“The brown one is awake.”
“This one will be strong.”
“But, what about the other?”
Voices echoed around in the dark mines. The smell of rust, iron, and dirt was thick in the animal’s noses. But in the slightest bit of light, there was a glimpse of black, gray, brown and white fur slinking through the darkness.
“This one will be Pyper.” A she-wolf’s whisper was just loud enough for two pups to hear. Pyper! The gray one thought, I wonder if that’s me? “She hasn’t even blinked yet, Ace!” She heard it again, “Is there something wrong with her?”
“No,” Another wolf said, “Don’t race her against Pyper, no pup could compete against her.” They’re talking about me. A chill ran down her spine, I’m only embarrassing myself!
The little pup squirmed and tried to stretch open her eyes but it was no use. They were still sealed shut. Soon, she attempted again but only gave herself but sharp pain pounded her head. It must have been evident that she was burning because her mother, just as any mother would do, she pulled her closer into her fur. Her fur was scarce and her skin felt rough as if she had gone into battle endless times.
But warm in the fur of her mother, she drifted off into a restless sleep.
The pup flailed in mid-air as she felt herself rocketing to the ground and she could hear the blood roaring in her ears. Help! She wanted to howl into the wind but they swindled her words. What was happening?
Suddenly, she felt herself crash into icy water. Pain hastened through her body as the water flooded her senses. Help!
She couldn’t breathe! Her lungs felt like they were to burst and the water kept tugging her down, down, down. Her fur was burdened with water. It was too heavy. The weight of her own self was too much for her helpless arms to handle. The pressure was deafening and her skull feel like nothing.
She sputtered the last of her breaths as she sank beneath the water. “Slate,” A voice so faint whispered in her ear, “Shh, I’m here little one. You need to do something for me…”
Who are you? She could just manage to think. Please help me! “You need to promise that you will shatter your light and illuminate his dark.” Fear tightened the pup’s stomach as she heard the words. What did they mean? Who was speaking to her?
For her own sake, she mouthed, “I promise.” But before even more water broke through her jaws the agony was lifted and her vision was ablaze.
Slate’s head shot up and her pelt immediately fluffed up like a bear. She gasped for air. Then she realized, her eyes were open! And to her surprise she could see fairly well in the rayless area, she also noticed another wolf pup cuddled up against her mother. The pup had dark, glossy, oaken fur and black stripes on her sides. She was beautiful.
“Hello?” She whimpered. It was a dream… She told herself, There’s nothing to be afraid of here. Abruptly, the female wolf gave a glance over her shoulder to the gray pup. “Oh, you’re awake.” She huffed, “Come here, you’ve been rolling in that filthy slate over there.” She bent down and grabbed her pup by the scruff and started to lick her vigorously.
“Slate.” The other pup raised her head. “I’m gonna call you Slate now because you were playing in that pile of it in your sleep!” Her mother only nodded in agreement. She was sidetracked.The pup bit back a bitter retort, Slate, She sniffed. I might as well use it because it’s the only thing I’ve got. Ugh. She scowled at the word. “I’m Pyper!” her “sister” said with content.
Slate snorted and batted her mother’s nose to escape, her grasp. Good thing she didn’t seem to mind. She wriggled out of her grasp and shuffled away, she would only be gone for a little while. Just enough time to think about her dream and get some fresh air. “I’m gonna call you Slate now because you were playing with that pile in your sleep!” She mimicked under her breath, Is it because I opened my eyes after her? Slate ducked under the tall frames of the other wolves. Pyper seemed slightly hurt that she didn’t respond when she had introduced herself.
Flattening her ears she shoved the thought away.
Looking up, Slate noticed that the other wolves were scared and shredded. They had bare patches of fur and dried blood on their noses. Most of them were towering above Slate, the others were small and swift. Is this where we live? Slate knew that she had been here all her life and was never anywhere else. But this place still seemed eerie.
Despite the disturbing faces, her mind drifted to her dream. What did it mean? Who was speaking to her? The dream was strange, it wasn’t real, yet it still clawed at her insides. As if telling her it were real. It couldn’t though.
“You need to promise that you will shatter your light and illuminate his dark.”
His dark. Slate bit her tongue. “Illuminate his dark.” She whispered aloud. What could it mean? Was it possible for prophecies to be messed up? It all seemed jumbled to her, it was like trying to find a strand of fur in the mines.
“Hey!” A deep growl sounded behind her, Oh no! She gasped. Who had noticed her? Was she in trouble? She should have stayed back and accepted the bath.
Her paws carried her farther through
Quickly, Slate ducked under a rustic plate-looking object. It’s sharp points tugged at her flanks. Now, hopefully, the chilling wolf wouldn’t find her… “Come back!” Slate heard him bark over the others.
