"uh, hello? Is anybody home inside that fur coat?" Akira stared past Dorothy, unknown to her still tightly wrapped in his world of self-recrimination. Now really worried, fearing he might be in shock, Dorothy went over to Akira and checked his fur. "Hmm - no bite marks, so he's not suffering from any involuntary blood loss." Her hand ran over the collar. "My, that collar's pretty... Someone must really care about you to give you a present like that." The word "care" seemed to trigger something inside Akira. Eyes clearing, he saw the girl in front of him and said "Uh, hi.... would you like some candy corn?" He took some from the pouch and gave it to Dorothy. "So you _can_ talk! For a second there I'd thought one of the cuddlecats had gotten your tongue!" Popping a piece in her mouth, Dorothy chewed and exclaimed "Ummmm, these _are_ good! Where did you find them?" "I didn't "find" them," Akira said morosely. "They were given to me by my father and charged with Rainbow energy." "Rainbow energy!?" "Yeah... look, it's been fun talking to you, but I've got to go." He got up and began to trot away from Dorothy - who then grabbed his tail. "Not so fast, you!" "OW!" Akira jerked his tail away from her. "What do you think you're doing?!" An impish grin crossed Dorothy's face. "Well, what do you know? He's alive!" "Look, girl, I don't have time for games right now!" "There's _always_ time for games here in Cuddleland - and none for sadness, you gloomy dog!" Out of nowhere, Dorothy pulled two soft, fluffy feather pillows and tossed one to Akira, who caught it in his mouth. "PILLOW FIGHT!" Dorothy yelled, heading straight for Akira, swinging all the while. In no short order she was all over him, hitting and poking him with her pillow, with Akira doing his level best just to defend himself. The pummeling continued for a few more minutes, and then Akira threw down his pillow in disgust. "AHA! He concedes! I win ! I win!" Dorothy grinned. "I have had _enough_ of this -- and you!" Akira growled. "Spoilsport!" Dorothy teased. "You're just sore because _I_ won and _you_ lost!" <ALL RIGHT, THAT _TEARS_ IT!> What happened next depends on your perspective of the scene at the time. To any onlookers, it seemed as if Dorothy and a dog were cavorting about all over the meadow. And having a good time at it, too, if the determination on the dog's face meant anything. One passing pixie, on seeing it, commented that they should get Sir Thumper to film it and then show at the Cuddleland Theatre as "Dances With Huskies" -- and was soundly pelted with Hershey's kisses. Dorothy, for her part, was having a blast. It had been sometime since she'd played tag with someone this good!! The way this dog threw himself into it, she thought, you'd think he was trying to catch her and eat her! Akira - tired, frustrated, and pushed beyond any shred of self- control - was thinking exactly that. "Stand still, you jumping jack! You're worse than the snow rabbits back home!" Akira's ears perked up. Say...! Dorothy turned to heckle her opponent some more - and saw him move in the opposite direction! "Hey, wait! Don't you want to play some more?" Ignoring her, Akira trotted away. "Try to ignore _me_, will you?" Dorothy took three deep breaths, sprinted towards Akira and began to demonstrate just why she earned the nickname, "The Kamikaze Cuddler". "BAAAAAANNNNNNNNZZZZZAAAAAAAAIIIIIIIIIIIII!!!!!!!!!!!!" Which is exactly what Akira hoped she'd do. Just as Dorothy leaped, so did Akira - low and off to the side! Caught in mid-air, she couldn't change direction and landed on her stomach with a *whump*! Instantly, Akira was on her, tickling her, cold- nosing her, licking her all over, until finally Dorothy hollered, "Okay, okay! I give!" Akira let up, a *very* self-satisfied smirk on his face. "Never try to sneak up on a son of the Akita. You'll lose. Every time." Well, it's nice to see you're feeling better, anyway" Dorothy said as she pulled herself up to a sitting position. "Mind telling me why you were in such a foul mood before?" "Look," Akira began, "I... I'm sorry if I yelled at you before, but I really do have to find someone. Do you..." Akira hesitated, as a million doubts and fears suddenly whirled through his mind: Should I tell her? Can I trust her? Do I really want to know if Princess KaCee's turned to stone? What if I'm right and she has? I'm no magician!! What if Dorothy suspects something's wrong? What if she has turned to stone, Dorothy knows and thinks I did it? Dorothy waited. "Do I what?" she prompted. "Do you know what Princess KaCee's turned into -- Uh, I mean, where she is?" Now it was Dorothy's turn to grow suspicious. "Why do you want to see her?" Akira motioned to the message tube on his foreleg. "I have to give her this message." "Well, I'll take you to her," Dorothy conceded, "But I don't know if she'll be in any condition to receive messages... ***** "This is where Elmo said he'd found her..." Dorothy began, as the two looked at the colorfully painted statue before them. "For some reason, she'd turned to stone. Elmo tried to revive her with colors, but it didn't take. maybe your pouch... HEY! AKIRA, WHAT ARE YOU DOING?!!" "Doing what I