For decades, the four had always been one.

Now, though, as the stars glittered in the darkening sky above the Stubtooth Mountains, change came to Akalpatra on the sand-gritted breeze.

The Theorian pack member known as Tra lay on the ground in the middle of a rough circle formed by his three companions – Ak, Al, and Pa. His chest rose and fell, breath ragged. His tongue lolled faintly from between his fangs.

They had been en route to the annual Gathering of their kin in the ruins of old Pansheera when the wild agatarg had burst from the brush in a flash of fangs and black fur. The six-legged beast had lunged after Ak, tearing into her flank with a ragged slash, but Tra hurled himself into the fray. Tra and the agatarg had tumbled together, roaring and hissing.

When it ended, the creature’s windpipe dangled from Tra’s blood-fringed mouth, but the Theorian had suffered mortal gouges to the belly. Ak would recover from her relatively minor wounds. Tra took that as a source of comfort in the final hours.

Sometime after midnight, the troubled breathing stopped.

The survivors turned their backs on their deceased companion, rested on their haunches, and warbled a mournful wail at the star-speckled sky.

When morning came, Akalpa moved on. No other would replace their fallen mate.

The three would always be one. For now.