The sun blinded Sakari as she woke up the next morning. Their fire was nothing more than smoldering coals. Her back popped as she sat up from the stone ground she laid on. She groaned and twisted around to help loosen her body again. Her eyes fell on the little mountain lion that was still asleep. She gave a soft smile at the sight of the peaceful expression he had while he slept. After she put out what was left of their fire, she gently stirred the young feline from sleep. “Come on Ferain, time to get going.” She whispered.
It took a while before the cougar was ready to go. His body trembled slightly as he rubbed the sleep from his eyes before he even started to get dressed again. Sakari looked over the map again as he finished getting prepared. “We'll follow the river that empties from the spring here. It should lead us most of the way to Azul.” She looked up at Ferain who hung his head, avoiding direct eye contact. The only thing she heard from him was a whispered 'okay'. She nodded and grabbed her bag and started to follow the river down the mountain. It led them down steep paths, on many occasions simply dropping off a cliff. There were very few words between them as they traversed the treacherous mountain paths.
The mountains slowly gave way to hills as the red dirt was turned white with a fresh blanket of snow. The stream they had followed was frozen over as they reached a forest of trees. They were stripped of all their leaves as trees would normally do in winter. Replacing the foliage were large crystals of ice, sparkling in the mid-day sun. The ice covered the branches and even the trunk, sealing the entire tree in a crystal.
Sakari gasped as her paw sunk to the knee in powedery snow. She pulled her leg free and shook off the powder. “Watch out up here, Ferain. It's getting deeper.” She turned to watch him fall into the same patch she had, sinking up to his waist. She quickly stepped back to him and helped him out of the snow. “What's wrong with you. You have to pay attention.” She barked at him suddenly. She instantly regretted this as the young feline started to shake.
“I-I'm sorry, Sakari. I'm-” he chocked back a sob. “I'm of no use. I just keep getting in the way. I couldn't help him. I can't do anything to help anyone!” He pulled away and curled up.
The wolf's heart froze in her chest again as Ferain started to cry again. She sighed sadly. “It's not your fault, Ferain. Even with the best magic I don't Think--” She cut herself short. “It's not your fault, You're doing your best, and that's all I can ask from you. You'll get stronger. It takes time.” She smiled encouragingly. She watched him shiver and remain curled up in the snow, his tail snaking around under it. “I still need you, Ferain. I don't think I could have...gotten this far without you.” She whispered and knelt down next to the feline.
He looked up at her, still trembling. he nodded, a weak smile returning to his muzzle. It took him another few minutes before his shaking stopped and he was able to form words. “Thank you, Sakari. I'll-I'll keep...I'll try harder.”
“That's all I ask.” She smiled and ruffled the boy's hair before helping him back up. They continued through the snow for a few paces when Sakari came to a pause as she caught the sound of a twig snapping in the distance. She figured it was a deer or some other creature until an arrow shot past her head, just barely grazing her ear and buried into a tree. She spun around to where the arrow came from and saw nothing. “Ferain, run. And stay low.” she said and took only a few steps before the ground disappeared out from under her, sending both her and Ferain down a short slide into a deep pit. More snow fell on top of them, burying Ferain up to his neck.
Sakari looked up as the crunching of the snow signaled something approaching there location. Snow fell into the pit in front of Sakari as a tall wolf came to the edge. He held a wooden bow in his paws and a quiver of arrows around his bare, thickly furred chest. The only piece of clothing the male wore was long leather leggings that covered him from the waist down.
“Hey! Can we get some help.” She called out and tried to pull herself out of the snow. Sakari screamed out as another arrow shot passed her and sunk into the snow a foot from her side. “What's the big idea!” She barked as she looked up to watch the wolf knock another arrow onto his bow string.
“Toss your weapons up here. Then we'll see about getting you out.” The wolf said shortly.
