didn't get much reception here, but I really do love this story, so I'll post it here anyway. This is a sequel story to the first, and the second of a possible series of short stories featuring Christopher and his new friend Weasel:
[align=center]Den of Wolves
A Story of Dins, not Dens[/align]
Despite having a larger population than about half the towns in the country, the Wolves' Den was not a place you would find on a map of Cikinjeros. If you looked at a map, its basic location would be covered by a vast expanse of desert, with maybe a few scrawled skulls to symbolize the danger of the area.
Of course, just because the town wasn't officially recognized as being real didn't mean people had never heard of it. When asked of a list of the major cities in the country, any normal citizen of Cikinjeros would include Wolves' Den. After all, it was the main source of cheap labor to most of the country, and was one of the few places in the world where one could buy enchanted goods. Despite this, very few citizens who had been to Wolves' Den didn't call the town home. If people from Wolves' Den had goods or services for people in the outside world, then they snuck over to the outside world, and if they didn't then the people in the outside world found substitutes from elsewhere.
Very few outsiders went into the Wolves' Den, and absolutely no one went there by trekking across the desert; there were secret tunnels for that purpose.
Yet there was one man - if a sixteen year old counted as a man - walking across the desert in that direction. And cursing under his breath.
Wolves' Den was created about twenty-five years before when a few fugitives who were wanted by the board escaped into the desert, found a rocky cliff and managed to build themselves some houses in the cliff while the knights chasing them went back to Williamton to raise an army to assist them in the chase. Then one of them, who had apparently understood some amount of rudimentary magic, had cast an enchantment over the desert.
By the time those knights had arrived at the desert, their army at their heels, it was pouring rain. This was odd for a desert but not unheard of, so they set up camp and decided to wait out the rain before heading in there.
Two weeks later, the knights gave up and went back to Williamton. The rain had not let up since.
The most important thing that any criminal of Cikinjeros could know about the knights of his country was that they were lazy. They were fine with keeping the peace and the like, but the second too much work was involved they got a bit spotty at their job. A knight wasn't going to go walk across a vast expanse of so much sandy gloop just to catch a few guys who weren't really doing all that much harm out in the middle of nowhere if he didn't have to.
But this knight did have to. Those were the orders he was given.
The board was incredibly clever with the orders they gave their knights. They seemed to be overly paranoid that some knight might get too smart or be too good and rise too high in the ranks, and they couldn't afford to have any underling who could somehow dethrone them. They were always sending missions to knights for them to complete, but they had a list of impossible tasks ready to give to knights they wanted to get rid of.
Sir Christopher had already been given two such tasks, and had succeeded in completing both of them. Now he was in the middle of the desert, trying to tug his right leg out of the soaking sands, getting ready to take on his third one. In fact, he hadn't yet actually been given a mission that wasn't a thinly veiled attempt to kill him. The first job he'd ever been given was to kill a dragon that had been attacking a small town to the south, and he'd barely accomplished that one. After that, he'd been sent to kill the evil lord Mordax - he may have succeeded at that one as well, but he still had nightmares about it some nights. Still, he now had Mordax's old sword because of it - a beautiful five-foot long blade he'd lovingly dubbed Anguispira.
This latest mission promised to be about as enjoyable as those last two. With a final, exhausting tug he liberated his foot from the muck and set off on his way again. He dug the paper with his orders from his soaking pants pocket.
The paper itself was dry, since he had taken the time to enchant it to repel water. He would have done the same to himself, but he really didn't want the board to find out he was capable of using magic yet. It read:
"Sir Christopher, Dragon Slayer and Vanquisher of Darkness,
"The venerable Emperor William the Third, acting monarch of Cikinjeros, our great country, has ordered for you to travel to the settlement of Wolves' Den located somewhere in the desert to the east of Williamton to do your duty to your country by ridding the entire area of all illegal activity, which has run rampant throughout the desert for at least three years and which, we have reason to believe, includes a secret force which wishes to instill rebellion throughout the country.
"We wish you good fortune on your journey and hope that you will use wisely our gift of one umbrella, of decent radius and height, and twelve hundred safrees, a sum of money that, we are sure you will agree, should be more than sufficient to sustain you for the journey.
