This story was written as a gift for someone, and im thinking of doing some sketched plates, who knows? anywho, itll tide over till next strip (eep!) which i promise will be up soon....ish.... -A
The Wolf and the Fox
The wind had begun to howl in the early evening, but now it was calmer. No longer did those who walked along the pathways, the ones that were exposed to the wind, have to clutch their clothes and hats to themselves, lest they be stolen by the powerful breeze. Now, as the twilight set upon the sky, the wind had all but stilled. When the purple-black veil of night fell, all that one could feel of the wind was a soft touch along a cheek, or a strand of hand being gently moved.
Inside the great house, all was quiet. Sleep prevailed in most, if not all, except for one man. The man did not sleep yet, not until the first rays if the sun would he finally fall into a short slumber. He sat now, with his eyes closed, in a room, all to himself. The room was old, as was the house in which it was located, as was the man who sat, meditating until the dawn cast him to rest.
Red Wolf, startled by the cloaked figure dropping from the rafters of the ancient temple, jumped up from his meditative position. The winds shifted as his ancient eyes spied motion in the darkness. The candles he kept about him gave little light beyond several metres. The flames flickered lightly, as if moved by an invisible wind. Red Wolf’s eyes strained to pierce the darkness before, failing at that, he lunged to his left, where his blade lay at rest, the saya gleaming in the flickering warm light. The aged Wolf landed with a grace not present in most of those of his age, and by the time the candles flickered from his motion, he was crouched, blade at the ready, on the floor boards, his elegant evening robe, so richly embroidered, swirling around him lightly.
Slowly rising, he heard a soft sound off towards the far wall of the room, as if several pieces of fabric were gently rubbed together. Rising quickly, Red Wolf stepped gracefully and quietly to the door at the far wall, where he calmly flicked the lock to the door closed. Taking several steps backwards towards the light, he was glad once again for the slight amount of moon light that shone through the thin walls, otherwise he would have been forced to grope across the door in search of the latch. His breathing slowed, then jumped once more when he realised that there had been no reason to lock the door. An old man’s inclination, as his mind replayed the dark motions that had drawn him to the door. “What had triggered my actions? The shape, he thought to himself, the figure dropping down into darkness. His adversary was within the walls of the room; there had been no reason to lock his only way out. He slowly turned his back to the door, facing the patch of light, where his place of rest remained, untouched.
From the shadows around him, a deep voice resonated, old, like his own, and calm. It seemed to come from everywhere, behind every pillar, from atop every rafter, from under every floorboard, yet at the same time, nowhere.
“Please,” the voice began, “Reseat yourself, O Red Wolf. It would not do to have you grow weak from standing as we speak. I promise your safety until we are through our conversation.” The voice died away as quickly as it came. It rang through Wolf’s mind again and again. “I’ve heard that voice before…many times.” He thought to himself as he began a slow, steady pace across the floor to his mat. His eyes panned back and forth, once again, attempting to pierce the darkness.
Once again seated, Red Wolf gazed up into the darkness, addressing his shadowy adversary, once again calm and in control.
“Who, might I ask, are you? One as skilled as you has not been able to get this close to me in a decades time.” Red Wolf paused for a moment, collecting his thoughts. “I have many enmities towards many. Who do you represent? A demon from my past, come to seek vengeance, or perhaps a new opponent who wishes to take my place? Would you honour me with such an answer?” The man who rested in the shadows gave no answer. Red Wolf took up the lead again. “ No? Well then would you be so gracious as to grant a dead man your name? Here, allow me to introduce myself as a token.” The solemn man bowed his head, his voice seemingly stronger. “ I am called Red Wolf, leader to men the country over, lord over many, teacher to few. What is it that you are called?” Red Wolf raised his head upright, his eyes pinpointing a place dead center where a shapeless mass was beginning to form. His mind raced. Would it be an assassin sent to steal what little life remained his? Or simply someone hoping to blackmail the old man? His enemies were so numerous, at this point that he could not be sure.
No reply came. The wind once again picked up, causing the light to flicker once again. When the wind calmed after some time, the flames rose higher. Out of the darkness a shape emerged, subtle at first, but soon more definite, though still heavily shadowed. A man sat in the center of the room, cross legged in the same way that Red Wolf was sitting, though his hands were more at ease, almost casually forming a hand position in his lap. The palms of his hand arched toward each other, the thumbs touching at the point, while the fingers lay interlaced. A circle. Red Wolf would have recognised this as a simplified version of the base meditational hand seal, had he been able to discern the hands of the man.
The man spoke suddenly, his voice emanating from everywhere once again, though more clearly from the center of the room now. It began quietly though slowly rising to a comfortable level, no louder then necessary, but loud enough to be heard no matter where one stood in the dim room.
