug must fight close at hand while the man killed at a distance.

Devil growled again, and then began to inch backward from the ridge, back down, plume held low. The ringing blows of the hunter's axe lifted high, and each blow was like a deadly warning to the half-wolf.

He stood at last, almost three feet at the shoulders, heavy with the strength of the malemute bitch which had been his mother and deadly fast with the instinctive skill and instincts of the prowling wolf which had sired him. He was sleek and deadly and he walked with the pride of the unvanquished.

He heard the cry then, winging from far away, and dread touched his mind. He began to run, instinct flicking him to speed without thinking, long legs reaching out in the racing stride which none in the land could match.

He heard the cry again and knew it was from one of his pups. A growl of pure hate surged in his throat, and he flattened in his stride, rippling muscles coiling and knotting within his supple skin. Snow spurted from each driving foot, and the wind whipped the breath from his nostrils even before it could chill.

He went about the copse of snow-clad balsam, and when a rabbit bounced in terror out of concealment, he gave no heed, hunger held in thrall by the danger signal which sounded so eerily in his mind.

He dropped down the side of the mountain, slipping from rock to rock with agile ease, and then fled through the earth-notch toward the place where he and his mate had their hidden den. The muted cries of snarling rage were clearer now, and he knew this was Taug who waited ahead.

He slipped, coming into the second valley, and then caught his balance, and his whine of anger went ahead, flipping Taug about at the den's mouth, mouth still bloody with his slaughter. Taug looked up and then whirled away, dancing stiffly, taking a final slash at the ruptured body of one pup which lay almost at his feet. Fleeta, Devil's mate, showing white teeth through a crimson-stained muzzle and guarded the whimpering third pup with fierce defiance.

Devil sent his snarling challenge across the snow and then went driving in. Twice he had fought Taug, and twice neither had won. Devil was the faster, but Taug was heavy, and neither could upset the balance. But now, with two of his pups dead in the bloody snow, Devil was more than a match for the black wolf, and so Taug turned before they met and raced down the valley toward the trees.

THERE was no fear in him, only caution, and he turned his head to peer back as he ran, pink tongue lolling from his mouth. He was like a black shadow slipping across the blinding-white snow, and when at last he disappeared into the trees, it was as though one shadow had flowed into another.

Devil raced the last few yards to his den, his challenge whipping after the fleeing Taug. Then he came to a plunging stop and the whining in his throat was a keening for the dead.

Two pups were dead, mangled incredibly by Taug's slashing teeth, their baby mouths gaping in crude caricature of defensive rage. They lay as they had fallen, three steps from the den's mouth, their soft bodies torn beyond belief.

Fleeta lay at the den's mouth, still huddling over the last pup. One eye was gone, a socket gleaming redly, and her right foot had been crushed with one terrible backslash of Taug's teeth. She whimpered with pain, and Devil pressed close, nuzzling gently, smelling the blood, while the rage simmered ever hotter in his mind.

He turned away and nuzzled the pups' bodies, trying to lick life back into them, and then stopped his futile efforts, knowing instinctively they would never play again or nurse at Fleeta's teats.

He heard Fleeta's soft whine of agony, and saw then that she had pushed the third pup from beneath her and that it, too, was dead. Blood still seeped from its torn throat, but it did not move. Fleeta whined again, the sound dissipating into the frosty air like her whitened breath.

Devil prowled about for a moment, stiff-legged with rage, and saw how the attack had been made. Taug had waited above the den, lying at the top of the overhanging rock and then springing in heedless play from the mouth. Only a minute had been necessary for the killing, one moment out of eternity; and then, the bodies of two pups at his feet, he had met Fleeta's charge.

That he had not slain her instantly was an accident. But he had slipped on snow-glazed ground, and then Fleeta was at the den's entrance, her gleaming fangs a barrier even Taug could not rush heedlessly. And then when Devil had swung out of nowhere there was no time to finish what had been started and Taug had fled.

