Sakari shot up in her bed, a scream catching in her throat. Shaking and panted violently, Sakari tried to regain her composure. Her breathing slowly returned to normal, her eyes lifting to look outside the open window that sat next to her bed. Not a cloud was tainting the pale blue sky. Breathing in deeply, she exhaled a loud sigh once more before she climbed out and stretched. Sakari's back popping audibly, making her whine. The red wolf walked over to a small table, a clay bowl set into the center. Reaching for the jug that sat next to it, she poured water into the bowl. After setting the pitcher back down, the wolf looked down at her scarred paws. The fur had never grown back over properly, leaving the dark lightning bolt marks exposed. Her pointed ears fell back as she heaved another sigh and began to wash her face.
It’d been a year since she and Zerataph fought in the shrine just south of Fayorn, the small farming village she lived in. She'd spent that time healing and training her body. Waiting for the day that she could find the dragon and stop him. And the nightmares of the night plagued her whenever she shut her eyes. Sakari shook her paws off and reached for a cloth to dry her face.
Holding the cloth over her muzzle, she stared into the polished shield that hung above a sheathed sword, the wolf's head that kissed the scabbard had melted, giving a distorted, almost haunting look to it. The emerald eyes had shattered, leaving them in the eye sockets, but in pieces. She stared at her reflection, her thin torso was wrapped with a Sarashi, a single strand of cloth wrapped around her waist and up her slender belly, ending by covering her small bust. The wolfess began combing her long lilac hair and braiding it. She just finishing off the loose braid when she spotting a short graying wolf smiling at her in the mirror. He was wearing a black and green kimono and held a wooden cane lightly in his thin fingers. “Good morning, father.” She said, a smile growing over her muzzle.
“Good morning, daughter. Sleep well?” The male questioned as Sakari pulled a blue and red kimono over her form before turning to face him.
“I did. But I had...I dreamed about him again: Zerataph.” She said as the two canines walked out into the common room. “It was the same one – that night that he almost destroyed the village.” Sitting on the wooden floor, a pot of tea already set on the short table. Sakari poured the both the tea into her father's cup before sitting back to fill her own. “I just keep seeing him. That look in his eyes, the way he walks talking” Sakari looked down at her injured hand and shuddered before sipping the hot tea.
Her father nodded. “I'm not surprised, Sakari. I've been having dreams and visions myself. Of much darker things I'm worried are yet to pass,” The elder wolf drank from his own cup between sentences. “I'm afraid that the legends are coming true.” He hung his head in thought.
Sakari blinked as she set her tea onto the saucer. “What legends, Father?”
“You don't remember? Well...I suppose you were still a pup when I told you the stories. They're the same ones that you asked me about a year before Zerataph's.... Well, the legends I'm talking about is the Dragon's Gift:
Long ago, the land was ruled by the dragons that gave birth to the world. Our ancestors worshiped them as gods. But when a king saw the powers that a single dragon held, he strove to collect the five sacred dragons that lived in each nation. Persuading the black dragon in the central city where he ruled was an easy enough task. However collecting the remaining dragons was going to be a much more difficult venture. The king began waging war against the other nations until they gave up the dragons or were obliterated by his armies. With all of the dragons under his command, he ruled over the entire land undisputed.
One day a sixth dragon descended from the heavens, a dragon with scales as pale as snow. The king fought against it in order to add it to his already undefeated army. This dragon, however held far greater strength than even the king believed. They fought and ravaged the land, but ultimately the dragon ended his reign. The goddess sealed the five dragons of the land away so no one could abuse their power. After the battle, the dragon healed the land and it's people before sealing herself away as well.
“All legends are said to be grown from a kernel of truth. And with what you described a year ago, it seems that this is one of those legends. And now, it looks as if Zerataph is after their power, For what reason I can’t be sure...” The wolf said and stood up, walking to a cabinet pressed against the wall next to Sakari's room and returned to the table. The wolf unrolled a map and placed an bottle of ink on one of the corners to hold it in place. Sakari looked down at it to see a detailed map of Sippeà. “Each of the dragons would have more than likely returned to the cities where they were worshiped.” He said, picking up a brush, dipping it in the ink. He circled five cities before labeling them with the dragon that lived there.
