Two ancient rivals, a vicious hatred, an unstoppable monster: welcome to The Wasteland
|1: Keeping His Name
"Honesty is the best policy, but survival is the best guideline."- Wolf Code of Life.
There was dirt and debris swirling up from the ground, obscuring the view with a cloud of dust, giving the Wasteland a mood of secrecy, and a hint of mystery. The Wasteland was not quite a plain, and not quite a desert. There was a certain fertility to the soil; but the heat- the accusing, suffocating warmth- wrapped the prairie in a taunting embrace, forcing the grass to grow parallel to the ground, branding the place as desolate, and driving out even the hardiest of creatures.
Limping across the weeds, making his way through the rocks that pierced his paws, was the only sign of life- a wolf whose every feature spoke of uncontested defeat; except his raised head and deep set eyes that radiated a lingering intelligence. Everything else- from his gray, mangled tail, to the fur on his back that was bitten and eaten by huge blood-sucking mosquitoes, and his thick frazzled mane around his neck- displayed a weak and defeated animal.
Once this wolf had been strong; there was a look of confidence surrounding him. Once there had been so much potential to him that the whole world could have bowed down to his strength. But who, in that barren empty land, was there to bow down to him?
There was no one.
The wolf, pacing the hill he stood on, was oblivious to his surroundings. He was thinking, repeating in his mind, over and over:
My name is Ash. So that I will never forget, I say my name over and over.
Ash felt as if his were the only thoughts in the world. Who else was there to think here? Ash had not stumbled upon another wolf pack since he had been forced out of The Valley.
Ash looked down at the prairie that stretched out and beyond his power of sight. On the horizon there was a cliff like structure stretching into the sky. There was a bluff under the cliff, a place that would surely hold some life. Ash began his journey to the bluff, feeling the sun on his back probing him, wondering if he would find another stream or oasis soon. His mouth felt as rough and parched as sandpaper, and his head pounded and throbbed. Somewhere deep in his gut he felt a pulsing hunger.
Ash began running toward the bluff, keeping his eyes set on the sky that was a ferocious blue, devoid of any clouds at all and barren of birds. He ran until light had crept off the stage of life, and night had enveloped the prairie. Then he lay down, exhaustion plaguing his lungs.
Even though it was night it was not dark. The sky was a brownish color, spotted black in some places. In the dim light Ash could still see the bluff, and around the bluff a few black silhouetted-figures. They could have been wolves, or perhaps wild dogs. Ash hoped that it was a wolf pack. He would have to wait until morning to see. For now he had no more energy to run on. He was as drained as the dirt beneath his trembling body.
He let the humid air around him push him over the edge into a restless dream.
2: The wolves of the Wasteland
"Live for your survival and die for your beliefs."-- Wolf Code of Life
Ash woke up when the sun was just inching into the sky, because in his restless sleep, he smelled something. When he raised his head to see what it was, his eyes met the stare of another wolf, this one with pure black fur, and eyes so brown, they too, could have been black. The wolf that was hovering over him was bigger with thick muscles. His fur wasn't exactly healthy, but it wasn't mangled and mangy.
Ash's reaction to the wolf was instantaneous; he leaped to his feet and backed up, the fur on his spine raised in a warning signal. His teeth were bared.
The wolf looked Ash over, eyes gleaming with interest. He wagged his tail, not as a friend, but in a mocking way. "I woke you up, because if I hadn't the wild dogs would have gotten you. Now explain yourself." the wolf growled.
Ash's fur lowered slightly. "I want to join a pack.”
"Oh really?” The wolf paused. “Where do you come from?"
"I'll bring you to talk to The Alpha, Atlas, but he'll probably just kick you out. You're too small to do anything for us.”
Ash snarled involuntarily.
Java ignored the hostility. "Follow me. I'm guessing Atlas will get a good laugh out of you. I mean look at your coat! It's ridiculous. That color just doesn't fit in around here, where wolves are either black or red. Got a name?"
"I mean a real name, kiddo."
"After the first wolf?"
"Yeah," Ash nodded.
"Why don't you use that name?"
"I was stripped of my name in The Valley, so I use the name Ash."
"Oh." The wolf didn't pursue the subject because he knew that having one's name taken away was the worst possible disgrace.
"What's your name?" Ash asked.
"I'm Java, the Omega of the black wolf pack."
The two made small talk as they trotted towards the bluff. When they were very close to their destination, Java asked, "What's wrong with your eyes? When I first saw you asleep they were, I dunno, whitish bluish color, then when you jumped up they turned black and brown."