“O-Our weapons?” She received a nod from the wolf. “F-Ferain, We better do what he asks.” the wolfess whispered and reached under the snow to pull her sheathed katana off of her person and tossing it up to the wolf. Her ears were low as he nodded as Ferain's knife joined the blade.
“That's everything?” He said and released the tension from his bow and pull a length of rope from his belt. As the pair nodded, the wolf dropped the end of a rope into the snow to allow them to climb up.
As soon as Sakari was on the solid ground again, she saw a group of foxes, wolves and lynx step towards her, quickly binding her hands behind her back, the extra rope being tied around her chest to bind her arms completely. Ferain received the same treatment before the lead wof picked up their weapons and waved for the group to follow him. Being pushed forward, they were led through the woods on a well used path, the snow cleared to show black dirt. They were marched into the small village that was built at the other side of the woods, the sound of waves crashing onto rocks made Sakari's ears twitch. She looked around and saw dozens of foxes, wolves, leopards and lynx working together to rebuild the wooden buildings. Charred and broken logs laying in a massive pile near the center of the village.
Sakari felt the stares as the were paraded through the village to a giant cabin, the side of the building bearing four massive cuts down the side. Her heart skipped a beat as the thought of Zerataph's energy claws tearing through the wood. She barked as she was roughly shoved through the door. She gasped at the extreme difference in temperature. In the hearth roared a fire, filling the cabin with a bright light and comforting warmth. An elder looking wolfess stood by it, hunched over to turn the logs that glowed within. Looking above the mantle, Sakari saw a woven tapestry with the same scene as the tablet she'd seen in Heirtol, each dragon having now had it's own color.
“Madam Yulya. We found these two walking outside the village.” The wolf in charge said and brought Sakari and Ferain forward into the light before handing her the two weapons.
The wolfess looked over the katana and dagger for a few moments, humming lightly to herself. “You may untie them. They are not a threat.” She said. Yulya was an old wolfess, her red and black fur was slowly starting to turn gray to match the frizzy mess of hair on the top of her head. She wore a long, emerald green robe over her form, gold vines embroidered down the front and arms of her robe. A darker green sash hung from her neck, tipped with similar gold patterns. “You two are looking for the dragon that attacked our village, are you not?” She said as she handed back their weapons.
“Y-Yes, how did you – ?” Sakari said, bowing lightly as she was offered the return of her sword.
“There's a scratch on your blade. He left the same ones before he took, Zephyr.” She said and looked down at the katana in Sakari's paws.
Sakari pulled her sword out and did in fact find a scratch on the metal, running from the middle of the blade up towards the tip. “I-I hadn't noticed that before.” She felt her heart sink as she looked at the mark on her sword for a bit longer, seeing her reflection split by the cut. She sighed softly before sheathing it once more. “Zerataph is...I think he's collecting the dragons of legend. He's already captured three. He's destroyed Heirtol and...”
“And almost did the same to Azul.” Yulya said. “We were lucky...or smart. We only suffered what we did cause we gave little resistance after he attacked a half dozen of the villagers. Thankfully no one's died.”
Sakari shook as she heard Yulya speak the final sentence. She glanced at Ferain, seeing him rub his arm sheepishly, obviously doing what he could to appear strong. “But since he's got Azul's, Zerataph has only got one more dragon before they're all under his control.”
“Not all of them.” The elder wolfess said and looked up to the tapestry and waved her left hand towards the white dragon on the bottom left hand corner. “There is one final dragon, the goddess dragon that freed our ancestors from the tyranny of the king. The legend tells that if the heir to the throne shall collect the dragons, she'd rise once more to put an end to his reign. However she too was sealed away under her own power, and only a hero can break her prison. She did this so that if there was an heir to the king's throne, they could never collect every ancient dragon.” Yulya then gestured towards the sword that was sewn into the bottom of the picture. “She's said to be sealed in this sword, the Heaven's Blade. If you could locate this sword, the odds would infinitely be in your favor.” She said
“Even if we had that. Will we really stand a chance. He leveled Heirtol and at HaiKhan....I – I couldn't do anything. We lost... And...” She swallowed and shook her head. “What can this do for us?”