should've done a long time ago!" All the rage, all the frustration Akira felt at not completing his mission and being confronted with the consequences hit flash point as he angrily tore the pouch from around his neck and threw it to the ground. Turning from Dorothy, he started to storm away , saying "I'm going home!" "But the magic in the candy corn might save her!" "Oh yeah, right" Akira sneered, "good tasting candy really goes a long way in softening stone! Why don't you add some blubber gum while you're at it?" "Hmph! I thought the Akita-ken were all heroes, not a bunch of cry- baby quitters!" Dorothy yelled back. "You talk brave, but you're really nothing but a _bad dog_!!" At that, Akira's ear shot straight up. He turned ever so slowly and faced Dorothy, the look in his eyes actually causing her to take two steps back. "Maybe I went just a _little_ too far with that last statement", she thought. "Do you have any *idea*", Akira began, "what I have GONE through just to get here!? I've been shot at, chased, nearly blown to pieces and almost had my spine rearranged by a tree! All so I could get here at the greatest possible speed so I could complete my quest! So I could fulfill my responsibilities to your Princess! And along the way , when I saw that the Goths were going to invade I took on that responsibility to warn Cuddleland, too! _I_ didn't have to do that! It wasn't _my_ responsibility! But I chose to do it because it was the right thing to do!" Akira began to pace, as his feelings poured out of him like a glacier under a noonday sun. "And when I got here, what do I find? Not only has she been rescued, not only has the invasion already started, but my help wasn't necessary, anyway! And that I was too slow to save her from the REAL threat to her life!" If he could have, Akira would have pulled Dorothy down to his eye level; instead he fixed her with a glare that could burn a hole through a mountainside. "Do you know what it's like to run for a goal, girl, and then when you've reached that goal, find out not only does it not exist, but that there was no point to running in the first place? DO YOU?! For a husky, death is a welcome relief compared to failure; and now I've failed her TWICE!!" Akira walked to the statue and looked into what he thought were KaCee's unseeing eyes. "If I could've gotten here sooner..." he said in a low voice, "maybe I could've gotten some of the candy to her _before_ she changed; before whatever heartsickness caused her to turn into this." Turning back to Dorothy, Akira continued, the sound of tears breaking through his voice. "What can I do for her _now_? LOOK AT HER! She's a rock! I don't have any magic that can counteract _that_!" Akira turned away, his fury spent, a bone-numbing weariness entering his young voice. "I'm no hero; I'm just a bad dog, like you said..." Dorothy rushed in front of Akira, grabbed him by the ears and was about to lay into him but good-- when she saw his eyes. Despair was etched into those grey orbs, eyes that had once been alive with pride, determination and almost infinite chutzpah. In his mind, she sensed, he had failed in his mission, whatever it was - and that it was more important than simply delivering a message. Moreover, she began to realize what that failure truly meant to him - to his kind. "Well," she thought, "I'm not going to let a newfound friend waste away in soul-death if _I_ can help it!" With all her strength, Dorothy wrapped her arms around Akira's neck and hugged with all her might, repeating over and over, "Akira, you're _not_ a failure! You're a _good_ dog! You've got a heart as big as any in Cuddleland! I'm sorry for what I said! Don't give up! You're the only hope Princess KaCee's got left! Please don't give up! PLEASE!!" ***** Somewhere, some place deep in that fundamental core that makes someone what they are, something in Akira stirred. He felt the chill of the arctic air as he raced through it. He saw the faces of his father and the Elders of the pack as they gave him the pouch. He saw the faces of those he'd met on his travels to this place: that of Rainbow Brite and the Color Kids; of Romana, Vassily and the Kindred Weyr. Of Sir Pooky and Rick, KiTA of Cuddleland; of Rayne, Adrian, Lilith and Hel; and of Dorothy. He saw each and every one of them as if they were standing before him, giving him their love, their strength, and their encouragement. Their voices came back to him... "You know what you must do..." "Ooh, what a brave doggy you are!" "Prophecy does not always give a straight answer..." "Steady, boy steady... you're among friends, now..." "Remember the lesson of the pouch..." And above them all, the voice of Dorothy saying "Please don't give up!" "PLEASE!!" And in that space within ourselves from which we draw our confidence and strength, Akira sped towards Thor's Gap and Princess KaCee, said a prayer to the Gods of the North for luck, and *jumped* -- Akira stood up, and gave Dorothy's face a playful lick. "Thanks, Dorothy. I needed that. Now, if you'll excuse me for a second, I've got a job to finish." And as Akira picked up the pouch Dorothy noticed that the despair she'd seen in Akira's eyes was gone, replaced by