“But I don't see what I can do. Last time I fought him, I didn't stand a chance.” Sakari watched him roll the map back up and set it on the side of the table, returning to his tea.
“You've grown stronger over the seasons, Sakari. But the choice is entirely yours. If you choose to pursue him, or to stay here.”
They sat in silence for a long while, finishing their tea before anything else was said. “I – I need some time to think about this, father.” She said and gathered the finished cups and tea pot. The gray-furred wolf simply nodded and stood up returning to his room, leaving Sakari to clean up. The red wolfess walked across their modest field, looking down at the vegetable plants that were starting to grow. Coming to the edge of a steep hill, she saw a path that led down into the woods that sat below their village. She tightened the sash on her kimono and followed the path.
Sakari stepped over the thick shrubbery that bordered a small clearing. Everthing around her went eerily silent. Though she felt the breeze, there wasn't a sound accompanying the wind. Approaching a log, she heard the sharp crack of bamboo, making her jump. Looking around, she saw nothing that would have made the noise. She breathed shallow breaths as she tried to calm herself once more. Sitting on the log, she looked over the green field stretched out before her. The sound of bamboo continued to fill the clearing, growing in intensity by the moments. Tears filled Sakari's eyes as the sounds slowly faded again, leaving her alone in the silence.
The sun was beginning to fade as returned to Fayorn. She walked through the beautiful farming village, green grass grew everywhere she looked. The pastures were disrupted by rows of wheat and vegetables that the villagers tended to. She stepped up on a bridge that crossed an irrigation creek. She looked up at the sky in thought, whisps of cloud crossed over the purple and orange sky. Tapping her fingers against the wood as she listened to the water wash over the rocks in the bottom of the stream. She turned to walk back to home when she almost bumped into her father. Patting her chest, and swallowing a scream. “S – Sorry father.” Sakari said and watched her father walk up to the spot where she just stood.
“You're okay, Sakari.” He said with a smile. Putting his hand on the railing, his long graying tail flicked back and forth behind him. “You two were always so close growing up.” The graying wolf looked down into the stream. “I’m not sure if Zerataph can be helped now, but you've got to do whatever you have to in order to stop him. That is if you've decided to go after him.” He said softly and tapped his cane against the wooden bridge as he looked down at their reflections. The villagers were tending to their crops all around them. The droll of the farmers filled the air with an odd buzz. “What are you thinking about, Sakari?”
She clicked her claws against the wooden banister, her tail flicking around in thought. Looking down at her scarred paws, feeling small twinges of pain shoot through them. “I – I don't know father. How can I find him? What will I do when I do?” She balled up her fists, marking the wood with her paws. A hundred thoughts ran through her head.
“It's going to be a hard path, Sakari. One that will push any one to the ends of sanity to think of how to fight one's best friend.” He said softly and looked directly at his daughter. He smiled and nodded. “You'll find a way.” Sakari’s father turned and walked down the arch of the bridge, leaving the young wolfess to her thoughts.
Sakari walked aimlessly around the village, cubs running by and laughing as they chased each other. Their playfulness made Sakari smile despite the feelings that filled her. By the time she walked back to her house, the sky was a dark sapphire blue, stars beginning to twinkle into sight. She hung her head as she stepped into the common room of her house and looked down at the short table. Placed at its center was the map still lay rolled up. She stepped forward and sat down, staring at the map. Her paws shook as she reached forward to touch the map. The pointed wolf ears rolled back as she heard the light creak of floorboards behind her. “F-Father. I’ll try to stop him. I don’t know how I will do it, but I’ll do what I can.” She said in a shaking voice.
The older wolf stepped behind her and touched her shoulder. “Are you sure?” He asked. When she nodded, he smiled softly. But it didn't last long. “I will pray for you, Sakari. When do you plan to leave?”