“Remember, as the legends say, the goddess dragon was said to end the dragon wars alone. With the aid of a hero, her power would be more than enough to bring an end to the dragons again.”
Sakari flicked her ears as she took a moment to absorb all the information she was told. “Okay. Say that all this is true, Where would the sword be? How do we know that Zerataph can't get it before us?” She asked as the older wolfess turned around to face her.
“The sword is said to be in the heart of the continent. If I had to guess the sword was hidden in the capital of city, Ternal.” She glanced over at Ferain as she noticed him flitch at the city's name. “Further than that, I'm unsure. But as I said, The sword can only be drawn by a hero, one who is pure of heart.”
Sakari sighed and shook her head. “Gods. I never realized how cheesy that sounds. Well, if we're going to find this sword, then we'll need some help, Supplies and such.” Sakari glanced over at Ferain. “I guess I kind of over looked it at HaiKhan...we'll also need a weapon for Ferain, something better than a knife, huh?” She said and smiled lightly at the nervous feline.
“Uhm, I guess. I remember when my parents used to teach me to shoot.” He said and wrung his tail in his paws as he spoke.
Yulya looked over Sakari and Ferain and nodded with a caring, motherly smile. “Very well. Lets go see what we can find.” She said and reached for her cane from beside the fireplace before turning to exit the cabin. She led them away from the village to where another large building sat. Dark smoke billowed out of the chimney. The roof had no snow on it and waves of heat rose off the building. They stepped into the building and saw a large forge near the back of the building, the fires burned strong and hot. At the anvils stood a pair of snow leopards who were pounding on the glowing metal.
A vixen sitting at the counter, flipping through a leather bound book. Lifting her eyes from the page, she quickly stood up and smiled. “Afternoon, Madam Yulya. What can I do for you today?”
The elder wolf smiled in return. “I just need some armor and a weapon for the young warriors here.” She waved towards Sakari and Ferain behind her.
“I-I'm fine, Ferain needs something though.” Sakari interjected, making the young feline blush as the attention was turned towards him.
“Hmm. I don't have any armor that would fit a warrior that small.” The vixen struggled to hide her giggles in between her words. “But I do have a weapon that he can use.” She ducked behind the counter, coming back up with a short bow with a blue cloth wrapped handle, markings carved into the face of the bow. And in her other hand was a leather quiver of arrows. She handed them to Yulya with a smile before looking down at Ferain. “If you need to practice, then you're free to use the range out back.”
“Thank you.” Yulya smiled and passed the bow and arrows to Ferain. The elder wolfess walked the pair out the back door to find the snow had been leveled out for a good hundred yards. At the farthest distance, there were a row of targets and dummies lined against the wall of snow. “Alright, Have you ever shot a bow before?”
Ferain shrugged his shoulders. “A little. But I don't remember much.”
“Alright, Just for a little refresher then.” The elder wolfess chuckled and took the bow. “You hold the bow like this, and then nock an arrow onto the string. Then you pull back, looking down the shaft of the arrow. Breath in to steady your aim. Then breath out and release.” She showed him, going step by step to make sure that he got it. Breathing in and exhaling as the arrow flew from the bowstring, she shot a near perfect bulls-eye in the chest of one of the dummies. “Take as much time as you need. We'll let you stay here tonight before you return to your travels.”
The mountain lion stood with mouth gaped. “Wow, that was amazing.” He mewed as Yulya handed him the bow again.
“Well, I may be old, but I never let my skills dull.” She said as Ferain took the bow. She walked back to join Sakari and let the mountain lion practice. “Cute Kitten. Guessing he's not yours?” She teased Sakari with a grin.
