763: Moonwalkers (Part 1: Smaller Than We Think)
Naota's shivers began to die as warmth touched him. It seeped into him and caressed his very bones, and suddenly he felt as he had before they'd come here. Though, he had a difficult time breathing – or, at least, thinking that he could breathe. He was frightened that each breath he took would give him nothing in return, and send his lungs seizing. He feared his throat might close and he would suffocate. The air all around him was perilously still and completely silent. The quietude made Naota even more nervous.
"We're safe, Naota," Izumi assured him. Her voice seemed so much louder when there was no other sound to try to deafen it. "Open yer eyes."
He obeyed, and what little breath he had was taken away. The moon was beautiful – so much more beautiful in person than it was on television, or the Internet, or in pictures. A huge white-gray expanse of powdery, snow-like sand lay before them, stretching out into forever. It was not wholly smooth – Naota could glimpse the edges of the various pockets and craters that patterned the moon's surface. Beyond that were the stars themselves. It was all so clear up here – no pollution, no clouds, nothing to block those bright little gas balls from his view. He hadn't thought there were so many.
Naota peered into the distance, trying to identify the other planets. He couldn't readily see them, but there were orbs out there in the void that seemed bigger and of a different color than the others. He wished he had a telescope – imagine what he could see!
Beside him, Izumi chuckled, "If'n ya wan' a real view, look behind ya."
Naota listened and turned. His feet shfffed in the sandy surface and his eyes widened as he saw Earth. It seemed so much smaller than he thought it was. He'd heard that, from the moon, the Earth was naught bigger than the ball of one's thumb, but Naota hadn't readily believed that. Now he saw that it was true. The Earth was so beautiful – a great blue orb covered in a swirl of white and gray clouds. He could see masses of land beneath the clouds, green and brown and white and gray. Everything seemed so much smaller up here.
"Whoa..." Naota breathed.
"Now ya see jus' 'ow small our pro'lems really are," Izumi intoned.
Naota reached out to the Earth. He squinted and captured it between his thumb and index finger. Just to stand there and pretend he could hold the Earth between his fingers... it made him feel swept off his feet. He wasn't totally sure how awed he should be by this, but he assumed that what he was feeling right now was completely appropriate.
Is this what a God feels like? He thought. Like they can grasp the Earth between their fingers and crush it if they please? Or do they hold it in the palms of their hands, like a child holds a marble, and just look at it?
Naota looked to Izumi. The way that she was looking at Earth – at everything – made Naota think that she was enjoying this more than she would let on. A small smile was on her face, and her eyes were tempered and soft as she gazed, almost lovingly, upon the world around her. Naota smirked at her and thought, Despite what everyone thinks of you – despite how much power you actually have – you would never destroy this world, or the other. You love them too much, like they're your own children.
He blinked at that thought, and then asked, "Where's the other world?"
Izumi looked up and pointed with her right hand. "Ya kin see the Koukon Bridge from 'ere," she said. "Jus' follow 'at."
Naota followed the direction of her finger and saw a surprisingly wide spiral of white stone reaching towards the stars. He hadn't thought the Koukon Bridge was actually so long – but then again, there was a portal that instantly transported one to the other side. No one need ever cross the entire thing, thought Naota was sure it would make quite the pilgrimage.
At the end of the bridge was... nothing. At least, the other world gave off the illusion of being nothing. At a great distance, the other world was nothing but a great black sphere. From Earth it looked like a natural gap between the stars. Here, it looked strangely unnatural – all around it, the stars just stopped. It looked like the Koukon Bridge was leading itself into a black hole.
I wonder what the astronauts thought when they saw that, Naota wondered. Did they think it unnatural? Or were they even paying attention? He imagined that it was moreso the latter – how could they focus on that when they were on the fucking moon?
"So... what do we do now?" he wondered. He looked about for Amaterasu. He found her sitting a few feet away, her tail curled around her paws. She looked like a bit of snow on the gray world, her amber eyes gleaming dully.
The she-wolf stood and beckoned with her tail. "Follow me," she said, her voice quiet.
Naota glanced at Izumi. Amaterasu seemed... subdued, somehow. Her pelt wasn't glowing as much as it did on Earth, and the fire in her voice was weaker. Naota decided to hold his tongue, however, as Amaterasu stood and began walking away from the Earth. Her steps were much longer than they should have been, her body floating with the lack of gravity.
