Part 1: The Wolf
Chapter 1: Don't Cry, My Child
The summer had been calm, quiet, and peaceful. Leaves blew softly from the trees and covered the ground, covering patches of sun spotted grass and foliage, a sign of the coming autumn. Signs around the forest told tales of a harsh winter to come, but everyone was prepared.
Kalo was very young at the time. He was a fox-wolf, a handsome little fellow, his auburn fur splashed with dappling silvers. He was smiling that day, for he had no clue of what was to happen in the next minutes. Besides, he should have been happy…he had a new sister.
A pair of silvery blue eyes peered over the edge of the cradle and down onto the week old wolf. She whimpered softly, her eyes shining back at Kalo in a color as pale as her fur. Kalo reached down and touched her tiny paw softly. At once, she smiled to Kalo, letting out a happy little yelp.
"Her name is Riley," said softly the voice of Kalo's mother, Nina, a gentle smiling crossing her lips as she put a hand on her son's shoulder. "She likes you much…but…we cannot just stand here, son, you must do something for me." The tone of her voice had turned urgent with need and strain. Kalo frowned; his mother seemed quite worried.
"Yes mamma? Anything for you…"
She bent down and took Riley into her arms. "I want you to take Riley and find Grandma Nae. Don't turn back for anything, my son."
"But why mamma? We're happy here, and safe--" Kalo was cut off as his mother handed Riley to him.
"War, little love. Your step-father wants you to go."
"But what about Ayka?" Kalo asked, his eyes glittering with tears. He really didn't want to leave his mother alone. Cradling Riley tenderly, he looked to the floor.
"Your sister will stay with me," she answered, leading her son slowly to the door.
"Shh." A single tear ran down her gray cheek. "Now go." Opening the door, she hurried Kalo with Riley in his arms out, and shut the door softly behind them.
At once, Kalo took off with little Riley bundled in his arms. Something was coming, he could hear it, and it sounded like distant thunder...and over the top of a far hill came the sight of thousands of soldiers, in full battle dress, ready to fight. And with that, young Kalo, with his little half-sister, knew what was going on.
Nae hummed to herself as she stirred her stew with the large wooden ladle, her arm moving slowly and automatically. A smile crossed her lips as she sipped the concoction, obviously happy of the taste.
She jumped, nearly loosing the ladle in the pot as a knock on the door interrupted her song. "A minute! Just a minute!" Tapping the access water off the ladle and setting it down on her small wooden table, the elderly fox opened her back door. "Why, Kalo! And isn't that little Riley? How beautiful she looks!"
"Yep, my new half-sister! But…mamma sent us, there's a war!" He could hardly contain his excitement and fear. Every bit of his body shook with his feelings. "Ayka stayed with her," he continued, fighting to keep his tears back.
"Now, don't you go bawlin'! Your mother and your sister can take well care of themselves!" Nae reassured her grandson quite forcefully. She was Kalo's father's mother, but had become quite attached to her deceased son's widow, and stayed by her side even after she had gotten married again.
"Alright…How long do I have to stay before I can go see mamma again?" Kalo asked, not meaning offense to his grandmother, but more of asking how his mother would fare.
"Ah…soon, child, soon." Nae's brows furrowed and she wiped at her eyes. She knew that with the enemy army approaching, more than likely poor Nina and her daughter would be raped, killed, or both. Her hopes, though, didn't diminish. "Now, let me see my granddaughter!" she said, smiling as much as she could, trying to ease the troubled mind of Kalo.
It was difficult for him, but Kalo managed to smile back, and handed Riley to Nae. An odd look crossed Nae's face momentarily and she held up the child for a moment. "What a powerful little thing…Kalo--have you ever heard of Aritia?"
"No…what is Aritia gran'ma?" Kalo queried, his curiosity getting the better of his fears.
Nae seemed delighted at this question, and she took a seat in her large wooden chair, with little Riley asleep in her arms. Beginning slowly, with a smile on her lips, she started. "Aritia is a far away kingdom of the legendary four-legged. They carry no weapons but their own claw and fang, and unfold wings from their backs like the wings of the hawk. They have been seen before, and mistaken for beautiful angels gliding gracefully in the sky, at day and at night. They have even been said to have saved some from peril or danger.
"Aritia is said to be the most beautiful place on this grand world. There are gracefully sloping mountains with pearly white caps of snow that run down the cracks in the stone like veins. The valleys are of the purest green anyone has ever laid eyes on. Rainforests, they say, raining at least twice a day. Rivers run, glittering and streaming down through the forests, and they say that if you ever glide above the forests, the rivers are like smooth cuts, like make by a sword.