“N-NO!” Sakari barked. “Uhm, no, he's not. I found him in Heirtol. One of the lucky ones.” She said with low ears. “He said he's from Ternal, but he hasn't told me anything more than that. I don't want to pressure him too much.” A crunch of snow behind her made Sakari turn around, finding there wasn't anyone behind her. She sighed and turned back to watch Ferain. He wasn't practicing long, but his grouping was already very good despite his obvious nervousness of holding the weapon. He walked up to gather the arrows again, falling back into the snow after struggling with a deeply embedded arrow. “It's going to be a long while before we're able to face Zerataph again...” Sakari sighed.
“You both are young. Have a lot of learning to do, I'm sure once the time comes, you'll be ready.” Yulya said and lifted her cane, swinging the gnarled end down behind Sakari.
Sakari flinched as the wooden staff nearly hit her. Tucking her tail up between her legs, she heard a solid thwack and a loud yelp just behind her. Spinning around and stepping back, Sakari saw a vixen crouched in the snow, rubbing the top of her head.
“Dammit mom.” She whined, picking up snow and rubbing it into her rosy red hair in attempt to ease the pain. After a moment she stood up with a groan. She was about as tall as the elder wolfess. Her bright red-orange fur covered in a black tunic and matching leggings. A leather belt around her thin waist held several pouches. Hanging from her shoulders was a deep blue cloak, the inside was a deep red color that matched her hair. The young vixen looked to be a few years older than Ferain, but had the grace of a full grown fox. “I was this close to having something good.” She said and held up her hands to emphasize her point.
“Keelya, you know better than to steal within the village. And watch your mouth.” Yulya growled sternly at the young vixen. “Sakari, this is my daughter, Keelya.”
Sakari could only nod as Keelya flashed a quick, halfhearted grin before turning back to the elder wolfess. “So who are they?”
“They're the ones the hunting group found outside of town. They're not staying too long, they're going to be going after the dragon that attacked us.”
“Oh? Can I go too, mom? I'd love to give that guy a piece of my mind.” Keelya grinned and punched her open palm.
Yulya blinked at her daughter's sudden enthusiasm. “P-Please, Keelya, you're far too young. This is going to be way too dangerous.”
“Then why does that puma get to go? He's even younger than me!” She pointed to Ferain who was gathering his arrows out of the straw target. The arrows were scattered around the bull's-eye or half buried in the snow. “Besides he looks like he's not that good at anything.” She stuck her tongue out of her muzzle.
“Keelya!” Yulya barked. “Treat our guests with respect. He's going because he has.... I mean....” She flicked her ears as she was unable to find the words she wanted to say. After a moment of pause, she turned to Sakari with a heavy sigh. “You...wouldn't mind having two more join your travels, would you? Someone's got to watch after Keelya.”
Sakari looked at the two canines and blinked as she tried to take everything in at once. “Uhm. N-No not at all. I could use all the help I can get.” The red wolf smiled and waved her tail around behind her.
“Excellent. We'll leave first thing tomorrow.” She said with as much enthusiasm as her daughter had. Sakari couldn't help but chuckle at that.
After another few minutes, Ferain came walking up to the group of females. “C-Can we take a break, my paws are freezing.” He whispered to Sakari. She nodded and followed Keelya and Yulya through the snowy grounds towards the elder wolf's home. As they were gathered around the dinner table. Ferain was busy eating a large leg of deer, much to the amazment of the females around him.
Yulya shook her head and smiled at the feline as she picked at the steak. “So, why don't you tell me about what happened to you two so far? What are we going to be expecting once we find this dragon?”
Sakari shrugged and looked down at her scarred paws as she ate. “I don't even know where to begin. Zerataph almost destroyed my home over a year back when he released the dragons. Then after I healed, I left and went to Heirtol.” Sakari dug around in her bag to pull out the map. She laid it on the table so that the older wolfess could see it as well. “He took their dragon and leveled the city there. And then we tried to catch up to him at HaiKhan, but he took the dragon there too. He absorbed it into his body before...”