"I'm partially albino. If I were clean my fur would be the same color as my eyes. My eyes switch back and forth according to emotion. I have brown pigments but they only kick in when I'm angry. "
Java snorted back a laugh. "Ah right, if ya wanna kid aroun', be that way," he muttered, not believing that there ws such thing as a partial albino.
Ash shrugged and ignored the comment.
As they were walking they came closer to the huge undercut in the stone that housed what seemed like a good-sized pack. When they were at the edge of the cave Java stopped and said, "I'd rather not go with you to meet Atlas."
"He doesn't like me. Atlas hates the wolves with pity. That's what he calls it when I try to help other wolves. Pity. Seems like an awful ugly word for just helping another wolf, but Atlas has his own ways." Java paused and seemed to falter for an awkward moment. "Listen, if he refuses you entrance to the pack, then you can try your luck with the Red Wolf pack, down at that end of the Wasteland, to the south," Java said, his eyes no longer careless.
"And if that pack doesn't let me join?"
"I've made it this far, I'm sure I can survive here, without a pack or with one," Ash said, his tone reserved, his eyes were a sharp whitish-blue again.
Java shook his head. "The Wasteland's a different story. You'll find out sooner or later just how different. When wolves call this place a death trap, they ain't kiddin', OK?"
Ash nodded and then bowed his head, dismissing Java's words. He walked towards the cave, all too aware of the heat pressing in on him like an invisible blanket. The cave was cool compared to the outside, but still humid. Off to the side there were piles of sticks with different types of meat hung across them. The stench that filled Ash's nose and mouth disgusted him. He shuddered, dismissing it as weird practices of the foreign.
Ash walked over to a black wolf who stood sulking by the meat, staring at him. Ash asked, "Where is Atlas?"
The wolf gave him a mocking glance. "Want to get yourself killed?"
"Is that a question or a death sentence?.”
The wolf laughed. “Is that how it is, eh?”
“I suppose so.”
"Then follow this cave to the very back. There's a little tunnel. Go in it and follow it 'til it comes out in the Alpha's chamber," the wolf said while looking Ash's coat and eyes over with wary interest.
"Thank you," Ash said and gave a little bow. Then he turned away and continued deeper into the cave which had a dirt-covered floor and the stench of mold lingering in the air. Ash noticed that along the walls there were wolf pups, their fur completely black, their eyes a glazed brown and yellow. They bounced along and growled infantile warnings at Ash.
He reached the back of the cave and found the minuscule tunnel. He ducked under and then trailed its filthy walls to their end. When he came out of the tunnel he was, indeed, in a wide chamber. It wasn't as dirty, and light came from a hole at the top of the 20-foot tall cavern-- filtered and brown-tinted but nevertheless still there.
At the end of the chamber Ash found Atlas. His fur was black like all the others but Atlas was bigger in size then they were. He must have been two times the size of Java, and thus close to three times the size of Ash. He had a proud lean stature, and a thidck rugged skull, with two thin white scars coming down the side of his snout. His face was distorted with a scowling glare. His ears stood alert atop his head like perked rabbit ears.
Ash gave a bow.
"What do you want?" Atlas asked, his voice edged with exasperation. "And who are you?"
"I'm just a wanderer who needs to join a pack."
"What do you have to offer? You're too small to hunt. You could never keep your own with the pack. They'd tear you to pieces in seconds."
"I'm clever and I know many tricks to stay alive."
Atlas gave a snort. "Tricks don't work in The Wasteland. Cleverness is not for a place like this. You'd die here with us and you'll die without us. You'd be worthless to me." He stood up and snarled at Ash. "Get out of my sight."
"Let me prove that I could be useful."
Atlas fumed. "What's your name?" he finally managed to ask.
"And where exactly do you come from?"
"The Valley?” Atlas jerked his head toward Ash. “Isn't that where the wolves committed mutiny on Thor's followers?"
"Yes. I was exiled."
"So you think you're a follower of Thor? You know the Wolf Code of Life, then?" Atlas jeered.
"Every word," Ash muttered.
"Then you know that in The Wolf Code of Life it states that life is every wolf to his ability. I have a keen eye for ability, but you want to know how much I see when I look at you?"
Ash nodded, knowing what was coming next, feeling it deeper then his own blood and bones.
"I see none. I see a mangled, begging wolf. I see a degradation of the species of wolf. I see a piece of Valley scum who claims to hold to Thor's law."
"Just let me prove that I could be helpful," Ash said, sensing the futility of his pleas.
"The truth is that which does not need to be proved," Atlas said.
"When I leave here, will you at least have the courtesy to remember my name?" Ash asked.
