This world is not the place it was once meant to be. It’s a dying and desperate land, inhabited by dying and desperate creatures. This world is filled with a darkness that infects the hearts and souls of those lost in its shadows. But here in this place of hopelessness, of fear, and even torment, the wayward and the captives can see the chance for freedom… in the Great Dio.
That is exactly why I wandered through the dark world, far away from my rightful home in Promeso. The Great Dio, who is my Leader, sent me out many years ago as a messenger and a warrior in His pack, the Firma Kero. I am honored to be His servant and His captive. By my own choice, I live my life not as I please, but as it pleases Him.
My work seemed simpler back when I had just begun, when I had no companions at my side. I had all too quickly built a reputation as a hero, freeing any dog held captive by our many enemies. I traveled wherever I wanted in those days, living the careless (though not truly care-free) life of a drifter between my missions. It seemed like a wonderful life at the time, but, I don’t think I would ever want it back. No, I much prefer my life as it is now.
I remember very clearly how things changed, but then it’s hard to forget something like that… I had been staying in the FidoTerro. The Roko Kero pack had been more than welcoming and let me stay on the land as long as I needed. Their leader, Peadar, was known for being both fearless and wise, and I considered it a great privilege to stay with him as long as I did.
I enjoyed my time in the FidoTerro. Not just because of the pack living there at that time, but, because I knew whose land it had been first. Tor… the dog who found his way to Promeso without the aid of a guide… the warrior who fought Malvirto’s dark creatures and won… The land I was on was where he had founded his pack, the Daŭra Kero. And it was where the legend of “Ardon”, a warrior who lived through battle and was brought back from death, was born as well. That place was rich in our history, and being there made me feel somehow connected to the past.
Eventually, the time came when the Great Dio sent a messenger to me, saying, “Go, free those held captive, and free the souls who are bound in the darkness.” I asked the messenger where I was to go and he told me, “Walk east, until you find them.”
At his words I left. I didn’t take the time to tell Peadar and the Roko Kero that I was leaving. I didn’t thank them for their kindness or share one last hunt with them.
I was thinking only of getting to my mission, of reaching the horrid enemy camp and freeing the other Kero dogs. I honestly believed I was being noble, the way I lived. The Great Dio didn’t see it that way however. Oh, I wish I could’ve seen then, what kind of trouble that mission would bring me… For, if I could have seen what was coming, I might have at least slowed my pace.
Against the lush green meadows, my tawny sable coat did anything but blend in. The vibrant land I trotted through was not my home and that was easy to see. By birth, I belonged to the mountains, as a former member of the Bestia pack. By choice, and by calling however, I belonged to Promeso and the Great Leader. I am a warrior of the Firma Kero.
My focus was on one thing, and one thing only; finding the prisoners I’d been sent to free. The Great Dio had told me to go east, and keep moving until I found them. Nothing would keep me from doing exactly that. All through the night, I pushed on at a steady pace, though my muscles ached and begged me to pause. My dark eyes were fixed, my ears were perfectly erect and my nose was searching for the familiar stench of the Morta Sango dogs. My concentration was unshakable.
As the sun began to rise, over the hills that were always ahead of me, the meadows shimmered in the daunting light. The sky turned golden. Slowly, the sun started to warm my muscles (which were growing weary and ached worse than ever) from the chill of night. I continued to walk all through the day, but only after stopping briefly to hunt and eat.
Thankfully, the tall grass was thick with field mice... a dozen of which was nearly enough to fill my stomach. I would never eat until I was full however. The life I lived was a life on the run, and it’s hard to run when you’re weighed down by a heavy meal.
On and on I went, until the sun had just started sinking into the landscape behind me. That was when I heard the sound of enemy howls. I breathed in deeply, catching the foul scent of death on the air. Only the Morta Sango would dare to be so obvious, especially when camping so close to a Kero pack. I dropped down until I was thoroughly hidden by the grass. Then, slowly, I started to inch my way closer to the enemy camp. My steps and my breath were so soft, they made no sound at all.
Just inside the forest is where their camp began. You could tell by the half rotted carcasses that littered the border. They didn’t mark their territory as a decent pack does, since they never stay in one place for too long. These dogs were little more than assassins. They collected prisoners until their prison pits could hold no more. Then one by one they would murder them. When their task was done, they would move on to a new territory, and start all over again.
Unfortunately I had come across the aftermath before. There prisons that I didn’t get to in time. It was a horrible thing, to see my fellow Kero dogs slain and left for the buzzards. I always wished I could bury every victim or better still, revive them somehow. But one warrior is capable of only so much.
I was relieved to find that such was not the scene in front of me. I could not see or smell any signs of murder. The captives were still alive and ready to be rescued. But, I had to be patient, I couldn’t stroll into their rescue with the Morta Sango dogs still there. I had to wait for the enemy to leave. If the Great Leader was kind, then the dogs would go off hunting before the night was over. So I positioned myself downwind and hid in the grass and brush, waiting for my opportunity.
