In the Shadow of the WolfA Story by Kalon Ordona II
A short story with two themes: "Footsteps of Ghosts" and "Treasure Found."
In the Shadow of the Wolfby Kalon Ordona II, July 2009
© Michael Rasmussen, all rights reserved
Part 1 - Darkmoon Rising
The mists curled, surged, receded, moved in waves, chilled the skin, masked all that moved. Blurs of motion close to the ground swirled the fog, flew between nightly shadows. The synchronized panting of unnumbered mouths set an unwavering beat. Padded footfalls tapped a rhythm on the soft forest floor. The black tide swept over fallen leaves, shrouded in the glowing mists, hidden from the full moon's light. This was an errand of secrecy, before the enemy discovered them.
Alphariel was the first to arrive, breaking through into the clearing, followed by the dark mass of furred bodies. The she-wolf stalked to the center of the open space as her massive pack surged forward, enough to fill the clearing three times over. Indeed, most had to wait among the trees, watching from the shadows with yellow eyes. Alphariel, Queen of the Darkmoon Packs, waited, standing, until all were in position. Her head turned first to one side, and then the other. Two wolves stalked forward: Krón, Lord of the west Darkmoon clan, and Faro, Highlord of the Darkmoons to the southwest. Both sat before their queen.
"We will wait here two hours. If the others do not arrive by then... we must proceed without them."
Faro responded at once, his voice hushed. "But my queen! If we leave them behind--"
"There is no choice! The Moonsong and Timber will be upon us by hordes!"
Subdued, Faro forced himself to submit. Lord Krón growled softly, lacking the bravery to object as Highlord Faro had. It was hard to accept--the possibility of such a loss was too painful--but the Queen was right. If the rest of the Darkmoon Packs didn't arrive soon, there would be nothing they could do to save them. So, the crowd of wolves sat or laid down on the cold ground, and waited.
All fears of massacre were soon laid to rest, however. The mists protected them this night from the evil omens of the moon's bright face. Before the first hour had passed, all the rest had arrived: Highlord Morenon, with the Darkmoon clan of the north; Lady Shengra, from the northwest; Lord Mokoru, with the black-wolf Darkmoon clan of the northeast, and finally Lady Tember, from the south. All told, there were more than thirty score of Darkmoon wolves huddled among the trees, like a pestilence that haunted the darkness. All eighty-four of the Darkmoon Packs were present. Morenon, Shengra, Mokoru and Tember made their way through the crowd to join Faro and Krón, and all six took their positions, sitting in a half circle before Alphariel their Queen.
"Each of you knows why we are here?" Queen asked.
"To flee the Packs that serve the two-legs: Moonsong, Snowhead, Timber, and Sunfall," Morenon answered.
"To join the Bearclaw and Stormcloud Packs beyond the Wastes to the east," said Faro.
"To expel the two-legs and reclaim our territories," said Mokoru.
"To regain what is ours from our ancient home," said Shengra.
"To claim the power of Ferian, our father, Lord of the Wolfos," said Krón.
"To find the treasure hidden in the Temple of Shadows," said Tember.
Alphariel nodded gravely. Her eyes glowed fierce, hard, determined. "And find it we will."
Alphariel lifted her head and growled at the sky. A cacophony of savage cries reverberated through the misty forest as every wolf in the entire Darkmoon Pack joined their Queen, defying the face of man gazing down at them. They growled in rebellion against the moon. Let the Moonsong Packs hear. Let the Timbers quail. Let the Snowhead and Sunfall run to their masters. Now that the Darkmoon Pack was one, they were without fear. They would not fail. Not though all wolves and all two-legs stood in their path. The brutal harmony of rage came to an end as Alphariel leaped forward into a run, leading the way east through the dark forest, away from their pursuers, hidden in the mist.
Part 2 - Winter Fell
The Snowhead appeared out of nowhere. Wolves of the Snowhead Packs were large, white-pelted, majestic. Living among the deep snows of the high mountains, where every sound is magnified and deadly, the Snowhead knew how to move with silence. They came from downwind, four hours after the Darkmoon gathering. When they attacked, five black wolves fell, bloodied, before the Darkmoon knew what was happening.
