There's darkness, and then there's darkness. There's the comforting dark when you're snuggled up with friends and/or loved ones, basking in the warmth of camaraderie and kinship. There's the scary dark, where the unknown blackness holds a thousand different terrors, and the chill of fear settles at the bottom of your spine until something sets the chills off and running up and down the spinal column. And then there is the ultimate darkness of death itself, which we are _all_ destined to face, put it off how we will. Huskies know full well the cyclical nature of light and darkness, and have a keen appreciation for what lies in waiting. Akira knew that by completing the first part of his quest - the gathering of the tools - he would be leaping right into the camp of the enemy - the heart of darkness. The Elders had told him as much: "From colorful day to blackest night Foes will move from left to right And in failure may be found The means to ultimate victory" Akira had listened to the elder's warning - it was a standard, after all - but he couldn't help but think that it was all meant to mess with his head. How can success be found in failure? He considered all of this as he passed through the Rainbow gate and landed in the middle of a dark forest. For one so used to open spaces, the closeness of the trees was almost suffocating. The branches of the trees were so thick as to all but blot out the night sky, with what little moonlight there was filtering between the dense foliage. Akira gathered his wits and struck out, letting natural instinct guide his feet. He knew he was running full tilt into darkness. His father often said, "You never know what kind of darkness you're running into until its much too late to get out." This didn't make him feel any better. "Nuts to this - I've faced down ice storms and giant grizzlies - I am not going to be scared of a bunch of - what's that word again? - trees!!" He ran from clearing to clearing, along paths, and through brush, when something hit his senses like a sledgehammer. Akira stopped short. There wasn't a sound throughout the forest. Not one. He was being followed! Akira expanded his senses, letting his ears become sensitive to every sound, his nose to every smell; his eyes to every movement. By doing so, he and his pack mates could track and kill a polar bear in a snowstorm. Doing such in the forest nearly overwhelmed him, but he pulled back quickly enough to learn what he needed to know. He was being followed by something canine, of that he was sure. Then he heard the howls, and changed his assessment: what was following him was lupine. Akira ran off to the side in a deliberate zigzag. They matched him, step for step. He reversed direction - so did they. He pulled every evasive trick he knew--and through it all Akira couldn't help but sense that they were laughing at him. "I don't have time for this!" Akira stopped dead in his tracks and shouted <SHOW YOURSELVES, COWARDS!!> <Be careful what you wish for, stripling. You just might get it. _Then_ what will you do?> Akira turned towards the sound, slowly, and met a pair of blood- red eyes. As he turned, the eyes multiplied in number as he found himself encircled. <Who are you, and what business have you on Kindred soil?> Okay, Akira, he thought, stay cool, remember what Father said about snow wolves and pray to the Gods that it applies equally to their forest brothers... <I come seeking men>, Akira said. <Have I found them?> You could feel the wolves' ears prick up and back in surprise. <Who are you, that you know the signs and verities?> Akira stood his ground. <I am Akira, son of Hikage, whose name means Wind Shadow. I am of Akita blood. I charge you by the Gods of the North to let me pass, for my mission is urgent and lives hang in the balance.> <The Gods of the North hold no fear for _us_, stripling...> One wolf stepped out of the circle towards Akira - roughly his size, and a bit more solid. <...and as for your claim to Akita blood...> The wolf smiled, the moonlight glinting off its long, light fangs. <...that I'll try for myself!> The two opponents circled each other, looking for an opening. Though young, Akira had been in enough close quarter fights to know that size mattered for little -- speed and cunning were what kept you alive. "All right then," Akira thought, "If he wants an opening, I'll give him one!" As they circled, Akira slipped, going down on his right leg. <HAH! You're _mine_, pup!> the wolf sneered, leaping as he did so. "Typical," Akira smiled. As the wolf came down, Akira moved as his uncle Kurokage (whose name means Dark Shadow) had taught him. He rolled, twisted and came up, his jaws clamping solidly on the wolf's throat. Still using the wolf's forward momentum, Akira slammed him to the ground, all the while keeping that death grip on the wolf's neck. The two rolled, then, the wolf trying everything possible to dislodge his attacker -- but the dog wouldn't budge. Once a husky locks his jaws on his target, be it wolf, bear, or whatever, there is no letting go until one of the parties is dead. Suddenly a voice shot out <HOLD!!> The circle parted as an ancient she-wolf approached the struggling duo. <This fight goes to the Akita-ken! Akira, release him! Vassily, stand down!> Shocked that she knew his name, Akira let go of Vassily's neck. Vassily, once released, sat upright, facing the she-wolf. Turning to Akira, the she-wolf spoke. <Good even, scion of Akashige. I thank you for sparing my worthless grandson's life.> <Good even, great lady,> Akira said in reply, trying all the while to remember his high Fenris. <I mean no one here ill will, and only wish to continue on my mission, which grows all the more urgent as I tally here.> <Fair spoken, young one. I know of your quest, and we will do all we can to help.> The she-wolf then turned to Vassily, looking at him as if he were an errant child who had forgotten his manners. <Forgive me.> Vassily said, head bowed. <Nothing to forgive; it was a fair fight.> Taking off the pouch, Akira pulled a few candy corn from it and offered them to Vassily. Smiling at them, he chewed one - and his face lit up! <Blessed Lady, these are GOOD!!