Considering that over the last two days he was wading through the sand more often than he was walking atop it, Christopher had found the umbrella less than useful. A few times he had completely sunk through the sand and gone under, but thankfully a flick of his finger was enough to magically tug him out of the sinkhole, and as far as the board had to be concerned, the only reason he hadn't drowned yet was because he was incredibly lucky and had just missed all the sinkholes. Still, considering that the number of years that the letter admitted that Wolves' Den had existed was less than an eighth of the actual time, the umbrella being useful wasn't the most glaring of the lies in that letter.
No time to worry about that, though. Christopher had a job to do, and he'd better get through this rain as quickly as possible in order to do it.
Wolf was just drifting off to sleep when a soaking wet member of the night watch came bursting into his bedroom.
"What is it?" he growled fiercely. "I'm tired!"
The night watch member opened his mouth, then closed it, then opened it again. "An outsider's come to the Den."
Wolf rolled his eyes. "You woke me up for that? I didn't realize visitors were all that rare here," it was a joke, of course. As the Pack Leader, Wolf knew perfectly well how often they got visitors - in other words, not overly often. Still, they weren't so rare that it was worth an announcement by the night watch.
"No, that's not what I mean. I mean, there's an outsider knocking on the front gate."
That caused Wolf to sit bolt upright in his bed. No one came to the front gate. The front gate was really a joke in and of itself, since anyone who did visit Wolves' Den came through one of the back passages. If someone was at the front gate, then that someone had walked across the entire desert. And it was impossible to walk across water. "Who...how?"
"I don't know. It's possible he may be a knight, sir."
That gave Wolf a bad taste in his mouth. He had helped to found this city and destroy the desert because he was trying to escape the knights, and that had succeeded for close to three decades.
"Okay, thank you for the report, Salmon. Wake up Weasel. Tell him to let this stranger in and give him some hospitality. I want him to tell me if he's discovered anything about this man when I wake up tomorrow."
The night watch member saluted Wolf and left the Pack Leader's house hastily.
Christopher waited at the huge stone gates of what he assumed was Wolves' Den for a good hour before anyone showed up. Luckily, the ground directly in front of the gates was also stone, so he didn't have to worry about sinking through the ground while waiting.
He had opened his umbrella when he first arrived, mostly so he could say that he'd used it. Still, with the heavy pitter patter of rainfall sounding from all around him, and now above him, it was a bit welcoming to finally be rid of that pitter patter repeatedly hitting himself, as well.
Wolves' Den looked quite imposing when one was standing outside of it. The wall was cut into a huge cliff face protruding from the desert and spanning for what looked like miles. A huge metal door, which would definitely have rusted away by now if someone hadn't obviously enchanted it to repel water, was set into the wall, and a much smaller metal door was cut into that at the base, for people to actually walk through. Christopher doubted anyone had come through that door in a long time, though. Anyone who wanted to get to Wolves' Den took one of the many underground routes - he would have done that himself if it wasn't for the fact that he was a knight and therefore could be fired or jailed for "engaging in illegal activities" if he did so. Jails could be broken out of without too much trouble, but he really needed to keep this job.
The mere existence of Wolves' Den was just impressive, though. They had managed to carve a city out of a cliffside and insert this huge door even while it had never stopped raining. Just went to show how serious these people were about hiding from the knights. It made Christopher guilty just thinking about it. But he had something he needed to do, and in order to do that, he would have to pass by this roadblock.
Finally, he heard a scuffling sound from behind the door through the rhythmic tapping of the rain. "Sorry, sir, I'll let you in in a moment. This door's a tad bit stubborn; something about never actually having been opened before."
So I am the first person to come this way, thought Christopher. Aloud, he said, "take all the time you need. I'm in no hurry."
The smaller door swung open into the wall with a hideous sound of metal scraping against sandy rock. Standing beside the door, holding it open with one foot, was a very young man of about Christopher's age, with soaked brown hair, shining red in the light of the torch he was carrying, and a sharpish face. He was a little shorter than Christopher was, even in his leather boots, which had very thick soles.