“ I am like you…I have no name. But we once did. We were real men with real names. Do you remember me, old friend?” The man cocked his head to the side, as if listening to a brook stream past him, silent to the world. Reaching into his cloak he withdrew a lit candle and placed it on the floor in front of him. The light spilled forth from the flame, a long steady tongue of fire which shed light on the man’s tired cloak, dark grey in colour, now smeared with ash and burn marks. His long grey hair tumbled straight over his shoulder in a cascade down into his cloak. He continued, “For though I am grey, I am no fox, just as you are no wolf. Yet it is those roles that have defined not only our lives, but who we are.” The man's face moved into the light of his candle, its wrinkles accented by the hot light.
A small gasp of surprise escaped Red Wolf’s mouth. His eyes grew, disbelieving what his mind was piecing together. “Gr-Grey Fox? You are here from him? That can’t be!” He stammered out, “Grey Fox was burnt alive in his house which fell to the ground! His charred body I saw myself floating down the river that ran by his house! Eleven years ago I watched the flames ravish all he held dear! Eleven years… today…”
Red Wolf looked down slowly, his gaze shifting from the impossible sight before to another unexpected sight, which lay in his lap. His hands, distant from his mind, were trembling in his lap. He looked up, back toward the ancient man who sat across from him. Red Wolf saw through the old man, to a great blaze, eleven years earlier. He spoke distantly, “ I watched you die… heard you… saw …what did I see? Did I see what I wanted to see? No, I saw you. Your end, my future. It is impossible, even for someone such as the great Grey Fox to have survived. And even if you did, why haven’t you come at me sooner?” Red Wolf paused, both eyes locked on Grey Fox’ figure. “Or have you grown impartial to your past? If so…what are you to me now? Who are you?”
The wind rustled outside, through the multiple walls, through openings, across roofs. In through windows, it travelled, invading nooks and crannies as if it had a destination in mind. The room was still.
Grey Fox spoke once more, his face lined with a deep pain and concentration.
“I am neither friend nor enemy.” Grey Fox began, “I am back from a world where such words are meaningless. I’ve removed all obstacles hindering me. Yes, I have waited a long time for this day. Now I want to enjoy the moment. I have come from another world to do battle with you.” Grey Fox’ eyes, though closed, opened slowly as he spoke these words. “Why? Nothing so trivial as revenge. A fight to the death with you. Only in that can my soul find respite. An honourable death will ease me, nothing else. I will kill you, or you will kill me… it makes no difference. For generations… have we not watched our kin wage constant war with one another, as well as with those around me? And there have been casualties on every side that our strife has touched.” His words echoed in the rafters before being swept away by the passage of wind.
Grey Fox drew in his breath slowly, for what seemed like minutes. Both men saw the faces of countless, the fallen, some who gave there lives to defend a cause, noble or not, a greater, higher purpose, far beyond the scope of the average. These were the casualties, those who had rushed in without thought, not those caught up accidentally, beings that were at the wrong place at the wrong time. The true casualties were the ones who should never have been involved, but were present out of their own choices for their own reasons.
Grey Fox looked up slowly, releasing the reminiscence and floating back to his present. His eyes once again settled on Red Wolf seated across from him. His thoughts formed in his mind as if summoned by an invisible force.
“I am but a prisoner of death. Only we can free each other to ascend…” Wolf spoke softly, breaking the monologue of elder Fox, if only for a moment.
“Our pact, taken so long ago.” Fox continued. “The saying that is inscribed upon both our blades as well as in our hearts.” Fox, his hands still forming the circle, started to rise, slowly and smoothly, appearing to levitate to a stand. His robes swayed in the wind, creating an even more majestic image. Red Wolf’s rise had mirrored that of Grey Fox, his luxurious evening robes wrapping around him. His robe mimicked his armour that he wore outside of the room. This was the only room he did not wear armour.
Fox spoke again “Now, in front of you, my adversary, I can finally die. I was taken from the world neither truly alive… nor dead… an undying shadow in the world of lights,” he mused. “ But soon, it will finally end. Living through death has shown me what we are, who we are. We are not tools of our masters, our times, or anyone else! Our names are not as lost as we believe. Fighting was the only thing we seem to be good at, but at least I fought for what I believed in…at the end of the beginning, and now, at the Beginning of the End. I followed the oath that I carved rather then the one set down for me. But that is now behind us.”
The two men stared into each other, the wind slowly picking up, casting a myriad of dancing shapes around the room.
“ That which once was is no longer…we shall begin?” The wind, swirling around faster then before, billowing the robes of Grey Fox, muffling the words of Red Wolf, began to whistle. The candles were quickly diminishing, and with them the light.
“ Yes. At long last, it is done.” A gust blew through the room, and the candles, their wax strewn around them, were extinguished by the winds.