Chapter 3 -  Connections

Chapter 3 - Connections

A Chapter by VassD
"

Ania meets a very important new friend

"
Ania's senses came awake before she did,and with sense came memory. 
In her half-awake state, she recognized the feel of the hard ground beneath her, and the quiet song of birds in the morning air. She heard the soft snuffle or Jimande outside, and heard the quiet echo or her breathing in the small cave.
But something was amiss, something about the sound. There should have been two horses, not one. Alliania had taught her to ride when she was four, and ever since then they had brought two horses when they traveled together.
And the echoes. There should have been a second echo, Alliania's. Maybe she had just gone for a walk. If so, the bedroll next to her would still be a bit warm. Perhaps the sound of her leaving was what had awakened her. Ania put a hand out to feel how warm the bedroll was and…
Nothing. Naught but the cold rock and Ania's cloak where she had laid it the night before. With this revelation, Ania's mind came awake with a snap, as cruelly as if someone had slapped her.
All of the harsh details-leaving her home, her aunt's notes, the strange way Alliania knew everything in her heart-it all came rushing back, but were soon overwhelmed by the heady fact that she was doing it. She was on her way to becoming a Knight. All she had ever dreamed of was about to come true. 
With this euphoric thought, gently balanced by a healthy dose of fear, Ania got up and went to the maps she had found the night before. There were several of them, but only one of them frequented shelters most familiar to her. All of them, just as Alliania had promised, share the first three shelters, and the third was emblazoned with the hawk's head. That was the one that Alliania had been so insistent about. It was also the one that Ania had been to only once, and it had been the last time she and Alliania had traveled together.
Now that she thought about it, she remembered how strange Alliania had acted just before they left. She had wandered around and forgotten to pack a few things, but she had stayed behind to get them. Oddly enough, she still left them there. She had said not to worry about it, that they would get them when she came back the next time. 
She never came back.
But according to her letter, she hadn't expected to.
Ania shook these disturbing thoughts from her mind, and, after eating a quick breakfast, gathered up everything she would need. She took some of the food storage, as well as a few of the maps. She made sure the vines were securely placed back over the entrance, and swiftly descended to the forest floor, where, once again, Jimande knelt to allow her to place the blanket and saddle onto her back. Placing her pack firmly on her back, Ania mounted up, and spurred Jimande towards their new life.
* * * * * * * * * * * * *
Ania looked up at the tops of the huge pine trees that stood in a tight circle. They had grown together, creating a warm, water-tight shelter almost twelve feet in diameter. This was the shelter Alliania had taken her to the last time they had traveled. Ania trusted her aunt, but she was terrified of what might be inside. Alliania had said whatever it was that Ania had to take could be "feral," and her crystal was shining a fierce blue-purple. Whatever was inside was dangerous, but Jimande wasn't skittish. She just stood there calmly, as if she were in a stable, not the middle of the woods. 
Ania swallowed hard, willing moisture into her dry throat. Dismounting, she stepped forward into the pine shelter. 
Nothing. Just the same as she remembered it from before. She breathed out slowly, but it caught when she saw the light from the crystal was still a bruised purple. Was it just her imagination, or did she just see a flicker of light, almost like a reflection…cast off an eye?
Ania made her way slowly across to the fire pit, conscious of the blue glow and certain she felt malicious eyes on her. Moving cautiously so as not to provoke what ever was out there, she went about the motions of setting up camp. She made q small meal and ate quickly. Wrapping herself in her cloak and a blanket, she leaned against a tree, hoping the awkward position would keep her awake, but she was so…tired…
She awoke to a low growl. She was on her side on the ground, and for a moment she was confused, wondering how she had fallen asleep and why it had not awoken her sooner, for she had been like this long enough for the arm under her to go completely numb. But then her mind went blank, frozen in fear and blinded by terror, as she saw them.
Almost twenty snarling, vicious, insane wolves were surrounding her, staring her down. They were of varying sizes, ranging from scrawny pups to one or two fully grown beasts. Had they all been fully grown, there would have been no way they all could have fit in the ring of trees, but as it were, there was enough room for them all to be there. Be there, and be terrifyingly close. 
Ania felt her lungs catch, the fear stealing her breath away while making her heart throw itself at her ribs, pounding out a mad toccata, making so much noise that she was half expecting them to jump at her, foaming and snarling, at her throat.
As one, the entirety of the snarling mass of teeth, fur, and eyes bright with hate raised their deadly maws and howled, a single terrifyingly beautiful note, straight at the moon. 
Slowly, harmonies started to appear as some of the wolves began to back away. What seemed like eternities later, only three remained. A young female with beautiful silver fur; an enormous, full grown male with mottled brown and dingy grey fur; and a male, older than the female but younger than the other male, with a thick coat of silver-tipped black, but through the coat Ania could see a scrawny body and many scars. It walked with a slight limp, but held itself proudly. 
With a tangible impact, understanding rushed into her. Alliania's letter had said that there was something she had to take with her, and that some of what was there may be dangerous and feral. Well, the wolves that had backed off had definitely been that. She must have to pick on of these to bring with her from this place. But which one?
Her eyes turned to the female, at the lovely coat. She looked so peaceful. Ania started to reach towards the silver-haired wolf when a line from Alliania's letter ran through her head: You may feel the urge to take the one that seems the least dangerous, but you must-MUST-take the one that chooses you. Choose her? Wasn't that what these wolves were doing? Another line played through her mind: You will be unable to make it very far with any but that singular one. 
