The boy stopped at the edge of a large canyon to sit down on a rough boulder the size of a car, his feet callused from a full day of walking. He was exhausted. All he wanted to do was find a place to sleep for the night. A place away from the cacti, which he had been walking through for hours, and the rattlesnakes, which sheltered among the rocks.
Just as his eyelids were drooping, a sudden strong gust of wind almost knocked him off the rock. It reminded the boy of the many windy nights back home, when his mother would tell him and his brother stories of her childhood to pass the time.
"What troubles you, my child?"
The boy thought the voice was just his imagination, until he heard it again.
"What troubles you, my child?" the voice repeated.
The boy looked around, and there was the most beautiful woman he had ever seen. But there was something weird about her. She looked very ghostlike, and was floating in the air. In fact, it seemed that she was the air.
The boy was too shocked to answer her question at first. He tried to open his mouth, but no words dared to exit.
"It's going to be okay," the airy woman reached to lay a hand on the boy's shoulder, but her hand went right through the boy. She sighed. "Maybe one day I'll be able to touch a person."
"Have you been like that your whole life?" the boy asked, his voice a little more squeaky than he intended.
The boy nodded.
"Yes. Why are you so sad?"
"The Wolf came into my family's hut, and killed my mother and brother."
"The Wolf? I wasn't expecting him to be back so early. Do you wonder if your family is happy?"
The boy nodded vigorously. "Of course."
"If you wish to visit your mother and brother, and see that they are happy- which I assure you, they are- I can take you to them."
The boy squinted. Looking into the wind made his eyes tear up. Blinking away the tears, he asked, "How do I know this isn't a trick? I don't even know you."
"Have I harmed you thus far?"
"No, but maybe it's part of you plan to make me trust you."
"My name is Auriel. You may know me as the Goddess of the Northern Wind or Sister Wind," Auriel said.
The boy's jaw dropped. He had seen one other goddess before, Sister River, but talking to one was the most amazing thing he could imagine. "Is it really you?"
Auriel rolled her beautiful airy eyes, which were a wonderful shade of hazelnut brown. "Are you going to waste time when you could be visiting your family?"
The boy shook his head.
"Then let’s go," Sister Wind replied in an impatient tone. "I warn you: this journey will be the most difficult thing you have ever done; possibly the most difficult thing you will ever do; but it comes with a high reward." Auriel moved closer to the boy. "We will travel faster if you ride the wind with me, but obviously, I can't touch you," she looked around. So quickly, that the boy couldn't even tell what she was doing until she had finished, Auriel fashioned a cartlike contraption from the surroundings, which were...cacti and rocks.
"You must get in the cart. Stay hidden," she said, dropping a blanket from the boy's belongings, "we are about to travel through Sister River's realm."
The boy clenched his fists. "Sister River? She was there with The Wolf the night he broke into our hut."
"Then you must stay all the more hidden," Sister Wind said.
"Before we leave, I have one question," the boy started.
"If you're the Goddess of the Northern Wind, are there three other goddesses of the Wind?"
"Yes, of course. The wind doesn't only blow from the north. The other three are my sisters. The most commonly known Wind goddess is our mother, Evermore, Goddess of the Heavenly Winds. I am the least known of the Wind goddesses."
"What makes the Heavenly Winds different from your wind?"
"A lot. Mother Wind's breath brings life to your world. Each time she takes a breath, a new plant is born. But she also has the power to destroy your world, so be careful what you do to anger her. When she is angry, she becomes someone else, more like her sister and worst enemy, Nevermore, Goddess of the Deathly Flames. My mother and her three sisters, Nevermore, Livemore of the Earth, and Seamore of the Murky Water."
The boy decided not to ask any questions because he had a million.
"We should leave now," said Auriel, ending the silence.
Holding the cart in her arms, apparently airy people were strong, she got higher in the air. Then, she flew through the air so fast, that when the boy looked over the edge of the cart, he couldn't see the rock where he had just been sitting.
