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My Special Friends

by Tiggerish Eeyore (Aaron Wood) 12 months ago in fantasy

The journey to find oneself

Once upon a time, not very long ago, there was a man living life as best as he knew how. One day, while on his evening stroll through the park, he came across a door. An impossible door, it was there but not at the same time. It was solid gold, adorned with precious gems in familiar patterns. There were suns of rubies, stars of diamonds, moons of sapphires. Even as the man stood there staring, the door flickered like a flame on a candle, wavering but not ceasing. Cautiously, he reached for the amethyst doorknob and gave it a turn. The man was yanked inside the door by an invisible force and he found himself in a quiet sunlit meadow with various colored flowers dotting the area. Looking about, he saw no door. How was he supposed to get home? Where was he now?

"Hello?" The man tried to yell, but it came out hoarse and odd-sounding. Just then, a black king cobra slithered out from the patch of white daisies. Drawing itself up, it opened its hood to reveal a crimson patch with blueish-green designs on either side of its face that looked like smaller versions of itself.

"Hows-s-s-s it going?" the snake hissed politely. "Did you get yourself lost Mr. Shadow?" Looking down, the man found that he was indeed no longer a man at all, but a wisp of a shadow.

"Not good at all, I'm not supposed to be a shadow, I'm supposed to be a human and I am talking to a snake, this is most abnormal" replied the Wisp. My name is..."

"S-s-s-silence!" The snake interrupted sharply. "Names-s-s-s are prohibited here in the realm of Newood. From here on, everyone shall know you simply as "Shade" as that is the first form you've taken. Most inhabitants of this land only ever take one form..." Appearing at Snake's sharp whistle, two nightingales appeared, one flamingo pink and the other seafoam blue. "S-s-s-spread the word, a newcomer by the title of "Shade" has appeared." Like a shot the birds were off, singing of the new arrival.

"Shade? I guess I can live with that, but how can I get my body back and go home?" Asked Shade.

"You must ask the great one" Squeaked a new voice. Climbing up Snake's head, a small tan and brown ferret stood on its hind legs. "The great white one may know if anyone does."

"Where do I find this great white one then?" Shade asked, confused. Talking animals? The great white one? Is this all a dream...or a nightmare?

"Where she resides, of course" laughed Ferret, as if that cleared everything up.

"It's a bit of way to the north, through the forest." Snake explained. "Ferret is something of a comedian, at least she thinks she is."

"At least I'm not a fuddy-duddy like you!" quipped Ferret with a cackle.

"His-s-s-s-sterical" replied Snake with an eye-roll. "Follow my advice, stick to the path in the forest. It's easy to get lost." With that, Snake whipped his head as he redirected his body to go about his business, sending Ferret rolling out of sight with a giggle.

Turning to the forest, Shade started towards the opening but was stopped once more by Ferret. "Silly Snake forgot to mention it, but you ought to have an offering for the Great One. The flowers in this here meadow would do nicely, a nice bouquet of wildflowers may help her to be in a more helping mood." With that, Ferret bounced off. Unsure if this was another joke but unwilling to chance it, Shade started gathering daisies, daffodils, tulips, and other various flowers of assorted colors. Flowers in shadowy hand, Shade started his trek into the forest. The difference between the meadow and the forest was like night and day. Where the meadow had been bright and warm like an early summer afternoon, the forest was cool and dim like dusk on an autumn day.

After walking for a while and a great distance, Shade heard something in the distance. Pausing, he listened harder. It was singing, although the words were faint it was the tune of a ballad song. Hanging on the air, thick as perfume was the unmistakable scent of food. Shade's stomach rumbled, he was slightly relieved to know he still had some semblance of humanity left. The singing and the scent were both off the path though and he was warned it was best to stay on the path. His stomach argued with another rumble and won the debate. Picking his way over the roots poking out of the ground, Shade followed the delectable smell to a small rustic wood cabin hidden deeper in the woods with the brick chimney releasing a steady stream of plum-colored smoke. Approaching the yard, trying to decide if he should knock or not, Shade was startled when the door of the cabin suddenly slammed open and an emerald green cat strolled out singing a song about love. Cat was dressed like a Sultan in purple and red silks and perched on his folded ears was a chef's hat. Cat seemed unfazed by Shade's presence, continued singing while doing a twirl about Shade, and indicated with his tail that Shade should join him at the outdoor table.