It was Tahlan--Mokoru's daughter--whose pack had been struck from the north as they ran. "Snowhead!" she cried, howling an alarm. The Darkmoon horde rushed to the aid, clawing, biting, wrestling, even as they careered onward. A command was given from Alphariel herself to redouble the pace. Darkmoon wolves fell one by one, white Snowhead pelts were stained red, as the fighting continued at breakneck speed. The mad, bloody run lasted for several minutes when, of a sudden, the night's darkness deepened. The moon had set. The Darkmoon Pack took heart, while morale fell among the Snowhead. White wolves were struck down in a moment of triumph, and the Darkmoon seized the chance to break away, disengaging from the moving battle. Howls of victory filled the chill air as the Darkmoons made their escape. The black wolves did not stop, did not slow, even after the trees, all at once, fell away.
Part 3 - Across the Wastes
The churning mass of black that was the Darkmoon Wolf Pack moved over the surface of the hard ground like a single organism. They kept together, drawing on their collective strength. Again their individual panting unified into a steady, pounding beat, while their multitudinous footfalls created a sound like whispering thunder. Without a moon in the sky to harry their steps, the Pack drove across the Wastes in a thrilling rush. The enemy would not follow them onto the Wastes, but there was a new reason for their hurry: when the sun rose high, the stony ground of the Wastes would begin to singe like a two-leg's flame. They needed to cover as much ground during the night as possible.
Duly motivated, the Darkmoon Pack hastened on, and on, and on, through the remaining hours of night.
The sky brightened steadily, long before dawn broke. When at last the sun crested the distant mountains before them, the Darkmoon wolves began to feel their strength flagging. Out of the comforting darkness of night, their heightened level of endurance evaporated. Alphariel growled her displeasure, signaling the Pack to slow their pace. They dared not stop, but now they had to conserve what stamina they still had after a night of constant speed. Each of the packs had already run for several nights to the gathering Alphariel had invoked, summoning them away from increasingly hostile lands and the spreading of two-legs territory. They had escaped for now--though not without cost; they would find out just what that cost was when they reached the other side of the Wastes. The Snowhead Packs were solid and strong. They would pay, just as the Timber, the Sunfall, the Moonsong would, for driving them off their land, for serving the two-legs like cowards! When the Darkmoon and their allies returned, it would be with the power to put the world right again. The inhabitants of the forest, and even the two-legs themselves, would tremble in the shadow of the wolf. But first they had to cross the Wastes. And the sun was climbing higher with every minute that passed.
Daylight dominated the sky. The air grew warm. The ground grew hot. The wolves' panting lost its unified rhythm. Further on, the sun beat on their backs while the hard ground pained every step, especially for those in front. However, those in the lead were there for a reason. They were the strongest, the most courageous, the most steadfast in each pack. The leaders were relied upon, just as each wolf relied upon one another--the solidarity of the group, the family of hunters. Afternoon: the flame in the sky burned at its brightest, its most intense, its most punishing. The panting turned into grunts and growls. Hour after miserable hour the Pack suffered through the fiery Wastes. Then, at last, night fell--though night was not without troubles of its own. With night came the moon, still at its full, to mock them, to haunt them, to burden their spirits. This time there were no mists to cover them. There were no trees casting shadows to hide in, nothing to shield them from that white, scornful, two-legs' face. The wolves continued to growl, but this time their hate inspired strength. The night air was cool and refreshing. They could run again, though none of them had the energy to resume the long, grueling sprint of the previous night.
Rocky hills approached in the distance, and behind the hills the mountains loomed, glowing in the moon's radiance. In the rocks the Darkmoon Pack would find shelter, shadows, safety. Howls again filled the air, piercing through to the rocks and resounding in their ears. The black tide broke upon the rocks like a wave of the sea, only this tide did not recede back again.
Part 4 - Out of the Fire
The Darkmoon packs slept all the remaining hours of that night and much of the following morning. They had found shelter for all of them in a single enormous cave, and they had slept deeply. Even several hours past morning some still slept, and those who were awake rested.
