"Whoa! That was so cool, Hunter Asëa! Do it again!" yipped a black-furred wolf pup, bouncing in excitement as he did. The other pups around him echoed his enthusiastic cries.
It was the time of Sun's Rage, when the heat of the sun roared its fury down towards the earth and burned the grass, leaves, and rivers, leaving the shade of the forest the only place to shelter from the blaze. Below the green treetops, rustling with singing birds and chattering squirrels, a white and black she-wolf stood in front of a cluster of yipping wolf cubs, all of them gathered at the banks of a low, gurgling river.
The she-wolf, Asëa, chuckled at the pups' excitement. "You know that we have to limit ourselves when we hunt the fish, right Celin? We already told you that there isn't much in the rivers this year." She glanced at the meager pile beside her, two small fish, their bodies glinting in the sunlight, as if to prove her point.
Celin flattened his small ears to his head and the others around him groaned in disappointment. "Yeah, we know but," he said, then his eyes regained their blissful vigor as he continued, "it's so amazing to watch you do it!"
Asëa was asaulted by pleading pups, whimpering and yipping for her to demonstrate once more. Finally, overwhelmed, but not showing it, she laughed, "Very well, you all win. But only once more, do you understand me?" The pups barked out of joy at that.
Asëa turned her back to her eager spectators, then crouched low over the bank of the river, staring intently into the clear, flowing water. She waited for even the slightest flicker of movement, but all she saw was the stones rooted to the riverbed and her own focused reflection staring back at her. The pups inched forward with expectation, eyes wide, and were awed that their leader didn't even move, it was if she was frozen or made of stone.
Suddenly, Asëa pounced, nothing but a flash of white and black, as her paw shot out and scooped out a fish. It seemed to hover in the air for a bit, gasping as drops of water glimmered around it, then Asëa leapt up and caught it in her jaws in midair, killing it instantly as her fangs closed down on its slippery body. She turned to the pups, and was greeted by an uproar of cheers.
"You're so amazing, Hunter Asëa! I want to be just like you!" a small gray female pup cried out joyfully, and others joined her.
Asëa's smile from around the body of the fish wavered, but other than that, she showed no signs of the pain she felt at that comment. She set the fish down on the pile along with the others, and faced the young pups with a bright expression. "Whoever brings a fish to the elders gets to have one for themselves!"
As soon as they heard that challenge, the pups squabbled for the biggest one in the pile, and then pursued Celin with high-pitched growls and yips as soon as he broke out of the tangle of furry bodies. Asëa watched them go with amusement glittering in her eyes, reminiscing her days as a naïve, carefree pup, and found herself yearning for those times once more.
Her smile suddenly disappeared, and she looked down at the short, emerald-gold grass beneath her, her chin upon her chest, and her tail drooped. No, those pups shouldn't want to be like her....they shouldn't. Her responsibility was much more than making sure no intruders cross the boundaries of the Pack's territory, or ensuring that everyone has enough to eat, but she also was the Guardian of The Eternal Flow, the protector of the balance of energy that ran through the earth, trees, river, animals, sky, wind, rain, snow, and thunder, to ensure that the energy flow ran undisturbed.
A Guardian was always an animal, and would maintain the world's energy balance by contributing some of their life energy every full moon. Guardians have a vast life energy, unlike most beings, so that it enables them to give life energy without weakening or dying. If a Guardian ever failed to give energy every full moon, The Eternal Flow balance would become irregular and eventually break, resulting in an explosion of energy. The world would die, and with it, all life on the world.
Guardians were somewhat immortal, their lifespans were double of their species' regular lifespan, but when a Guardian died, a new one was chosen by the Eternal Flow energy. This would be known by markings on the face of the animal, which varies within the species.
Asëa walked nearer to the bank of the river and then lay down on the very edge, parallel to the flowing river at her left. She looked at her reflection, and saw the markings of a wolf Guardian on her face: black tear-like trails down her eyes, a swirled black star pattern on her forehead, and three black dots running down her snout to her nose. The rest of her was pure white, save her legs, ears, and tail-tip, which were jet-black. She saw sadness in her reflected silver-blue eyes and sighed.
