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The Animal Within
It has been three days since the war has ended. Humans could not control the feuding species. They seemed so cute when we thought they were “just” animals. That was just a distraction, hiding their true intentions. What humans remain are either hiding or enslaved. We were the lucky ones. My parents cared for the new overlord when he was an “animal”. He granted us freedom, to live in luxury with him. However, we are not allowed to leave past the castle walls. We also have to do his bidding. Are we really free? My family was able to escape with her family. We had been out on an errand. When we came back, they were gone. All because of that wretched beast, we were separated from our families. His dictatorship will end soon. What humans remain in the castle have formed a resistance. Although occasionally we meet to snicker at his name. He tries to block out his name by declaring that all are to call him Red Death, but in reality, is name is Dr. Fluffykinz.
Red Death is a very cunning creature. He had to be to rise to power as leader of the Red Pandas: even more cunning to outsmart the Raccoons. However he did it, he left us to live in a barren land. Devoid of all life other than the Red Pandas and their slaves: the Raccoons. Of course there is the Underworld, a place where humans find shelter, away from Red Death's sinister rule. Someday I hope to break free of this prison and reunite with my family in the Underworld. For now, I am trapped. Bound by four regal walls of a castle I don't want. Even though I get a leisured life, I feel like one of the Raccoons. A pawn on the Red Panda's chessboard
Sunlight peered through the windows. The first time in a long time. Maybe it's a sign of change? Hopefully for the better. A knock at the door announces breakfast is ready. “Gryphon!” calls a voice, “Get your lazy butt up! We have work to do and you still have to eat breakfast!” That would be Genevieve, my best friend in these dark days. We grew up together. Our parents worked at the zoo while we played with the animals. She has always had a smile on her face. Even now, in the mess of things, she still smiled. It's for the best that she smiles. A bright smile ensures a bright future. However, an empty stomach means a painful day of listening to Red Death and his cohorts talk for hours before lunch. Being gluttonous pigs, all they talk about is food.
Genevieve and I took the time to have a nice breakfast. Well better than the outsiders. Fresh, hot rolls that Manna made everyday greeted our growling stomachs with warm inspiration to carry on our impossible schedule.” Looks like the market is first on our list.” I said as we hitched the horses to the wagon. How I missed cars! The heat in the winter, AC in the summer, and non-wooden seats. The stupid Red Pandas can overthrow civilization as we knew it, but they can't keep up with the old modern ways. I'm never taking my old life for granted if we ever get back to the way thing were. With a carrot in each of the horses' mouths, and pockets full of gold, we set off to the market to acquire the items on this unusual shopping list. (By the way, yes, he made us change currency to gold instead of dollars.)
I hate going to the market. It smells of animal poop. Another strange setback of the Era of the Red Panda: no indoor plumbing. It really sickens me around food. The first thing on the list ironically is fertilizer. “Not like you can get that anywhere else.” Genevieve joked. That was true, and as I skimmed down the list, I notice that everything is a little off.
“This is a little odd, don't you think? We went shopping yesterday for supplies, and now we have to get all this off-the-wall stuff today.” I said. With the fertilizer in the wagon we went off for the next items, at the Witch Doctor's hut.
“Shrunken heads, puppy dog tails, snake venom, and..... laffy taffy? Does he really expect us to pick him up a treat while we are here?” Genevieve was almost in tears as she laughed at the bizarre list. We finished with the rest of the list and headed home. “That was the quickest we have ever shopped!” I laughed.
I spoke too soon. A tree blocked our path. “Good thing the sun is hours from setting. We'll have to take the path through the Dark Forest.” I said glum. She guided the horses off of the old highway onto the dirt road.
“On the plus side, at least the birds are singing so beautifully.” She said cheerfully. I admit the birds are singing beautifully, especially after the never-ending winter. While entering a sunlit grove, the music stopped. We thought that the horses had caused a slight sound to frighten the birds, but none were seen flying away. They were scared stiff.
“Wow, this is so strange? I wonder what caused them to get quite all of a sudden?” Genevieve sounded scared. “Quite strange indeed my dear! Now you'll see the face that silences the birds!” A strange voice echoed.
“Gryphon, this is really freaking me out! Please tell me this is you and stop it!” She was terrified.
“I wish it was me, be cause this isn't even funny.” I started to shake a little. Rustles were heard in the treetops. Whoever was messing with us was right above us.