Ania looked closely at the eyes of the female and a glassy-eyed stare gazed back. Digging deeper, she saw a blatant cowardice and a strange need reflected in those eyes. This wolf was an empty flower, Ania thought, beautiful to look at, but quick to wilt. She turned away from the female, and as soon as their eye contact was broken, the female let out at mournful cry and retreated into the midst of the other wolves. 
Ania turned next to the strong male wolf, half-hoping the reason she would need to take one of these wolves with her was for protection. Remembering her aunt's admonitions, she looked deep into the eyes of this wolf. She saw the same need reflected in this wolf's eyes a hundred fold, and a bestial hunger that frightened her. She turned away much more quickly this time, and the howl given by this wolf transformed into a snarl that made her blood run cold. 
She turned to the last wolf, and was held captive by the intensity of the emotion in the eyes of this animal. She once again saw that need, but it was suppressed by a gentle glimmer that somehow reminded her of the looks in Xanya and Alliania's eyes when they looked at her. The eyes reflected the light, but not like the female's eyes, which were like a dull mirror, reflecting everything but showing nothing, for there was nothing to show. These eyes were like the surface of the ocean, the sunlight reflecting gently, yet still hinting at the secrets lying far below. She saw bravery, and loyalty, and pride, and fierce determination, and most of all, she saw a burning need. Not the same as the need in the other two's eyes, nor the need buried in this wolf's eyes. This wolf had two different needs: that strange one shared by all three wolves, and another need, a deeper need. It almost seemed like it was a need…to be needed. To be wanted, to be the one she chose. He had chosen her, now the rest was up to her.
The overwhelming tumult of emotions in his eyes made her suddenly forget to breathe. She held out her hand, not knowing what it was that made her do it, and placed it under the chin of the wolf. She let her head fall forward, her forehead meeting his, and closing her eyes, breathing in deeply the musty smell of his fur, letting the fear and sadness that had overwhelmed her these last few days be washed away. He eased away and nuzzled her cheek, as if recognizing her need for comfort. Then he backed away firmly, and with a new life in his eyes, threw back his head in the most triumphant, joyful cry she had ever heard. The other wolves snarled and barked at him, but nothing could overpower the pure sound of her wolf's cry. 
Suddenly, he brought his head down, staring right at her. His eyes were changed. Before, they had been a molten gold. Now they were the silvery blue of a hawk.
The world exploded around her. The wolves that had blended into the background during this whole thing suddenly threw themselves at her with wild, insane abandon. They bared their teeth and slashed with their claws, all trying to get at her. She screamed and threw herself backwards, trying to put more distance between her and those deadly claws. 
Her wolf turned and growled, a deep, rumbling sound that Ania felt in her bones. He bit and slashed, snarled and kicked, did anything to keep them away from his mistress. The younger weaker wolves turned tail and ran almost immediately. Others stayed on longer, but soon, only a few remained. 
There was the silver female, who was stared down by Ania's wolf. A few full grown wolves were driven away when her wolf snapped at them. Eventually, all were driven away but the big mottled male that had been one of her choices. 
They circled each other, snarling and growling, each in turn trying for the upper hand. She watched as the big male slashed at the neck of her wolf, which dodged but not enough avoid the claws that raked his shoulder. Her wolf staggered for a moment, and the big wolf took the momentary diversion and turned to Ania. 
She saw in his eyes a fiery hatred that had replaced the insane need. Hatred at her for not choosing him. Never before had she seen such intense loathing. She shrank back into trees, trying to get away, but she was backed into a corner, and had no chance to dodge when the wolf's claws came at her, gouging deep into her thigh.
Before she had even the chance to scream, her wolf was on top of her attacker, pulling at the fur of the murderous beast. Her wolf pulled the other to the ground, grabbing the neck of the insane animal with his own powerful jaws, and holding him down. 
Ania could easily see that her wolf was waiting for her to give the order before he delivered the killing blow. An especially sharp wave of pain flared through her thigh, reminding her of the murderous intent of the beast, but even so, she could not bring herself to order the execution of this animal. She shook her head. 
Her wolf got a different grip on the other wolf, now holding him by his skin and not the muscles, and hauled him to the entrance of the shelter. A few minutes later, the wolf returned, looking drained and exhausted. 
She half expected him to lie down and begin tending his wounds, but instead he came over to her and started, ever so gently, to clean hers. She tried to bite back the tears of pain as his gentle tongue pulled at the deeps, bloody wounds in her thigh. She stared at this wolf as it took care of her, taking more care than any human, save it were Xanya or Alliania, had ever deigned shown her.
When the wolf was satisfied, it came around and lay down next to her, his head facing hers. She reached out and stroked his fur, yet again crying. 
"You saved my life, dear wolf." She wasn't sure why she was talking to the wolf, but something in her said that he understood her. "If you hadn't been here, I would have chosen the wrong one. I would have chosen the beautiful coward, or the powerful murderer. But I got you. The loyal protector." She smiled through the haze of pain that glazed her vision. "If you are to come with me I can continue calling you 'wolf,' now can I? What is your name, my dear companion?" 
At this, the wolf looked right into her eyes and a voice rang clear in her mind.
Hakem. I am Hakem the Hawk-Eyed.


© 2011 VassD


Author's Note

VassD
Some of the descriptive words in this section seemed a little half-cocked to me. Also, some of the Ania's dialogue. Any suggestions?

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Added on November 22, 2011
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VassD
VassD

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I'm a fledgling author with dreams about as big as one of Robert Jordan's books. Maybe more than one on top of each other. I love writing fantasy and science fiction stories (No matter how long a piec.. more..

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A Chapter by VassD