> ***** The wolf pack took Akira to their encampment. There they left him with their elders and cubs while the males returned to the night's hunt. The cubs all crowded around Akira, sniffing him, poking him, generally making sure he was real. He shared his candy corn from his pouch with the youngsters, which, if anything, made him even more popular. The the younger she-wolves led Akira to the ancient she-wolf's lair. From inside the cave, a voice intoned, <Enter freely and unafraid, Akira of the Akita-ken>. Softly, almost reverently, Akira padded into the room, eyes adjusting to the candle-lit darkness. The she-wolf sat behind a large, flat stone, on which was a globe of purest crystal held by a tripod made of three bones. Surrounding the globe were five candles, each giving off a different scent. This was her seat of power, and the energy coursing through the air was enough to make Akira's ears stand straight up. The she-wolf spoke. <I am Romana of the Kindred. Though I am known by many names among the People, and claim no title for myself, I am known as a seer and healer.> She stood and walked towards him. <I have been charged with assisting you on the second leg of your quest. The road you were running would have led you directly to me, if you hadn't been sidetracked by that idiot nephew of mine. Still, perhaps that testing was part of your quest; Goddess only knows.> At this point they were nose to nose. Akira felt himself being drawn into those ancient brown eyes. She smiled. <You have your grandfather's eyes. Good. You will need them.> She returned to the rock. <I will scrye for you so that you may determine the nature of your foe. I will then ask you three questions. You will answer them honestly and without embellishment. You will then continue on your quest.> Akira could do naught but nod at this; her tone and manner didn't suggest any argument. As she sat in front of the ball, her form seemed to shift and change; her fur receded into her skin. She became an old, but regally beautiful, human. Akira sat, dumbfounded. You're...you're _Weyr_" he said, shifting to Human speech. "Aye, that I am, as are all you've met tonight. These old bones aren't all that fond of the change, mind, but I must needs be in human form in order to scrye. Now silence, 'til I ask ye to speak!!" Slowly, her hands passed over the crystal sphere, its depths changing from crystal clarity to milky iridescence. As the mist faded Akira though could see images pass by in the glass... ...Something lizardlike being thrown through a gate as several strangely garbed individuals grabbed a huge ball of what looked like blubber... ...Akira and a young girl arguing in front a multi-colored stone, Sidhe's pouch on the ground between them... ...something that looked vaguely like a bear reading some sort of proclamation, causing much shouting and cheering... ...troops of Vikings and black-garbed individuals marching through the forest into a portal... ...a black garbed figure hurling Akira into a tree, and Akira lying in front of it, very, very still... The mist congealed around this last image, and gradually faded from view, returning the globe to crystal perfection. Romana opened her eyes and regarded Akira evenly. "Do you have any questions about what you just witnessed?" she asked him. "Was... was that my future?" Akira asked, his voice suddenly seeming very, very small. "Past, present and future are all one to the Orb" she intoned. "Time is not a straight path, nor does prophecy always give a straight answer. Know and be sure of only one thing: that all that shall pass has been written; and all that is written must pass!" Romana's hand reached inside her shawl, pulling out a leather collar. Equally spaced around it were gemstones, the center stone a multifaceted ruby. She moved to place it around his neck. Surprisingly enough, Akira didn't resist or pull away. Somehow, he sensed, he wasn't being shackled by Romana, but protected. "There!" she said, stepping back to admire her handiwork. "That should give any Goths you run into pause." In a graver tone, she continued. "That collar identifies you as a ward of the Kindred. The last Akita so honored was your grandsire who fought at our side against the Nightgaunts. No Goth will dare harm you while you wear that collar." Romana shifted back to wolf-form and then leaped to the top of the flat rock, blowing out each candle one-by-one. Soon the only light visible in the lair seemed to collect into her eyes, which then turned to face Akira and held him, transfixed, in their glare. Her voice when she spoke, seemed to come from everywhere and nowhere at once. <WHAT IS YOUR NAME?> <I am Akira, son of Hikage, son of Akashige> Akira answered, remembering Romana's admonition to keep the replies brief and to the point. <WHAT IS YOUR QUEST?> <My quest is threefold; to rescue Princess KaCee and the Tower Dweller; to warn the denizens of Cuddleland against the coming threat of invasion; and to deliver the message I carry on my foreleg to the fair princess.> <WHAT -- if you fail?> <I will _not_ fail.> <THAT is not an answer.> Stung, Akira replied. <IT'S THE ONLY ONE THAT *MATTERS*!> For a time, there was silence. Then Romana spoke. <It is good. Now go. Your destination lies on the other side of the entrance to the lair.> Akira turned, and saw the entrance to the cave shrouded in mist. As he ran towards the entrance, he heard Romana say <Don't forget the lesson of the pouch!> And with that, Akira jumped into the mist. Ramona stepped out of the lair, letting the night's cool breeze flow through her fur. Her thoughts, however, were of the image in the crystal that had disturbed _her_ most: that of Sidhe's pouch thrown to the ground. She looked up at the cold stars defiantly and snarled. <You'll not have _him_, you scheming bastard! He'll not give into ye, Despair; he has his grandsire's blood in him and his fire too, I'll wager. You'll not get him _or_ Princess KaCee!> Still, she worried as she made her way back to the camp. Akira had said he would not fail in his tasks. He had no idea yet how wrong he was...
John T. Carr III ( firstname.lastname@example.org).
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Last modified: November 05, 1998 by Locksley