"I'll remember the name. When you're dead I'll sop the letters on your grave with your own blood. I'll feed what's left of your carcass to my pups. That's how completely worthless you are to me!"
Ash snarled and faked a motion to bite. He just barely stopped himself from rushing forward to kill Atlas. He knew that Atlas would defeat him in such a situation.
Atlas leaped forward from his small "throne" and tried to pounce down on Ash, almost as though he knew what Ash was thinking of doing. Ash swerved to the side with his small nimble feet. He slashed his claws from behind into Atlas's ear, making the huge wolf yowl and stumble to the side, dazed only momentarily. Then Atlas was back to his wits, the blood from his ear dripping down into his face, hazing his vision but not stopping his anger.
By the time that Ash and Atlas began circling each other in stance for a fight, a pure white wolf had crawled into the chamber and was watched them intently, as though ready to intervene at any second.
"Don't waste yourself on this mongrel," the white wolf said.
"Stay out of this, Snow," Atlas hollered. “This is my fight.”
"I won't let you kill a wolf that has no advantage over you and is no bigger than a jackrabbit, whether you're Alpha or not."
"Fine," Atlas said, and with one last surge of vitality he backed up a step as though withdrawing, and then leaped forward and slashed one huge claw across Ash's face.
The gray-blue wolf wasn't fast enough; by the time he had jerked away, a long trail of crimson blood was dripping down his face, turning his fur a reddish brown. The skin on Ash’s snout was torn and disfigured. He knew that later it would form an ugly white scar that would forever remind him of his alienation.
"Now we've both left our marks, mongrel," Atlas whispered and trotted away with Snow by his side.
"I'll kill your whole pack, you coward!” Ash howled, awash with the sharp pain and anger that throbbed through his body. "I'll kill them all 'till there's nothing left but a grave yard of corpses. Give no mercy, expect no mercy."
Snow glanced back at Ash, with something akin to remorse in her eyes. She bowed her head in Ash's direction and then trotted after The Alpha.
Ash leaped out of the cavern and through the tunnel. He ran through the cave and out under the Wasteland’s unrelenting sun. Ash shook the blood off his nose, and then began trotting toward the other pack.
As he ran, he tried to understand why he could never be accepted. The sun crept low in the sky, and he ran on, alone in The Wasteland as he had been alone in The Valley.
3:There’s No Pretending This Is Nirvana
The thoughts of Ash:
I don't work by pretending things will be all right; things never have been, no reason to delude myself into thinking they ever will be. There's no pretending this is Nirvana. I run because when things stand still they grow stagnant. I run because I am not accepted, and maybe if I run fast enough I will disappear completely. Running numbs the head. When your feet are liquid action and you just keep going, listening to your footsteps like they're music, thoughts evaporate. Scenery blurs into consciousness, one with the rhythm, one with the beat. When I run I become convinced, that although things aren't all right, maybe one day I won't have to run anymore.
When I do stop running, I like to look back on my paw prints: their indents in the sand the only mark of life. I like to see my paw prints stretched out- zigzagged and criss-crossed- across the prairie.
Anger only makes me run harder, like I'm running across hot fire, not sand and rocks and sparse grass. Anger is fuel, just like any other emotion. And I've always believed that either emotion or instinct must innerly fuel every living thing. If you have no emotions, and go only on instinct, your work is constant like that of a machine; there are no fluctuations from the mind. Those that run on instinct alone are always safer, because nature does not bow down to emotion, and emotion has no care for the plight of nature. Only instinct and nature work hand in hand. But emotion is nothing to be laughed at, and neither is the mind.
Intelligent thinking was unvalued by my last pack. It was as though they hated me for being smarter; it was as though they thought they could make me stop thinking by ridiculing the thoughts themselves. They taunted me from pup-hood, they out-cast me as an adolescent, and they exiled me as an adult. The smarter I became the more they hurt me. The more of my mind I exposed to them, the more knowledge I shared with them- the more they hated me. No, not all of those wolves were bad; none of them truly were, except for the leader. But one bad leader, one rotten mind- and all the followers are ruined and corrupted. Selenide; he was the leader was who ruined The Valley's wolves. He wanted control and he got it soon enough. He angered everyone against me, and against Thor's followers.
I was exiled. Where could I go except into this desolate place they call The Wasteland? And here I am, thinking about thought, pondering about the mind.
Sometimes thoughts are vile, like poison; evoking subjects I don't want to think about. Thinking is a process, which involves denial, acceptance, or rebellion. You have thoughts that scorn the truth, thoughts that say the truth is OK, and thoughts that realize the truth, see its implications, and still hate it.