Devil swung about and went to Fleeta's side. He nuzzled her, and then began to lick her grievous wounds. Taug's' teeth had slashed deep, but except for the bitch's crushed foot, most of the wounds were more painful than serious.

He caught at her shoulder, teeth clamping on the loose skin and helped her to her feet. Fleeta stood on three legs, swinging her head uncertainly, blind now to half the world. She whined deep in her throat, and Devil forced her away from the den. Soon, the hunter would come, drawn by the wolf cries, and safety lay no longer in the den.

He urged his mate up the slope, following the bare icy rocks instinctively, searching for a new den, a place where Fleeta's wounds could heal in safety.

He stopped at the top of the first ridge and looked back at the pups lying so still in the murder-marked snow. He keened his grief at the sunlit sky, and the agony in him went winging out over the land. Echoes bounced from mountain walls, dying, diminishing and drifting away.

Then he went on, urging Fleeta ahead with slashing teeth when she would try to stop. There was an urgency in him to get away from the place, a drive that could not be denied, for even greater than his wolf instinct was the malemute reasoning that the hunter would try to pick up the trail as soon as possible.

The hours passed with a dreadful slowness. The sun slid lower toward the horizon and still no sanctuary had been found. The country was almost barren of life, for the winter had been harsh and most animals had fled to the valleys. Never had Devil been this far away from his own territory and it was strange to him. Yet he had a sense that safety might lie here, for he could see for miles should the hunter make a stealthy approach.

HE GAVE no more than a passing thought to Taug; their blood-feud was of two years' standing now, and this had been but the culmination of that fight. A home now was the important thing; and when at last he found a shallow cave beneath a windswept ledge, gladness touched his heart.

He sent Fleeta back into its safety and then ranged the land for a thousand yards, satisfying himself that all was well. Returning, he entered the cave and helped Fleeta again to lick clean her crusted wounds. Fever was in her now, and her teeth slashed impotently at him in peevish anger.

He desisted at last and sat at the cave entrance, watching the blue of the sky tinging with blackness. Night came and still he did not move; and a yellow moon crept higher into the sky, the snow and ice sparkling and glimmering almost as whitely as it did beneath a noonday sun.

A sound lifted his ears, and he snarled deep in his throat. That was the hunter's gun, sounding as it had those months before when he had first invaded the land. Other wolves had died when that sound came, and the remainder had pushed higher and higher into the mountains in the vain hope that safety lay there. Even now, Devil could remember the tipping shock which had slashed at his back when the sound had come one day from close by, and the long scar still twinged from time to time as though reminding him of that day.

Fleeta whined, and he silenced the cry with a soft growl. He came lithely to his feet, stretching, and blew his breath gustily at the star-pebbled sky before turning and going to his mate's side.

His breath sighed softly in the darkness, and the cave mouth was bright against the blackness of the cave. He circled about, following his tail, and then dropped to the stony floor, his head on his forepaws, and covered his nose with his brush. He lifted his head momentarily, a soft whine in his throat, at the ghostly echoes of a wolf's moon-wailing far away, and then settled again and slept.

He slept with the quiescent power of the wilderness, his nerves extending like febrile tendrils into the world outside. Fleeta slept at his side, whining a bit with pain now and then, waking momentarily and drifting back to slumber. Devil moaned again and again, his dreams troubled, for Taug was there, and the two-legged hunter, and at times he ran with a phantom pack.

He woke at sun-up, the light slanting into the cave. His eyes flickered open and he watched the world outside without moving. Fleeta moved at his side, and he nuzzled her foot, and she snapped instinctively at his muzzle, almost catching him.

He growled warningly and came slowly to his feet. Fleeta watched out of her single eye, trying to raise and then sinking back, weak with fever and shock.