"Well then, hurry up and get in here. We don't have all night."
Christopher quickly shook some drips of water out of his eyes. "Right."
He walked in and closed the umbrella as the door slammed behind him. "For some reason, I doubt that that thing was very handy," the boy said as he came up beside Christopher and pointed him in a direction. "I was told by the Pack Leader to let you stay at my place tonight, so..."
Christopher quickly extended a sopping hand and quickly glanced at the boy's eyes. They were black and beady, but not the eyes of someone untrustworthy. "I'm Christopher."
The boy took it. "Weasel."
"I beg your pardon?"
"The name's Weasel. Everyone around here is named after an animal - it helps us remember that man is only two steps away from being beast. Here, we can talk more later. First, we go to my home."
As Christopher followed Weasel through the winding streets of the silent city, he marveled again at the perseverance it must have taken to build this city. It was located inside a huge, hollowed-out cavern inside the cliff, but the square buildings themselves were all carved out of the rock as well; they were a part of the stone surroundings.
"It's pretty quiet here," Christopher remarked.
"Yeah, well unlike most cities this one actually sleeps. We're all criminals here, so that means we can all trust each other. Most of us are quiet people anyway. If it gets too loud in here the echoes can be horrendous, so people learn pretty quickly to use their inside voices."
"That makes sense."
They walked in silence until Weasel finally turned to the front door of a building down a random alley. "Well, this is the place. Please, come in," he held the door open long enough for Christopher to follow his instructions and walk inside the house.
Once Weasel had convinced Christopher to change into some of his spare clothing and the two of them were sitting in his small living room, each in a small wooden chair, staring at a crackling fireplace, Christopher finally found the right moment to ask what he'd wanted to ask since he'd arrived.
"So...tell me about this place."
Weasel glanced away from the fire for a moment before staring into it again. "So I was right. You've never been to Wolves' Den before. A true outsider."
Christopher hesitated, but there was no point in lying. "Yes. This is a new experience for me."
Weasel smiled for a moment. "What can I say that's not already blatantly obvious? This place is a perfect hideout for a huge population. The entire country's going to hell anyway; if you're going to live in this country, you may as well live in relative peace and quiet."
"But you're not completely sure about this place."
All was silent for a few minutes, but in Christopher's experience silence often said just as much as words. Sometimes more. When Weasel finally spoke, it was in hushed tones. "You noticed, huh? Yeah, I do wish I could leave and see the world. Don't get me wrong," he added quickly, "I love this city. It's been my home for my entire life. But...when I read a story in a book and it talks about the sun coming out, or it talks about snowfall, I have no past experiences to help me understand that. All I know is rain. Thunder and lightning sometimes, dark clouds all the time. Books talk about drizzles - small periods of rain, you know? I've never seen one before, and I've always wanted to," he shook his head and laughed. "Why am I telling you all of this?"
"Because it's been on your mind," Christopher replied knowingly.
"Yeah, I suppose."
There was another silence before Christopher judged that it was safe to ask another question. "So, why Weasel? If that doesn't offend you, that is," he added hastily.
"No, not in the least. Like I said, all the people around here are called by the names of animals. For some of us, it's our nickname. For others, it's our given name."
"For you it was neither."
Weasel twitched, startled. "You're good. Yeah...my situation's an odd one. My given name was Cub. My father said he wanted to wait until I was old enough that he knew me before just giving me some animal to have to live up to. That way, I could be myself instead of trying to hard to be a moose or a dolphin. Last year, for my fifteenth birthday, my father said he'd figured out my animal."
"And he chose Weasel?"
"And he chose Weasel."
More silence. The fire crackled gloomily into the dark of the room. This time it was Weasel who broke the silence.
"I never understood why Weasel. I've never thought of myself as being deceptive or mean. I've never tried to shirk my responsibilities. Do you know what weasel words are?" he plowed on without giving Christopher a chance to answer. "They're the words used in a sentence that seems to be factual or important but is actually empty and pointless. They'd be used to try to convince someone to believe one's opinion, or to try to belittle someone else's opinion or importance. None of that is like me in the least."
"I'm sure the Pack Leader had his reasons," Christopher said.
