“I don’t think is a good idea.” Pabu poked his head out of the satchel Annie had fitted for her wolf form.
“I know you don’t Pabu.” Annie looked back to the spirit, keeping her pace. “And yet, I am going anyway.”
“But it’s dangerous Anouk.” Pabu sounded as if he was scolding a child who didn’t know better.
“Pabu.” Annie stopped walking and sighed gently. “If you are worried, you can go home. But I have to do this.”
“What?!” Pabu burst from the satchel. He scurried up to her head and sat, arms folded across his chest. “If you are going, I am going Anouk. I am sworn to protect you.”
“Good.” Annie crossed her eyes briefly to look up at the stubborn spirit before beginning her trot again. “I would have missed your company.”
Ahead of them laid the umbra, vast and open. Annie peered into the distance unsure of how best to proceed. Her task was to find a stone. A very pretty, particular kind of stone. A very rare stone. A very pretty, rare stone that no one had seen in years. Her only lead was a spirit that no one had seen in years.
Pabu is right. This is a terrible idea.
She took a deep breath and looked back over to Pabu who had returned to the satchel. “Nothing left to do now except trust the Umbra.”
“Oh sure!” Pabu rolled his eyes. “Trust the Umbra. Like that’s never gone wrong before.”
Annie sighed again. She thought back to the research she had done on the spirit before setting out, and took the path on the right.
Trust in the Umbra.
She trotted along the path. The Umbra was quiet at the moment. They met with few spirits and those that did approach them knew Annie.
“See Pabu, trust in the Umbra and you will find what you are looking for.” Annie said smugly.
But only for a brief moment because almost instantly the path turned dark. Large trees appeared overhead and the path all but disappeared. Annie heard Pabu snicker.
“I’m sorry Anouk, but the Umbra is not the charming place you seem to think it is.” Pabu said climbing out of the satchel.
“I don’t think it’s charming.” Annie said, walking slower now to keep track of the path which was disappearing into the forest more with each step. “I just am not afraid of the Umbra. Maybe I should be. But I’m not.”
They walked in silence for some time to allow Annie more concentration on keeping them on the path. Pabu sat on her back watching behind them.
“It’s not like I don’t know there are dangers.” Annie said. “I just think that everywhere is dangerous. But that if you have people around you…”
Annie stopped short. Lights appeared in the bushes ahead. Just a single pair at first, but slowly more pairs of lights appeared, two by two.
“Who are you?” A shadow appeared in front of them.
“My name is Anouk.” Annie answered.
“What are you doing in our home?” The shadow whispered.
“I just wanted to pass through.” Annie said.
“Without our permission?” Another shadow appeared in front of them.
“I didn’t know this was your home. This is the first time I have come this way.” Annie said.
“It’s rude not to ask permission first.” A third shadow appeared.
“We like our privacy.” A fourth said.
“You should have asked first.” A fifth.
A whole hoard of shadows surrounded them, shouting and getting closer. Annie tried to talk to them, but there were too many. She heard Pabu grunt from behind and as quickly as they had all appeared, they left in a flurry of wind.
“You see?” Annie said turning to Pabu. “Not as dangerous with friends around.”
“This is still a terrible idea.” Pabu said breathing heavily.
“Where are we?” Pabu shouted above the storm.
“I don’t know.” Annie said. “I didn’t know we’d be in this area. Then again I don’t think I’ve ever been this way before.”
“Stunning.” Pabu said. “Well where should we go now Miss “Trust the Umbra”?”
Annie peered through the snow. Even in the blizzard, the path was clear up the mountain. It forked near the summit and she had no idea which side to take. A small cave caught her eye.
“We go this way.” Annie said heading towards the shelter.
“But that’s not even on the path Annie!” Pabu shouted.
“I know, but sometimes the clearly defined path is not the right one.” Annie trudged through the snow.
Once they were safely in the cave Annie removed the satchel from her back. She turned to human and began picking through it to reveal a lighter and a couple pieces of wood.
“It isn’t much, but it’s dry which should help the other pieces light.” Annie put them on the ground.
“What other pieces.” Pabu poked his head out of the satchel.
“The pieces you are going to get.” Annie said matter-of-factually. “There are some trees outside. You can knock some pieces down.”
“I’m not going out there!” Pabu said retreated back into the satchel.
“Yes you are Pabu. We need to regroup here and we need to be warm.” Annie opened the satchel and peered inside.
Pabu sighed and crawled out of the bag. “Fine. But stay out of trouble while I am gone.”
Annie watched him go and started building a fire. She heard a noise from behind her and turned around. There was nothing there but shadows. Not even her enhanced senses could see anything. So she went back to building a fire.
“What are you doing here little wolf?” A voice from behind her said.
Annie turned around and saw a faceless, dark figure appeared out of the shadows.
“I, um,” Annie stammered, “I guess I was building a fire. But I see now that I have invaded your territory. So, I guess I will leave.”
The sprit chuckled deep. “So hasty little wolf. Why don’t you stay?”
“I couldn’t.” Annie stood up and faced the spirit. “I was just here to regroup and get back on my journey.”
“Journey you say?” The spirit sat down. “What is this journey?”
“I’m looking for a stone that is rare and beautiful. It is said that a spirit guards it.” Annie said.
“I know of the stone you speak.” The spirit said. “I can show you the way.”
“I’m guessing this isn’t a free pass?” Annie leaned against a wall.
“No, little wolf. I enjoy riddles.” The spirit said. “I will show you the way if you answer mine.”
“And that’s all?” Annie questioned.
“That’s all.” The spirit nodded. “I will ask you three.”
“Ok then. The first one. ‘I live without a boy, hear without ears, speak without a mouth, and am born of air. What am I?’” The spirit asked.
“An Echo.” Annie said almost instantly.
“Little wolf is smart.” The spirit nodded. “Harder riddles then. The more there is, the less you can see. What am I?”
Annie thought for a moment. “Darkness.”
“Very good little wolf.” The spirit brought its hand to its face as if it was scratching its chin. “My last riddle for you, ‘why are you going on this quest?’”
“That’s not a riddle.” Annie said.
“Isn’t it?” The spirit sat up straight.
“I would like to raise ranks in werewolf society.” Annie said.
“Why?” The spirit pressed. “That’s not a complete answer.”
“Because I want to be a part of it.” Annie said straightforward.
“A part of what.” The spirit asked again.
“A part of saving the world. I want to try and help. My kind and others.” Annie said.
“But WHY!?” The spirit shouted.
“I…” Annie started to shout, but stopped herself. She thought for a long time. “Because I’m a leader. It’s who I am. And I haven’t been able to be one in a while.”
“A journey to find yourself.” The spirit nodded and gestured behind to a path across a pit. “The path here is yours.”
“Anouk?” Pabu entered the cave. “What?”
“Pabu,” Annie placed the fire supplies back in her back, turned back to wolf, and slung the satchel back over herself, “this kind spirit has just given us directions. We should probably take our leave.”
Pabu dropped the twigs and small branches he had been carrying and jumped back into the bag. Annie strolled over to the path at the back of the cave.
“Thank you.” She turned to the spirit and nodded. “I really enjoyed your last riddle.”
Then Annie jumped into the darkness.