Seventy Darkmoons had been lost during the Snowhead attack. Two entire packs had been completely destroyed. Tahlan's pack had gone from twenty-one wolves to six. Tahlan was still alive, but Mokoru's joy for her survival had already been expressed on the first night of the Wastes. Today, there was only grief for those who were no longer with the Pack. Mokoru himself has lost eight of his thirty elite. Several packs under Tember's charge had suffered similar losses. Casualties among other packs were fewer, but the feeling of loss was no less painful.
Highlords Faro and Morenon were talking with Alphariel. Mokoru was seeing to his decimated packs--which included Tahlan's pack. Tember was engaged in much the same activities as Mokoru, since casualties were heavy among those under her charge as well. Meanwhile, Krón, restless, wandered over to talk with Shengra. Shengra's two sons got out of the way, respecting the discussions of pack leaders--indeed more than mere pack leaders: they were responsible for guiding several entire packs, not only leading their own.
"Krón," Shengra greeted, dipping her nose in a slight nod.
"It's been a long time, Shengra," said Krón, trying to have a pleasant mood in such difficult circumstances. "It must be... two-score moons, now." He sat next to her, eyeing the bright mouth of the cave, where the sun was burning away the day.
"I've missed you, too."
Krón half sneezed a small laugh. "That was so long ago...." There was a brief twinkle in his eye. "But that wasn't why I wanted to talk to you. Have the Sunfall Packs been as hostile in your territories as they have mine of late?"
Shengra had been smiling, fondly yet sadly: her two sons had grown up without knowing Lord Krón of the west Darkmoon clan was their sire. With the change of topic, her smile faded. "Worse, I expect. Many two-legs come from the northwest; Sunfall are their most loyal. I've heard they even pull sleds for the two-legs in the winter. I don't even think a white wolf--curse their fangs--would go that far. Two-legs guide Sunfall into our territory trying to capture or slay us. Many succeed."
"Hm, you're right: that is worse. Sunfall Packs are more numerous in my territories, though. There are less humans to the west, but the Sunfall seem almost eager to help them claim our lands."
Shengra nodded thoughtfully. "The Snowhead ambush last night proves that we escaped not a moment too soon. We should have realized what was happening when the Bearclaw Packs first left... or at least after the Stormcloud Packs followed. We've paid a heavy price for our hesitation."
"Alphariel says the Moonsong and Timber had mustered for a combined attack, and they'd learned of her summons to all the Darkmoon Packs. If we had lingered any longer, we might have been completely wiped out before even coming into the Snowheads' trap--and then it would be only the Stormcloud and Bearclaw against the two-legs' treachery."
"Do you think we'll find it?"
"Ferian's treasure? I don't know. But we have to try."
On the other side of the cave, near the entrance, Alphariel called an end to the period of rest. As she did so, the orange rays of the setting sun dipped under the ceiling of the cave, banishing the shadows. "Onward, Darkmoon! The wolves of Stormcloud and Bearclaw await!" The pack leaders howled in reply, and all eighty-two packs--over five hundred Darkmoon wolves--followed their Queen out toward the mountains, into the eastern land where they would find their ancient home.
Part 5 - Into the Storm
The task of navigating the mountains took all that night. It had been difficult at first; the mountains were hard and unforgiving--little grew here, and there were no animals, and the wolves were hungry. However, the other side of the mountains was as different from this as the forests were to the Wastes. Bushes, trees and grasses grew here, and the wolves fanned out to find food in the dark. The following dawn, the Darkmoon Pack stood in a dark line atop the foothills, surveying the land spread out before them. It was green with fields; streams and rivers and lakes covered the ground like veins; its forests grew thick.
Once more, Alphariel, taking a step forward, produced a long, low howl. It was a signal, a greeting for their allies: the Bearclaw and Stormcloud Packs would know her voice. A long moment passed in silence. Then, first one, and then another response could be heard in the distance. Alphariel recognized the voices of Voldur, Vanguard of the Bearclaw Pack, and Nuhona, High Priestess of the Stormcloud Pack. They greeted the black wolves from afar with acknowledgment and welcome. The Darkmoon packs had arrived.