I had nearly dozed off, when I heard the sound of heavy paws crashing through the forest. I flinched, but stayed quiet as the enemy paraded by, no more than three feet from me. They continued out into the open meadows, growling and arguing as they went. I don’t know how those dogs ever managed to catch anything, with all the racket that they made. But they must have been good hunters, or there wouldn’t have been so much rotting meat in their camp.
Once they were out of view, I crept cautiously toward the only pit I could see. It was covered by fallen tree branches and must have been eight feet deep. I leaned over the opening, peering through the branches, and called out to them.
“My name is Faolan, a warrior with the Firma Kero. I’m here to set you free. How do the Sango dogs get you into the pits?”
“The branches,” one of the captives replied, “they’re weaved together so that they can be climbed on. They pull them back to one side and let the other end drop in.”
I didn’t need to hear anymore. I jumped off to one side, and pulled at the branches with all my might, until they were far enough to drop into the pit.
“Quickly and quietly,” I instructed, “come out one at a time. No wandering and no darting off on your own. We’ll leave together as a group.
“Are there any other pits or captives here?”
“We’re the only dogs here.” Was the one reply I received.
Once all of the dogs were out, we started moving. We would be going deeper into the woods, to a meeting place. From there, a guide would take them home to Promeso, to rest and recover from their ordeal. But, just as my paws reached the edge of the camp, I heard the faintest of voices.
“Warrior, please don’t leave without freeing me too. They’ll kill me when they come back and find the others gone. I won’t live through the night if you don’t help me!”
I gestured for the others to move on ahead. I had to go back for the last prisoner. I followed the cries to an uncovered pit, only half as wide and half as deep as the first. The overwhelming scent of carcasses drown out all else, but, this was where the voice was coming from. I dropped cautiously inside, my eyes searching the darkness for any signs of life.
I took a single step forward and instantly heard an unexpected hiss. I jumped back and looked down to see two, wide, glowing green eyes. It was a cat, entangled in vines. The vines wrapped around his neck and his legs, so that he couldn’t chew or scratch his way free. It was a cruel, but clever way to keep the animal hostage. I snorted in frustration and let a hushed growl escape from my throat.
“I know I’m not who you were expecting, but please say you’ll free me. I’m not a member of your pack, I’m not even a dog, but I belong to the Great Dio too.” I heard his words, but didn’t move.
“Then you kill me,” the cat pleaded. “I would much rather die by your mercy, than be murdered by the evil mongrels that put me here!”
Another growl forced its way out and I bounded forward. The cat closed his eyes and braced himself for an onslaught, but I couldn’t bring myself to do it. I tore apart the vines, until he was freed, and I leapt back out of the pit.
“I trust you can make your way out of camp on your own.” I growled and quickly turned to leave.
“I can, and I thank you for your kindness.”
I carefully led the newly liberated dogs away from the enemy. Thankfully, the horrible memories and rancid scent were left behind us. I knew the area fairly well, and had used the rendezvous we were headed to on several occasions. We would all get there safely. To our advantage, there was a creek that ran for miles in the general direction that we needed to travel. We walked in that stream for as long as we could, following the gentle flow, so that our scent was always ahead of us. (It’s nearly impossible to track an animal that’s walking or swimming, downstream). Thankfully the water was not so deep that we had to swim.
When it was finally time to cross to the other side, everyone was weary and begging for rest. They were half starved and had been cramped together in a prison pit for weeks. I understood why they wanted to stop, but they needed to understand why we couldn’t.
“We have to keep moving,” I encouraged, pushing a young black dog back up to his paws. “The longer we stay here, the stronger our scent becomes, and the easier we are to trail. You don’t really want to be recaptured and killed do you?”
The dogs mumbled various responses, more talking to each other than to me. Eventually, I gave a low and loud growl to regain their attention. They all flinched, but gave me rather defiant glares and kept their ground.
“Now!” I ordered. “Start moving!” And though it took some shoving, and the occasional nip, they did get back to their feet.
We reached the rendezvous moments before sunrise, and I told the others, “Now, you can find a place to wait and rest”. I would keep watch over them until the guide came to lead them home. As we waited, my eyes constantly scanning the trees and brush for threats, my mind drifted. I thought about how great it would be if I could only go home with them all. I hadn’t been to Promeso for nearly two years, and I missed it horribly. As much as I loved my life and my calling, I would always miss my home.
My senses suddenly came back to me when I heard a stirring in the brush. I turned to face whoever was coming (my head low and hackles raised) unsure if it was the guide or an enemy. I caught a scent. It was almost familiar, but I couldn’t place it. I wasn’t even sure if I knew it. Then I saw them, the same glowing green eyes from the second pit. It was the cat that I’d freed.
“What are you doing here?” I demanded quietly. “How did you find us? If you’ve left a trail for the Morta Sango to follow…”
“No, I promise I haven’t,” the cat interjected. “I followed you downstream, in the water. It was awfully unpleasant, but very intelligent of you.”
“And what was so important that you followed me all this way?”
“Well… I… I don’t know this place, I’m not from anywhere near here, and I don’t know where to go to be safe. I thought that maybe you would help me, just one more time?”