Izumi nudged him and, when she had his attention, she gave him a playful smirk. She crouched and then leaped, rising high into the air before coming down a few feet away. Dust from the ground scattered slowly away from her feet, making pale dust clouds that seemed to remain forever.
Seeing her leap like that made Naota want to try. He could feel just how light being on the moon made him – how high could he float? He copied her and leaped as she had – but since he had no arm made of metal, he landed a little ways ahead of her, scattering his own cloud of dust. It was like riding a roller coaster, his stomach flip-flopping as he rose up and down. It had taken almost no effort at all, and he was sure that no astronaut in their heavy equipment would have gotten that kind of height. Is that what it's like to fly? He wondered.
Amaterasu stopped to watch them jump around and play on the moon. Naota did back flips and front flips and sideways flips and all other types of flips he could imagine, doing more than he would have been able to do in a single jump on Earth. He did it until he was dizzy, and he flopped down onto his backside on the soft, crunchy, gravelly ground. Even when he flopped down he bounced a little. His hands were smeared with moon dust, and when he wiped his face he left a little on his cheek.
Izumi was enjoying the jumping as well, but she was more interested in playing around with the moon dust itself. She had an orb of it before her, so tightly compacted it was about the size of a baseball. When she let it go, ribbons of dust surrounded her and she swirled it around her body. Her long hair seemed to remain suspended in the air for the longest time whenever she moved.
Naota stood up and sighed. He looked at her and said, "Why don't we just make a house up here and live on the moon?"
"Because you're needed on Earth; you belong on Earth," Amaterasu answered, her voice strained. "Are you two done playing? We have a limited time in which to do this."
Naota brushed himself off and walked up to Amaterasu. Izumi followed, her hands in her pockets. The dust she had been playing with fell to the ground slowly and gently. Naota looked at Amaterasu with concern and asked, "Are you all right? You seem... tired."
Amaterasu flicked her tail and said, "Worry not; I will be fine. Bringing you here... it took a lot of energy."
Naota had a hard time believing that, but he had the feeling that Amaterasu wouldn't tell him what was going on willingly. He shrugged and then said, "Well, lead the way."
Amaterasu nodded and began walking again. Her paws left huge prints in the soft ground. Naota and Izumi followed, leaving their own prints on the surface of the moon. Naota knew that people didn't really set foot on the moon anymore – but still, he wondered what the people on Earth would think if they looked up with their sensitive telescopes and found the footprints of two Humans and a wolf on the moon.
The woods loomed all around the she-wolf as she padded beneath the huge branches. The trees were tall and great, with old bark stripping away to make way for the new. Her nose detected the scents of earth and rock and air, but no water. She was parched, her tongue lolling dryly out of her mouth. Her long fur fluffed up and she carried on, sniffing and searching for a stream, a puddle, something to drink. It felt like it hadn't rained in a moon's turn.
She yawned. She was tired and thirsty – she tried to ignore her hunger as best as she could, but that was bothering her, too. The she-wolf let out a groan as she padded along. There had to be something to eat, and soon... or she might be destined to starve here. Lone direwolves never did too well on their own.
The flavors of the woods kept her going as she came across a group of vibrant mushrooms growing against the roots and trunk of a tree. A quick sniff told the she-wolf that these were not to be eaten. They would rot her belly and blood and kill her. She didn't want to die; not yet.
Her paws were silent on the soft ground as she put her nose to the air, sniffing more. Her tongue lolled out her mouth, suddenly watering as she caught the scent of water and meat. Salt tinged the air as well – saltwater wasn't an option for drinking, she knew, but perhaps there was a river that was fresh and led into the saltwater? It was worth perusing.
She headed towards the scent. It kept getting stronger and stronger as she walked, and she began walking faster. Wherever she was heading, food and water awaited her beyond the trees. She would not take complete leave of her caution, however – the prey would need to be caught and killed; stealthily, if it were dangerous.
The she-wolf dropped into a crouch, her tail low and ears flat. She padded through the brush and leaves to find an open expanse of grass before her. Beyond that was a great blue-greenness that seemed to go on forever. The waves of the ocean crashed against the shore, touching the pale green grass and drenching it with salt. The salty grass was then eaten by a young doe, her blue-gray pelt blending in with the surroundings. Beyond her was a small herd of the same type of deer, with the same grayish pelts. A huge buck with great, curving, white antlers stood at the head of them, watching over his does and fawns.