“T-Tonight, He’s got a year head start, I...I don’t think I can afford any more time.” She whispered and looked down at the map in her hands, her thumb tracing over one of the edges.
He turned around and walked into his bedroom, waving an arm to invite her to follow. “Very well Sakari. We'll prepare everything as soon as we can. But first...” Her father set his cane against the wall and opened the cupboard next to his bed, exposing a set of leather armor. “I want you to take this with you.” He turned around and placed a light helmet into her paws.
She looked over the forest green helmet before she lowered her head and put it on her head. It covered her head completely. Her long braid hung out from the back of it while holes at the top of it, letting her ears stand tall. “Thank you, father. I will take great care of it.” She said as he handed her a lighter green gi to wear. Once she replaced the tops and pulled a pair of pauldrons that gave her shoulders and biceps a fair bit of protection and flexibility. They stopped just above her elbows. From there, she was given a pair of leather bracers that covered her forearms and the backs of her paws. Her father helped strapped on the leather leg guards that covered much of her thigh before he moved to strap the cuirass to her torso.
“They're to protect you, not the other way around.” He said as he tightened the leather straps. “Just promise me that you’ll be careful.” the wolf stood up and hugged her tightly.
“I promise, father.” She said and hugged her father in return, tears starting to form in her eyes as they held the embrace. The pair of canines gathered everything that Sakari would need on her journey. Packing a large sack full of dried meats and rice cakes as well as bread and a short dagger. They embraced each other once more before Sakari turned and walked through the village, more stars filling the night. A crescent moon rising from the horizon, giving her a little light to travel by.
Squinting at the map, Sakari saw that the closest town was just northwest of Fayorn, a slightly larger trading town called Heirtol. The entire trip was going to take a couple of days; so the wolfess tightened her grip on her provisions while keeping her other paw on her katana. The green fields began to fade into the brownish-red HaiKhan mountains on her second day of traveling. She sat down as she came to an over hanging rock. Setting her bag down, she pulled out some of the jerky and the leather canteen of water. Looking out, she saw the waves of heat lifting off of the rocky terrain. The sight alone started to make the wolfess pant. Drinking from the canteen, she sighed and flicked her tail around as she ate. It'd been nearly two days since since she'd been traveling and the heat was making it almost unbearable.
Sippeà was coming into the hottest season of the year, and given the direction she was traveling, it was only going to get hotter. Holding the meat in her muzzle, she reached back into the back and pulled out the map. Looking over it, she guessed that she was another day from Heritol and the next chance she had to find Zerataph. Packing everything back into the bag, Sakari stood up to continue her journey. The heat grew more intense, the rock around her radiating the sun's rays as she walked. Her once powerful stride began to grow slower and more of a limp as the day pressed on.
She stopped at a spire of rock, pressing her back into the cooler stone that had been cast in shadow for a better part of the day. Heaving a contented sight. “Gods, maybe night time would prove better to travel...” She sighed and looked around. All she saw was a flat plain of solid rock, only the occasional tower of rock breaking up the horizon. She closed her eyes and panted, trying to cool off as best as she could before she heard a light clopping and grinding of steel on stone. Opening her eyes, she looked around and saw a cart was approaching her from the west, being pulled by a pair of tall draft horses. She stood up as it came closer and stopped right next to her.
“What's a lass like you doing way out here by yourself?” A ferret morph called down from the seat, letting the reigns hang in his paw.
Sakari held her paw at her sword's hilt as she looked over the cart. “I'm going to Heirtol.”
The Ferret grinned. “How about that. Just where I'm heading. If you'd like I can give you a lift, it's probably not good that you're out here with this heat.” He glanced down and saw her defensive stance. “You don't have to worry, I'm not a bandit trying to trick you.” He said and slid over in the bench to give her a place to sit. Sakari looked over the ferret a moment before nodding and climbed onto the bench beside him. “I'd let you rest up in the back, but I'm filled to the top with supplies.” With that said, he whipped the reigns and the horses began to pull his cart once more.