“Perhaps you'd be at ease if I made myself known.” The voice said. With a leap, a shadow grew closer and closer.
“Wow. We were scared of you?” She was cooing over how adorable this thing was.
“My name is Loukidigain, and I have traveled far from my home in Madagascar to find you. You'll need my help if you ever want to get back to the way things were.” He said all eager and jumpy.
“Our parents worked at a zoo, and you are the first lemur we have seen since we were little. Forgive us if we overloaded on you're cuteness.” Genevieve said as she scooped him up.
Well why would you come all the way from Madagascar to help us?” I asked
He said. “It's the second part of the prophecy.
“Prophecy?” We said at the same time. He jumped from Genevieve's arms as if to tell us something.
“Yes, the prophecy. Have you not heard of it? Maybe I should get you up to speed. Ahem. Long ago, before the rise of mankind, all animals lived in an era of peacefulness. One day the leader of each sacred tribe stepped forward to offer the best of their produce. All the leaders were there except for one: the king of the Red Pandas, the original Red Death. He had a devious plot to push all the leaders into the fiery pools of lava. My ancestors caught wind of his plan and devised a way to stop it. Red Death was quickly captured, and was caged by the lemurs. Hoisted above the lava, which was intended for the others, Red Death set forth a prophecy. With his right hand man working his magic to ensure that his prophecy would come true. The good thing is that his mage was too slow. He was captured, and the prophecy was stopped. Unfortunately, it didn't go away, it only lay dormant. The curse lay within the next of creation: man.”
“So how do we tie into the prophecy?” I asked
Let me tell you the rest of my story little human! Where was I? Ah yes! The prophecy states that a Son of Adam and a Daughter of Eve will enact the ancient rivalry between the Red Pandas and their most hated rivals: the Raccoons.
” Oh my goodness! At the zoo we played with Dr. Fluffykinz and the Raccoon, Bandit, all the Time! Then they got really close to each other and that freak storm brewed up.” Genevieve was creepily happy that she pieced this story together.
“”Well that would be the first part. After that, the fight between the Red Pandas and Raccoons ensued. We all know the results of that.” Lou said.
“If we are the cause of the prophecy, then it must be us to end it?” I suggested. The look he gave me suggested that he wanted to finish his story. “Please tell us the rest of the prophecy. “ I say embarrassed that I interrupted him.
“As I was saying. The second part of the prophecy.”
“Now little did Red Death know, all prophecies can be brought to life, but they can also be shattered. It is said that the two children that unleashed this powerful curse can also cast it away. The boy and girl, each with courage and wisdom bestowed upon them, shall search the seven temples of the animal kingdom for Red Death's sacred items. They reside in the temples: Forest, Fire, Water, Heaven, Hell, Crater, and Castle.” He said finally said stopping.
If one is in the forest, why don't we go get it now?” Genevieve asked
“You are ill prepared. Wait till tomorrow. As for tonight, gather all the weapons you can. Don't forget food and water. Also, get good nights sleep. Trust me, you'll need it. Tomorrow you'll come face to face with the demon that guards the first item.” Lou said grimly.
Know we know we are the cause of this plague. No wonder we get to stay at the castle. Not only did we help them awaken from their dormant state, we are also the key to the downfall of Red Death. Genevieve must have taken this to heart. Her once bright and shining grin had melted into a small pout. It is our fault that the Red Pandas had taken over, but it's not our fault we brought this consequence onto the world. “A sword.” She finally spoke. “There is one in the catacombs of the castle. On my days off I would practice with it in case I'm ever in trouble.” This took me by surprise.
“I never knew you to be the warrior type?” I said. “You must have made up your mind.”
I had never been a warrior. Weapons seemed useless to me. I must have tried all of the weapons in the armory, but I'm not as good as Genevieve. “Maybe you'd be better off with a bow and arrow.” She said as she lifted a magnificent golden bow and quiver full of silver arrows out of an old trunk. I slung the quiver over my shoulder and made my way to the archery room. With my bow loaded with an arrow, I released the string and the arrow soared. It struck right in the heart of a training dummy. A few more shots, each as accurate as the last. Genevieve looked at me with a face full of shock. “It seems I'm just s ready as you are. Shall we enter the Sacred Meadow? The first Item will be ours.” I say with certainty.