Devil paused at the entrance, growling a warning, and then went from the cave and down the slope. Instinctively, he found and followed natural cover, pausing now and then to watch his backtrack and to sweep the country with keen eyes. Nothing moved, and satisfied, he went along at last, moving with the graceful speed of his wolf sire.

This was no hours' trip this time, for Fleeta did not hold him back with her lameness, and he ran with ghostly swiftness, flowing from cover to cover, nerves tightening, the closer he came to the den he had left so hurriedly the day before.

He went up the last ridge, crawling on his belly, edging along until he could look over into the shallow valley. The smell of the hunter and Taug was in the air, and his hackles rose, a soundless growl rising in his throat.

HE SAW Taug, but not the hunter, and the huge black wolf was prowling about before the den, studying the small bodies which lay in forlorn heaps. His massive head swung about, cautiously surveying the land, and then he went with dainty steps toward the first pup, sniffing at it.

A rifle cracked and Taug yelped, blasting straight upward from where he stood, whirling and snapping at a streak of blood on his hip. Snow spouted at his feet, and the echo of the second shot sounded like frost-blasted wood. Then Taug had turned and was running, seeming to ?ow over the ground so great was his speed. There were no more shots, and then Taug was gone and the hunter had appeared from behind a far rock.

Devil did not move. Movement, he knew, was a sure way to invite death. He froze like a black shadow, only his eyes moving, as the hunter came along the valley. He saw the hunter kick at the pups' bodies and then go further along the floor. The smell of smoke and food and man-odor swung upward on the breeze, and Devil's lips pulled back in a soundless snarl.

The hunter stopped farther on, halting at the place where the valley wall made it almost a natural square. Trees were there, running back into the thicker woods; it was a natural place for a hunter to wait. Devil had hunted there, ready to spring the moment an unwary animal came about the rocky corner.

Then the man shifted his rifle to the crotch of his arm and turned back the way he had come. He stopped at the den, examining the pups' bodies. Steel glistened in the sunlight, and when the man straightened, he held three pairs of ears in his mittened hand. Whistling, he went along the valley, and disappeared through the notch.

Devil lifted to his feet, shaking the snow from his body and then went along the ridge toward the woods. He was chilled and hungry, and his gaze flicked in sweeping arcs, searching for the faintest trace of movement.

He entered the trees, crossing the trail of Taug, and he snarled softly. Then he forgot the black wolf and began his stalk. He made no sound, even on the crusted snow, picking his way daintily like a phantom. His fur had pulled close to his body, stifling his natural scent, and he crouched low, skulking from tree to tree.

He found the upheaval where a ptarmigan had blasted out of cover, and he sniffed eagerly, his belly knotting with hunger. Then he went on, following the pattern of rabbit tracks that dotted the snow.

Sunlight stippled everything, sifting through the interstices of the branches, and he slipped from shadow to shadow, instinct bringing him downwind from where his dog-mind told him prey might be.

He went motionless, hearing the faintest of 'sounds, and then went along, placing each foot with stalking care, fangs barely showing in his mouth. He saw the snow-weighted squatty pine and began to circle, eyes feral with the calculation of the hunt.

He sensed the movement within the natural shelter even before he heard the sound. He dropped, hiding behind a ruffle of snow, waiting for silence, and when it came, went ahead, creeping on his belly.

His breath misted whitely, freezing on his muzzle in a rime of powder-frost, and every nerve was tight with the tensity of the moment. He found the weak spot in the piney barrier and began to bunch the long muscles of his body. He lifted slowly, judging the distance???and a rabbit thumped its instant alarm.

He exploded into the shelter, branches whipping at his head and snow cascading down his back. He made no other sound, and his reflexes dropped him into a perfect striking crouch.

There was movement at his left, and he struck with instinctive precision, blood gouting into his mouth, and in the same movement, plunged forward and caught the second buck before it could burst from the shelter. He broke its neck and dropped it, looking for more. There was none.

And then he fed.