Wriggling her hips, the she-wolf was slightly discouraged. The moment she stepped out into the brush, she would be sighted and the deer would flee, taking her meal with them. She tried to spot a weak link in the herd, but they all seemed healthy. There were a few young fawns and does, but they were well guarded by their mothers. Besides that, there was the buck – he was huge. It would take a pack at least twenty jaws strong to take the whole herd down, and that was with half those jaws aiming at him.
But she needed the food. If she could startle one of the deer, then the whole herd would go running. There was a risk that the buck would come after her – but most likely he would see her as a small threat and just take his brood somewhere else to graze upon the salted grass. The ocean was big, after all, and it was mostly all surrounded by grasslands. But if she could just snap up one of the younger ones... a tiny doe, maybe... they wouldn't be sorely missed.
These elk were prey for a bigger beast, she knew – but that bigger beast hadn't existed in these woods for many, many seasons. More than she could count. Of course, there were other big predators out there, especially in the ocean, but the elk flourished with the extinction of their main enemies.
The she-wolf was about to move from her hiding spot when the ocean began to bubble. The great buck looked up and turned his attention to the ocean as suddenly a great, monstrous beast reared up from the sea. The deer looked up, startled, at the huge thing. The she-wolf took a step back, but lifted her head above the bushes to see what was happening as salty spray dusted her fur.
Foam and water drained off of its smooth, scaled back. It was colored a black that shone green in the sunlight, and it was bigger than anything the she-wolf had ever seen. It had a great maw like that of a dragon, with a long snout like a crocodile. It's eyes were ugly white pearls. It had long arms with clawed fins at the end that gripped the shore before it like a ledge. Fins traveled all down its back to its tail, which was simply one great fin. It let out a roar that nearly deafened the direwolf and scattered most of the deer.
The buck let out a warning cry for the others and turned to run, but the beast's head came down upon the creature and took off its head with one bite. Blood sprayed everywhere as the buck's body jerked and convulsed with its last commands of life before it crumpled to the ground. The other deer were in a panic as the beast snapped up their patriarch's head and ate it in one gulp. The deer began to scatter, but with another swipe the beast had five down and dying.
It feasted upon the five it had killed with one swipe, watching the others leave with its milky eyes. Blood dripped from its mouth as it roared, cursing the deer that had gotten away. It would take more than a few measly deer to feed this creature, she knew – it would leave soon to scavenge for more unsuspecting flocks.
The she-wolf waited until the beast was done and well back into its ocean home before daring to pad out into the open. The deer were gone, the plain quiet. Crows were descending upon the kills. If they figured it was safe, the she-wolf figured it was, too. After all, crows were friends when it came to finding food.
She padded up to the headless body of the buck. It was as if the beast had torn its head off just for her to feast upon – it hadn't touched any other part of it. The buck was drenched but that was fine – the salt of the water would give the meat flavor, she supposed.
Using her claws, and with the help of a few crows, she tore off the buck's skin and opened its insides. Its meat was raw and red and bleeding, and it made the she-wolf's mouth water. As she tore it apart, she kept an ear out for the return of the beast. The last thing she wanted was for this to be some sort of trap. She didn't think the monster was incredibly intelligent, but she didn't want to chance it. As soon as her belly was full, she would go off in pursuit of water.
When she was done, she washed her muzzle of blood in the ocean and shook the saltiness out of her mouth. The deer were always tasting like a bit of salt was dusting on their bones – she supposed that was what happened when you ate the saltgrasses near the ocean. She peered into the ocean just for a moment.
There was a sheer drop off not two pawsteps before her – any creature wanting to go in had to know how to swim. The deepest the ocean went was something no one knew. But it displayed her reflection clearly – showing her fluffy silver-gold fur and pale silver eyes. She looked up, shook off her fur, and then loped off a fair bit to stay near the trees. She definitely didn't want to stay too near the ocean, especially not now, with that beast lurking about.
She left the rest of the meat for the crows and continued on her way. Where she was going, she didn't know. All that she knew was that she would hopefully find the answer she sought when she got there.