Part 6 - The Bearclaw Pact
The wide field was completely filled with wolves. Birds flocked away en masse toward temporary safety, far from the congregation of hunter warriors. The black Darkmoon wolves occupied the western corner of the field, more than five hundred strong. The bluish-gray Stormcloud wolves, with their silver eyes and sleek, swift bodies, sat still and calm toward the southeast, at least thirty-five score strong. And then, more than eight hundred strong, dominating the northeast portion of the field, stood the red-brown Bearclaw wolves. The Bearclaw were large, larger even than the white wolves of the Snowhead packs. The Bearclaw were known for the complementing-yet-contradicting attributes of pride, honor, and savagery. These mighty packs were normally misunderstood and feared because of their seemingly brutal nature. It was only now, when so many wolf packs were being cowed by the two-legs into turning on their own kind, that the value of the Bearclaw surfaced in the understanding of those with a mind for freedom.
Alphariel, Nuhona and Voldur stood each at the head of their conjoined Packs. Nuhona spoke first.
"Welcome, Darkmoon Queen Alphariel. We Stormcloud predicted your coming, and now here you are, standing before us." Nuhona's voice was rich, high, and proud.
Alphariel was touched by Nuhona's faith in her. "Forgive me, Nuhona, Voldur: I did not realize the wide extent of the two-legs' teachings until it was nearly too late. Even as it is, some of us have been lost."
Voldur, grimly silent until now, spoke up. "Lost. What happened? It was the two-legs, wasn't it!" Rasping, yet infinitely full-bodied, Voldur's voice was deep, commanding, and full of experience.
Alphariel hung her head. "No, I am wounded to say that it was a horde of Snowhead. Seventy of our number have fallen to the white wolves."
The other two stood mute in shock. Nuhona was first to recover. "The Snowhead have turned? How?!"
"The Snowhead keep their own counsel--how they came to this I cannot say; all I know is that they have," said Alphariel, still downcast.
Voldur, meanwhile, was quivering in rage. "Fools!" he spat. "The Snowhead were our brothers; they, of all, should know better! Fools!!" He growled and dug out a large swipe of grass and earth with a huge claw. "Leave them, then. Let them enjoy the two-legs' company."
Alphariel perked up, confused. Did he really mean to stay here like a coward? "What are you saying? We have to go back. We have to retake our territories, drive the two-legs from our homes!"
"And why should we do that? Why shouldn't we stay here, in our ancient home? Re-conquer these lands, expel the cruel beasts that have infested it? We Bearclaw are strong enough."
Alphariel looked to Nuhona.
Nuhona's face betrayed nothing. "The two-legs are strong. The traitors are many. Even if the Darkmoon ran with us, we could not fight against wolf and and two-legs both and prevail."
"You will stay here and do nothing?!"
"We will reclaim our ancient home, since the forests to the west are lost to us."
Voldur added to Nuhona's words. "Our strength is not great enough for such a task, and there is nothing to increase it but time. Perhaps, someday, we will return."
Alphariel shook her head. "There is the treasure of Ferian."
Nuhona's breath held. Voldur's eyes narrowed. "None have returned who have searched for it."
"We Darkmoon know where it lies; we have seen the answer in the stars, in the shadow of the moon."
Voldur frowned. The Darkmoon Packs were not unique in their hatred of the moon, but this hatred did run deepest in them. In the early days, before the clans, black wolves were especially targeted by two-legs, who thought them beings of evil. The white two-leg's face in the night haunted their spirit forever after. Perhaps it was their rejection of the moon that led to other discoveries in the heavens. Perhaps that explained Alphariel's apparent knowledge where other wolves were ignorant. "Very well, then, where do you say Ferian's treasure can be found?"
"In the Temple of Shadows."
Voldur and Nuhona both growled out of reflex. "That place is death," said Nuhona.
"Have you ever been there?"
"Of course not!"
"Then who is to say--"
"No," Voldur cut her off. "If you venture that way, you venture alone."
Alphariel told herself not to be disappointed. She hadn't really expected them to offer their help--but she had hoped they would. "Very well; we will find it on our own."
Alphariel turned to leave, but Voldur, admiring her courage even if it was misguided, stopped her. "You are right about one thing: the power of the Wolfos, if it was found, would give us the strength to defeat the two-legs. I still think you all go to your deaths, but... if you do manage find Ferian's treasure--and survive long enough to bring it back--this pact I make with you: to pledge the Bearclaw packs under your command, that our forests will be purged of the two-legs once and for all, and peace will be restored to our territories."