HE GORGED on the hot bloody flesh. Bones cracked beneath the pressure of his heavy teeth, and his belly filled and he became more content. He snapped up mouthfuls of snow and then rested, somnolent, worrying at a final scrap of food.

Satisfied at last, he rose, catching up the rabbit he had struck first and slipping through the hole he had blasted through the branches. He stood for a moment outside, trying to test the breeze, but unable to catch any scent other than the one of the rabbit in his jaws.

He went through the woods, going a different way now, feeling the warm strength alive in his loose muscles, and at the edge of open country, hesitated for only a brief second before loping out oi concealment.

He sped down a tiny valley, working his way higher into the mountains. He ran with a smooth grace, plume cocked high, the weight of the dead rabbit dragging at his head. Feeling free at last from the hunter, he began to race.

Minutes later, he stood guard at the cave mouth, while Fleeta tore at the rabbit's body. She was more easy now, although so stiff she could barely move; and when she had fed, some of the peevishness went from her, and Devil sat at her side, yawning.

He had no fear that the cave would be discovered by the hunter for a time; his trail had come over snow and icy rock. His malemute ancestry had given him a sense about man that was even keener than the wolf instinct; it was as though he knew the limitations of the hunter, and so he felt no fear now.

He licked his jaws, satisfied for the moment. Fleeta whined, and he pressed close to her warm side, dropping to the floor, head outstretched like a dog's. It was strange, not having three pups climbing over his back in play-fighting, but the events of the day before were becoming more hazy in his mind, for like a wolf, he lived for the day, death no novelty to his existence.

* * *

Two days passed before he hunted again. Snow had come, drifting without sound, and lay like a wooly blanket over everything. He lay at the cave mouth, watching, and behind him Fleeta whined in the pain of healing wounds. He kept away from her as much as possible, for she slashed with keen teeth when he did approach.

And then on the third day he ventured into the silent world. His feet went deep into the fluffy snow, and it filled his nostrils as he breathed; but once out of the hollow before the cave, the ground was more wind-swept and he could move easily.

He went toward the woods again, for this land was barren of life and food lay there. He snatched at snow now and then, quenching his thirst, and his red tongue lolled like a dog's, steaming in the coldness. Hunger was a gnawing ache in his flat belly, and he watched the horizon for sight of any creature who had ventured forth.

He went to his left, circling toward his old den which lay near the hunter's cabin, for his malemute intellect told him he must place the man, before the hunt, if he were to return.

He ran swiftly, a dark shadow on the powdery snow, and when at last he was near his old den, he sneaked upward on the ridge as he had done before. He could see the smoke rising far away at the cabin, and its odor touched his senses, alarming him, ridging the muscles along his shoulders. He crouched over the top of the den for moments, peering into the valley, cold intellect swirling in his half-wild eyes.

Thoughts swirled in his mind, half-forgotten thoughts; and then he swung from the ridge and loped toward the far woods. He went with easy grace, hugging natural cover, as silent as a phantom.

He came to the timber and followed its edge for half a mile, then came back within its shade, keen nose and eyes alert now. He growled, hackles lifting, at the odor of Taug hanging in the air, and then went on, more slowly now, slipping from tree to tree with an uncanny quiet.

His great head swung from side to side, feral eyes searching for any movement, and when he heard the squeal of agony ahead, he froze motionless, testing the soft breeze with expanded nostrils.

There was the taint of fresh blood in the air and Devil whined, his hunger acute and biting. His feet made no sound as he flitted ahead, and rage began to pulse in his mind as the smell of Tang came heavier with each passing second.

He saw the black wolf at last, feeding on the body of a snowshoe rabbit. He knew then that this was the moment, and he turned to one side, keeping snow-covered brush and trees between him and his prey. Patiently, he stalked the wolf, treading with delicate precision.

And at last he was ready. Thirty yards separated them, and Taug had no knowledge of his presence. The black wolf worried his food, glancing up only now and then, secure in the knowledge of his own strength and size.