Finishing his song, Cat said "welcome to my humble abode! I have been expecting you." He started to dish up some kind of purplish-pink stew and finger sandwiches for his guest.

"You have?" Shade inquired "Did you see me through a crystal ball or something?"

"Nothing so vulgar or fun! I could smell you since you entered this forest, I thought you might be getting hungry so I whipped up this meal for us. Lemonade?" Cat held up a pitcher that appeared from seemingly nowhere.

"Please" accepted Shade. He had no idea where he was, but it couldn't get worse, could it? "Did you hear about me from the nightingales then?"

"Yes, I heard the news as they flew to inform the rest of Newood." Taking a sip of his lemonade, Cat studied his guest with interest. "It's been ages since we had a visitor to our realm, you've caused a huge stir. No worries though, everyone behaves themselves here. THEY make sure of it."

"Um, sorry, but who are "they" and can they help me get home and back to normal?" Shade asked nervously.

"They are the most powerful beings in the realm, but they are also the fairest. No one rules here, but the one you brought flowers for is revered and respected by all." Cat responded, indifferent. "She may know best the answer to you're question, I can only offer you rest and food."

"How do you know why I have flowers?" Shade asked. "Did you hear my conversation with Ferret too?"

"Ha! My hearing is great, but not that great. No, I concluded you must have been told it was her favorite because you don't seem to have any other use for flowers in your current state. Now, you've eaten so perhaps you should be on your way?" Cat started clearing the dishes away as Shade stood up to take his leave.

Panic suddenly washed over Shade "I was also warned that I could get lost easily if I strayed from the path."

"Lucky for you, I can serve as a guide. My nose can pick up your trail from when you came here and we can follow it back" A reddish-brown golden retriever came trotting from the cabin.

"Thank you," Shade said, relieved.

"You're welcome, though I do advise heeding warnings in the future. Warnings are given for a reason, to ignore them could be perilous." Replied Dog.

Having bid Cat farewell, the pair set forth to the forest path.

"Where did everyone here come from? I mean originally, are you native to this place or did you find yourselves here too?" Shade asked as he followed Dog back through the thick trees and protruding roots.

"A bit of both." Answered Dog. "We all have our history. I can't tell you where anyone came from, I came from another place but chose to stay after spending some time here. Everyone's story is different. Some will share, others won't. I would advise not prodding though, some have painful pasts they would sooner forget than share."

Reaching the path, Dog pointed Shade in the direction he should go to meet the Great One, then disappeared back into the forest. Reaching the end of the forest, at last, Shade found himself in a great grassland area that was once again different. Here it was spring-like, a clear blue sky was barely visible through all of the cherry blossom trees in full bloom that stood in rings, each ring growing larger from the center of these plains. In the center, a large flat rock stood alone, atop the rock was without any doubt the Great One. She was very beautiful as well as graceful, staring at him silently since before he came out of the forest. "Welcome to my realm of cherry blossoms" she greeted him as Shade came closer. "Are those flowers for me?"

"They are," replied Shade. "If I might be so bold, what are you?"

"I am what humans have called "the nine-tailed fox" or "demon fox". I am partial to "Kumiho" and as such would be pleased if you were to address me as such." White as freshly fallen snow, her nine tails neatly curled up beside her, Kumiho was the spitting image of the old folklore images, but on a massive scale. She was as large as a polar bear, which made it more impressive that she plucked a single white daisy from the bouquet Shade had placed by her massive paw and popped it into her mouth much like chocolate. "Delectable." Kumiho sighed. "You are wanting to know how to regain your human form." It was not a question. "To do that, you must first find yourself. You must discover what it was that was you. This realm is connected to many realms, talk to the Guardians of each of those realms. They can offer assistance, but this task is yours alone. Success or failure is completely up to you." Kumiho gestured towards an opening in the East as it was highlighted by a ray of sunshine. "Good luck."