As suddenly as she had taken off, Auriel turned back and dropped straight down into the canyon, the boy almost rolling out of the cart.
"Quiet now," she told the boy. "We're flying right next to the river."
Auriel and the boy traveled in silence for what seemed like forever to the boy. This river must be really long, the boy thought.
"Just where to you think you're going?" asked a rough voice, a voice the boy recognized as Sister River's.
“Luriel,” Auriel said bitterly.
“What brings you to my realm, Cousin Auriel?”
“Just passing through,” Auriel answered cautiously.
Luriel smirked. “Where might you be going? Hmm?” Luriel suddenly stiffened. “I sense a mortal with you. Why would you bring a mortal through my realm?”
The boy peeked out from under the blanket. Sister River was just how he remembered. She was strikingly beautiful, even more beautiful than Auriel, and had long silvery-white hair the flowed to her waist. Unlike Sister Wind, Luriel looked just like a normal person, apart from her hands and feet, which were slightly webbed, and the gills on her neck. She was also very pale.
“It’s none of your business why I have a mortal or where I am going,” Auriel replied coolly.
“It is my business if you wish to travel through my river.”
“We’re not on a tight schedule. We can take the long way. That just means, you wouldn’t get your payment.”
Luriel seemed to consider this. “So, if I don’t ask any questions, I’ll still get my payment?”
“Are you threatening me?”
“No, I would never threaten someone as powerful as you, oh mighty Luriel, Goddess of the Rivers. I know what Mother Seamore would do to me. It would be even worse than what Sister Lake and Sister Waterfall would do to me,” there was a hint of sarcasm in Auriel’s smooth voice.
“I don’t think that deal seems fair. What harm could a few questions cause?”
“You will let us through without asking questions. If you say no, you won’t get your payment. And if you don’t get your payment, you know as well as I, what will happen.”
“I suppose you may pass without questions. I just need the payment.”
“Have you seen The Wolf lately?”
“No questions,” Luriel said, looking away.
Auriel glanced at the boy. He could tell the glance meant look away, so he did. He heard a sharp intake of breath, and the sound of water running over stones, which could have just been the river.
When the boy peeked from under the blanket, he saw a few drops of blood dripping from Auriel’s arm into a small bronze bowl. When the blood stopped dripping, she reached into a pouch hanging from her waist, and pulled out two small green stones and dropped them in the bowl.
Luriel licked her lips. “This looks great, Auriel.” With this, she drank the whole bowl, stones and all. Her skin became less pale, and she looked younger. “You may pass.”
Auriel lifted the cart in her arms once more. But this time, the boy realized there was a bubble around both of them, a bubble that Sister Wind had created.
Auriel dove into the river, carefully carrying the cart, the bubble enabling the boy to breathe while underwater.
The river seemed impossibly deep to the boy.
Finally, Auriel began to slow down. She reached a door at the bottom of the river. Sister Wind reached for the handle of the door, but the second she touched it, she convulsed in pain.
Auriel immediately took her hand off the handle, and as the pain ebbed, she spoke. “You need to open the door.”
The boy laid his hand on the doorknob. The bubble popped and the cart splintered, but at least the door was open.
Auriel swam through the door, and the boy followed her, noticing the water wasn’t flowing through the door as it should. It was as if there was an invisible wall that they could swim through, but blocked the water from entering.
The boy closed the door behind them. “What happened back there with Luriel? Why did she drink that bowl full of your blood and some rocks?”
“That was our payment to her for letting us through her realm. The blood of a Wind Goddess keeps the Water Goddesses young looking. Did you notice how she was so pale? That meant she hadn’t received her payment in a long time. If she goes too long, she’ll die,” Auriel said. “When this is over, and I’m not around, you need to stay away from Mother Nevermore’s daughter, Sister Death, and Mother Seamore’s daughters. They are pure evil, and probably working with The Wolf to torment your kind. But Mother Livemore and her daughters are reliable.”