The temple of the forest is located in the Sacred Meadow, a place where Genevieve and I go when we are dismissed with our duties. “This will be an easy find! The Forest Temple only has one room!” She said with glee. Unfortunately it wouldn't be so easy. “Don't forget, Lou said that the item would be guarded by a demon. We shouldn't be so quick to think that it will be a piece of cake'” I tell her, but she is still determined. The temple lies atop a hill. “Well let's hope the demon is some fat, slow pig. This hill is so steep I don't think we could handle a swift enemy!” I say joking for the first time. She needs this. If a demon is awaiting us, it may be our last time to joke around. We finally reach the temple's entrance. The ivory doors fly open and lanterns burst into flame.
“Look there's the altar! Lou said that it would be in a secret compartment beneath the altar! I said with surprise. Genevieve stood still. Her once perpetual smile faded away along with most of her color. There is nothing around us the room is completely illuminated. I trace her eyes and see the terrible form above us. “Is that a spider?” I ask. No wonder Genevieve is frozen. She hates spiders.
“There is no way that thing is real! It has to be bigger than Peanut, that elephant we used to ride at the zoo!” she gasped. That's when I see it.
“Shh, don't be loud! It's asleep!” I whisper to her. Since she is immobilized by fear, I ran to the altar as quietly as I could. By some stroke of luck I find it. It is a totem of an eagle. I place it around my neck when I hear Genevieve scream. The spider has come to life.
Genevieve was quick enough to block the beast with her blade. She attempted to stab it, but its exoskeleton was too strong. “Gryphon help me!” She screamed. I had to think. What could I do? If her blade didn't work, what could my measly arrows do? The totem started to glow. The room started to spin and everything went still. Time was frozen.
Don't be afraid. All will be explained.” Said a voice. I turned around to see a tall woman dressed in elegant clothes, jewels, and the head of an eagle. “Gryphon, my name is Eden. I am Queen of the Tribe of Winged Ones. I was one of the original leaders that went against Red Death. You now hold my emblem, and now are endowed with the power of an eagle.” With that she vanished and time resumed. Genevieve was still fighting for her life.
I had the power of an eagle. What was that supposed to mean? I listed the things they do in my head. “They fly, fast, are amazing predators, and.... oh wait! They have supernatural eyesight! They can see almost anything! Now lets see if this works.” I tell myself. I close my eyes, breathe in, and open my eyes. I could see everything, down to the last hair on Genevieve's head. I look at the spider and notice a giant eyeball rests on its back. I jump on top of the altar and raise my bow. The eagle eyesight lets me target the eyeball. I release my arrow and it flies directly into the eye. Like that, the spider bursts into smoke and Genevieve looks astounded.
“How.... How did you do that?” She asks.
“The items belong to the original rulers of the animal tribes. They are the embodiments of their powers. If they are this powerful, then we need to get the rest of them soon.”
“So Eden chose you to inherit her powers? Red Death must have hidden them for that reason! Lou said that we needed the items, and if they house the leaders, then they will finish what they started through us!” Genevieve said all proud of herself. Lou had been nice enough to send us a map with the location of each temple.
“According to this, the nearest temple is near the volcano. It's about a days ride from here.” I say examining the map. Clouds signal that it won't be a dry journey.
“Maybe we should stop over there in that cave to wait out the storm.” I say. We tie the horses near the mouth and start a fire.
“Maybe we should get used to the fire. The next item is in a volcano after all.” She jokes, but there are many laughs.
I ready my bow and she unsheathes her sword. Figures appear from deep in the cave. “Put that bow down. Is that anyway to treat your parents?” A man says.
“I see you have one of the sacred items, but you'll never get them all before Red Death discovers you're collecting them.” A woman, my mother says. Genevieve and I run into the arms of our long lost families. We found the Underworld.
“What do you mean we'll never get it done in time?” I ask when Genevieve's mother spoke up.
“The prophecy proclaimed that the items be obtained before the Winter Solstice after Red Death's awakening.”
“That's next week!” Genevieve and I said in unison
“Lucky we have been busy. Bring out the treasure!” Dad said to a friend. In the crate lay five of the six remaining items.
“How did you get these?” I asked lifting an item from the box
“Since we had a limited time, we though that we should gather as many items as we could. It's a shame we couldn't reach the volcano. Then we would have them all.” A woman said. Genevieve seemed to have connected with one of the items.