Surprised, Alphariel turned back to face him. The Bearclaws did not serve, they ruled. For Voldur to strike such a bargain... Alphariel was moved with admiration.
"The Stormcloud Packs will also keep the Bearclaw pact," said Nuhona.
Alphariel looked at Nuhona, then back at Voldur, and she stood a little straighter. The promise of their aid bolstered Alphariel's spirit and banished the doubts that had been creeping in a moment before. "Then let it be so."
As one, the three wolf leaders howled in agreement. As one, their respective Packs echoed the sound in a deafening chorus.
Part 7 - The Eaten Horde
The entrance to the Temple of Shadows loomed before the Darkmoon packs--a large carved square of black stone as high and as wide as their clustered group--like a mouth waiting to swallow them whole. The sun shone, but somehow the light did not penetrate into the blackness ahead.
Alphariel turned to address her pack, her subjects, her family, her clan. "I do not fear this place!" she called out, sincerely. "It was made by the Wolfos our ancestors. There are dangers within, and I fear for our safety, but I will not be afraid of that which our forbears have wrought. This Temple of Shadows is not a purposeless deathtrap. It was made as a safe haven from the two-legs--yes, even back then. So take heart! Trust your instincts! If any wolf Pack can find their way through the shadow, it will be the Darkmoon!"
Shouts of encouragement and enthusiasm came in response. Alphariel turned and stalked toward the dark. Highlords Faro and Morenon started issuing orders, according to the strategies they had discussed with their Queen the previous day. Separate into packs. Keep plenty of distance. Obey every instinct, every impulse, while following the leader. Pack leaders follow their Lords, Ladies, and Highlords. Large packs on the outside, small packs in the center. Above all, do not lose track of the Queen.
One by one, the Darkmoon Packs disappeared into the Shadow.
Part 8 - Shadow Temple
It was dark. The Darkmoon wolves were known for their keen night-vision, and even they could not see enough to put much reliance on sight. Touch, sound, smell and instinct would be their only guides, now. The air was thin--almost too thin. The stone floor was hard, cold, and perfectly flat. Each breath echoed in the distance--the combined effect was nerve-wracking, until its incessance faded into the background of the mind, and the ear was able to pick out other sounds. The multitude of padded footfalls on stone, like the footsteps of ghosts. The subtle rustlings that declared each of the much-focused-upon pack leaders' most minute movements. The packs followed instinctively this way and that, side-stepping one second and pressing straight forward the next, sometimes even walking at an angle.
What the Darkmoons did not know was that, at any taken moment, more than half of them were not two inches from a deep chasm. The floor was riddled with pits and narrow walkways, across which the black wolves stepped safe and sure without knowledge and without thought. But, more than that: had they been able to see, they might indeed have fallen in, for the place had the seeming of a maze. The maze walls were some parts real, other parts illusion, and also of such illusions were the pits covered. Yet the black wolves marched straight across. Instinct had brought them all through where sight would have been the death of many.
Several minutes later, it became apparent that the Pack had passed through another gateway. Alphariel stopped. Responding to the movement, or lack thereof, every single wolf halted in the same instant. "Something is different here," she said. The entire sentence echoed several times, and suddenly the wolves felt very small. Then there was a distant, deep, loud stamp. Then another, and another, becoming louder... less distant.
"Spread out!" Morenon called. Again, the words echoed. Except this time, along with the stamping sound, along with the echo, came a deep, hoarse, fearsome roar.
Part 9 - Conjured Guardian
The stamping had come to a stop as the black wolves surrounded whatever it was that menaced the Pack. Something swiped over the tops of Darkmoon heads, causing most to duck out of reflex. This happened several times. Finally Tember had had enough of letting whatever enemy this was have the first move. She dashed forward, lunged at the spot of its last step, and bit hard through the tough but thin hide of the creature. She ripped away--and suddenly there was light, pouring from the wound. The creature's blood, if it was blood, glowed a soft white, like bluish moonlight. The stuff kept glowing even as it stained the ground.
The light it created was enough to see what the creature was. It looked like a huge, hideous two-legs. It had a massive club in one of its monstrous hands, and it was still swinging, heedless of the wound. But its attacks were not hitting the wolves. Its arm came low enough--indeed, right near the level of their heads--but the two-legs thing held the club so that it always stuck straight out horizontally.
