Presented by CVDB's Big Dog Short Stories
The trail was dark and quiet. Light and sound came only from tiny torches that cracked and sputtered at ankle height every fifty paces. One hundred paces for Nikita—dog paces, that is—having twice the legs of I!
She looked majestic in the fire light. Her amber fur glistened beneath her large dog clothes. Her ears perked up and stealthed back over her hoodie. Even her tongue retracted to expose sharp pearls.
_The ancient samurai had dispatched a carrier pigeon specifying the traits of the chosen one: "large dog clothes" were the requisite of attire. The other requisites were unclear. For example, "From a distance, the chosen one's form and stride bring ideas of sharpness and geometry into the mind of the onlooker." And what is the reward for crossing the path of tiny fires?
The keys to the ancient fortress, of course.
The distance between the tiny fires reduced as we progressed: one-hundred dog paces, fifty, eighteen, and so on... until there was a fire burning at every pace. The air flicked the flames and dimmed the night into a cool mist. I wrapped the hoodie of Nikita's large dog clothes over her neck, and tucked the pigeon post in her pocket; and somehow this sequence of events triggered something in her.
She sprinted with such zeal that the night seemed to pause around her. Even the tiny flames stood upright and still, like little soldiers saluting a patroness of battle. And just as fast as she had accelerated, she came to a halt and bowed—and the samurai appeared before her at the edge of the forest.
I approached. I expected to see the ancient fortress beyond the forest line, but there was only the samurai holding a polished sword, Nikita wearing her large dog clothes... and silence... and darkness.
"We have come all this way. Where is the ancient fortress?" I reached for the pigeon post in Nikita's pocket, and as my hand contacted her clothes, the samurai attacked. I was on my back with the blade at my throat.
"I could give you a thousand keys to a thousand fortresses," the samurai said, "and your mind would remain in wanting!" He turned the sword to reflect the row of tiny flames. "All those paces—each was a key, but on my command the fortresses were destroyed pace by pace as the wise one, adorned in large dog clothes, traded those desires for this silence."