The sunray faded as Shade approached, turning back once, he saw that Kumiho was still regarding him with her soft brown eyes and munching on his gift, a single flower at a time. With a heavy sigh, Shade stepped into a cool pool of water. The air here was calm and serene, the wind was still as if nature was holding its breath. The water was the color of aquamarines and clear as glass with water lilies gracing the surface. "Looking for the Guardian of this path?" Shade spun about, looking around for the owner of the voice. "Down here." A rainbow-colored Koi fish was staring at Shade with a bemused expression on her face.

"Oh, hello. Yes, I was told that I should seek the Guardian's counsel" replied Shade, a little embarrassed.

"I can take you if you'd like. At least, until it gets too cold. I like my water the way it is, not with ice dotting the top" offered Koi. Setting off to the East with great mountains rising in the distance to greet them, Koi entertained them both by relating the ancient tale of the Koi that became a dragon. "Dragons are cool, but I am happy as a clam being me" Koi chirped happily. A sharp chill wind suddenly cut across the water causing them both to shiver slightly. The mountains that had seemed so distant before now towered over them. "I've gone a bit farther than I meant to, happy trails Shade. Maybe we'll meet again?" With that, koi flicked her tail fin and shot off like a bullet for her home waters.

Climbing the frozen bank that met the water, Shade was greeted by a light red wolf with gleaming, deeply intelligent brown eyes. "Welcome to Ice Mountain, home of the Great Guardian," Wolf said. Turning, Wolf said, "this way, try not to slip." Walking on ice wasn't the easiest thing to do as a human, as a wisp Shade was finding it almost impossible to keep his balance. Realizing Shade was having a very hard time, Wolf double backed and started shoveling snow onto the ice path and packing it down. "It will still be slick, but perhaps this will help" Wolf explained in answer to Shade's confused expression. An hour or two later, Shade and Wolf made it to the cave mouth where the Guardian was residing. Shade's mouth dropped open in shock. The Great Guardian was a huge white wolf as big as a house!

"Greetings, you may refer to me as "Wise One", rumbled the Guardian. "My home may be cold, but I welcome you to warm yourself with this fire." Motioning to the crackling fire that Shade was certain hadn't been there before.

Approaching the fire, shivering slightly from the cold and nerves, Shade gathered the courage to crack a small joke. "Can I call you "Wisey" instead?"

"If you must," replied Wisey with an eye roll. "Now, if you don't mind, we are here for a reason. To help you recover who YOU are, which to do that I need you to answer a simple question. What is three plus three?"

"Uhhhh...six, but what does that have to do with who I am?" Shade asked, confused.

"Nothing. It was to make sure you were paying attention" Wisey chuckled. "Okay, we'll get serious now. Think back to your childhood. Who was your hero growing up?"

"My grandpa." Shade had many fond memories of his grandfather growing up, this question was super easy to answer.

"Alright. Why?" Wisey demanded.

"My grandpa was always there for me. He always made time for me, as he did with all of his grandkids. "Grandbabies" he called us, it didn't matter how old we were. The man was patient and fair." Unnoticed by Shade, his form got a bit more solid, a bit more defined.

"Good. You should go to the north of here unless you'd like to pointlessly backtrack to the blossoms." Wisey settled himself down to sleep, Wolf, who had been standing by silently came forth.

"I know the way. I'll take you to the edge of this place if you'd like" Wolf offered.

"I greatly appreciate that thank you Wolf" Shade gathered his wits about him, the pair walked in silence except for the wind's howl. Shade hadn't thought of his grandfather for a while, what did that have to do with finding himself? "Do you know how that was supposed to help me?"

"No, it's not for me to know. I'm not a guardian, just a friend of Wisey" said Wolf, a little smirk on his face. "Here we are, the place where two lands meet."

It was like looking at a painting. On the side where they stood, it was cold, snow was starting to fall from the sky. On the other side, pink bamboo grew wildly, various shades of pink everywhere. A small trail was just visible through the dense pink, the tan dirt in deep contrast to the vivid bamboo. "Thank you for guiding me," Shade said with a small smile.