Looked through small holes in the metal and she just barely noticed black and white paws stepping closer towards her. With every pawstep came snaps in the gravely floor. “I know you’re there,” He knelt down, “My name’s Trident.” The white wolf’s scent was gagging. Trident, She thought, her fear ebbed away as he seemed less frightening. Slate strained her neck to look at the beast. How astonishing! Trident’s eyes were like dark pools she couldn’t fathom. “Come out. Where is your mother little one?”
“I- I don’t have one.” She lied, going back to her would only make Slate’s life worse. She never knew the wolf’s name but even then she could tell her mother didn’t care for her. Let alone want her around.
But then she remembered little Pyper… What would she think? Alone with her mother? But she favored Pyper more than me. She thought, Pyper will be fine.
In the faint light, Slate could make out Trident’s eyes narrow. “What do you mean? Where do you come from?” At this Trident became tense, he grasped the metal in his jaws and revealed the pup.
“I- I don’t know! I come from here, but I don’t know where here.” She let t
Trident stood eyes wide with recognition, but from where? “Come with me.” When Slate didn’t move he growled, “Come here, I haven’t got all day.” She scrabbled from her hiding place and followed the white silhouette. He was almost like a spectre.
Trident was impatient… and Slate could tell his distress. His dread. Then she realized that he wasn’t like the others, he wasn’t battered and ruined, he had no scars besides his missing ear. He had no flaws that were scourged upon him.
Pushing away the thought, Slate padded after the wolf. “Wait!” She longed to say but she wanted to obtain a strong reputation for her “family.”
“Matera!” He howled as he entered a slender tunnel that leads elsewhere, “We have company…” His voice trailed off.
Then, a pure black wolf stuck her head out of a differing passage. “Trident,” Matera licked his cheek, “Was Malum nice today?”
Trident sniffed as if saying “same,” before long he tilted his head toward Slate. Slate looked at herself too. Abruptly, she realized that she had a dark, dark gray pelt. Smokey gray. And she had pup fluff sticking out in all directions. Just like Pyper did. She connected. See? I’m not different! Though the thought was weak, she did feel the slightest bit better about herself. Matera glanced at the little pup and her eyes softened.
“Oh!” She pranced forward and tucked her close under her paws and belly fur. “Trident, where did you find her?” Worry flashed across her gaze and she flipped her head around.
“I found her sneaking around the Warriors’ And Spies’ Lodge.” Trident backed out of the cave and into the clearing again, “She’s better off with you!”
Matera sighed and pressed her wet nose into her fur, a chill went down her spine and she shivered. It was so cold! And as if Matera could read her thoughts she made a makeshift nest out of nettle and twigs. “Shhhhh,” She soothed, “Your mind must be spinning! But don’t worry, we’ll take care of you now. What should I call you little pup?”
Slate. She automatically thought, but she bit back the words. Instead, she buried her face in the warm into the black fur.
“How about…” Matera paused, “Faodail. A lucky find.”
“I’m ready.” Faodail stood higher as she looked at her father, Trident. I have to make him proud… but I don’t know if I can. She had grown and at 7 months old she was almost the size of a full grown wolf… maybe a bit shorter. The time had come, the time that she was ready going to start her training to become a warrior... or a spy. The moment she felt like dreading.
“Are you sure?” Trident asked.
“Yes.” She answered reluctantly. Trident smiled and nodded for her to step into the line of other wolves. There were about five. A dark brown she- wolf with black streaks sat two wolves ahead it was strange because when she looked at her there was a flicker of remembrance. The wolf was so strong! Even from her distance, she could see her muscles rippling under her pelt.
“Pyper!” A wolf in front of her barked. Pyper! She recalled, My sister! I remember now… When I was younger, she was with that wolf mother. Faodail scanned the area for the queen who had nurtured her for the few first moments of her life. Silver, was it? Her coat? The memory was so faint of the wolf.
Her eyes turned to see what could be Pyper’s parents cheering and howling just where the crowd thinned out. The female was perked up and eyes were practically glowing. The male was less jaunty than his mate but still showed the same respect to his daughter. Would they even remember my existence? Faodail considered solemnly.
Pyper suddenly turned her way and looked at her. “Hey!” Her eyes narrowed as she studied her sister. “I know you, your that wolf who thought it would be funny to steal the last rabbit in the stock!” Pyper growled and flattened her ears menacingly.
“Pyper, calm yourself,” Another wolf sneered, “She probably can’t even catch a rabbit. That’s why she had to get it from the pile like old Aberash!” He pointed to an old ragged wolf sitting in the corner gnawing on an old bone.