More silence as Christopher's words sank in. "Hey, I didn't say that the Pack Leader gave me this name. I said my father did."
"Yes, well your father's the Pack Leader," Christopher offered matter-of-factly.
"How did you know?" Weasel breathed. "I never said -"
Christopher interrupted him quickly. "You told me that the Pack Leader told you to let me stay here. You're sixteen years old - very young. Too young to be living alone and too young for the leader of an entire city to bring up your name to show hospitality to a random person visiting a den of criminals. Yet your father trusts you to be able to live alone. The Pack Leader trusts you to carry out important work for him. You've lived here all your life, so your father has lived here for at least sixteen years. Actually, at least seventeen because no man would move to a city like this when he was about to have a baby.
"Working under the assumption that the Pack Leader was one of the criminals who ran into the desert twenty-five years ago in order to hide from the law, then that would mean your father fits the criteria nicely. Add to it that he wanted to wait to name you until after he knew you better, which suggests that he came up with the animal names idea on his own and wants it to be used in the way he had originally intended, and it's a pretty good guess. There are definitely a few holes and my guess is certainly not one hundred percent guaranteed, but I thought it was a decent one," Christopher stopped himself. He could have gone on, but he did not know this person very well and he could have possibly broken an unwritten rule of the area for conversing with strangers.
But Weasel threw back his head and laughed heartily. "You're good. You're real good. Yeah, Wolf, the Pack Leader, is my father. He was worried when you turned up at the front door and sent me to make sure you weren't a knight or something. How funny is it that you're just a guy my age?" he smiled again. "The report to my father tomorrow will be pretty great. 'Nope, no knights here, but a teenager who knows everything showed up at the door.'"
"But I am a knight," Christopher said. He knew that this would have annoyingly negative repercussions, but if he played his cards right it would have positive ones as well.
Weasel froze in the middle of a chuckle. "What?"
"I said that I am a knight. Sir Christopher, Dragon Slayer and Vanquisher of Evil, or whatever that title is right now."
Weasel was worried now. Christopher could tell from the way his black eyes were darting around the room. "You're a knight? But you're so young. What would a knight be doing here, anyway?"
When Christopher had changed into dry clothes, he'd transferred the letter from the board to his new pants pocket as well, and now he pulled it out. "Well, officially, I'm here to 'do my duty to my country by ridding the entire area of all illegal activity, which has run rampant throughout the desert for at least three years and which, we have reason to believe, includes a secret force which wishes to instill rebellion throughout the country,' but in my mind that translates to..." he stopped to let Weasel finish the sentence for him.
"Killing the people here for breaking the law...destroying the city. Or at the very least killing my father."
Christopher didn't react to this statement in any way.
"Ugh, get out of here!" Weasel spat. "Get out of my house. 'Ridding the entire area of all illegal activity." Ha! What a joke."
Christopher stood and retrieved Anguispira, his sack of Safrees and his umbrella. "You sure you want me leaving this house? I could destroy the entire city if I'm allowed to run free."
Weasel's eyes narrowed. "Go ahead and try. You're just a kid - you're not going to accomplish anything here. Just get out of my sight."
The last thing Christopher said before leaving Weasel's house was, "It seems like Wolf puts more faith in young people's abilities to accomplish things than you do yourself."
Weasel sat, staring into the fire, for a few minutes after the knight left. Bah, everything that boy had said was right. Even the last part, though he didn't like to admit it. He didn't believe that he was capable of achieving close to as much as his father expected him to.
But maybe this boy did believe in his own abilities. He'd have reason to - he had a full title which, if his books were correct, meant that he had accomplished some missions of no small importance.
Weasel didn't believe in himself, but he had to believe in this visitor. This visitor who was currently running around his home with the intention to destroy it.
"Blast it all!" he shouted at the fireplace before bolting out the door after the knight.
Christopher slowly walked through Wolves' Den toward the front door. He'd been feeling around for some strands of magic while Weasel led him through the city and he knew exactly what his next move would be. Hopefully Weasel would follow him; it would be good for him to see this.