The two discussed very little as they continued to travel north. Sakari managed to close her eyes and get some rest but never fell too deep into sleep next to the ferret. Sakari opened her eyes as she began to pick up the faint odor of decay. She wrinkled her nose at the foul smell and looked around for the cause. The cart began to climb out of a small valley of rock when a stone city appeared before them. It looked oddly empty, building of red and black stone standing above the growing hills that formed at the base of the HaiKhan mountains. “Here we are, Heirtol.” The ferret spoke up as they continued to follow the setting sun.
Coming into the boundaries of the city, the stench grew stronger ten fold. They wend as far as they could until a large obelisk blocked their path. “Lords, They've really let the town fall apart.” The ferret sighed. Standing up on the cart's bench, he saw nobody was around. “I'm not going to be able to get further than this. Would you mind helping me with this?” He said and gestured to the broken shaft of stone.
She sighed and nodded. “Yes, But I'll have to leave when we're finished. I have to find...something.” Sakari flicked her thick red tail.
“That's fine.” He replied and hopped off of the tall cart and began to move some of the smaller pieces of rubble before they worked together to shift away the larger pieces. Once they cleared away enough of the hard stone to let the cart move through, the ferret bid farewell once she thanked him for bringing her to Heirtol.
Sakari walked deeper into the city, towards a tall spire that stuck up above all the other buildings. The stone was caved into giant vines of bramble, circling around each other to form a massive point that pierced the sky above the city. The further Sakari walked into city, the more the buildings were crumbling, like an overly massive earthquake had hit the most interior sections of the city. The destruction of the town was little near where she had left the merchant. The closer that she got to the towering building, the worse the damage got. Eventually there was nothing but piles of rubble everywhere around her. Among the giant stones were the bodies of their inhabitants, decaying in the hot sun and being scavenged by birds and rodents. That was the scent that assaulted her senses. Seeing the bodies made her gag. Turning her head away, she only saw a dozen more in equal states of decay. Dropping her bag, she covered her mouth and fought the urge to throw up where she stood. Squeezing her eyes tightly shut, she tried to shake off the feeling and continue forward.
She walked through the destroyed city and finally came to the base of the massive central building. Despite all the destruction, there was almost no damage to the stone walls of the shrine. Over the archway, a message was carved into stone. Although much of it was illegible from weathering, she could still make out the words dragon and Gold. Walked up the steps into the open archway, the wooden doors were ripped off of their hinges and thrown to the side. Pulling her sword from its scabbard, she stepped into a large, circular room. The sun streaming into hall from the open ceiling, the walls never coming together to allow the sun to fill the hall. There were remnants of stone pews littering the ground. Some in pieces, others merely flipped upside down.
Continuing towards the back of the round room, Sakari climbed up the few steps up to the altar. Behind a broken table, there was a large slab of rock with five dragons carved into it. They were shown flying over a land rampant in wild fires, a single person sat on the center-most dragon's neck, a sword in hand. Facing them was a single long bodied dragon, a ball of energy held in its maw. Along the borders of the slab were tree branches that seemed to sprout from the bottom of the slab; where a pedestal and great-sword were carved into the stone. She touched the stone and traced her finger over the carving of the great-sword. Stepping away from the mural, Sakari heard a clatter echo in the room. The sound made her jump. She spun around to the empty tower, gripping her sword tightly. The sunlight was casting shadows against the floor and wall, giving whatever was there plenty of hiding spots. “Who's there?!” She barked out and stepped down from the altar, holding her katana at the ready.
There was a long moment of silence as Sakari's words echoed, seeming with out end. Before she called again, there was another clattering of stone and from behind a pile of rocks came a young mountain lion male, who looked no older than 15 years of age. His golden fur was dirty and red tunic was ripped and barely covered his bony form. His round ears were lowered flat to his head as he looked up at Sakari with fear in his amber eyes.