Fury bubbled up inside of Faodail and she felt as if she were so small. “Shut up!” She howled at the others, “I can hunt!” Faodail shoved herself close nose-to-nose to her rival. His eyes widened, then narrowed in amusement.
“You really think…” He snickered, “You really think you can? What’s your name?”
She paused. “Faodail.” She didn’t back away from the fierce wolf. He was had a dirty white flank and amber eyes. They glimmered in the available light.
“Icterine.” He smiled, “And I’d be surprised if you made it a quarter through training without resigning.”
He’s being a pathetic jerk. She sniffed, “Just you wait.” Faodail turned tail and faced Trident but he was gone. She drifted across the area maybe to catch a glimpse of Matera? No. There was no sign of the black and white couple. Why aren’t they here? A pang of disappointment jabbed at her heart and a vision of the first mother she had.
“Silence!” A thunderous voice boomed over the crowded mines. The heads of turned and bowed to the figure standing on a rather large pile of stone and iron. The musty scent of respect entered their noses. No wolf dared to lift their muzzle the highest.
A heavy growled sounded from above like a wolf ready to pounce for a meal. A deafening sound arose, “We are the Scarlet Army!” It roared, the sound was so horrific Faodail had to flatten her ears against it. It was deep. “The time has finally come to choose the fate of five new recruits, they have lived here all their lives yet now is the time they will bow to me. They will promise to uphold my honor, they will learn the ways of The Army.”
Faodail stiffened, this isn’t what she wanted. She had watched how her other peers acted many times. They all seemed to wish for the worst of those who were not themselves. Her heart raced.
“Pyper, daughter of Yugan and Sillage. Please rise.” Faodail watched as her sister stood head-high and stalked towards the silhouette. He was a bear! With almost no fur and ruined by scars, he was the leader of the Scarlet Army. Dried blood was buried into the sides of his eyes. Raising one paw, the bear stood on hind legs. He planted his legs and swung his arm sideways severing Pyper’s muzzle. She let out a wail.
Blood trickled from her mouth as she suddenly realized what had happened. Despite the pain, Pyper straightened with pride. She had gotten her Scarlet Mark! Pyper finally knew her fate, Pyper would be a warrior.
“You have now proven yourself, Pyper.” Malum sat back down, “You are now one of us forever.”
The swarm of warriors and spies howled in approvement. Pyper was a good choice, with her strong bouldering muscles there was no doubt she would be able to kill.
The cheers faded as Pyper stepped back down from her pedestal. Now they were expecting the next fate to be chosen. But right then, Faodail heard the last thing she wanted to hear come out of Malum’s mouth. It was her turn to become a scarlet.
“Faodail, daughter of Trident and Matera. Please rise!” Horror grasped her soul as she realized it was time. She pushed past the staring faces and didn’t dare to look her leader in the eye. I’ll never be a true scarlet! I’ll never be as brave as Pyper! Thoughts raced through her mind as she stopped and stood next to him. But Malum just stood there, his dense gaze traced on her.
“I have faith in you.” Malum turned his head toward the bodyguard. “Fetch Trident and Matera, Agoro.” The wolf dipped his head and padded off. Soon, he returned with her mother and father. Trident was beaming.
“Faodail, you are the offspring of Trident and Matera, you will have the honor as training as a Scarlet Spy.”
A spy! Faodail gasped, they were the highest rank just under Malum himself! She flipped her head around to meet Pyper’s. Her eyes were full of pure jealousy and hate!
“I promise to serve you well.” As soon as Faodail said that she heard a voice of doubt echo in her head. I don’t belong here, She looked at her paws shamefully as she backed down to the others. But I don’t belong anywhere else either…
“Faodail…” She spun around to see Icterine.
“What?” Faodail growled, this wolf selfish.
“I-I’m sorry,” He stuttered, “for what I said earlier.” The yellowish brown wolf ducked his head.
Faodail didn’t answer, He’s sorry because now I’m training to be a spy. Talk about discrimination. Icterine must have thought to quit trying to talk because he sat down with his jaws shut. He was a handsome wolf, but his attitude was pathetic. He had a bright fall leaf colored pelt with yellow glimmering eyes.
After the other wolves had gotten their scars, including Icterine who had whimpered for what felt like seasons, the audience filtered away back to their dens. I’m a minor spy now. She expected to feel pride in her accomplishment but haze of shame over her eyes. Why do I feel this way? The a dreaded thought came to her mind, Am I really meant to be here?
“Now Faodail, remember, eavesdropping on conversations is harder than you would expect. You need to concentrate on multiple things at once: one, never
make a sound. Even if…” Faodail tuned out her spy instructor. She had better things to worry about than her assessment on eavesdropping. Nevertheless, she practically mastered that before she was born. “Now that I’ve explained everything to you, why don’t you try it for yourself?”