He left through the door from which he'd come, leaving it open behind him, and turned to see how he could go about climbing a stone rock face that had been run smooth by years of water erosion. He finally decided on magically summoning a ladder from the rock wall. Best to use some magic and be safe than the alternative.
It was quite a climb to the top, being assaulted by high winds, the rain beating down on his face and hands, freezing and soaking him to the bone. Yet he kept on climbing this makeshift stone ladder until he finally reached the top.
Once Christopher was standing atop the city walls, it was apparent that the cliff in which the entire city had been built was not a cliff at all, just a huge plateau in the middle of the desert which stretched out for miles in all directions. And, just as Christopher had suspected, he had not been the first person up here. Set into the flat rock top of the plateau, just far enough in to be out of the view of anyone from below, was a large white crystal orb. Raindrops ran down the sides of the sphere, leaving streaks of water behind before being replaced by new ones.
With any luck, his suspicions had been correct, which would mean that the powerful tug of magic he could feel exuding from the orb was for...
"Hey!" he heard Weasel's voice behind him. "What are you doing up here? I thought you said you were going to try to destroy the town."
Five more minutes, Christopher thought as he turned to face the soaking boy. "No. You said that I was going to try to destroy the town. I said no such thing."
Weasel twitched. "Oh. Right. Still, what are you doing up here?"
Christopher ignored the question. "Weasel. I think I understand you now," Weasel opened his mouth to reply, but Christopher continued doggedly. "You are stuck out here, living a life of relative solitude. You have read and heard so much about the world outside of your doors, but you don't think you'll ever go there. You'll grow up, maybe become the new Pack Leader. Imagine that, the leader of an entire city and with no life experience to point you in the right direction for your job. That's really difficult."
There was a flash of lighting and Christopher waiting for the clap of thunder before continuing. "You have so much pressure from all sides. From your father, from your own desires, now from a total stranger. But in the end you can't buckle under the pressure. That's not what a Weasel does.
"The Weasel is the smallest carnivorous mammal in the world. They suffer pressure from everywhere - from this huge world around them, from bigger predators, from meat that's just too big to kill. It's a big world out there, Weasel. A really big world. And the world in which you live is tiny. Minuscule, even."
Another flash of lighting. Another clap of thunder. "You know how much strength it takes not to just fall over and cry from that much pressure? A lot. A whole lot. You, Weasel, are the smallest one in the world, but you're one of the strongest. All you need is a push in the right direction. You need the chance to experience the world. You need to meet people, see some snowfall. Walk through a drizzle."
Lightning flashed, but Christopher continued this time. "You know what happens to a strong person like you when he's given the chance to bloom and become whatever he wants to become?" Now the clap of thunder resounded through the desert. Weasel jumped at the sound. "You use your outside voice. Louder than that thunder, louder than the loudest clap of thunder that has ever been heard from this spot. You leave your den; you get out of this cage and see the world, and then you will cause the greatest ruckus the world has seen in a long time. You, Weasel, can create a din that will echo for miles and miles. Pop goes the Weasel."
Weasel opened his mouth to laugh bitterly. This whole spiel may have had hints of truth, but it was still wrong. Not only that, but the entire sermon was based around a stupid children's song.
But then Christopher shouted. "You, Weasel, will have your moment in the sun!"
His voice carried through the desert, and people sleeping in their beds in Wolves' Den stirred slightly at the noise.
"Here's a taste."
Then he plunged Anguispira into the Crystal beside him, which shattered into a million tiny pieces on impact.
The rainclouds surrounding the two of them dissipated immediately as if they had never been there to begin with - a twenty-five year figment of the imagination.
The sky was dark blue and clear. Behind Weasel was a smattering of tiny stars. But that wasn't what was holding his attention right now. Because right in front of him, at the edge of the desert, the blue was painted with streaks of pinkish orange. And then he was almost blinded by a brilliant orange light coming up over the horizon. He fell to his knees and just knelt there, atop a plateau in the center of a desert that was absolutely drenched with water, staring for the first time in his life at a desert sunrise.
"Feels good, doesn't it?" Weasel heard Christopher say as tears welled up in his eyes and he brushed them away hastily.
He was right. It felt amazing.