I realize this is a wasteland. I realize there is something afoul about this place, as though the air were rancid, the dirt burnt out and useless. I realize that if I don't join a pack I am as good as dead.
But what I can't accept is that Atlas drove me out just to protect his pack from outsiders. I think the Alpha did it out of hatred,, out of treachery to thought. Out of his own madness, because he is one like Selenide.
I can accept anything else, but not that Atlas is good at heart... This is not Nirvana. Neither is this Hell.
But this is a wasteland, so I will not pretend.
4: Falling on Fire
"For something to live, something must die"-- Wolf Code of Life
Ash arrived at the next wolf pack one day later, panting, fatigued, and ragged at the edges. He had found only one oasis on his way so his thirst was vigorous. He had eaten only tough rabbit meat and once the dead remains of a coyote. He was ravenous. His eyes were almost blood-shot and his skull ached from Atlas’s blow. There was intensity to his mood, as if he were jumping in for the final kill on a vigilant lion, like it was a life or death moment he was enduring. And when you cut through the frailties, wasn’t that what he was going through?
Ash stepped towards the cliff, which was much bigger than Atlas's. Its rocks were a dull gray, filling the sky with their boring monotone. Where the cave carved into the cliff was a dark black hole against the rest of the rock, like a deep abyss leading down into the depths of cavernous waters. Ash let a shiver run down his back. The fur about his neck ruffled involuntarily, and then stiffened. A few more steps taken on shaking legs. Then: an awareness that some one was watching; eyes in the darkness of the cave. Watching.
When Ash was close enough he saw the wolves. There were three of them, each one with reddish brown fur, compact and close to the ground bodies, stick-like legs, and long round snouts. They were remarkable creatures- evasive black eyes, small perked ears. They looked almost like foxes, except for their long rounded noses, and the shapes of their heads.
Ash bowed his head slowly, and when he pulled it up he saw that the other wolves had come out of the cave. The three of them gathered around Ash and bowed their heads. They were only
"I'm looking to join a pack, wolf brethren," he said.
The middle wolf nodded. "You can join us," she said.
"But don't I need to talk to your leader?" Ash asked, not able to hide his confusion.
"He died last night. No one has stepped up to take his place. No one is in charge," said the wolf to the right. "I am Bear, for my love of sweet honey."
The one to Ash's left said, "and I am Eagle, for my keenness."
The female in the middle said "and I am Lioness, for my skill in hunting."
"You're all named after... other animals."
"Yes," Lioness said, "and who are you?"
"My name is Ash, for the color of my fur."
The wolves were silent for a few seconds, and then Lioness said, "It is a sign."
"What?" Ash asked, his voice betraying the fact that he was puzzled and nervous.
"All animals rise from the ash, live off of what has died. And in death, we will all return to the ash. It is the way life is and always has been. The cycle of life," Lioness explained.
"You must be our leader," Bear added, "Or we will fall into chaos."
Lioness nodded. "As the Alpha female, I want you to be our male leader. You will rise to the top and we will respect you."
Ash nodded and bowed.
5: Questions to Be Answered
"We're always afraid of what's just beyond the horizon,” Thorulya, “Son of Thor”.
The pack was disorganized and scattered, but still full of potential. Everyone got along except one wolf, Snake, who hated everyone and spat vehemently at anything said to him. Snake was the "pack outcast". The only reason they kept him around was because he could hunt snakes like the devil himself.
When Ash met Snake, he was surprised to see that the wolf was a ratty little thing, much smaller than himself. "I won't be getting any trouble from you, now will I?" he asked, half joking.
Snake laughed. "My, my, my, is our new leader unsure of his standings so soon? You don't need to ask for my obedience when you've got the rest of the pack backing you up, remember?" he said, his words thick with sarcasm.
Ash nodded. "If it's going to be that way, so be it. Considering what I had hear, I expected more." He moved off, deeper into the cave. At the very back there was a place by the wall where a mound of dirt was formed into the shape of a makeshift throne. Ash climbed to the top of the mound and lay down. He moved his paws across the dirt and inhaled the smell of earth
Do I have to run anymore? He asked himself. Why did they let me be the master so easily, just gave me the duty with out question? Is there a catch? A trap? Is it as simple as it looks?
It was Eagle who answered Ash's many questions. While Ash was resting Eagle asked permission to talk to him. Ash trotted over to where Eagle stood.
"You must be thinking 'what the hell?'"
“That's one way to put it.”
"Then it's only right that I show you why The Wasteland is what it is. It's only right that I bring you to the border and show you why no one wants to be the leader."
Ash nodded. "I'd like that. But first, tell me what happened to the previous leader."