I snorted quietly in protest and glared at the brown tabby through narrowed eyes. “You’re rather bold aren’t you?”
He seemed to take my comment as praise, because he lifted his head and purred when I said it. I knew then that he would get himself in trouble if he stayed for too long. Just as I opened my mouth to say something, I heard a commotion behind me.
The air filled with the sounds of a vicious frenzy. Nearly half the dogs from the prison pit raced toward the tabby, barking and growling. Without any thought, I instantly threw myself forward, crashing into one big, tri-colored dog and sending him to the ground. I wheeled around and struck the next dog I saw with a forepaw, then grabbed him by the neck and tossed him aside, dazed but not injured. Then at the sound of frantic hissing I charged through the rest of the group, baring my teeth and growling, “Enough!”
For a moment they all froze, but silently, one dog stalked up behind me, furious that I was keeping their would-be-meal away from them. She reached out with open jaws to bite my hip. Just as I felt the warmth of her breath, there was a horrible yowl, followed by a barrage of other unearthly sounds. I jumped and swung around to see the cat. He was clinging (with all four sets of claws) to the yellow dog’s massive head, while biting down on one of her long, tender ears.
The dog was hysterical. Jumping and rolling and pawing at her attacker. “Get the little devil off of me!” she cried in her continued panic.
As she began to roll in the dirt again, I leapt over and pinned her with my forepaws. “Alright, let her go now.” I barked at the tabby.
He backed away quickly, all his fur was standing on end, hissing and spitting and snarling as he settled in behind me.
It was of course at that moment, that the striking, white figure of the guide came. He stalked out of the forest and into view.
“What exactly is going on here?” he asked, sounding rather agitated.
“I’m sorry,” I replied, lowering my head in respect. “It was a minor disagreement sir; that’s all.”
The sleek white dog strolled through the small crowd, observing injuries, especially those of the yellow female. His ice blue eyes met my gaze, “If this is minor, I’d hate to see what you consider to be a serious disagreement.
“I’ve heard of you Faolan, and they were all good things. This is not what I expected to find… What were you fighting about?”
“We were fighting because he’s keeping prey from us.” One of the dogs barked, and the others were quick to support him.
“Is this true?” the guide asked me sternly.
“No,” I replied. “I was protecting another captive that I freed from the same camp they were in. Someone they all failed to mention when I asked them if there were others imprisoned.”
“We told you the truth, there were no other dogs there!” the yellow dog growled.
“Quiet!” the guide barked angrily. “Faolan, who or what were you protecting?”
Without a word I stepped aside, revealing the agitated tabby that had been hiding behind me. At the sight of the cat, the white dogs’ ears came forward and he almost seemed to relax.
“Well, this is very interesting.” He said, almost under his breath.
“So,” one of the dogs called out “what do you say? Is the cat prey? Can we kill it?”
I strangely felt myself shudder at the thought of being ordered to step aside and let the others have their way. After saving his life, twice, I had no desire to see the cat die.
“I say, that I would love to see any of you try to attack the cat without your rescuer here turning on you again. Better yet, I’d love to see you try to attack Faolan, without the cat attacking you again. Those are cat scratches on some of your faces, aren’t they?”
The others tensed for a moment, as if thinking about attacking one or both of us, but then relented. When they all walked back to their resting places, the guide came closer and sat beside me.
“So you’ve made a new friend?” He said smiling.
“We can’t be friends,” I protested, “it’s unnatural.”
“That never stopped my friends,” He sighed. “My apologies, I haven’t even introduced myself. My name is Fintan.
“I’m glad to see you all made here safely… more or less.”
Suddenly, the guide had my full attention, “Fintan?” I whined in excitement, “The same Fintan who traveled with Tor and fought with him against the Morta Sango?”
“Yes,” He replied, “along with many others… and not all of them were dogs. Tor had a friend named Cuan, who was a sand rat. There was also a raven, and at one point, a ferret joined the pack.”
“You mean they didn’t befriend any cats?” I asked, half joking.
“If you count the cougars as cats, I suppose they did.”
My eyes widened in surprise. I had heard others talk about the cougars before, but it was a part of the legend I always thought too crazy to be true.
Fintan and I rested and talked for a short while. I was thrilled to be sitting with a Kero warrior of such high status, and asked him questions for as long as he would answer them. I asked about the legends, about his life as a warrior and guide, and if Promeso looks as glorious when you return home, as it does the first time you arrive. Eventually, he cut me off and turned to the tabby, which was curled up and pressed into my side.
“So, our little trouble maker, tell us about yourself.”
The cats’ eyes widened and he glared back and forth from Fintan to me several times before responding.
“Well, my name is Niall. I lived in a place very far from here, but… but, that place is gone now and so is my family. I have only one purpose left in this life.” And though the guide asked him to tell on, Niall would say no more.
Before long, Fintan was on his feet again, rousing the other dogs from their naps and helping them to their paws. They had to be going, and so did I. I needed to keep moving, to put as much space between myself and the Morta Sango as possible. Unfortunately, it seemed I had gained a traveling companion, for as soon as I began trotting away, Niall was at my heels.