"It was long ago that this was told, I heard when I was but a little kit, and remembered every word my mother and father told me of it. My mother, she was told by her grandfather, who was said to have actually been to this place of peace, wonder, magic. He also spoke to her of great silvery lupine beasts, with streaks of smooth black on their wiry bodies, and silvery wings stretching as wide as the moon that we see from here. Curved talons sprout from their paws, and hooked fangs smile with a gleams, every time they open their jaws. Magnificent, he had said, beautiful, he had marveled.
"And now…it has been foretold that a great war will come, and not be stopped until the wolves of the ancient Aritia save us. It has also been told that the one to find them will be given time to grow, time to flower, and time to learn to fight. It has been told, my little Kalo, that this little life in my arms, will be the one to save us all." Nae concluded with a sigh, the smile planted on her lips. "She is strong. But she will need your help you know."
Kalo sat perplexed, transfixed as he tried to imagine Aritia, the winged wolves, and his little baby sister growing up to be a warrior. Slowly, he began to smile as well.
Ayka slipped from her hiding place under the large bed that belonged to her mother and stepfather. She could smell something coppery, and it made her shiver. Blood, she knew it was. And she feared it was that of her parents.
As she stepped shakily into the next room, she knew her fears told true. Her mother had been run through the middle with a pike, that still poked from her skewered gut. Her stepfather was half way out the door, his glassy eyes frozen forever in silent rage. His neck pumped lifeblood out onto the floor still, and it flowed in warm, sluggish streams down the steps.
Trying hard to swallow the bile in her throat, Ayka made her way to a window, daring not to go near the body of the dead warrior in the doorway. Smashing it open with a broken chair leg, Ayka squeezed out the window, scarping and cutting her tender stomach on the broken shards. A piece cut deep into the pad of her left foot as she jumped down to the ground. Ignoring this pain, she made her way towards the forest, in a pitiful limp, tears streaming down her face.
Traveling quickly, she managed to get deep into the forests by nightfall. She knew not where her grandmother was. In her state of mind, her memory refused to work, aside the images of her mother's broken and gutted body, crumpled on the floor with the end of the pike poking up like a flag of surrender, and her step-father's still defiant body draped over the front steps, with the fury frozen in his glassy, dead eyes.
The moon was beginning to rise when the bedraggled Ayka finally collapsed in exhaustion. She lay, her right arm in front of her, her left at her side, and her legs straight out. Gasping, she stayed that way, her eyes finally closing to give her the much needed rest that she had long been deprived of. In slow, small trickles, blood ran down the bottom of her foot from where the glass had torn the skin, leaving tiny blotches on the leafy floor of the darkening forest.
When the morning finally came, Ayka found herself propped carefully against the trunk of a tree. A small branch poked into her back, and she whimpered, being too weak to get away from the nagging discomfort.
"Eh, she be awake, aye!" a voice said. Ayka's vision was much too cloudy to see who or what it was. "What ye suppose we do with her now?"
"Too thin. If we fatten her up, then maybe she'd make a right nice meal!"
"Hey! I can't believe ye two! Back away from the poor litt'e vixen!" a female voice rang out clear and sharp, obviously angered after hearing the other two. Ayka once again whimpered weakly. "Can't believe ye two…put her right on a growin' litt'e tree, ye did!"
"Well what's it matter to ye?" the first voice retorted nastily. At once, Ayka heard the sounds of someone choking.
"Lots ta me, it is! Now ye keep yer ugly trap shut or we'll be well off with one less foul mouthin' badger!" the female hissed with acidity.
Ayka layed back again,listening to the constant squabling, and, for the second time, weariness consumed her.
Four Winters Later
"No, no no! Look, grip the hilt--"
"Ah, calm down my son, give her some time. Mayhap something of lighter weight shall suit her better?"
"She can't do anything if she doesn't try!"
"Can't I use this?" The young one was holding up an old, mildly rusted pole, with one end smashed in. It was about five feet in length, and suprisingly light. Slowly, a grin spread across her lips as her paws gripped the steel. "Oh, I do like this better than those wooden swords!"
"Perfect my child, perfect!" Nae smiled warmly to her grandson, then to Riley. "You see Kalo? Ye just had to get something she could fit in to!"
"A…pole? How can she use a pole to fight?" Kalo queried, brows furrowing, causing his long lashes to shade his deepening blue eyes.
Nae gave a short laugh and moved forwards, tapping Kalo on the nose. Kalo crossed his eyes and looked at the finger. "Ye should know, I taught ye all about weaponry!