She paused to look at Ferain, who had moved onto dessert by then. “Before he killed someone right in front of us... And then we found ourselves here. Again too late.” She whined and looked down at the map. She felt something within her call out, telling her to shred the map right there. Shaking her head she quickly rolled it up and tucked it away again.
“Oh wow, it sounds like you've been on quite the journey already.” Yulya smiled and laid her head on the back of her hands. “It certainly seems that stopping him is going to be one of our biggest tasks, especially with the dragon's under his control. But as I said, we'll have to see once we collect the Heaven's Blade. Until then, all we have to do is our best. Good night young ones, I'll see you bright and early tomorrow.” She said and turned away as she yawned.
Sakari smiled and nodded. “Come on Ferain, Let's get some sleep.” She waved him towards the fire as Keelya finished eating what was on her play before retiring to her own room. She heard the clatter of plates as the male wolf that had brought them into town cleaned up the table.
“Good night, Ferain. I'll see you tomorrow.” Sakari yawned and laid down in front of the fire. She watched the flames dance in the fireplace. The heat and sound lulled her to sleep, the most comfortable of sleep she'd had in a long while.
When she woke up the next morning she stretched out and felt a little, warm body pressed against her. Her eyes shot open and saw Ferain had pressed himself against her front during the night. She felt her heart thump strongly in her chest. Her ears were lowered to her head as she looked at the boy. “Poor kitten...” She whispered and put her arm over his shoulders and giving him a gentle hug, hearing him mew softly in his sleep. She heard the light chatter of others talking. Turning her head around, Sakari saw both Yulya and Keelya talking as they prepared their own packs with everything they'd need.
“Good morning, Sakari.” The wolfess smiled down at her holding the young cougar. “We're almost set here, if you want to wake him.”
Sakari smiled softly and shook her head. “Yeah. I don't want to, but I know...we need to go.” She said and rubbed his shoulder. “Ferain, Time to get up.” She whispered into his ear.
Ferain growled and stirred, his long tail twitching around behind him. “A-Already? The sun's not even up yet...” He whined and glanced towards the two packing their bags. “Do we have to go now?”
“Afraid so, Ferain. We've got a long way to travel still.” Sakari said and rubbed his shoulder before slipping away and standing up. He blushed and nodded as he stretched out of the floor, his tail patting the wood under him.
Yulya made sure everything was in order before turning to the male wolf. “I'm putting you in charge while we're gone. Make sure everyone is settled and okay, We'll be back as soon as we can.” She spoke to him as they walked through the village. The male nodded and stopped once they reached the limits of the city. He waved to them, along with the rest of the villagers before they were swallowed by the ice forest.
Sakari watched as the two cubs walked ahead of them. The vixen held her cloak around her form as Ferain spoke to her, prattling on about his magic, showing her the little light ball in his hand.
“You both be careful up there.” Yulya called out to them, seeing the magic in the mountain lion's pall. The young vixen glanced back at her mother and rolled her eyes and scoffed, making her mother sigh heavily. “That girl is so...*huff*. She was always such a good girl. She was so well behaved and had the spirit of a toddler. If only her father was...” Yulya trailed off.
“What happened?” Sakari asked before becoming flustered, her tail flailing around behind her. “I me-mean..if you don't mind my asking.”
The graying wolfess chuckled at her. “It's perfectly alright, Sakari. Back when she was just a cub, she'd used to spend all day with her father as he took care of the village. Or when he'd go hunting with the pack. They were unbelievably close. Since our village was right against the north coast, we had been under constant attack from pirates. It was a common occurrence and we were always on guard for a raid. But one day, when Keelya was about twelve, a giant fleet came in and attacked. It decimated us. They attacked in the night, We were out numbered a dozen to one.” She paused and held onto her cane tightly. “Keelya and I were evacuating with the other women and children. I still will never know how, but she had managed to sneak off to look for my husband. She tried to help him, but... fell.