"I cannot.” He paused. “It would just be so much easier if I showed you."
"Should we go now?" Ash asked, taking a step towards Eagle.
"No. We must wait until night, when every one is sleeping. Lioness doesn’t want me to show you what I am going to show you," Eagle said. "I will meet you outside of the cave, at Highmoon." "I will see you then," Ash said.
Eagle nodded and turned to leave. As he was walking away, Ash said, "Thank you, Eagle."
"You're always welcome."
“It is with the first step, the first thought, the first move, that we take on the weight of our decisions,”- Wolf Code Of Life.
That night at Highmoon-- after Ash had fidgeted restlessly through sleep for as long as he could-- he arose and left the cave to meet Eagle. Outside the moon was tilted high in the sky, a silky white against the murky brown sky. A shudder of vibrations ran through the ground, and Ash turned to see Eagle behind him.
Eagle moved next to Ash and said, "Do you ever get the feeling that things are changing? That there is a tremor going through our world causing ripples in the water?"
"I know the feeling. Like I am watching the world change so fast that I can do nothing about it,” Ash replied.
"Do you think the world is changing?" Eagle asked, his voice soft and timid.
"Oh yes," Ash said. "Our world is on the brink of a great cliff, and we are staring down into the abyss, wondering if death is the same as life, if destruction is the same as creation, seeing how one precedes the other, and they are just two ends of the same process."
"You mean the world is going to end?"
"No.” Ash shook his head. “The world will never end, because do we not say that it was never created? And what is not begun cannot end? But our time will end, because it began. When you die, your world alone ends. Doesn't it?"
Eagle grunted. "True. Should we begin our run?”
Eagle began running to the south, toward the great drop. The Wasteland was a huge plateau- it looked as if it went on forever, but that was just an allusion. In the south there was a place where the plateau just suddenly dropped off, leading down into a forest. The drop of the plateau and the things below it were called The Great Forest. Eagle was bringing Ash to the drop, "The Edge", as they called it.
Ash followed Eagle, liking the sound of his breath going in and out of his lungs. There was a dull pain from his feet, a throbbing soreness, but other than that he felt fine- and ready to see anything Eagle would show him.
Eagle's thin athletic figure bounded ahead, his feet used to the rocky terrain, his body so close to the ground he looked like a large jack rabbit. The dullness of night made Eagle's fur look the same color as the sky, but the moon's silk strewn light caused him to sparkle like a desert mirage.
Ash heard Eagle call back "We're not far off; it will only be a little while!" and Ash sped up, until he was running next to Eagle, only a breath apart.
The landscape of the Wasteland was rolling and filled with protruding rocks, and in some places deep trenches in the ground. The color of the dirt was a sandy whitish brown and it was filled with pebble sized rocks.
As he was running, Ash noticed that The Wasteland stretched out farther then his eye could grasp; beyond that all he could see was the brown haze of the sky lingering over the thin crust of the whitish brown dirt, the two intermingling, almost indiscernible in partnership. It was impossible to tell where the sky ended and the ground began. Both dirt and sky were lonely statements, reflections that everything in the world that began alone would die the same way. The two complemented each other in color, in feel, in character. As Ash trampled the ground with his feet, the sky above pressing in on him, he felt as if he were interrupting an unending partnership between two lovers and their brackish marriage.
The night had a hold on Ash: a tightening, embracing, strangling hold; like a mother hanging on to her dearest and youngest child, knowing that the child's impending absence was unavoidable.
The air was somehow parched and humid at the same time- the sky somehow enlightening and alienating. The Wasteland taunted and teased that life was not welcome, the dirt baring up its vicious mounds of rocks and unfruitful weeds.
How incomprehensible this place was! Screaming and calm: forbidden and welcoming: its silence screaming so loud... The Wasteland contradicted itself and could not hold to one phrase- like a child pleading for the comfort of it mother one moment, and the next screaming for space, for time, for a place of his own. Yes, the wasteland was a child; infantile, troubled, wayward, without wisdom. Controlled, perhaps, by some inexplicable higher power.
These thoughts and comparisons went through Ash's mind like wild fire, burning with sentimental fondness. He had come to like this wasteland, though it was an enemy to his existence, and sneered at his rationality, his place as a scholar among ruthless buggers and thoughtless beggars. He liked The Wasteland in a way that one can only admire a hated rival. The wasteland also had a cold essence to it- unfeeling in its triumph against the creatures that were at its whim.