a steely resolve. Akira walked over to KaCee the Rock, placed five pieces of candy corn where he thought her mouth would be (hoping all the while that Romana was right about his having his grandfather's eyes), stepped back, and recited the inscription on the pouch: "A Giving Heart is Always Full; A Helping Hand is Never Empty." For a second or two, nothing happened. Then, tricolor beams shot out of the pouch and began to encircle the multicolored rock that was Princess KaCee. The pair watched in wonderment and awe as the painted colors joined with those of the beam, wrapping the statue in a multicolored cocoon. And then the cocoon glowed golden and began to peel off as a rose's petals widen in flowering. And, at the center of this rose was a de-stoned, re-energized and totally *Human*- "PRINCESS KACEE!! YOU'RE BACK TO NORMAL!!" Dorothy shouted, as she and Akira ran over to her. The group hug lasted for several minutes before it was reluctantly broken by Princess KaCee. "I thank you, Akira" she said, "for rescuing me from my plight. You are indeed a brave dog to have made the journey from the Arctic lands to Cuddleland." "I thank you for your kind words" Akira said, eyes on the ground all the while. "But it is Princess Dorothy who deserves the credit. If it wasn't for her, I might have given up all hope." Dorothy blushed, her face matching the circle in her headband. "Hey, all I did was give your spirits a kick in the right direction. *You're* the one with the magic pouch. And besides," she added, "I'm _not_ a princess." Looking puzzled, Akira turned to Princess KaCee and asked, "Why isn't she?" "That," a thoughtful KaCee replied, "I'm beginning to wonder about myself. Rest assured, Akira, that I will raise that question with the other princesses and kita at the earliest opportunity." "Then, it only remains for me to fulfill the final part of my quest." Drawing himself up to an erect sitting posture, Akira spoke: "Greetings, Princess KaCee of Cuddleland. I am Akira, son of Hikage, of the Akita-ken. I have come to enlist myself in your cause, and shall stay by your side in your defense until your enemies are defeated. I also bring this message to you from my father Hikage, as his envoy." Akira lifted his right foreleg so that Princess KaCee could remove the message from its holder. Unrolling the two pieces of paper, she read the message to herself; as she did, a single tear formed in her eye... She knelt down to Akira and gently held him close, saying "Thank you for this message, Akira of the Akita-ken. I shall keep its words close to my heart." Arising, she continued. "This second message is addressed to you, Akira." She began to read... Dearest Son, If you have completed your mission, Princess KaCee will be reading this to you. I suspect that you have many questions as to the nature and purpose of your quest. On this I can tell you very little. This much, however, I can tell you: Huskies in our clan are taught from early on to recognize fear for what it is and how best to deal with it. This is necessary just for day-to-day survival, for ours is a harsh and unforgiving land. For that reason, the first solo quest is always an almost impossible goal so that the lesson of character may be taught and the lessons of co-operation and teamwork reinforced. Hard lessons, but ones that must be learned, and preferably learned young. Failure is a bitter bone for any being, man or beast, to dine upon. Yet, failure in and of itself is not a crime; true success is found in every endeavor, no matter the outcome. So, yes, you were "set up to fail from the beginning". But as the Elders predicted, the key to ultimate victory was found in the depths of defeat. Though you are yet young, I felt certain that you had the capacity to understand the meaning of those words when the time arose. Until such time as you are called home you will stay in Cuddleland under the tutelage of the Princesses and KiTA there. You will obey them as you would me. Until next we meet beneath the Northern Lights, live well, my son -- and know that I am very proud of you this day. Hikage P.S. DON'T LOSE THAT POUCH!! "Well, Akira" Princess KaCee said as she rolled up the paper, "looks like you're going to be with for a while. C'mon, let's go to the other end of Cuddleland. There's a party there that I'm _supposed_ to be hosting." As they walked across the meadow, Akira asked her, "Do you know a Princess Yva?" "Yes, why?" "I have to give her a message from Red Butler of Rainbowland. Some thing about red-licorice, whatever that is..." Dorothy started laughing loud and long. "Don't worry," Princess KaCee smiled to a thoroughly confused Akira. "I'll introduce you to her. In fact, you'll get to meet everyone at the party, and that way we can cuddle atta-- uh, I mean, _welcome_ you to Cuddleland properly." ***** And so it would prove. The story of Akira's welcoming to Cuddleland, however, as well as that of the realization of Romana's _third_ prediction, are tales best left to be told by others. Our tale here is done.
John T. Carr III ( firstname.lastname@example.org).
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Last modified: November 05, 1998 by Locksley