The more she looked at herself, the more frustrated she became, and felt it build up in her heart, burning, until the flames of her anger flowed through every part of her body. She snarled, seeing her facial expression wrinkle and her fangs reveal themselves, then she sprang up on her paws, bristling with rage, and she tore at the water with her claws. The water sprang up on her face and she stood upon the grassy bank, legs shaking, breath coming in ragged bursts, and her eyes swimming with angry, stinging tears. Oh, how she wanted to just run away from it all...
"Hunter Asëa, are you all right?" said a voice, surprising her. She whirled around with a sharp, startled snarl, and stared wide-eyed at the intruder.
It was the Alpha Male of her Pack, Alpha Cross, and the dark gray male retreated in shock at her sudden aggressive approach. Seeing that it was the Alpha, Asëa's angry glare disappeared instantly, afterwards flattening her ears to her head and lowering her tail, wagging it softly as an apology.
"Oh, Alpha, I deeply apologize, I didn't know it was you. Please forgive me," she whimpered, suddenly embarrassed by her hostile display. Alpha Cross' amber eyes softened and he smiled warmly.
"Don't concern yourself with that, Asëa," he moved closer to her and sat at her side, shoulders touching. "And remember to just call me Cross when we are not accompanied by the Pack."
Asëa was surprised that the Alpha did not use her title along with her name, and at his request. Alpha Cross was somewhat of a father to her, he took her in when she was abandoned by her loner mother, but he always enforced the laws of Pack hierarchy, even with her. "Y-yes, of course....Cross." The name by itself sounded strange coming out of her mouth.
"Why weren't you with the pups when they returned to the Pack?" Alpha Cross asked, head tilted slightly to one side.
Asëa chose not to answer, but instead sighed and looked up at the blue oblivion above her. A pair of sparrows soared across the sky, and then became lost from her sight after that.
Alpha Cross' voice lost its warm friendliness, and was replaced by a more serious tone. "Is it because it is The Day of the Guardian's Promise is near?"
Asëa returned her gaze to the earth, and glanced at Alpha Cross before saying, "You are correct. I find my responsibilities too much to bear at times. I mean, look at what I have to protect!" She motioned at the trees, the sky, the river, the birds, and at him. She looked down at her jet-black paws and scuffled them on the earth. "Can I ask you something, Cross?"
"What is it?"
"Am I....am I selfish for thinking in such a way? That I find my duties unbearable, when they are so vital to the very survival of the world?" she looked at him, and found only warmth and sympathy in his amber irises.
He chuckled in amusement, then said, "You are young, Asëa, you are still a pup, believe it or not, so no; I do not blame you. I see why you would think in such a manner. You are full of energy, you are eager for adventure and independance, yet here you are, bound by duties that weigh heavily upon one's shoulders. It is cruel, really, to depend on a wolf so young for so much. I'd be madder than a bison bull if I had to do such a thing!"
Both laughed, their voices projecting throughout the forest. "Yes, thank you so much, Cross, for making it sound more appealing!" Asëa giggled.
Cross nudged her affectionately with his nose and then said, "But really, Asëa, being a Guardian is much more than a responsibility, it is a gift."
Asëa smiled bitterly and closed her eyes. "A gift? No, you can return a gift."
Alpha Cross smiled sympathetically. "Good point." He looked at the depressed young she-wolf at his side, and felt his heart twinge with pain. He had sons and daughters but Asëa held a special place in his heart. She was not of his blood, nor of his mate's, but still. His face suddenly illuminated with mischief and playfulness, and he leaned over to tug at Asëa's ear lightly with his teeth.
Asëa jumped in surprise at this, and spun to face Alpha Cross with a confused expression. Alpha Cross bowed toward her with his front legs outstretched, gray tail waving in the air, and tongue lolling out of his mouth with his eyes twinkling merrily. She almost laughed at the sight.
"Let us race back to the Pack! First one there gets the best sleeping spot!" he barked playfully. Asëa giggled at this puppy-ish display, and crouched down in the same bowing position.
"And we both know who will emerge victorious," she challenged back.
"Let us see, then," Alpha Cross growled impishly, and then shot off at a full-out sprint without any warning.
"Hey! No fair!" Asëa cried out, and sprinted after him.