"My pleasure" Wolf replied. With that, Wolf bolted back towards Wisey and his home.

Shade took a deep breath and stepped from the frigid cold into the balmy forest. Following the trail for while, Shade got the feeling he was being tailed. Stopping in his tracks, he listened for a minute. the only thing he heard was the bamboo swaying in the gentle breeze. He shrugged, took a step forward and a tiger leaped into his path, causing Shade to fall on his backside with an "OOF".

"OOPS! So sorry, I didn't mean to cause you to fall. I was trying to practice pouncing." The Tiger was a dusty pink with black stripes and lavender purple paws. Helping him up, Tiger said "You must be Shade! The nightingales were singing of you earlier. Are you okay?"

"I'm alright, you just surprised me is all" Shade smiled. "I am supposed to be visiting one of the Great Guardians who is said to reside here, do you know if I'm on the right path?"

"Yep, this path leads straight to the Guardian of this place, it's not that much farther either." Tiger's eyes started following a giant golden butterfly fluttering by. "Keep going, you'll find her..." Tiger's voice trailed off as she started pouncing and swiping at the butterfly playfully, like a kitten with a moth.

Smiling in amusement at Tiger's playfulness, Shade continued on his way to meet the Guardian. As Tiger had said, Shade soon entered a clearing with a little stream with a panda relaxing next to it, munching lazily on a stalk of pink bamboo. Seeing Shade, she stood up and walked forward. The strangest thing about Panda, she wasn't a solid color like everyone else here. She was pink and purple and the colors flowed through her body like she was living art.  

"How do you do?" Panda greeted Shade. "Welcome to my little corner of paradise. It's just the right temperature, I have all the lovely pink bamboo I could ever want." Plucking another stalk of bamboo, Panda turned and walked back to her little stream. "I am supposed to help you find yourself, yes? Put these things in order of importance to you: Yourself, Friends, Family, Wealth, Happiness."

Shade pondered the question for a bit, this was a bit more tricky than the last question was to answer. "I don't think I can. I consider myself important, my friends are my family and are just as important to me as myself, I wish happiness to everyone I know...Wealth is the only thing I can place at all, it's not something that I see as that important. Having enough money to live comfortably and have some leftover to save is enough for me." As Shade answered this question, he once more grew more defined and solid. He was halfway between shadow and human again, but still, he didn't notice.

Smiling Panda replied "Excellent, I have done all I can for you. Please give Kumiho my regards when you see her, you'll want to go South." Panda closed her eyes as she continued to munch on her pink bamboo stalk.

More than a little confused, Shade turned towards the new indicated path that was white as freshly fallen snow and started his trek back towards the cherry blossoms. Lost in thought, wondering how any of this was helping him at all, he didn't notice when he crossed from the bamboo forest into a new realm.

"Open your eyes! Pay attention lest you wanna fall!" A new voice broke into Shade's thoughts. Looking about, Shade saw that he was being addressed by a black and white Chinese dragon. He also saw that a purple Chinese dragon was swimming through the air gracefully. Lastly, he saw he was walking on a cloud. "Right then, I am known around here as "BW". That there is "Purpy" and this is the cloud realm. Normally, Land Dwellers don't visit us, too afraid of falling. When we saw you walking about in a daze, we thought to warn you."

"T-t-t-thank you." Shade stuttered. The realization that he was talking to a dragon while standing on a cloud who knows how high above the ground, set off his fear of heights.

"BW, what did you say? This one is shaking like the last leaf on a tree in a chill wind" Purpy admonished. "You didn't tell him he was breakfast like you did the last one did you?"

"NO, I learned my lesson from the last time..." BW replied resentfully.

"He was just waking me up from my dazed state" added Shade, hoping to ease the tension.

"Alright then." Flipping upside down, Purpy stared at their visitor. "Welcome to our home in the clouds. Cookie?" Producing a plate of chocolate chip cookies from seemingly nowhere, she extended it for Shade to take one.

"Thank you" Shade accepted the cookie, it was as big as his hand. It was cool to the touch, but it tasted warm and gooey as it had just come out of the oven. "This is delicious!"