“Maybe we should divide them Gryphon. I'll take the sword, shield, and gauntlets.” That left me with the eagle totem from the Forest temple, a bow, and a quiver filled wit colorful arrows. “So?” I ask. “What do these do?” Tallow, a Raccoon stepped forward.
“As second in command to Bandit I have made it my duty to gather these items for you. Sadly though, you must summon the leaders that dwell within the items.” With that the room turned white. Genevieve grabbed my arm. She was scared, but I knew it meant THEY were here.
Five glowing figures signaled that teachings of old were going to be passed onto us. “You who hold the items: sword, shield, and gauntlets. You have been bestowed with the Tribes Feline, Insects, and Arctic. The sword gives you the abilities of a feline, the shield is as strong as any exoskeleton, and the gauntlets hold the power of the Arctic. All of these items reawaken you as a deity: The Goddess of Order, Justice, and Wisdom.” He wasn't kidding, she now glowed with a Divine light. She looks at me, her smile is as white as Arctic ice itself. A voice booms indicating it's my turn.
“Boy, you have already been endowed with the knowledge of the totem around your neck. The bow and arrows come from the Tribes Raccoon, Reptile, and Amphibian. The bow gives you nocturnal powers, the quiver is made of enchanted scales from the ancient reptiles, and the arrows have been endowed with magical properties. They can do anything from fire, freezing, or detonation. These items allow you to reawaken as a deity: The God of Peace, Law, and Courage. You two balance the good of the Earth.” As soon as he finished, Eden flew in wearing a face of remorse.
“Red Death has the last item. He now holds the key to unlocking the demon that sleeps within.” Suddenly her face changes from depression to hope. “Which is exactly what we need to sentence him away forever.”
“I'll send my men to infiltrate the castle. That way it will be a straight shot to Red Death.” Tallow said
“Thank you for helping us right our wrong. We know that you'll do whatever you can to open the way to Red Death.” Genevieve says. A whistle blows. He and the remaining strong males journey to Red Death's Castle.
“According to Eden, the last item is an glass amulet of the Red Panda Tribe. We need to destroy it to make things the way they were before all of this.” I told everyone, it would be tomorrow before we hear from a messenger. Genevieve and I take the time to practice with our new weapons. When night fell, we ate with our families; the first in such a long time. While everyone slept, Genevieve and I stood watch in case anyone showed up.
“Look, one of the carriages is back.” She says.
“There is no driver?” I said confused. The carriage stopped right in front of us. This wasn't right. A strange scent filled the air. Genevieve looked inside. The scent was blood, and it belonged to Tallow. A jewel encrusted knife protruded from his back, along with a note, which read:
Their blood has been spilled. I have won once again! Since you sent me such a gracious sacrifice, I will allow you to face me with no interruptions. I'll be awaiting you traitors in my throne room where you will bow down once and for all!
“We need to get to the castle now! Too many lives have been lost!” I say. “It ends tonight.”
With our new divine powers, we practically teleport to the throne room. “Show yourself coward!” Genevieve said burning with a fire I have never seen before. An organ played behind us. We turned around to a gruesome sight. Red Death was playing the organ, and a plethora of corpses littered the floor around it. All of them headless.
“I see my messenger arrived.” He said with a wicked grin. Suddenly, a burst of courage escapes me.
“It's time to finish this Red Death! You are not fit to be ruler. Your crimes against the world are judged now! As long as we stand, you will fall!” That upset him. He hurled a spear directly towards my heart. Genevieve blocks it with her shield
“There! Around his neck is the amulet! Shoot it Gryphon!” Fast as lightning, I draw my bow and release the arrow. It hits the amulet directly.
The amulet shattered, and Red Death lay in a puddle of blood. “This can't be it, this was too easy.” I say when all of a sudden the items start to glow again. Something is strange. They turn to dust. The room starts spinning. I hold on to Genevieve, as our lives seem to end in the chaos. Car horns. Angry pedestrians. I open my eyes and see Genevieve looking at me.
“We did it!” She said. I'm glad we did it, but it seems too easy. Like something wasn't finished.
“Since we're back, let's get some pizza! All of that animal food made me anorexic.” I joke.
“Although, one thing still bothers me. Did we really stop the prophecy?” She asks.
“Ha ha! No, you've only opened the gates for me to be the overlord!” We turn around completely shocked. Loukidigain sat there with an eighth item.