Puzzled out of their minds, the wolves just stood there for a few moments, trying to reason it through in their heads. Mokoru made sense of it first. "It's not meant for us," he said, speaking it aloud as the realization came to him.
Krón put the rest of it together. "It's meant for two-legs!"
Gradually, the revelation took root. The thing kept swinging its club above their heads--too high to hit a wolf, just right to pummel a two-legs.
"I didn't know the Wolfos could make something like this," someone said.
The wolf's pack-leader answered. "It must have been them; this two-legs monster has probably been alive ever since the ancient days, outlasting them all; and, its blood glows; it can't be a natural creature."
"Then... should we just leave it?" said someone else, on the other side of the guardian monster.
Alphariel herself answered. "Yes, we'll leave it for now. I can't see any eyes, so hopefully it won't follow, but don't speak out loud until we're out of sight--it seems to respond to sound."
In the light, the wolves could just make out the other end of the cavernous chamber. It was a row of six black gateways like the one they had come through before. Tember's fangs still glowed, so she ran at the forefront with Alphariel to light the way. As they ran, however, Alphariel was beginning to feel uneasy. For some reason, she could not decide which gateway to choose. Her inability frustrated and frightened her. Up to now she had always known the path by instinct.
When they arrived, and Alphariel still had not come up with the answer, she stopped. As before, all the rest of the Pack stopped with her. Suddenly Alphariel realized what was wrong. "Of course..." she whispered. She understood, now. "The Temple of Shadows: a haven from the fire-bearing two-legs. Humans trust in sight; they lose their way in the dark...." Alphariel looked to the side, where Tember stood. "Lady Tember, close your mouth." Tember obeyed at once, hiding the light. "Yes..." Almost at once, Alphariel could feel her senses returning. "This way!"
Part 10 - Treasure Found
Whatever horrible deaths lay through the other gateways, the Darkmoon Pack would never have to discover them. The path Alphariel had chosen led through a long, dark tunnel. They went slowly, saving their energy, since Tember was forced to keep her mouth closed--otherwise, running without breathing properly would have been a danger to her body. Once more, Alphariel and all the wolves behind her came to an abrupt halt. "This is it," she said. "Go ahead, Tember."
Lady Tember panted gratefully, and soft light filled the surroundings. Two huge statues stood like sentinels just inside, frozen in fierce poses. The statues were wolf-like, with a much larger and more muscular upper body, a lion-like mane that swept back over the neck, and claws like oversized eagle's talons.
The Darkmoon Packs stared in wonder, awe, and joy.
"Come!" called Alphariel, the Darkmoon Queen, running now through more gateways, always choosing the center path beyond the sentinel statues. At last they arrived at a special chamber. At the far end was a statue twice as large as those guarding the entrance. This was another Wolfos, in a rampant pose. "Farien," Alphariel whispered, bowing her head, overcome with the presence of the great father of wolf-kind. Black wolves poured in behind their Queen, unrestrained, caught up in the thrill of being in this place. This was no place of death, but of life--life to wolf-kind.
Morenon, Faro, Mokoru, Shengra, Krón and Tember fell in behind Alphariel. On a stone table before Farien's likeness, there lay the power of the Wolfos, the strength they needed to join with the Stormcloud and Bearclaw and overcome the two-legs' deception, destruction, and dominion. The treasure of Farien: the upper skull and mane of Farien himself. The seven Darkmoon leaders felt their blood boil with vitality as they gazed upon it. For wolves, it summoned the pure essence of their true nature. Against the two-legs, it would become a mask of death.
"We did it," said Tember. "The treasure of Farien."
"The power of our father, the Lord of the Wolfos...." said Krón.
"Our heritage, the glory of our ancient home," said Shengra.
"The strength to take back what we have lost," said Mokoru.
"The force that will bind the Bearclaw, Stormcloud, and Darkmoon as one," said Faro.
"A chance to win back our brothers the Moonsong, Snowhead, Timber, and Sunfall," said Morenon.
Alphariel stepped forward. "At last, our treasure is found."
© 2012 Kalon Ordona II
Kalon Ordona II
near Seattle, WA