“What about your mother and your sisters?”
“Mother Evermore is not exactly the most level-headed, but has a good heart. Two of my sisters, Furiel and Kuriel, are smart and safe. My third sister, Zuriel of the Southern Wind, is more married to The Wolf, and is far more likely to harm you than help you.”
“Does everybody have such similar names?”
“Apart from our mothers, yes,” Auriel looked around. “Look over there,” she said, pointing to a long rope ladder that reached from the ground up to the top of a huge rock wall. “That is where we need to go.”
The boy glanced at the ladder before looking around like Auriel had. They seemed to be in a dark sort of cave.
“We have entered Sister Death’s realm, but luckily she is not here now. This is where your mother and brother will be, just at the top of that ladder. Go, I am forbidden to climb it. I’ll be waiting here for you,” Sister Wind said.
The boy approached the ladder, and glanced at Auriel questioningly.
Auriel nodded. “Go. I won’t leave.”
The boy climbed the ladder, and by the time he reached the top, his arms were completely dead with exhaustion.
But at the top, was his mother. She stooped to help him up the last few rungs. Her hand felt smooth and cold, just as it always had. “I’ve missed you, my son,” she said, her eyes brimming with tears. Her voice sounded distant, as if she weren’t really there.
“At least you had Red Feather to keep you company,” the boy said.
Just has he mentioned his brother’s name, he saw Red Feather running towards them.
“Red Feather!” the boy yelled, running to meet his brother.
When he reached Red Feather, he embraced his older brother tightly. “I never want to let go,” the boy said.
“You must. Mother brought you here so that I could tell you something,” Red Feather began uneasily. “She says that The Wolf is will be after you, but that you should not harm him, or even defend yourself, because you will be better afterwards. The Wolf will not kill you, but help you. He will help you on your path to becoming legendary.”
“What does any of that mean?”
“So ask mother, I’m just relaying the message.”
“Why didn’t she just tell me?” the boy asked.
Red Feather shrugged. He led the boy back to their mother, where the boy talked to his mother and brother for a short time.
“You must go, son,” his mother told him. “You have work to do.”
When the boy stood to hug his mother, she stepped back. “It will only make you want to stay more. Go now.”
So the boy left. When he reached the bottom of the ladder, Auriel was still waiting.
“She sent me to bring you to her, you know. Your mother. Fawn Leap was a good friend of mine,” Auriel said.
“Is,” the boy corrected.
Auriel smiled. “You must go home now. I cannot bring you further than the river bank. You must travel the rest by yourself. It will take much longer without my wind to carry you, but you are strong.”
When Auriel and boy reached the river bank, Auriel turned to the boy. “Goodbye, child. I will see you again soon.”
Before the boy could even say anything, she was gone.
After this, the boy traveled for many days, and many nights, all the while, knowing he was being followed.
Finally, he decided to face what was following him, for he knew, deep in his gut, that it was his destiny to face the creature.
When he stopped, and waited, for a full day and a full night, the creature stalking him showed himself at last. It was The Wolf.
“Hello, son,” it growled.
“Hello, father,” the boy replied fearlessly.
And so, The Wolf brought his son to another world. In fact, he brought his son to a person in the world. A person the boy considered a friend. Auriel.
“Your father has brought you here to become one of us,” said Auriel, gesturing to herself and her sisters who stood nearby. “You should thank The Wolf, for he has granted you immortality, and spared you from his wrath.”
The boy turned to his father. “Thank you, father.”
The Wolf nodded, and left.
“Child,” Auriel said softly.
The boy turned back to her.
“You are now one of us, and will be known as Brother Black Hawk. God of the Living. For you have been to the realm of the dead, and back. Only you could have done that. Only you could have climbed that ladder, and lived to see another day.”
Black Hawk’s eyes widened.
“Black Hawk,” Auriel said, testing the name on her tongue. “I like that name.”