Time passed slowly with Ash's thoughts staying on the same maddening subject- but it was not so long before Eagle stopped suddenly and whispered, "We are here" in the tone of a wolf held by reverence. He stared out south, as if he were trying to see through a thin, black veil. Ash followed his gaze- and saw the dip of the ground leading to a steep incline that went straight down for miles. They were standing on the edge of a cliff- and below them were the green shades of a forest; the dark pastels of foliage that swayed with the slight wind.
From below them came a silence that chilled Ash deeper than anything he had ever felt.
“Do you feel it, Ash? The bone deep quiet, the want of fulfilling noise- do you feel the lack of life, the lack of everything that makes this world what it is?" Eagle whispered. "Do you feel it, or am I just mad?"
"I feel it.” Ash paused. "But what is it?"
"It is the Anti-life. There are monsters in those woods- monsters that won't let us leave The Wasteland. This is a place where there is a hole in existence and hell has begun to leak out. You can feel it, can't you, Ash?"
"Yes," he answered simply.
"Then leave. Walk carefully through these woods. They will let you go- they do not know who you are, your thoughts are unfamiliar to them. You cannot save us, but you can still save yourself."
Ash snapped out of some inner trance. He shook his head with a violent mutter. "This is madness! Meaningless trash! There is no Anti-life!"
"But can't you feel it?" Eagle whispered in desperation.
"It is only an illusion!" He turned away from The Edge.
"Was his death an illusion? Our previous Alpha was he an illusion? Was his mangled body at the foot of the cave only a dream? Was his bloodied eyes gouged with sticks only imagination? Tell me that, oh wise one! They hulk and wait; they drain the life out of our very lungs. But yet we depend on them so much that if we leave we will die! Many have given up and wandered off, not to be taken into God's warm palm- oh no, there is no reprieve for the damned. Many have disappeared into these very woods, never to reappear again alive- only as a corpse at the foot of our cave!" Eagle's voice boomed and curdled, the words spat bitterly at Ash. "You wanted to know how the previous leader died? I'll tell you! I won't lie and hide like the others-- afraid of the unnamed and unvoiced, acting as though we so want you to be our leader, welcoming you so warmly, when the only thing we want from you is for you to die in our place. The previous leader died the way they all die: he was entranced, hypnotized by the Anti-life to wander into this forest where he was mutilated and destroyed by the monsters controlled by the Anti-Life- the Murks. That is the way all the leaders die- alone in a forest amongst strangers- insane, mad, eaten at perhaps. Is that the way you want to leave God's green earth? As a footnote in the story of this dying species called wolves? Please, leave now by your own freewill or you'll leave as a soul to wander back to darkness and desolation, as afraid of heaven as you are of hell. We will find another to take your place. There is nothing here for you!" Eagle snarled.
Ash shushed him with a glare and a complacent nod. "I believe you."
"Then you're going to leave?"
"I will not. We can escape. I can save this pack and lead you out to the north."
"That's impossible! We are a condemned bunch," Eagle said with a resigned sigh.
"I will find a way."
"Let’s go home, Ash. This place is tiring me," he whimpered.
Chapter 7: The Perfect Enemy
“Perspective is the beginning of wisdom, but the end of innocence and childhood.”- Thorulya.
The cave welcomed Ash and Eagle with the measured silence of night. The dirty brown sky showed no sign of dawn- the wolves of The Wasteland had not risen for their morning hunt. The moon was settling in the sky, veiled by clouds, its silky white texture masked and hidden.
Ash slowed the pace of his trot to a walk. His eyes slowly trailed the ground. Eagle stopped running and looked back at Ash.
"What's the matter?" he asked.
Ash turned his head away. "I think I made a promise I can never keep."
"What do you mean?" Eagle asked, walking back towards Ash.
"I said I'd get the pack out of here. I said I'd deliver you from the 'Murks', the 'Anti-Life'. I don't know if anyone could ever do that."
Eagle was quiet. Minutes passed with the two staring off and then Ash said, "Why won't you say anything?"
"Because," Eagle began, and faltered. "Because I don't care if you can't fulfill your promise. It doesn't really matter to me. Why should I spend the last of my days on the false hope of escape? Why should I expect you to save me? No one who has ever promised to save me actually saved me. If you want proof of that, aren't I still here, in the darkest part of the world. Wolves aren't supposed to live in deserts or eat parasite ridden rabbits. But this is still the reality, and one I have to deal with. If you can't save me, it won't cause me any grief."
"I'll try though. You'll let me try, won't you?"
"Yes. I'll let you try. I won't stop you. But Lioness might. She tries to ignore the problem of the Murks."
Ash and Eagle began walking again, their silence whispering ominous threats of the Anti-life. When they reached the entrance of the cave, Ash said, "Good night, Eagle".