"It's an ancient family secret. You're on a journey to find yourself?" Purpy asked, blushing slightly.

"Yes, but I don't think it's working. I don't feel any different. I am wondering if this is just a joke of some kind." Shade confided.

The two dragons looked at each other, then back at Shade. "When you were growing up, did you feel different with each experience? Did you suddenly grow with each birthday?" BW asked.

"Or did you look in the mirror one day and see someone different staring back at you from your eyes?" inquired Purpy.

Shade looked at both dragons in turn with surprise. "I hadn't thought of it like that before. Truthfully, I hadn't ever really thought about it at all. I lived day to day, thinking back on fond and sad memories, working towards tomorrow but never really reflecting on my personal growth as a person...." The epiphany triggered another manifestation as Shade developed more of his lost features, the dragons could see freckles and short brown hair now. Bidding them a good day, Shade carefully hopped from cloud to cloud in the direction of the cherry blossoms. BW and Purpy watched him go, then flew off to play as they do every day.

Reaching the blossoms, Shade was surprised to see the Kumiho wasn't anywhere in sight. Instead, a beautiful woman with platinum white hair wearing a shining white silk robe with gold trim was talking to a relatively small dragon with light blue scales and pale pink undertones near the stone slab in the center of the glade. Sensing the newcomer, the pair turned to Shade and bid him welcome. The woman's soft brown eyes were familiar...

"Kumiho?" Shade asked, uncertain.

With a soft laugh that was like bells twinkling on the air, Kumiho responded "However did you guess?"

A little embarrassed to say so, Shade mumbled "you're eyes. They seemed familiar to me." Shade stood a little straighter, confused. "I thought Snake said everyone here only takes one form?"

"He likely said "ALMOST everyone here only takes one form. I am one of the exceptions of course. They don't call me "Great One" for nothing." Kumiho smiled knowingly. "It's been a trying day for you. Don't worry, you're doing fine. This is a friend of mine, the powerful Elven Dragon."

"Pleasure to make your acquaintance," Dragon said. "I am hearing that you are on a journey to find yourself, any luck with it so far?"

"It's been a long and difficult road so far," began Shade. "Mostly because of the walking. I have met two Guardians, a White Wolf and a Panda that seemed holographic the way her colors moved about. Both asked me a question, which I answered honestly and then they sent me on my way. I was starting to believe this was all a big joke at my expense until I met a pair of Chinese dragons. I confided in them that I was feeling like a fool, they helped put some perspective on my current situation. I believe I am ready for the next Guardian, to learn from them the teachings that they may offer."

"Then I suggest you go visit the final Guardian. To the West, you'll find him. Best of luck to you" Dragon said. Kumiho simply nodded, gave an encouraging smile, and Shade headed to the west of the glade.

Taking a step beyond the blossoms, it became extremely warm. After walking for a while, Shade came across a granite building with two stone statues depicting fighters frozen in a connected high kick serving as the entrance. As he approached, the stone doors opened inward on their own. "Um, hello?" Shade called out.

"WELCOME TO MY HUMBLE ABODE." Rumbled a voice from within. "DO COME IN."Feeling more than a little apprehensive, Shade crossed the threshold into the building. With a foot against his left knee, a plum Turtle dressed in traditional ninja garb balanced easily on a log in the center of the room. "You have entered the territory of the Ninja Warrior, do you seek training or counsel?" Turtle asked in a much softer voice.

"I seek counsel" Shade responded confidently.

"WRONG! You seek both training AND counsel. You can be given all the advice in the world, but if you don't know how to implement it, how can you use it? I could tell you you need to fly, but how can you if you don't know how?" Turtle reprimanded. I could advise you to swim, but without training, you'd sink like a stone. Do you understand?"

Shade simply nodded. This last Guardian scared him the most. Turtle reminded him of a teacher he once had, a kind man but you never knew what he expected from you whenever he asked a question. It was best just to remain silent and try to be invisible, except here Shade was the only student.

Doing a backflip, Turtle approached Shade and asked "What do you want out of life?"