Pathetic. “Yes, Majima.” She mumbled back. Faodail sat back down and stared at Majima for directions.
“By the end of the day, I foresee you to have spied on at least one other wolf. Be back by sundown.” Majima didn’t wait for a response, instead, she dipped her head in good luck and backed away.
Ever since her path was chosen, Faodail felt more detached from the army. She had heard gossip of the prince running away from his royal family in the Mountain Kingdom. They say, if he ever joined the Scarlets, that they would be the strongest army in all the land. Nevermind that, She put away the thought, there’s work to be done…
Faodail clambered up the slopes of the mountains hoping to find a patrol. But her mind lay elsewhere. Illuminate his dark… The words from her ever so distant dream became so faint she could hardly remember them. Not that they were important at all…
“You lied to me!” A bark echoed through the woods, “You are no son of mine!”
Trident! Faodail suddenly recognized the howl as her father. “You lied!” Why was he so angry? She tried to pinpoint him but through the mountains, it was nearly impossible to know where it came from. She had to rely on her nose.
Sniffing she caught a whiff of her father mingling with another scent similar to the one Trident carried. Faodail raced along through the forest floor… hoping and wishing. Where are you? She was glazed with worry. Then another smell entered her nose. Blood.
“Trident!” She shrieked. What if he was hurt? “Trident!” The aura was stronger now… but even the brightest flames flicker and go out.
Faodail broke through the foliage that tugged at her fur. What she saw made her freeze. A cub, about her age maybe a month older was facing Trident as blood welled from a wound in his side. He was a light gray wolf and blue eyes that were shadowed with fear and pain. But the pain wasn’t from his wound, it seemed as if it was the fact that he was facing Trident. As if he knew him. The blood climbed over him transforming his fur scarlet. Just in front of the wolf was Trident. His face was twisted with anger and black eyes were narrowed and crossed. He was drenched in wet blood as well from a gash across his neck.”
“I warned you Soturi, I warned you when I found you in those woods half-dead. I saved you! Yet you still betrayed me…” Sadness itched his whimper. “You were my son!”
“Trident!” Faodail raced towards the cub’s side, “You tried to kill him!”
Trident opened his mouth to speak, “No! Not my daughter too!” Trident staggered on his forepaws, he squeezed his eyes shut trying to his feeling of betrayal. More blood gushed from his throat. “I found you too… Both of you were lost without a family.” He shuddered. “But now that you, Soturi found out who you really are… and who I really am, you have left me.”
“Trident!” Soturi spoke, “I can’t be your son! I can’t live in two worlds!” Tears broke his words as he knelt down to his old father and pressed his muzzle into his fur as Faodail did the same.
Please don’t leave me… She gasped, I’ll have no one else! She felt Trident’s short, shallow breaths under her, no… not again. Abruptly, Trident recoiled and the motion stopped. Faodail lifted her head to see the lifeless body of her father. A tear formed in her eye.
“No!” She wailed, “Come back!” She shivered as Soturi started a long lonely howl. She joined in, in harmony the wolves howled until the sky turned red, orange, yellow, and purple. Crows cawed warning that there were predators in the area.
“He was the only father I ever really knew.” Soturi stood after they were done, “I- I’ll miss him.” Ducked his head. “I’d better head back.”
“Wait!” She followed him, “I’m Faodail, your Soturi, right?”
“Yes, and honestly I don’t care about you because you want to kill my family. You want to kill the Mountain Kingdom. And don’t even think about attacking us because my father, King Ajani will destroy you just as he did to all the other outlaws.” He growled.
At this Faodail was taken back, “Your prince Soturi?” She gasped at the other wolf.
“Not anymore.” He padded off.
“Your Trident’s other cub? Why did you run away from the kingdom? I am your sister!”
“Stop with all the questions! I have to go the Southerners. I need to get in contact with them because if I don’t than my parents may die. Leave me alone.” “But I can help!”
“You mean you're betraing your own kind? Ha! How could I trust you?” Soturi turned back around sarcastically.
“I’m not like them! I never have been Soturi! You need to believe me. I will help you because I can’t help them. They hurt for pleasure, they kill for pleasure. Even if they love something they will betray it because they have more integrity towards Malum. They all know one thing: you can’t live in more than one world. I know that I can’t choose the Scarlet Army to be my world. I choose kin.”
Soturi’s eyes softened. “I know the feeling.” He dipped his head towards his sister. “You can come.” Faodail felt a warmth spread through her body that she never felt before. It wasn’t because of pity like from Matera, or for what she was. It was because she was truly loved by her kin. Soturi and Faodail padded their fur against one another, finally. They had found the place where they really belonged.