Eagle nodded and trotted away into the dark opening of the cave. Ash stayed where he was. He did not sleep that night. Instead he stayed up, pacing the perimeter of the cave, listening to the soft and persistent cries of the crickets.
Morning dawned and the sun crawled up above the horizon, bringing luxurious shades of pink and purple to the dull pastel-blue sky. The wolves gathered around Ash, waiting for his signal to begin the hunt. Ash stood in the center of the crowd of wolves. He glanced at Lioness. "Where should we hunt this morning for food? I am unfamiliar with the Wasteland," he said.
She pointed her head towards the north. "Over there. In the Black Wolves Territory where there are sometimes gazelle. But if they catch us in their territory, they will have no mercy. The good thing is that the black wolves stay near their cave during the day and almost always hunt at night."
"So in the day we can hunt on their lands?"
"Well..." Lioness hesitated.
"They have guards, twice as big as we are!" interrupted Snake. "And I don't know about you, but I still remember what happened to Kanga! Oh, yes! I remember! And am I the only one?"
Wolves began to turn to each othe with distressed looks on their faces.
"How could we forget Kanga? She was such a beautiful wolf," Lioness said, her voice soothing yet formal.
"Oh, spit on it! You think you know what you're saying, but you don't! You hardly even knew her! You certainly never liked her." Snake rasped through clenched teeth.
"Who are you talking about? What happened?" Ash asked.
"Oh, look who's talking now-- our 'leader', who apparently knows nothing of our past, our troubled, troubled past. Ah, but if he knew he wouldn't be here." Snake laughed. "Tell him the story. Go ahead, Lioness, tell him the story of that 'beautiful wolf', Kanga."
Lioness sighed. "Kanga went out hunting in the Black Wolves Territory, trying to bring in some extra food for her cubs. It was a dry year, and some of the young ones were dying. We assume that while she was hunting she stumbled upon some Black Wolves. Someone picked a fight, Kanga defended herself with everything she had, but in the end she didn't make it. Snake went out to find her when she didn't appear. He found her mangled body in the Black Wolves’ territory. She was covered in blood and huge, wolf-sized claw marks. It was their way of warning us. We haven't hunted in their territory since."
Snake spat at Ash's feet. "You don't bring this pack anywhere near the Black Wolves territory, or I swear you won't make it a another day. I'll slash your throat with my own claws. I swear my life by it. Rotten? I may be. But stupid? I am not."
Ash remained calm. Surely there was more to this scene then an inferior threatening to kill him.
After a few seconds of awkward silence, Snake added, "I take that back. I don't swear by my life. What's my life to me? No, I swear by her memory."
Ash realized that Kanga must have been Snake's mate before she was killed. "I'm not bringing the pack near the Black Wolves Territory, but I am going there myself."
"What for?" Lioness stepped forward.
"Revenge," Ash lied.
"Don't? Some one died because of them. All I want is a little revenge," Ash said, his voice tense and reserved.
Lioness stepped towards him. She glanced back at the other wolves, and with a single glance they all scattered out to hunt. "Don't destroy this pack. Do as you will for your own purposes, but don't drag forty Innocent wolves into this mess."
"Don't tell me what to do. When those wolves killed Kanga they started something. I am only finishing it."
Lioness turned away from Ash and ran after the rest of the pack.
Ash turned towards the north, towards the other packs cave. He realized that Eagle was still standing next to him.
"I want to come with you."
"No. You don't. Go help the pack," Ash ordered.
"I'm coming with you."
Ash turned towards Eagle, his teeth bared. "You think that one conversation, one trip to The Edge, one word of advice, one forgiving glance, and we're friends for life? Is that what you think?"
Eagle took a step back. "No. I think life is no border for friendship. I think we're friends for eternity. I think we were friends even before we met each other," he said.
Ash turned away. "Go back," he said softly. "I honestly don't want to drag anyone into this."
"Why are you doing this then?"
"Because..." Ash faltered. "I'm doing this for myself.” Ash thought of a way to word it. “Because the injustice burns at me," he finished.
"For yourself? You aren't doing this for Snake's approval, or for revenge of Kanga? You're doing this for yourself?"
"Yes," Ash whispered.
"It sounds like something out of The Wolf Code of Life; 'Revenge only exists because there are wolves without purposes.’" Eagle sighed. "If you're truly doing this for yourself then I have no part in it," he said and ran off towards where the pack was hunting with no further question.
Ash looked towards the north. He eyes were clouded with tears of anger. His mouth burned with a sour taste. After making sure no one was looking, Ash vomited. His stomach was clenched; there was nothing but water to throw up.