When we came back to the village the next morning, I found her under my husband's body. He managed to save her even after his life ended. Ever since, she's grown distant. Things were never the same after that. She started stealing around the village, acting out. She's doing better.” Yulya watched her daughter turn. Her bright blue eyes glaring daggers into the two wolves, her large ears flat against her head.
Sakari quickly looked away, her ears flattened out to the side as she avoided the vixen's stare. “That's...I'm sorry to hear.” She stuttered. “I never had my mother around. She'd died giving birth to me. And I've nothing to really remember her apart from stories that my father told me, and a melted katana.” She said, a light smile coming across her muzzle as she remembered the stories her father would tell. “S-Sorry, I probably shouldn't...subject...uhm.” She said and blushed furiously, her head turning to the side.
“You're okay, Sakari, it's always nice to learn something about your travel companions. I mean like when I was younger, I was the best archer –“ Their conversation was interrupted when they heard the mountain lion shout back at them. They walked up next to the young kits and their jaws dropped.
A giant rift had opened across the land, stretching as far as they could see to either side. Straight ahead of them was the other side, a thin line along the horizon. The walls dropped straight down and vanished into the darkness where the sun couldn't reach. A small pinprick of light glowing dimly red at the bottom, running down the length of the ravine. Sakari's eyes were wide at the sight. “W-What could have done this? D-did Zerataph...do this?” She mumbled as she stared into the weak light at the bottom. “I-It looks like it goes all of the way through the planet.” She added with a whimper.
“With Heritol's dragon...he could have done this easily. That's the power the dragons have. While the earth dragon isn't the strongest, it can still cleave stone like butter” Yulya said and pulled Keelya back from the edge. “We'll have to circle around it and stop at Opochtli to resupply. It's going to take us longer than what we prepared for.” She turned to begin the walk to the east, holding her daughter's hand as the vixen looked into the fissure.
Sakari stood petrified as she looked into the canyon, her eyes locked onto the sliver of light at the bottom. Her body starting to shake as she took a step back and stumbled over a rock that caused her to fall onto her rump.
“Sakari, Are you okay?” Ferain asked, his round ears flat against his head as he reached out to touch her arm.
“It's impossible.” She said, flinching as his small hands touched her forearm. “There's no way we can fight him. He's grown too strong...there's nothing we can do. Zerataph...he's – he's won.” She muttered as she stared at the canyon from where she fell.
“But the sword. Once we get that, we'll have the upper hand. We'll get him –”
“Where you there at HaiKhan. What happened to the dragon. To Nempus!” She barked at him. “He's destroyed so many lives. He's too strong. I-I can't do it.” She started to shake harder as she broke down in front of the other three. Laying on her side, Sakari began to cry as she curled up into a fetal position, her body vibrating on the ground.
“Sakari...” Ferain whispered, knelt down next to her and gently pressed his paw onto her shoulder, his tail curled up between his legs. “You can't stop now. You've given me so much courage. Without you, I would probably still be hiding in the shrine. If you leave now...then there really will be no chance. You have to continue on, for us, for the whole planet.” He whispered and continued to rub her shoulder, just as she did this morning to him.
The red wolf looked up at him, her pointed ears laid flat against her helmet and her tail tucked between her legs. “I...Ferain.” She uncurled slowly, but still held a knee in her paws. “Do you mean that?” She whispered after a few moments of silence.
Ferain smiled softly and nodded.
Sakari turned to lay on her back and pulled the mountain lion cub into a hug. She heard him squeak, which made her smile. “Thank you Ferain. I – I will do my best. For you, for all of you...” She said and continued to hold him tightly. “I'm just...so scared right now.”
“We all are, Sakari. It's only though the strength of each other we'll be able to do anything. I'm sure of it.” The cougar smiled and pulled back after a while to help Sakari to her feet.
“Thank you, Ferain.” She repeated. “I – I think I'm going to be okay now. Lets go get him.” Sakari smiled. Her body still shook as she walked forward. It took a while for them to start making a good pace next to the chasm. It would take them a few days to follow the rift to the next town, but they would take the journey together.