Devil made no sound. He gave no warning, all wolf now, and exploded from concealment with a speed nothing in the woods could match. Muscles bunched and he was a streak of hurtling fury as he launched himself at Taug's throat.

The black wolf tried to whirl at the last second, and Devil struck, slashing with razor-keen teeth. Blood was hot and salty in his mouth, but skin slipped suppley on Taug's shoulder, and the black wolf fell away, only a minor wound in his dark hide.

He whirled in a reflexive springing of taut muscles, landing on his side and spinning to his feet. He growled in vicious rage, teeth white against his muzzle.

Then he was coming in, muscles sliding like cables over his great body, and struck with a ponderous smoothness which seemed incredible in a wolf so great. His eyes were smeared with his hate and flaming with the urge to slay, and when he struck, his weight bowled Devil aside, while great canine teeth searched for the pulsing jugular in his throat.

DEVIL went on his back, and his hind legs bunched and straightened, seeking to disemboweled Taug. Pain lanced at his throat where Taug's teeth had met through the loose skin; and then he had torn free, and they were circling, breath steaming like thick white smoke.

They flattened slightly, muscles sliding smoothly, and neither was truly hurt as yet. Two years they had waited for this encounter, and each knew that but one could live.

There was a crimson collar at Devil's throat now, and the blood dripped hotly onto the snow, marking where he stood. Taug was almost motionless, a slash ruby-red at his shoulder. They faced and then circled, five feet apart, snarls rumbling and growling in their deep chests.

Taug came first, black lips drawn back from shining teeth. He hurtled in, lancing for a death-stroke, and he was all killer now. And Devil met him fang to fang, giving no ground, their jaws locked for an infinitesimal second which brought them chest to chest, towering in the air until they toppled to one side.

It was then that Devil had the advantage, for he was a breed, and his malemute brain gave him the way in which to fight. For unlike a fallen wolf, he did not plunge to his feet and dart away, but lay on his side for a moment, and when Taug plunged up, he slashed at the black wolf's belly, teeth locking and ripping while a shrill cry of pain whirled from Taug's straining throat.

Then Devil was up and ten feet away, ready again, cold calculation deadening the black rage that smouldered in his mind.

Taug rushed, slashing with a dreadful calculated cruelty. Skin ripped at Devil's neck and he went over in a bucking fall beneath Taug's weight. His breath streaked whitely from his nostrils, and he growled, almost barking, at the black wolf. Pain spurred at him, and he could feel the tearing slash of Taug's keen teeth, and panic touched him for a second.

He kicked free, sprang to his feet. Snow flurried high when he landed and turned red where blood leaked from his body. Without pausing, he whipped in, cutting and slashing, dancing like a shadow now, flicking with a speed Taug could not match for the moment. He went in and out, and each slash of his powerful jaws sliced skin and flesh.

Taug growled his rage, turning with a ponderous silent smoothness to meet each attack. His green eyes watched Devil, waiting for that split-second when the half-wolf would make a mistake and he could come driving in.

Devil sprang, slipping in for a throat hold. His shoulder struck Taug's and unbalanced him, and then he had the hold and was hanging on with malemute persistence. Taug went berserk in his rage, lifting to his hind legs, dragging the heavy weight of Devil erect with him.

Then he went to one side, but his throat was free, and Devil had made his one mistake.

Taug spun and his teeth were knives that shredded flesh. He straddled Devil, holding him down by sheer weight, and sought his life. Blood spurted, smoking in the cold, and Devil battled frantically to break free.

The snow was broken and trampled now, spattered with crimson. It flirted upward from driving legs and fell, only to be kicked high again. A bush lay ripped away, skeletal branches brown and sere, and the remains of the snow-" shoe rabbit was almost covered now by flurried snow.

Devil tore free, growling at the waves of sickening pain, ears ?at and enraged against his sleek head.