The anger was too much. Ash whimpered, threw his head back and howled. The sound was like a cat being tortured to death; it echoed through The Wasteland. Miles away, Eagle heard it and winced. He could only imagine what Ash was going through.
"I'll kill him if it's the last thing I do," Ash muttered, meaning Atlas. Why his anger was directed at Atlas, he has no idea.
Ash began running towards the Black Wolves’ cave.
Chapter 8: Questions of insanity
"It is gracious to forgive, but deadly to forget"-- Wolf Code of Life
Ash arrived at the Black Wolves’ cave at twilight. He was mentally and physically exhausted. But his emotions were turmoil of twisted paths- intertwined and overlapped. The most prevailing emotion, though, was a futile and angered sense of injustice. Injustice founded at the root of some criminal insanity, some insidious illusion of power.
Though he was ragged and weary, Ash lay in wait, eyesight flawless and keen. He waited in the dim light out side their cave for Java. He kept his muscles tense, unmoving. He stared straight ahead, fixing the entrance of the cave in his view. Minutes passed; time slowed with the weight of Ash's exhaustion. Why is it that time slows when you're tired? Ash asked himself.
His patience was wearing down to the thinness of a thread when he saw Java- unmistakable fault running up his leg, slight limp in the forearm stressed by his left-oriented walk.
Java walked slowly away from the cave for a few minutes. And then his ears perked suddenly. He tipped head up towards the sky and began sniffing the air. He turned around, his nose leading him toward the dark crevices and rocks behind the cave, where Ash lay in wait.
Java whimpered and tried to stifle an excited growl when he saw the blue-gray wolf curled up by the rock. Ash silenced him with a stare and motioned for him to follow, as he stood up and moved off into the shadows.
The two wolves trotted further and further away from the cave. There was an intense mood surrounding them. Java sensed that something was different about Ash... like there was a silent killer waiting inside him, calm, cool, ready.
Java sensed that something was different about Ash... like there was a silent killer waiting inside him, calm, cool, ready.
Ash led Java into the shadows behind the cave, at the base of a plateau. He ducked his head down and brought it up quickly. "Hello, Java," he said.
Java sensed the cold anger in Ash's voice, the muted passion, and began to inch backwards. "Hello, Ash," he mumbled. His glossy black fur glimmered with twilight's dim glow. His eyes looked like gems in the dark, reflecting soft tones of yellow.
"I'm sorry to bring you into this..." Ash continued, his blue eyes following Java's movement with swift and smart ability.
"Into what?" Java asked.
"Awhile ago some of your wolves killed a red wolf named Kanga. I'm going to kill the wolves who did it."
Java laughed, "But black wolves don't kill other wolves!” He said. When he realized that Ash was serious he said, “Don’t do this. I know what you’re thinking, Ash, and don’t do it. It’s not worth it.”
Ash turned away from Java's desperate pleas. "I have to," he said. He bowed his head to the ground with a solemn nod in Java's direction.
"This is insanity!" Java whispered, not wanting the pack to hear. "Don't do this! Black wolves don't kill other wolves! We follow the Law of Thor! We hold sacred to the principles set down by the Wolves of the Northern Path! We train our wolves in all of these, to never take another wolf's life unless that wolf endangers the packs survival in absolute!" Java sensed the intensity of Ash's mood.
"Are you sure you don't have a couple bad wolves in your group?" Ash inquired, though Java could tell that Ash was only asking out of respect.
"Bad wolves? Atlas has kept this pack pure, all wolves serve to keep themselves and only themselves in purity... in time with their own survival as laid out in The Law of Thor and The Wolf Code of Life. You'll reconsider what you’re thinking of, won't you?"
Ash sighed. He couldn't bear to hear Java's pathetic voice whimpering and pleading. "Bring me to Atlas. I want to talk to him. If what he says rings true I'll leave you alone and try to find the true murderer of Kanga."
"You know, it could have been the wild dogs," Java offered lamely, seeing that Ash was set on confronting Atlas.
"I doubt it... not with claw marks as big as my pack said they were. There aren't any wild dogs of that size here."
Java shrugged. "Let's head over to Atlas's cave, though I hope you know your committing a deadly action just wanting to talk to Atlas, let alone CONFRONT him."
I'm ready for anything he can say, Ash thought, ignoring Java’s words.
*****sorry this is an uncompleted novel!!!!!!!!! I'm still working on this, and I'll post more later. very rough draft, I would like you to R&R this on how the plot works, the description, are you confused? even if you only say two words in your review and those two words are "very bad" or "very good" I NEED YOUR COMMENTS!!!!!!!!!!