The snow crunched softly under her feet, damp and cold where it sunk through skin, each footprint leaving a splotch on the landscape where a sliver of still green grass sliced through the barren white. The trees hadn't lost all their leaves yet, some had turned and some were still holding onto their green. It had to be pretty far north for such a quick snowfall to dash across the land, still lush from the autumn. But it was nice to see snow again. Snow was Winterfell, it was her brothers and sisters and Jon ruffling her hair and winking at her when no one else was looking.
It was the wolf dream again, and Arya had stopped being afraid of them finally and started enjoying the freedom, the feeling of the crisp ruffling through the wolf's fur and the icy, wet smell of winter in the air. Braavos didn't smell like winter, it smelled like a hundred thousand different things all at once - people and spices and animals alike - all rolled together and doused with the salty spray from the sea and the dirty water in the lagoons. The dreams were a piece of home and Arya clung to them tighter than she would ever admit, especially because they represented the very thing she was supposed to be leaving behind.
Around her, she could sense others, their presence fanning out around her in the snow-speckled brush. She could smell them too, warm and rich, the scent of the wet fur clinging in the back of her throat. As much as it was a comfort to have them around her, she also felt the strength in each one of them, and the strength they posed as a pack. Arya remembered the stories she heard up the King's Road, the pack lead by a massive she-wolf, who'd allegedly ravaged cities and stole babes from their mothers arms. This pack only hunted to feed itself, but angry and wayward, it wouldn't hesitate to defend itself if attacked either.
A howl in the distance caused her ears to prick upwards, head canting towards the chill wind, a long, low sound, that rumbled heavy, echoed by a thin chorus that made the hair on the back of her neck stand up. She took off into the trees, the heat of other bodies and the rhythm of their footsteps closing in around them. It wasn't long before she passed the treeline that she smelled them - another pack, the coppery thick scent of blood already hanging in the hair.
A rumble of a snarl ran through her throat, and she lunged forward, low branches and shrubs scraping down her sides as she darted through the trees. Everything around her was a blur of faded green and brown and white, until a splatter of blood on the snow stopped her in her tracks. Sniffing at it, she caught the scent and made an abrupt turn into a tangle of underbrush where one of her pack was being held at the throat by a larger wolf with gray fur streaked in white. This wasn't her fight, she thought, a pack lived and died by the strength of its weakest members, and as the rest of the pack stood back and yowled its warnings, she thought she should do the same. But it wasn't like her to stand back and watch one of her own brutalized; somewhere in the back of her mind she could only think I've seen this too many times before.
Hoping it wasn't too late, she lurched forward again, knocking the gray wolf off it's feet and sending it into a roll. Her pack-mate whimpered and scrambled back out of the clearing, several others coming forward to lap at the wounds at the back of his neck. She was able to pin the male easily beneath her, her muzzle against his as she growled deep, but he snarled back at her and snapped his teeth. She'd given a warning and he hadn't yielded to her, there was no more he deserved. She clamped her teeth down around his throat and tore, feeling a howl turn into a guttural rumble of blood and air. She dropped the muscle and tendon and fur on the ground, backing away from her kill with a snarl towards the other pack.
The pack closed in around them, bristling and readying for a fight, but she stood strong at the head of the pack, her wounded pack-mate sliding further back into the treeline to nurse her wounds. Then it was just a tense few moments as they waited for one or the other to make their move. It was a female with long, ragged fur from the other pack who tore through the ranks first, lunging towards her with her teeth bared. She side-stepped the attack, one of her own surging forward while she circled back and grabbed the female by the crest of her neck, hurling her easily to the side. The female whimpered as she crashed into the underbrush, but quickly rose back to her feet. Her fur bristled and she growled deep, muscles flexing to lunge before a pale gray female took her down from the side and tore at her neck. She watched the female die with casual disinterest, her head canted towards the grim sight just enough to show that she was watching, but not so much that she ever took her eyes off the rest.
The rumble of growls seemed to die down quickly after that, the other back all slowly looking away from her and the pack gathered close to her, daring any of them to come closer. Then just as she started to turn, satisfied that she had won, the crunching of snow caused her ears to twitch again. Looking back, she saw the pack part, lowering their heads and skittering off to the side to make way for a large male with reddish-brown fur. She stood a head taller than all the others but he was nearly as large as he was - his blue eyes boring hard into hers. She recognized the other Alpha, as lean and hardened as he was, but that didn't mean she was going to back down. Food was scarce, every little bit of territory was valuable, and she understood that. But they were just passing through, they weren't trying to defy anyone's claims. Still, if someone was going to challenge her, she was going to fight back.
He didn't give her any warning, he just leapt forward at her, going for her throat. She let him take her down to the ground, letting him snap at her and try to get a hold of her. But she was still bigger, faster, and as soon as the male got too bold, she took advantage of the crack in his self-control and tore into the side of his face.
Arya jolted awake, her heart throbbing in her chest and cheeks flushed warm. She could still taste the blood in her mouth, wiping at her lips and holding her hair to the flicking firelight, though it came away clean. Swallowing hard, she pulled the blankets up and rolled over onto her side, tucking her knees up against her chest. She wondered if she was supposed to be terrified of what she saw, or disgusted by it, but the only thing she felt was this deep sense of justice. While she wanted to be there fighting to protect her family as well, Arya was able to cling to the knowledge that she needed something to draw her strength from the way Nymeria drew strength from her back. She was trying to do that here, learning to arm herself so that she could go back and cross those names off her list one by one. In even her most extreme moments of slight, there was one lesson Arya would never forsake: a man deserved to look at the face of the person who'd ordered his death, at least the ones who deserved anything at all. Nymeria didn't let her pack fight her battles for her, and neither would Arya. She hoped that somewhere, regardless of everything else she'd done, her father would be proud of that.