But Taug gave him no surcease. He lanced in, snarling his challenge, sensing that his victory lay close at hand. He-was stronger than Devil and fat with good feeding, and in him was a raging instinct that told him this was one chance to win.

DEVIL met the slashing stroke of Taug's fangs, met it and drove the black wolf aside. Then he went backward, step by slow step, keen eyes watching and waiting for the coming move.

He felt no fear, for there was none in him. Never had Taug been so strong, never so vicious, and he knew the black wolf might win. But still there was no fear.

He watched, and the wolf sheen faded slowly from his eyes. His breath steamed, and he could feel the shaking of his flanks. Only short minutes had vanished during the fight, and except for the pain of his wounds, he felt no effects.

Taug circled, panting, whining in his hateful eagerness. He, too, was bloody, but he was still a wilderness killer and his strength was far from gone.

And so they circled for a moment, neither gaining an advantage, and a thought came to Devil's brain. He made a slow advance, one step carefully placed in front of the last, and paused. Taug froze, waiting, and the tableux held.

Devil struck???he struck and whirled away and began to run. Taug spun and followed, a growling note of victory in his throat.

Devil ?ed ignominiously, rushing through the woods, looking back to see if Taug followed. And the black wolf followed with reckless speed, heedless of all except for the fleeing half-wolf ahead.

Devil sped with all his strength, gaining slowly, leaving Taug farther behind with each hurtling second. Long legs flashed, and snow was spurned high, and he slipped through the brush and trees with uncanny skill.

And then he was in the valley leading to his old den, and Taug was fifty yards behind. He slowed his speed, watching now, and spun about the rocky corner, momentarily out of sight of Taug.

He flipped in midstride, flipped to one side with incredible sureness and burst through a snow-covered bush and out of sight. And even as he sank almost to his shoulders in soft snow, Taug came hurtling around the bend.

He ran, still thinking Devil was ahead. He ran with the plunging instinct of a wolf on spoor, and when his eyes told him the valley was empty ahead, his mind did not register for one interminable second.

And in that second, first warned by Devil's flickering appearance, the hunter rose from concealment from behind his rocky shelter. The rifle gleamed at his shoulder and then spoke its message, and the slug rolled Taug into a kicking berserk heap.

The wolf snapped and snarled at the bullet wound, and then a second slug hammered at him, and he dropped slackly, moving no more, while the hunter climbed from concealment, rifle held at ready.

Devil snuffled softly, backing now, urgency spinning him about and dropping him into a run, even as the hunter came plunging toward the break he had made in the brush.

He ran, dodging for concealment. Pain ripped at his shoulder, and he felt skin and fur rip away. Then the roar of the single shot caught up with him and pressed him on. He ?ed to one side, hiding in the shelter of a thickening line of trees. He ran for minutes, and stopped at last, hidden, but able to watch the valley below.

His tongue lolled, and his eyes were the intelligent eyes of his malemute mother as he watched the trap into which Taug had rushed so blindly.

Devil turned his muzzle to the sunlit sky and the cry of his wolf song went stark and clear across the frozen wilderness. He saw the hunter lift his head from where he crouched over the body of a black wolf.

Then Devil slipped away from his vantage point and went more slowly up the mountain. He limped and a dozen wounds ached and throbbed in his great body. But his plume was high and contentment lay broad and swift in his mind.

He came to the cave, and Fleeta was in the mouth, moving silently aside as he sat at her side. Tentatively, she licked at his shoulder wounds, and his tongue nursed a cut on his right foreleg.

His head lifted and he listened. There was no sound. But there would be, he knew that now, and the sound would be made by the man who killed at a distance.

Devil blew his breath. Soon, as soon as possible, Fleeta and he would leave for parts where game was plentiful and dangers scarce. He snarled a bit, thinking that, and he bent his head to tend his wounds.

Fleeta moved at his side and he smelled her warmth. He was content then and unafraid of anything and he pressed closer to his mate.