Thinking hard, Shade drew a blank. What did Turtle mean? Shade had been asked this question multiple times throughout his life, but he never had an answer. It always seemed like the person asking it before wanted a specific answer, like the "What will you be doing in 5 years?" question. Shade hated questions like this, he felt that they were purposely designed for failure. "I'm sorry, I don't know what you mean."

Surprisingly, Turtle burst out in laughter. He laughed so hard he started tearing up. "Think very carefully. What do you want out of life? There isn't a correct answer, this isn't a pop quiz." Wiping a tear from his eye, the Turtle grabbed an ornate staff off a nearby rack and started twirling it. "Think of this as life. Right now, it is whirling, but if I do this..." Turtle flipped the staff straight into the air and caught it behind his back. "Nothing in life is ever certain. You can't plan every moment. You CAN, however, dream up all of the things that you'd like from life and work for it."

Staring in shock, understanding crept into Shade's mind. What did he want in his life? "I want a good life with my wife, I want a life with giggling children. I want to love and be loved, I want to be liked. I want to be remembered for something good, something great. When I leave for whatever comes next, I want to leave my world better than it was when I was born into it for everyone." Tearing up, Shade let out everything he had been hiding from the world, believing that his fondest wishes sounded a little too good for anyone to believe them.

Turtle regarded Shade for a moment, then nodded. "Dry your tears. I can't say where life will take you, but you have a good heart from what I can tell. Return to Kumiho. I believe she has one last message for you."

Shade recomposed himself while slowly walking back to the cherry blossoms, did that just happen? Did he just reveal his deepest desires to a total stranger, a talking Turtle no less? Upon finding himself back at Kumiho's rock, Shade was greeted by a grey Phoenix with pink wings. "Hello, Shade. I'm not really up for much today, but I wanted to meet you anyway." Phoenix was looking a little sickly like she was under the weather. Kumiho was back in fox form, resting on her rock.

"Nice to meet you Phoenix. Why did you want to meet me though?" Shade asked.

"I heard about you and you're journey. It looks like you are almost through. There is just one last thing. 'The end can also be a beginning'." Phoenix said.

"I'm sorry, but what do you mean?" Shade asked, thoroughly confused by this statement.

Through a sad smile, Phoenix simply replied "This" as she burst into flames and rapidly turned to ashes.

Mortified, Shade stared. Turning to Kumiho, he said, "What happened?"

"She completed another cycle. If you'd be so kind, put her up here. I will take care of her until she can carry on herself." Kumiho requested.

Looking down, Shade saw that Phoenix was struggling in her ashes, she was reborn anew. Gently picking her up and dusting her off, Shade saw that Phoenix was now bright pink with her newly formed wing tips being ash gray. Setting her down on Kumiho's rock, Shade thought about the last words Phoenix spoke. 'The end can also be a beginning.' "She was trying to tell me that the end of something can be the beginning of something else, wasn't she?" Shade asked.

"You understood then, but it goes deeper than that too. The meaning behind the words is different for everyone, but it doesn't mean it's wrong either. Kumiho responded. "One last question, who ARE you?"

"I thought I wasn't supposed to use my name..." Shade started to say.

"I didn't ask for your name, I asked who you are. Names are pretty but they don't say anything. As king or queen, it's more of a title than anything else." Kumiho explained.

"I am...I am a man who loves too much. I am a man who struggles with my inner demons but tries his best to do what is right. I am a man who has hopes and dreams about his future and fears that none will be realized. I am an honest man trying to make his way in a dishonest world, attempting to help all who may need it. A man who has been mistreated and abused throughout his life, but still finds the courage to love and be open with others. I AM WHO I AM." With his final words, Shade was enveloped in a bright flash of light and emerged as himself again, fully and wholly human.

"The door is with you traveler, you have but to turn the knob. Good luck with your journeys, know that we here will always be with you" Kumiho smiled, gesturing to the Golden door that had brought this man to this place that had appeared behind him. "Take care of yourself and know that if you do your best, you can never really fail."

Stepping through the door, the man found himself back in the park, only a minute or so had passed. He never forgot his time in Newood, the inhabitants, or the lessons they taught him. They were apart of him now, forever, and always.


Tiggerish Eeyore (Aaron Wood)

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