Sakari gasped sharply as she saw him. Lowering her weapon, she walked forward towards the feline. “What are you doing here, little one?” the wolfess questioned him, stopping as he pulled back away from her. “I'm not going to hurt you, see.” Sakari re-sheathed her sword and showed him the empty paws. “Are you alone here?” He nodded. She saw that the feline was incredibly thin, his ribs showing through the rips in his tunic, his thin fingers twisting around each other as he avoided Sakari's stare. Returning to her bag, the red wolf dug out a rice cake and offered it to him. “Here, I'm sorry it's not much. You probably need it more than me.” She said and crouched down a few paces from where the mountain lion stood, holding the food out to him.
The cougar stepped forward cautiously, his nose twitching slightly as he smelled the food she offered him. Reaching out, the boy quickly snatched it from her paw and ate the rice ball it two bites before he smiled weakly and thanked her.
“You’re welcome, I’m Sakari. Who are you, little one?”
The mountain lion was hesitant with giving Sakari his name at first. “Fer-Ferain.”
“Is this your home? Where'd you come from?” She asked when he shook his head
“I-I'm from Ternal, I – I ran away.”
“That’s no good.” She paused in thought, picking her bag back up. “Let's – let's get you home, It’s not too far out of my way. Not too far...” Sakari said with a sigh and reached for his paw. Ferain pulled away and violently shook his head. Sakari hesitated for a moment and sighed again. “Okay then, you can go ahead and stay here. I've got things to do anyway.” the wolfess said rather coldly as she walked out of the shrine. Sakari was looking up at the cloud-filled sky when she heard Ferain's voice coming from behind her.
“W-wait! C-can I-can I come with you?” he panted and looked down at the ground.
“You don't want to go home?”
“No! F-For the last time, no!” He mewed “I-I don't...I don't have anywhere to go there. And I just really don't want to stay here either.” He whined weakly. “Not after....that guy took the dragon.”
Sakari felt her heart thump strongly in her chest from his words. “Guy? What kind of guy?” She asked quickly, stepping towards Ferain.
He shook his head. “I-I don't know, He was tall and had black scales. And carried this long bone sword. He came in and stabbed the dragon that lived here. Then it...it was absorbed into him.”
She stared at him with wide eyes. “That's...Do you know where he went?”
“No, He just took the dragon and attacked the city guards, destrying the city before leaving away. I've been hiding out since then.” He said in a shaking voice, his long whip like tail flailing around behind him.
Sakari mumbled to herself and nodded. “Okay, great. I missed him, but he'll keep going for the dragons...” She whispered and reached into her bag and pulled out the map, looking it over. Seeing her father's handwriting mark Heritol with the earth dragon, she cursed again. “HaiKhan will be my next chance.” She rolled it up and stood up. “Thanks Ferain.” She went to walk away when she heard him pad along behind her. “Ferain, I can't have you coming along. It's going to be way too dangerous, I won't be putting a cub in harms way.” She turned back to face him.
“I-I won't get in the way. Promise.” He squeaked and looked up at her as she dropped to one knee in front of him.
Sakari sighed and shook her head. “No...I'm sorry. Go find the merchant, he might still be around, maybe he'll take you back to Ternal.”
“No! I'm not going back!” he mewled loudly. “Please, I won't get in the way, I can handle my self. I've managed so far on my own.”
Sakari looked him in the eyes, seeing her reflection in the pup's large eyes. With a defeated sigh she nodded. “Fine. Just be careful, okay?” She warned him and set her bag down again. Digging around in it for a moment before Sakari pulled out another rice cake and handed it to him. As he ate the rice cake, slower this time, the wolfess dug into the bag and pulled out the knife that her father had put in. “Use this only in emergencies. it's nothing much, but it's better than nothing.”
“Thank you, Sakari. I'll do my best.” He finished the food and took the knight, tucking it away into the rope that he used for a belt.
“Good. It's going to be a long trip to HaiKhan. Are you absolutely sure about this, Ferain?” She asked and stood back up and looked west.
“I'm ready when you are.”
Sakari nodded and smiled softly. “Okay, Here we go.” She said and walked down the ruined streets, heading west and further into the ever growing mountains.